Economic Progress and Fossil Fuels: The Elephant in the Room at U.N. Climate Conference

The mainstream media are gearing up to bombard people with terms like “climate emergency,” “climate justice” and “climate equity” in anticipation of this week’s start of the 28th United Nations Conference of the Parties in Dubai.

They might even introduce catchphrases and announce historic breakthroughs in emission-reduction diplomacy. The public relations messaging of climate politics, however, has little connection with the economic realities of countries such as India that require heavy use of fossil fuels.

As politicians in fuel-guzzling jets prepare to descend on Dubai and lecture poor countries on energy morality, India is sending a subtle yet clear message that it is not giving up coal, oil and natural gas.

In India, elephants reign supreme, capturing the hearts of those who encounter them. With a staggering 32,000 elephants, the sprawling tropical forests of India are home to the sixth-largest population of these majestic creatures. In my formative years, I had the privilege of visiting these gentle giants in their native domain.

In recent years, I’ve witnessed my native country rise as a metaphorical elephant that refuses to go away.

India — along with China and African and Southeast Asian nations — has become the “elephant in the room” at the yearly U.N, climate gatherings. Leaders of the subcontinent have steadfastly asserted the country’s right to use fossil fuels, unwilling to comply with restrictive U.N. recommendations for energy policy.

The U.N. climate conference in 2015 was hailed as a pivotal moment as it sparked the creation of the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels. But even at that time, India’s resistance was unmistakable.

This commentary was first published at Washington Times on November 28, 2023.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK.

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