Understanding how the Indian Government enables sustainability

Originally posted in September 2017 by founder, Laura Baker prior to Planet B.

As I reached Delhi Airport I was bombarded with messages about clean energy and sustainability.

Everything from Total Energy’s commitment to solar energy and ‘clean’ gas to the Government enforcing plastic bag charges in the airport shops. Here I was, coming to India to work with a social enterprise, Pollinate Energy to help transition the slums of Lucknow and Kanpur from kerosene to solar energy to increase living standards and financial resilience. However, It seemed to have it all sorted. Classic!

Putting a price on plastic bags. More than some countries I know… I’m looking at you Australia…

Total Energy totally committed to solar.

A bit of further digging helped me to understand the true reality bubbling underneath the surface of the Indian authority’s sustainability focus.

Indeed, Modi, India’s Prime Minister has released some pretty bold targets to enhance the sustainability of this burgeoning country.

Here are some of the interesting enviro targets in a nutshell…

  • The Indian Government set the target of achieving 57 per cent of its total electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027, with current levels sitting at 33 per cent.
  • To connect Indians into the digital age, 100 smart cities are being scoped with environmental sustainability key to infrastructure development.
  • The Government also recognises the importance of electric vehicles and set an aggressive target of all cars to be electric by 2030. If this happens, pollution levels in key cities could drop by 80-90 per cent and save India over $100 billion. And new incentives are being rolled out for bicycle transport.

Modi is tackling these issues with the collaboration of the business community. He is praised by the business community for his collaboration and problem-solving abilities with CISCO’s chairman John Chambers saying ‘He (Modi) is the most amazing leader I have ever met. He knows how to create a win-win situation for all and he is also a remarkable listener.’

Relating to the Government’s targets, I explored two interrelated themes, Air Pollution and Mobility.

1. Air Pollution: A massive social and environmental challenge

My ears are continually ringing with the aggressive sounds of the horns

As I look out the window en route from Lucknow to Kanpur, it’s evident that India’s potential is huge, but the transition is slow and will likely take many players to shift this bustling democracy into the enviro-tech age.

The streets of Lucknow are a melting pot (literally!) of people pushing, cramming and beeping their way through the roads! Our uber driver from the airport had his hand on the horn constantly, stalled his car quite a few times because of traffic flow and basically had an apathetic, stoic look on his face as cars beeped their horns and aggressively swooped in front of his car. Motorbikes lined the streets aggressively trying to merge with massive trucks and other unwieldy vehicles. The poor road and bike infrastructure are causing congestion which leads to air pollution.

When we asked our host if other cities are like this, he said that Lucknow is like a quiet peaceful village compared to the others as their road infrastructure is solid due to it being a capital city.

According to the World Health Organisation, ten Indian cities are among the world’s top 20 most polluted cities in the world, with the 2 places I’ll be spending most of my time, Lucknow and Kanpur both featuring in the list.  Delhi came in at 11th, which is a decent outcome considering their 2014 result polled them in at number 1.

2. Mobility: An enabler for the shift in air pollution

New forms of mobility including cycling are critical to lowering air pollution. Another benefit of focusing on cycling infrastructure is that it increases mobility for the lower classes to access jobs and new opportunities.

Fun fact: Each leader in Indian politics has a mascot or symbol for their tenure. A previous Chief Minister of the State of Uttar Pratesh, Mayawati used the symbol of an elephant and consequently built an incredibly dramatic marble park with elephant statues everywhere. It caused much debate as to whether that was the best use of taxpayer money, so you can be the judge of that. The good news is, the successor, elected Akhilesh Yadav’s symbol was the bike path and he has established a series of tracks to increase mobility.

Saying a cheeky goodbye to my opulent marble friend

I was reading about India’s Public Bike Sharing system called the Trin-Trin, funded by the World Bank. It’s growing in momentum and saw over 10 000 people sign up in the first 15 days with over half being women. Creating low-cost access to mobility could see dramatic changes in household dynamics with more opportunities for the independence of women. This prospect is very exciting and is yet another benefit, beyond environmental that will provide dramatic social impact.

Although growing, a mix of mobility options is critical as well as creating lucrative incentives to drive behaviour change.

Renewable energy and other environmental solutions seem to have a strong business case. Both economic and social benefits are proving substantial, however, the transition needs to be tackled from a range of players including large corporations, Government and social enterprises like Pollinate Energy.

As I look to spend the next 10 days in the slums of Kanpur, it will be interesting to see how these ‘win-win situations’ are being translated to the people who need a ‘win’ the most.

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