Britain's Prince Charles addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP)
As I bid India farewell, I sifted through the many mental images of my time here. The images of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales touring the India Meteorological Department and riding an electric rickshaw were particularly evocative. Both, the cyclone preparedness programme and social innovation, perfectly encapsulate how British and Indian collaboration have saved lives and created transformative change.
At Davos last week, HRH asked world leaders how business could continue as usual in the face of the climate crisis. He called 2020 a “super year” to kick-start urgent, collaborative action — I couldn’t agree more. I have followed with great interest the impressive strides India has made in addressing this global challenge and am proud of how our partnership has developed around it.
To build resilience to climate risks, we are working with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act to build flood defences and river structures to encourage aquifer replenishment, and together with India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, we are gathering land, sea and atmospheric data to help deliver a decisive step forward in monsoon forecasting. On electric mobility, a major joint venture between UK’s EO Charging and India’s Yahhvi Enterprises will deliver world-class smart charging infrastructure for electric vehicles across India, which will help to address air pollution and make cities more liveable. And on finance, our governments committed 240 million pounds of anchor capital in the Green Growth Equity Fund — its first investment going to Ayana Renewable Power, which is developing 800MW of solar generation capacity.
Both India and the UK are exploring how best to develop the technology and investment needed to spur the transition from fossil to renewable fuels and make this a beneficial trajectory for everyone. It’s important to be able to share experiences and learn lessons from each other.
The UK is a world leader on climate issues. Last year, we became the first major economy to make a legally binding commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. Since 1990, we have reduced our emissions by 42 per cent whilst expanding our economy by 72 per cent, showing the world that green can be profitable and make smart economic sense. Around a third of our electricity comes from renewables — including from the largest offshore wind capacity in the world. We have a government that is deeply committed to protecting the environment, and who made this a key tenet of their manifesto to the British people during the elections.
This year, as co-hosts of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), all eyes will be on the UK to help all countries reach the agreements that the world needs. It’s no coincidence that Claire O’ Neill, UK president of COP26, made India her first overseas visit in her new role — speaking at the Raisina Dialogue last month — reflecting on the importance of India in the global climate scenario. She was impressed with India’s climate action and with the range of innovative and expanding UK-India collaboration on climate-related issues.
India’s size and ecological diversity has placed it on the frontlines of global warming. This is something we’ve seen personally with flooding in Maharashtra and droughts in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. Such climate extremes are in no way unique to the country, but the magnitude of their devastation is.
India is certainly “walking the talk” on climate action. It is on course to deliver the target of 40 per cent electricity generation from non-fossil fuels by 2030 and last September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi caught the attention of the world with his commitment for 450GW of renewable energy. And he has already demonstrated this personal commitment on the world stage with the India-led International Solar Alliance and the global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, both of which the UK is proud to be a part of.
I am confident that the UK and India will keep working closely together on ways to deliver innovative solutions and actions, with COP26 and then India’s G20 presidency in 2022 providing key milestones along the way. The world needs us to deliver. The kind of partnership that we have already built can inspire action on a global scale. We need to work together even more, to see more is done in resilience and adaption, clean energy, green finance and nature-based solutions. PM Modi’s focus on infrastructure development, sustainable energy and smart cities, gives us a clear direction for where that collaborative innovation can flourish.
I am encouraged by what I have seen during my time here and look forward to our partnership on climate and the environment go from strength to strength in the future. It is absolutely clear in my mind that progress on climate is a hugely important legacy that our two countries — and others — can make to the world. And no longer having to hold our breath, wondering about AQI levels, would be just one of the benefits.
We’ve been fortunate to spend four incredible years discovering the wonders of this country. Kayaking with my wife down the Periyar at the Thattekad Sanctuary, tracking tigers and leopards in Rajasthan with my son, who spent three years there as a ranger, and nearly bursting my lungs trying the climb up to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand. A love for nature and biodiversity is one that I — and I am sure many others — share with both our prime ministers.
When I said my goodbyes, my challenge to friends and colleagues was this: How do we take this collaboration as a joint force for good to the next level in 2020? The UK and India share a common interest in addressing common challenges, and climate change is the biggest of them all.
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 1, 2020 under the title 'Partners in action'. The writer is the outgoing British High Commissioner to India.
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