Interview with Nicolas Hulot
Former Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet
India Takes its Responsibility
With the commitment of 175GW energy from the renewable sources by 2022 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to create a consortium of countries that have the highest solar potential, India has a key role to play in climate change, says Nicolas Hulot.
Nicolas Hulot has been, from December 2012 to January 2016, the Special Envoy of French President, François Hollande for the Protection of the Planet. He came to Delhi last July to prepare the international conference on climate change in Paris, COP21, which was held in December 2015. He was accompanied by Laurence Tubiana, French Ambassador of France for international negotiations on climate change, and a large delegation of French specialists.
The agenda of the visit was to establish how crucial is the challenge of climate change for mankind, to take the necessary decisions at the Paris conference, where a general agreement was finally reached, and in its follow-up in the coming years, to limit the phenomenon and make sure that the global average temperature of the planet does not rise more than two degrees. Beyond this threshold, according to scientists, the consequences would be difficult to control and we would risk irreversible climate changes. There is still a huge road to cover to reach this ambition of ‘no more than two degrees.’ The Paris agreement was indispensable but still a modest first step towards this target.
Nicolas Hulot, 60, is a very popular personality in France. He was first, a known journalist. He began his career as a photographer and reporter in the late 1970s and was very popular between 1987 and 2011 for his show on French television, Ushuaia. Through this show he demonstrated his sense of adventure in wild nature, for instance paddling down the Zambezi River in Africa or landing at the North Pole with a single-engine aircraft.
Through his travels as a modern Tintin, Nicolas Hulot quickly became aware of the degradation of the state of the planet and of its ecosystem. In 1990, he created the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for nature and mankind, to inform people on ecological issues and to encourage them to change their behaviour in a more sustainable way.
Nicolas Hulot asked the candidates at the 2007 French presidential election to sign a detailed ecological pact to address these issues. The pact later that year led to the formation of Grenelle Environment Forum, a major conference that involved all sorts of stakeholders of French society and also to the two laws dealing with these matters.
The French President had set three main objectives to Nicolas Hulot as part of his mission as Special Envoy for the Protection of the Planet: mobilise the international community, promote the French proposals and act with the civil societies of countries around the world to support sustainable development policies.
The aim was to reflect and act on the conditions and modalities of a transition to a new model, which is less greedy in terms of natural resources and carbon. In this movement India, with around 1.28 billion people and fast development, has a key role to play. Hulot gave this interview before COP21 but the main issues raised remain, unfortunately for the planet, the same.
What are your expectations from COP21 to limit the consequences of climate change and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?
At COP21, I expect that humanity will finally become intelligent and will accept its vulnerability. It must direct its genius in order to both restore great natural balances and at the same time share wealth. These are the two equations of the 21st century.
Specifically, I expect that the cumulative commitments from the countries will allow us to limit climate change and to limit the rise of the global temperature on the planet to two degrees. And even take it below two degrees, compared to the preindustrial era to avoid going into an irreversible process.
What I expect is that we will not be on the intentions level but that we will have strategies and actions. Beyond the targets that will be necessarily set by the 195 countries present in Paris, the states that emit the most C02 and the richest states should also adopt instruments to achieve their goals. These countries should finally set a price on carbon to make the lowcarbon economy competitive. They should stop subsidising fossil fuels and must allocate the same amount of money to the energy transition and to bring down the costs of low carbon energy and to make its technology accessible to emerging countries.
What I expect is that countries that have an historical responsibility in the climatic situation, honour their responsibilities in assisting countries affected by climate change.
What are the priorities of India on climate change? How do you assess its achievements in this area?
India’s priority, and each one must admit it, is to give access to energy for hundreds of millions of people who are deprived from it. This does not prevent India, like other emerging countries, to take its part, firstly, in reducing what we call its carbon intensity, a commitment made by the Indian government before COP21. Then, one can hope that in the next step, as China intends to do, India will cap its carbon emissions and thirdly, will reduce its carbon emissions.
But if we compare things in relation to the situation and the responsibility of various states, I would say that the Indian contribution is somewhere equivalent to the European contribution, if one puts things in perspective. You know, the simple fact that, given India’s constraints, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is committed to develop 175 GW of renewable energy, including 100 GW of solar energy, in a very near horizon, around 2022 – whereas obviously the temptation in India is to only use and develop coal that is easily available – this is already quite a contribution.
The fact that India is implementing an ecological tax, a kind of carbon tax, is something that we did not expect. The fact that the Prime Minister wants India to create a consortium of countries that have the highest solar potential, to massively expand this energy source, regardless of the outcome of the Paris conference, shows that India has given its own voluntary contribution and that other contributions will probably be possible, depending on the help that India may receive from the international community.
What, according to you, is the contribution of Indian philosophy in the change of paradigm to shift to a more sustainable and ecology oriented economy?
It is more natural and easy for me to turn to India to address the question of the role and place of mankind in nature from a spiritual dimension as well.
It is easier to share a vision on what may be the sense of progress and on the fact that if we want the world to change, everyone must change first. It is all there in the Indian philosophy and not necessarily in the materialistic and consumerist society we have developed. This dimension, which is as important to me as the economic, technological or scientific dimensions, is emerging and finding a more favourable response in India. Also, the idea developed by Prime Minister Modi that we need a shift of paradigm, is an idea that India may put forward because I think India is legitimate to do so and provide this perspective.