Last week, the world’s first and second biggest greenhouse gas emitters announced plans to curb emissions, and now attention is shifting to number three on that list: India. There, the news is a lot less encouraging for environmentalists, as New Delhi is not being coy about its intention to burn all the coal it can get its hands on. The New York Times reports:
“India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate changes many years in the future,” India’s power minister, Piyush Goyal, said at a recent conference in New Delhi in response to a question. “The West will have to recognize we have the needs of the poor.”Mr. Goyal has promised to double India’s use of domestic coal from 565 million tons last year to more than a billion tons by 2019, and he is trying to sell coal-mining licenses as swiftly as possible after years of delay. The government has signaled that it may denationalize commercial coal mining to accelerate extraction.“India is the biggest challenge in global climate negotiations, not China,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.
Countries will always prioritize their own material interests over the pursuit of some nebulous, far-off goal of ameliorating global climate change. That’s exactly what China did last week when it jointly announced its intention to halt emissions growth by 2030; the means by which it intends to achieve that aim—moving away from coal that’s clouding its megacities with toxic smog, speeding up the transition to a less energy-intensive information economy, relying more on Russian-supplied, ground-transported natural gas—all make good sense to Beijing for reasons beyond a desire to live in harmony with the environment.Similarly, India will only take steps towards global emissions reductions when it fits in with its development goals. That’s why we keep hearing New Delhi insisting on its right to grow in the same way the West did during the last century. Greens may lament the implications this will have for our planet’s climate, but no amount of cajoling is going to dissuade India from pursuing prosperity.That doesn’t mean the rest of the world can’t do anything to keep India from polluting and emitting quite so much. Many of the reasons guiding China’s decision to move away from dirty-burning coal also apply to India (New Delhi is reportedly more polluted than Beijing), and the efficiency gains possible in a services-oriented economy are equally possible. Rather than devoting time and energy towards what remains a fundamentally flawed Global Climate Treaty, we’d be better off sharing best practices with India in a bid to expedite its information economy transition.