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The world can learn from India trying to deal with its coal addiction

Illustration by Daniele Simonelli

India, it is rightly said, is a land of contradictions. It is home to hundreds of millions of people in abject poverty, and it has a space program that has put satellites around the Moon and Mars. It dominates every opponent in the game of cricket, but it has only won as many Olympic medals in the last 70 years as US swimmer Michael Phelps has on his own. It produces the largest number of engineers and doctors of any country, yet it doesn’t file as many patents as Germany—a country less than a tenth its size.

Nowhere is that contradiction clearer than in its energy use. India is highly vulnerable to climate change, and yet 55% of all its energy comes from burning coal. More importantly, over the last 30 years, India has quintupled its annual use of the dirtiest fossil fuel. There’s a chance that if other countries met emission targets and India didn’t cut its coal use, we’d still blow past the carbon budget and bring on climate catastrophe.

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