Teenaged climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s historic address at the UN climate summit has sparked a global youth movement to fight climate change. Her stern remarks at opening of the summit have certainly shaken the world leaders when she said that they’ve let down her entire generation by not acting on climate change. How do environmentalists view the young activist’s concern for impacts of climate change on young generation? Where do we go from here?
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to Professor Madhav Gadgil who headed an environmental research commission appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of India.
The Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel report, also known as the ‘Gadgil report’, had highlighted the ecological sensitivity of the Western Ghats. Published in 2011, the report was outright rejected by the Centre and the state governments including Kerala.
IC: What are your comments on Greta Thunberg at UN Climate summit where she accused world leaders of betraying her generation by failing to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and challenged them for committing such a blunder?
Professor Madhav Gadgil: It is a welcome move. These are very vital issues and certainly young people are bound to be concerned. I am happy that concerns are being raised. People, who are responsible for such conditions, are taking note of what she said.
IC: Swedish teen's message to these world leaders that we will be watching you, has literally questions these leaders of not doing anything on climate improvement.
This is a very reasonable accusation levelled by her.
IC: Greta further hit out at these leaders for stealing her dreams and childhood with your empty words. People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. According to her this is the beginning of mass extinction, and all one can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth," your views.
It is very appropriate on her part to hit out at these leaders.
IC: Have things really improved across the world after 2015 Paris summit?
A few European countries have taken steps to deal with climate change. Most of Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway are taking serious actions. Rest of the world has not taken any serious action to deal with climate change. India is also in this list.
IC: Nearly eight years ago, you had warned about the impending natural disasters threatening coastal states, unless critical steps were taken to conserve the ecologically fragile Western Ghats. You had suggested shifting from large-scale cultivation of single commercial crops on steep slopes, which was leading to soil erosion and increased run-off, and controlling massive encroachment and deforestation in the catchment areas of major rivers. Look at what happened in these states as they faced monsoon fury with floods and landslides killing hundreds across Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
It is beyond doubt that they deliberately ignored recommendations the Gadgil commission. The Maharashtra government has presented distorted facts of the commission's report. I had pointed to the then Forest minister about the attempts to mislead the people by misrepresenting findings of the Commission. The most glaring example is stone quarries plundering Western Ghats. In Kerala, it has become very serious because of the construction of port. Rock quarries are flourishing. Agriculture has been badly affected and people have resorted to protests. The Commission had found that a vast majority of quarries were illegal as no permission had been taken from local authorities to operate them. The state government allowed quarries to function 50 metres away from residential areas. . Owners of quarries are making huge profits. The state government has not taken steps and the situation is worsening in Kerala. The commission had recommended protecting the resources with the help of local governments and people, but those recommendations were outright rejected. Quarrying is a major reason for the mudslides and landslides.
IC: India, US and China are among the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. Why has India not done enough to curb emissions?
Coal and oil lobbies are very powerful in India. It appears that these lobbyists work in close coordination with those in power. In Goa, tons of coal is being uploaded at the Mormugao Port Trust for transportation to factories in Karnataka. People of Vasco have been opposing the movement of coal through their areas as it has increased pollution hurt their health their land and their livelihood.
The global warming has another important component in the form of black carbon particles which not only increase temperature but also changes the pattern of rainfall. The landslide in Kerala could have happened due to black carbon particles.
IC: Under Paris climate agreement, countries are expected to commit by 2020 to more aggressive climate plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), than those they set in 2015 when the agreement was signed. However, many countries are struggling to meet their (already weak) targets, and global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. Your views.
A few European countries have taken action while others have done little on the ground.
IC: Mitigation efforts, which address the causes, do have an immediate economic cost. The developed countries appear unwilling to accept differentiated responsibilities. Your views.
The US and UK are the rogue countries which are not willing to make mitigation efforts. While other developed countries like Norway, Sweden and Germany are making efforts.
IC: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the world’s climate change ambitions must be higher. He also pledged that India would increase its renewable energy production capacity for 175 gigawatts to 450 gigawatts by 2022. For comparison, India has about 330 gigawatts of total installed power capacity. Do you think these steps should be sufficient?
While building solar power plants, the ground reality should not be ignored. The local community must be involved and empowered. Kochi airport, for instance, is a solar powered airport which has been constructed without analysing environmental consequences. Villagers have protested and even broke solar panels of the power project at Kochi airport.
The Gadgil commission had suggested that 140,000 kilometres of the Western Ghats be classified in three zones as per the requirement of environmental protection in the areas. In some areas, it recommended for strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non-forest purposes, construction of high rises etc. In Goa, mining has destroyed the environment in many ways. Following hue and cry, the Shah Commission had probed into illegal activities in mining. The report had clearly stated that there has been no regulation of mining from the part of government machinery. The report said that illegal mining had destroyed water resources, agriculture and bio- diversity of Goa. Those in the mining business made huge money.
IC: How has been the journey from 2015 Paris summit till now?
There are some countries who are taking definite action…but things are worsening in other countries. In India, no proper action has been taken on the climate change issue.
IC: What about ban on single use plastic products from October 2?
It is a welcome step. It can surely be implemented throughout the country. Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim have been implementing it.
(Published on 30th September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 40)