I enjoy taking the bus to work. For a 40 minute commute it costs me Rs. 7 (US$ 0.18) instead of Rs. 50 if I choose to take an auto-rickshaw. But today as the bus sat still for 40 minutes in the middle of the traffic choked road, I looked longingly at the High Capicty Bus Corridor that is still under construction. It is a project that has taken a long time to get the green light for a city which is now adding 1000 cars a day to its streets. The availability of credit has made it easier for the burgeoning middle class of India to buy more goods and one of the things that is on the top of many peoples’ list is the car. At this point in time it looks as if India is all set to embrace the car culture. With more money going into roads, parking spaces, construction of more flyovers and underpasses to decongest traffic, and the imminent arrival of India’s version of the Model-T, a $2,500 car built by India’s Tata Motors.
COP 13, Bali, Indonesia, December 2007:
“It is strange that India has been labeled as a major emitter, when we are not, we are simply a large country with a big population,” stated Minister of State of Environment & Forests, Meena at the side event hosted by the Indian delegation during the Bali conference. Yes, it’s true: India is a country of approximately 1.03 billion people (and rising) and still nearly 500 million of its citizens are living in the darkness. Nearly 700 million of its citizens depend on non-conventional fuels like biomass (dung and wood) for their energy needs. When the primary concern of the government is to electrify the entire nation by 2012, we know that the energy will be coming from coal-fed thermal power plants. In fact, India plans on building 150 of such plants within the next 5 years with China not far ahead at 200. When an audience member innocently asked what India could do to reduce emissions, he was replied with, “I am shocked that you would ask such a question after what you have heard here during our presentation.” Being an Indian citizen and at the same time a resident of the world’s largest emitter, the United States, I was having a hard time reconciling the need for India to grow and reduce emissions when the country is already on a pathway of development that the industrialized nations have laid.
Amidst the global debate on the role and inclusion of developing nations with regards to climate change, what should the role of a nation like India, clearly at the crossroads, be? Historically it can be said that India has forged its own path of “non-alignment” and not being confined to any camp with regards to international negotiations. We here in India pride ourselves for being trend setters, not followers. Yet with the question of climate still looming heavily on everyone’s mind and with the last minute high flying drama witnessed in Bali involving India, one wonders whether the country is actually going to take some bold initiatives that will set it apart.
In the past, India has argued for the right of rising economies to ecological space to grow in this climate constrained world. The reason being the accumulated emissions of the industrialization phase of the presently developed nations. But this is not a question of a zero-sum game because the damage has been done and its not about who should be “allowed to pollute” and who shouldn’t. Granted, India has a lot more catching up to do, this is only the case for its rural populace who will need energy for development and to climb out of dire poverty. But here in lies India’s strength: should India choose to, it can go about developing a low-carbon pathway for development of its rural citizens. In doing so, it would not only leapfrog the unsustainable carbon based economy, but pave the road map for a new development paradigm for the rest of the world to follow. The Clean Development Mechanism was supposed to help in this low-carbon transition, but it has not done so. It is mired with corruption and the funding of technology that is not wholly appropriate to make the entire leap. Funders do not want to fund the really expensive projects that would really help in the transition of these economies. Funding and CDM flaws are only half the problem. Continue reading