India and climate change

Today the west knows that it has to take action on climate change, thanks to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) and the Stern report. However, encouraged by the Stern report, it believes that the only action needed is to invest in low carbon technologies. But then what about the Third World? Will effective technology transfer fit the bill for them? Or is the issue at hand, for both the industrialized and the developing worlds, that of changing lifestyles?

These are difficult questions and their resolution will require talk tough talking. Particularly so, since most westerners have great difficulty in comprehending a world in which Indian people are no longer poor and India's economy dwarfs the us's. Our attitude is a mixture of Francis Fukuyama (The End of History) and Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilisations), whether or not we have read either. Along with Fukuyama we believe, in aggregate, that the western neo-liberal ideal will take hold everywhere, that it will lift people out of poverty, that per capita incomes will rise everywhere to match what they are in the west now, and that western incomes will climb higher still to keep Washington and Brussels at the centre of the universe for ever.

But we also follow Huntington in recognizing challenges to that ideal, particularly from fundamentalist Islam, but also from China and India. Along with Huntington most westerners believe that our governments should respond to these challenges with economic and military clout.

us climate policy is part of that response. The Stern report showed that the global economy need not suffer from action to halt climate change. However, us policy is not concerned with the global economy, except in so far as it affects the American economy. If the us were to accept equal emission rights for all and cut its energy consumption to allow China's and India's economy to rise, it would hasten the day when the Indian economy leaves America's trailing in its wake. European policy differs only in its rhetoric.

The west understands the potential impacts of climate change. Both the us and Europe are investing considerable resources in forecasting the impacts in their own region, and to devising appropriate adaptation strategies. We know from the ipcc that the brunt of the impact of climate change will not be felt in the us and Europe but in developing countries. The west is confident of its ability to avoid hell for itself. India needs to explain why our confidence is misplaced.

The energy factor
Climate change is a global impact on a global natural resource. It has strong interactions with peak oil, the rise of Russia as an energy power, competition for land between biofuels and food, competition between both and biological diversity, and the impacts of a changing climate on both biodiversity and agricultural productivity.

The west is not inclined to give way. Nor are China and India. The west needs India's help, not in developing low-carbon technologies, but in understanding the future. It cannot visualize a world whose centres of power reside in New Delhi and Beijing. India can. It needs to build a vision of it, share it, and convince the west that it need not fear it. Do not imagine for one moment that it will be easy. The west is not particularly afraid of India, not yet, but it is very afraid of China. India must work with China, and with Russia, and with Brazil, and with South Africa, and perhaps even with Iran and Pakistan, to create a vision of the future which they hold in common, and which can inspire the us and Europe to join in building it. Only then might Americans and Europeans be prepared to change their lifestyle.

We cannot afford to wait another 20 years for the Indian and Chinese economies to grow. By then we would have passed the point of no return. For the sake of us all India must don the robes and act the part of global superpower now.

Clive George is with the School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, UK