With less than a month to go for the Copenhagen climate conference, there is great expectation that India, the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will come up with a clear plan to stem the growth of its carbon emissions. After a long phase of denial, there are some signs that national policy is beginning to acknowledge global concerns on this all-important issue. The signing of a memorandum of agreement with China on climate change is a welcome initiative that promises long-term benefits for both nations. The Chinese experience in substantially reducing carbon emissions per unit of GDP — by an impressive 49.5 per cent between 1990 and 2004 — is worth studying and emulating. It now appears virtually certain that the United States will not commit itself to binding emissions cuts at Copenhagen because a domestic consensus is yet to emerge. That need not stop India, however, from shaking off its ‘do-little’ image and strengthening international efforts for a political agreement. Indeed, if the U. S., China, and India can agree to differentiated cuts and joint development of green technologies, a strong protocol under the United Nations framework in 2010 may be more feasible. India needs to get its national action plan on climate change off the ground quickly. State governments need to get their act together. Aggressive measures are necessary to reduce emissions and raise efficiency in areas such as power generation, transmission, lighting, building practices, transport, forestry, water and waste management.
The Copenhagen conference may end with only a ‘political’ agreement on reduction of carbon emissions beyond the Kyoto Protocol period. Yet it offers India an opportunity to formulate a green development policy that leapfrogs the dirty carbon legacy of the industrial revolution. Wind, water and solar energy (derived using available technologies) have the least impact on global warming. They can help taper off fossil fuel use and meet the bulk of energy demand in the future. There are challenges, however, as rare earths and other materials needed to manufacture the tens of thousands of wind turbines, motors, fuel cells, batteries, and solar cells that form the backbone of this vision are finite and difficult to access. If new materials are developed, these hurdles can be crossed. The resulting clean energy can transform the residential, commercial, industrial, and transport sectors. This is the green growth that India should aspire for. With political commitment, it is possible to develop a research and production base for cutting-edge technologies and fast-paced innovation. It will also lay the foundation for a new wave of green jobs.