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Take climate fight from talks to dinner tables: PM

By, Washington
Apr 16, 2023 12:08 AM IST

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that Mission LiFE, or Lifestyle for Environment, is about turning individual anxieties around climate into action and making it a mass movement. Speaking at a World Bank event in Washington DC, Modi argued that people-centric campaigns in India had already shown results in areas such as improving sex ratio and enabling a cleanliness drive. Modi asked the World Bank to ensure adequate financing for behavioural initiatives, while the bank's president, David Malpass, backed the initiative but also argued that incentives and pricing policies were needed to alter deeply entrenched habits.

Terming it as an issue close to his heart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that Mission LiFE, or Lifestyle for Environment, is about taking the battle against the climate crisis from conference tables to dining tables, turning individual anxieties around climate into action, and making it a mass movement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. (ANI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. (ANI)

The PM was addressing via video a World Bank event in Washington DC on climate change, where his cabinet colleague and Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman too underscored the threat from global warming in a strong push by India to get the global community to do more.

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Modi outlined the tangible steps being taken by India to nudge this behavioural change and the benefits that will accrue from it, and asked the World Bank to ensure adequate financing for this element of the fight against the climate crisis as it ramps up its climate financing.

“By itself, each good deed for the planet may seem insignificant. But when billions across the world do it together, the impact is huge. We believe that individuals making the right decisions for our planet are key in the battle for our planet. This is the core of Mission LiFE,” he said, at the special high-level event, titled “Making it Personal: How behavioural change can tackle climate change”.

The discussions were held during the spring meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The meetings have been marked by intense discussions on climate, especially in the context of possible reforms of the World Bank and the need to add the goal of sustainability to their existing mandate of battling poverty and boosting prosperity.

But while most discussions have been around the science and economics of it, and the responsibility of governments and global institutions, India’s intervention focused on the responsibilities of individuals and communities.

While Modi’s speech was pre-recorded, the event saw a panel discussion with finance minister Sitharaman, London School of Economics professor Nicholas Stern, and Leila Banali, Morocco’s minister of energy transition and sustainable development.

Morocco will host the annual meetings of the Bank and IMF later this year.

World Bank president David Malpass and one of the pioneers of nudge theory, which deals with behavioural change, Harvard University’s Cass Sunstein also spoke at the event.

Modi recalled that he had first spoken about the need for behavioural change at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. Along with the UN secretary general, Mission LiFE was launched last October and the preamble to the outcome document at the end of COP27 (UN Climate Conference) in Egypt referred to sustainable lifestyle and consumption.

People-centric campaigns, Modi said, had already shown results in India in recent years — in improving sex ratio, enabling a cleanliness drive, ensuring the widespread conversion to LED bulbs, and through micro-irrigation efforts.

The PM said the mission itself had several components across domains - making local bodies environment friendly, saving water, saving energy, reducing waste and e-waste, adopting healthy lifestyles, promotion of millets, adoption of natural farming.

These efforts, he said, will help save 22 billion units of energy, nine trillion litres of water, reduce waste by 375 million tonnes, recycle one million tonnes of e-waste, generate $170 million of cost saving by 2030, and reduce food wastage by 15 billion tonnes.

It was in this context that the PM asked the Bank — as it ramps up its climate financing from 26% to 35% — to make provisions for adequate financing for behavioural initiatives. “A show of support by the World Bank towards behavioural initiatives such as Mission LiFE will have a multiplier effect.”

Malpass, the World Bank president, who spoke next, backed the initiative and said he recognised the deep spiritual roots of the movement. “If we change ourselves, our environment will inevitably change.

But the Bank president also spoke about how improving the design and implementation of policies involves using the right incentives to alter the deeply entrenched habits and economic motivations. Bank’s own research over the years on economics had shown, he said, that interventions had the best chance to succeed if “embedded in right pricing policies and institutions”.

Sitharaman said more and more people, and more influential people, needed to speak about out the need to shift behaviour — just like advertising campaigns that draw in top icons to support it. Underlining how the climate crisis was here, and was affecting everyone every day, the minister said “cult-like conduct” was needed to battle it.

She gave the example of how Modi, during his days as chief minister of Gujarat, travelled through villages persuading them not to bore deep wells in order to preserve the water levels as an example of the bottom-up shift that was needed. Sitharaman also spoke about the larger policy shifts that were taking place to incentivise behavioural shifts in the Indian context.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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