Inequality of emission targets among developed and developing world

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Synopsis: The current Climate change policy is designed to favour the interest of developed world over the interest of countries in the process of development, like India.


  • India, during the Climate Action Summit in Paris, avoided the commitments to cap emissions but agreed on an intended nationally determined contribution to reduce global temperature below 1.5 degree Celsius.
  • Currently, with India’s per capita emissions at one-third of the global average, India is set to meet its Paris Agreement target for 2030.
  • Whereas the western and EU countries which are responsible for the majority of the resources used, and have achieved the well-being of their people, are not committed in the proportion of their contribution to climate change.

Why India’s stand on not committing to cap emissions is justifiable?

Main problem doesn’t lie with the Indian model of development but with the colonial model of Industrialisation and urbanisation i.e., overly resource-intensive and defining progress as material abundance. This model has created the inequality, which western countries are not acknowledging.

  • Firstly, Inequity is built into the climate treaty, which considers total emissions, size, and population, making India the fourth largest emitter, not the per capita emission.
      • For example, China, with four times the population of the U.S., accounts for 12% of cumulative emissions while India, with a population close to that of China’s accounts for just 3% of cumulative emissions, have almost same commitments.
      • According to the United Nations, the richest 1% of the global population emits more than two times the emissions of the bottom 50%.
  • Second, North America and Europe were responsible for half of the global construction material use before 1970s, the share declined after the development started in Asia
      • Reconstruction in the West after World War II led to acceleration of material use, resulting emissions and sharp rise in global temperature around 1970, before growth commenced in Asia.
  • Third, Targets of ‘carbon neutrality’ are not justified for the countries like India, which are already on the path of less energy-intensive development and is on the pathway to reach comparable levels of well-being of the west.
  • Fourth, India is already performing better than the West in certain sustainability benchmark like housing size and density, public bicycle transport and eliminating food waste.
      • For example, the meat industry, especially beef, contributes to one-third of global emissions. Indians eat just 4 kg of meat a year compared to those in the European Union who eat about 65 kg and Americans who eat about 100 kg.
      • Also, it is to be noted that the average American household wastes nearly one-third of its food.
  • Fifth, While the Transport emissions which is one of the fastest-growing emissions worldwide and regarded as the symbol of Western civilisation account for a quarter of global emissions they are not on the global agenda.
  • Sixth, India is under pressure to stop using coal, which powered colonialism, even though India’s per capita coal use for electricity generation is one-tenth that of the U.S.. Also, India’s measures to shift to electric vehicles and eliminate oil has not been recognised.

Way forward

India should push for an alternate 2050 goal in the UN for the countries with below average per capita emission by utilising it credibility based on its civilisational and long-standing alternate values for the transition to sustainability.

The goals should be aimed at well-being of people within ecological limits, Sustainable Development Goals and multilateral technological knowledge cooperation around electric vehicles.

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