There are many expectations from India on the global climate strategy as the country cranks up on the development front. India’s sheer size is an indication that its energy demand will grow hugely. Bhupender Yadav, the Union Cabinet Minister of Labour and Employment, Environment, Forest and Climate Change, says India stands for climate justice which entails that people are pulled out of poverty. This is in sync with the Sustainable Development Goals, he tells Rajesh Kumar Thakur in an interview.
What specific initiatives has your ministry taken to meet the net-zero emission targets?
India is among the very few nations to have submitted the long-term low emission development strategy (LT-LEDS) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which lays the path towards net-zero emission by 2070. Our LT-LEDS rests on seven key transitions. These are: low-carbon development of electricity systems consistent with development; integrated, efficient, inclusive low-carbon transport system; adaptation in urban design, energy and material-efficiency in buildings, and sustainable urbanization; economy-wide decoupling of growth from emissions; CO2 removal and other engineering solutions; enhancing the forest and vegetation cover consistent with socio-economic and ecological considerations, and economic and financial aspects of low-carbon development.
The PM says India will generate 500 GW energy through non-fossil fuel by 2030. What steps are you taking?
The Indian Railways is fast electrifying its vast network. It will be fully electrified by 2030, reducing as much as 80 billion tonnes of emission. PM Modi has also initiated the National Green Hydrogen Mission for a clean and renewable energy source in the country. Budget 2023-24 has allocated a fund of Rs 19,700 crore for it. There is a major push for LED bulbs and this transition will cut down on nearly 40 billion tonnes of emissions.
How are we doing on the forest front?
Between 2019 and 2021, India’s forest and tree cover rose by 2,261 sq km. Forest and tree cover is now spread across 80.9 million hectares, which is 24.62% of India’s geographical area. When you talk of carbon sinks, you need to understand that there are other systems as well, for which our government is working. The Union Budget lays out the roadmap for MISHTI (Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes), PM PRANAM (Prime Minister Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth) and Amrit Dharohar, which encourages optimal use of wetlands.
India was the third largest CO2 emitter by volume in 2020. Our target to reach net-zero emissions remains 2070, which is not in line with the Paris Agreement…
It is an erroneous way of looking at progress that we have made. India’s climate actions exceed its moral and legal responsibility. India’s sheer size and scope for growth is an indication that its energy demand will also grow faster than any other economy. Even COP15, UN Biodiversity Conference, held in December 2022, recognized the ‘right to development’ for developing nations. India stands for climate justice and that entails that the people are pulled out of poverty. This is in sync with the Sustainable Development Goals. India with more than 17% of the global population has contributed only about 4% of the global cumulative greenhouse gas emissions between 1850 and 2019. India is, in fact, the only G20 nation well on track to achieve the goals mentioned under the Paris Agreement. We are not lagging; we are leading.
Amid a dissonance between development and environment, there is a demand that developed countries do more…
India doesn’t see environment protection and development as necessarily antagonistic. PM Modi has shown that both can go together. India’s stated policy is mindful resource utilization over mindless consumption. The developed countries can begin with an acceptance that the developed world precipitated the problem. They must release the promised climate finance fund without a delay, allowing the technology transfer needed for climate action.
India has stressed blending the traditional practices in day-to-day living for a sustainable future. How is your ministry contributing to this initiative?
India believes ‘our solutions are in nature’. Oneness with nature is the Indian way of life and it is time to shift to this way. PM Modi has given the world the mantra of LiFE, Lifestyle for Environment. My ministry is spreading greater awareness about existing in harmony with nature through ‘Prakriti.’ This involves adopting small changes in everyday life.
The NCR faces AQI issues every winter. Any long-term measures to deal with it?
I agree the problem is recurring. I feel it is important to underline that the situation is getting better. The Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Station data for Delhi reveals that annual concentration of particulate matter has declined since 2016. We have already achieved a significant reduction in stubble burning.