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Preeti Malhotra

23 April 2008
Preeti Malhotra

A former Senior Advisor on Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the British High Commission New Delhi, Preeti Malhotra has extensive experience and expertise across the areas of climate change, energy, environment and sustainable development. Her work covers both the private and the public sector. She has worked closely with the Indian government across bilateral and multilateral negotiations and processes: the UNFCCC, the Asia-Pacific Partnership and G8+5 dialogues, to name a few.

Preeti joined The °Climate Group as our India Director in March 2008. Here she talks to us about her new role and its central objective: to catalyse positive climate leadership across India's public and private sectors.

The city of Kolkata ranks among the world's top 10 cities most vulnerable to climate impacts; already we are seeing impacts taking a toll on the Indian coast. What strategies are in place to help India's population cope with these impacts?

India has long recognised and emphasised that that the adverse impacts of current climate change already threaten the livelihoods of many Indians, especially the poorest. Indian coastal states in particular are examining the impacts of sea level rise on the local economy. The state of West Bengal has been at the forefront of such research, with large-scale efforts there to afforest and manage the Sunderban Islands, which are particularly vulnerable. Other states, including Rajasthan, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, are making similar efforts.

Cities now have a growing interest in the link between climate change and urban planning. For example, Kolkata is looking at emissions from high impact sectors such as transport, with a view to exploring alternative fuels and technologies such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) options are being explored; the Delhi Metro is hailed as best practise that other cities in India, such as Bangalore now plan to follow.

Official figures indicate that the current government expenditure on adaptation to climate variability already exceeds 2% of GDP with agriculture, water resources, health and sanitation, forests, coastal zone infrastructure and extreme weather events being specific areas of concern. The work, however, has just started.

The Indian government has indicated it will announce its national policy framework on climate change in June. What will it say?

The National Action Programme on Climate Change is expected to be a forward looking document that will consolidate actions already taken by India to address climate change. It will also outline the measures - the technologies and the investments - required by India to effectively tackle its emissions and to enable its vulnerable populations to adapt. This will help provide a blueprint for institutions to respond domestically.

What needs to happen in order for emerging economies, like India, to sign up to a global framework?

It is important that countries with binding commitments demonstrate deeper reductions. It is also important to facilitate the transfer of technology and investments for both adaptation and reduction of emissions. This is necessary to enable developing countries to take action. The need for developing countries to grow should be recognised as well as their capabilities to tackle climate change, in line with the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities'. This has been recognised at Bali.

Former UK PM Tony Blair was recently in India to publicise the Breaking the Climate Deadlock initiative. Do you think Indian government is ready to support such an initiative?

As long as the initiative feeds into the UNFCCC, which it does, India is likely to engage. It provides India and other countries the opportunity to get involved outside the official negotiations. It also enables them to go into greater depth on some key issues. India has participated in such discussions in the past; my experience suggests that it has helped to build momentum resulting in a more constructive engagement at the UNFCCC CoPs. We did get a good response at the launch of the initiative in India this March. We are hopeful of fuller engagement in the coming months.

Where do businesses stand on climate change? Are any firms leading the way towards decarbonising the Indian economy?

Yes, some really are. Suzlon is ranked as the fifth leading wind-turbine supplier in the world. It has, in a very short time, added as customers several of India's leading corporations (both private and public sector) such as ONGC, Reliance Energy, TATA Power, DLF, and HPCL.

A number of Indian companies such as Infosys, HSBC India and ABN Amro India have announced that they will go carbon neutral by 2010. For the last two years, ITC Ltd has been 'carbon positive'. It achieved this status through energy conservation measures, use of carbon neutral fuels and carbon sequestration through large-scale agro-forestry programmes. And the Indian Designated National Authority (DNA) has approved more than 700 CDM projects; around 300 of these have been registered by the CDM Executive Board amounting to 27 million tonnes of certified {CO2} emissions reductions. Many, if not all, of these projects are based on technological innovations.

Are any incentives in place to help firms decouple growth from increased greenhouse gas emissions?

The CDM offers incentives to reduce emissions and Indian firms and project developers have been actively participating. This is evident from the number of Indian projects registered with the Executive Board. Efficiency standards have been established, requiring, for example, the use of supercritical technology in the upcoming Ultra Mega Power Projects (4000 MW). Legislation requires distribution companies involved to purchase a fixed percentage of their power from renewable sources. Still, these measures are small. They need to be up scaled in order to provide more attractive incentives to reduce emissions.

Would you say that India's consumers - and consumer markets - are becoming more 'climate-friendly'?

Yes, awareness of climate change is growing; citizen groups, NGOs and businesses are all spearheading action. They are helping reinforce traditional green behaviors, like recycling. New concepts, like eco-labelling, are also catching on. In 2006, the government introduced a new energy labeling programme for electrical appliances to help enable consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. Companies - Reliance, Electrolux, Hindustan Lever to name a few - are also investing R&D funds into products that consume less power and water. The hotel and leisure sector has also been active in reducing its environmental impact.

Still, surveys have shown that consumers are unwilling to pay extra for greener products or services, and at the moment most alternative products are unable to compete on price. More incentives are needed for suppliers, service providers and consumers. One positive is that a few cities and states are organising consumer education and awareness programmes especially targeting school children. These isolated activities need to turn into mass movements. 

What are the key challenges to decarbonising India's economic growth?

Politically it will be difficult to ask people to alter their lifestyles. Any slowdown in growth - delays in infrastructure projects, for example - is unacceptable. Still, there has been good progress. Since 2004, the Indian economy has grown at a rate of over 9% per year, supported by an energy growth rate of less than 4% per year. India's position has been that tackling climate change (through either adaptation or mitigation) is largely a co-benefit of mainstream sustainable development. With economic growth and reducing poverty as its overriding priorities, the nation's position is unlikely to change in the near future.

It sounds like plenty of challenges and opportunities both lie ahead on the road to a low-carbon India. As Director of The °Climate Group's India office, how do you plan to tackle these?

Climate change has caught the attention of senior figures in government, media, and business, and to some extent the public at large over the past year or so. The opportunities for progress are therefore tremendous. The India office hopes to take advantage of these and to further build climate leadership among individuals and organisations that can then have a cascading affect. There is need for sharing information on low-carbon opportunities. This will be an area we hope to address by facilitating interaction on many fronts and sharing best practices from around the globe. Areas of focus will include technologies, investment opportunities, marketing strategies, entrepreneurship and climate leadership. India is keen to engage in the low carbon economy; TCG India plans to fully maximise the opportunities in this!

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