Working together to take action on climate change, clean energy generation and female empowerment.
I recently returned from a packed and productive week in India – visiting five cities in six days and meeting a mix of parliamentarians, state legislators, business people and students. At the top of my agenda were some of the most important global issues of the day – namely the threat of climate change, commercial opportunity of clean energy generation and need for greater collaboration and female empowerment.
With a population of 1.25 billion and rising (predictions are that there could be 1.6 billion people living in India by 2040), the scale of meeting these challenges cannot be underestimated.
Already, India has taken huge strides to reduce poverty and more Indians than ever before are enjoying a better quality of life. Many people are now able to afford air conditioners, televisions, computers, motorbikes and cars.
This reduction in poverty should certainly cause for celebration. But it also poses a challenge: how to meet the rising energy needs of an increasingly prosperous India, without gambling with the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change.
The energy choices India makes today will dictate how much of an impact India has both on the world’s climate and on global energy markets. So it is strongly in the UK’s interest to engage with India as it makes these choices.
It was very good to see first-hand what this engagement means in practice: helping legislators to understand what climate change will mean at a local level; deepening government to government relationships; establishing networks to support business to business collaboration and; working closely with Indian institutions to provide support to some of the poorest in society.
In Punjab, I attended the launch of a toolkit, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) Prosperity Fund, to raise awareness amongst state legislators of the impact of climate change in their state. It was wonderful to see politicians from across party lines agreeing that tackling climate change should be above party politics.
While visiting Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, I was particularly struck by a project the Department for International Development is funding to develop business models for the distribution of clean cookstoves and solar lighting. I met many women who are benefiting from the programme by gaining access to affordable new cookstoves which harness solar power to improve combustion as well as female entrepreneurs who are becoming economically independent. The women were so enthusiastic about the impact of clean cookstoves on their health, income and even the cleanliness of their households.
Indeed, a significant amount of commercial and policy activity around climate change and clean energy issues is already underway in India. In 2008, the Government of India published its National Action Plan on Climate Change. Since then, its National Solar Mission has seen almost 1.8GW of grid connected solar capacity come on stream. Meanwhile the National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency has resulted in energy savings of over 11GW. Many states have developed state action plans on climate change which mandate action around renewable energy, off-grid clean energy, smart grids and a host of other new technologies. Indian policy-makers, business people and researchers are taking action and the UK is working with them as they do.
During my interactions with Indian businesses, I was impressed by the appetite for collaboration on renewables and energy efficiency – not just on technology, but also on financing and other services. For me, this was brought to life by an event I took part in with the Confederation of Indian Industry where a manual on energy efficiency financing for banks was launched (as part of a project supported by the FCO’s Prosperity Fund).
India is a huge and rapidly growing market. Even in the current difficult economic environment, India’s economy is growing at over 5% a year and in the medium term it should return to sustained stronger growth.
And with an international market for Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services worth £3.3 trillion, there are fantastic commercial opportunities for UK and Indian businesses to work together.
During my trip to Delhi, Joytiraditya Scindia, India’s Power Minister, was especially keen to discuss how the UK and India can collaborate more closely on renewables, energy sector reform and smart meters. Again and again the Indian business people I met up and down the country spoke of their interest in working with UK companies. Building that collaboration not only makes sense economically – creating jobs and growth in UK and India – it also makes sense environmentally – building cleaner and more sustainable businesses in both countries.
This was very much the main message from my trip – that whatever way you look at it, investment in clean energy generation is not only the right thing to do for the planet, it’s also the right thing to do for the economy. And together, India and the UK, men and women, working in partnership will be best placed to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.