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Global Coal Hypocrisy

India’s stance on coal at the recent COP26 climate-change conference drew heavy criticism, but richer Western economies have done little to help developing countries’ green transition. India will make a good-faith effort to help avert climate disaster, but only within the limits of what it can feasibly do.

NEW DELHI – India has somehow emerged as the villain of last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), blamed for resisting cuts to coal consumption even as toxic air envelops its capital, New Delhi. The country’s supposed crime in Glasgow was to join China in insisting on a last-minute change to the conference’s final declaration, in which countries pledged to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal. For that, India, whose per capita carbon-dioxide emissions are a fraction of those of the world’s leading emitters, was widely criticized for obstructing the global fight against climate change.

The irony is that India has done far less to intensify the planet’s greenhouse effect than either China or the developed West. True, the country is a major coal consumer, and derives about 70% of its energy from it. But, as recently as 2015, at least a quarter of India’s population couldn’t take for granted what almost everyone in the developed world can: to flick a switch on a wall and be bathed with light.

Worse, Indians are among the biggest victims of climate change, periodically enduring devastating floods and unseasonal droughts, in addition to choking on polluted air. Delhi is a poster child for poor air quality, which hovers between “severe” and “hazardous” for much of the year. The causes include PM2.5 particles emitted from coal-fired power plants, fumes from dense traffic, industrial pollution, and the burning of crop stubble by farmers in neighboring states – all combined with winter fog.

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