Fighting climate change has not been a front-burner issue at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. But it has been a priority that underlies many of the discussions and actions that we see from the thousands who are here in Rio. From calls to end fossil fuel subsidies to discussions about energy for all, the real economic, environment and health impacts of climate change underlie much of the urgency to see this gathering of 50,000 people catalyze real action. Many countries are taking action to build clean energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions. We see this, for example, in India which is on the frontlines of climate change. But in a world where the damage from climate change is becoming part of our daily lives, we need to step up our commitments and actions to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and curbing climate change. In India, we can see many examples of strong action -- but as elsewhere in the world -- so much more is still needed, by our leaders, such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
India knows as well as any country that curbing climate change goes hand-in-hand with building economic prosperity and fighting poverty. It has already suffered the economic and human losses from floods and extreme heat. The urgency of climate change raises important questions about how we move away from the business as usual model of economic growth in a way that helps and does not hurt developing countries and especially the poorest within those countries. Equity and access for all to electricity and transportation need to be a top priority, fully integrated into the measures that we take to fight climate change. But when it comes to holding “growth” up as the goal, as opposed to human well-being, we are missing how climate change will undermine our health and welfare. As Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, director general of TERI (India) and the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here in Rio: “There is not much point in emphasizing reaching double-digit growth rates if we are damaging the very basis on which human growth is established. If we don’t do anything, then clearly the impacts of climate change will be felt on every aspect of human endeavor. Whether we talk about agriculture, health, or water -- we will all be harmed by climate change.”
Many losses from climate change, such as loss of human lives and ecosystem services, are hard to monetize and often are not included in the financial loss projections of our government. This is particularly true in societies where there is widespread poverty and where people are dependent on ecosystem services. Access to electricity and transportation is critical and people deserve to have it done in a way that does not in turn cause deaths from extreme heat or loss of homes in flooding.
Mitigation, as Dr. Pachauri articulated is essential. India’s recent domestic actions to develop a clean energy fund are a step in the right direction. The June 2012 UNEP report Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012 that tracked the finance flowing into green energy across the world since 2004 found that India had the world's fastest expansion rate for any large renewables market last year. India witnessed a 62% increase in capital funding in this market last year. This huge jump is yet another clear indicator of India's promise and potential to lead clean energy development. India's government and civil society leaders need to capitalize on this momentum to ensure that the Indian markets continue to remain confident about clean energy investments.
However, India continues to increase fossil fuel use. With its commitment to reduce energy intensity by 20-25 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, India still needs to accelerate adoption of energy efficiency standards for buildings, get energy-efficient appliances into the market more quickly, ensure that the 20-gigawatts by 2022 target under the National Solar Mission becomes reality, redirect fossil fuel subsidies to clean energy -- with necessary safeguard for the poor, and deploy the National Clean Energy Fund.
India has a plan for clean energy and for fighting climate change -- as do many countries. The Rio+20 Earth Summit can be used as a catalyst for further progress on strengthening the plan and putting it into action. The world looks to India with its large and growing population for leadership in how to ensure that human welfare and prosperity are evaluated by economic, but also health and environmental measures. With all that India is doing to develop its clean energy resources, India, led by Prime Minister Singh, should make a commitment at Rio, and see it through.
Follow Susan Casey-Lefkowitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CaseyLefkowitz