People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 18

May 18, 2008



Energy, Global Warming And Development - II

Prabir Purkayastha

IT can be argued that increased use of electricity does not automatically mean a proportionate increase in CO2 emission. However, if we look at our current energy options, there is little doubt that fossil fuels will continue to dominate the energy scenario, at least in the near and medium terms. Since the global warming cannot wait for solutions, which are not yet on the anvil, we have to make do with hydro, nuclear or fossil fuel. Wind as an alternate does not fill the role, as wind speeds in India are low and cannot provide any significant amount of energy. Solar is still about ten times more expensive than coal. As hydro has also very large displacements associated with it and nuclear is much more expensive, fossil fuels remain the major source of energy for us as also for most countries. That means increased carbon emissions if we increase energy consumptions. And if we want to prevent this from happening, it will mean using technologies such as carbon sequestration with cost of energy from such new plants going up by at least 50 per cent. As industrialised economies such as the US are not increasing electricity consumption significantly, if they do not introduce carbon sequestration for their older plants, the cost of energy for them from their existing plants will remain at current levels. Effectively, it means competing in the global market on completely unequal terms and for the rest of the developing world to remain in a permanent state of underdevelopment.



Bidwai argues that it is India’s rich that is pushing up India’s energy consumptions. What he fails to recognise is that a more egalitarian growth would have seen a much sharper increase in energy consumption. It is the highly unequal distribution of the last two decades of growth – growth of billionaires on one hand and abject poverty for the masses of the Indian people on the other -- that has restricted growth of India’s energy demand from reaching the Chinese levels. China was installing about 40,000 MW every five years in the late 80’s when India was installing about 20,000 MW in each of its Five-Year plans. China, starting from around capacity additions of 9,000 MW per annum, they are now adding a whopping 50,000 MW per year against our annual additions which is stagnating around 4,000 MW for the last 25 years. With China’s economy outpacing India’s and also a very large section sharing this growth, China puts in today the equivalent of one Indian grid every two years.

We are using electricity here as a simple measure of energy consumption. About half of India’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions come from electricity generation and this is similar to the global figures. So using growth of electricity to look at energy demand and CO2 emissions is representative for what would happen if we build a more detailed energy and emissions model.

Just to put some figures in perspective. India’s per capita consumption of electricity is less than a fourth of the world average (see Table 1). If every Indian household had only two lights, two fans and one TV, it would consume at least 60 units of electricity every month. If we take the domestic demand to be about 25 per cent of the total demand – industry taking about 40 per cent, commercial approximately 5 per cent and agriculture another 30 per cent, India would need about 180,000 MW of installed capacity, compared to the current installed capacity of about 140,000 MW. If we just add a refrigerator to the above consumption mix per household, with a proportionate increase in other sectors, the figures would be closer to 360,000 MW. Even then, we would be half the world’s average per capita electricity consumption. It is only due to the highly skewed nature of India’s 8 per cent growth that it has translated to an increased electricity demand of only about 4 per cent per annum.

If we accept such caps with the current abysmally low figures of energy use, we may as well accept the argument advanced by a number of well meaning environmental activists of the west – “The globe cannot bear the CO2 burden of western life styles. Since we have already made the mistake of creating these lifestyles, the only salvation for the world now lies in the rest of you living in harmony with nature -- live with low energy use, low per capita incomes, poor social indicators such as infant mortality, low life expectancy and so on”. Not very different from that of Senior Bush’s infamous statement during climate change negotiations – American lifestyles are not open for negotiations.



Bidwai not only supports capping of India and China’s emissions, he also opposes the demand that India and other developing countries have raised – technology for mitigating global warming should be available freely to the developing world. According to Bidwai, demanding free exchange of technology is being greedy! The progressive forces in the world have been arguing against a monopoly rent regime, which has been created using patents and copyrights, reinforced enormously under Intellectual Property Rights regime of TRIPs. What countries such as the US are saying is that developing countries must cap their emissions at a fraction of the emissions produced by advanced countries, buy new technologies from global corporations for this and also pay monopoly prices for such new technologies. The advanced countries want not only to cap emissions of the developing world, but also to make monopoly profits out of it. Any argument that such technologies should be put either in the public domain or transferred freely to the developing countries is met with the argument that this will interfere with the “market”. What is surprising is that Bidwai should join this chorus, while even economists such as Jeffrey Sachs who support the global capitalist order otherwise, are today arguing the opposite.

Yes, in India, we do need to get the rich to pay up for the costs it is imposing on all of us. They are subsidised and pampered by the State in every way. We build roads and flyovers at huge costs, promote private transport for them and take away money from public transport. We promote trucks for goods transport and starve the railways. We give the rich huge tax breaks and allow them to default on their loans from the public financial institutions. All these need to be fought. However, none of it is the reason for India’s rise in energy demand. A more equitable growth would have generated a much higher demand. And capping the energy demand of the rich is quite different from capping India’s emissions at levels that are one-fourth the global average and one-twentieth that of the US. Arguing for such caps today is giving up the right of the people of India for a decent life in the future and in favour of preserving American life styles.


Figure 1: Total Primary Energy Supply (TOE) Per Capita (2003) vs. GDP Per Capita PPP

Figure 2: Total Electricity Supply Kwhr Per Capita (2003) vs. GDP Per Capita PPP