Affluent Indians produce double the sustainable level of emissions

Affluent Indians produce double the sustainable level of emissions

New Delhi: India’s rich, some 1% of the population, produce 4.5 times more carbon emissions per person than the bulk of the population, and at nearly double the globally-accepted sustainable levels, according to a report by the Indian arm of environmental campaign group, Greenpeace International.

It would like the affluent consumers to pay extra taxes pegged to their carbon emissions. “While the government continues to point at low average per capita emissions to justify non reduction of India’s CO2 emissions, over 150 million Indians are emitting above the sustainable limit, which needs to be maintained to restrict global temperature rise below 2° centigrade," noted G. Ananthapadmanabhan, executive director of Greenpeace India. “The difference in emissions between the highest and the lowest income groups in India is almost as glaring as the difference in the average per capita emissions between EU and India."

The findings by Greenpeace come at a time when there is growing international pressure, including from the United Nations (UN), on developing countries such as India and China to accept emission cuts.

Both Asian nations have refused to do so on the grounds that their annual per capita emissions are lower than those of developed countries and undertaking compulsory emission cuts could threaten their economic growth, which will continue to require consumption of fossil fuels.

Based on 819 interviews in a nationwide survey, the Greenpeace report, called Hiding Behind The Poor, highlights that a small section of the population, earning at least Rs30,000 a month, posts per capita emissions of 4.97 tonnes of CO2 per annum. The global average is 5.02 tonnes, according to figures from the World Resources Institute, a research organization that is quoted in the study, and sustainable levels, defined as that which would prevent a 2° Celsius rise in global temperatures, have been calculated at 2.5 tonnes per person per annum.

Ananthapadmanabhan says that while India had the right to demand common, but differentiated responsibility at an international level, it should initiate a similar regime within the country. “If the upper and the middle class do not manage to check their CO2 emissions, they will not only contribute to global warming, but will also deny hundreds of millions of poor Indians access to development," the report says.

The effects of climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body, will be extremely pronounced on India. Changing rainfall patterns, it says, will result in intense flooding and severe droughts. The intensity and frequency of cyclones will increase, vector-borne diseases such as malaria will spread, and rising sea levels could drown coastal low-lying cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata.

In December, representatives from more than 180 nations will meet in Bali to set new emission limits, as the existing mandates, decided at Kyoto, are set to expire in 2012.

Greenpeace says it will submit its findings to the Planning Commission and seek a carbon tax, under which use of fossil fuels will be taxed and the money used for clean development projects.

Ajay Mathur, who heads the government’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency and is one of the members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Council on Climate Change, said that though the idea of differentiated responsibility was “good", India simply couldn’t afford mandatory or voluntary cuts.

Some “40% of the country doesn’t have proper access to electricity and using a renewable source like solar electricity is economically unfeasible," he said. “I haven’t read their report, but taking on differentiated responsibility would involve creating a robust public distribution system. That’s a big challenge."