Indian states and cities don’t have adequate funds to tackle climate crisis
The Supreme Court, which ordered a ban on stubble burning in states around Delhi, on Monday lashed out at the Centre and the states for their failure to do anything to improve the quality of Delhi’s air.
Ajay Mathur, TERI - The Energy & Resources Institute’s director general, speaks to Hindustan Times on Delhi’s air pollution, climate change and the forthcoming Conference of Parties in Spain.
KD: At the Sustainable Dialogue on Air Pollution, you said Delhi’s air pollution is a solvable problem. What are the solutions (technology and finance)?
AM: Air pollution in Delhi is a broad, year-round problem, and not just an episodic problem. We have put forward definitive measures for tackling both peak and non-peak pollution sources. Some of the peak air pollution episodes in Delhi can be avoided by preventing stubble burning in neighbouring states. Measures such as biomass aggregation by state/central authorities, creating a market for biomass briquettes, and converting crop residue into fuel to operate decentralised cold storage facilities will reduce the impact of crop burning by 40%. We also advise community burning of firecrackers by Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), instead of individual use.
To combat non-peak the sources, focus should be on switching to LPG in the residential sector, phasing out of pre-BS-IV private vehicles, transitioning to natural gas in industries, and effective mechanised sweeping to collect road dust. According to our assessment, these measures altogether can bring down Delhi’s PM 2.5 levels by 46% during winters.
We don’t have a silver bullet; we need multiple actions by all stakeholders. Overall costs could be raised through green bonds by state/central government. These bonds can provide commercial loans to industries, while other stakeholders can receive subsidies/incentives. We believe that a five-year period is adequate to make the transition.
KD: You are a member of the PM’s Council for Climate Change. Are Indian states doing enough to tackle climate crisis? Which are the areas where they need to improve?
AM: Tackling climate change at the sub-national level in India is driven by naturally occurring events or it is an economics-driven energy choice. All states have a State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC), which clearly outlines the vulnerabilities that each state faces. All states are now going through the revision of respective SAPCCs. What we learn now from the first cycle of SAPCCs is the lack of sectoral actions and associated investment plans resulted in its poor implementation. The revision provides us with the opportunity to create sectoral plans, which include implementation and investment plan, unique to the state to have meaningful action at the state level.
The other key issue at the state level is the poor access to finance, which proves to be a big impediment to any state or city-level action.
KD: In the last few years, the impact on climate crisis has been visible across India, including urban areas, our economic engines. But many cities don’t seem to have a working climate change action plan.
AM: Cities in India are the largest consumers of resources, including energy and water. They are also large generators of waste. As climate change impacts are now more pronounced through increased droughts and floods, cities are now facing a visible brunt of it. Moving to renewable sources of electricity reduces their reliance on fossil fuels — is something now that is now well-embedded in the Indian electricity sector. Energy efficiency improvements in both residential and industrial sectors have gone a long way in bending the trajectory of energy consumption and models like the ones used for LEDs and now for agricultural solar pumps have influenced behaviour to make a more conscious energy choice.
KD: How can India improve climate communication?
AM: Today, the Indian consumer is much more aware than it was 10 years ago. We have seen this with the Star Level Programme with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency where the consumers now demand higher star rated appliances. This is the kind of power that effective communication possesses. Smart appliance choices, efficient use of water, and waste segregation are three key areas, I feel, which are the most crucial at an individual level. Using various platforms of communication, including print, digital, and social media could go a long way in creating much-needed awareness to tackle climate change.
Before we get into understanding the improvements in climate communication, we need to understand where the general public is at large has the maximum influence to make.
KD: What are your expectations from COP, which starts on December 2 in Madrid?
AM: The Paris Rulebook finalisation is of utmost importance to operationalise the Agreement, which kicks in from 2020. At the last year’s COP, most of the rulebook was finalised. However, the article on market-based instruments, Article 6, has proved to be the most contentious to resolve. While now there are options that are available to move towards a landing zone acceptable to all parties, there are still many differences to resolve. One of the key issues is around the future of clean development mechanism (CDM) and its transitional arrangements.
KD: Why is this ocean-focused COP important for India?
AM: With over 7,500 kilometres of coastline, oceans are vital to our thriving economy. Any impact on the sea-level rise will have a huge bearing on the Indian economy. A relatively large part of our population depends on the oceans for its livelihood and oceans are now experiencing more naturally occurring phenomena exacerbated by climate change. Discussions around adaptations actions and sustainable livelihoods, including the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, thus become very important for India.
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