HomeWeatherOur govt won’t compromise on development or environment: Bhupender Yadav

Our govt won’t compromise on development or environment: Bhupender Yadav

Climate action for every country should be based on national circumstances, said Bhupender Yadav, union environment minister, adding that while India will continue to move towards renewable energy while phasing down coal, it will not phase out the fossil fuel. Yadav who spoke over phone from Stockholm, where he is to attend the Stockholm +50 conference to commemorate 50 years of the first conference on human environment, said India will uphold the demands and needs of developing countries both at the upcoming Bonn Climate Change Conference in June and COP 27 at Sharm El Sheikh. And India will compromise neither on the environment nor on development, Yadav said ahead of World Environment Day on June 5. Edited excerpts:

There are several security and health crises that are affecting us today. We don’t see much progress on climate action globally due to disruption in the energy sector. Do you think these crises will derail climate action?

India has always said that climate action should be based on national circumstances and common but differentiated responsibilities. This has to be adhered to by countries. How we deal with the crises facing humanity today is our responsibility. India is moving towards renewable energy. We had a goal of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy capacity of which 150 GW has already been achieved. We will not phase out coal but we will phase down coal and move towards renewable energy. Even internationally there should not be any shifting of goal posts. We expect consistency and continuity in climate action.

With Stockholm+50 we are marking 50 years of global environmental action and movement. Do you think we have progressed at all on the environmental front? How?

In the past seven years our work has been action oriented. With the United Kingdom, we led the work of Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI); with France, we have led the work of the International Solar Alliance (ISA); and with Sweden, we are leading the Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT) forum.

Yesterday (Wednesday), we had a 5-hour business workshop with LeadIT forum where the World Economic Forum, International Renewable Energy Agency, other international agencies and several companies from the cement and steel sectors participated and shared their carbon emission reduction targets. Futuristic technologies for transition are being developed. The International Solar Alliance now has 106 countries as members and they are responding to the call of One World, One Sun and One Grid (OSOWOG) which PM Modi gave in 2018.

PM Modi announced Panchamrit goals at Glasgow, COP 26 in November 2021, where he said India would reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now on till 2030. So, there is definitely progress. India has been upholding the 2015 Paris Agreement principle of climate justice which for us means a dignified life for all while protecting nature.

During the 1972 Stockholm conference, then PM Indira Gandhi had taken a lead role in putting the limelight on poverty and equity. Is there any change in our stance now? What has been India’s contribution to the environmental movement?

In the area of poverty and justice, in the last seven years, targeted delivery and last mile delivery of welfare measures by India have been recognised the world over. This has been very carefully implemented in schemes such as PM Gareeb Kalyan Yojana; PM Ujjwala Yojana; 28 crore (280 million) Jan Dhan books have been opened for financial inclusion. Welfare measures also mean easy access for people. Covid 19 vaccines have not only been indigenously made but over 125 crore (1.25 billion) doses of Covid 19 vaccines had been administered until last year. In the area of land degradation, and to achieve goals under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 229 million farmers have received soil health cards. These cards have helped reduce chemical inputs used on farm land and helped farmers understand how soil health can be improved for better productivity.

Right after Stockholm, the Bonn climate meeting begins. It will set the agenda for COP 27 in Egypt. How is India going to contribute to climate action at Bonn and later in Egypt?

The 56th session of the subsidiary bodies will take place from June 6 in Bonn. This is the meeting of technical bodies on climate science. We have held interministerial meetings ahead of the Bonn meeting. The issues are clear. First is financial assistance to developing countries. The developed nations have not delivered on their promise of climate finance. Second is — the finance for mitigation and adaptation should be matched and equal. Third, we need a multilaterally agreed definition of climate finance. India will pursue efforts for progress on loss and damages also. We are among the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis which was felt again during the recent spring heat wave spell . Further, features of Article 6 on carbon markets were finalised at COP 26 but we need to flesh out how carbon credits from the Kyoto Protocol era will be compensated. We have given a detailed response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s working group III report. The report reiterates India’s view on public finance for developing countries and the need for scale, scope and speed in climate finance.

In April, MoEFCC had issued several draft notifications for simplification of the environmental clearance process. These include exempting highway projects near border areas from prior environmental clearance and extending the validity of clearances granted to nuclear projects, hydro power projects and mines by several years. Don’t you think that these will compromise environmental scrutiny in the country?

No, I don’t think so. And nobody who has read the Ministry’s notification on the decision would think so either. The problem lies in selective reading.

The draft notifications issued in April nowhere compromises on the core tenants of environmental protection, safety and sustainability. All the measures have been taken to streamline the existing processes without compromising on the environmental rigour required for granting the environmental clearances. The validity period of EC for nuclear power projects has been enhanced on account of longer gestation period of Nuclear Power Projects and based on the experiences gained during implementation of the earlier provisions.

The extension of validity of EC is also being done in stages to ensure their adequacy and at the same time to account for the longer gestation period. As regards exempting highway projects near border areas from prior environmental clearance, the same was essentially needed for country’s security purpose.

However even in this case, the concerned entity is required to carry out the Environmental Impact Assessment duly incorporating the environmental safeguards to be complied with by the concerned agency and these are, in turn, to be monitored by the concerned regulator such as State Pollution Control Boards or by the respected Integrated Regional Offices.

The Ministry notification says, “The highway projects related to defence and strategic importance in border states are sensitive in nature and in many cases need to be executed on priority keeping in view of strategic, defence and security considerations.”

It then goes on to add, “The ministry deems it necessary to exempt such projects from the requirement of environmental clearance in the border areas subject to prescribing standard operating procedure along with standard environmental safeguards for such projects for self-compliance by the agency executing such projects.”

We are mindful of the need to protect our environment since we are only trustees of planet Earth and have a duty to pass on an environmentally sustainable world to our future generations. The Narendra Modi government is committed to sustainable development. We will neither compromise on development nor on environment protection.

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