On September 23, 2019, in his bilingual speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, held in New York, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed leaders of the world and called for a “comprehensive approach” that must include, according to him, “education, values, lifestyle to development, and philosophy.”
Beginning his speech by congratulating the UN Secretary-General by reminding him that he was a recipient of the ‘Champion of the Earth’ award, Modi expressed that “behavioural change” is required to tackle climate change. He reminded world leaders that India has been respectful of nature forever; its preservation and conservation form core values of Indian living.
Speaking on the lines of a quote by Gandhi, he added that “Need, not greed has been our guiding principle.” And that that he hasn’t come to “talk only,” instead wants to present a “behavioural change plan and a roadmap.” A charmer of a speaker that he is, it almost seemed like a magician doing his tricks. He went on to deliver one promise after the other.
Promise 1: Increase in production of renewable energy. He said that India will not only achieve its renewable energy production target 175 GW, by 2022 but is committed to making it 450 GW.
Promise 2: Promoting e-mobility. Increase of biofuel mixing in petrol and diesel.
Promise 3: ‘Jal Jeevan’ mission — water conservation mission — will attract an investment of $50 billion.
Though no one knows what to make out of this statement of his, “We believe that an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching,”; when one knows that for the second time in a row, the Prime Minister is making promises which he seldom delivers, and his ensemble of ministers says that those were just ‘jumlas’ post-elections.
But, at the UN, no one was there to present “actionable” recommendations to combat climate change, as requested by the UN Secretary-General. Each one had his/her own campaign promotion in their own style. Ours started with a ‘Namaste’ and self-eulogy.
Keeping that, and my personal animosity toward the Prime Minister aside, I was looking for ways to find out whether his big claims were practical. Was there actually a “roadmap” to achieving these goals? India will invest $50 billion on water conservation as part of the ‘Jal Jeevan’ mission. Okay! Is there any roadmap for this too? How will 3.5 lakh crore, the Indian equivalent of the above amount, be managed?
On my quest to finding answers to these difficult, yet important, questions, I stumbled upon a fantastic analysis by Foreign Policy: “Can India Give Up Coal?”
Authors, in this article, quite aptly argue that though there has been a surge toward production and usage of solar energy, “[I]s it enough, as India’s demand for energy rises alongside the expansion of its middle classes.” It’s a scary thing, but not more than this shocking statistic: India’s coal imports rose by 13% last year! And, later in the article, the authors argue, and I feel it’s a legit argument, that it’ll be difficult for all South Asian countries to shift to “carbon-neutral energy products.”
I do not make it a point here that the Prime Minister is saying one thing and doing things that he doesn’t say. (Well, that’s a usual scene in a fascist regime.) I do want to attract your attention to the practicality of his statements. We, certainly, as a nation, can adopt ways to preserving and conserving the environment. And we all should. The point, however, is: the “behavioural change” that the Prime Minister wants is a long-term commitment and not a one-time solution. To tackle the situation, what one needs is an actual roadmap and not a self-congratulatory speech.
The structure of renewable energy production is crippled. (I myself have worked as a solar engineer and I know how bids function, how contracts are awarded, how solar plants are thoughtlessly placed at various sites, and how in the name of natural production of electricity this business is becoming a bubble.) Even if the structure and functioning of production of non-fossil energy are in a blessed state, the question remains: Will it be sufficient for all without harming the environment? Or we’re going to split our energy demands. Meeting a few, and that few is a huge number actually, by harming the environment? Like we always have.
Amid these promises, the PM also said, and this attracted a lot of attention, that the “world needs to act now.” Sure, we do prime minister. The question is: In which direction? (Because, as you talk about Science and Technology a lot, there’s one kind of a work that is of ‘zero’ value to science, even if it involves a lot of hard work, which you do a lot.)