Embracing clean tech innovations will not only help address the challenge of climate change but also bring about tremendous improvements in local air quality in the long run
The year 2020 has confirmed that our health is inextricably linked to the health of the planet. And if we expect the situation to change in 2021, governments and people around the globe must come together to action crucial solutions on the issues that threaten the health of the planet as a whole — climate action, nature and sustainable development.
Earth Hour, to be celebrated on March 27, 2021 is one such occasion for people, governments and organisations across the world to come together to speak up about these issues — to speak up for nature.
As the world continues to battle the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health crisis, we are being compelled to think and act urgently on the climate crisis, as climate change impacts could be equally or more destructive.
A number of impacts are already being felt in terms of increased frequency and duration of extreme weather events (cyclones, floods, droughts and heat waves), rising sea levels, and impacts on human health and natural ecosystems.
Adding to these potential threats, air pollution also remains a pressing issue for India. Air pollution is the cause of a serious environmental health crisis in India, being the third leading risk factor for mortality in 2017 (after dietary risks and high blood pressure).
India is also home to 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, with 122 non-attainment cities exceeding national ambient air quality standards. Besides affecting the health of the citizens, air pollution also impacts agriculture, climate, buildings and aesthetics, in terms of visibility.
Interestingly, climate change and air pollution are closely interlinked. Fossil fuel-based energy usage is the major cause of air pollution and climate change — though air pollution has other contributing sources as well. Many air pollutants that are harmful to human health and ecosystems also contribute to climate change.
India, as a nation, has tremendous scope for making renewable energy (RE) its primary energy source, making renewables the new normal. The country is not just well endowed with diversified forms of renewable energy, such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass, but also has very strong institutional systems to harness its renewable energy capacity.
In this journey towards a clean-energy future, besides the renewable energy pillar, the second important pillar is energy efficiency.
A joint study by WWF-India and TERI, The Energy Report – India: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050, highlighted that aggressive efficiency improvements across the energy demand and supply sides have tremendous potential to reduce overall energy demand by about 59 per cent at the national level. The remaining demand can then be met by renewable energy sources.
In this fight against air pollution and climate change and the move towards a transformative clean energy pathway, the role of citizens cannot be over emphasised. The most powerful way to address the dual challenge of climate change and air pollution is behavioural change, which was also reiterated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while accepting the prestigious CERAWeek Global Energy and Environment Leadership Award recently.
There is a need to tap the power of citizens to be change agents by putting pressure and demanding accelerated reforms from both government and industry. Citizens can contribute by raising awareness, consuming responsibly, embracing innovative technological solutions and engaging their political representatives to expeditiously work towards mitigating climate change and air pollution.
Platforms such as Earth Hour bring together the collective power and show the resolve of the common people in caring for nature and our planet Earth and in adopting a sustainable development pathway.
Earth Hour is more than the symbolic switching off of lights — it is about embracing clean technology innovations that minimise damage to the environment. In the long run, these will not only help address the challenge of climate change but also bring about tremendous improvements in local air quality.
Another dimension that needs to be considered is that while this clean energy revolution needs to accelerate in urban areas, the rural community cannot be left behind if a truly transformative energy transition has to happen.
There are already a number of success stories emerging from various parts of the country. One such example is from the remote islands of the Indian Sundarbans — where solar PV-based microgrids are providing decentralised clean energy access to communities to meet their basic needs and use energy productively.
Some of these applications include the use of renewable energy in the health care sector, water purification, food processing and storage, as well as solar-powered electric transport options, which help in enhancing the income of the rural people and their overall quality of life.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the value that people place on nature and the opportunity for all of us to take actions that will benefit both people and the planet.
Events such as Earth Hour help in strengthening our resolve to protect nature and move towards a more sustainable and clean energy pathway — one that will help overcome the severe local environmental challenge of air pollution and the global challenge of climate change.
TS Panwar heads the Climate Change & Energy Division at WWF-India
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