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'India must decarbonise and adapt to reach net zero': UNDP's Usha Rao-Monari

'India must decarbonise and adapt to reach net zero': UNDP's Usha Rao-Monari

Without the use of appropriate technologies, the country cannot achieve climate sustainability, says UNDP's Usha Rao-Monari

Usha Rao-Monari, Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme Usha Rao-Monari, Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme

Reducing carbon emissions is a global priority. Finance, investment and new technologies are needed to reduce greenhouse gases and keep global warming in check. Usha Rao-Monari, Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in an interaction with Business Today, talks about climate change, the need for climate finance and what India should focus on. Edited excerpts:

At COP27, there was an emphatic warning that we are speeding towards catastrophic climate change. Even with so much happening, what are we lacking?

It’s a complicated question, and the answer will also be complicated, but allow me to simplify it. Somehow climate, climate concepts, and climate finance have all managed to stay at an obscure, convoluted level.
The ‘how’ has prevented us from accomplishing some of the necessary goals.

In terms of climate finance, decarbonisation [that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and carbon
intensity] or mitigation has received 95 per cent of the attention, which is appropriate. Adaptation [that involves changing behaviour, systems, lifestyles, economies, and the environment with a view to mitigate climate change] is a topic to which people have not given as much thought. In the last two COPs, adaptability has finally gained greater attention. Currently, 5-7 per cent of climate finance funds go towards for adaptation. That’s nothing. The UN wants to increase it to at least 25 per cent of climate finance and eventually to 50 per cent. Adaptation over decarbonisation is a different kind of agenda. The two have to run parallel.

Do you think if action is taken now, and if funds are available, we can meet the 2030 and 2050 targets?

I do. Certainly, it’s aspirational, but it’s also rooted in the knowledge of what I know is already going on. Maybe it’s the fear of deviating too far away from 1.5 [° C; limiting Earth’s warming to 1.5° C]. Maybe it’s the emergence of new approaches among various players in the world, but I think we will reach the 2030 [target] with the outcomes we set for ourselves and then 2050; or somewhere around 2050.

Why I’m optimistic is the seriousness with which countries and stakeholders are taking on this challenge. It’s no longer—‘Oh, it’s out there. It’s not going to hit me. When it hits me, I worry about it’—it’s not like that anymore. I think there’s a lot of seriousness, so we will [reach the target]. 

Some reports say that around $92 trillion would be required by 2050 towards climate change and net zero. Where will this finance come from?

There are so many numbers. And it’s not that I don’t believe in numbers, but I don’t want to focus too much on their size. I think the question is: Never mind the number, [but] how do you get there? And for me, it is a very clever blending of precious public money—public sector money, government money, donor money… whatever—and the private sector that has the scale of finance in its hands. It’s a blending of these two things that has to be done, and it’s not being done well enough.

Everybody talks about blended finance, but there has to be some models of what that looks like for us to reach this $92 trillion or whatever number you choose. We cannot reach those numbers without involving the private sector and all other players. You can’t expect governments to accomplish it all on their own since they’ve got conflicting priorities with the money that they have. So, it is going to be a good blend of public and private through the lens of policy, finance and social instruments. And I believe that will form the basis of the blended finance 2.0 model.

At COP26, India said it needs $1 trillion to meet its climate change goals. So, where can the country source all the funds from? 

India, or any country, has to look at both domestic, which has public as well as private sources, and international sources for funds. And people always believe that to get large domestic resources and international capital, they must somehow take action.

What you have to figure out is how to get them up to scale. That is, whether through bonds or other types of financial instruments. I heard that many banks in India are talking about how they are looking at tuning their funding structures. So, whether it’s in India or anywhere else, that’s where you get the money from.

What should India be focussing on?

Well, if you talk to the African continent, they say, ‘We are responsible for only 3 per cent of global emissions. So how much should we focus on decarbonisation? We have only that much to decarbonise.’ India’s not there. India is somewhere in the middle. In this regard, you better focus on decarbonisation rather than adaptation. In my opinion, it needs both and I think it will do both. By the way, India has a rich history of dealing with these issues. In terms of naturebased solutions and traditional solutions, I think it will bring all of those to the fore.

Technology has been touted as a big driver that can help us but, at the same time, it is the biggest culprit for all the greenhouse gas emissions. So how do you see a balance coming in?

I agree that it is the culprit for all the greenhouse gases. But look, why do people bring technology up as part of the solution? If you think about renewable energy, the new technology around it is what brought the cost of renewable energy down. Now we’re looking at battery storage. Then we’re looking at green hydrogen and green ammonia. This is all technology, and if we don’t use technology as a vehicle towards that greener future, we’re never going to get there.

How do you reconcile it with the fact that technology is a culprit? Well, you merely need to be aware that some of these older technologies are, maybe, causing or contributing to emissions. But I don’t think that therefore puts a black cross against technology. I don’t think we can move forward towards climate sustainability without the use of appropriate technologies.


Published on: Jun 14, 2023, 2:25 PM IST
Posted by: Priya Raghuvanshi, Jun 14, 2023, 2:06 PM IST