India’s response is poignant. Its poverty is comparable to, or worse than, in sub-Saharan Africa. 40% of the population has little or no access to electricity; 60% of the population doesn’t have indoor plumbing. Government employment schemes pay just $2.5 to $4 a day, yet are heavily oversubscribed. In these straitened conditions, India must prioritize development over emissions reductions; development means energy and energy means, in large part, fossil fuels. Besides, it is sheer hypocrisy for the U.S., with a population one quarter the size of India’s but nine times the historical emissions, to ask India to cut back when it has failed to do so itself.
However, it is simply untenable for India to continue to emit as it has in the past few years. At current rates, the world will burn through its 2C carbon budget in 24 years. India’s emissions are already the third-largest and rising at more than 4% per year. Even if the other big emitters went on crash carbon diets, India would still need to limit its emissions if the planet has a hope of keeping warming to 2C.
The wealthy countries, and even some middle income countries, can reduce emissions while improving their citizens’ livelihoods (if they choose to). The Least Developed Countries’ emissions are so low that they can tackle poverty the old fashioned way — more growth and more emissions — without making a significant dent in the global carbon budget, at least for now. India has neither of these options. It needs a third path, one new in the history of mankind: a way out of poverty without relying on fossil fuels. And it needs it now.
No country faces such a daunting challenge, on such a large scale. If India seems intransigent in the negotiations, it is because it has been backed into a corner. Time to get creative.