Column: A billion times anything ... is huge!

Dec 10 2011, 00:31 IST
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SummaryJayanthi Natarajan has done what she set off to Durban to do, made the point that India has a very small carbon footprint.

Jayanthi Natarajan has done what she set off to Durban to do, made the point that India has a very small carbon footprint. With around 17% of the world’s population, we contribute only around 5% of its CO2 emissions.* The US numbers are almost exactly reversed: around 5% of the world’s population and around 18% of its CO2 emissions. India’s numbers are also much more healthy than China’s, which accounts for 20% of the world’s population and 24% of its emissions. But an 85-strong alliance of the world’s most vulnerable countries is not buying into our “small” rhetoric. Why can’t they see our point of view?

India’s per capita emissions doubled between 2000-2009. When Jayanthi Natarajan cries that they will not exceed 3.7 tonne even in 2030, even with a growth rate of 8-9% per annum (compared to 17 tonnes for the US as of 2009), what’s going through Tuvalu’s mind? That India will be the world’s most populous country by then. The alliance of small island states is thinking, sure, India says its development before environment approach is justified on historical grounds. But they have suffered the same historical injustices. In yesteryears, colonisers would export their industrial pollution abroad. Without any such options available any more, with the dark winds of climate change blowing across national boundaries, India’s resistance to binding global action becomes somewhat indistinguishable from that of the US. Both countries are now part of the small club of 10 countries from which two-thirds of global emissions in 2009 originated. We could shout till kingdom come that 41% of these were produced by China and the US alone, but we still couldn’t convince more vulnerable countries that they should now let us shrug off our responsibilities, just let us meld into a homogeneous pudding demanding sugar from the West.

But forget what outsiders are saying, just listen to the insiders. Here’s what Nandan Nilekani passionately argued in 2008 in Imagining India: “The arguments at Kyoto, Bali, Copenhagen and beyond will decide what a just and equitable global arrangement should be. But India has to face up to its own challenges in adapting to global warming, meeting our energy needs, preserving our forests, cleaning up our cities, addressing soil degradation and restoring water resources that have already reached crisis levels. If we ignore these warnings and eventually see our growth rates tumble as our economy becomes unsustainable, we will

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