In this I-CAN conversation we had, director Climate Change Programs, India & South East Asia, Earth Day Network, Mr. Ajaay Mittal. He is a member of the global shapers community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum and a climate reality leader, an initiative of the former vice president of the United States. Mrs. Vrinda Agarwal, a journalist facilitated the discussion around the effect and cause of climate change, policies on climate change in India and in the world and the future discourse of the same.
Compiled by Suzanne Khan
We have often participated in competitions at schools wherein we made posters on saving the environment and heard leaders talking about saving our mother earth or the environment. Well, can we really save the environment, aren’t we claiming that we are superior enough and have the power to save it? Well, we should work on saving ourselves because the earth will live on. It is important, it is immortal and it is the mortals who have to save themselves.
‘Nature has hit the reset button, animals are taking over’ are some of the quotes flouting on social media nowadays. However, it is still a doubt whether nature has rejuvenated and we can live in harmony with the environment without hurting each other. However, Mr. Ajay being an optimist commented that nature has the power of healing itself and the pandemic has shown the power of nature to repair and grow. There are some laws of nature that say nature knows itself the best and the pandemic has shown this. This pandemic has shown wonderful results. Be it the air quality reducing down to 64% or the dolphins being seen in the water after 30 years or the improving quality of rivers are some examples which show that when we create some space for nature, it repairs itself. Therefore, ushering in the need to live in co-dependence with nature.
This pandemic has changed the whole nature and reduced the risks. The scientists have been telling us about the risks of climate for years now and these are the same scientists telling us about the virus. We are the same individuals who have shut everything to cure and heal from the virus. We have taken bold steps within just a few weeks of the containment of the virus. This is what nature always asked from us, not lockdown but the transition. Solutions always exist but we never took any bold political actions. However, the pandemic has given us hope to change it all.
Talking about the different aspects of lockdown and its impact on climate, Mr. Ajay claimed that with oil prices going down and lesser demands, it’s a clear threat to our clean energy goals. However, this is also an opportunity for policymakers to remove subsidies for fossil fuels such as petrol, coal, etc. With taxing on these, the revenues can be filled and to fill up the revenues and revitalize the economy. This is the time where we can create a green economy, create more jobs for people, creating the infrastructure for flood-prone areas, better design for cities as well as creating an infrastructure for electric cars. This is one of the solutions for the nominals to look at.
As an environmentalist, Mr. Ajay suggested that we need to look at both levels to solve the problem of climate change and them being bottom-up and top-down. We need lifestyle changes as well. The changes during the lockdown are totally aligned with the changes required for climate change.
Going back in time when there were multiple encroachments on the climate, Mr. Ajay said that even though right now we don’t have enough proof of the cause of the virus but there is enough proof to claim that our actions in the past could and can lead to a lot more pandemics. One of the examples that come from science is that as the ice glaciers melt, a lot of infections as well as viruses might come to the surface and cause pandemics. Apart from this, one thing which is evident is that you look at people who are vulnerable. The migrant crisis in India right now is one such example indicating the effect of lockdown. Equipping vulnerable people with facilities must be a target of policymakers and should be addressed by the governments. These people can’t be left on physical philanthropy and they must be taken care of by creating a system.
On a global level, environmentalists are worried that this year the Annual Climate Change Summit may not happen this year and if it may happen it may happen via video conferencing. A lot of environmentalists about their agendas and how to push it all further. Taking cognizance of this situation, Mr. Ajaay said that when crises hit any country, environments become the least priority for the governments. It is a kind of an additional department for governments. It is always the economy or the infrastructure that gets important. However, at the same time the governments are very wise and if we see this as an opportunity to grow a new economy, then we can create a more efficient system. With this attitude, the speaker was hopeful that advisors will advise on this level as well as the government will take action on the same. Along with the government, our own actions are also important and the environment is a collective action not an individual action.
In conclusion, this is a time for greater dependency. Everything that we consume, we depend on nature for food, clothes, medicine, and other things. Being self- centered won’t help any individual. However, with an attitude of co-existence we all can come out of this crisis together and become stronger. In all, from this crisis we must learn to look at more need-based consumptions, more local consumptions, and play a balanced role in the social distancing norms. With nature, nature grows, we also grow and everything grows.
Key highlights of the Conversation:
- The pandemic has shown the power of nature to repair itself. There are some laws of nature which say nature knows itself the best. A consistent decrease in the levels of air quality as well as clear blue skies are some great examples of nature reclaiming itself when left untouched. This also gives us a message of co-dependence with nature.
- The Environment is not an abstract entity. It is a very integral part of our lives. Environment is a health, economic and livelihood problem as well. By addressing the issue of climate change we can prevent so many crises such as floods, viruses etc. Environment investment is a long-term investment.
- India being a rural country can increase investment in climate. This will help in improving health, economy, social as well as other different aspects of the country. It all depends on what we prioritise. If we prioritise over allocating resources to more long-term initiatives then we as environmentalists will flourish.