23 March 2009

Development Must Be Green

Here is the situation:

India congratulates itself for having among the lowest per-capita rates of greenhouse gas emission in the world. India's GHG emissions are about 1.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita. India claims it "is not a significant contributor" to global GHG emissions (though it is the fifth largest, and will probably be the 3rd largest within a few years). It says won't exceed the per capita emissions of the industrialized countries even as it develops. (It should be careful about this promise, since industrialized countries could cut their per-capita rates substantially if they wanted to. These goalposts can be moved, and such promises forgotten.)

But India achieves this low rate of emissions because of the millions who are so poor that they generate no greenhouse gases to speak of. If it raises them out of poverty they will want vehicles, electric lights and appliances, air conditioning, and many other amenities they have been denied. Their GHG emissions will climb toward those of the middle class, which already equal those of most industrialized nations. (If the Indian "middle class" (and above) includes 50 million people, and they account for half of India's 1.5 billion metric tonnes of GHG emissions, each is already emitting more than the average citizen of the U.K., Japan, Spain or France, and twice as much as the average Swiss.)

The atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases that we believe will not trigger catastrophic climate disruption is about  350 parts per million of CO2. Since the level is already at 385 ppm that means we have to reduce global GHG emissions below the rate at which the planet can absorb those emissions, until we get back down to a sustainable level. We are already in "overshoot".

We need to get global human-caused emissions down to about 14 billion tonnes of CO2 per year just to keep atmospheric CO2 levels from rising. Since population is also increasing we should target a global rate of emissions of about 1.8 tonnes per person per year.

Well, that was a lot of introduction, but now you can see the implications:

  • India already approaches the total per-capita emission level that all of us (or our descendants) will have to attain to keep the earth from going over the edge, climate-change wise.
  • India has the relatively easy job of raising living standards while not increasing GHG emissions.
    • The US, for example, has the harder task of reducing per-capita emissions by 95% without reducing living standards, and while burdened with a huge legacy of carbon-intensive infrastructure.
  • India will be building infrastructure as it develops, and its people will be deciding how to live with greater personal wealth.
India must build toward a less carbon-intensive society, rather than mimicking the high-carbon excesses, the mistakes, of the industrialized countries. Do it right the first time or you will have to do it twice, setting back development and prolonging the poverty of the nation.

No comments:

Post a Comment