The developed world may be at fault for producing more carbon, but India harms the environment by playing the blame game
India announced its ambitious solar energy plan last week: 20GW of clean, sun-produced power by 2020. The problem is though, India won't be paying for any of it. A planned $20bn (£12.1bn) of government investment, which appeared in the draft documents, has been scratched because it contradicts India's political position that developed nations should bear the costs of clean technologies. There is currently no funding at all for this otherwise laudable plan.
Climate change is already happening and further warming is now inevitable because of the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere. Most of this carbon was released by rich countries over the past 50 years. Nevertheless, it is people in the developing world who are, and will continue to be, disproportionately impacted by climate change. One estimate suggests that climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year.
By removing the only current source of funding for the solar programme, the Indian government is playing a dangerous political experiment with its people's future. If it genuinely wants to meet the challenge of climate change, it cannot afford to hand responsibility for solving the problem to the developed world, it needs to take an active role now.
Yes, it is unfair that people in poor countries are being affected by climate change that they had no part in creating – India has 17.5% of the world's population, yet emits just 4% of the world's carbon – just as it is unfair that much of the poverty there results from centuries of exploitation by the rich world.
It is also unfair that western countries got to develop their economies in a cheap, dirty way, arguably at the expense of India's economy. But to claim, as the Indian government and Indian-born IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri do, that this means that India should therefore be allowed to develop its economy without carbon caps, is a foolhardy act that the country's next generation is unlikely to thank them for.
The rich south of the USA got to develop its economy with the assistance of slaves. Would it be acceptable for India to use slaves now?
India may be planning solar installations, but in the next three years it will also have increased its coal capacity by 79GW, equivalent to the entire UK power sector. Rich countries have a responsibility, indeed a duty, to help poor countries to adapt to the changing conditions, and to help pay for their clean economic development. But the governments of poor countries also have a responsibility to the people that they represent – as well as to the rest of the world's population who rely on our shared aerial ocean.
All countries must accept emissions caps and must help pay for clean technologies. An international opinion poll of 12,000 people in 12 countries last year found that in developing countries well over a half of those surveyed were prepared to make lifestyle changes to reduce climate change. If the world's poorest people are willing to compromise, what right do their leaders have to jeopardise the lives of millions over an argument about justice?
The European industrial development of the 19th and early 20th centuries was dirty, dangerous and socially unbalanced. I am currently travelling around the developing world documenting the impacts of climate change and I see much of the same going on in India. The transition from a nearly 80% agricultural economy to a developed nation is proving hard and taking time. But there is another way: instead of aping the west's worst habits, emerging nations could develop an entirely new, and highly desirable green-technology economy, where innovative clean technologies are installed and manufactured at a fraction of the cost in the west.
We must approach the Copenhagen negotiations in December unified against the joint enemy of irreversible climate change. World leaders all have a responsibility to protect the poorest people from the impacts of climate change, whether they be in the slum housing of New Orleans or the chars of Jharkhand. In this post-Bush world, with India (the world's biggest democracy) and China (the world's biggest single party state) in the ascendancy, the old pattern of bickering, blame and fault-finding must end. It makes no difference to the atmosphere where carbon dioxide is emitted. We must jointly emit less. Our descendents are watching us.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017