A moment in time of global carbon dioxide emissions as observed by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 in 2017. Graphic: NASA

By Aruna Chandrasekhar
29 December 2017

(The Wire) – In 2017, weather reports were bumped up to the front page because the impact of climate change was becoming more visible than ever. Devastating cyclones, thousands lost to floods and drought in South Asia, thousands more displaced, infernal heat-waves sweeping cities, air pollution stealing hundreds of days from our lives – the year was officially the poster for a world 1º C warmer than it should be, with the effects felt more acutely in developing countries like India.

It was also a year in which some protectionist governments continued to live in denial, blocking progress of an international clean-energy transition. In June, when Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, all eyes turned to India and China, expecting the two nations to assume leadership of global efforts to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic global warming.

On paper, India is committed to doing more than its fair share to keep global average surface temperature rise below 1.5º C, especially since emissions add up over centuries of oppression and there are also poverty alleviation goals to consider. Under its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement, India has committed to increasing the share of renewables to 40% of its energy mix by 2030.

During negotiations of global climate talks this year, India led by arguing for climate action now and not just after 2020 when the Paris Agreement kicks in. It lobbied hard for more finance and reminded the world of its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding treaty on climate change, by virtue of which developed countries were supposed to cough up more for the damage they’d caused to the environment.

But the task ahead is onerous in a country of 1.2 billion. A fourth of India’s rural households still don’t have access to electricity. Bringing power to the poor had been a key electoral promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. However, in May, the power ministry admitted that only 8% of the 13,000 villages they’d identified had been electrified. Meanwhile, the country’s middle class has continued to grow, and with it, its vehicular emissions and electricity needs.

King coal’s clearance raj

However, despite its climate leadership, India was also the world’s third largest producer of coal in 2017. Arvind Subramanian, the chief economic adviser, underlined the country’s stance against ‘carbon imperialism’ and said coal would continue to be India’s chief source of power beyond 2047 because of the high “social costs of renewables”. So even when 20 countries, followed by 20 companies, signed up to kick their coal habit at the UN climate talks in November, India’s representatives made it clear the nation had no such plans.

Back home, this choice has been hard to miss. Laws have continued to be diluted through 2017 to serve Big Coal’s interests. Mines operated by Coal India Ltd., the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, remained on track to producing 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020. Its subsidiaries continued to take advantage of lax “national interest” land acquisition laws and loopholes in environmental laws to kill all dialogue – whether in Parliament or in villages, where resistance is on the risein response to this silencing. For example, in August, the coal ministry allowed Coal India’s mines to expand by 40%without having to conduct environmental public hearings, often the only means of consultation with locally affected communities.

Its subsidiaries were quick to take further advantage. In November, an expert panel of India’s environment ministry green-lit two of the country’s biggest mines, Gevra and Dipka, to become bigger and extract 45 million and 35 million tonnes of coal a year, respectively. And this was allowed to happen without either mine having to consult Adivasi communities since 2008 and forcibly evicting them on multiple occasions.

In all, 16 coal mining projects were this year cleared by India’s environment ministry; 11 were able to get exemptions. Most were Coal India subsidiaries expanding. The only exception was Garjanbahal, a new mine in Sundargarh, Odisha, a protected Adivasi district that is also the constituency of tribal affairs minister Jual Oram. [more]

What Was It Like to Be India in 2017 and a Warming World?


  1. Anonymous said...

    People aren't going to wake up until there is a major crop failure. As long as people have plenty to eat, they will ignore climate change.  

  2. opit said...

    Major crop failure ? Could be.
    Green revolution and sustainable power ? Maybe not.
    Mind, the farmer death rates are up in Monsanto USA now too, following in the path of India and Africa. No farmers - no crops. A perfect storm  

  3. robert bonacci said...

    Fires and heat waves will also snare attention (both of which can destroy crops).  

  4. opit said...

    It is part and parcel of the effects of demonizing an energy source wholesale that discriminating within subsets of the case tends to be lost in the shuffle. I am reasonably sure that I read at one time that India suffers from low grade ore which is radioactive and particularly noxious. But any search for 'Dirty Coal' is going to be lost in the overwhelming representation that all coal is bad regardless.  


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