Kirti Manian (01:00): Chandra Bhushan, thank you so much for coming on the show. I am going to get started by asking you this. Can you talk to us about a couple of defining moments in your climate change journey?
Chandra Bhushan (01:12): Thank you Kirti. It’s my pleasure to be part of this podcast. Frankly, I have not had a “defining moment” so to say in my climate change journey. Instead what I have had is a series of better understanding on climate change which has developed over a period of last 10-15 years. So, let me explain it to you a little bit.
When I started working on the climate change issue, I basically was working on international negotiations. And at that point of time, and I am talking about pre -Copenhagen climate summit. The international politics on climate change was deeply divided between developed and developing countries. That’s where my journey on climate change started.
Now, over a period of fifteen years since Copenhagen, I have attended more or less all the climate conferences, the annual Conference of Parties. My understanding on climate change has evolved, and it has evolved precisely because of the failure of the international negotiations and UNFCCC in general, the framework convention in general. That has been one part of my understanding.
The other part has been my evolution of my understanding on impacts of climate change in India itself, which again there has not been any defining moment. I have closely watched what happened in 2005 in Mumbai. I in fact, studied it carefully. I have looked at the Kerala floods which happened in 2018. And in between a number of extreme weather events including… we had Hudhud in Visakhapatnam, Vizag.
So, over a period of time I think both, from international politics as well as on impacts of climate change, my understanding has evolved. And frankly my politics fifteen years back and my politics today is very different. My understanding of climate change has taken a hundred eighty degrees turn. Fifteen years ago, if you would have asked me about climate change, I would have told you that all the responsibility is of developed countries, and the developing countries need to emit because they need to grow.
That’s not my position today. I still believe that developed countries need to do more. But I believe there is a huge opportunity for developing countries to use climate change and usher in a new wave of economic growth and prosperity in the 21st century. So, it's a complete hundred eighty degree turn that has happened over the past fifteen years.
Kirti Manian (04:12): I find it very interesting. In that sense you are able to very clearly define that you have actually made a steep change in your attitude towards what is happening in climate change itself, but that is very, very interesting. I consider that defining, if I may say so.
Chandra Bhushan (04:28): [laughs].
Kirti Manian (04:29): [laughs]
Chandra Bhushan (04:30): Okay.
Kirti Manian (04:31): Yeah, different podcasts guests describe India’s climate change issues in kind of varied ways. We would like to hear your perspective maybe by focusing on two or three issues?
Chandra Bhushan (04:42): For me the tagline for climate change in India, especially with respect to India is that we have everything to lose and everything to gain, and that depends on our approach. And as I said in my reply to the first question that, it depends on India how it approaches climate change. If we approach climate change only as a “victim of climate change”, we are losing a large opportunity that exists for India to transition to a true green economy.
And this has been the politics of climate change for me because for the past… in fact even today if you talk to the government of India, it is, we are the victims of climate change and that developed countries need to do more and that we need carbon space to grow. That’s what is still the position of government of India. But in this narrative, India loses a vast opportunity to transition its economy.
Today we are at the cusp of revolution in renewable energy, we are at tipping point in electrical mobility, we are at the tipping point in producing industrial goods using a completely modern technology than what we have done in the 20th and 19th century. 19th and 20th century industrialization technologies are extremely resource intensive and highly polluting. That need not be the case in 21st century. And we are still growing unlike developed world who have already built their industrial and urban capital and infrastructure, we are still building. So, we have an opportunity to decide whether we want to build grey and black, that’s what I call industrialization and urbanization of 20th century, or we want to build green, which could be the defining opportunity for India. India could be a leader in green technology.
So, let me just repeat again. For me, the way to define, describe India’s climate change would be that we have everything to gain and everything to lose depending on our approach, how we are looking at climate change.
Kirti Manian (07:03): So, my question then is, what do you think should be the nudge that the government needs? Does it need people telling, does it need other international voices telling it to perhaps go along that way? What do you think the nudge is in that sense?
Chandra Bhushan (07:19): I think the nudge has to come internally within the country, and I also believe leadership is required for this nudge. I also believe that private sector will have to play a major role in this nudge. Let me explain. Across the world if you see how private sector is moving to new technologies, then there are few things that comes out quite clearly. One that you should not expect established businesses to push for that change, that has never happened historically in the world.
For example, take the example of Ford Motors. Ford Motors got internal combustion engine, they revolutionized internal combustion engine for transportation, and it is very difficult for Ford Motors now to move to electric vehicles. They are probably the laggards of global automobile companies on electric vehicles. And similarly, in every industry that you see, the old establishment is for status quo. And therefore, the transition and rapid transition that happens, that happens largely if countries allow new companies to come in into a sector. For example, again I am going to give you the example of the U.S. where Tesla now is more valuable which is basically making all the electric cars, is more valuable than many of the automobile, established automobile companies put together. And Tesla has got into the automobile sector only in last decade.
So, when I say private sector has a huge role to play, it means India must have open culture of entrepreneurship to bring new companies and new ideas and start-ups into this sector. Till the time we will depend on existing and established industrial houses to push for change, it’s not going to happen. So, that’s where I always talk about the need for new companies to push new ideas. So, finally the nudge has to come internally, it also has to be a cultural change within the country that will happen.
And the last point I would like to make, change is also about sentiments.
Kirti Manian (09:43): Yeah.
Chandra Bhushan (09:44) The more sentiment we can build around green economy and convince people that green economy is as good as the brown and the black economy, more people are getting convinced about this idea.
Kirti Manian (09:59): Yeah. I think this thing about individual choices kind of building into a collective voice, I think it holds so, so true. I want to move onto your organization iFOREST which is International Forum for Environment Sustainability and Technology. What are the key areas that it looks at?
Chandra Bhushan (10:18): See, iFOREST was set up precisely for two things which we found problematic in the current environmental organizations in India. One that, most of the environment organizations, and I am talking about the bigger ones and “the think tanks”, are all focused on getting certain policy changes done at the centre. They are very Delhi focused organizations. I mean to say if you start counting good environmental organizations outside India, you will have difficulty in counting them on your fingers even, they are not many.
So, one, that the environmental movement in India is very Delhi centric movement and is focused on getting policy changes, that is one. Second, environment is sector where technology has not come, in fact it is very, very surprising that in almost all sectors of the economy, the modern ICT technology has taken route from banking to infrastructure to every other sector. I do not think environment sector is any different than any other sector. It is only environment sector where technology has not taken.
So, if you look at these two things, and the third point is that the Delhi policy doesn’t get implemented at the ground level. India’s biggest failure in the environmental movement or environmental field is that our policies don’t get transmitted into action, and therefore we have large, non-compliance in our environmental law.
So, we looked at the landscape and we decided that maybe time has come to set up an institution which will look at innovation and bottom up action. And that’s what iFOREST is about. iFOREST as an organization is focussed on innovation in policy and innovation in practice. But both these innovations is targeted towards making sure that we have large-scale transformation on the ground and how do we use innovation to do that. That’s what broadly is our focus of work. So, we will work in policy research, we will do advocacy and communication, but our focus is going to be on innovation and bottom up action.
Kirti Manian (12:45): Sounds good. So, I want to talk about COVID and COVID has hit everyone hard across the world. Do you think in India there have been any benefits to the environment from the lockdown at all or do you think it’s all superfluous?
Chandra Bhushan (13:02): Well, it is superfluous because when the entire country was shut down, you saw improvement in river water quality and air quality which is commonsensical. When the people are not moving on the roads, businesses are closed, you will see improvements in the environmental quality. So, it’s superfluous because now as the economy is opening up, we are seeing worsening of air quality already in cities like Delhi.
Now, having said that, I think there is a bigger issue to address here, and there is a historical context to this that post major pandemics historically, the environmental degradation has actually rapidly increased. So, for example, post Spanish flu in 1918 to ’20, we had something called the roaring 20s. Essentially during that time the global economy increased tremendously before we had the stock market crash of 1928. And during this eight-year period, there was large scale deforestation, mining activities, infrastructure building, all those things happened.
So, generally what has been seen historically is that post pandemic, governments push for bringing the economy at the same level or even better than what was before 1918. And the quickest way to do it is by exploiting the environment, whether you want to bring more land for agriculture or do more mining or build more infrastructure, and we are already seeing this trend in India. If you look at the first stimulus package that the government of India unveiled, there was doubling of coal production, there was a big package for coal and infrastructure, and then states were encouraged to dilute labour and environmental laws. For example, there is a huge controversy that is happening on Environmental Impact Assessment. So, that trend we already see.
So, my biggest worry is that what will happen post pandemic simply because it could be really a waste of an opportunity if we do not learn from COVID about the role environmental destruction has played first of all in this pandemic, and the role environmental destruction will play going ahead in another pandemic and in climate change and in many other environmental destructions that we are likely to witness.
Kirti Manian (15:41): Yeah, I think it’s just the tendency of... the economy needs to come back…. that is what people’s first thought is and the government's first thought as well. So, I guess that business as usual unfortunately might happen, and then once that happens, it’s the environment that has to pay the price, and along with that it’s us paying the price as well for that right eventually at some point.
Chandra Bhushan (16:04): Yeah, eventually yes. But see, I don’t think there is any problem in getting the economy back to the previous level or even surpass this, surpass it through a green policy or green investment portfolio. I think it is possible for India in today’s technological advancement to not think about coal and think about renewable energy and the storage to push for energy access and energy generation. Similarly, we can think about investing more in railways than in roads. So, there are a bouquet of options available for us to adopt a green package rather than a business as usual package that we are adopting.
Kirti Manian (16:51): Hopefully that’s exactly what’s going to happen. So, you mentioned the Environmental Impact Assessment, and you know there is huge controversy about it and environmentalists are all up in arms. Talk to us more about this please.
Chandra Bhushan (17:06): See, I have a different opinion than most of the environmentalists and I have read what is the comments being put out. Essentially people are saying that scrap 2020 or improve it a little bit. Now, my contention is that the EIA notification, draft notification 2020 frankly is no different than what existed in 2006. 2020 is a little worse than 2006. But the fact is if you put together the 2006 notification, and 2006 notification has been amended forty-three times, plus there are fifty plus official memorandum. Put them together, then you see that 2020 is no different than 2006. What draft 2020 does, it pulls together all the revisions at one place apart from some other dilution that it has done.
So, frankly speaking, if 2020 is bad, then 2006 is equally bad or maybe a little less bad. That’s what my position is. And 2006 is bad because frankly I believe that the EIA process in India is completely defunct now. 99.9% of projects are clear, the public hearing against which there is so much resentment right now that 2020 is diluting public hearing. And in 2006 also public hearing is a sham. In India public hearing is neither an informed consultation nor informed consent. And most of the public hearings are held with police force and violence is not uncommon.
So, the current EIA process is essentially a lot of paperwork with little to show on the ground. And most importantly, it is bad science. See, EIA process of relying solely on EIA of individual projects is a bad science because environment doesn’t recognize one project, environment is cumulative impact of all activities.
Kirti Manian (19:17): Absolutely.
Chandra Bhushan (19:18): And therefore, just relying on one EIA, an EIA of individual project to safeguard environment is bad science. So, I very strongly believe that there is a case now to rethink EIA which brings in good science and good public participation, a real public participation for good decision making which is for environment as well as for business, because as I said the current EIA process is bad for environment, but in many ways it is also bad for business because it is paperwork and takes a lot of time.
So, we have to start thinking about a new EIA law, and that law should be, I believe, should be discussed in the Parliament because the current EIA law is a subordinate legislation. It is part of a subordinate legislation of the main legislation which is Environmental Protection Act. And because it is a subordinate legislation and it is very easy to amend it and bring out official memorandum and dilute the law. So, I also believe that maybe the time has come for Parliament to discuss a new EIA law which is suitable for the 21st century, which is also discussed and debated across the country because EIA law in many cases is one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation. So, that’s my position on EIA.
Kirti Manian (20:47): Thank you so much, it’s very interesting to hear your perspective about this. Thank you so much for that. Can you please explain more about sustainability in the mining sector? You have been a campaigner for inclusive growth development, you pushed the idea of profit sharing with mining affected communities, and this has contributed to the creation of District Mineral Foundation in the mining districts. Can you tell us more about the work you are doing in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh to help institutionalize the DMF space?
Chandra Bhushan (21:17): So, first of all, let me give you a little background of how my work started in the mining district, and you can say that in this case there was a defining moment [laughs].
Kirti Manian (21:30): Right [laughs]
Chandra Bhushan (21:32): In 2007, I had an opportunity to travel across Eastern India and see the impact of mining on the environment and communities. So, I travelled for about three months or ten weeks frankly from Orissa to Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand to see what was the implications of mining. And this travel got converted into a major book when I was at Centre for Sience and Environment, and the name of the book is ‘Rich Lands Poor People: Is ‘sustainable’ Mining Possible?’, so you can see that book. It later became a magnum opus because, I think it became about four hundred pages.
But, before that my understanding on natural resource management was very bookish and theoretical. But this travel opened my eyes to the reality of mining. And in that book what I did was, I essentially took five maps and put them one above another. So, let me explain. You take the mining map of India, the mineral map of India; on top of that you put the forest map of India; on top of that you put the water map of India; on top of that you put the poverty map of India and you put the Naxalite movement map of India. All these five maps, and you are likely to get the same matching area, the areas are common.
So, the most mineral rich, forest rich, water rich part of India are the poorest and in the midst of civil war. So, there has to be something fundamentally wrong that why richest lands have poorest people, okay. That’s why the name of the book ‘Rich Lands Poor People’. And essentially the realization was that the wealth of minerals is never invested back in the mineral mining areas itself, neither value addition happens there.
So, communities have nothing to gain from mining. They at the maximum get informal labour or few jobs. That’s what is there because most of the wealth of mining moves out of the district to either state capital, that’s where most of the royalties are invested, or as profit to major metropolitan cities in case of Jharkhand for example, it goes to Kolkata. Or in other parts of India it goes to Mumbai where the corporate headquarters is. There is hardly any investment that happens in the mining areas, and therefore, most mining areas probably have the worst infrastructure and human development indicator.
And therefore, we said that the time has come now to start thinking about what the local community is going to get out of it. Why should someone give you land, get their water and air polluted, get displaced from their land and get nothing in return? And that was the idea of profit sharing, which we started working on from 2007-2008 and got it after 7 years in 2015. Yeah, it was a long haul to get this done. But there was another part of the story which we couldn’t get done. This also tells you how difficult it is to, even with best information and best intention it was not easy to bring about change in policy and practices in this country.
So, the other part of recommendation was, we essentially at the end of the book said, India needs a new social and environmental contract from mining companies, okay, paraphrasing Rousseau frankly. So, we got the social contract, the new social contract in terms of District Mineral Foundation. But the second part was a new environmental contract in which we had listed a large number of issues to be addressed including revision of Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation act and mine related regulations, reform of EIA and other things. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened and I continue to work. But currently what we are doing is that we have DMF and DMF is a big corpus of money. In fact, in some of the districts, the contribution of DMF would be far bigger than the district’s budget itself. So, we have to make sure that this is people’s money, this is not government’s money.
Kirti Manian (26:08): Yeah.
Chandra Bhushan (26:09): The District Mineral Foundation as an institution is a profit-sharing mechanism for people. So, we need to ensure that people understand that it is their money. People should understand that they have the decision-making power in terms of where this money should get invested and not the district administration, though district administration has certainly an important role to play in terms of making sure that investment is accountable and transparent.
So, right now what we are doing in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh is actually to institutionalize DMF to develop investment frameworks, to build capacity, to increase awareness. This is the kind of work that we are currently doing.
Kirti Manian (26:51): Sounds absolutely brilliant. You are giving people the rights they kind of deserve, and that's something that should be coming from the government, but the way things are, it’s just the way things are.
You are an expert member for BASIC which is (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) group of countries on Climate Change.. Can you tell us more about the group, how does it function and what impact does it have?
Chandra Bhushan (27:15): So, I was actively part of this BASIC expert group till 2017.
Kirti Manian (27:22): Right.
Chandra Bhushan (27:23): I haven’t been engaging with them post 2017, precisely because BASIC has now diminishing role in the international climate change negotiation.
Kirti Manian (27:36): I see.
Chandra Bhushan (27:37): And I am also slowly coming out of BASIC politics because I think what binds BASIC is not so much positive environmental politics, so much as opposing force to developed countries. So, BASIC as a group, the idea of BASIC as a group came about because these are emerging economies of the world, and they wanted to counter the narrative of the developed world. That was the reason why BASIC was formed in 2009 at Copenhagen. And Jairam Ramesh played a very crucial role in conceptualizing BASIC.
Now, the politics of 2009 and the politics of 2020 is very different. In 2009 we had an option at that point of time to develop a different narrative on climate change in which developed world could have done lot of work and cut their emission, obviously they have not. And the developing world still had time to transition to a low carbon economy, okay. So, that was the narrative in 2009. Post Paris that narrative has gone.
Kirti Manian (28:50): Right.
Chandra Bhushan (28:51): The narrative is not there. So, BASIC today is more about reiterating whole politics and being an opposition block to developed countries block, which is important, let me not downgrade it. But I believe very strongly that BASIC politics will have to change. And I also believe that India doesn’t belong to BASIC anymore, okay. And let me explain it to you in one minute.
Kirti Manian (29:17): Yes, please.
Chandra Bhushan (29:18): If you look at BASIC group, we have Brazil, South Africa, India and China, okay. And in terms of either per capita income and in terms of per capita emission or in terms of climate vulnerabilities, Brazil, South Africa and China are very different than India, okay. I believe India falls more with other developing countries than this. I mean to say, I do not believe India should remain in any group with China, not because of what is happening today. I have been very vocal about this even in 2015 Paris COP, because China has always used India to get it’s work done in international politics.
So, China essentially, whenever China has to oppose something, it puts India in front. And we have a habit of talking, and the Chinese don’t, Chinese keep quiet. So, if Chinese have to get anything done, they will say okay, India, go and speak. And then from behind what China does, it makes deals with other countries. And this came out quite clearly as part of Paris agreement. Till the last few days of Paris agreement, it was clear that BASIC was together and that we are not going to make a deal with developed countries. And then at the last moment, China and U.S made a deal and the Paris agreement was signed. India had nothing, it got nothing, okay. I don’t think that BASIC as a group has a reason to survive now and it is better that a new climate narrative is built based on what countries can do now for protecting the climate than the narrative of the BASICcountries.
Kirti Manian (31:09): I am jumping a few questions, but you brought up COP and you brought up the Paris agreement, so, most of our podcast guests have described COP25 as a failure and blamed Brazil, they have blamed Australia, they have blamed the U.S. Now, COP26 happens in Glasgow next year, touchwood. What are your expectations if any from it?
Chandra Bhushan (31:31): See Kirti, my understanding is now that UNFCCC as a process has run its course.
Kirti Manian (31:39): Right.
Chandra Bhushan (31:40): The framework convention was signed in an era when the world only had one superpower, the U.S. and U.S was the single most important country in the world. It was also the largest emitter; it was the most economically powerful country. And Russia had collapsed, China was nowhere, India was nowhere. That was an era when UNFCCC was signed.
The world is very different than 1990s. U.S is no more the most powerful country in the world. U.S. today is running away from multilateralism under Trump, U.S is withdrawing from the global institution WHO to UNFCCC. China’s rise has been spectacular. In fact China today emits close to twelve billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, no one would have thought about it, okay. And it has all happened in the last twenty-five years.
You now have Russia, so, we live in a very multipolar world today. And the Paris agreement is a bottom up agreement. Essentially it leaves countries to do whatever they want. So, frankly there is not much meat left in UNFCCC. So, UNFCCC has done its role and therefore, we should not have a lot of expectations from COP process what it is going to achieve. And that has been the history of last thirty years that COP process has not achieved much, okay. In terms of global emissions are only increasing, they have not been able to bend the curve.
One can argue that maybe the rate of growth of emissions have reduced, certainly yes. UNFCCC has increased awareness on climate change, yes. But, has it been effective in terms of saving the climate so far? The answer is no. So, I think the world now needs to frame a new multilateralism for 21st century, something that brings everyone together rather than divides the world between the Global North and the Global South, between developed and developing countries. Because frankly we don’t have much time. If one believes in the impact that 1.5-degree temperature increase is going to have on all of us, then in that case we don’t have much time. We have maybe two decades to make a wholesale transition or three decades to make a wholesale transition.
And that cannot be done only by developed countries or by developing countries taking all the responsibility. It has to be a shared responsibility, and proactive shared responsibility. So, we need a completely different framing of international cooperation on climate change which UNFCCC is unfortunately not able to provide.
Kirti Manian (34:37): So, which brings me to… you won an award, the Ozone Partnership award for the framing of the Kigali amendment in the Montreal protocol. So, within that context, what kind of change do you think means we cannot echo? And it’s a very scary prospect when you say we have three decades. If we think about kids growing up and future generations, what are we leaving them with, I am just trying to understand, when you are talking about reframing it, when you are talking about more cooperation between the north & south, that is a very hard barrier to break. Can you maybe suggest two or three key things that need to get done?
Chandra Bhushan (35:16): So, I think the narrative has to change. The current narrative is around something called the “carbon budget.” And the carbon budget is essentially how much emission the world can do for every degree increase in temperature that will happen. So, for example, for 1.5 degrees, I think we are left with less than 500 billion tonnes of emission, from now till we hit 1.5 degree. And the politics therefore today is who is going to reduce how much emission and how that carbon cake of 500 billion tonnes is going to be shared. That’s what the politics is. This is what the politics is about sharing a carbon budget.
I want to reframe that. And I think the politics has to be not in terms of sharing a carbon budget, but making the carbon budget irrelevant, okay, because there is nothing much to share now. The current global emission is already more than 50 billion tonnes, and we have 500 billion tonnes carbon budget, which means that it’s going to last only ten years, okay. And China is already at 12 billion, I think the U.S is about 6 billion. Both of them combined are taking care of 40% of the global emissions, emissions are also increasing in India. And Europe has frankly outsourced this emission to China and other countries.So, frankly if you look at European emission, they can show that their emissions have reduced in terms of production, but their emissions have not reduced in terms of consumption, consumption-based emissions have only increased.
So, no one in the world frankly has been able to reduce emissions. And this politics is making frankly countries fight over this so-called scarce resource which is carbon. So, we will have to make carbon irrelevant by talking about how we transition to non-carbon technologies. So, who is going to move to non-carbon technologies the fastest, how fast every country can move, and what kind of global collaborative mechanism you need for this quick transition, that has to be the debate. So, the debate has to be how quickly the world can move away from coal to renewable energy electricity, okay, how quickly can the world move away from gas as a cooking fuel to electricity as a cooking fuel, how quickly can we make internal combustion engine history and move to electric motors.
So, we now have to start talking about transition rather than talking about how much more I can emit, okay. Now that change in narrative is what is required, it’s the change in language completely. And the new narrative will require a new framework and that could be a global collaborative framework, for example, to support some developing countries and getting renewable energy instead of coal-based systems.
So, the only way I see that we can solve the climate change conundrum is if we make the entire debate on climate change which is wrapped around responsibility and accountability and carbon budget history, that’s what we will have to do.
So, Kirti I just want to talk about, a little bit about Montreal Protocol…
Kirti Manian (38:51): Yes.
Chandra Bhushan (38:51): … because…
Kirti Manian (38:52): Of course, of course, by all means.
Chandra Bhushan (38:53): Yeah, because Montreal Protocol frankly is the only legally binding environmental treaty of 21st century, Paris agreement is not legally binding, okay. So, people do not realize that the Kigali Amendments to the Montreal Protocol is legally binding unlike Paris agreement which is not legally binding on anyone. And it has come about with the cooperation of developed and developing countries.
What is also advantageous of Montreal Protocol is, it is focussed on one aspect of environment which is emission of ozone depleting and global warming causing gases, largely refrigerants that we use in our air conditioners and refrigerators. Montreal Protocol does show and also indicates that instead of thinking about all-encompassing climate negotiations that we are doing right now at UNFCCC, it will also be good for the world to think about breaking UNFCCC into manageable parts.
Going ahead if we are looking at new multilateralism, then instead of thinking about something like UNFCCC where everything and anything can be discussed, we can think about breaking that down into manageable parts so that discussion can happen and parties can agree. Because what is happening currently at UNFCCC is that parties do agree on something but disagree on other things, that collapses the meeting completely.
So, I think one of the learnings from Montreal Protocol is that international negotiations are successful when they are manageable in terms of scope. And that we see also with WTO for example, okay. WTO is, everything that happens in trade we just have one platform to discuss, and it becomes unmanageable. And in management systems there is a limit till which the complexities can be handled by one institution. So, that’s one of the learning of Montreal Protocol.
The second learning of Montreal Protocol is that it is always advantageous for developing countries to take the lead rather than to follow developed countries, and that we get in Montreal Protocol in Kigali Amendments very well. India took the lead, India actually put out a proposal in terms of what the world needs to do in terms of phasing down these harmful gases. And that was extremely helpful to India because India has a leadership position in terms of steering the discussion at the international level.
At UNFCCC, we have always been reactive to what developed countries propose. So, the second learning is that it is always advantageous for a country like India to have a leadership position rather than be effective.
And the last learning is that, it is also an opportunity to leapfrog the industry itself. So, India has an opportunity to leapfrog to a completely natural refrigerant industry rather than be with this fluorinated gas industry. So, there is also an advantage that was built into the Montreal Protocol.
So, these are some of the learnings that emerge from Montreal Protocol that we can use to build the larger climate narrative going ahead.
Kirti Manian (42:20): Right. So, in your mind then having, being through climate negotiations, you have done so much work in the mining sector. All these elements which kind of go into what is climate change in India, what do you think needs to be done? Like, are you only looking at the government, do peoples’ actions count at all, what do you think is the way forward so to speak?
Chandra Bhushan (42:45): My understanding is that it’s a combination of things, okay. And the most fundamental level, and many people have talked about it, it is our social milieu and economic system and especially our education system which is at the core of the problem. I mean to say, our education system teaches us to consume more, because the richer you are, the more you consume, the more successful you are in the society. That’s what our education system teaches us.
Our economic system is, the more you consume, the more GDP it is, and that’s how countries are ranked as whether you are a wealthy country or you are a poor country. So, both our education system which supports the social narrative and economic system are actually designed for more consumption which is directly linked to more environmental destruction.
I mean to say you can’t consume digital bits all the time, you will also have to eat food, wear clothes, drive a car, build infrastructure. So, a growing economy requires a lot of material from the environment which leads to economic destruction. So, at the most fundamental level, I think from an environmentally destructive narrative in education and economic system, we have to start talking about how we change our economic system for protection of the environment rather than destruction of environment, and how do we change our education system which brings out citizens which are more responsible towards environment.
And therefore, I always say that the easier thing for me to tell you is okay, save water, save electricity, do not throw waste and do not use plastic, but that’s not going to solve the problem.
Kirti Manian (44:30): Yeah, absolutely.
Chandra Bhushan (44:32): Those are important, but those are just not going to be sufficient. So, while I do agree that individual action is important & individual action and awareness will drive change in politics, which will drive change in education and economy, from that perspective it is very important. But we also have to wholesale change the economic system. It’s not going to be easy, but we also understand and we all understand this, people who work in the environmental field that just doing little bit here and little bit there is not going to solve the environmental problem. We will have to start rethinking our economy and our social values and everything afresh if we really want to solve this problem.
Kirti Manian (45:17): Thank you so much Chandra Bhushan, I have really enjoyed having this conversation with you. You have such varied perspectives on so many very different things. Thank you very, very much, we had a great time talking to you.
Chandra Bhushan (45:29): Thank you very much, thank you.
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