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India's climate plan 'right step'

RK Pachauri
Mr Pachauri says moving to solar energy would be a win-win situation

India's national action plan to confront climate change can help reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels, a leading environmentalist says.

The chairman of the UN panel on climate change, RK Pachauri, said the plan's emphasis on developing solar energy was a step in the right direction.

The strategy was unveiled last week by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India is the world's fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas - the main cause of global warming.

But India has made no commitment to cut its carbon emissions.

The government argues that the per capita emission of Indians is far less than that generated by individuals in developed countries.

'Win-win situation'

"Solar energy is like dollar bills lying on the sidewalk, we just have to pick them up," said Mr Pachauri, who was joint winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.

About 1.6 billion people around the world lack access to electricity - a quarter of them, or 400 million people, in India.

Last year, The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), which is led by Mr Pachauri, launched a project to provide solar lanterns at a subsidised rate to those with no access to electric power.

Sun rises over  the Ganges at Allahabad, 31 December 2005
India plans to harness solar power and other renewable energy forms

"Moving to solar lanterns can only be described as a win-win situation," he says.

"It will reduce India's dependence on petrol and petroleum products. It will give access to millions of poor to lighting. And the government would save a vast amount of money which it spends at the moment on providing subsided kerosene to the poor.

"If we implement this [action plan], we would certainly be on the right path and we would be doing what is expected of us," he said.

Mr Pachauri also defended India's position of not committing to cutting its carbon emissions which are predicted to rise.

"India is a growing economy with 76 million rural households still without access to electricity. How can we levy a cap [on emissions] when millions are living in a state of total deprivation?"

'Planet of slums'

"As incomes grow, over time people would aspire for more things like fans and refrigerators and air-conditioners which will add up to the emission levels," he said.

At this critical juncture, anything short of a major transition to a more sustainable pattern of development would turn the world into a "planet of slums", he added.

The cost of solar power is still very high, but as it develops and is used extensively the costs are bound to come down, Mr Pachauri said.

"For wind energy too, the initial cost per unit was very high, but now it is as competitive as energy derived from fossil fuels."

Last week Mr Singh said the plan envisaged a gradual shift to greater reliance on sustainable sources of energy.

He said the development of India's capacity to tap solar power would be central to the strategy.




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