Bhupender Yadav is the Union Minister of Labour and Employment, Environment, Forest, and Climate Change in the Government of India. He is the National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In 2012 he was elected as a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. Yadav was the war room strategist behind securing convincing victories for his party in the assembly elections of Rajasthan (2013), Gujarat (2017), Jharkhand (2014), and Uttar Pradesh (2017). Yadav was inducted into the Modi Cabinet as a cabinet minister for the environment. Anjali Bhatia caught up with him to know about the initiatives his ministry is taking for a cleaner environment.
Q. Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted at the crucial international climate summit COP26 that India is the only country delivering in ‘letter and spirit’ the commitments under the Paris Agreement. What are the major challenges India faces in this context?
A. Climate change is a global problem but the problem is aggravated by the fact that it impacts even those who had little to no contribution to its creation. India has contributed only around 4 per cent of global cumulative emissions since the pre-industrial era and is set at the receiving end of its vagaries. The challenges faced by India include the unwillingness of developed countries, who are chiefly responsible for the problem to take the lead in combating climate change and the lack of the promised climate finance support to developing countries from the developed countries.
The Prime Minister at the COP26 held in Glasgow announced the intensification of India’s efforts to address the challenge of climate change by presenting to the world the five nectar elements (Panchamrit) of its climate action. The contributions set under the Panchamrit will be implemented with the active participation of various Ministries, departments, and Government organisations according to their respective mandates. The 2030 targets of the Panchamrit announcements have been translated into India’s enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement which has been submitted to the UNFCCC recently. So, you see we have challenges but we want to be leaders in finding and implementing solutions.
Q. India has also refused to agree to the net zero emissions aim being propagated by the developed world before the Glasgow climate change conference to operationalize the Paris climate agreement.Net zero would mean India will have to set a target to phase out usage of coal. How would you navigate the diplomatic challenge?
A. To keep to the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, global cumulative emissions must stay within the limits of the corresponding global carbon budget. The global carbon budget is a global common that nations of the world must share equitably, using only their respective fair shares of the global carbon budget. Their historical, current, and future cumulative emissions must not exceed their fair share. It is in this background, that India, as a climate action leader that walks the talk and speaks from a position of strength and responsibility, challenged the developed countries to do more by including the pledge to make India “net zero by 2070” as part of the Panchamrit announcement in Glasgow.
The developed countries owe India about $15 trillion because of their excessive use of the global carbon space. India has clearly stated its considered view that developed countries must take the lead by undertaking the “phase out” of all fossil fuels and not only coal. India has also taken the lead both nationally and internationally to rapidly step up its efforts in pushing renewable energy while moving towards cleaner coal technologies at home. India’s tremendous efforts must be supplemented by climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building support as mandated by the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.
Q. To address the global climate change issue, do you think India has been successfully representing the developing nations and putting forward a strong front?
A. India is an acknowledged champion of equity and climate justice, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in the climate change negotiations. It has ceaselessly intervened on the side of developing nations, both individually and through the strong collaboration it has built within the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) and the G77+China groups, together with its ongoing engagement with Brazil, China, and South Africa, under the BASIC umbrella. India’s influence in the G77 and LMDC in policy-making is considerable and India has accumulated considerable diplomatic capital on these issues. We need to maintain and strengthen our engagement with these groups as they are an integral part of the defence of our strategic interests at the UNFCCC. Apart from its resolute climate actions, India has launched international coalitions such as the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). At COP26 at Glasgow, new initiatives under CDRI and ISA, the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) and Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG), respectively, were also launched. Along with Sweden, India co-leads the Leadership Group for Industry Transition, for voluntary low-carbon transition in hard-to-abate sectors.
Q.To save the environment, India has tried to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy and has set a target of 55 per cent of installing 175 GW of renewable capacity by 2022. Your Ministry acts as a regulator as well as a facilitator for the energy sector. What future awaits India concerning green and clean energy?
A. India’s per capita electricity consumption is approximately one-third of the global average and less than one-sixth of the average of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Increasing the availability of reliable supply at an affordable price is a developmental imperative. India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted under UNFCCC are the most ambitious among G-20 countries. India has over-achieved its commitment made under the Paris Agreement by already meeting 40 per cent of its electric installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based sources almost nine years ahead of its target date.
The share of solar and wind in India’s energy mix have grown phenomenally. Its reduction of emissions intensity of GDP has met its voluntary target for 2020. With its emissions intensity of GDP in 2016 being 24 per cent below 2005 levels, India is also on track to meet its enhanced NDC target of 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Our renewable energy programme will grow further, with production-linked incentives to expand domestic production of solar panels. Our energy efficiency programmes are covering more and more of the economy. New initiatives such as ethanol blending with petrol, the Green Hydrogen Mission, and the push to promote electric vehicles are some of the other serious commitments that India is making toward a clean and green energy future. Programmes for large-scale LEDs for public lighting and the promotion of LEDs for domestic lighting, as well as the programme for clean fuel for household use, are testimony to India’s commitment.
Q. Our water and air quality are deteriorating. The UN has dedicated this decade to ecosystem restoration. What India is doing for ecosystem restoration?
A. The government led by PM Modi believes that nature in India has culturally and historically been held sacred. It is not wrong to say that we are a nation of nature worshippers and so saving the ecosystem is high on the agenda of the Modi government. To minimize air pollution, we have taken several steps including targeting vehicular pollution by leapfrogging from BS-IV to BS-VI norms for fuel and vehicles since April 2020. We are Intensifying the network of metro rails for public transport, developing Expressway and Highways, operationalising Eastern Peripheral Expressway and Western Peripheral Expressway to divert non-destined traffic from Delhi, introducing ethanol blending, rolling out Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) -2 schemes.
The government has banned 10- year-old diesel vehicles and 15-year-old petrol vehicles in Delhi NCR. Permit requirements for electric vehicles have been exempted in a push for green alternatives. Steps taken to control industrial emissions include stringent emission norms for Coal based Thermal Power Plants (TPPs), a ban on the use of pet coke and furnace oil in NCR with restricted use of pet coke, shifting of brick kilns to zig-zag technology, Shifting of industrial units to PNG and online continuous emission monitoring devices in highly polluting industries. We are also tackling air pollution due to dust and burning of waste with steps like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic and e-waste management.
Q. Environmental degradation is a major cause of concern for Indian agriculture, with the rising use of insecticides and pesticides, which are contaminating soil and groundwater. What steps are being taken by the Ministry to address the challenges of the Agriculture Sector?
A. To address the challenges facing the sector, the government is promoting Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) i.e. soil tests based on balanced and judicious use of chemical fertilizers, bio-fertilizers, and locally available organic manures to maintain soil health and productivity. The government has involved private entrepreneurs in the testing of soil samples for providing soil health cards to all farmers in the country under the Soil Health Card Scheme of the National Project on Management of Soil Health and Fertility. Under Integrated Pest Management (IPM), the government has conducted various training programmes such as Farmers Field School (FFS), Kisan Gosthis, two-day Human Resource Development (HRD) programmes, IPM Exhibitions, and Seed Treatment Campaigns for farmers through its 36 Central IPM Centers (CIPMCs) across 28 States and 2 Union Territories. During the training, major emphasis is given on judicious use of chemical pesticides as a last resort, alternate tools for pest management viz; cultural, physical, mechanical methods of pest control as well as the use of bio-pesticides and biocontrol agents, safety in the use of pesticides, effects of pesticides on natural enemies of pests, do’s and don’ts of a pesticide including proper application equipment and the technique.
Q. Air Pollution is a major concern. Because of particulate matter PM 2.5, pollution has increased by 2.5 times in the past decade and a large number of deaths cause heavy economic loss. What measures are you taking to curb air pollution in the country?
A. An initiative was undertaken by MoEF on 10 January 2019 to curb air pollution at the city and regional scales in India by implementing a national-level strategy called National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). The programme targets achieving a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in Particulate Matter concentrations in 131 nonattainment cities across the country and focuses on the preparation and implementation of the action plans at the national, state, and city levels. The coordinated implementation of these plans would help achieve improvement in air quality in the targeted 131 cities as well as in the entire country.