Written by Spencer Schecht (NRSD Class of ’15)
On the sunny morning of February 2nd, a group of SIS faculty and students met on the American University campus with Navroz Dubash, one of the world’s preeminent scholars of Global Environmental Politics, to discuss the state of play of environmental challenges in his home country of India.
Dubash suggested that India finds itself at a crossroads of energy, pollution, and poverty alleviation. Some 300 million people are expected to be brought out of poverty over the coming decades and take up residence in urban areas. This raises questions about how to mediate the notorious air pollution problem in Indian cities while simultaneously meeting the energy needs of the rapidly expanding urban populations.
So this means more dirty energy then? Not so fast, Dubash argued. India is not blessed with abundant fossil fuel resources. As much as they would like to compete with China as a global leader in manufactured exports, they are hard pressed to supply the energy capacity that this ramp up in production would require. This opens the door to utilizing the abundant wind and solar potential that India does have. Dubash sees the necessity of adding more green energy to India’s power mix as an opportunity in disguise to provide jobs to some of the 300 million people migrating out of rural areas.
As these questions bubble to the surface, India is sharing the spotlight in the global climate change mitigation arena as well. The world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, the pressure was on during President Obama’s recent visit to the country (see GEP professor Malini Ranganthan’s commentary on Obama’s visit) to work towards specific climate targets. Indeed, many interpreted the pledge to 100 Gigawatts of solar electricity capacity by 2022 as a step in the right direction. Dubash was quick, however, to cite that this target has no rational foundation in current financing mechanisms or solar deployment potential. Essentially it would be nice, but the institutional chaos that is already plaguing India’s state led energy projects does not seem to be getting better.
Many were eager to see a pledge year for when India would peak its emissions (as China did with a 2030 deadline). As often as India is compared to China for their rapidly modernizing economies, the Indians believe they are at least 20 years behind China and could not offer a peak emission year in good faith. Furthermore, Dubash gave examples of how information and best practice sharing between the emerging economies is not seamless. Chinese reports are (possibly purposefully) passed along in Mandarin to the already over burdened Indian energy agencies.
Dubash is an optimist, however. He made it clear that India is painted as a laggard in the energy and climate space, but that this is a misnomer. India has a price on coal (though small) and has many regional policy mechanisms that are incentivizing green energy deployment. Dudash also pointed to energy efficiency regulations as the first line of defense for climate mitigation as well as a platform to establish Indian energy security.
The conversation spurred more questions than it produced answers. Indeed, India has many challenges to address as it works to provide climate smart energy to burgeoning urban populations, but Dubash sees this as an opportunity. With so much work to be done to improve infrastructure and transition to a cleaner energy economy, India can work with these development opportunities to employ a new generation of urbanites and correct its mislabel of a climate laggard.
The Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University is a diverse and inclusive community. The program does not necessarily endorse the ideas contained in this or any other guest post. Please understand that our aim is to provide a space for the expression of a range of perspectives on global environmental concerns.