Jeffrey D. Sachs, an influential voice on sustainable development and poverty reduction, believes every nation should invest in finding solutions for reducing carbon emissions and to efficiently use resources, especially water. The Columbia University professor spoke to Mint on the sidelines of the Hindustan Times Leadership summit in New Delhi. Edited excerpts from an interview: You do not approve of India’s target to double coal production by its state-run Coal India Ltd to 1 billion tonnes by 2019-20. But with about 240 million people with no or intermittent access to power, India cannot ignore the only fuel that is abundantly available. Renewable sources, on the other hand, have a lot of extra system requirements. What is the solution?
When you consider the incredible costs that are not directly measured, such as the fact that air is dirty and dangerous to breath, then coal is not the wonderful cheap resource that we sometimes consider it to be. Coal is a major factor in climate change, causes respiratory disease and inflicts many other costs. India, the US, Europe and China needs to move out of coal to low-carbon energy systems. That is, we need to harness hydropower for which there is a lot of potential in India. Renewables is one solution, which India is already exploring. Nuclear energy is one part of the solution. There could be some solution around carbon capture. But what I find is the absence of a clear action plan, not just in India, but the world over. The US has not had a proper energy plan. President-elect Donald Trump needs to get oriented in this direction quickly. This is a global emergency. Going to do business as usual for the next two decades is not good for the people of India and for the world over.
Shouldn’t the developed economies too pay for reducing carbon emissions?
India’s power minister Piyush Goyal made the point that a lot of the emissions come from elsewhere. So, let the US and Europe pay for financing India’s transition to clean energy. I am all for it and will be the first to speak for it. I am willing to be part of a financing system for clean energy in India, but not for extra coal-based power.
You have been advocating efficient use of resources, especially water. How should the world go about it? Would you recommend a legally binding multilateral deal? Climate is a bit different from water in the sense that when one country emits carbon dioxide, it spreads and affects the whole world. But water systems are more local in nature. Hence, individual nations have more responsibility for managing their nations. There are exceptions to this when water from one country flows through other nations, when it becomes a multinational responsibility.
How much investment is globally required for finding technologies for efficient use of resources, especially water?
I do not think we have a single number on that. But the best guess I have on climate change is that we need to dedicate 1% of global and national income for shifting from dirty energy to clean energy. Of course, as we discussed, the rich countries should help the developing countries to achieve this goal.
You have proposed charging a price for water in order to discourage wastage of water. Is it not a difficult proposition?
The best way to give any subsidy is to target it to the needy people. The way to target it for water, in my opinion, is to say, everybody has the right to a certain amount of water at no cost. That is a lifeline, a guarantee for survival. But beyond that level, there is a price because the provision of water and the efficient use of water demands a social price. If some rich farmer is taking all the water in the community, he has to pay for that–beyond the basic limit. India is now exploring ways of ensuring energy security so as to reduce oil imports, which is now over 80% of the requirement. Do you approve of shale gas exploration, which is believed to consume significant amounts of water?
Instead of depending on oil for transportation, India and other countries should move to electric vehicles where you don’t use petroleum at all. You charge the vehicle on a power grid and the power can come from sources such as wind, solar, hydro or nuclear.
Do you approve of India’s plan for interlinking rivers?
I think interlinking of rivers is one of the mega projects that could have mega side effects as well. Those very big, expensive projects are sometimes not the most effective ways of improving access to water supply. If India linked the rivers but failed to have proper regulation regarding pricing and access to water, it will not solve the problems. It will just create new ones.