India’s right to burn fossil fuels
Dec 11, 2021
India’s right to burn fossil fuels
Q What is the context ?
A There has been quite a lot of debate on India’s dependence on coal against the backdrop of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) meeting. The crux of the theoretical argument is that India needs to develop, and development requires energy.
Q What is Carbon budget framework ?
- India has neither historically emitted nor currently emits carbon anywhere close to what the global North has, or does, in per capita terms.
- If anything, the argument goes, it should ask for a higher and fairer share in the global carbon budget.
- There is no doubt that this carbon budget framework is an excellent tool to understand global injustice but to move from there to our ‘right to burn’ is a big leap.
- However, the question is do the countries in the global South necessarily need to increase their share in the global carbon budget?
Q Why should developing countries aim for development without increasing carbon emission ?
A 1) Reducing the cost of renewable energy
- Normally the argument in favour of coal is on account of its cost, reliability and domestic availability.
- Recent data show that the levelised cost of electricity from renewable energy sources like solar (photovoltaic), hydro and onshore wind has been declining sharply over the last decade and is already less than fossil fuel-based electricity generation.
- On reliability, frontier renewable energy technologies have managed to address the question of variability of such sources to a large extent and, with technological progress, it seems to be changing for the better.
- As for the easy domestic availability of coal, it is a myth.
- India is among the largest importers of coal in the world, whereas it has no dearth of solar energy.
2) Following different development model
- During the debates of post-colonial development in the Third World, there were two significant issues under discussion — control over technology and choice of techniques to address the issue of surplus labour.
- India didn’t quite resolve the two issues in its attempts of import-substituting industrialisation which worsened during the post-reform period.
- But it can address both today.
- The abundance of renewable natural resources in the tropical climate can give India a head start in this competitive world of technology.
- South-South collaborations can help India avoid the usual patterns of trade between the North and the South, where the former controls technology and the latter merely provides inputs.
- And the high-employment trajectory that the green path entails vis-à-vis the fossil fuel sector may help address the issue of surplus labour, even if partially.
- Such a path could additionally provide decentralised access to clean energy to the poor and the marginalised, including in remote regions of India.
3) Limitation of addressing global injustice in terms of a carbon budget
- The framework of addressing global injustice in terms of a carbon budget is quite limiting in its scope in more ways than one.
- Such an injustice is not at the level of the nation-states alone; there is such injustice between the rich and the poor within nations and between humans and non-human species.
- A progressive position on justice would take these injustices into account instead of narrowly focusing on the framework of nation-states.
- Moreover, it’s a double whammy of injustice for the global South when it comes to climate change.
- Not only is it not primarily responsible, but the global South, especially its poor, will unduly bear the effect of climate change because of its tropical climate and high population density along the coastal lines.
- So, arguing for more coal is like shooting oneself in the foot.
Q What can be Way forward ?
- One of the ways in which this can be done is by making the global North pay for the energy transition in the South.
- Chalking out an independent, greener path to development may create conditions for such negotiations and give the South the moral high ground to force the North to come to the table, like South Africa did at Glasgow.
- Even if one is pessimistic about this path of righting the wrongs of the past, at the very least, it is better than the status quo.