Ola Ullsten, Swedish Prime Minister (1978-82), is a Golden Peacock Award winner for Environmental Leadership. He is also co-chairman of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development. A member of several international environment groups, Ullsten spoke to Chetan Chauhan about what the world needs to do to check the abuse of environment.
Can the current changes in climate be checked?
We can cut down emissions if the European Union and the rest of the world reduce fossil fuel use by 20 per cent. Bio-fuels and renewable energy sources can be substitutes. World leaders should also agree to plant more trees and stop destruction of forests. Reduction in deforestation will result in carbon emission dropping by 20 per cent. Both steps will prevent release of 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which, in my view, is substantial.
How can India negate the impact of global warming?
India has a lot of wasteland where forests can be grown. It will also have to stop deforestation. Even China is planting a lot of trees and making a difference. A tree starts working in carbon sequestration as soon as it is planted. India should also look at cleaning up its coal-based thermal plants.
India has opposed commitment to reduce carbon emission without proper compensation. Do you agree with the view?
I think India’s stand is reasonable. Leaving out developing countries will lead to imbalance but then the developed world has to work out the compensation. India and China are planning 800 coal power plants that will produce 2.56 million tonnes of carbon by 2012. It shows China and India will produce more pollution and with the economy growing the environment problems will also increase. I believe India should work towards reducing carbon emission. India should match its emission standards on coal burning with those of the European Union.
The United States is a world leader in carbon emission but makes no commitment to reduce it. Is that justified?
The US doesn’t want to have targets. It would rather seek goals through voluntary means. I don’t believe in that. The American stand is hampering global effort to curb emissions. The world went ahead without the US in the Kyoto Protocol but cannot do it any longer. I see hope as the US has softened its tough stand since Democrats took charge in the Congress. The G-8 conference can take an initiative but should not give in under any pressure from US.
What outcome are you expecting from the G-8 meeting on climate change?
They say they have woken up to climate change. That is a good sign. All governments need to declare themselves green. It needs political will. World leaders should talk about it sincerely. They (the G-8) should come out with a clear policy on climate change mitigation and environmentalists should be part of that.
Is global warming really so alarming?
The American Academy of Science has said global temperatures have risen thrice as fast in the last decade than they did till 1990. It is a wake-up call for all world leaders.