Sunny rays of Climate Justice
To some observers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s insistence on “climate justice” might appear as an excuse for the country’s unwillingness to drastically reduce its carbon footprint. But his argument that the Western world must shoulder a greater burden in reducing global carbon emissions is based on irrefutable logic and the principles of equity. The West has not only perpetrated the current climate crisis through its reckless reliance on fossil fuels to spur its affluence but continues to remain a massive carbon emitter. The average American, for instance, accounts for 10 times the annual emissions of his/her Indian counterpart.
Instead of only insisting on reducing the use of fossil fuel use by India and other developing countries, the West should support them in managing the effects of climate change. It should contribute more towards education that would ensure a better flow of information to the people. More importantly, it should play a role in making new technology more accessible and affordable.
Delivering on these measures will determine the outcome of meeting the climate change targets being set in Paris. Modi has every right to oppose hard limits on India’s emissions as these would block his government’s primary task of pulling out over 300 million Indians from poverty and energy deprivation. An energy-guzzling West must walk the talk by combining carbon budgeting with climate justice as India does its bit to fight climate change.
Given their own political compulsions, the chances that the USA and other Europeans countries will slash their own emissions to combat climate change are slim. They will do better by funding cleaner technologies in developing countries as a more cost-effective way of meeting the climate challenge. India has promised to ensure that its greenhouse gas emissions from one unit of GDP in 2030 are at least one third lesser than what it used to be in 2005. It has also promised to meet 40 percent of its energy needs from “non-fossil fuel based sources by 2030”.
Taking a lead in this direction India has launched a global solar alliance on the sidelines of Paris talks, roping in over 100 countries located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. It has pledged $30 million to build the headquarters of the International Agency for Solar Technologies and Applications (IASTA) in New Delhi. The eventual goal is to raise $400m from membership fees, and international agencies.
The initiative fits into India’s new push for solar energy option. It plans to ramp up its domestic solar energy production capacity from 4 gigawatts, achieved in June 2015, to 175 gigawatts in the next seven years. By sharing their technology and pooling financial resources, developed nations can help the spread of affordable solar technology across the globe with pooled policy knowledge. Solar power in India presently costs $96 per megawatt hour, compared with $107 in the US. Despite lower financing costs, the total cost of building a new solar plant in the US is also 70 percent higher than in India. Since most of India’s infrastructure is being built, smart investments can set the world on a sustainable and energy-efficient course. According to James Watson, the director of SolarPower Europe, this means “More opportunities for solar across the world and that can only be positive for combating climate change.”
It is high time world leaders realised the significance of leaving incremental change behind and courageously steering the world toward a profound and fundamental transformation. Only ambitious decisions, leading to ambitious actions on climate change, will transform growth and open new opportunity instead of propagating poverty. Solar technology is evolving, costs are coming down and grid connectivity is improving. The dream of universal access to clean energy is growing real by the day. The global solar alliance can lay the foundation of the new economy of the new century.
India has repeatedly said that it wants to use cheap solar to connect citizens who are currently without access to an electricity grid in remote and rural areas. Most countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East share this ambitious goal. Larger markets and bigger volumes will lead to lower costs, making it possible to spur demand. With the US and China joining India, along with over 100 other nations, to support this solar alliance, the majority of greenhouse gas emitters are demonstrating tremendous leadership towards sustainable development, while curbing climate change. The decision to set up IASTA in New Delhi reflects a paradigm shift in the UN climate process, which has so far faced the challenge of rallying all countries behind one unified resolution. Though this remains crucial, efforts to build global consensus are increasingly varied, emphasising the role that multilateral, national and sub-national policies can play in responding to unique circumstances faced by societies around the globe. Such an approach creates encouraging possibilities for China, the US and India – which together make up roughly 40 percent of global carbon emissions – to become global leaders in a new and more sustainable energy future.
IASTA and other similar initiatives to build global partnerships for renewable energy sources offer a window of opportunities for the developed as well as developing countries to forge a low-carbon economic pathway based on principles of climate justice. Such moves can capitalise on the effective and affordable energy technologies widely available to accelerate the energy transition of the developing world.
(The author is a freelance journalist and media consultant. Views expressed are strictly personal)