India’s Development and the Global Climate Target

India is faced with a difficult decision that will have global ramifications. In the future decades, no country’s energy needs are predicted to expand faster than India’s. Even with the most hopeful estimates, dirty coal power will be required to meet a portion of the demand a major source of heat-trapping carbon emissions. 

India can either compromise on development to lift millions out of poverty or continue to burn coal from the country’s vast domestic reserves, according to India’s top environmental official Rameshwar Prasad Gupta, speaking in New Delhi a week before the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, known as COP26. 

With only a few days till the key meetings, the question remains whether there will be enough “carbon space” in the atmosphere for India’s developmental needs to coexist with the global goal of reducing warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared last week that his country will strive to stop emitting greenhouse gases into the environment by 2070, two decades after the United States and at least ten years after China. However, according to climate scientist Niklas Hohne of the NewClimate Institute and the Climate Action Tracker, this will only reduce global warming by a tenth of a degree. 

And India’s short-term goals for 2030 — increasing non-fossil-fuel electricity capacity to 500 gigawatts and using green energy to meet half of its needs, reducing carbon emissions by a billion tonnes compared to previous targets, and lowering the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 percent — would have no effect. 

However, experts say that, given India’s current developmental condition, these targets are ambitious and will be difficult to achieve. 

In less than a decade, India, for example, will have to increase its non-fossil fuel capacity. And in order to do so, the country’s power sector will have to radically reinvent itself. States whose economies have been based solely on coal for centuries will be forced to diversify. For huge solar farms, the land will be necessary, which is in short supply on the populous subcontinent. For a country like India, this is a monumental task.