Vibha Dhawan joined the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 1985 and has served the institute in various capacities over the past three decades while conducting active research in biotechnology. Dhawan, currently the institute’s chief executive, spoke with DH’s Kalyan Ray about changing people’s perceptions of climate change and whether enough money is available for the work of adaptation and mitigation.
What visible signs of climate change are we seeing?
Previously, many would say “we should tackle food security or talk about climate change, which could pose a threat in the distant future”. Today we say that food productivity is affected because of the climate. And the threats are no longer distant. In the last 20 to 25 years, we have gone from convincing people of change that may disrupt their lives to having lives disrupted due to climate change. Over the past 2-3 years, climate change has really affected people’s lives – from Amazon rainforest fires and floods in Germany and New York to unprecedented temperatures in Delhi in May and too many downpours in the hills. Calamities have become so common, and most of them are due to climate change.
The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that the consequences of climate change would be irreversible and that a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is necessary. Will such a cut be realistic?
When we want we can. You have to start with politics. Look at LED bulbs. A few years ago, when they were introduced, the government had to offer subsidies. Today, there is no subsidy and LED bulbs are still everywhere. The development of policies and technologies continued in parallel until they became affordable to all. Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, there will be no single solution. The announcements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Glasgow demonstrate the government’s commitment. However, we need incentives from the government. Since the small and medium sectors have suffered a lot during the Covid-19 pandemic, subsidized loans can be granted to them to go more cleanly. Also, renewable energy options should be cheaper than conventional energy in the long run. Solar was so expensive when we started, but today it’s two rupees and a few paise per unit. We can consider localized power generation to take care of a particular region. Once you are energy secure, there will be many avenues for rural development; agriculture would be lucrative because of agro-industries and people would not migrate to cities.
You talk about an uninterrupted power supply, but people living near the national capital, like the people of Gurugram and Noida, have no access to electricity, which forces them to use polluting diesel generators. Your comments?
It’s very upsetting. Last year, air pollution came right after the Covid-19 wave. The government closed down several industrial units because they were using generators. But they weren’t using it by choice. Generators are more expensive than grid electricity, which the government should have provided. The Commission on Air Quality Management (CAQM) has started discussing the issue now for this year. The Commission tells Discoms that it should provide an uninterrupted power supply. The CAQM is also studying the possibility of running natural gas generators. Perhaps there should be incentives for the industry to turn to solar energy as much as possible.
If the global temperature must be limited to 1.5°C, then only 17% of the carbon budget remains. But if the temperature rise limit is set at 2 degrees Celsius, then 35% carbon space would be available. Which route should I take?
It’s not an either/or solution. You have to work both ways. We just can’t say “we’re going to tone it down and allow the temperature to rise”. We would like to keep it under control as much as possible and then reverse it.
Do we have enough money for adaptation and mitigation work?
No, and that’s the whole point. Western countries need to understand that their goal should be to spread technology, not IPRs, or to make money from it. Yesterday we needed (climate friendly) technologies. We don’t have time to wait. At every COP meeting, lots of promises are made, but little funding has come.