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India can’t sit on sidelines and bear increased natural disasters: UN environment chief

With Bonn climate talks starting on Nov. 6, UNEP chief Erik Solheim talks to Hindustan Times about the importance of the Bonn talks, especially with US’s announcing its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2017 22:55 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Bonn Climate Summit,UNEP,India
Erik Solheim, the United Nations Environment Programme chief was in Mumbai earlier this year to support the beach clean-up efforts.(PTI photo)

Ahead of the 23rd edition of Conference of Parties (COP-23) which begins in Bonn, Germany on Monday, Malavika Vyawahare speaks to Erik Solheim, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, to understand why the talks are important for the world and for India in particular.

What are you watching out for during the Bonn negotiations?

It’s a packed and a critical agenda – all aimed at advancing the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It will involve getting further into the details, and, as they say, the devil is in the detail! The agenda will cover everything from developing guidelines on emissions reductions, to issues like adaptation, transparency, the provision of finance, capacity-building and technology. As such, we need to develop a set of “rule books”. We also need to lay the groundwork for dialogue in 2018 that includes an increase of ambitions.

What does India bring to the table at Bonn, and what should it be negotiating for?

Firstly, I think India should use the conference to showcase the incredible progress that it has made in the past few years. India has really embraced climate action as an economic opportunity, and I’m convinced its mastery of solar mega-projects will provide for huge export potential. Secondly, India brings an important moral dimension to the conference. Prime Minister Modi has described climate action as an “article of faith”, saying that inaction would be a crime against future generations. While the conference is grounded in practicalities and technicalities, it’s important to never lose sight of the moral dimension.

Thirdly, India is an important voice on climate finance, or the critical importance of developing nations being able to better adapt to climate change and to have the financial means to be able to do so. The issue of technology transfer is also of crucial importance for India.

The emissions report presented a bleak scenario. Are we even on track to meet the 2 degree Celsius target?

I think it’s still possible. The latest science from the Emissions Gap report tells us we’re at a turning point, in that global carbon emissions have stabilised. However, the numbers are still worrying. There is a big gap between the pledges by governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the reductions we need to avoid dangerous climate change. So at the moment we can say we are on the right track, but we’re not moving fast enough.

You have expressed hope that the US will meet its targets despite Donald Trump

It’s still difficult to say. If we look at the business-as-usual scenario, the withdrawal is clearly a blow to our targets. At the same time, the positive mobilisation of individual states and cities, and major private players, continues to offer a source for optimism.

Finance remains a sticking point and will emerge as a bigger issue with the US pull-out. Why should developing countries stick to their targets?

The hard fact is that countries like India are living with the impact of climate change and they have to do what they can. India and Bangladesh simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and bear increased natural disasters such as floods and droughts. So they have to take what action they can, and also bring a moral voice to this process. The positive fact is that the nations who are taking action now are also seeing the economic bounties of doing so. They’re taking a head start in building the sustainable, inclusive economies of the future.

First Published: Nov 05, 2017 22:55 IST