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T.V. Padma looks at how and why greenhouse gas emissions from India are on the rise.

Greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, contribute to global warming and climate change. According to the US-based 'think tank' the World Resources Institute, India was responsible for over four per cent of total emissions in 2000 — making the country the sixth largest emitter in the world. Emissions are set to rise further still over the next 20 years as the Indian economy rapidly develops. Both the International Energy Agency and the government of the United States' Energy Information Administration predict over 90 per cent growth in carbon dioxide emissions alone by 2025. [1]

Carbon dioxide emissions

Carbon dioxide accounts for over 60 per cent of green house gases released in India. [2] Most of this comes from the energy sector burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas (see Figure 1).

Generating electricity and heat for commercial and residential properties makes a big contribution. Although only 55 per cent of Indian households have access to electricity, annual per capita electricity consumption rose from 90 kilowatt hours in 1972 to 408 kilowatt hours by 2001. This looks set to rise further still because the government specifically aims to widen access to electricity. Yet despite this quadrupling in consumption, India's per capita usage in 2001 was still well below the world average of 2500 kilowatt hours per annum, being just five per cent of the United States' figure, and less than half that of China. [3]

Within the manufacturing sector, the iron and steel, cement, paper, sugar, textile, bricks and fertiliser industries have the highest emissions.


Figure 1: Carbon dioxide emissions in India by sector in 2000 [1]

India's coal consumption has increased from 110 million tonnes in 1980 to more than 350 million tones in 2000, representing an annual growth rate of almost 6 per cent. Natural gas consumption has grown similarly, at 5.6 per cent a year, to 75 million cubic metres in 2000. But petroleum consumption has grown fastest since the 1980s, at an annual rate of 14 per cent, to over 350 million tonnes in 2000. [2]

As in all South Asian and South-east Asian countries, India's growing transport sector, which relies on fossil fuels, is a key contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. The number of motor vehicles is growing at 15 per cent per annum, whereas in many developed countries the rate is 0.4 — 4 per cent. [4] Emissions doubled from 1990-95, due to opening up of the country's economy that led to a spurt in private car owners.

Methane emissions

India emitted 16 million tonnes of methane in 1990, and 24 million tonnes in 2000 — a little under 35 per cent of the country's overall greenhouse gas emissions. [4] The agricultural sector dominates (see Figure 2), contributing about 64 per cent. Within this sector, the largest contributions come from livestock, which produce methane in their digestive tracts, and rice crops, which emit approximately four terragrams of methane per hectare as organic matter decomposes in flooded fields. [5] Other sources of methane include biomass burning, waste and manure, coal mining, and processing of natural gas.

Figure 2: Methane emissions in India by sector in 2000 [1]

Nitrous oxide emissions

Nitrous oxide emissions, from natural biological sources and man-made sources such as agriculture, industry, transport and waste management, make up only four per cent of India's greenhouse gas emissions. Over 90 per cent of this comes from the agricultural sector, with fuel combustion, industrial processes and waste accounting for the rest.

Figure 3: Nitrous oxide emissions in India by sector in 2000 [1]

A global perspective

India's greenhouse gas emissions are increasing, making up 4.47 per cent of the global total in 2000. This places India in the top ten emitters of the world. The United States leads the way, producing five times more emissions than India, at almost 16 per cent of the world total. China is the largest developing country emitter, accounting for nearly 12 per cent of global emissions (see Table 1).




Country Million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent

Per cent of world total

Million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent

Per cent of world total

United States of America 5,630.00 14.62 6,525.20 15.81
China 3,973.50 10.32 4,890.40 11.85
Indonesia 2,498.80 6.49 3,065.60 7.43
Brazil 2,641.80 6.86 2,223.20 5.39
Russian Federation 2,916.00 7.57 1,969.40 4.77
India 1,305.00 3.39 1,843.80 4.47
Japan 1,216.70 3.16 1,321.00 3.20
Germany 1,198.50 3.11 1,009.40 2.45
Table 1: Indian greenhouse gas emissions compared to other
significant emitters [1]

But as India continues its rapid industrialisation, it is clear that the country's emissions will play an even larger role in the future. Long-term scenarios for India vary, but all show a sustained increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the next century. One case predicts a rise of almost ten times current levels. [6] Some national efforts are already underway to mitigate the effects of this (see India's pragmatic approach to tackling climate change). Adaptation strategies are also starting to be considered (see Development versus climate change in India).


[1] Climate Analysis Indicators Tool Version 3.0. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, United States (2006)
[2] Bhattacharya, S. Mitra, A.P. A scientific analysis of GHG emissions trend in India. Centre for Global Change, National Physical Laboratory, India. (2004)
[3] World Resources Institute. World Resources: A guide to the global environmental change. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, United States (2000)
[4] Shukla, P.R., Sharma, S.K., Ramana, P.V. (eds) Climate Change and India: Issues concerns and opportunities. Tata McGraw Hill; New Delhi (2002)
[5] Mitra, A.P. (ed) Greenhouse gas emissions in India — 1991, methane campaign. Global Change Scientific Report No.2 (1992)
[6] Shukla, P.R. India's GHG emission scenarios: aligning development and stabilization paths. Current Science 90, 384-395 (2006)