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Curious case of carbon emission: Should India curb development for the sake of West

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

India’s development dilemma centres around a basic calculation: the carbon emission for an average Indian is only marginally higher than the carbon dioxide produced in flying one passenger from Tokyo to San Francisco.

In other words, while a commonly-cited fact is that India, after China and the US, is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide – the main gas implicated in warming the planet – globally, there is, seemingly, enough data to absolve India of special responsibility.

 

Background to the debate

Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere is at a record high at 404.11 parts per million (ppm), driving extreme weather events, including high temperature, storms and droughts, according to some studies. As IndiaSpend recently reported, the rainfall over rain-dependent India is becoming increasingly uncertain, unsettling the nation’s agriculture, economy and politics.

Recently it was alleged that  India’s overwhelming dependence on coal was the real reason for the government’s crackdown on the global NGO Greenpeace. Some said India’s dependence on coal would be disastrous. Others argued that doing away with coal would be equally disastrous.

 

To be coal-based or not?

Citing total emissions is misleading. India’s annual carbon dioxide emission is 1.93 billion tonnes, compared to 1.4 billion tonnes emitted by Japan, the world’s fifth-largest polluter. India’s emissions are spread among 1.27 billion people; Japan’s come from 127 million, a tenth of India’s population. On an average, a citizen of Japan is responsible for seven times as much carbon dioxide as an Indian.

Citizens of countries such as Britain, Germany, Canada and the US have a carbon footprint between five and 12 times that of an Indian. With one-sixth of the world’s population, India accounts for a twentieth of carbon emissions.

China and the US, with just less than one-quarter of world’s population, account for 44 percent of current CO2 emissions. Europe (with Russia) accounts for another 20 percent of emissions. India accounts for 5.5 percent. So, a vast majority of greenhouse gases are coming from the developed world plus China.

It is hard to ignore past responsibility. Per capita data are only part of the jigsaw. CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere has not been emitted only over the past couple of years or decades. It has been building up for more than 100 years, since the West started industrializing. The pace picked up over the past 50 years as incomes and consumption increased and many developing countries also started to grow.

Between 1965 and 2013, as much as 1.1 trillion tons of CO2 was emitted. Europe (including Russia) accounts for 33.3 percent of this total, while the US has a share of 24.3 percent. So, the West has been responsible for 57.6 percent of CO2 emitted over the past 48 years. If China and Japan are included, the combined share goes up to 76.2 percent, more than three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emissions over this period.

A small set of nations – Europe, US, China and Japan – has been responsible for global warming so far, and continues to account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions. India’s contribution is relatively marginal and continues to remain 80 percent below the world average.

 

Is asking India to curb carbon emissions right?

As India develops, CO2 emissions will rise. The reasons for low per-capita emissions from India are obvious. As much as 25 percent of Indians still don’t have access to electricity. Automobile ownership in India is 13 vehicles per 1,000, compared to 439 in the US, 617 in Japan and 34 in China.

Indians fly less than nationals of other major economies – though India has the second-largest population, it is the ninth-largest aviation market. Britain, which has a population 1/20th of India sees more people flying annually. As India industrializes and incomes increase, more Indians will use electricity and drive vehicles and fly, leading to increased carbon emissions.

There is no feasible way of restricting carbon emissions – short of stopping use of all fossil fuels-coal, oil and natural gas. These three fuels account for 86.6 percent of the world energy consumption.

 

Dirty and desirable: The role of coal

Among the three major fossil fuels, coal is considered the dirtiest.

However, it is less than one-fourth the price of either oil or natural gas and more widely available. This is why coal is more widely used in lower-income countries such as India.

As incomes increase, countries try to move away from coal as the development trajectories of western Europe and the US indicate.

India is also world’s third-largest user of coal.

Coal is a major bugbear for a number of environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. This has lead to confrontations such as the ban on foreign funding for Greenpeace in India.

India accounts for just 8.5 percent of the world’s coal usage, while it has 17.5 percent of world’s people. China is the runaway leader, accounting for just over half the coal burnt globally.

 

India’s limited options

India has not been responsible for global carbon emissions in the past, and its current emissions are way below the needs of its population.

However, if India follows China’s route of development by burning more coal, the consequences for the planet – and India – are likely to be devastating. This will further worsen as other developing nations with large populations, such as Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan, follow this route.

The argument goes that as a responsible nation, India needs to move away from coal and increase the use of low-pollution energy sources, mainly nuclear power, hydropower, natural gas and renewable energy.

The problem with these sources is that they are costlier than coal and not as easily available. In many cases, such as renewable energy and nuclear power, the technology isn’t freely available to India; much of it must be imported from the West.

If India chooses more expensive forms of energy over coal, it will contribute to global common good – at its own immediate economic cost.

(With inputs from IANS)

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)