What Our Planet Needs Now
Reader's Digest India|July 2021
India’s leading eco-experts explain our biggest environmental challenges and what we can do to make a difference

BUILDING A CLIMATE-READY INDIA

Dr Navroz Dubash, Professor at the Centre for Policy Research

India’s climate ambitions are couched in ‘co-benefits’—actions that bring development and reduce carbon emissions at the same time. This is a productive approach, but our current government fails to encourage officials, businesses and communities to actively seek such opportunities. Nor do we think about development through the lens of what allows for a low-carbon future, which is essential for a rapidly developing country. How can we grow in carbon-friendly ways? How do we build livable yet carbon-efficient cities? We need to empower states to experiment with low-carbon solutions, by supporting them with knowledge, capacity and finance. India must be re-tooled to more aggressively address the challenges of climate change, both in terms of reducing emissions and addressing impact.

The electricity sector is key to India’s low-carbon future—our journey to zero net-carbon is paved by greater shares of renewable energy and shifting uses such as transport (especially public transport), cooking and, eventually, industries, to non-oil, non-coal and non-gas energy sources. However, 20th-century problems of black-outs (despite a surplus), low bill collection and poor quality supply must first be fixed. One way is to improve peoples’ capacity to pay for power, especially in rural areas, by subsidizing not consumption but productive equipment, creating a consumer base willing to pay for the transition to renewable energy. People will pay because their income and productivity goes up.

Individual contribution is important. As consumers, changing demand patterns, investing in energy-efficient appliances (which have higher up-front cost but pay for themselves quickly), choosing public transport, changing diets are important, but we must also act as citizens, by demanding governments pay more attention to climate change. Most importantly, we must educate ourselves to understand that while transition is hard, living with the existential challenge of climate change will be much harder.

THE FUTURE IS SUSTAINABLE

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, Founder-CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water

You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to believe in sustainable development. Today, there are more jobs created from renewables than from coal power. So, if you are an automobile engineer, you better be designing electric vehicles. No major automobile company in the world plans to have internal combustion engines after 2035. Yet, I think the most overarching roadblock is that we still treat sustainability as something on the margins of our overall economic development discourse. We have not realized that the only economic development pathway for us now is a sustainable one. Till we internalize that, we will not be able build industries of the future.

India is leapfrogging to a cleaner energy future. We are the only G20 economy whose climate promises and climate actions are in line with keeping global average temperature rise under two degrees celsius. But there is more that we can do as a people. We have to first bridge the gap between us as citizens and as economic agents. When we are citizens, we want clean air. When we are economic agents, we want to drive a diesel car. You can, of course, drive your diesel car, but you have to recognize that air pollution impacts the mental development of your child. The second step is to pay that extra premium for the slightly more expensive product that is sustainable. Someone earning ₹50 lakhs a year should certainly not be looking at a diesel car as their next vehicle purchase, and someone earning ₹5 lakhs a year should now be buying a bamboo toothbrush, not a plastic one. The point is that prices come down when scale economies are at play. We each need to make a start.

GREENER, SMARTER CITIES

Jaya Dhindaw, Director, Integrated Urban Planning at the World Resources Institute, India

With urban growth showing no signs of slowing down, cities have grown both in size and energy appetite, making them major contributors to climate change. Three things that need systemic change are urban planning, governance and capacity and finance.

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