All the problems on the economy and coal of Modi’s India

All the problems on the economy and coal of Modi's India

The difficulties of two-faced India. Antonio Armellini's article for Affarinternazionali

It would be a mistake to be too surprised by the surprise announcement in Glasgow by India that it wants to postpone the achievement of carbon neutrality to 2070. Behind Narendra Modi's move, presented at the last moment by one of his second-rate ministers so as to avoid being subjected to a substantive debate, which would have risked overturning the COP26, there are more than justified economic and social reasons, but also traditional aspects of the way of being of Indian foreign policy and its relationship with the rest of the world.

India considers itself – and to a large extent is – a growing political giant, but remains an economic giant in strong chiaroscuro: a gap that is reflected in the social articulation of a highly unequal country. On the one hand, there is India with growth rates that go back to over 8%, technological excellence and university centers that make it a world leader in innovation; from the middle class which represents a consumer market equal to that of the major EU countries taken together; fully inserted in globalization and whose "brain drain" towards the US – and beyond – are at the head of large multinationals and many international financial institutions. It is India that is preparing to host the G20 in 2023 and with which it is important for us to collaborate.

Then there is rural India and the outskirts of megacities, where two hundred and more million people are not literate and live below the extreme poverty line; which does not have access to transport and electricity networks and health facilities worthy of the name; where life expectancy remains much lower and the suicides of farmers, unable to bear the costs of GM seeds essential to obtain better crops, are tens of thousands every year.

It is an India in which much progress has been made; the widespread extension of mobile telephony at reduced costs has allowed even the most remote areas to get out of isolation (to understand its extent, still at the end of the last millennium, when cell phones were rare commodities, it almost always needed a direct recommendation from the prime minister to have a telephone line); the introduction of a new universal system of identity documents has made it possible to plan interventions more effectively; the extension of the network of rural banks for the management of subsidies has facilitated access to microcredit which should counteract usury; the barriers between the castes remain rigid but the mechanisms of local representation are growing. It is an India that is struggling to learn English – an indispensable key for access to more qualified jobs -, which is still far from the consumer market, but is approaching its threshold year after year in ever greater numbers. When it reaches critical mass and the market has to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of new consumers, it is clear that current facilities – which are already struggling to cope with demand – will explode if not seriously upgraded (according to the Financial Times , in next decades the country will absorb a third of the world demand for air conditioners).

India depends on coal. In the search for the difficult balance between carbon neutrality and growing demand for consumption, he believes he cannot do without them and to the 281 plants in operation he adds 28 under construction and 23 planned. Coal pollution makes the air unbreathable in cities and reduces life expectancy, but just as if not more – it is replied – they cause hunger and underdevelopment, which remain the country's real priority. The objective of increasing the share of renewable energies to 50% by 2030 appears above all political and does not sufficiently take into account the technical difficulties and costs. All right, but it would have been reasonable to pose the problem during the conference – where it would have found criticism, but also echo – rather than resorting to a surprise announcement that brought with it a taste of blackmail. But here the Indian vision of its relations with the rest of the world comes into play.

China is the antagonist, the competitor and the touchstone that represents a true obsession of the country's international attitude. If Xi Jinping believed he could deviate by ten years from the goal that everyone had previously committed to, carbon neutrality by 2050, there was no reason why Modi did not do the same: indeed more, claiming autonomy and a conditioning power at least equal to that of the other Asian giant. China had somehow prepared her move and, when it arrived, it was well or badly accepted (with some hidden relief). India no: it has relaunched another ten years almost without warning, demonstrating once again the difficulty of moving effectively in the multilateral context, where in search of a mutually advantageous meeting point it often tends to prefer a logic of contrasting force , leaving little room for mediation. Indians are edgy negotiators and their approach confuses old remnants of inferiority senses, the legacy of the third world season and a self-image that is as convinced as it is not necessarily responsive to reality. Sometimes rigidity pays off – as in Glasgow – but the country's international profile and its ability to aggregate consent are affected: it is no coincidence that Delhi has difficult relations with all its neighbors and if the negotiation for the free agreement exchange with the EU has been dragging on for more than fifteen years.

Modi strongly reiterated the point that industrialized countries, true culprits of environmental pollution, must make huge resources available – one trillion – to help less rich countries to face the costs of a fight against climate change of which they are historically very more victims than accomplices. Right once again: the responsibilities are there, they must be faced by all and the weakest cannot be left to their fate. India, however, must decide whether it wants to continue to present itself as a demandeur country in need of help, or as an emerging great global power, aimed at chasing and perhaps overcoming China with all the rights and obligations that follow. The Indies are at least two, as we have said, but the choice cannot be univocal.

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL on Sat, 01 Jan 2022 07:51:41 +0000.