A landmark papal document unveiled last week has challenged climate change deniers by declaring that the destruction of the ecosystem is a moral issue that has to be tackled. It is the first time in history that a hard-hitting message from the Vatican warns of the threat of global warming. Pope Francis in his message, which is contained in an encyclical, a document on Catholic teaching that is traditionally addressed to bishops, praises ecological movements and, in exceptionally strong language, rounds on those who are obstructing progress in the fight against climate change.
The encyclical—entitled Laudato Si, or Be Praised, and nearly 200 pages long—is the first such document issued by the Vatican dealing specifically with the environment. On June 17, the Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change—signed by representatives of the Church of England, Muslims, Sikhs, the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Methodist Conference and Jewish communities—spoke of the same urgent need for action.
The religious voices are likely to give added momentum to the need for a climate agreement at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris at the end of the year since the Pope’s teachings give a significant moral voice to climate change issues. Meanwhile, The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)—a coalition of 20 countries particularly vulnerable to climate change—has urged the UN’s climate change body to lower the ceiling by which the world can warm from 2 degrees to 1.5 degrees centrigade compared to pre-industrial levels.
Earlier this year, two indigenous tribes in Australia, the Wangan and Jagalingou people, rejected the proposed $16 billion AUD Carmichael coal mine in Queensland and began a world tour of financial institutions to call for an end to investments in dirty fuels. The prime minister of Fiji, Voreqe Bainimarama, called for binding cuts in carbon emissions and a concerted Pacific effort at COP21. Kofi Annan and the Africa Progress Panel released a report calling on Africa to play a leading role in the global clean energy transition and arguing that the only way the continent could alleviate energy poverty is to tap its huge clean energy potential. In the Philippines, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and other local NGOs demanded that the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines open a critical investigation into the big carbon polluters for human rights violations. As many as 2,10,000 people have signed up to The Guardian’s #Keepitintheground campaign calling on the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels.
However, in the global discourse on climate change, India often gets singled out for resisting mitigation action and for its reliance on fossil fuels such as coal. Though overall development of any nation is directly linked to its energy use and access, energy poverty is a good indicator of low levels of overall development. Around 306.2 million people in India lack access to electricity, perhaps the largest energy access challenge anywhere in the world.
In such a scenario, we can’t end all coal burning this year or even this decade. Yet India’s climate action needs addressing. In order to achieve this majority of new energy generation in India should come from clean renewable sources and efficient use of energy. Development of renewable energy has been one of the pillars of the Indian government’s strategy to improve energy access to tackle energy poverty. India’s Integrated Energy Policy, formulated in 2006, lays down a road map for harnessing renewable energy sources with a target of adding 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2017. Modi’s government has a massive opportunity to make a mark on what is undoubtedly the critical issue of our times. What he decides on climate action is going to be a defining moment in his tenure as prime minister. Indian ambition for renewable energy will create the impetus to chart a new energy pathway and demonstrate India’s leadership on the global stage.
The Future Investment report demonstrates that a safe renewable energy future for India would not only cut our global CO2 emissions from the electricity sector in half by 2030, it would also cost 10 times less than a “business as usual” fossil fuel future would.