As Delhi rushes to boost its coal generation to satisfy rocketing energy demands, John Kerry’s decision to single out India as a “challenge” provokes fury.
It’s rush hour in the world’s most polluted city, and just visible through the dense blanket of smog is an electronic billboard informing motorists that the air quality has dropped from “very poor” to “severe”.
If this were Beijing an emergency would be declared, with schools closed for the day and production at factories halted. But here in Delhi, judging by faces barely visible behind anti-pollution masks, nobody seems to have noticed.
When John Kerry, the US secretary of state, last week singled out the country most likely to pose a “challenge” to climate change talks at Paris, it wasn’t China he named – it was India.
On top of the carbon-spewing traffic that clogs the Indian capital’s streets, that challenge comes in the enormous form of the 1.5bn tonnes of coal the country aims to extract annually by 2020. That is double its current output.
And if there is one thing that Western countries can agree on, it is that dirty, polluting coal needs to be phased out.
Unfortunately, that isn’t something India, already the world’s third-largest polluter, is about to do.
Faced with a rapidly growing population, a buoyant but fragile economy blighted by constant power shortages and millions still living in abject poverty, India argues that it cannot simply decide between renewable and non-renewable power – it needs both.
So a breakneck dash for coal is taking place across the country, where on average one new mine is opening every month.
As a result, India’s carbon dioxide emissions, are expected to rise from 1.7bn tonnes in 2010 to 5.3bn – about a sixth of all the carbon dioxide released in the world last year – by 2030. And even that is unlikely to satisfy India’s ravenous demand for energy.
India has announced efforts to boost renewables too. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch a “solar alliance” of 122 solar-rich countries at Paris, seeking to attract $100bn per year global investment in the technology. He has also spoken of the need for new, cleaner methods of coal generation.
In both cases, Mr Modi seeks to remind the West of its promises to help finance the developing world’s fledgling green industries – promises he says it has failed to honour.