“Equity” cannot be inequitable

March 29, 2010 11:59 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 10:51 pm IST

As the debate over India's climate change strategy continues, it is necessary to address some misconceptions about climate equity that are evident in recent pronouncements of the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, and the writings of his most recent adviser, Dr. Arvind Subramanian.

A solution to climate change, even an inequitable solution, has to address our planet's energy use. It is no secret that the human race has been increasing the use of fossil fuels and is expected to continue on that path at least till 2031-32 by all global projections. While new technologies have allowed more efficient use of energy thereby allowing higher growth with a given amount of energy; we have thus far not succeeded in delivering growth without a growth in energy consumption. And herein lies the lesson in equity/inequity.

Based on the most recent BP statistics, the use of commercially traded fuels in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries between 2002 and 2007, in absolute terms, was about 2.1 times that in India over the same period. The population of OECD countries is slightly less than that of India. And importantly, India delivered its highest ever growth during this period. So despite OECD's advanced technological and developmental level and already high income and consumption levels, OECD countries continue to disproportionately increase their consumption of global commercial energy supplies. As such incremental emissions from the OECD group of countries, even today, are disproportionate to India — just as they have been since the industrial revolution.

Incremental commercial energy consumption in China, whom we seek as an ally in the fight against climate change, was about eight times that in India over the same period. Yes, China has a slightly higher population and its growth rate was also marginally higher but neither is anywhere close to justifying this disproportionate use of commercial energy and consequent emissions.

Such inequities persist not just among nations but even within nations wherein those that have no access to energy are simply denied development and many of the things such as water, health, education, gender equality and livelihoods that it delivers. India with over 17 per cent of the world's population has access to only about 3.8 per cent of its commercial energy. Within the known realm of technologies and technological forecasts India would need to, in the least energy intense scenario of the Integrated Energy Policy, double this share by 2031-32 to maintain an 8 per cent growth trajectory. The ground reality is that the growth in India's share of global commercial energy supply has been falling and at the current rate of growth it will take India another 40 years to double its share of global energy supplies.

Per capita principle

How then can we deliver equity without causing a climate and social catastrophe? We need to use available commercial energy more equitably to protect every human's development right and strive for new technologies that continuously lower the amount of fossil fuels needed to deliver a threshold level of development. And this is why the per capita principle of access to the global environmental space, propounded by this author and others is so critical to climate justice. It might help Dr. Subramanian to realise that depending on how the threshold level of development is defined, India today is at 15-20 per cent of that level.

To be absolutely fair, it is possible that Shri Jairam Ramesh and Dr. Subramanian have the technology that will deliver equity out of inequities but before my impoverished Nation agrees to towing their line consensus must be built around this golden path to development. And “Yes Minister” consensus in a democracy has to be built through inclusion and not through the exclusion of dissenting voices within the core negotiating team.

( The author is the former Principal Adviser Energy and Core Climate Negotiator, Government of India .)

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