Why It’s Better For India To Let Its Fossil Fuels Remain Buried

Posted on April 21, 2016 in Society

By Shaan Suhas Kumar:

A chimney is reflected in a puddle polluted with chemicals at an industrial area of the western Indian city of Surat November 25, 2009. Just next to India's west coast, Surat is learning to live with big upheavals and now wants to become a front-runner in preparing for the impact of climate change in a country with fast-rising emissions but generally low environmental awareness. The picture was rotated 180 degrees. Picture taken November 25, 2009. To match feature INDIA-CLIMATE/ADAPTATION REUTERS/Arko Datta/Files (INDIA ENVIRONMENT POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTXRLAS
Image credit: Reuters/Arko Datta.

Last year the whole world watched wide-eyed when India, which was seen to take the back seat in former Climate Change conferences, took up a strong stand and chose not to blindly adhere to drastic carbon emission cuts that were expected of it by the rest of the world.

India remained unmoved on its agenda as it made it clear to other countries that it wasn’t going to be forced into compromising on its ambitious plans of growth and development keeping its people at the centre of its decisions. It also firmly stated that it was not going to pay the price for the problems it did not create.

At COP21 in Paris last November, the country emphasised the fact that even after being the world’s third largest carbon emitter, it produced less than 5% of the world’s emissions and its per capita carbon footprint accounted for less than 1/3rd of the world’s average. With these facts, India urged developed countries to think about ‘differentiation’, being ‘fair’ and upheld the concept of ‘Climate Justice‘ where it propagated that the developed world, responsible for more the half the world’s carbon emissions, should take the lead in radically cutting them down. This would leave some room for the developing nations to now be the ones to thrive on fossil fuels as long as they do not cross the 1.5 degree Celsius limit in temperature rise.

Since the conference, though, India has slowly come to terms with the fact that the concept of asking for ‘wiggle room’ to use fossil fuels is flawed and its own susceptibility to the effects of climate change is immense.

In the past, the country has been highly reliant on fossil fuels and about 70% of its current energy is coal generated. Continuing to tread on this path to ensure economic growth will come with enormous side effects. While in the past it has focused on development for people’s welfare, it has cost the country immensely by taking away from people, well-being in its very basic sense.

The extraction of fossil fuels to meet energy demands over the years has resulted in a large-scale destruction of India’s earlier abundant forest cover, lessening its own capacity to combat pollution caused by the burning of these resources. Today, the country’s ecosystem lies in a dilapidated state, with air highly polluted, biodiversity brought to its knees and erratic weather patterns, reaching extreme temperatures resulting in cities flooded on one end and a dreadful water crisis on the other.

Continuing with fossil fuels will lead the country into taking two steps backwards with each step forward by costing people their health and safety while paradoxically promising them a ‘better standard of living’. As per current predictions, the amount that India will gain in exports through growth and development this way, would be far less than the amount that it will lose in healthcare, relocation, and providing for loss from natural disasters.

The responsibility on India’s shoulders is huge. Being the world’s fastest growing economy, en route to becoming the world’s most populated country, which aims to provide electricity to another 300 million people who are currently deprived of it and India’s high dependence on fossil fuels to meet these demands has put it in the limelight. People are hoping for the country to indulge in responsible decision making, as the effects of its actions will be felt worldwide in the coming years.

After rethinking its actions post the conference, the country has finally decided to take the path less travelled. Just last month, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar changed his stance from what was said in Paris, to stating that even though it wasn’t a part of the problem, the country looks forward to being a part of the solution.

On April 22, 2016, India will go ahead with ratifying and formally signing the Paris Climate Change Agreement along with 100 other countries on the occasion of Earth Day at the UN headquarters in New York.

India has opted to be the game changer, keeping ‘Sustainable Development’ at the core of its activities by planning to build its capacity and draw 40% of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030. With more than 300 clear and sunny days it has set a grand target to ramp up its Solar Power Generation Capacity to a mammoth 100 GWs by 2022 while its current capacity is only close to a mere 5 GWs. Cutting down its fossil fuel imports and looking to leaving its own fossil fuel resources in the ground, moving away from subsidies to levying heavy taxes on carbon has also become an important part of the plan for India’s attempt at a green future.