Last week, the South African general election took place. The Indian general election has also begun, although it lasts a month, so the results will not be known until mid May. However, it is clear that both countries must begin controlling carbon emissions and can do so in ways that will also reduce poverty.
One of the successes of the ANC government in South Africa is that about 80% of South Africans now have electricity. However, most of it comes from coal, which this country has in abundance. In fact, the largest point source of carbon in the world is here – a plant turning coal into transport fuel. Yet, South Africa also has sunshine in abundance. Therefore, much more aid should be given to South Africa to use this solar power for lighting, heating and air conditioning. (For a more detailed analysis of South African climate change issues, see South Africa and climate change.)
India is a major player in efforts to control climate change – it is already a high polluter and is undergoing a massive expansion of coal power stations to fuel its economic development. However, it is also – potentially – the site of a significant renewables revolution and the need for clean energy is immense and pressing. About 90% of Indians do not have access to electricity. There is a grid covering the country that connects towns and cities but simply bypasses most villages. Lack of clean fuel means that around a million Indians die every year as a result of indoor air pollution. Yet India too has immense solar resources, many of which could be developed at a micro-level, making a grid unnecessary.
Denial that climate change is human-induced has been more widespread in India than it has been in, for example, China. Part cause and part effect of this is that previous Indian governments have made little effort to constrain emissions. But both main parties, Congress and the BJP, now accept the science and promise to control emissions, as well as helping India adapt to the change that is now inevitable.
Climate Answers will publish an article on India and climate change next week.