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Harsh Realities
India Plans for 30+ Years of Emissions Growth

Fresh off this week’s climate summit, India’s environment minister is asserting his country’s right to grow, emissions be damned. As the New York Times reports, the minister insisted on the need for India to continue to develop, and that that need will likely mean Indian emissions will grow for at least the next thirty years:

[India’s new environment minister] Prakash Javadekar said in an interview that his government’s first priority was to alleviate poverty and improve the nation’s economy, which he said would necessarily involve an increase in emissions through new coal-powered electricity and transportation. He placed responsibility for what scientists call a coming climate crisis on the United States, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas polluter, and dismissed the idea that India would make cuts to carbon emissions.

“What cuts?” Mr. Javadekar said. “That’s for more developed countries. The moral principle of historic responsibility cannot be washed away.” Mr. Javadekar was referring to an argument frequently made by developing economies — that developed economies, chiefly the United States, which spent the last century building their economies while pumping warming emissions into the atmosphere — bear the greatest responsibility for cutting pollution.

Mr. Javadekar said that government agencies in New Delhi were preparing plans for India’s domestic actions on climate change, but he said they would lead only to a lower rate of increase in carbon emissions. It would be at least 30 years, he said, before India would likely see a downturn.

Coming out of this week’s UN General Assembly summit on climate change, this is not the kind of optic environmentalists will appreciate. But it does reflect an uncomfortable and seemingly intractable reality: the developing world is going to prioritize growth over green goals. Javadekar’s comments aren’t just an insistence on India’s right to grow (and emit greenhouse gases along the way). If you listen carefully you can hear his accusatory tone toward the developed world, which is responsible for the bulk of humanity’s GHG emissions historically but is comfortable and prosperous enough today to be able to afford to debate measures that would restrict or limit development for Gaia’s sake.

Greens have found plenty to cheer from this summit, from a coalition’s commitment to combat deforestation, to Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s seeming (and we say “seeming” because the reality is unlikely to measure up to rhetoric) acknowledgement of an emissions limit for China. The summit helped focus the environmental movement’s energy, and while those marching might not have made much sense, they did make headlines.

But for all of the positive media attention, the international approach to dealing with climate change hasn’t progressed over the past week, as Javadekar showed us. Looking ahead to Paris next year, few expect any variant of a binding Global Climate Treaty to emerge from what remains a very contentious debate. The problem is too complex, the impacts too uncertain, the solutions too vague, and the responsibilities and vulnerabilities too varied for a legally binding consensus to suddenly emerge from the latest in a grand tradition of do-nothing conferences. Climate change remains a threat, and there’s plenty of work to be done on the national and sub-national levels, but the GCT approach is a dead end, and efforts to craft an international solution are a waste of valuable time and energy.

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  • Andrew Allison

    India is looking in the wrong place. Given the exponential rate of increase, China’s cumulative contribution will soon match that of the developed nations, and is currently emitting about four times as much per capita as India. A more cogent argument would be: China first!

    • Pete

      He’s afraid of China, and he knows Uncle Sap is a convenient punching bag.

    • AndrewL

      Per capita CO2 emission, in metric tons, 2010 (
      – India: 1.7
      – China: 6.2
      – UK: 7.9
      – Germany: 9.1
      – Japan: 9.2
      – Russia: 12.2
      – US: 17.6

      Looks like India’s environment minister was right on the money.

      • Andrew Allison

        The atmosphere is insensitive to the number of people producing the emissions, just the amount. FWIW, the link which you provided shows that16 countries have higher per capita emissions than the USA.

        • AndrewL

          Yes, there are a number of countries that have even higher per capita emissions than the US. At least they have enough self-awareness to refrain from criticizing countries with lower per capita emissions.

          • Andrew Allison

            The only countries doing any criticizing are the less-developed nations claiming that the so-called “moral principle of historic responsibility” requires developed nations to pay for their emission reduction. If the developed nations can be persuaded that it is their interests to do so, fine. If not, they are much better equipped to deal with the consequences than the less-developed nations. Meanwhile, spare us the moral posturing. The fact that emissions in both the US and Europe are at levels last seen 50 years ago demonstrates that growth does not have to be carbon-based. It may be cheaper and faster but what if, as in parts of China, the air is unbreathable?

          • AndrewL

            Do you have any data to back up your claim that emissions in the US have dropped to the level of 1960’s? According to the Energy Information Administration (, US emission in 1980 was 4775 million metric tons, increasing to 5490 in 2011. You’re right about Europe though. Germany’s emission went down from 1055 to 748 over the same period.

            Yes, thank goodness that growth does not have to be carbon-based. But there isn’t much enthusiasm over moving away from carbon-based growth in the US. On the contrary, enthusiasm over fracking continues unabated, and half the electorate doesn’t even believe that climate change is man-made.

          • Andrew Allison


          • AndrewL

            Care to share the link?

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