India: Smog hides deeper fear

Click to follow

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.