India’s agenda for change

Obviously with such a daunting agenda one can understand why India, like China, would like to see an agreement that takes into account their aspirations and concerns, but their recent agreements as well as the China-US accord on climate are healthy pointers

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi

Pushing an agenda for change in a massive and heavily populated country like India is no mean feat or task. The challenges that austerity ridden Southern European countries might be facing right now pale in comparison. Particularly when, due to archaic long-ingrained systems developed over the years, many consider this country to have vast potential of unleashing and maximising the benefits it could derive from its billion plus population, abundant natural resources and ancient culture. 

During my recent visit to New Delhi for a Sustainability Development Forum that managed to attract among others former French PM and present Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Environment Minister Segolene Royale and Hollande’s own personal Climate Envoy Marie-Helene Aubert, together with various Ministers from the EU and beyond, as well as Felipe Calderon, the former President of Mexico, who chaired the excellent New Climate Economy report that was published on the eve of last year’s UN Climate Summit. Not to mention the star attraction who understandably caught the media’s attention for more than one reason – former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger – for his pro climate commitment during his term of office. 

My invitation came from Prof. RK Pachauri, who had won the Nobel Prize together with Al Gore in 2007 on climate issues, as well as still being the serving Chair of the IPCC – Inter Governmental Panel On Climate Change of the UN that looked regularly at the scientific side of the equation. 

The presence of Mary Robinson, the former popular Irish President and now Ban Ki-Moon’s special envoy on climate change left its mark too, the same way that did the video link addressed by Moon himself as well as by Prof. Jeffrey D Sachs, UN Special Advisor on Sustainable Development. 

The India that I came across is an India spearheaded by a dynamic Prime Minister better known as Modi who, in spite of having been in the hot seat only since May last year, has already been striving hard to reposition his country as a key player in the globalised world – economically, politically and also from the social and well being angle.

Given that India today is one of the heaviest polluters, with many singling out New Delhi as the city with standards 15 times worse off than acceptable WHO norms, the daunting challenges ahead are enough to make one give up. On the contrary the PM, who is arguably the most powerful and charismatic politician to occupy the post since Nehru did when steering the country after independence in 1947, aims to end the years of drift that are often mapped out in many articles and books about India’s current state of play and socio-economic bill of health.

My visit was timely for various reasons, including the merits of the conference itself and the high participation level, the substance of most contributions, the possibility of networking with so many high flyers worth their salt, the fact that it happened when India was opening up as it had never done in recent years with the USA, China and even Russia among others, not to mention key EU players like France, that Modi intends to visit this April. Compounded with all this are the fast approaching UN Summit on Sustainable Development where the SDGs are expected to see the light of day, the Malta based CHOGM as well as the UN Climate Paris Summit in December.

In my bilateral meeting with the Indian  Minister for the Environment at his office, he briefed me about the way in which his country aimed to increase its renewable power generation five fold in the next five years following a thumbs up from investors who have committed to install capacity to generate 208 gigawatts GW of solar and wind power which stands some 50% more than the government’s original target for the next five years.

The government has also decided that apart from hundreds of smart cities, it should also set up some 25 solar parks to ensure grid connectivity of solar projects coming up in far flung areas. Tax incentives are also expected to be announced for the renewable energy sector and new manufacturing hubs.

Relations with eNGOs are not ideal, with some elements even dismissing them as indulging in anti national activities, but the push to go for cleaner air and cleaner technology is impressive indeed. India has also committed itself to make its intended nationally determined contributions to tackle climate change known way ahead of the June deadline.

The French Minister Royale, who I joined during a ministerial forum, made it clear that we need to resolve all the financial issues too before the Paris conference, with France making all efforts to ensure that such questions are settled in a timely manner to give credibility to the agreement. In my intervention I acknowledged the fact that India is taking steps to voluntarily cut carbon emissions and diversify its energy mix, with a heavy focus on renewables. 

The Indian Minister also told me how he proposes new green laws to also fast track discussions on amending five existing Acts. He is doing so by engaging various local officials to go for a bottom up approach. 

Obviously with such a daunting agenda one can understand why India, like China, would like to see an agreement that takes into account their aspirations and concerns, but their recent agreements as well as the China-US accord on climate are healthy pointers. 

The ongoing awareness campaigns for a more pro-active approach in favour of the environment are impressive. Massive ads are featured regularly in newspapers like The Times Of India clamouring that The killer is in the air and it’s 15 times deadlier.

From their point of view they see climate finance and the need for green technology transfers as two of the biggest demands and challenges.

Writing about India itself calls for a completely separate article, but for now one thing is certain: That all those gathered in New Delhi seemed to be in agreement that the political leadership across the world needs and must act in a collective spirit to achieve low carbon growth.

As Mr Terminator said: Now is the time to terminate climate woes. 

During my short visit to India it could easily be felt and detected that in spite of Modi’s resounding popularity it would still remain uphill for him all the way. Reconfirming polls that I had seen in their strong and influential social media while his personal popularity remains untainted, a radical anti corruption and anti establishment party led by a self confessed anarchist took power of New Delhi itself. The new party’s symbol turned out to be a symbolic broom – reference to anti graft and completely in sync with the new populist movements emerging in Europe itself.

The media had been among the first to comment ahead of the local elections that the environment had been hardly mentioned in the campaign. All this when the capital has the most polluted air of any city in the world.