Modi should use the opportunity of his visit to the United States to fight the battle for climate.
Climate change is now termed as climate crisis and even climate emergency. But suddenly there is drought of global leadership in climate change. The world leaders seem to be busy with their own agendas and hence important summits like the G7 and G20 have passed without any concrete decision on how to handle the climate crisis.
Interestingly, as it seems that our leaders are abdicating from their duties on climate change, the real leadership is being taken by the true leaders of the world – the children, who incidentally will have to face the consequences of actions or rather inaction by today’s leaders. Hence, it is very encouraging to see the flood of protests, by children and youth against such apathy for the issue that could lead the world to sixth extinction. The level of enthusiasm of the younger children is rising faster than the sea level, though there is no sign of thawing the icebergs of ‘business-as-usual’.
Howdy is a Texan greeting that simply means ‘hello’. Modi has option of responding to that question as WhazzUp or Howy’ll Doon? as return greeting in Texan style.
But that response would be appropriate in normal times and beyond doubt, the present time is anything but usual. It is not just a difficult period of global economic slowdown, trade wars and drone attacks and political upheavals, which are not new to the planet. What’s new are the challenges that the nature has posed for humanity. The way ahead is a minefield and some have already begun to explode.
Take for example, the very place, city of Houston in Texas, where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with US President Donald Trump would address more than 50,000 strong audience, predominantly Indian-Americans. Just three days before this mega event, Houston along with large part of south eastern Texas, was swamped by a sudden deluge dumped by hurricane Imelda. The storm and the resulting devastating floods brought the normal life of Texans to halt. Highways were shut down and thousands of stranded residents of small towns were evacuated. Many were resigned to staying indoors without electricity.
Texas’ governor Greg Abbott has declared a state of emergency in a number of counties in south-eastern Texas. He admitted that it all happened suddenly and that it ‘demonstrates that in this day and time, climate change is real’. Coming from a governor belonging to same party as President Trump, there is much more than what the words convey.
Even today, climatologists from IPCC would not be able to vouch for one to one relationship between Imelda and climate change. But certainly, the severity and its unpredictive appearance just two years after the hurricane Harvey would certainly be the result of climate change. The IPCC has categorically declared that climate change would exacerbate the intensity and frequency of the extreme weather event. This is what exactly happened in Texas.
Just a day after Imelda, another ‘wake-up’ call came through, just before the PM Modi’s rally. It was the study that pointed to ecological disaster. Published in the prestigious journal Science, it stated that the US and Canada together have lost three billion birds since 1970, mainly due to loss of their habitats, that is, forests and watersheds due to urbanisation and rise in human population. Indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides has also made an impact. Climate change has aggravated the problem due to loss of water and marshy land. The scientists, who had conducted the study, observed that bird-population losses are consistent with what other studies have found for insects, fish and amphibians.
In short, Rio’s Earth Summit in 1992 that gave birth to the three conventions on climate, biodiversity, desertification and a declaration on forest, has had no impact and the world has continued on the same path without caring for ecology.
Time and again Modi has stated that Indian culture is to consider the whole planet as a family living together. It means not just humans but the whole flora and fauna. That Indian culture has been engrained in Indian society for the centuries and millennia.
Even at the time of the Rio Summit, there were many protests by the youth. However, most of them, having grown up have forgotten the environment and got busy with business-as-usual. What is the guarantee that the protests of youth of today and even children like Greta Thunberg , who is leading the global movement on the climate emergency would make any difference?
Here comes ‘Howdy Modi’ as a possible response. Modi has the potential to be global leader in responding to the approaching climate calamity. He is the one who not only wrote about and talked about ‘inconvenient truth’ but also took ‘convenient actions’ when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. In his first address to United Nations in 2014, he talked of climate change and terrorism as the two most formidable challenges that world today faces.
In 2014, as soon as he became the Prime Minister, he raised the ambition of renewable energy production in India to 175 GW by 2022. In 2015, his government provided the pledges or Nationally Determined Contributions that were ambitious in terms of energy intensity and green cover, and to this date the implementation of these pledges is on the track.
Based on the observations by NASA satellite, MODIS, that scans the entire Earth twice a day, scientists say in their 2019 report that India and China are the only two large countries that have increased their green cover substantively. Modi’s nationally declared drive against single-use plastic, chemical fertilisers, making degraded land fertile, aggressively promoting electric vehicles and sustainable and smart university campuses all go to point that he is one of those leaders who could trigger the global sustainable development.
United Nations has felicitated Modi with an award of ‘Earth Champion’. Russia, the Republic of Korea and the UAE have all recognised Modi’s global leadership. He can set a trend of not only holding bilateral talks with world leaders but also listen to likes of Greta Thunberg.
It is not just tree plantation, not just symbolic journeys without fossil fuel, not just videos on social media, the world needs to kick the habit of making profits from carbonised world. When the world recognises that even decarbonised world can make profits and prosperous, we would have solved the climate conundrum.
In Houston and then again in New York PM Modi can respond to ‘Howdy Modi’ by stating ‘Ready, Speedy and Gritty’.
-Rajendra Shende is a former director of UNEP and currently chairman of Terre Policy Centre and advisor Media India Group