Scientists and policy makers hoping to adopt a new climate change treaty at this December’s United Nations’ meeting in Copenhagen might have reason to worry about achieving an international accord: A major player, India, home to a sixth of the world’s population, may not be on board with limiting its greenhouse emissions.

"If the question is whether India will take on binding emission reduction commitments, the answer is no. It is morally wrong for us to agree to reduce when 40 percent of Indians do not have access to electricity," said an Indian delegate to the recently concluded U.N. climate conference in Bonn, Germany, according to the Washington Post.

India, caught between modernizing and answering the call to mitigate its growing global warming footprint, worries that emissions cuts threaten to leave huge segments of its population without the widespread electrical power, cars and infrastructure that some other nations already possess and enjoy.

Presently, India’s 1.1 billion people produce just a tenth of the emissions per capita as the U.S, the Post says. That emissions figure, however, is set to rise precipitously because India already gets 60 percent of its power from coal and, along with China, is building new coal plants at a rate that alarms environmentalists. The burning of coal makes up 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity and fossil fuel remains the chief source of power worldwide.

A potential way for nations to have their coal cake and burn it too, though, is so-called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), the subject of a report this week. CCS involves trapping the carbon dioxide emitted during coal burning in a power plant before it is released into the atmosphere, and then locking it deep underground in geologic formations.  

As of January, the Post reports, India had joined in the internationally ongoing efforts to develop the promising but challenging technology. The U.S. for its part is moving ahead with CCS research with funding from the stimulus bill, and FutureGen, the nation’s first attempt at a prototype CCS plant, may see new life after the Bush administration cancelled it in 2008, possibly due to a Department of Energy math error.

Meanwhile, India’s top seller of automobiles, Maruti Suzuki, says it's considering making electric hybrid and compressed natural gas (CNG) powered cars within the next three to five years. The latter kind of engine, while still based on fossil fuel combustion, emits much less carbon dioxide than regular gasoline-injected types; for example, the Honda Civic GX, the only retail consumer CNG vehicle sold in the U.S., has won top honors as the country’s greenest car for six years running.

The news from Maruti Suzuki comes on the heels of another major car manufacturer in India, Tata Motors, launching its Nano, billed as the most affordable car on the planet. Though the small engine of the so-named Nano is comparatively eco-friendly to most other vehicles, some prominent greens are having “nightmares” because the vehicles may become so numerous in India and other developing countries, as reported in a previous post.

India and some of its neighbors. Image Credit: NASA/Wikimedia