He lit a billion lives

by February 15, 2020 0 comments

Nobel laureate and an authority on sustainable development and climate change, RK Pachauri has set the template for our continuity in climate-challenged times. A long-time columnist of The Pioneer, here are extracts from some of his recommendations made in these pages. We will miss him

RK Pachauri, former Chairman of  The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), who passed away on February 13, was India’s pre-eminent expert on sustainable development, climate change and environment. He received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for raising awareness on the issue. During his eminent career, he also served as a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change that was constituted in 2007. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change was finalised in 2008 under his advice and he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001 and Padma Vibhushan in 2008, the country’s third and second-highest civilian awards, respectively.

Pachauri assumed responsibilities as TERI’s Chief Executive in 1981 and led the institute for more than three decades. He had become synonymous with TERI before he demitted office as the Executive Vice-Chairman in March 2016. One of his flagship projects, Lighting a Billion Lives, that began with distributing solar-powered lamps to rural homes in remote parts of the country that did not have access to grid electricity, resulted in lighting homes in 12 countries. Pachauri was a regular contributor to The Pioneer and here are a few excerpts of his articles that we are publishing as a tribute to the environmental crusader:

Blowing in the wind: (Published January 8)

Wind energy can not only help achieve a sustainable future but also meet economic and social objectives. India must make the best use of this opportunity. Recent developments, with the US having targetted an Iranian General located in Baghdad, would lead to a hardening of global oil prices. There is a valid fear that any further escalation of conflict in the Middle-East could lead to further price increases, which would impact unfavourably on India’s already unsatisfactory rate of economic growth. Earlier concerns related to energy security and the objectives of bringing about energy independence appear to have been given low priority as a result of a glut in the global oil market in recent years. At the same time, the negative externalities of coal production and consumption remain understated, with an expansion of supply, essentially to maintain coal as the major fuel for power generation in this country. There is a need, therefore, to articulate a long-term renewable energy strategy, which would also meet the objectives of the Government’s “Make in India” initiative. Wind energy developments will be an excellent candidate not only for India to achieve a sustainable energy scenario in the future but also as a means to meet a large range of economic and social objectives. It is inevitable that the world would move away from fossil fuels largely for mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions, which are resulting in climate change world over. Hence, there would be a growing demand and a major market opportunity for nations, which innovate and produce equipment for harnessing renewable sources of energy. India has a growing opportunity to play a role in this market.

Preventable reality: (Published January 22)

The comprehensive listing of threats that can emerge this year, published by the Astana Club, is specific to Eurasian countries but has lessons for the entire world. With respect to climate change, we need to come up with scenarios on how we may be able to bring about a transition from fossil fuels to low carbon sources of energy. Far more immediate is the issue of impacts of climate change, which would pose increasing risks across the globe.  Projections of extreme events, which the IPCC had clearly brought out 11 years ago, is the increase in intensity and frequency of disasters and extreme events. A typical but unfortunate example of this is provided by the raging forest fires, which recently affected several parts of Australia, followed immediately by extreme precipitation events which led to flooding and excessive damage. All in all, it is important that the Astana Club has come up with a comprehensive listing of threats, which can emerge during 2020 and, therefore, extending into this decade as a whole. Kazakhstan and several Eurasian countries may lie beyond the Himalayan range but in terms of proximity, they are in some cases very close to us in terms of geographical distance. India should, perhaps, engage far more closely with countries of the region and exercise its soft power, including the flow of knowledge, education and research on issues that have a bearing on the region. The threats for Eurasia apply equally to India as well.

Anatomy of a heat shield: (Published January 21, 2019)

The impact of climate change would leave a large part of the population vulnerable in India. It needs to develop its industrial strengths in a technology of the future. It is important to remember that for India as a society, the impacts of climate change would leave a large part of the population vulnerable. If global action is neglected, in which India has high stakes, then we cannot blame others as a nation, which many developed countries have been responsible for as a measure of neglect for much too long. In particular, quite apart from the economic merits of large-scale renewable energy production, which the Government of India has now committed itself to, what is perhaps of even greater priority is to electrify those villages which are as yet un-electrified, and which may have major constraints in supply of grid based power. The TERI launched a major programme in 2008 called “Lighting a Billion Lives,” which focussed on the provision of lighting in the homes of these villages, using renewable energy, mainly through supply of PV based power. India had a great opportunity to not only complete this task within its own borders, but perhaps make the experience available to homes in Africa and other parts of the developing world.  There is, of course, a significant benefit in exploiting economies of scale both through an approach such as the programme on “Lighting a Billion Lives” as well as large-scale supply of grid-based power using renewables.

India can become a leader in mitigation of emissions of GHGs and set a path for growth with significantly low carbon emissions. It may thus develop its industrial strengths in a technology of the future, with significant commercial benefits and reach across other regions of the world. This, of course, would also have major implications for action at the global level for meeting the provisions of the Paris agreement and maintaining the limit of 1.5 °C.

In the worst of times: (Published April 3, 2019)

It is necessary for national governments to put in place safety measures so that vulnerable sections can be protected from the ill-effects of a downturn in economic activity. When Charles Dickens wrote the following lines for his epic creation, A Tale of Two Cities, he obviously gave expression to the state of society as it existed in that period: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”. If the same author were to write similar lines today, it is likely that he would drop the words “best of times”, given the extent of uncertainty and the lack of “feel good” that we see before us. Perhaps every generation feels some helplessness at what they perceive as the decline in standards, opportunities — and most importantly, hope — in comparison with yesteryear. Yet, today, the confusion that defines global affairs and the state of the world seems more compelling in mapping the human condition as, say, in comparison with what existed just a few years ago. The global economy has reached unprecedented levels, which should normally have resulted in the elimination of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and a reduction in inequalities but the growing difference between the richest members of society and those at the bottom rung has never been sharper than it is today.

Leaders with hubris: (Published April 17, 2019)

A large number of leaders, both at the global and the national levels, today appear to be victims of self-pride when they should be more humble and modest personalities. The question is whether these leaders are seen by their followers as larger than life and measuring up to the dimensions of a superman, to be idealised and admired by them. It is hoped that distinguished leaders in the future would show a certain level of humility and shed the hubris that they appear to have acquired in recent years. It is relevant to recall that the brightest scientist in history Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” Could it, therefore, be that those leaders with hubris lack an intellectual understanding of their own being and most certainly that of nature, which takes the form of remoteness from reality and basic humility? We urgently need leaders in this mould before those with hubris can impose untold harm on society and distort the finest attributes of human nature. But in recent times, leaders with hubris have strutted the stage in the US, the UK, the Philippines, Indonesia and many other countries. Will they be succeeded by more humble and modest personalities?

The desecration of democracy: (Published January 21, 2019)

The gun control issue and opposition to restrictions on tobacco use are symptomatic of how democracy is being desecrated by abandoning our responsibilities towards the welfare of the people. As the world’s largest democracy, it is important for India to learn the lessons from the flaws and distortions of other countries, such as the US, or else we would also become major desecraters of democracy with devastating consequences. The one ray of light which appears now is the enormous effort being made by the youth of the school in Parkland, Florida, where a shooting spree took place. It is particularly important that they use their moral power to not only influence the state legislature and the Governor of Florida, but also create public opinion for action to introduce gun control. It is important that on all such issues, whether it is banning of tobacco consumption or action to deal with climate change, youth power should come to the fore.  It is after all their future which is at serious risk, and clearly it is for them to take leadership, as indeed they are doing with the authorities in Florida. If the current tragedy leads to youth succeeding in imposition of gun control, then perhaps such carnage won’t happen.

(Writer: RK Pachauri; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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