UN chief Antonio Guterres on Friday called on India to be at the “helm" of an ambitious global leadership on clean energy and climate action, saying the country can become a “true global superpower” in the fight against climate change if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The Secretary-General said both the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis have raised fundamental questions about how to ensure the health and well-being of the world's people and how nations must cooperate to advance the common good
He said young people are particularly looking for bold steps towards sustainability, equality and social justice.
“Today is the time for bold leadership on clean energy and climate action. I call on India to be at the helm of the ambitious leadership we need,” Guterres said, virtually delivering the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) Friday.
Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar presided over the event and delivered the Presidential Address.
“At this pivotal moment, as the United Nations marks its 75th anniversary, India has a crucial role to play,” Guterres said.
In his remarks titled ‘The Rise of Renewables: Shining a Light on a Sustainable Future', Guterres said: "India can become a true global superpower in the fight against climate change if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”
The UN chief said he was “inspired” to learn that during the pandemic, India's proportion of renewable energy rose from 17 per cent to 24 per cent while coal-fired power declined from 76 per cent to 66 per cent.
“This is a promising trend that needs to continue. Renewable energy needs to grow. And coal use must be phased out. That must be our story” of smarter, stronger, cleaner economies for the 21st century, creating more jobs, more justice and more prosperity, he said.
Guterres said he will continue to urge all countries, especially the G20 countries, to commit to carbon neutrality before 2050 and to submit, well before the November 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, more ambitious nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies that are aligned with the goal to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.
“I call on Indian leaders to take the decisions, make the investments and adopt the policies necessary to continue this vital journey,” he said. The annual lecture was initiated by New-Delhi-based TERI in 2002 in memory of Seth, the institute's founder.
Guterres described Seth as a “climate action pioneer” who had stressed that India must end its reliance on polluting, financially volatile and costly fossil fuels and instead invest in clean, economically resilient solar power.
“Today, as we endure the twin crises of COVID-19 and climate change, this effort has never been more important. A rapidly heating world threatens even more disruption and exposes even further our world's deep and damaging imbalances,” Guterres said.
The UN chief said that as nations look to recover from the COVID pandemic, their commitment to doing better would include transforming economic, energy and health systems to save lives, create stable, inclusive economies and stave off the existential threat of climate change.
India has a key role to play in that vital effort, he said adding that “India has all the ingredients for exerting the leadership at home and abroad envisioned by Darbari Seth.”
India's top priorities - poverty alleviation and universal energy access - can be key drivers in these efforts, he said.
Pointing out that investments in renewable energy generate three times more jobs than investments in polluting fossil fuels, Guterres said such job creation is an “opportunity” that can't be missed as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to push many people back into poverty.
“India is already pushing ahead in this direction,” the UN chief said, taking note that the number of people working in renewable energy in the country has increased five-fold since 2015.
Last year, India's spending on solar energy surpassed spending on coal-fired power generation for the first time and India also made significant progress towards universal access to electricity, Guterres said.However, despite an access rate of 95 per cent, 64 million Indians are still without access to electricity today, Guterres said underlining that there is still work to do and opportunities to be grasped.