Coal Rush in India Could Tip Balance on Climate Change
Comment of the Day

November 18 2014

Commentary by David Fuller

Coal Rush in India Could Tip Balance on Climate Change

My thanks to a subscriber for this controversial article from The New York Times.  The subscriber’s comments are immediately below, followed by the opening of the NYT’s article:

“I think this is an excellent article which discusses many of the contentious issues and dilemmas that countries face.  The comments are even better than the article – note the earlier comments that were made by people living in the East rather than the American comments made later in the day.”


DHANBAD, India — Decades of strip mining have left this town in the heart of India’s coal fields a fiery moonscape, with mountains of black slag, sulfurous air and sickened residents.

But rather than reclaim these hills or rethink their exploitation, the government is digging deeper in a coal rush that could push the world into irreversible climate change and make India’s cities, already among the world’s most polluted, even more unlivable, scientists say.

“If India goes deeper and deeper into coal, we’re all doomed,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the world’s top climate scientists. “And no place will suffer more than India.”

India’s coal mining plans may represent the biggest obstacle to a global climate pact to be negotiated at a conference in Paris next year. While the United States and China announced a landmark agreement that includes new targets for carbon emissions, and Europe has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, India, the world’s third-largest emitter, has shown no appetite for such a pledge.

“India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate changes many years in the future,” India’s power minister, Piyush Goyal, said at a recent conference in New Delhi in response to a question. “The West will have to recognize we have the needs of the poor.”

Mr. Goyal has promised to double India’s use of domestic coal from 565 million tons last year to more than a billion tons by 2019, and he is trying to sell coal-mining licenses as swiftly as possible after years of delay. The government has signaled that it may denationalize commercial coal mining to accelerate extraction.

“India is the biggest challenge in global climate negotiations, not China,” saidDurwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also vowed to build a vast array of solar power stations, and projects are already springing up in India’s sun-scorched west.

But India’s coal rush could push the world past the brink of irreversible climate change, with India among the worst affected, scientists say.


“India is going to use coal because that’s what it has,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment, a prominent environmental group. “Its strategy is ‘all of the above,’ just like in the U.S.”

Each Indian consumes on average 7 percent of the energy used by an American, and Indian officials dismiss critics from wealthy countries.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘pontificate’ when talking about these people, but it would be reasonable to expect more fairness in the discussion and a recognition of India’s need to reach the development of the West,” Mr. Goyal said with a tight smile.

David Fuller's view

The debate on this contentious subject is unlikely to change and one important reason for this is contained in the penultimate paragraph immediately above: “Each Indian consumes on average 7 percent of the energy used by an American”. 

While I am wary of long-term alarmist forecasts from commentators on climate change, I have often said that we can all agree that atmospheric pollution should be sensibly and scientifically reduced.  

I feel there is a self-righteous tone to the article above, including from some of the people who are quoted.  Perhaps the author, Gardiner Harris, and the NYT could produce an article on how wealthy countries could provide economical pollution-lowering technologies for developing economies.  If they feel strongly about climate change, do they not also have a responsibility to help poorer nations that are striving to develop?  If they did, India could look after its poor and more readily improve the quality of its air.   

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