India Could Bring The World Climate To The Brink


If India continues to grow its electricity system based on coal (as China has done), would it derail the global climate?

That’s the big question Energy Collective is asking India. According to its calculations, under a “coal-heavy” scenario, India would need to increase its coal-fi red power generation capacity from the 156 GW in early 2015 to 677 GW in 2035. What would be the CO2 implications of such a strategy?

But there’s a catch. The world is said to have only 58% of the carbon space available to keep climate change to less than 2 degrees. India’s share of the carbon space should be high, based on its large population and low historical emissions.

The author fears an aggressive coal strategy would break the bank, with potentially terrible consequences to the world and especially to highly vulnerable countries in Asia.

Justice vs Survival

First, let’s look at the carbon budget that is available to us as mankind. If we want to have a reasonable (2/3rd) chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees (which would already have serious implications, but might not set in motion self-reinforcing effects), then our global carbon budget is 1,000 gigatons of CO2 equivalent. This is the total amount of greenhouse gases we can emit into our atmosphere starting at beginning of industrialization in the late 19th century, when we first burned large amounts of fossil fuels.

Until today, we have already emitted 589 gt of CO2. That leaves us with 421 as our remaining global carbon budget (refer). At the current rate, we will have exhausted this sometime in the year 2039.

Now, let us assume that India is historically unburdened and has not emitted anything yet and let us assume that it is entitled to 1/6th of the global carbon budget because it has 1/6th of the world’s population. Then, India’s total carbon budget would be 167 gt of CO2.

Another way of looking at it is to take only the remaining budget into account (if you prioritize survival over justice). One could take the 421 and divide it by 6 to adjust it for India’s population. That would come to 70 gt of CO2. To take into account historical emissions (fact is, that countries like the US, Germany or Japan have already exceeded their budgets), one could add, say, 50% to that. So India’s budget would be 105 gt of CO2. Thus, taking into account both India’s population and historical justice, the carbon budget India has is limited to 105-167 gt CO2.

India’s Power Minister, Piyush Goyal, has made it clear on a number of occasions that India plans to significantly ramp up its coal-fi red power plant capacity in addition to the renewables. It needs to, he argues, in order to generate the vast amounts of power the country needs.

So, India has a tough choice to make – focus only on its national interest or proactively cut its emissions significantly by better energy mix.


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