The Environmental Angle: Beijing Comes Foward To Save The World, New Delhi Lags Behind

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For many years, it was assumed that climate change was an inevitable side-effect of growth. Environmentalism could only go so far when it is perceived as being an obstacle to development. Yet, according to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), global CO2 emissions in 2014 were the same as those in 2013, despite roughly a three per cent rate of growth for the global economy.

Usually, spikes or troughs in CO2 emissions follow fluctuations in the economy. The 2008 global financial crisis saw emissions decline, convincing many that hybrid cars were finally doing their jobs, though the reality was more to do with decreased industrial production and road transport owing to the recession.

2014 marks the first time that the global economy grew while emissions stayed flat. The IEA claims China takes much of the credit, which announced major climate change reforms last year after making commitments with the US to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China is now the world’s largest investor in renewable energy resources, with investments of $89.5 billion dollars in 2014, an increase of 32% from the previous year. India invested $7.9 billion dollars in the same, a leap of 14% from 2013.

The money-minting coal auctions in India belie a larger choice by the Indian administration of economic growth over environmentalism. Environmentalists in India have been raising concerns over the recent Budget, which saw funding for the Ministry of Forest and Environment as well as the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy slashed by 25% and roughly 66% respectively. Meanwhile, targets for these ministries have gone up. Of the eight National Action Plans on Climate Chance initiated by the UPA government, only one was mentioned in this year’s budget, and its funding was cut by 80 per cent. If money talks, then environmentalism seems to have lost the debate.

The need to take a step back and re-evaluate how we’re shaping the environment has never been stronger. A working committee on the matter is close to finalizing a date for the beginning of the frightening-sounding Anthropocene – a geological term for what is in essence an age of extinction triggered by human activities. The committee is divided as to whether the age began in the 17th century – with the start of colonization of the Americas – or in 1945 with the first nuclear weapon test. The Anthropocene would mark humanity’s first significant epoch (start of an era) on the earth, which, at roughly 4.54 billion years, would view humanity’s estimated 200,000 years of existence as but a fraction of a second. It would be a costly second, for the Anthropocene would be the sixth mass extinction in earth’s history, and the first time a single species could claim credit for the same.

Rabid adherents to an Indian growth story refuse to acknowledge climate deals as humanitarian activity, instead claiming them to be international conspiracies against India. An oft-wrought argument is that developed countries who caused much of the world’s pollution as part of their development story now ask developing nations to hit the brakes before they can reach the same benefits.U.S. President Obama’s visit to India failed to produce any significant deal on climate change like what was made with China last year. One wonders whether crying “you did it first!” is a serious solution to a climate change problem that ultimately affects the entire world.

Delhi’s air is now worse than Beijing’s. Perhaps it is time that India showed the same interest in renewable energy as China already has.

Varun Ramesh

Image source: The Viewspaper