China and India should not follow the West?

A new level of Sino-Indian relationship has taken place in the arena of environment. In Apr 2009, India and China told the UN a climate change agreement that slows down their economic growth and locks them into poverty is unacceptable to them. Both countries have taken a series of “ambitious” domestic actions to combat climate change but want to draw the line at anything that would upset their economic growth strategies. India and China are among 190 countries that are trying to agree a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by the end of the year in Copenhagen.

There have been calls for both China and India not to follow the Western economic development model but follow a more sustainable path. What kind of models to follow? I checked out this model called “sustainable development“,  termed by the Brundtland Commission 1983 by UN, which is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for future generations.

The West followed the “grow first, clean up later” strategy which is commonly depicted by the “Environmental Kuznets Curve” (EKC), named after Nobel laureate economist Simon Kuznets. It shows that in the earlier phase of economic development, no or little attention is paid to environmental concerns. After a threshold, when basic needs are fulfilled, interest in attaining a clean environment rises. The developing economy of China has been cited as a potential test case for the EKC. Although China and India have been urged not to follow this route, both countries are asking the West to sponsor them in achieving sustainable economic growth. Rich countries should lead the way in cleaning up the world since they started polluting it, both countries claimed.

In another friendly gesture, India and China are in talks to monitor the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas together. The border region crucial to both countries’ water supplies are sometimes called the ‘Water Towers of Asia.’ Scientific research collaboration would see both countries share information. India has disputed the “doomsday predictions” linking melting of Himalayan glaciers to climate change, saying there is no evidence to support that glaciers will disappear within 40 years.

You can read other reports like “The Great Paradox of China: Green Energy and Black Skies” which describes China as on its way to becoming the world’s largest producer of renewable energy and yet is still the most polluted country; and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins and Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE’s co-editorial in The Washington Post on “Falling Behind On Green Tech.” which laments that US is falling behind the green curve, compared to, can you believe it, China.

I picked the top 5 from 10 facts in the Allianz website here and here and other sources:


1. China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency says this milestone was reached as far back as 2006, when Chinese emissions reached 6.2 billion tons. Just 6 years ago, China’s national carbon emissions were still only 42% that of the US.

2. Despite China’s status as the world’s biggest carbon emitter, average annual per capita carbon emissions are substantially smaller (6 tons of carbon emissions) than in the UK (11 tons) and the US (25 tons).

3. 64% of China’s energy supply comes from coal-fired power plants. China burns more coal – an estimated 1.9 billion tons per year – than the US, EU and Japan combined, and builds a new coal-fired electricity plant every 7-10 days.

4. The National Energy Strategy Policy (2003) states China’s aim to quadruple GDP by 2020, while only doubling energy consumption. To meet this ambitious goal, however, China would still have to expand all areas of energy production: doubling both coal and large-scale hydropower capacity, quadrupling nuclear capacity, and increasing non-hydro renewable energy production by 100-fold.

5. China added power capacity in 2006 equivalent to the entire power grids of the United Kingdom and Thailand combined – 90% of which is coal-based. New coal plants added to the Chinese power grid in 2006 alone increased the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by 500 million tons – adding 5% of the entire world’s coal-fired CO2 output in one year.

Another fact:
In 2006, the China Daily reported that Beijing had only 11 blue sky days per month over the past 5 years, which was far short of its 22 days per month expected.


1. India is the world’s 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. A one-meter rise in sea level could displace millions of people in India, a country with a coastline of several thousand miles.

2. According to the Allianz/WWF Climate Scorecards 2009, India’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 78% since 1990. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in India are only 2 tons compared with 25 tons for the average U.S. citizen or 11 tons for the average U.K. resident.

3. The Gangotri glacier, the source of the River Ganges, is retreating at a speed of about 30 meters a year, with warming temperatures likely to increase the rate of melting.

4. Annual coal consumption in India has more than tripled since 1980.

5. On average, floods affect about 5,000 square kilometers of land and 4.2 million people in India each year. According to research carried out at Oxford University, the total number of flood zone refugees in India alone could reach anywhere between 20 and 60 million. Sea level rises could also prompt an influx of millions of refugees from Bangladesh.

India, China reject climate pact that obstructs economic growth
The environmental cost of growth in China and India
Kuznets Curve
Global Warming and the Poor – Why India and China don’t care much about climate change
India, China to cooperate over Himalayan glaciers