Nov 25, 2014 - 11:15am

India Won’t Give Up Coal, Neither Should the U.S.


Senior Editor, Digital Content

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Workers wait to begin their shift as they stand beside piles of coal at the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) in Haldia, India. Photo Credit: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg
Workers wait to begin their shift as they stand beside piles of coal at the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) in Haldia, India. Photo Credit: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

There’s been plenty of talk about the unenforceable U.S. – China greenhouse gas agreement. Let's look at India, a major greenhouse gas emitter with no desire to give up coal as its economy develops. From the New York Times:

“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.

As you can see from this chart, Indian coal consumption has been increasing rapidly so far this century.

Here are two other points from the story. First, India has increased coal-fired generating capacity by 73% in the last five years. “India’s coal use is expected to more than double by 2035,” writes Robert Bryce at the Manhattan Institute.

Second, the average Indian uses 7% of the energy the average American uses. With nearly as many people in India without electricity (300 million) as live in the United States, that percentage will go up, with coal being the source of much of that electricity. “The [Energy Information Administration] projects that India’s coal-fired capacity will increase by about 100 gigawatts by 2040,” Bryce writes.

Todd Stern, climate envoy for the State Department, isn’t sure what India will do in upcoming greenhouse gas negotiations in Paris. It’s unrealistic to think that India will suddenly give up increasing power access through low-cost coal. No one should blame it for striving to improve the lives of its people, especially its poorest.

However, demanding that the United States abandon its abundant supplies of coal—like EPA’s carbon regulations will do--while competing against a growing economy like India’s is also unrealistic.

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About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.