Comment – How politics is playing havoc with carbon control imperatives

The election season is not always the best time for mulling over desired policy changes. This is a time when most lawmakers are focused on what could help them win the election. Most would least care about what would make the country stronger (or less weak). This is not true just for the current ruling party, but for the opposition as well.

In terms of priorities, survival instincts prevail over economic sense.

That could explain why even a compelling concept like rooftop solar, which can create over 80 million jobs, has been kept aside. The last thing that policymakers want is a concept that could compel them to disband the current power grids managed and controlled by state governments and the Centre. It is these power distribution networks that help governments play the role of patron saint and godfather. Politicians love the role of dispensing favours – whether it be higher support prices to farmers, or free or subsidised power to the largest vote banks.


Prudence is a good thing to be taught in schools, but not something that is cherished and championed during election season. This is true both for India and the rest of the world. The only difference is that in most parts of the developed world, the balance of checks and controls is zealously guarded by institutions that have not been battered and bruised as in India. Hence, the ability of politicians to causer immense economic harm can be severely curtailed.

But then considering what is happening to the US and to multilateralism, it goes to show that even developed countries can sometimes become captive to a demagogue who can ignore institutional restraints.

Economic sense

Coming back to environment, there are some points that the OECD would have us bear in mind.

For starters, almost everyone recognises the need for better infrastructure in the world. Better roads mean less fuel wastage. Better drinking water, means fewer deaths and reduced health complications. This is what a recent OECD report tries to point out (Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth, OECD, 2017)

But what is seldom known is that for most countries, increase in GDP invariably results in reduced carbon emissions. For instance, better roads translate into lower automobile emissions. This is borne out by OECD findings (see chart).

chart 2

Similarly, what is also not factored in usually is that all costs involved in providing climate-friendly policies actually pay for themselves. True, making infrastructure compatible with climate change (for instance electric vehicles instead of hydro-carbon powered vehicles and microgrids linked to rooftop solar, or the use of LED bulbs instead of the conventional lights) cost money. But the additional expenditure is easily neutralised by the sheer savings in fuel costs (see chart).


As the OECD report puts it, “Climate-compatible infrastructure investment needs are only 10% higher and can be offset with fuel savings . . . Around USD 6.3 trillion a year of investment in infrastructure is required on average between 2016 and 2030 to meet development needs globally. Making these investments climate compatible will cost an additional USD 0.6 trillion a year over the same period….

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