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Will India’s Rise Drag the Earth Down? Dirty Coal in the World’s Most Polluted Country

Second Nexus

[DIGEST: NPR, CNN, Democracy Now, Economic Times, WSJ]

As the UN climate change conference (COP21) wraps up in Paris, India finds itself in the disconcerting position of having the world’s worst air quality. According to the World Health Organization, the air in New Delhi is now the most polluted in the world, and in recent weeks, the metropolis has seen the highest levels of small particulate air pollution ever recorded. India has 12 of the 20 most polluted cities on earth.

The culprit? Coal.

Second Nexus
Coal fires burning in India’s Jharkand state, where forty percent of India’s coal is mined. Credit: Source.

Half of India’s emissions and 65 percent of India’s energy come from burning coal, and the country plans to triple its production of the dirty-burning fossil fuel in the next 15 years. A new coal mine opens every month in India.

Second Nexus
Credit: Source.

The problem is, the country lacks significant reserves of cleaner fossil fuels like natural gas, and with the world’s second most populous nation struggling to pull hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, India needs energy now. CNN reports that 300 million Indians (roughly the equivalent of the entire U.S. population) lack electricity, making it difficult for people to cook or keep warm, for children to study, and for businesses to develop and deliver technologies that will advance Indians’ quality of life.

At the climate talks in Paris, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the case that developing nations such as his should be exempt from restricting their emissions during this period of growth and development, as their citizens face privations and lack basic life necessities developed nations take for granted. A nation that’s racing to achieve economic growth often does not see the health of the environment as its top priority. But 

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