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Industry has to lead change on climate change

MD of DaimlerChrysler's India subsidiary argues governments need to set targets on emissions and enforce them, reports Ravi Srnivasan.

india Updated: Jun 28, 2007 10:50 IST
Ravi Srnivasan
Ravi Srnivasan
Hindustan Times

Even those blessed with a vivid imagination might find it difficult to envision a scenario where DaimlerChrysler, associated the world over with the ultra-luxury automobile marque Mercedes Benz, being in the same library, leave alone on the same page, as the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Yet, during a chat last week, I found Dr Wilfried Aulbur, managing director of DaimlerChrysler's India subsidiary, taking a near-identical position to that of the CPI(M) on the issue of the 'right' approach to the issue of what needs to be done by the automobile industry and the government on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Dr Aulbur argued that governments need to set targets on emissions and enforce them, not dictate the choice of technology. An ultra-low emission vehicle powered by an engine using advanced burn technology, emission filters and ultra-low sulphur diesel, is actually 'cleaner' than even a good-quality conventional engine running on compressed natural gas (CNG). In fact, he stated that in long-term tests in the United States, their new series of S-class vehicles had performed as well as high-tech hybrid vehicles, using a combination of internal combustion engines and batteries.

Strangely enough, this was more or less the same line taken by the CPI(M), when the whole debate about 'diesel versus CNG' erupted in India, following a Supreme Court-mandated conversion of all public vehicles to CNG in Delhi.

In a position paper published in its official publication, People's Democracy in May, 2001, it first heaped praise on old arch-foe, the US, by stating: "The aim and the criterion used to monitor progress towards it (emission standards) is not the fuel used or the type of vehicle but the level of emission set as the standard to be achieved within a stipulated time-frame. The other noteworthy feature of the US system is that the process has been legislated, with clear executive and monitoring roles for the environment and energy/fuel departments or ministries."

It then went on to state: "In India, however, in coming down on the side of a single fuel (CNG) rather than specifying desirable emissions standards to be achieved irrespective of the engine technology or type of fuel used, the Supreme Court's order and the advice given to it by the Bhure Lal committee has done a disservice not only to the cause of the environment but also to the balance between the different arms of the state in a democracy."

The arguments are valid, but I think events have overtaken us with frightening speed. Climate change is real, dangerous and is shattering lives and economies all over the world. Australia is struggling to come to terms with the longest drought in its history; agricultural production has already dropped by a fifth. China is battling a heatwave in the west and floods in the south. After a delayed onset, some parts of India have already received a tenth of their annual quota within the first couple of days, leading to widespread floods and destruction. The time for action is now.

Given the nature of our political system, it is unrealistic to hope for immediate and effective action from the government. It is up to industry to lead the change process. It is in its own interest to do so. And ours.

First Published: Jun 27, 2007 23:43 IST