Andrew Buncombe's Asia Diary
The Independent's Asia Correspondent Andrew Buncombe is based in Delhi. His dominion ranges over India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, occasionally parts of South East Asia and - or at least he is hoping - The Maldives.
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewBuncombe
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewBuncombe
Yesterday, I went along to hear India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh reveal some important new figures about the estimates regarding the country's emissions of CO2 over the next two decades. Five studies, the minister said, had estimated that while the country's emissions could rise by three or four times from their current levels over the coming 20 years, the per capita emissions would still be no more than the global average of 2005.
The figures are important because they will be used by Indian negotiators at the upcoming Copenhagen talks on climate change to argue that India need not agree to legally binding reductions. India and China, with the rest of the developing world, will argue that their economic development should not be hindered by the need to cut back on emissions. India, currently the world's 4th largest emitter of CO2 but with the second largest population, has an overall per capita level of emissions considerably lower than the global average of around five tonnes.
Referring to a recent report by Greenpeace India, I asked Mr Ramesh whether the Indian establishment was not hiding behind the country's 800m poor people. In short, I suggested, there were two Indias - a growing middle-class whose emissions, while probably less than the global average, were similar to those in Europe, and then the vast impoverished remainder who probably emitted virtually no CO2. My question was rather breezily dismissed by the minister who said he was certain that the emissions of himself and his colleagues on the panel were lower than their counterparts in the West. Anyway, he said, the only thing that people should focus on was the per capita emissions. [He did say, however, that India needed to take action against climate change through increased efficiencies, through a move towards more sustainable energy and by tighter laws on things such as fuel efficiency of vehicles.]
In the evening, I went to a talk to hear British ministers Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander making their case. Britain wants India to agree to binding cuts and has said the developed world is ready to provide up to $100bn a year to the rest of the planet to help switch to more efficient technologies. They recognised the need for India to place development as its main priority but said India's growth need not be held back by a move to lower-carbon economy. "I think that India has a very important role to play as a deal-maker in the coming months," said Mr Miliband, the minister for energy and climate change. Yet while the ministers were clearly trying hard to make positive noises about the reception they had received in India and insisted that the officials and ministers they had met with were serious, I suspect their visit is going to result in very little. Whatever the ministers may have been told, the truth is that India has been working hard to build an alliance with China in order to join forces and push back at Copenhagen.
I have some sympathy with India's argument. Indeed, why should the West, which has long plundered the resources of the developing world, now turn around and lecture those in India and elsewhere about how their economies should grow. Why should the West have happily emitted for decades in order to develop its economy and now demand that India and China do something different? [I would have more sympathy however, if I believed Indian politicians genuinely intended to raise up the lives of the poor and were to use economic development for that purpose. I remain unconvinced that this is a priority for many politicians.]
At the same time, I also believe that India could break the mould and lead the way on climate change rather than sticking its head in the sand as Mr Ramesh and others appear to want to do. I have written before about the potential of India to develop solar energy and there are very positive noises being made about some progress in this direction. But India could do so much more. Rather than following the dead-end fossil fuel route of the West (and which China appears to have adopted), India could be investing to become the world leader in solar technology and science. Vast parts of the Thar desert could become a producer of clean renewable power. There are huge amounts of capital ready to invest in such schemes. What's more, with scientists drawing attention to the perils of melting glaciers, extreme weather, crippling droughts and other phenomena associated with climate change, the real question is can India not afford to seize the challenge and lead the way?