Climate change: India’s greatest threat in the 21st century?

By |2018-08-22T14:54:45+01:0022nd August, 2018|

What is India doing to tackle the pernicious threat of global warming?

This is a key question that will impact on the future of the world as a whole considering the sheer size of the Indian subcontinent. The rapid development of the Indian economy is truly a sight to behold. Millions of people are being lifted out of poverty every year. World class infrastructure is being built, with the beginning of something potentially great clearly visible. There is just one drawback: all of this will have to be paid for in higher carbon emissions.

Climate change is an unambiguous threat to the future of mankind, and Indians from Kerala to Bengal will be hard hit by global warming.

It has been established for some time now that our planet is slowly heating up. Global warming is no myth. More importantly the source of this warming is generally believed to be human activity – specifically carbon emissions which act as a ‘greenhouse gas’ trapping solar energy, warming our planet up. That is the consensus of much of the scientific community. The impact of this will be vast. India as the soon-to-be fifth largest economy, having recently overtaken France in the nominal GDP rankings, is one of the biggest contributors to the global carbon challenge. It is believed to be the third biggest carbon emitter after the United States and China.

The issue of whether India’s plans to combat the climate change challenges posed by global warming are adequate, is quite a charged one. Indians could argue that attempts to cap India’s carbon emissions come across as hypocritical. After all, the West especially Great Britain, started out as a net carbon emitter after the Industrial Revolution, often drawing on the resources of a colonised India to do so. Certainly the idea seems to be that developing countries such as India should effectively stunt their own development in order to be better able to face down the long run challenges posed by global warming.

However climate change is an unambiguous threat to the future of mankind, and Indians from Kerala to Bengal will be hard hit by global warming. Rising sea levels and heatwaves are two major potential threats caused by it. Already, unusual weather patterns have helped to wreak havoc in the southern Indian state of Kerala, underlying how complacency about the environment is now a non-starter. The potential salination of coastal areas by rising sea levels in future will not only displace millions in India and around the world, it will make farming very difficult if not impossible. This will add the threat of starvation to an already serious threat of population upheaval.

Fortunately, there are ways for India to tackle carbon emissions in an entirely environmentally friendly way, some of which are being implemented. One of the main ones is looking at alternative energy sources to fossil fuels. The focus on building modern nuclear power stations in India is a good idea going forward. Nuclear power does not emit ‘greenhouse gases’ and the waste products can be safely dealt with.  India has one of the largest nuclear power building programs in the world, with 21 reactors under construction. Ideally more should be built.

Another is the International Solar Alliance, taking advantage of the power of the Sun to help push India forward. The latter is the brainchild of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. The fruition of the International Solar Alliance is a demonstration of growing Indian presence on international forums. Overall a significant amount of Indian energy now comes from renewable sources, with solar energy fast growing. It is clear that this government has the vision to take full advantage of India’s geographic advantages. Sunshine nearly all year round is a given in the Indian case.

The increasing use of electric vehicles on public transport, coupled with the emphasis on mass rapid travel such as metros in major cities are another potentially potent way to cut pollution and emissions that can be expanded significantly. The government has set a target of having 30% of vehicles in India’s roads being electric by 2030. While progress toward this goal is slow, better co-ordination between the states and Delhi coupled with more strategic effort can see that dream become reality. The effort to build more charging points for electric vehicles should take precedence. It may be prudent to focus on electric buses first, although electrifying India’s vast fleet of cars is also very important in the long run. While the stated reason by Delhi for electrical vehicles is combating pollution, climate change is likely to be a major factor also.

The initiatives which the Indian Prime Minister has taken in renewable energy should be expanded into a more integrated climate change plan focused on cutting vehicular and industrial emissions. With the unpredictable American President Donald Trump having pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, India now has the chance to emerge as a major player in the fight against global warming. This would be a fitting addition

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