India stuck on CO2? Let them work on the other carbon

Right now, India looks like a more troublesome partner against climate change than China does. Both declined to subscribe to the 50 percent reduction in carbon dioxide that the industrial nations called for at the G8 summit, but China has been negotiating with what looks like progressive intent, while India may lack the domestic support it needs to act.
“India’s position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets,” Indian Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh said during a joint appearance with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Sunday.Such a hard statement at a joint appearance designed to highlight the environment shows the vulnerability of the Indian government to popular opinion at home. Many Indians believe the country’s economic progress is too important to risk restrictions on emissions. The U.S., after all, didn’t get so big by capping its smokestacks.
India’s energy generation produces only 2.3 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, compared to 29 percent from the U.S. and 27 percent from the European Union, according to the World Resources Institute. That nonetheless makes India the second largest CO2 polluter in the developing world, following China at 8.3 percent.
However, India has an opportunity for progress on another front. It is a significant emitter of black carbon, better known as soot, which finds its way to the polar ice caps, where it darkens ice and snow, collects heat from the sun, and contributes to global warming and ice melt. Black carbon from clay stoves in Indian villages may be as significant a contributor to Himalayan ice melt as carbon dioxide, according to data just released by Baharas Hindu University and splashed last week in the Times of India.
And if India is not poised for progress on carbon dioxide, it’s better equipped to tackle black carbon, with several organizations working to replace traditional clay stoves, or chulhas, with portable biomass stoves that burn alternative fuels, such as compressed rubbish, or more completely burn traditional fuels, such as agricultural waste. India has already distributed 32 million biomass stoves, and if the country can’t get its act together on carbon dioxide in time for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, it could offer heightened efforts against black carbon.
Clinton, however, is looking after the long term. The Obama Administration knows that a U.S. commitment to lower emissions means little if China and India merely replace our pollution as they develop into U.S.-style comsumption societies. So in an appearance Friday at the Taj Hotel, Clinton highlighted U.S. blunders and sought to stir Indian pride with an analogy to the telephone:
First, let me say that the discussion we had about climate change and clean energy was extremely productive. And the point that was made, which we underscore and believe in completely, is that there is no inherent contradiction between poverty eradication and moving toward a low-carbon economy. The United States wants to see India continue to progress in its development in lifting millions and millions of more people out of poverty and providing greater opportunity for people to pursue their own dreams. And that is something that they would not expect any country to turn away from.
Our point is very simple: That we acknowledge, now with President Obama, that we have made mistakes – the United States – and we, along with other developed countries, have contributed most significantly to the problems that we face with climate change. We are hoping that a great country like India will not make the same mistakes. And just as India went, from a few years ago, having very few telephones to now having more than 500 million mostly cell phones by leapfrogging over the infrastructure that we built for telephone service, we believe India is innovative and entrepreneurial enough to figure out how to deal with climate change while continuing to lift people out of poverty and develop at a rapid rate.

Tip Jar: If you found value on this page, please consider tipping the author.