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India Makes A Climate Pledge, But Insists It Has A 'Right To Grow'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

India says it has a plan to cut back on the gases linked to global warming, which makes India the latest country to step up. India's pledge comes before a global conference on climate change in Paris this December. The conference is framed as a final chance to put the world on a more sustainable path. NPR's Julie McCarthy is covering this story from New Delhi. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: Hey, of all the countries that have submitted plans, many of them more than 100, what makes India a big deal?

MCCARTHY: Well, India is this huge dilemma, both for itself and the world. It has a very small carbon footprint per capital. The individual Indian is consuming very little, in fact, producing about one-tenth of what the average American is doing in terms of greenhouse gases. But take India's small footprint and multiply that by 1.2 billion people. There is where you get your problem. In the end, India is the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. But by the same token, it's been seen, fairly or unfairly, as reluctant to embrace these emission - these mandatory emission targets.

INSKEEP: Why's that?

MCCARTHY: Well, we're back to the paradox of India. It lags far behind in terms of economic development. It wants to catch up. And to do that, it has to develop a manufacturing base. And that's going to be powered, in the near term, by fossil fuel polluting factories. And most importantly, India is reluctant because it says, look, the developed, industrialized countries got the world into this mess over the past 200 years, and developing countries ought not to be stuck with the bill. And India's plan says, quote, "nations that are now striving to fulfill this right to grow of their teeming millions cannot be made to feel guilty for their development."

INSKEEP: OK, sounds like arguments made by China in the past years. But India does now have this plan. So what's changed?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's living the - it's living the nightmare. The climate change phenomenon is already here. The weather patterns are erratic, and they're extreme, including severe droughts. And its farmers, India's farmers, are among the big losers. And that raises concerns about food security. Then there's the reality in India, Steve, that 300 million citizens are not on the electricity grid. And so renewable energy is seen as the cornerstone of India's climate change plan, to get those rural residents power and to clean up the environment. Today, 70 percent of energy is from dirty, coal-burning plants. It's not sustainable. The air is putrid. The rivers are dying. The very health of the country is at stake. So they need to move away from that.

INSKEEP: Well, are they going to?

MCCARTHY: Well, the government says, we'll do it eventually but not now. They're saying, we need to keep polluting because we have to develop. And alongside that, we've pledged to harness renewable energies in a very ambitious way and make as green an economy as we can. But listen, world, we also need your know-how. And we need the money from the rich world to achieve that. And they see that as a balanced and equitable approach.

INSKEEP: Julie, thanks. It's always a pleasure talking with you.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy reporting from New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.