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How to relieve poverty in India without endangering the planet

  • 02 December 2016
Last week I was in India delivering the annual Tata Oration on business ethics, wrestling with the great ethical challenge of striking an appropriate balance between poverty alleviation and climate change.

India has some of the most difficult decisions to make when determining how much cheap electricity might be produced to lift people from poverty while making the planet less liveable for their descendants.

The World Bank acknowledges: 'India's economic and human development is one of the most significant global achievements of recent times.' India's share of global GDP escalated from 1.8 to 2.7 per cent between 2005 and 2010. More than 53 million people have been lifted out of poverty here in India in that time — and that's more than twice the entire population of Australia. 

Between 2003 and 2013, the Indian economy expanded at an average rate of 7.6 per cent, making India one of the ten fastest growing nations.

The World Bank notes: 'Exports account for 21.5 percent of GDP, three times more than in 1990.' Life expectancy has more than doubled between 1947 and 2011 from 31 years to 65 years. Adult literacy had more than quadrupled between 1951 and 2011 from 18 per cent to 74 per cent. These are great achievements, and yet India is still home to one third of the global poor. The World Bank notes:

'An estimated 300 million people do not have access to electricity, while those who are connected to the grid must cope with unreliable supply. Sixty percent of firms resort to costly backup power generation. The continued unreliability and poor quality of electricity supplied to firms and households sap investment and growth and reduce India's competitiveness.'

India's quest to provide electricity for even more citizens requires an assessment of policies which result in the wholesale displacement of villagers whose traditional lands are taken over for the development of coal mines and adjacent power plants.

India's quest for cheap coal to generate electricity is subject to understandable scrutiny in Australia with the proposed development of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine. Some think environmental lawyers and environmentalists take a too restricted view of the complexity of the competing goods to be achieved.


"I doubt Pope Francis would be a supporter of the proposed Adani mine which will be Australia's (and perhaps the world's) largest coal mine. He thinks any scheme for buying and selling carbon credits is flawed."



The major political parties in Australia now support the