All Together Now, With or Without Paris

Published: November 28, 2015 22:59 IST
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Anyone reading this - in English on a phone/tablet/computer - most likely has a lifestyle that will need more than just one Earth to sustain if all seven billion people followed it. Mine, to my shock, was over four planets. Carbon Footprint tests are easily found on the net and are good and guilty fun.

That's what Paris is all about - changing our lifestyles, before our lifestyles lead us to complete disaster by the end of this century. If we continue without any change, floods, storms, droughts, lack of potable water, etc will all become more intense, more frequent and occur in more places.

One cannot envy the task before our ministers and negotiators at the climate summit. Not least because whatever is decided there will be insufficient, unless the goals and commitments to cut pollution are ramped up. The UN met agency's report just days before Paris shows that the rate at which we are polluting the planet has risen. At this rate we will cross the 2 degree Celsius Rubicon much earlier than expected. At this rate, the temperature rise by 2100 could be 3 to 4 degree Celsius.

It's broadly agreed by the world's scientists and governments that the immediate goal is to limit the rise of average, global temperature to under 2 degree Celsius of the pre-Industrial Revolution average. That was 200 years ago. Then the Industrial Revolution happened, propelling Europe and America to prosperity, leaving the rest of the world far, far behind. The latest data shows the world has already warmed about 1 degree Celsius.

China's rapid growth has made it a top polluter. India is rapidly growing, yet its people are largely poor. The Indian government nails the nub of the clash over climate in its pledge document ahead of Paris, "... more than half of India of 2030 is yet to be built."

The battle for India will be over coal. This dirty but cheap fuel helped the West develop 100-150 years ago. The same is true today for India, with the world's fifth-biggest coal deposits. India will use more coal power. That's totally understandable yet unfortunate - the country will benefit yet suffer. Because more coal will worsen India's air pollution crisis, even though after 2017, the government is committed to making ''clean coal'' power plants. But clean coal technology brings carbon dioxide emissions down only by about 4%.

India's coal quandary should therefore be an opportunity. An opportunity to re-imagine the rules of developing the economy. Create a demand for clean technology. Policy should be changed to further incentivize clean tech and less polluting lifestyles. Help people and businesses where it hurts - give more tax breaks for using renewable energy, reduce taxes on hybrid cars, put many more clean, modern, even air-conditioned CNG buses on the streets. New houses should be taxed lower if they have solar panels in place; a higher demand for panels may reduce price and improve quality. It's common sense stuff that's been around for years, but the implementation still is still far from satisfactory.

The government and specially the private sector should heavily, not just generously, fund courses, chairs, scholarships, R & D jobs for cleaner tech. Why wait for the West to transfer green tech when India too has some of the best minds?

The strong sense of jugaad that many Indians inherently have should be channeled into a modern and greener growth. We need more Manoj Bhargavas in India. Neha Juneja with her ''green'' stove is showing ''green tech'' can be profitable.

For India, air pollution and climate change are virtually daily dangers. These winter days, the National Air Quality Index data shows the highest levels of danger, categories 'severe' and 'very poor', in the northern plains which is about 400 million people. The UN says since 1995, over 800 million people have been affected by weather-related disasters in India; the next highest is Bangladesh with 131 million.

The Prime Minister spoke in Parliament about putting an end to our ''mera kya, mujhe kya'' (why should I care) mindset. It couldn't be truer for climate change. Everybody's got a stake in it; nobody wants to see their kid suffer. Mine had a four-month-long cough last winter in Delhi which ended only when we went to the coast; other kids suffer far worse. Perhaps it's time for another CNG-like order from the Supreme Court to crack the whip - for a start, improve vehicle and fuel standards drastically. It's well worth the money.

(Chetan Bhattacharji is Managing Editor at NDTV)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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