"Sustainable innovation is essential for India": Rajendra Pachauri

Sensemaking / "Sustainable innovation is essential for India": Rajendra Pachauri

The Director-General of The Energy and Resources Institute calls on India's Government to explain the benefits of low-carbon approaches to the public, if the country is to avoid resource-intensive growth.

19 Dec 2012

The Director-General of The Energy and Resources Institute calls on India's Government to explain the benefits of low-carbon approaches to the public, if the country is to avoid resource-intensive growth.

If we pursue the same path as some of the highly developed countries, we are going to end up with a hugely resource-intensive pattern of growth, imposing major constraints on our society. It will simply not be practical, and we would have some very serious crises to handle as a result. So sustainable innovation isn't an option for India: it's absolutely essential.

We have to get our pricing right: People need to be motivated to look for solutions, so we need the right policies in place to encourage them. In particular, we need to get our pricing right, especially when it comes to those resources which are going to be scarce. That means getting rid of some of the subsidies, explicit or hidden, which are encouraging their use. Take diesel. It is heavily subsidised, to the extent that if you don't have electricity, the simplest thing to do is to set up a diesel-generating system – rather than look for renewable solutions. So that is clearly not providing the right signals.

It's the same with kerosene. Through our 'Light a Billion Lives' programme, we are promoting the use of solar lamps, which should be a much more economically viable and certainly environmentally cleaner system than kerosene. But subsidies on the latter make it harder to compete. And we also know that kerosene is used on a large scale for adulteration of other petroleum products, so subsidising it creates a major distortion: one that has environmental and other economic downsides which we really should be able to eliminate.

If you build green, you should be rewarded: There are more positive incentives available. For example, at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) we have a good green rating system for buildings (GRIHA), and some local governments are now encouraging developers to build to higher standards by relaxing size restrictions for buildings which score high ratings. This is a very positive approach. It does not cost the government anything, but there's a huge benefit to the builder. So it can act as a real incentive to do the right thing.

Economic reform can encourage innovation: Opening up this entire [sustainability] sector to investments from overseas can bring in new technologies, and would give us a chance of securing the brightest and best people from everywhere. That can only be to the benefit of the country.

We don't always give a rational explanation…: Taking action on all this is politically possible, but first the Government has to decide that it is in the interests of society, and then it needs to inform the public. We don't always do that, and the fact that we are not able to provide a rational explanation for what seems eminently sensible is, in my view, a real handicap to the Government taking the right kinds of steps.

I've never seen so much dynamism…: I'm encouraged by the sheer amount of dynamism that was in evidence at our CEO roundtable [hosted with Forum for the Future]. There was so much desire to innovate. What's particularly encouraging is the huge variety of things in the pipeline. So, these may be challenging times, but they are exciting ones too.

Rajendra Pachauri is Director-General of TERI and Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This feature appeared in ‘India: Innovation Nation’, a Special Edition produced in collaboration with TERI, Unilever, Interface and Mlinda.

Photo: TERI

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