In India, hope for climate change action

 

Jesse Carey
Jesse Carey

President Obama recently went to India, completing another leg of his “rumors of my political demise have been greatly exaggerated” tour. While there, Obama and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narenda Modi did a fair amount of business together. Perhaps most fruitfully, Obama and Modi came to an understanding regarding India’s civilian nuclear plants.

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India, which has a nuclear system in place, has long been looking to further develop a system of nuclear power for its citizenry. The country hopes to have 25 percent of its electricity delivered by nuclear power by the year 2050.

Due to the way which India developed and acquired nuclear technology, it was largely isolated from the rest of the world on the issue. For 34 years, India was unable to trade with other nuclear nations, meaning that the nation’s nuclear development came exclusively from India itself.

The result is an unorthodox series of nuclear reactors that, while effective, still lag far behind demand. In 2009, India was able to bring itself into the nuclear community, and as a result, nuclear development grew along more conventional lines.

India pines for more nuclear power, but private companies are leery of investing, as they are worried about liabilities should accidents occur. India’s lawmakers and existing laws would not absolve the private companies from liability, and so the program has stalled.
Obama and Modi were apparently able to overcome this hurdle, though both were quick to state that nothing formal will come of it for some time.

The meeting of the heads of state also resulted in discussion of climate change. This is significant because India is the third largest producer of greenhouse emissions, after China and the U.S. While no landmark deal has been struck, the issue is now explicitly on the table. Obama’s deal with China is evidence that America is willing to try and cut down on emissions, evidence that US officials can point to in order to bring India to the table on a climate change deal.

The fact Obama would come to India and negotiate a nuclear breakthrough and at the same time broach climate change is no accident. Nuclear power, when implemented in a responsible manner, is far more optimal for reducing carbon emissions than most other options. France, a country with a nationalized and widespread nuclear program, produces far less carbon than its neighbors, while generating 75 percent of the country’s electricity.

As illustrated in Troy Wilkinson’s column, nuclear power has several drawbacks, from the consequence of accidents to the removal of nuclear waste. The good news is that the risk of accident can be greatly reduced. Nuclear waste is, as the French know, recyclable. In a country of India’s size, a resource like nuclear energy would go a long way towards cutting emissions and providing citizens with electricity.

More importantly, the fact that President Obama has broached the topic of climate change with China and India is a hopeful first step towards responsible climate change policy on an international scale. For the first time, the three leaders in emissions have come together and made steps towards action.

For too long, a common argument against acting to curb emissions has been that countries like China and India are not likely to curb their emissions, and that doing so in the U.S. would only hurt that most important entity: the economy.

With his recent overtures in the East, Obama has made tangible strides to strike down that short-sighted and utterly meaningless argument, for the betterment of tomorrow.

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Collegian Columnist Jesse Carey can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @junotbend.