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India filling the boots of the US in Paris Agreement

Donald Trump’s decision to remove the US from the Paris Agreement was met with dismayed reactions around the globe. One of the reasons cited by Trump for leaving the agreement was the fact that Indian coal production was increasing, while the US was expected to cut all coal production.

It is no secret that India is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe. Following Diwali celebrations, Delhi’s air quality has plummeted. Twitter has shown numerous people celebrating Diwali in gas masks.

India is currently one of the world’s biggest polluters. However, this may not be the case for long. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi was originally reluctant to sign the Paris Agreement, his opinions on the matter seem to be changing rapidly of late. This may be spurred on by frequent protests of India’s poor air quality in both urban and rural areas alike.

Importantly though, Modi’s renewed commitment — in which he has described inaction on climate change to be a “morally criminal act” — do not seem to simply be political point scoring.

Considerable increases to solar power production

54750674 - air pollution from vehicle exhaust pipe on road, Copyright: toa55 / 123RF Stock Photo
Can India curb air pollution?

There is a large amount of political will behind the decision to fulfill the tenetsof the Paris Agreement. We are seeing this manifest in action already.

The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has already cancelled plans for 14 gigawatts of coal powered facilities. They have stated that they will no longer commission coal power plants. Those that are already in construction will be completed, though following this the intention is to switch entirely to more environmentally friendly energy sources.

While the reductions in future power plants have been acknowledged by environmental campaigners, some – such as Sunil Dahiya, energy campaigner from Greenpeace India – have questioned the level of the Centre’s commitment. He notes that, despite the decision of the CEA, in 2017 alone a further eight coal plants were created, accounting for around 14 gigawatts of power generation. Despite criticism, this may fit with the CEA’s policy to only continue the construction of those power plants that are already under construction.

If properly committed to, the reduction in coal facilities alone could be a considerable boon for air quality within India. This is not the only measure the government is taking, however.

According to Srinivas Krishnaswamy, CEO of Vasudha Foundation  — an independent advocacy group for sustainable growth — India began its turning point in green energy production in 2014. Since committing to the Paris Agreement, it has scaled up programmes.

India’s solar installed capacity as of May 2014 was 2.65 gigawatts. The current installed capacity as of July 31 2018, was approximately 23 GW. The rate solar energy is being produced increases yearly, with 4.6 gigawatts added in 2016, and a further eight added in 2017.

India is witnessing a fervent growth in solar energy production, a move that could well see the nation begin to address the long standing issue of pollution. “India can add anywhere between ten to fifteen gigawatts of solar every year from 2018 to 2022,” said Srinivas. “If India can achieve 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 as is the current target, and given that there has been a slow down in the growth of fossil fuels for electricity generation, it seems highly likely that India can meet its commitments to the Paris agreement.”


Much is needed to curb the damage done to the environment


Of the fifteen most polluted cities in the world, fourteen are in India. Rapid expansion to urban metropolises and the necessary infrastructure and power generation that goes with it have left India as one of the most polluted places in the world.

Even rural areas are suffering from the excessive pollution. Crop burning and the use of indoor stoves have caused India’s rural population to suffer many of the same effects as the urban population. Smog from the cities and towns is often extensive enough to spill over into the surrounding countryside.

If India is to rectify this situation — reducing both pollution and the potential damages that could occur through climate change — considerable changes must be made to India’s infrastructure. Solar power is an effective route to this. With no burning of materials involved, solar power is one of the cleanest forms of energy available. Even a partial conversion to solar energy could see smog levels considerably reduced within the cities, hugely benefitting the health of residents.

In 2016, a report submitted by India to the United Nations said 71 percent of its carbon emissions came from the energy sector. Currently, just under two-thirds of India’s total energy output comes from coal plants. Targets are in place to reach forty percent solar energy generation by 2030. If India continues to build solar power plants at an accelerating pace, this could very well be a more environmentally friendly future that is well within reach.


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