TreeHugger is on the ground in India, traveling with UNEP and the winner of our joint blogging contest Ximena Prugue for the next couple of days, attending World Environment Day 2011 activities in Delhi and Bangalore. Here’s a taste of the whirlwind schedule of day 1:
WED 2011 has the theme of Forests: Nature at Your Service so what better way to kick off everything than commemorating a reforestation project. Worth noting, in the photo at the top those aren’t the trees actually planted, rather they’re bonsai presented to various dignitaries in attendance.
Off among farmland in Mehrauli, just outside the city of Delhi proper but still within the city limits, on now-degraded land thousands of trees have been planted in an effort to reestablish forests, providing expanded wildlife habitat and ecosystem restoration–which as Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh (above, talking with students attending the event) is keen to point out at every opportunity means improved livelihoods for people as well.
The photos above don’t really give a sense of scale to the project. Similar saplings have been planted, minus the commemorative plaques of course, over most of the area extending to the horizon in these photos.
Above is Ximena, turning from writing to presenting in front of the camera. The days are packed here so no one has really had a chance to breathe, reflect and write much yet, but we’ll be featuring her writing on the site soon. In the meantime, follow her on Twitter: @ximenaphophena.
Later in the day (after this much-jet lagged writer, exhausted from 36+ hours of travel attempted some sleep; Ximena should have some coverage of events in between…), the traveling roadshow of UNEP Executive Direction Achim Steiner + Jairam Ramesh moved on to Delhi Haat. At the outdoor market a special ‘Green Haat’ has been organized showcasing lots of great non-timber forest products such as herbal medicines, crafts, cosmetics, and organic foods.
Top: Achim Steiner being shown some of the products being displayed and sold. Bottom: Every fair like this seems to have some sort of message board for people to sign, however this one had some cleverer-than-most responses viz “Wood is good, but woods are better” at the center.
All in all it was much more compelling than many similar green fairs I’ve attended in the United States. And I don’t say that just because of my natural attraction to the foods and crafts of India. At many fairs in the US there’s an air of the alternative, that the items on display are in sharp contrast to the norm. At the Green Haat the feeling was more of just showcasing the non-alternative, the traditional.
Indeed that showcasing on India’s natural and long-standing advantages in the area of handicraft, agriculture, in small-scale manufacturing was highlighted later in statements by various presenters. Minister Ramesh rightly pointed out that India has a thousands year old tradition in sustainable craft and manufacturing that is alive and well. It’s exactly the sort of thing that is a key (if certainly not only) part of developing a green economy.
Some other interesting and poignant points made during at the press portion of the Green Haat on Friday evening:
Achim Steiner highlighted something which needs to be said more, on renewable energy versus fossil fuels. Renewable energy may require more of an up front investment, but it only gets cheaper over time–both in terms of the energy becoming free once the materials and installation have been paid off, and in that those costs will only come down in the future once the technology becomes more widely used. In sharp contrast, fossil fuels (be they coal, natural gas, oil, or nuclear) are only going to rise in price. All are capable of and currently being depleted, and at increasing rates. That just means that they will go up in price as scarcity builds for them.
On World Environment Day itself, June 5th, there will be a special presentation about the role of women in environmentalism, but Jairam brought it up right away. It cannot be said enough, women have been at the forefront of environmental protection historically and continue to be, both in India and elsewhere. With the inherent connection between environment and health, environment and family, environment and livelihood, it is only natural. It’s not a political statement Ramesh said, when asked by a reporter, only a matter of fact that women are the leaders in this area.
India’s performance on global environment index has improved earning it the 123th rank, primarily because of progress made in renewables. And, this has earned kudos for India’s green industry from United Nations Environment Programme executive Director Achim Steiner. “India has invested a lot in gre
en economy,” Steiner said, while addressing Indian industry in the Capital on Friday but wanted the industry to raise the bar.
This comes after a global environment performance index released recently ranked India at 123 among 165 nations, a jump of three positions as compared to previous years. Iceland tops the ranking while Sierra Leone is at the bottom of the table.
But, that does not mean that Indians do not want more. Majority of Indians in a global survey by US based public opinion agency Gallup said they want the country to adopt green economy norms for development.
Indians are more likely to say they are satisfied with efforts to preserve the environment (45%) than the ones who say they are dissatisfied (38%), the survey said, adding that majority of is more concerned about environment than economic growth.
The Indian industry can boost of being green primarily because of gains made in solar generation. A study released by Ernst and Young this week ranked India among top three nations, after China and US, on renewable growth.
The high ranking was primarily on progress made in installing solar photo-voltaic to generate power and off shore wind energy turbines.
But environment minister Jairam Ramesh still feels that India is not doing enough in research and development of renewable to become world leader as it was in 1980s.
India is in the midst of a massive program to increase its grid-connected solar power generation capacity from around 20 million watts at the end of the 2010 to 20,000 million watts by 2020.
The addition is expected to comprise of photo voltaic (PV) farms — the typical solar installation — and other technologies like thermal or steam and turbine based solar farms.
The government is in the process of entering into power purchase agreements for around 600 million watts (MW) of solar farms as the first part of the massive program — known as the Solar Mission. Another phase, of 350 MW of PV, is expected to be announced this month.
Both parts — together coming to 500 MW of photo voltaic (PV) and an equal amount of thermal projects — are to be completed and ready for power generation by March 2013.
The second phase, to be started after the phase 1 projects start generating power by early 2013, will involve setting up 3000 MW by 2017 and another 16000 MW of new capacity by 2022. All the projects included in the scheme get a guaranteed purchase price of around Rs 17 (40 cents) per power unit produced.
The exemption from seeking environmental nod and creating environment impact reports etc.. is likely to keep the Solar Mission on schedule. Green nods can taken anywhere from 2 months to a year. The clarification by the environment ministry, headed by Jairam Ramesh, was done after a query was raised by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
Most of the new solar farms — both PV and thermal — are being set up by small firms — primarily land developers and are concentrated around India’s Thar desert. It is estimated that a fraction of the Thar desert, covered by solar panels, may be enough to meet India’s power needs.
Under the current scheme, the maximum size of the plant to be included in the program is only 5 MW — to ensure the broadest participation from the industry.