An Indian delegate at U.N. climate talks says India will be able cut back on its carbon emissions if money is made available to boost renewable energy in an envisioned climate agreement in Paris. “The quick answer is yes,” Ajay Mathur, the director of India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency, told reporters. … [A]sked whether India would cut back on coal if the Paris agreement ensures it receives international support that brings down the cost of expanding renewable energy, Mathur said: “Absolutely.” “Solar and wind is our first commitment. Hydro, nuclear, all of these non-carbon sources are what we will develop to the largest extent we can,” he said. “What cannot be met by these would be met by coal.”
From reading reports in the press—and hearing complaints from Republicans always looking for an excuse to do nothing about climate change—you might get the sense that developing countries are the impediment to reaching a strong climate agreement in Paris. Traditionally the subject of such handwringing was China, but as it has grown richer it has become more proactive about fighting climate change, so the new scapegoat is India.
On Monday, a New York Times headline declared that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “could make or break Obama’s climate legacy,” while a Wall Street Journal headline said that India is “a focus of [the] Paris climate talks.” The Times wrote, “Indian negotiators have publicly staked out an uncompromising position.”
India is the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, simply by virtue of having 1.25 billion people. But it is extremely poor: 300 million of its citizens lack electricity. While the US has a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $54,630 and 16.6 tons per person of annual carbon emissions, for India those figures are only $1,596 and 1.7 tons. And so India, the Times notes, “has positioned itself as the champion of developing nations.” Specifically, that means it is offering only to reduce carbon emissions per dollar of GDP, not in total (as well as take steps such as ramping up renewables). If developing countries are to leapfrog over the dirty phase of economic growth that rich countries have gone through, India argues, that will require major investments in renewable energy—and the rich world needs to help pay for it.
The ambition of all major developed countries fall well short of their fair shares, which include not only domestic action but also international finance. Those with the starkest gap between their climate ambition and their fair shares include: Russia: INDC represents zero contribution towards its fair share Japan: INDC represents about one tenth of its fair share United States: INDC represents about a fifth of its fair share European Union: INDC represents just over a fifth of its fair share.