India’s peculiar contradictions

“China & India must play a leading role in reducing GHG emissions and develop ‘clean’ energy economies.” This is repeated often by other nations, environmentalists, and anyone who feels like dispensing advice. I take some issue with China & India being put in the same bucket when talking about GHG reductions and the level of action demanded by the rest of the world. Not because I don’t think India should be taking action, but I think the actions need to be different. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution here (if at all there is “a” solution to begin with!).

Connaught Place, Delhi. Flickr photo by wili_hybrid.

For the last couple of weeks, the Economist magazine has been talking about the breakneck speed of India’s economic growth and how they believe it will “outpace” China’s. But India has a boat-load of socio-economic issues that China does not have, has a starkly different political system, and her business institutions are very distinct from China’s government-reliant system. Socially, culturally, and demographically, the countries don’t compare that well, either — sort of like apples vs oranges (or may be, mangoes vs dragonfruit?).

Thinking about all I’ve been reading about India lately — She sounds like a country of hyperbolic contradictions.

On one hand …
– 3rd largest economy in the world (in purchasing power parity terms)
– Astronomical economic growth – could be the fastest in the world over next 25yrs
– More billionaires than Japan
– Most populated nation by 2045 with a growing young population spurring the economy
– Successful and growing small-business communities not dependent on the central government to create jobs and be profitable

But on the other hand…
– 3rd largest GHG emitter by 2015
– 37% poverty rate  – that’s a 3rd of world’s poor
– 2nd largest population of malnourished children in the world (%-wise worse than most sub-Saharan African countries)
– 35% of the population has no electricity access
– Jumbo mega-cities with inadequate infrastructure and rising urban poverty
– Severe lack of world-class educational institutions to educate the growing young population

…the list goes on…

I don’t have to explain why I’m sharing these facts about India’s peculiar contradictions on a climate change blog. Contradictions mean conflicting priorities. Which problem will speak louder? Mitigation? Adaptation? Economic Development? Social Services? Resource Protection? Foreign Affairs?

The Indian government is evidently focused more on climate change adaptation than mitigation. To a large extent, that sounds prudent, since we know climate change is already underway. But the biggest part of the government’s adaptation strategy is to develop more – the belief is that development is the best route to adaptation. To a large extent that’s true. But what exactly constitutes as ‘development’ and the impacts created by it along the way are of paramount importance, because India cannot afford to end up creating a world that even a highly-developed nation can no longer adapt to — a situation very likely to happen even with the rate of climate change already underway.


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