India: Smog hides deeper fear

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It doesn't take long in the thick, choking smogs that hang over major Indian cities to realise the seriousness of the pollution problem.

Even when it's 48C in Delhi you won't get a sun tan: it's too polluted.

India is already the fifth-largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, releasing 250 million tons into the atmosphere a year, more than any European country. Carbon emissions grew at 61 per cent between 1990 and 2001; only China's grew faster. Per capita emissions are expected to triple by 2020.

The main factor is demand for power generation, as the economy continues to grow at a ferocious pace. Large areas of Delhi continue to suffer daily blackouts during the summer and the authorities have only been able to keep a constant supply to Bombay, the power-house of India's economy, by imposing blackouts on nearby towns for days at a time, which earlier this year led to riots.

In 2002 India had a total power generating capacity of 120,000MW. Over the next 10 years the government plans almost to double that, but, despite being the only country in the world with a ministry devoted exclusively to renewable energy, India's performance in the field is poor.

Hydro-electric power supplied 11.5 per cent of energy 25 years ago; in 2001 the figure was 6.3 per cent. Solar and wind power account for just 0.2 per cent.

The biggest problem is that most of India's power stations are still coal-fired, and most domestically mined coal is of poor quality, leading to high carbon emissions.

But India's thirst for oil is growing too, from 2.1 million barrels a day in 2001 to a predicted 5.5 million by 2025. India still has relatively few private cars, but that is changing fast.

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