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India Is Now World’s Fastest-Growing Major Polluter

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By Sajai Jose:

For the first time ever, the year 2014 saw India’s carbon dioxide emissions growth accounting fllutor the largest share of global emissions growth, according to a new global report. India’s CO2 emissions from energy use had increased by 8.1% during the year, making it the world’s fastest-growing major polluter.

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It was the single-most significant trend revealed in the latest edition of British Petroleum’s comprehensive Statistical Review of World Energy, but the Indian media got the story upside down. Most coverage celebrated India’s sky-high energy-consumption figures, while glossing over its record-breaking emissions growth, a historical milestone with serious implications.

India bucking a global trend

India’s contribution amounted to 28%, or almost a third of global emissions growth in 2014. That number alone does not convey the magnitude of the larger shift it reflects. Consider these supplementary facts:

  • Those countries whose CO2 emissions increased in 2014 together added an extra 572 million tonnes (MT) of CO2 to the atmosphere. India’s share was by far the largest at 157 MT of CO2, substantially ahead of China (85 MT) and US (53 MT), the world’s leading polluters for decades.
  • India’s share of emissions growth (157 MT of CO2) was not only the largest volumetric contribution in its own history, but for the first time made it the world’s biggest contributor to emissions growth.
  • While every other major polluter saw emissions growth decline considerably, some even managed to cut emissions significantly over 2013 levels. The EU, for instance, cut more emissions (211 MT of CO2) in 2014 than India added.
  • India’s emissions growth in 2014 (157 MT) was greater than that of the US (155 MT) in 2013. The US’ economy is ten times as big as India’s and consumes nearly four times as much energy.

Trends are reversible, but the pattern that emerges from these numbers clearly point to a pivotal shift. India has bucked a global trend to emerge as the single-most critical player when it comes to carbon emissions, and thereby, climate change.

The triad: energy, growth, emissions

The triad of economic growth, energy consumption and emissions/pollution is joined at the hip. India’s GDP growth, which has driven up energy consumption to a historic high point, is also driving growth in its emissions.

On the other hand, economic growth has slowed globally, leading to a steady decline in global energy consumption in recent years, reaching its nadir in 2014 at just 0.9% (the slowest rate of growth since the late 1990s).

India stays at odds with the world because of a host of supplementary trends: globally-significant emission cuts by the EU, a major Chinese push in renewables, and the “virtual collapse” of highly-polluting industries like coal, steel and cement in China as its infrastructure boom plateaus.

Sharpest divergence in coal

It is in coal consumption that India most diverges from the rest of the world.

When most major countries have minimal or declining coal consumption, India’s coal consumption has grown by 11%, the world’s largest volumetric increase for the year.

Coal is the single biggest source of primary energy in India and China, but from the perspective of climate change and air pollution, it is also the dirtiest. Comparing growth in coal consumption with that of renewable energy gives us a better idea of how India fares against the rest of the world in terms of current energy priorities:

India’s greater reliance on coal is also what accounts for the Indian exception when it comes to the relationship between emissions growth and energy consumption. As the chart below shows, where emissions growth in every major country trailed consumption growth, Indian emissions growth (8.1%) alone outpaced consumption growth (7.1%), pointing to the greater carbon content in its fuel mix.


The Modi government is pursuing one of the most ambitious renewable-energy programmes anywhere in the world, apart from a clutch of energy-conservation schemes. However, as an IndiaSpend report noted earlier, coal remains at the heart of Indian energy policy, with 455 of 1,199 new coal-based thermal power plants proposed worldwide set to come up in India. An IndiaSpend series on energy also explained why this is unlikely to change soon.

A many-sided problem

As the IndiaSpend series showed, it’s only when you apply criteria like population and historical emissions that you get an accurate picture of energy consumption and emissions by countries. But country-wise estimates themselves can be misleading in a globalised economy—where rich nations routinely outsource’ emissions to developing nations.

So, it’s worth repeating: The Indian exception is in the rate of growth in energy consumption and emissions; India’s net consumption and emissions remain low. In per capita terms, India is neither one of the world’s major polluters and nor was its emissions growth rate in 2014 the absolute highest worldwide.

But India’s size, and the consistent rise in its emissions growth puts India in a league of its own. This trend is unlikely to abate since projections show India is set to grow faster than any other major economy, propelled by a massive, coal-fuelled, Chinese-style industrialisation drive.

India taking over from China

The last five years’ data reveals declining Chinese emissions growth (after peaking in 2011 at 7.9%), and accelerating Indian emissions growth. Energy, economic growth and emissions being connected, what we are seeing is the baton being exchanged from one Asian giant to the other, a shift tangentially reflected in recent GDP trends.

The cumulative impact of every ton of carbon, experts say, added to the atmosphere pushes the world that much closer to the brink of irreversible climate change. For largely tropical countries like India, with its huge coastal populations, rainfall-dependent agriculture and glacier-dependent freshwater supply, climate change poses a disproportionately graver threat.

This is what makes these latest numbers so alarming–for the world, but even more so for India.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.

(Jose is a freelance media professional based in Bangalore)
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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