India’s Heat Wave Fueled by Western & Indian Energy Policies
Climate science expert D. Raghunandan and climate activist Anjali Appadurai discuss how Indian’s reliance on coal, underfunded mitigation, and the West’s intellectual property rights curb the development of renewable energy sources in India
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
India is in the grip of an extreme heatwave that has killed more than 1,100 people in the past week. Some states have seen temperatures as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit. With the extreme heatwave in India, some are pointing to its connection to climate change. But can we make that connection? With us to help us connect the dots are our two guests.
Joining us from Delhi, India, is D. Raghunandan. Rhagu is a member of the Delhi Science Forum, which is a public interest organization dedicated to popularizing science and technology policies. And also joining us from Vancouver is Anjali Appadurai. Anjali is a member of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.
Thank you both for joining us.
ANJALI APPADURAI, GLOBAL CAMPAIGN TO DEMAND CLIMATE JUSTICE: Thanks, Jessica.
D. RAGHUNANDAN, DELHI SCIENCE FORUM: Thanks.
DESVARIEUX: So Rhagu, let’s start off with you, since you’re on the ground there in India. I understand that scientists are often reluctant to link extreme weather events like this current heatwave in India to climate change. So can you just point us to some specific studies, or any sort of evidence that can connect this extreme heat wave to climate change?
RHAGUNANDAN: Yeah. Well, scientifically the difficulty is in pinpointing a causal relationship between a particular extreme weather event and climate change. We know that with climate change, and we have figures now showing this, we will have more heatwaves every year. Slightly higher temperatures each year. More extreme rainfall events each year. That we know. But whether this particular heatwave is because of climate change or because of local climatic or weather events, that’s a slightly more difficult question to answer with a great deal of certainty.
DESVARIEUX: Rhagu, those figures that you mentioned. What studies are you talking about?
RHAGUNANDAN: There are a number of meteorological studies in India as well as internationally by the IPCC and by other agencies which show that the number of high rainfall events every year have increased over the past 20 years. The number of heatwaves have also increased over the past 20 years. But as I said, it’s very difficult to pinpoint whether this particular heatwave is because of climate change, or other regional or global weather events.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. But we can pinpoint who’s being affected by these extreme weather events. Anjali, can you just talk about some people who are most affected by this heatwave?
APPADURAI: Yes, Jessica. So the majority of people of this–the majority of this 1,100 casualties of this heatwave were homeless people. And the people who are affected first are people of lower incomes, laborers who are expected to be working outside in the sunlight. So this is a familiar situation we see with climate impacts around the world. It really, it usually works out this way, those lower on the socioeconomic ladder affected first. And that’s one of the prime characteristics of climate change and how it’s going to play out in our world in the next few years.
DESVARIEUX: Now let’s speak specifically about India’s contribution to carbon emissions. India is a heavy consumer of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. Rhagu, what specific energy policies has India maintained that’s contributed to climate change?
RHAGUNANDAN: India is high on fossil fuel energy production. In terms of electricity generation for example, we are roughly in this country somewhere around 50 to 60 percent of electricity generation is down to coal. Now, that’s the transition which India is trying to make, moving towards solar energy generation. But it’s a slow transition given the costs.
However, the flipside is on a per capita basis, India still is way, way below the global average in terms of energy consumption. So in absolute numbers, we are high emitters. But on per capita basis, we are extremely low. The U.S., for example, has about 16 times the per capita energy consumption as India does.
DESVARIEUX: Is there real momentum, you mentioned transitioning to solar. Is there real momentum in India to really move towards a greener economy?
RHAGUNANDAN: Yeah. There is good momentum on several fronts. One of them is a shift towards solar electricity generation and to wind. But the obstacle here is costs more than anything else. As we all know, solar and wind both are more expensive, particularly solar, than other forms of energy production, particularly coal.
India has set a very ambitious target for solar, and maybe we can discuss that a little bit later. But the other major driver is savings on energy by large industries. And this is prompted not so much by climate considerations as by energy costs in industries like steel and cement. The bigger obstacles, however, are the rising energy expenditures in the transportation sector driven largely by personal transport and the expanding middle class, and the failure of India to invest more in rail rather than in road. The big challenges I think are in personal transportation, as I mentioned, but also the resistance comes from the automobile manufacturers as well as from government, both of whom seem to think that the automobile sector is a major driver of economic growth in the country, as well as housing sector being a major driver. And these industries, the real estate industry and the automobile industry are resisting energy efficiency policies which could save a lot of energy, but which for [GDP] growth reasons is being held back.
DESVARIEUX: Anjali, I want to ask you about the role of the U.S., China, and Europe in producing greenhouse gas emissions. What level of responsibility have they taken in trying to aid developing countries like India who make the case that they did not produce the brunt of these carbon emissions during industrialization, and need help from wealthier nations? Has the West and China really stepped up?
APPADURAI: Right. There’s an important distinction to make here. I think it’s important to start, the starting point should be that okay, we have a climate crisis on our hands, and 75 percent of the emissions in the atmosphere right now are the result of emissions from the industrialization of the West. And that industrialization has gotten the so-called developed countries, this is UN language, the developed, industrialized countries versus the developing countries, the developed countries to the level of wealth and human development that they’re at right now.
So in the last few years, in the developing countries where 80 percent of the world’s population resides, those countries have started to go through their own industrialization process, like China and India are kind of leading the way on that. They’re the world’s largest developing countries. And so their emissions are starting to rise in the way that sort of the U.S. and England were rising in their process of industrialization.
So notably, as a side note to that, much of the carbon output of countries like China are actually generated as a result of producing goods that are then directly exported to the U.S., so that’s something to take into account as well. But it just shows you that the problem is, it’s systemic in nature. It’s the wealthiest, essentially, in the world who have caused the most emissions thus far.
And so then there’s a question of who’s responsible. So there’s clearly historical responsibility. But then there’s also an ongoing current responsibility. But it’s important, as Rhagu mentioned earlier, it’s important to note on a per capita basis, so on a per human basis, who is really paying for climate change and who has the responsibility to deal with the issue the most. So someone in China is using up to 20 times fewer emissions than someone in the U.S. is, for example. And there’s less historical responsibility there. So when it comes to who has the responsibility, developed countries unequivocally have the brunt of the responsibility. And China’s not so much in that camp because of the lack of the historical trajectory.
So that’s well established in the UN negotiations. It’s developed countries are legally obligated to step up and support developing countries not only through having strong domestic targets at home to curb their own emissions, but also through the very, very important pillar of climate finance. And finance can take several different forms, but it’s essentially international transfers to help developing countries not only adapt to existing and ongoing climate impacts, but also to help them transition to a renewable economy. Because that transition can’t happen on its own and out of the blue. The world is still very much operating on a Western economic model.
DESVARIEUX: And is that the basis for the Green Climate Fund, Anjali?
APPADURAI: Yes. The Green Climate Fund is a bit of a, it’s a bit of a, honestly, an ongoing disaster. And it just goes to show the state of climate finance right now. Climate finance has really suffered. There’s been a severe lack of commitment on the part of the developed world.
So the GCF, the Green Climate Fund, has been negotiating for a long time. And basically their decision was that the developed countries would work up to a pledge of $100 billion U.S. annually by 2020. And so there was a deadline of April 30th of this year for them to get up to that number. But actually what’s been pledged so far is only $4 billion. And so there’s a real shortfall in what’s been pledged versus what has been calculated as the need. So it’s really hard to point to developing countries and sort of expect them to transition to a low-carbon economy if the financial component is just not coming in.
DESVARIEUX: So Rhagu, you’ve just heard Anjali talk about the Green Climate Fund and how underfunded it is. Is there anyone in the Indian political landscape making the same point?
RHAGUNANDAN: Yes. In the sense that the so-called developed world owes it to the developing world to help the transition to a low-carbon or zero-carbon economy. But from a specifically Indian point of view, I don’t see India standing in the same queue as Burkina Faso asking for Western funds. Which would be I think not the right thing for India to do, because if it does then India would take the lion’s share on a per capita basis.
But there are some fairly large big ticket items of expenditure which India needs to invest in which could do with Western funding. Such as, for example, a shift from road to rail transport will require thousands of kilometers of new rail lines. And that’s a very expensive proposition which could do with Green Climate funding.
So yes, there are enough people talking about it, but I think the dilemma is, does India stand in front of the line, or does it allow the least developed countries, the island states, the African nations, to get a bulk of that money?
DESVARIEUX: Anjali, why can’t countries, developing countries like India, easily transition to renewables? Is this simply about funding?
APPADURAI: No. I mean, so this is a common argument, that developing countries need to industrialize and develop down a different pathway, a less dirty pathway than the developed countries did it, right. Like, not cars, not industry. Renewable, carbon-free technology. And that’s a great idea, but there’s so many multiple institutionalized barriers to that. And finance is a huge one. And as we just talked about, the finance is really lacking. The North-South financial transfers are lacking.
But there’s also a really not often talked about barrier of intellectual property rights. And this is a huge point of contention in the UN negotiations around this. Over 90 percent of the patents for clean technology are held in Western countries. Most of them are held in the U.S. So there needs to be an open conversation about transferring those intellectual property rights to the South so that those technologies can actually be invested in, can actually be replicated, can actually become infrastructure, to transition Southern economies to a low-carbon economy. And that’s a conversation that the developed countries have repeatedly shut down and repeatedly ignored at the international level, because IPRs, intellectual property rights, are a real point of contention. And they represent actually a lot of money for industry. For private industry in Western countries.
And that’s a huge part of this whole climate mess. It’s corporate interests–as countries try to work this out multilaterally, there’s a whole big bloc, and that’s corporate interests, that really block a lot of progress on this. So that’s the unspoken barrier, the elephant in the room. We need to start talking about it. The intellectual property rights are preventing these technologies from being transferred.
DESVARIEUX: Very interesting point. Did you want to just jump in, Rhagu, very quickly?
RHAGUNANDAN: Yeah, I just wanted to say that the IPR issue is real. It also once again boils down to money. Who pays for the intellectual property rights? And if the corporations in the West want to be paid for those IPRs, then they will eat up a chunk of this Green Climate Fund, which will then further deprive the developing countries of money.
So it does boil down to dollars and cents at the end. Not too many cents, mostly dollars. But it does boil down to money and the question of who pays for the IPRs. And that is certainly a very serious obstacle.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Rhagu and Anjali, thank you both for joining us.
APPADURAI: Thanks, Jessica.
RHAGUNANDAN: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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