U.S. President Barack Obama, left and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake  hands after a meeting in New Delhi, Sunday. Pic: AP.

U.S. President Barack Obama, left and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands after a meeting in New Delhi, Sunday. Pic: AP.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit to India occurred in the hopes that the two giant countries would thrash out some kind of binding deal on pollution and climate change. However, when compared to the kind of agreement the US reached with China back in November, results were meager. Highlights of the US-India negotiations include a phasing out of the potent, short-lived greenhouse gases known as hydroflourocarbons, investment in Indian solar projects, plus “co-operation” on air quality and nuclear power generation. So while not entirely fruitless, there was no agreement for India to cap its ghg emissions. The resistance comes in the wake of India moving into third place in global emissions behind China and the US.

Is this what President Obama gets for shaving “6 hours off his life” by hanging around in the New Delhi smog? The air in India’s capital area has the infamous distinction of being the world’s highest in particulate matter (PM 2.5), 15 times over the annual exposure recommended by the World Health Organization. Furthermore, over half of the world’s 20 worst cities for air quality are located in India. Even for non-smokers, breathing New Delhi’s air is equivalent to smoking eight cigarettes a day, according to University of Cambridge Statistician David Spiegelhalter. It is a good thing President Obama quit smoking back in 2011.

Delhi smog. Pic: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier (Flickr CC)

Delhi smog. Pic: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier (Flickr CC)

So why did the leaders fail to reach a deal to limit emissions in India? As with the rest of the rapidly industrializing world, India puts industry-based economic growth ahead of environmental concerns, despite its atrocious urban air quality and the fact that is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Much of that industrial growth comes from factories fueled by coal, and according to the Indian government, any limits to energy or industry must have a viable green alternative, such as solar power.

From BBC News:

The world does not expect India to make a similar announcement (like the US-China one). And yet, just one major plan to install 100,000 MW (megaWatts) of solar power will mean we will be delivering more than others in the global fight against climate change.

—Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plans to achieve 100 GW of solar power by 2022 were welcomed by the Obama administration, though India’s plans to double coal production to 1 billion tons annually cannot be seen as sustainable in any way. Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels and is already used to produce 80% of India’s electricity. Yet India’s per capita emissions are still very low, at 1.4 tons compared to the US’s 18.1 (2010 numbers, source: US Energy Administration). For this reason, another climate ally, Germany, has agreed to back India’s position on ongoing international climate negotiations, in which India would receive a portion of a proposed $10 billion Green Climate Fund to spend on climate change adaptation and the curbing of emissions.

From the Deccan Herald:

We were first opposed to it (Indian proposal), but we are now convinced. Since India’s per capita emission was very low, it is difficult to impose the mitigation measures. But we are now convinced. The money should be spent in 50:50 ratio on adaptation and mitigation measures.

—Barbara Hendricks, German environment minister

With countries as large as China and India, all measures have resounding effects. It is therefore easy to see how significant both investment in renewables and efforts for curbing emissions could be, even as those emissions soar past sustainable levels and into the realm of severe risk.