Quite apart from what India can and should do at the national level, much can be achieved at the local level in towns and cities to create a sustainable future. Monaco is an example
Human society is currently confronted with daunting problems, for some of which solutions are being evaded. The current trade war between the US and other countries, for instance, represents a retreat from what was accepted universally as mutually beneficial economic relations between nations. The Paris Agreement on climate change requires reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to limit the risks from the impacts of climate change in all nations of the world. The US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and ineffective leadership in some other parts of the world is resulting in the growth of GHGs far above that is required for limiting average temperature increase to 2°C over pre-industrial levels by 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently in the process of completing a special report to assess impacts and other issues related to a target of 1.5°C by 2100. Given the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme events, rising sea levels, prolonged droughts and high temperatures leading to forest fires, negative impacts on agricultural yields, and on water availability and human health, it is highly likely that the global community will sooner or later replace the 2°C limit with the scientifically safer 1.5°C limit, admissible under the Paris Agreement.
Amid the evidence of inaction and lack of political will at the global level, there is now, fortunately, evidence that some small communities, states, and regions are showing encouraging results in different parts of the world. The small city of Palo Alto in California sources all its electricity from renewable sources. An entire region in China ran for a week entirely on the production of renewable energy-based power. Gandhiji’s advice of “be the change you want to see in the world” is obviously being taken seriously by these communities. An extremely heartening example is that of the Principality of Monaco, where under the leadership of an environmentally committed ruler, Prince Albert II, remarkable efforts have been towards a sustainable future. Monaco is a small country with a surface area of only 2.02 sq km. Its population in 2016 was under 39,000 inhabitants, while the working population in the same year was over 52,000 employees with a large number commuting from surrounding areas to Monaco and back. This country reached a high level of prosperity with a 2016 GDP of 5.85 billion Euros which translates into a GDP per capita of 72,091 Euros. With this income level, normal temptation of every resident or employee from outside would be to use luxury cars which consume huge quantities of fossil fuels. However, a visit to Monaco will show a large number of small cars suitable for just two passengers, including the driver.
Enlightened leadership and focused commitment to reduce the emissions of GHGs has resulted in Monaco setting an example for other regions and communities. Its total emissions in 1990 were 99.31 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2-eq) but by 2015 these had been brought down to 81.71 GtCO2-eq. This was accounted for by a reduction of 34 per cent in transport, 29 per cent in buildings and through a remarkable 26 per cent conversion of waste to energy. Monaco has followed a pro-active policy of promoting the use of electric vehicles by providing 30 per cent of the cost as subsidy with a ceiling of 9,000 Euros per vehicle. As a result, both electric and hybrid vehicles (which also are eligible for a subsidy depending on the level of CO2 emissions associated with each vehicle) have grown rapidly in number on the streets of that nation. Electric and hybrid vehicles are exempted from registration fees and annual tax, receive specialised registration plates, and have opportunities for free charging in public car parks and allowed free surface parking in the Principality.
Given the extensive movement between Monaco and surrounding areas, the leadership of Monaco has also entered into agreements with neighbouring towns. For instance, Monaco’s registered users can recharge their vehicles in the adjoining city of Nice, and similarly, French vehicles belonging to a particular car sharing scheme can be recharged at any charging station in the Principality free of cost. To promote a move to electric vehicles, Monaco has provided 611 charging points in public car parks which include 456 for cars and 155 for two-wheelers. The measures implemented by Monaco which certainly has a small population, a very high-income level, and limited space, may not be replicable in other parts of the world. But what is most impressive is the commitment of the leadership of Monaco towards creating a sustainable energy future for the Principality and its citizens. A unique example of this is the energy efficiency of the building which houses the Prince Albert Foundation and which through a series of initiatives has cut down on its energy consumption by almost 60 per cent in a period of six years between 2011 and 2017.
The ratio of energy consumption in kilowatt-hours per square meter for the building was 84 in 2005 and reached a level of 34.62 in 2017. In India, for instance, where the building sector is growing rapidly and where energy consumption per square meter of covered area, particularly in towns and cities, is increasing rapidly, including massive expansion of air conditioning, policies at the level of municipalities and local Governments to manage energy consumption and improve energy efficiency, are long overdue. The example of Monaco also shows that quite apart from what India can and should do at the national level, much can be achieved at the local level in towns and cities across the country.
The growing problem of air pollution is found not only in cities like Delhi and Bangalore, which receive headlines, but there are small towns and communities across India which have growing problems of pollution of air and water. These can be tackled effectively only through local action, including an economically viable and rapid move towards better public transport, use of electric vehicles as well as the use of rooftop solar and renewable energy supply in combination with several measures to improve the efficiency of energy use. While leadership at the local level would be crucial to success in such efforts, grassroots initiatives led particularly by the youth would now be essential worldwide for creating a sustainability revolution.
(The writer is former chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-15)