An opportunity for 'nouveau' chapter in India-France collaboration

AS Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks on a visit to France, the first stop of his three-nation tour, it's worth bearing in mind that the country's hexagonal geography and its multi-dimensional policies and technology skills have the potential to match India's 21st-century aspirations. At the same time, the French are looking at India as a land of technology-savvy youth with diverse abilities and a multicultural mass base that poses extraordinary opportunities for business and cultural exchanges.

Thus, in pursuit of immediate gains, emerging opportunities for collaboration in environmental and nature protection, sustainable and responsible investments, clean and renewable energy, sustainable tourism and social business should not be squandered.

A couple of years ago, the French government made a strategic decision that was as visionary as the one it made way back in 1945, immediately after the end of World War II, to establish the Commission of Atomic Energy (Commissariat a l'Energy Atomique - CEA). This helped France in strengthening not only its national security but also to advantageously transform its energy security from overdependence on fossil fuel to nuclear energy in late 1970s.

In 2009, came yet another transformative decision. The CEA was renamed the Commissariat a l'Energy Atomique et aux Energies Alternative or the Commission of Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies. The abbreviation did not change but the vision did.

The decision was far-reaching. The CEA now not only does research in nuclear technologies but also in low-carbon and renewable energy technologies. The dire need to create yet another safe and climate-friendly technologies had set the priority loud and clear.

Such integration and mainstreaming of clean energy needs to be the prime driver for the collaborative agenda between France and India.

Urban Forestry and Forest Management

The forest cover in France is not much different from that of India - about 29 percent. Though it ranks only fourth in Europe, it is not widely known that the quality of forests in France in terms of diversity and management is next to none.

The challenges facing India in terms of forest governance, particularly under the inevitable pressure of urbanization, are formidable. Almost every region in France, like every state in India, is still facing the migratory pressure to the cities. By 2050, the in French urban population will go beyond 80 percent from today's 75 percent. In India, the present urban population of 30 percent will rise to 60 percent by 2050. Such urban pressure requires careful and thoughtful management of existing forests around urban areas. France has much needed experience. The management of its urban forests has economically and environmentally beneficial values.

France and India, apart from terrorism, are facing one more common challenge - air pollution - which Prime MinisterModi was very frank in pronouncing, just a few days ago, as a major problem facing urbanites in India. Without entering into debate on ranking of the cities based on air pollution, there is no denial of the fact that as per the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately seven million people died from air pollution-related illnesses in 2012. This was more than double the combined total of HIV/AIDS and Diarrhea-related premature deaths. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives every year and reduce sufferings of many more millions of children and women in urban area.

Enhanced employment and business in urban forest management could be the important benefit apart from availing the clean air and making urban life healthy. The deal between France and India to develop forests in India including those around urban conglomerates and to avail future carbon trading is an opportunity that is at the doorstep.

Waste Management

France has technology, experience and well-managed operating facilities for Waste To Energy (WTE) conversion. The European directive on waste incineration that was issued in December 2000 and would go into effect this year is strictly followed by France to ensure air quality. WTE plants to treat 650,000 tonnes per year of household waste are in operation for more than 20 years with a thermal and electricity generating capacity of 65 MW each. There are cities, districts and provinces-wide networks of waste collection, sorting, incineration and electricity/heat generation all over France.

There is mmense potential for small entrepreneurs in India to create such networks of Waste-To-Wealth programme that will run complementary to Mr. Modi's Clean India campaign. The launch on April 8 of the Mudra Bank to fund small and micro-entrepreneurs would make such networks of waste-pickers, sorters, collectors and transporters a success with French experience and expertise.

India and France have missed other vital opportunities in the past to collaborate. France missed the massive IT revolution of 1990s when it became cozy and inward looking about its invention of Minitel. India too wasted the glorious opportunity of rendering the country as a leading magnet for world-tourists. Now the opportunity to collaborate with France on clean energy, forest management, waste management, hospitality and tourism management must not pass by.

(Rajendra Shende is an IIT alumni, chairman of the TERRE Policy Centre and former director of the UNEP. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at shende.rahendrra@gmail.com)