'India has not understood climate change'
— G.M. Pillai, Director General, World Institute of Sustainable Energy
Pune-based World Institute of Sustainable Energy recently
organised a two-day conference titled Climate Change India 2008 to identify the
impact of climate change on India, its causes and the search for a solution.
G.M. Pillai spoke to Madhu Chittora on climate change, measures to
reduce carbon emissions, and what India can do. Excerpts:
What was the objective behind Climate Change India 2008?
After the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, climate
change has become a global issue. WISE wanted to look at its impact on India,
the possible mitigation and adaptation strategies that need to be adopted, and
policy changes to address climate change. I understand the Government of India
has taken a stand that developed countries are the pollutants and developing
countries should not be made to reduce (carbon) emissions. My point is that we
need to take mitigation and adaptation strategies in our own interest, not
because of the developed countries, even though they have created the problem,
but because we are going to be the sufferers. We have to take defensive
strategies, and this conference was a move in that direction.
What does the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report say?
The IPCC report broadly says that 2 degrees of warming is expected by, say, 2050
if we don't cut emissions by 80 per cent. Most of the reduction in emissions has
to come from the developed countries. Around 2 degrees of warming is very
dangerous and if we go on with business as usual, the warming can go up to 5.7
degrees, which means near extinction of life on earth. So the IPCC strategy is
to contain warming at 2 degrees which means 80 per cent reduction by 2050.
What measures does IPCC suggest?
Burning of fossil fuels is one of the biggest causes of emissions. Among fossil
fuels, coal is the biggest polluter. The solution is to move towards a
low-carbon energy economy. That means pushing renewable energy on a big scale.
Do developed nations understand the seriousness of the issue?
I think they do. Developed countries also stand to loose if developing countries
go down because of their market presence in the latter. Besides, developed
countries will have more adaptation problems because they are highly advanced.
So anything that affects the global economy will affect them equally badly,
maybe not in the same way as the developing countries. For example, in India, 65
per cent of the population is still farming. A large hit on the corporate
economy won't hit the farmers badly.
The developed world is genuinely concerned. Europe is serious about reducing
emissions. The US government's stand is no reduction in emissions. But across
America local governments, municipalities, over 700 mayors etc., have initiated
action to bring down emissions.
How far has India moved in the climate change initiative?
Not far, because we are still building, all our power expansion plans are coal
based. Even the Integrated Energy Policy of Government of India talks of only 5
per cent contribution from renewables by 2030. I think the government has not
probably understood the seriousness of this issue. We have to tackle climate
change on a war footing, in terms of policies, incentives, financing mechanisms
to push clean technologies etc.
Shouldn’t renewables be an integral part of our energy policy?
When we talk of renewable energy, people think there aren't much renewable
resources. Can we power our economy with renewables? Can we produce enough
electricity with renewables? It is possible to produce huge amounts of
electricity through renewables because of various technologies. We have an
installed power capacity of 135,000 mw. We can produce around 7 lakh mw, five
times our current capacity, from renewables, provided we start doing it
seriously. Wind capacity stands at 8,000 mw, which is twice the size of nuclear
power. We are already showing that it is possible but if we move fast in the
direction of change, then all this can be achieved in the next 20-30 years.
Yet, to reduce carbon emissions, mitigate the impact of global warming,
facilitate energy efficiency, reduce industrial and automobile emissions by
switching over to clean energy, a lot of things are required.
Will we see a global shift?
It is already happening. Last year, investment in renewables was $100 billion,
and is growing at about 40 per cent a year. The pace is not the same in India
but I give (responsible people and government) five years to mainstream
renewables. With the import price of oil and coal moving up sharply, we will be
forced to turn to renewables in a big way.
What is the role of government, private firms and individuals?
Government should take the lead because in any crisis situation what matters is
policy change. Inter-sector and interdisciplinary policies have to be put in
place to solve this issue.
Private firms should move from corporate social responsibility to carbon social
responsibility, and show they are serious about reducing emissions. It increases
their brand value and they earn money from (carbon credits).
How much can individuals contribute? There is a lot of talk about changing
lifestyles, like wearing khadi, traveling by bicycles and so on. Among
individuals only the rich can contribute; the poor don't consume anything. So
whom are we asking to change lifestyles?
[May 5-11, 2008]