India challenges developed countries on sustainable development, consumption

United Nations: India has challenged developed countries to take the lead in ensuring sustainable patterns of consumption as developing countries grapple with the problem of eradicating poverty.

Amit Narang, a counsellor at India's UN Mission, said Wednesday: Sustainability demands that developed countries, which bear the historical responsibility for climate change and have better financial and technological resources at their command take the lead in moving their economies towards sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

In his address to the UN General Assembly committee that deals with economic and financial issues, he brought out the stark differences in the approaches of developed and developing countries.

Sustainable development is, however, not merely about minimising the environmental impacts of development, he said.

At the heart of the global quest for sustainable development must be, first and foremost, the moral, economic and political obligation to end poverty and eradicate want and hunger, Narang added.

Developed nations' reckless consumption and fossil-fuel intensive model of development followed over the past century has left the planet on the edge of its safe operating boundaries, he said. If they moved toward sustainable economies, they would create the demand and conditions necessary for alternative and environment-friendly technologies to be become mainstream. That, in turn, he said, would also allow the necessary ecological space for developing countries to grow and provide basic human development to their peoples.

Stressing the link between energy consumption and living standards, he said energy poverty or lack of access to energy took toll on health and social development while holding back the full potential of people.

On the Human Development Index (HDI), countries having a score of 0.9 or more have per capita energy consumption of at least 2.5 tonnes oil equivalent (toe) per year, he said.

The HDI, developed by the UN Development Programme, assigns a number to each country based on several social, health and economic factors like life expectancy, education, and income. India's score is 0.586, placing it in the medium development rankings.

The current per capita energy consumption in India is about 0.6 tonnes oil equivalent per year which is a mere one-third of the global average,” Narang said.In comparison, the average per capita energy consumption in (industrialised) Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries is 4.28 tonnes with North America at close to 7 tonnes.

To reach a HDI score of 0.9, which would rank it in the very high human development category, India would have to increase its energy consumption by four times, he said.

While reiterating India's unwavering commitment to sustainable development, Narang admitted, The key challenge for us therefore is to rapidly enhance access to affordable energy, to employ strategies that ensure that energy is used wisely and cost effectively, and that the proportion of sustainable and renewable energy is constantly increased.

As a result of several steps India has taken in that direction, he said the nation saved between 2000 and 2011 the equivalent on average of 791 million tonnes of oil equivalent energy. This resulted in avoiding electricity generation of about 10,836 megawatts that would have required burning 98 million tonnes of coal.

In the West and among environmental activists, India is often portrayed as the third worst emitter of carbon dioxide, after China and the US.

However, this lumps the nation's total output of 1.97 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year for a population of over 1.2 billion with that of industrialised countries which have a far lower population and leads to demands that India cut its emissions even though that would exacerbate poverty.

However, breaking it down into per capita consumption -- 0.6 tonnes oil equivalent for India -- and contrasting it with that of 4.28 tonnes per capita in industrialised countries and 7 tonnes in the US puts the problem in perspective.

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