Regardless of the outcome at the Copenhagen climate conference, India has the historic opportunity to reorient itself towards a green path of economic growth. The key factor that should influence national policy is the iniquitous nature of current emissions. At an estimated 1.2 tonnes equivalent of carbon dioxide, India’s per capita emissions of greenhouse gases may be lower than the global average of 4.2 today, but they arise in large measure from the lifestyle emissions of a minority; the vast majority of people do not contribute to making the country the fourth largest emitter at the global level. It is disingenuous to argue, therefore, that national emissions can continue to grow in coming decades from profligate consumption, with likely serious climate consequences that would affect poor people who have not contributed to the situation. It is important to remember that India is advancing the same argument for the developed world, citing them as legacy polluters who have created the huge emissions stock, and must now make amends to help the developing countries. By pressing the argument for large emission volumes, India has only created unease among small island states, which are vulnerable to climate impacts.
The way forward lies in sharply decarbonising the economy with renewable sources, curbing wasteful energy use, and shifting away from the fossil-fuel pathways that have led to the current climate crisis. A carefully-crafted strategy will enable sustainable growth in key sectors, such as power generation, lighting, transport, agriculture, and buildings. Some of these form part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change as distinct missions. India has taken a step forward by identifying solar power generation for a massive scale-up, but it needs to act on other fundamental areas. Research for green technology development is one. It has been recognised as a central need by the UNFCCC under the Bali Action Plan and must become a national goal in the 12th and 13th Plans. It is eminently feasible to promote research in the university system with the involvement of both private and public sectors. Technologies can be developed through acquisitions, collaborations with external organisations and open-source approaches. In all of this, exemplary governmental leadership holds the key.