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A Stern warning

India can quite rightly claim that its per capita energy usage of 3,859 kwh (kilowatt hour) is a mere fraction of Britain?s 48,648 kwh and the United States? whopping 99,622.55 kwh.

india Updated: Nov 01, 2006 00:14 IST

Statistics are often clear as mud, though they cover the ground. So India can quite rightly claim that its per capita energy usage of 3,859 kwh (kilowatt hour) is a mere fraction of Britain’s 48,648 kwh and the United States’ whopping 99,622.55 kwh. Citing this along with the argument that the developed world is responsible for the current state of the environment, India tends to shirk responsibility for cutting its emissions, effectively telling the richer countries that they are all in it together. Responsibility for emissions may be national, but the consequences of climate change are global.

Global climate change is a fight that all countries, rich and poor, have to take up, and now. As the Nicholas Stern report, released in London on Monday, warns, the rising pollution levels will thwart global growth by 20 per cent by 2050, and the brunt will be felt by the poorer countries. The cost of correction — since we have passed the stage of prevention — is a mere 1 per cent of global GDP. The trade-off is simple — prevent a 20 per cent loss of potential growth through a 1 per cent expenditure. However, questions like who will spend the money, and where it will come from, are highly political and divisive.

The Stern report suggests three corrective measures: carbon pricing (through tax, trading and/or regulation) so that users pay the real as against the economic cost of energy; enhanced R&D to develop cleaner fuels and reduce carbon levels; greater education. Reasonably enough, it puts greater onus for reduction in energy consumption and emissions on developed countries — between 60 and 80 per cent. But that by no means absolves the developing world from responsibility. If anything, countries like India and China will have to expend greater effort to create a consensus regarding the need to tackle climate change, as it is often assumed, incorrectly, that growth and ecological responsibility cannot go together.