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India, China, and the Climate Agenda: Kicking the Fossil Fuel Habit; By Raakhee Suryaprakash

C3S Article no: 0048/2017

This article is in the context of two recent international summits. The UN Energy Forum at Vienna on May 11 and 12, 2017 and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Summit held in Beijing on May 14, 2017. Energy security is front and centre in both. Both India and China’s energy security is deeply entwined with access and supply of fossil fuels. Despite massive commitments in the Paris Climate Accord’s   Intended Nationally Determined Contributions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (INDCs) to reduce emission intensity significantly both nations are continuing to build more fossil fuel using installations domestically and internationally as well as exploring, importing and exporting petroleum, crude, coal, gas and petrochemicals.

Piyush Goel, India’s Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy assured the international community of India’s commitment to the Climate Agreement even in the face of uncertainty over continued American participation at Vienna. Meanwhile in China on mother’s day the BRI summit showcased the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. Ensuring secure energy access both over land and sea is central to this international Chinese initiative.

Fossil Fuel Addiction

What does the coupling of fossil fuels and economic and energy security look like in these two Asian titans:

  1. Import of crude oil, coal, gas, petroleum, etc.

  2. Chinese and Indian mega-corps have links to crude oil.

  3. Processing of crude oil for exports.

  4. Manufacture of petrochemicals such as fertilisers for domestic and international consumption.

  5. Fossil fuels are central to both the import and export baskets.

  6. Turnkey expertise in setting up coal-powered thermal power plants.

  7. Ensuring safety of the sea lines of communications and chokepoints to facilitate safe import of oil over the seas.

  8. High possibility of oil spills in the high seas and ports as the Asian nations import crude via the seas.

  9. Mega overland international gas pipeline.

  10. Foreign exchange reserves and crude prices are intimately linked.

  11. The power grid is mostly powered by coal plants although renewable energy installations are also increasing.

  12. Millions of automobiles in the two most populous nations run on petrol and diesel that adds to air pollution as well as GHG emissions.

  13. Air pollution is a major health crisis in both India and China and the fossil fuel powered cars, bikes, buses, tractors, farm equipment, trucks are major contributors.

  14. Oil and Gas exploration in sensitive areas – geopolitically and ecologically.

  15. Inequity and unequal growth are characteristic of the carbon-linked development model leading to social unrest – a major concern in both populous nations.

  16. Drain on the already limited fresh water resources.

  17. Deforestation and ecological devastation is part and parcel of infrastructure projects and mining for resources, especially oil & gas.

CPEC and Coal Plants:  A snapshot of the OBOR

Almost a 100,000 trees, many of them mature, will be cut for the 2,445km long flagship of the OBOR – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. China is also building a few high-intensity coal-fed thermal power stations in Pakistan. China is also eyeing agricultural land in Pakistan for experimental irrigation and agriculture demonstration projects. The MCC (China Metallurgical Group Corporation) is also entering our neighbour in a big way – digging for resources! Fertiliser plants are also a key Chinese asset to be built up as part of the CPEC. Coastal redevelopment is also part of the agenda. Now developments such as these demonstrate that China is exporting its skill in constructing and running thermal stations as well as its ability to construct mega-infrastructure in minimal time abroad over the OBOR. It’s a ready-made market for its powerful state-owned enterprises.

is also entering our neighbour in a big way – digging for resources! Fertiliser plants are also a key Chinese asset to be built up as part of the CPEC. Coastal redevelopment is also part of the agenda. Now developments such as these demonstrate that China is exporting its skill in constructing and running thermal stations as well as its ability to construct mega-infrastructure in minimal time abroad over the OBOR. It’s a ready-made market for its powerful state-owned enterprises.

China has committed to creating massive carbon sinking forests the size of the United Kingdom but with the loss of nearly 100,000 trees scheduled in just one project the effective of its afforestation is nullified. Replanting even on a massive scale in Pakistan will not compensate for the loss, and at least in the short term will increase Pakistan’s emissions and contributions to global warming. Pakistan like other South Asian nations is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and this would be a massive shove toward the tipping point of irreversible anthropogenic ecological change.

Even as China eschews coal domestically because of the pollution and emission angle it is building thermal power stations as part of its international aid. Coal power anywhere hurts everywhere, especially the already diminished carbon budget. Meanwhile exploring for oil deposits in the natural resource-rich floors of the East and South China Seas causes both geopolitical and ecological stress.

The Indian Reality

While China has at least stopped building coal-powered thermal power stations domestically India has 370 planned that can easily overshoot the carbon budget and propel global warming well above 1.5 degrees Celsius single-handedly.  Oil and gas explorations such as the Hydrocarbon project in Tamil Nadu continue within the country despite protests and will ultimately add to the fossil fuel and GHG glut.

India is also a hub for automobile manufacture and a massive market as well. Despite the traffic and pollution, we add tens of thousands of fossil fuel fed automobiles onto our roads. The Indian power grid is mainly fed by thermal power and coal is the mainstay. Petrochemicals are used as fertilisers and with agriculture a mainstay especially in rural India this adds to the thirst for crude. The major national corporations both state-owned and private have massive investments and assets linked to fossil fuels.

Conclusion

De-linking and de-normalizing economic growth and energy security from fossil fuels in both India and China will significantly reduce GHG emissions. Electric automobiles, planes and mass transit will also be a game-changer. But the most repeated solution to the fossil fuel habit is the carbon-tax-carbon dividend model.  In countries with massive populations and high inequality like India and China, this policy measure and economic model could help correct the market failure in attributing the correct cost to crude. As Ted Halsted of the Climate Leadership Council puts it carbon dividends could be the “killer app” which could help nations kick the fossil fuel habit.

References

CPEC Master Plan revealed, https://www.dawn.com/news/1333101

“Cutting Trees for the CPEC,” Herald Dawn (Pakistan)

China’s BRI Summit, May 14, 2017

United Nations Energy Forum, Vienna, Austria – May 11-12, 2017

SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

(The writer, Ms Raakhee Suryaprakash is a Chennai-based analyst and Associate Member, C3S. She holds a Master’s degree in International Studies and is the founder of ‘Sunshine Millennium’ focused on sustainable development and social issues. Views expressed by the author are her own and does not reflect the position of C3S)

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