As Mahatma Gandhi said we should be the change that we want to see or in other words we should practice what we preach. That is never the case. So we heard pontification on how we should reduce the carbon footprint to make this world sustainable by people who never practice sustainable living in their personal life.
Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP, are major conferences attended by the heads of state and major industry and energy players of the world for discussing how to reduce carbon footprint and help develop a sustainable world.
The conferences are really a sham and a show of hypocritical behavior which brings out the real face of the selfish and the control freaks of the world. In the recently concluded COP 27, the much-touted creation of the loss and damage fund was nothing but hot air. With no details about who will provide money for the fund and which country will get how much these remain only platitudes.
The tycoons, heads of state and big industry leaders fly in their expensive personal jets and stay in total luxury in the resort places which are the venues of the conferences. The amount of energy use and carbon dioxide production by these events is enormous and all the trappings of an unsustainable lifestyle are on display by people who are talking and preaching about sustainable lifestyle!
Thus huge jets ferry expensive bullet-proof cars for the heads of state. Huge wastage of food, water, etc. takes place during the parties and lavish dinners which are given. Naturally, nobody cares to add up all these unsustainable practices and do the cost/benefit analysis of how unsustainable these meetings and conferences are. They do not amount to anything and have not made an iota of the dent to the world climate change.
In COP 27, which took place recently in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, there was a shortage of food and drinks for ordinary attendees and there was a hue and cry by most of the developed country delegates that they were getting dehydrated and may not be able to function without their quota of high calories!
Personal energy consumption
One of the biggest lacunae in all these conferences is that hardly anybody talks about a reduction in personal energy consumption. As Mahatma Gandhi said we should be the change that we want to see or in other words, we should practice what we preach. That is never the case. So we heard pontification on how we should reduce the carbon footprint to make this world sustainable by people who never practice sustainable living in their personal life. That is a typical behavior of a hypocrite.
But the real hypocrisy lies in the developed countries telling the developing countries to go for renewable energy while they themselves binge on fossil fuels. Time and again it has been shown that the quality of life and economic progress is directly proportional to the uninterrupted supply of electricity and other forms of energy.
Solar and wind are available daily for a short period of time and thus to make them provide electricity 24/7 requires reliable and economical storage. Presently electric storage in reliable batteries is very costly. Even in developed countries solar and wind systems are basically used for topping up rather than as the main source of electricity supply. Their main grid electricity supply comes from fossil fuel-powered plants. Thus to insist that developing countries use mostly renewable solar and wind is totally preposterous!
There is another hypocrisy that has been imposed by the developed countries on the third world and that is carbon credits. All the fossil fuel usage in developed countries is to be taken care of by carbon credits which means that developing countries plant forests on their lands for which they get money from rich countries who in turn get the carbon credits. Land in developing countries is already in short supply for food production and if they plant forests then they will get poorer by also importing food. So it becomes a vicious cycle. No energy for electricity for improvement of life and reduction in food production.
What needs to be done
The first and foremost agenda in all future COP conferences should be a discussion on how to reduce our energy consumption and carbon footprint. Presently an average US citizen consumes ~307 GJ/person per year. A good sustainable life can be lived in about 1/4th the US per capita energy consumption. Sustainable living can result if we combine spirituality with high technology. Such examples should be the focus of discussions in future COPs.
More R&D activity needed
All developing countries should look after their interests. Economic development is the only proven path to environmental resilience. Thus they should use the mix of all energies available to them to improve the quality of life for their citizens.
Any technology for mass usage requires a huge investment in its development and production. Solar and wind energy systems have been researched, developed, and deployed on large scale but their energy storage systems still lag behind. Thus they can provide electricity for topping up. India should work on this principle and should continue producing electricity from fossil fuels as base supply.
India with its huge technical manpower base should fund heavily R&D activity in making fossil fuels systems improve their efficiencies and reduce their pollution. For the foreseeable future, we should therefore rely on improved technologies running on fossil fuels.
There is also a great need to extensively fund R&D activity on solar-powered low-grade thermal systems for electricity. Such systems can provide 24/7 decentralized electricity. Costing and other logistics will come out of this national R&D mission.
Finally, to reduce the carbon footprint involved in such conferences it will be a good idea to hold them online, and only once in five or ten years they can be held in physical mode. Such conferences are useful since they allow the exchange of ideas but forcing the developed countries' agenda on developing nations should be opposed and avoided.
(The writer, an IIT and US-educated Indian engineer, a 2022 Padma Shri award winner, is the Director, of Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra. Views are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)