We urgently need a Green New India!

Pune, India. Source: www.maxpixel.net

The year 2018 has been the warmest in modern human history. Every day, we read or hear about extreme climate events – heat waves, unseasonal rains, floods, long droughts, wildfires or melting glaciers. The October 2018 report of the UN-IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) sounded a clear warning that we have only 10-12 years to reverse global warming trends and avert unprecedented hardships for today’s young generations. Thanks to Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg who started street protests against Governments for not caring for her future, thousands of young people have now hit the streets for the “Fridays For Future” marches across major cities of the world, protesting against lack of climate action by political leadership.

Back home in India, excessive heat and humidity combined with acute water shortages are already causing extreme hardships. Himalayan glaciers are melting alarmingly, and monsoon rains are becoming more unpredictable, with most rivers and dams running dry for longer durations each summer. Coastal regions are already sensing rising sea-levels, occurring due to rapid melting of polar ice-sheets. As threats to survival grow, public panic could cause mass migration to higher grounds irrespective of political boundaries, leading to civic unrest and extreme regional conflicts. With just over 1C rise in the average global temperature so far, extreme weather events are getting more frequent. India will be particularly vulnerable due to its highly dense population and poor infrastructure that limit its capabilities to survive and adapt to severe climate impacts.

The CO2 equivalent (CO2Eq) emission levels crossed 415 ppm in May 2019, compared to under 270 ppm for thousands of years. Like visible air-pollution that is affecting human health in major cities in India, COemissions beyond a limit are also harmful to human health and have far more serious consequences. However, political leadership is yet to understand how quickly voters can switch priorities once climate impacts start affecting basic sense of human well-being. As the costs of food and water sky-rocket due to increasing climate variability, everyday comfort-zones promise to shrink very fast. The recent Indian Budget announcement paid scant attention to this growing danger to public health and national economy. This will have to change. 

Global emissions have been rising with over 35 giga tons of carbon deposits going into our atmosphere and oceans every year. 

Despite its low per-capita emissions, India is the 3rd largest global carbon polluter.

Further, there is a new realization that even if all nations were to achieve their Paris commitments by 2030, that may still not be enough to remain within the 2C warming limit to prevent extreme climate impacts. We are, in fact, on a pathway to over 3C average heating by 2100 with devastating consequences for today’s young generations who will face a very hostile environment when they would be senior citizens.

The good news is that we can still take swift and decisive actions to avert some of the catastrophic impacts with urgent efforts. Although the problem is global, the solutions are local where collective actions by every community or city can add up to the desired results. Globally, cities will host over 60% of the growing population by 2030 and contribute to over 75% of carbon pollution. Cities must take urgent actions for reducing all types of pollution, both the visible, particulate kind as well as the invisible CO2Eq emissions. Many cities across the world, including those in India, are already trying to become ‘net-carbon neutral’ within the next 10-20 years. 

Unfortunately, most Government agencies are not yet clear on how exactly to meet the Paris commitments of staying within the 2C threshold in order to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. There is now a recognition that 1.5C may actually be the tipping-point for many Island nations and tropical countries. There is thus an urgent need for India to set specific environmental goals to be achieved in time-bound mission-mode actions. Humanity is running out of time and nature’s forces may soon overwhelm all human capabilities, starting with the poorer developing countries. 

Despite such grave realities, the political leadership is unable to act due to concerns of economic slow-down that could cost them electoral victories. This calls for two very important reality checks. Firstly, it is imperative to recognize that lack of urgent climate action will in fact cause much deeper economic losses than a mere slow-down; and secondly, the real solution for humanity to survive and progress is now based on a conscious shift to a new economic model promoting low-carbon development. Improvement in energy efficiency and reducing energy demands through lifestyle changes must become top national priority. This need not hurt the economy if done properly with rapid deployment of non-polluting renewable energy such as solar, wind, biogas, micro-hydropower projects and even the new technologies to harness nuclear energy.  

Therefore, India urgently needs a clear focus for a ‘Green New India’ in tune with our Prime Minister’s vision for a new India. This can not only avert crippling climate impacts and protect the environment but also help build a new “Environmentally Aware” leadership for the future. It is difficult to fool the growing population of smart young voters with loan waivers or pocket money during elections, once they understand that their future is in grave danger. The winds are already changing, and even business leadership must realise that the ‘next-quarter profit’ syndrome must now give way to focus on next decade of economic stability.

‘Green New India’ must address real Indian concerns and satisfy real aspirations of its youth. For example, all Indian cities can aim for ‘net-carbon-neutrality’ and march rapidly towards energy independence with aggressive ‘in-country’ generation of renewable energy. India can then aspire for true energy abundance with the help of technological innovations for near-zero dependence on fossil-fuel imports. This is the real pathway for the ambitious development goals of ‘New India’ that would neither hurt the environment nor compromise the national economy. 

‘Green New India’ also needs a major drive for increasing the green cover for carbon sequestration, along with innovative technologies to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. This can help India emerge as a major ‘carbon-neutral’ country by 2047 – on the 100th anniversary of our Independence. That is how India can claim true international leadership in global climate action towards saving the future for the next generations of humanity.

Prof. Amitav Mallik

Prof. Amitav Mallik is Former Member of the National Security Advisory Board, and Hon. Trustee & Founder Member of Pune International Centre.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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