India with its growing economy contributes around 4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. As economic prosperity in urban India grows, so does consumption of fossil fuels. Yet a climate confidence study by the multinational firm HSBC shows a surprising trend towards climate awareness amongst India’s middle class.
Low-lying areas are first to face the wrath of global warming
Amid high rise buildings and brightly lit malls, the roads are chocker block with rush hour traffic. In air conditioned cars, well-dressed professionals are busy with their high tech laptops and mobile phones. This is a typical street scene in metropolitan India.
The economic boom in India has resulted in an increasingly prosperous lifestyle among urban middle class Indians, of which television sets, washing machines, computers and fancy automobiles are an inseparable part. The result: more consumption of fossil fuels and rising carbon emissions.
CO2 consumption among middle class
According to Christoph Dittrich, lecturer at the University of Freiburg who has done extensive research on the urban middle class in India, the average middle class Indian accounts for over 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is five times higher than the country’s national average. While speaking during a presentation on the consumption pattern of the urban Indian middle class, Dittrich said that here, the urban Indian differs sharply from those in the poorer sections of the cities.
He said that the urban middle class uses much more electricity and water than the poor groups. “As a result, the poorer groups are double losers. Firstly, they cannot afford the new consumer goods. Secondly, as reluctant climate protectors, they have to suffer the most from the consequences of climate change,’’ said Dittrich.
Despite this carbon rich lifestyle enjoyed by the middle class, there seems to be a growing awareness about the need to protect the environment. A climate confidence study published recently by the multinational firm HSBC polled 9,000 consumers in nine major economies including the US, China, Germany and India.
Among the nine countries, 60 per cent of respondents in India showed great concern for the environment as against 32 per cent in the US and 26 per cent in Germany. Even the commitment towards initiatives to protect the environment was the highest in India. Commenting on the study, Christoph Dittrich said that this is especially the case amongst the younger generation.
“The younger members of the middle class understand that human activity is responsible for global warming, and are optimistic, that they can do something towards reducing carbon emissions,’’ said Dittrich.
Climate protection in India
The study is not nationally representative but the results are nonetheless surprising, especially when they are compared with the results from countries like Germany, known for high awareness about ecological sustainability. However, Dittrich points out that that the concept of climate protection initiatives is very different in India and Europe. For example, the middle class Indian may think planting more trees or having more parks is sufficient to prevent climate change, but people in Germany and other European countries do not think this is enough by any means.