Prime Minister Modi in Glasgow: Running the talk or headline management?

While Modi’s announcements at Glasgow have been hailed widely, the response at home has been more guarded. PM sprang a surprise that seems to have caught his own ministers and officials off guard

Sunita Narain and Jairam Ramesh
Sunita Narain and Jairam Ramesh

NH Web Desk

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address at COP26 in Glasgow has elicited mixed reactions at home. Environmentalist and Director of Centre for Science & Environment Sunita Narayan tweeted that India had posed a challenge to the world by enhancing its targets for emission control and clean energy. “This is running the talk”, she tweeted, and not just walking the talk.

Former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is however sceptical. Before the Glasgow summit, he had said that he expected Prime Minister Modi to go more for headlines in Glasgow than deadlines. And the PM’s announcements have indeed made headlines as India announced ambitious plans to achieve ‘Net Zero’ emission by 2070 and reducing thermal power generation to 50% by 2030 from the current level of 70%.

But a sceptical Jairam Ramesh tweeted, “Mega announcements by the PM at Glasgow is one thing. What matter are actions at home. ALL environmental & forest laws are being diluted, standards are being relaxed, and enforcement bodies are being weakened. This is THE reality—not some tall promise for a very distant 2070.”

There is good reason for the scepticism as the announcemeny by the PM is at variance with what Indian officials and even union minister Piyush Goyal had been saying in Glasgow. There does not seem to have been much of a discussion among the Indian delegation before the PM, as is his wont, sprung a surprise. Typically, the unilateral announcements were designed to dazzle and startle the audience and observers were duly impressed. But at home the enthusiasm is muted because of the PM’s own past record on delivery of promises.

Jairam Ramesh could barely suppress his amusement while commenting on the PM’s address. “Need climate change in syllabi to educate children, says PM in Glasgow. Wow! This from a man who said on TV to school children that climate has not changed, humans have!!” while attaching a video clip in which the Indian PM can be heard telling schoolchildren that the climate was not changing but people are getting older.

Ramesh also told Deccan Herald in an interview that unlike during the UPA years, this time there was no consultation with the opposition and no representation from the opposition either at Glasgow. Before the Cancun summit, there were two discussions in parliament on climate change, and two after the summit. He as Environment Minister had written to the Lok Sabha Speaker to nominate MPs for attending the conference. But no such course was followed for Glasgow.

More importantly, while the PM walks the talk globally and says the right things, he said, at home the Modi Government has been doing the opposite. The Forest Conservation Act, the Environment Protection Act, Environment Impact Assessment regulations, the Coastal Regulation Zone regulations were all being amended and diluted, he alleged. Even pollution norms for thermal plants have been ‘loosened’, he said.

Beyond rhetoric, grandstanding and moralizing, he expected realistic goals set in Glasgow and international accountability fixed. Even six years after the Paris summit in 2015, even the rules had not been finalized, he pointed out.

In 2009, he pointed out, solar power cost Rs 15 per unit in India but it has plunged now to Rs three per unit. The dramatic fall was anticipated and India rightly pushed for more solar energy. But India would have to significantly increase the share of nuclear energy from the current 3.3% to 10% and beyond to reduce the country’s dependence on coal.

“An even more ambitious goal than Net Zero emission etc. could have been to declare that by 2045 there will be no petrol or diesel vehicle,” the former Union Minister said.

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