How Gandhi Continues to Influence Action on Climate Change in India

Published on 14 November 2016

Image of Mihir Bhatt

Mihir Bhatt

All India Disaster Mitigation Institute

This year on October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, our Prime Minister paid a rare homage to the Father of the Nation by chairing a meeting of the Union Cabinet which agreed to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This is indeed a fitting tribute to the Mahatma, the great visionary leader, who so many decades ago, had warned against the heedless plunder of Mother Earth and called for a sane way of living, in harmony with Nature and not at its expense.

Thus India has now joined the global family of nations that will implement the COP 21 Paris Deal to combat climate change. The historic journey on which our country has embarked with the ratification of this agreement has been described by the Prime Minister as “development without destruction”.

What does India’s ratification of the deal signify?

It signifies, a significant shift, in taking the issue of ‘climate change’ away from the rarefied domain of global diplomats, scientists and negotiators, to the domain of the people – the domain of the vast masses who toil so that we may live. India’s focus will now not be on how energy needs can be met with a combination of coal and solar energy in 2030 but, for example, on how women pumping brackish water from the ground to make salt can use solar panels instead of oil.

India played a lead role in forging the COP 21 Paris deal and also left its imprint by way of contributing at least one new item – a focus on change in “Lifestyle”. Thinking about how we eat, dress, build homes, and go about our work in urban and rural areas. This affects not only the warming but also the cooling of our planet. If our lifestyle is characterized by the wanton use of cars, we heat up our planet. All that glass and chromium in our buildings, heats up our planet.

On the other hand, painting the roofs white cools not only our home but also our planet. So combating climate change is also about how we lead our lives, or, in other words, the lifestyle we adopt. Our Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has initiated some work on capturing and disseminating India’s traditional wisdom on climate friendly lifestyle practices (pdf), but it still requires a much larger investment and focus on poor women and men to make a nation-wide transformative impact.

The green growth agenda

The agenda, clearly, is green growth. But green growth is a transformative agenda, an agenda that will change not only economic growth but also economic structures. The structures will be transformed due to mobility, leadership, business, digital platforms, competitiveness and innovations as some of the key factors. This transformation was debated at the September 2016 National Round Table on Towards Green Growth: Achievements and Opportunities organized by CDKN with the UN, government, research, policy, and private sector actors.

India has agreed to continue its fuel based rapid economic growth to wipe out poverty, but simultaneously transfer the economy from its use of coal and oil to a renewable energy base. The International Solar Alliance of 121 countries launched – with a key objective of arranging easier finance for solar projects in member countries – by India and France at the COP21 – is set to have its headquarters in India with the United Nations as its Strategic Partner. In June, 2016, the World Bank signed an agreement with the ISA to mobilize $1 trillion in investments by 2030 and lend more than $1 billion to support India’s ambitious transformative initiatives to expand solar energy generation, including a $625 million grid-connected rooftop solar programme. As a result, possible enabling environment and enabling institutions are being set up and now efforts are needed to make sure that the poor and vulnerable citizens of India benefit from this environment and institutions to transform their lives from poverty to green prosperity.

The road to ratification

India took time to ratify its commitment to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) after the deal in Paris. The international community eagerly waited for India’s action. At a G20 meeting last month, when confronted with the question as to when India will ratify NDCs, it was pointed out to the mighty G20 members that India will take its own democratic process. And indeed, a wide range of events has shaped this unique and precious process of ratification as well as understanding transformation.

For example, in April 2016, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) round table of stakeholders on NDCs in Delhi, to discuss not only the transformation, but the process of transformation itself.

A similar round table in May 2016, a round table by Research Councils UK, supported by DFID, of leading British and Indian scientists on Changing Water Cycles and the National Conference on Enabling Policy Frameworks for Climate Resilient Cities, where the interplay of cities, NDCs, and resilience was explored to see how it could transform over 100 Indian cities in the next five years.

The role of green finance

Finance that leads to low emission economic activities,in transforming India’s energy sector – was defined and developed by International Finance Corporation (IFC) and TERI with leading individual and institutional investors in a workshop titled, “Green Bonds for Energy Efficiency in India”. As Mr. Mahendra Kothari, a leader in India’s investment community in Mumbai, pointed out, unless green investments generate green economic activities, green returns will be hard to receive. As the first green bond issued in the offshore rupee markets, IFC issued a 5-year green Masala bond on the London Stock Exchange, which raised 3.15 billion rupees for private sector investments in renewables and energy efficiency projects to address climate change in India.

In its transformative agenda of green growth India will not be alone. Co-creation of knowledge, as suggested by Alok Sharma, MP, UK on his first visit to Delhi as Minister for Asia and Pacific, will be a major force of the transformation. This knowledge around finance, cities, economies and water will transform India. How best Indian citizens can access this process of transformation will depend on both capacities and capabilities at sub-national levels.

But after all is said and done, what is vitally important in order to achieve this inclusive transformation is to start at the grassroots. As Lyla Mehta, research fellow at IDS, who has researched in the deserts of Kutch in Gujarat and the delta of Sunderbans in West Bengal, says, “What do Indians, the poor and women included, really want?”. Starting with this question leads to better understanding of transformation. Considering the Indian government’s allocation of funds for climate adaptation inadequate, Mehta wrote: “The money needs to be spent wisely and really reach the people who need it the most and not be lost on white elephants or through corruption.” This is exactly what India is setting set out to achieve after ratifying the Paris Agreement on the 2nd of October.

Some part of the author’s views in this blog has earlier appeared in his column in Ahmedabad Mirror.

Mihir Bhatt is the founder director of All India Disaster Management Institute


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