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India is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but not everyone in the country emits equally. A study finds that high-expenditure households have nearly seven times the carbon footprint of low-expenditure ones. It also finds the country can develop and take households out of poverty without significantly contributing to climate change.

The study, by Jemyung Lee and others of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan, looks at over 200,000 households across India and their consumption patterns. Low-expenditure households are ones that spend at least $1.90 daily, while high-expenditure households spend at least $4.90.

A household’s carbon footprint consists of not just its own carbon emissions, but also the emissions created to produce the goods and services it consumes.

For low-expenditure households, carbon footprint is driven mainly by electricity, food and other forms of energy such as firewood, dung cake and kerosene. Food and electricity are drivers in high-expenditure households too, but gas for cooking, public and private transport, and durable goods such as air-conditioners and refrigerators also play a part.

The fact is many households have a low carbon footprint because they are below the poverty line. The authors estimate that bringing all households out of poverty will result only in a 2% increase in India’s carbon footprint. But trying to absorb this 2% increase by controlling the demand of these households would only compromise their food and energy intake.

Instead, the authors suggest compensating for this increase with measures on the supply side by shifting from coal to renewable sources of energy and reducing emissions along the supply chain of food products with more energy-efficient processing, transport and retail. In their view, alleviating poverty is compatible with mitigating climate change.

Also read: “The scale and drivers of carbon footprints in households, cities and regions across India"

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