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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

India Disdains a Global Approach to Mitigating Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Before the Industrial Revolution the lives of people all around the globe were more or less similar.  The economic basis was largely agrarian; a large fraction of people lived off the land or close to it.  Importantly, the main sources of energy to help power farming, much other economic activity and transportation were living beasts, and movement of people, goods and information was no faster than animals or ships could carry them.  Candles and oil lamps helped push back the shadow of darkness.

The Industrial Revolution changed all that.  Harnessing the energy contained in fossil fuels vastly multiplied the work that could be done.  Economic activity and lifestyles grew accordingly.  These effects have been felt primarily in the industrialized, or “developed”, countries, and radically changed our expectations and habits over the past 150 or so years.  The rest of the world, commonly called “developing countries”, largely remained unchanged agrarian societies, and did not benefit from the new-found energy.

Global Warming.  By the time global warming drew worldwide attention in the last decades of the 20th century, developing countries were beginning intensive energy-dependent expansions of their economies, seeking to move from agrarian to industrialized societies.  They rely primarily on fossil fuels to drive that growth.  These countries coalesced around a policy that no matter what harms global warming brought about, they were not to blame, and furthermore, that they had the right to surge forward using those energy sources in order to attain economic growth for their own citizens. 

India and China are prime examples of this growth surge.  Here we focus on India.  In contrast to China since the Communist Revolution, India has faced not only an economic challenge to development, it also has an expanding population.  India’s development must not only improve standards of living for its people, it must do so for more people as time passes.  (China’s one-child policy has held its population growth lower over this time.)

An impression of the economic growth of India and China in recent years can be seen in the following comparison of selected data. 
Population, million
Average population growth,
2010-2015 projected
Gross Domestic Product, billion US$
Avg. annual growth in GDP, 2004-9
Per capita GDP in purchasing power
parity, US$
Per capita energy consumption,
kg of oil equivalent
Source: The Economist’s Pocket World in Figures, 2012 Ed.

The disparity in GDP growth rates between the two countries is also shown in the graphic below.

As may be supposed from the introductory paragraphs above, the growth in India’s GDP and energy use track each other quite closely.  This is seen in the graphic below.
Growth in India’s economy from 2003 to 2011.  BROWN, total energy consumption (right side axis; 1 quadrillion = 1 billion million; Btu is British thermal unit); AQUA, gross domestic product (left side axis).

India’s energy consumption doubled between 1990 and 2011; it is the fourth largest consumer of energy in the world.  Almost half of its energy is obtained by its expanding numbers of coal-fired generating plants .   Unfortunately, coal produces almost twice as much CO2 per unit of energy yielded as natural gas.  The actual annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emission rates produced by India are compared with data for China and the U. S. in the following graphic.

Annual rates of CO2 emission attributed to the burning of fossil fuels from 1980-2011, for China, India and the U. S.  The numbers on the left of each panel show the lowest and highest values on the vertical axis, enlarged for legibility.  Note that the vertical axes are not comparable across the panels.

Global climate treaties have distinguished between developed and developing countries since the time that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force in 1994.  The Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto), negotiated in 1997, adopted the same wording as appears in the Convention, namely, that nations of the world address climate change “on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”.   This phrasing reflects the concerns of developing countries that “the developed countr[ies] should take the lead in combating climate change” because they contributed the most to atmospheric CO2 from their industrialization, and that the “specific needs and special circumstances of developing countr[ies]…should be given full consideration”.  As a result, the final terms of Kyoto applied only to developed (i.e., already industrialized) countries such as the U. S. (the U. S. did not ratify Kyoto, however), nations of Western Europe, Japan and Australia; developing countries were excused from coverage.

India still harbors this distinction in global warming objectives even though the global greenhouse gas environment has changed radically.  The energy use and economies of many developing countries, including India, have grown dramatically in the 20 years since the UNFCCC was established.  India’s energy policy strongly emphasizes its need to promote economic growth at a rapid pace. 

In 2013 coal provided 54.5% of India’s energy .  About 35% of India’s population, mostly in rural areas, lacks access to electricity.  Evidently India intends to produce the energy it needs primarily from fossil fuels, thus adding to the world’s burden of atmospheric CO2.  It currently derives very small percentages of its energy from wind, solar and hydroelectric resources.

At the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in September 2014 the Indian representative forcefully expressed his nation’s policy, appearing to rely strongly on the “specific needs and special circumstances of developing countr[ies]”.  India rejected the notion of constraining its growth and reducing its emission rate, according to Prakash Javadekar, its minister of environment, forests and climate change.  India’s first responsibility, he stated, is to reduce poverty and expand the country’s economy, rather than reduce GHG emissions.  In his view, a principal culprit of emissions is the U. S.

The U. S. and China agreed to a bilateral commitment on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a meeting in Beijing in November, 2014.  China’s emission rates, which continue growing because it is adding new fossil fuel-driven electric generating plants to power its expanding economy, are to reach a maximum annual rate by 2030 and possibly sooner, according to its commitment.  As part of this initiative China expects to increase the share of energy derived from renewable sources (solar power, wind, nuclear and hydroelectric) to 20% by the target date of 2030.

According to India Climate Dialogue a negotiator for India, remaining anonymous, stated in response to the U. S.-China pronouncement “We cannot make the same commitment, or even a similar one. India and China are not in the same stage of economic development. If developed countries are willing to listen to us in the matter of providing finance and … technology transfer to help us transition to a greener economy, we may be able to peak sometime in the 2030s, perhaps by 2040”, i.e. about ten years later than China.  Additionally, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment, concluded that the terms of the bilateral pronouncement were sufficiently lax that India “need not do anything till 2040 and beyond.”

It is clear from these official pronouncements that India does not feel compelled to limit the growth of its greenhouse gas emissions in the near future.
India is the nation with the fourth highest use of energy in the world.  As the table above shows, even though its population is almost as large as that of China its per capita energy use and GDP are far lower than its neighbor, indicating that a large fraction of India’s people do not benefit significantly from industrialization.  The country is seeking to correct this imbalance by aggressively providing more energy, primarily derived from fossil fuels, and developing its economy.  Judging from the attitudes expressed by some of its government officials, India is justifying in its own “collective mind”, i.e., in policy-making circles, continuation of “business-as-usual”, the expansion of fossil fuel-driven energy.

Such policies ignore the role that each nation of our planet plays today in protecting our atmospheric “commons”.  By acting in this way India rejects responsibility for contributing to future worsening of global warming and its consequences, even though it may suffer from those consequences. 

A UNFCCC-sponsored meeting of climate representatives from all U. N. member states is currently convened (first two weeks of December 2014) in Lima, Peru. They are to lay the groundwork for a global climate treaty to be signed in December 2015.  It is generally agreed among climate scientists that major reductions in the annual rate of emission of greenhouse gases by 2050 have to be a critical feature of such an agreement.  (Many developed countries have already embarked on programs to meet that goal.)  Attitudes of countries such as India that repudiate the need for aggressive reductions in rates of emission constitute a serious threat to a successful outcome to those negotiations.  It must be hoped that such intransigence can be overcome.

© 2014 Henry Auer