Shri Bhupender Yadav is Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Labour and Employment, Government of India
Q: What are the major steps that India needs to take in the next five to eight years to combat climate change, and what should be the role of developed countries?
One crucial issue is the target of Panchamrit that our PM Modi ji has shown. The second is technological development. How do we move towards green energy? We are working on increasing our solar energy generation capacity and alongside have also initiated a National Hydrogen Mission. We also have to look into changing and adapting our lifestyle practices. Simultaneously, we also have to increase the global carbon sink. I believe that developed countries, which not only have a moral responsibility but also a pledge, should come forward for technology transfer and climate finance. They must accept the large amounts of carbon emissions and historical wrongdoings that they have committed. In this matter, India fervently leads all developing countries.
Q: If developed countries need to move ahead in this direction, there needs to be much greater funding by them. In this regard, how are they being pushed to fulfil their responsibility?
India has been exerting a great deal of pressure on this issue. You earlier talked about making collective efforts. Our PM gave the mantra of an ‘environment-friendly lifestyle’. If this time, there were six or seven decisions taken in this direction during COP 26, it was because of India’s strong representation of the voices of developing countries. Firstly, in Glasgow, all developed countries expressed deep regret that they couldn’t provide climate finance. Now they would have to do more for this responsibility. Besides expressing deep regrets, they also need to take action. Second, an ad-hoc committee was discussed for deliberating the definition of climate finance. The discussion also took place over the continuation of long-term finance. A draft would also be prepared about adaptation, between the time-frames from Glasgow to Sharm el-Sheikh. Most importantly, we have always held that if they do not carry forward the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) and the CERs (Certified Emission Reductions) from the Kyoto protocol, then there would be no credibility to the issue of carbon credits that they wish to raise. We believe that this issue raised by India and other developing countries has been fully accepted as part of Article 6 of the rule book of the Paris Agreement. We still hold that developed countries should come forward to fulfill their responsibilities.
Q: Recently, Germany announced a funding commitment of 1.2 billion Euros for India to fight climate change. Do you believe that issue of environmental leadership that India has been raising would give an impetus to increase funding and solve this problem of funding?
With regard to funding, I believe that there needs to be more clarity on climate finance. This must happen with pace. As far as India’s initiatives are concerned, India has not only set ambitious targets, but has also fulfilled them. One of the major threats of climate change is desertification of land; to address that we are running a joint-programme of eight ministries. We are undertaking major projects such as NCAP to solve the problem of air pollution. Over 10 of our ministries are working on various initiatives with regard to environment including Swachh Bharat mission, Ujjwala Yojana, Unnati project etc., as well as work in the agriculture sector. All those techniques, adaptation practices and mitigation measures that are needed to be taken by modern societies are being implemented by India.
Q: Do we need to change our perspective about environment?
This is a fact that environment awareness needs to come and environment education has to be pushed. Climate Justice also needs to be brought to the fore. The issue of lifestyle should also be raised. We have 17% population of the world but account for just 4% of total carbon emissions. Hence, our per capita emissions are very low. There is also an issue of lifestyle, which must be discussed. Our PM has also focused on this issue. Besides lifestyle changes, we also need to put impetus on our biodiversity, flora, fauna and our other issues. The world needs to rapidly progress in adoption of green technology, which is environment-friendly, through technology transfer. Meanwhile, nations must also fulfil their responsibilities towards their citizens. This is such a balancing act in which all nations need to work together, because the impact of climate change transcends geographical boundaries and has a cumulative global effect. That is why every country must contribute, based on their national circumstances. India strongly believes in these thoughts and regularly asserts them. Climate Justice is an important part of Climate Change. Eradication of poverty is a crucial part of Climate Justice. That is why every country must take this into account while going forward.
Q: Would the government focus more on the idea of green-hubs or do you believe that this can be just one aspect of the solution while a holistic solution needs to be 360 degrees?
We need a 360-degree solution. Green sink must rise but along with that we also need to look at desertification of land, problems in coastal areas, adoption of new agricultural practices, threats from rising emissions from new cities and other critical aspects. Our earth is under a layer of gases and rising emissions of CO2 and other gases is having a significant impact on the same. Even in this regard, nations need to take action considering their national circumstances. Just few months back, India’s Cabinet also approved the Kigali amendment which talks about phasing down of these hydrofluorocarbons. Such decisions are being taken across the globe, but what is necessary is that it involves capacity building of all countries. This is why, when the issue of loss and damages, time-framework and measurement methods was raised in Glasgow, India put forward the point that developing countries should be equipped with both capacity and finance and this was agreed to. I believe that if our framework to gauge global warming is strengthened, the world would be better able to face the upcoming threats in a collective manner.
Q: When we talk about India in the context of climate and environment, a major issue that comes up is of air pollution. Now it has passed the phase of challenge and evolved to become an emergency. What kind of measures do you think need to be taken? How much do you envisage the role of states and the federal structure? Is there going to be a holistic solution to it or will people continue to suffer?
Indeed, there are solutions. You have asked an important question. I wish to point out that air pollution and climate change are two different aspects. But since you have asked this question in the context of India, I will answer. The 15th Finance Commission has announced a Rs 4,400 crore package that we have also started distributing to states. Our PM has also started National Clean Air Mission Programme and we have started regional meetings for it as well. Recently, we had our first meeting in Mumbai and we are going to conduct more meetings across the country. We have selected 138 cities that are reeling with air pollution. We have signed MOUs with their municipalities and released certain guidelines for them that cover issues including garbage combustion, vehicular pollution, dust pollution, thermal power plant mitigations, and industrial pollution. We have chalked out plans for these issues and even worked out a method for measurement. Second, under the environment ministry, we have also released the ‘Prana portal’ for public awareness on the issue. The Indian government has also brought a Special Act for the Delhi-NCR region. For the first time, we have given legal recognition to air sheds. To manage Delhi’s pollution, we moved from BS-IV to BS-VI petrol, and nationally, we have introduced a scrapping policy. In Delhi, we have diverted traffic to the eastern peripheral expressway and western expressway and brought a policy to measure dust pollution. We are shifting the entire industry to PNG to reduce industrial pollution. In a few days, our National Air Quality Control Authority, which has technicians and experts, is going to bring forth a mega programme to solve the pollution of the Delhi-NCR region. We have also introduced a few new ways to deal with stubble burning to reduce its pollution. First, we have distributed machines to end the stubble. Nearly Rs 700 crore have been expended by the Central Government for the same. Second, the government worked, both independently as well as in collaboration with various groups, on the decomposition of the stubble to convert it to manure. This was done on nearly 1 lakh acre of land in both Punjab and Haryana and about 6 lakh acres of land in Uttar Pradesh. Thirdly, we also worked on utilising it as biofuel. Nearly 1,500 tons were acquired by NTPC, which was a pretty big tender. To utilise it as animal fodder in the future, a small pilot project was run to dispatch it to Kutch and Western Rajasthan, where there are cattle in large numbers but lack fodder. Even though it was at a small scale, the pilot project did take place. In COP 26, one Indian youth got an award for Takachar, a firm that works on converting stubble to the product while in the cutting phase itself, and then directly sending it for biofuel. In the future, there would be more such experiments. Comprehensively, we nudged and appealed to the farmers to not simply burn the stubble but to rather utilise it to increase their production and incomes or use it as manure. In light of the four-five new initiatives, I believe we would be better able to handle the problem in the future.
Q: What would be the two-three defining initiatives by your ministry in the post-COP26 world in light of all the developments of this year?
Our Ministry has brought forth changes in two Acts which have been forwarded to various committees of the Parliament. First, we are providing approval to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Treaty in the Wildlife Act, to uphold the international standards of wildlife protection in our country. Second, biodiversity is one such field that can help our farmers and tribals to prosper through the rich flora of our country. We are working on increasing their productivity through innovation and academic research of international standards. Third, there are a lot of lakes in our country. We are targeting to get Ramsar Convention status to 75 lakes. As of now, we have been successful in getting 47 lakes registered. Ten of our beaches have got the blue tag and we plan on working more for their conservation. Similarly, we are looking into the issue of the Western Ghats. We also aim to push forward our National Clean Air Programme with more sincerity. We have great institutions in our country like the Biological Survey of India and the Zoological Survey of India, which efficiently raise the issues of flora and fauna, and we plan on strengthening such institutions. 14 of our tiger reserves have got accreditation so we aim to work with more rigour in this direction. To make our environment clearances more nature-friendly and development based, we are also working to improve our Parivesh portal. I believe that with these targets we would be able to protect our biodiversity, lead to more afforestation, and push forward an environment-friendly development in the country.