The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, “Connecting people to nature” couldn’t have come at a more apt time. The announcement of United States President Donald Trump regarding the country’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement has come as a body blow to the cause of environmental protection. By trivializing the climate change negotiations to an issue of job growth and economy, President Trump has shown the world how little he has grasped the real danger of the issue. He has also let go of an opportunity for the US to take historical responsibility and convert the adversity into an opportunity for all the nations involved in terms of economic growth with clean energy. However, in the pall of gloom that had befallen the action against climate change, the determination shown by all the other signatories of the Paris agreement to abide by their commitments has come as a glittering ray of hope for the planet. Of particular importance here is India’s transformation from a nation that was reluctant to make lasting commitments to being one of the strongest proponents of combating climate change.
Climate change is a stark reality that the world is faced with at present. The variation in climatic patterns across continents is perhaps the most visible signs of the impending doom. As agreed by the 195 nations who were signatories of the Paris Agreement, the need is almost immediate to limit the rise of temperature to 2°C to save the planet for future generations. India with 7 per cent of the carbon emissions is the world’s fourth largest contributor. But when the statistics are compared to the 30 per cent emissions of China and 15 per cent emissions of the US, it is clear that climate change mitigation should be a collective effort. No nation should run away from the consequences of its actions. Global warming is essentially a man-made phenomenon which has resulted in a net warming of 0.95°C till now. If efforts are not made to arrest this rise, there is no doubt that the coming generations will be left with an inhabitable planet.
With time, India has realized the havoc that climate change can wreak with the environment and livelihoods. Apart from the extreme climatic patterns, it would also trigger large scale migration that would put undue strain on the available resources and energy production. Under the Paris Agreement, the country has set itself three important goals – to bring down the emissions from the 2005 levels by 35 to 33 per cent by 2030, to generate 40 per cent of its electricity in 2030 from non-fossil fuel sources and also to create an additional carbon sink of about 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. To fulfill, its pledge, the country has already strengthened its renewable energy programme with the installation of solar, wind and nuclear energy.
According to the statistics released by India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the total renewable capacity including solar, wind, bio-mass and small hydro grew by around 11.2 GW in FY17 According to a report presented at a UN climate change meeting in Germany, India is expected to obtain 40 per cent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2022, eight years ahead of the target that it has set for itself in the Paris Agreement.
The government has been providing multiple subsidies to increase the use of solar energy for both commercial and domestic purposes. Due of the sustained efforts, the solar power generation price in India is well below that of traditional thermal power. This is in turn expected to make the former a more viable option for electrification in rural areas. India has also emerged as the fourth largest wind power producer in the world. Another significant initiative by the government is its ambitious plan to convert most vehicles to electric by 2030. A ‘green tax’ has already been introduced with the aim of making the polluters pay the cost. Under the GST, electric cars will be taxed only at 12 per cent as against the 28 per cent for other cars.
An added advantage of the focus on environmental conservation is the creation of jobs. According to an estimate by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), green power will create a million new jobs in India and will also open up a huge export market for the nation. This is the point where Trump overlooked the business dynamics and claimed that sticking to commitments will cost US 27 lakh jobs in the next seven years. With the benefit of technological advancement, US could have targeted green energy markets in developing countries and also created more number of jobs on the domestic front. Now with the US joining the two other countries in the world - Syria and Nicaragua that have stayed away from the Paris Agreement, the onus is on the 193 countries to scale up their emission targets and reduce the impact of the US withdrawal from the landmark deal.