Emissions Cuts Would Cost India Dearly : WSJ

From the time of writing my first article on this issue of climate change to now, things have already changed. Jairam Ramesh announced yesterday that India will initiate steps to reduce CO2 emissions, "tellingly" hinting at opening up India for inspectors checking India's compliance to its own emission cut proposals. This is a clear departure from treating this as a domestic issue.

Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation writing on the Wall Street Journal argues that India is making a mistake by committing to emission cuts (bold mine):
The current policy, called Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, in some ways is a declaration of India's independence on climate change. It essentially tells the world that India will undertake mitigation efforts if and when it is in its self-interest. The proposed new policy, dubbed Nationally Accountable Mitigation Outcomes, is something completely different. It would commit India to developing a mitigation plan right away. The plan would be enforced by domestic law but Mr. Ramesh—tellingly—wants to submit the emissions reports generated for international scrutiny every two years. This could well become a prelude to India eventually joining a global emissions regime.

Even worse, the new regime would unleash Byzantine new regulations on the country, from new energy efficiency standards in building codes to new fuel economy standards for vehicles. India would have to obtain 20% of its energy from renewable sources—wind, solar and small hydroelectric power—compared to 8% now. Given that these sources are typically far more expensive than fossil fuels, this would mean putting Indians, 40% of whom don't even have access to electricity, on an even stricter energy diet. The increased expense will put homes, air conditioning and cars out of reach of more Indians—all of which will make them, especially the poor, less able to withstand floods, heat waves and other dire effects of global warming should they ever materialize.

The resulting emission cuts won't even make a dent in global temperatures. India's per capita energy consumption is 15 times less than America's and half of China's—the two biggest polluters. To be sure, President Obama is poised to pledge to cut U.S. carbon emissions 80% below 2005 by 2050 at Copenhagen. But it's an empty promise because there is little to zero chance that he will be able to get Congress to go along. China too announced plans—modest by all accounts—to curb its emissions. So India will certainly face pressure at the conference to act, despite the fact that bigger polluters won't.

But as a developing country, India can least afford to give up its right to consume as much energy as is necessary to deliver all Indians a living standard comparable to the one that rich countries take for granted. There is every reason to believe that the new License Raj will damage India's economy every bit as much as the old one in the preliberalization days, when India's growth rate remained stuck at around 2%. This would be unfortunate at any time, but especially now, when the West itself is in the middle of a huge rethinking on this issue.
Of course, as Ms. Dalmia points out, India can simply not afford to give up its right to consume as much energy as it deems necessary. Given the fact that it is India in which sufficiency is the rule (unlike the uncontrolled quest for material comfort in the west), I can declare that India will not become a threat to global climate simply based on the fact that not a few of the world's greatest spiritual thinkers have treaded on Indian soil.

I am convinced that all this is simply proving that "might is right". If only India had the guts to stand up, like Mahatma Gandhi did in the Round Table Conference at London in 1931 wearing little more than a loincloth, and deliver the message that sufficiency is the cure for the problems of this planet, not efficiency! That India which so prides itself to be the spiritual teacher of the world is today succumbing to pressure from the mighty. What a pity!


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