“In the next few days in Paris, the world will decide the fate of our planet” writes Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in a special piece for the Financial Times ahead of his involvement at the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris.
In it, he implores world leaders to come to “an agreement that restores the balance between ecology and economy.” He highlighted the responsibility that must be taken on by prosperous countries who had “powered their way to prosperity on fossil fuel”, albeit at a time “when humanity was unaware of its impact.”
After China, the USA and the EU, Modi’s India has the fourth largest amount of carbon emissions in the world – something that has drawn criticism that was heightened after the country’s energy minister Piyush Goyal claimed that the use of coal and other fossil fuel is “an integral element of India’s development imperative.”
Modi’s basic thrust was that it would be naïve for the world to place as much responsibility on the shoulders of countries like India who are “just beginning their developing journey” as gets placed on those “who have reached the zenith of their progress.” He argues that those at their zenith should take on more of the responsibility.
“Just because technology exists,” he maintains, “does not mean it is affordable and accessible.”
Modi spoke of India’s present and future efforts aimed at improving the nation’s environmental impact with the goal of cutting overall emissions down to just 33% of the level they were at in 2005, and having 40% of “installed power capacity” being “from non-fossil fuel sources.”
He mentioned a large scale project, headed by himself and Francois Hollande and comprising an “alliance with 121 solar-rich countries in the tropics, aiming to bring affordable solar power to villages that are off the grid.”
However, despite this, and despite Modi’s involvement in Bill Gates’ latest project, Initiative Cleantech, he also made it clear that the nature of the journey India must (or indeed can) take from here on out is different to that that must be followed by more developed countries like the US.
“The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should be the bedrock of our collective enterprise.” He said. “Anything else would be morally wrong.”
Modi echoed a slightly more subdued version of his energy minister Goyal’s sentiment, claiming that “justice demands that, with what little carbon we can still safely burn, developing countries are allowed to grow.”
While the cynic may look at this as an attempt at a get out of jail free card, Modi has a point. Countries like the US and many EU member states did all get to the prosperous position they are in today by exploiting energy sources whose dangers were not fully known at the time. Were we bound by the same constraints that the most ardent environmentalist would place upon nations like India right now, then the chances are that this development would have been rather stunted.
There is of course the argument that developing countries should, then, take a different course to the quick industrialisation that brought prosperity to the likes of the UK. But, arguably, this is exactly what India is doing; pushing forward an environmental agenda that, in reality, rivals that of the UK right now, while at the same time simply asking for concessions that allow for the level of infrastructure growth that can, in the future, facilitate more constructive growth in terms of renewable energy.
Whatever the ultimate outcome of the COP21 Paris summit for all of the countries involved, what has been made certain at this stage is that the ball is rolling in the right direction. We will continue reporting as the weeks go on.