Not all hot air

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s counter-attack on emission norm proposals that India is being advised to meet — during the release function of United Nations Development Programme’s 2007-08 Human Development Report (HDR) on Tuesday — is a reiteration of the government’s stand on the issue. Mr Ahluwalia said any reduction plan based on total global emissions — not differentiating on the basis of per capita emissions by countries — is faulty. India is the fourth largest carbon emitter in the world. However, its per capita emission is just 1.2 tonnes of CO2, 17 times less than that of the US.

The HDR, titled ‘Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World’, prescribes a 50 per cent global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to the 1990 levels for a sustainable future. To achieve this, developed countries, the report suggests, should cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, of which 20-30 per cent cuts must be done by 2020. And developing countries should aim at 20 per cent cuts by 2050. India sees this kind of commitment as a speed-braker to its growth story. The report’s human development index (HDI) ranks India at 122 among 177 countries — two notches below its 2006 ranking. According to the UN, India’s HDI value has increased by 0.008 points but its ranking has fallen as other countries have performed better. Though there is nothing wrong in Mr Ahluwalia’s argument, the onus is very much on us. We will be doing ourselves a disservice by continuing with our runaway economic growth without simultaneous regard for the environment. India’s carbon-intensive growth story will affect the poorer sections engaged in agriculture and allied sectors. The low ranking on the HDI scale only proves that the 9 per cent growth rate has failed to touch many lives. Fifty-six per cent of Indians are involved in farming and related sectors and many others earn from fishing and tourism. Any change in water resources, sea level and biodiversity due to climate change will impact this huge section drastically.

Along with fighting our case on emission norms, the government must put its house in order by weaving mitigation (human interventions that reduce the sources of greenhouse gases) and adaptation (a response to expected climate change) strategies in our planning, and investing heavily in our renewable energy programme. Energy is the key to growth, and clean energy is indispensable. However, it’s not only the government’s responsibility. It is ours too. Assessing the individual carbon footprint will be a measure of our per capita commitment to climate change.

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