Keynote address by UN Resident Coordinator in India, Mr Shombi Sharp at the Jaipur Literature Festival
As a recent arrival to India, on behalf of the UN team in India, it is an honour to be amongst you today – my first opportunity to enjoy the “greatest literary show on earth” and a celebration of freedom of expression in this beautiful Pink City of Jaipur.
The list of JLF speakers past and present is so impressive as to be intimidating. In fact, the JLF recipe has been so successful that there are JLFs in many parts of the world – even my alma mater in Boulder, Colorado. But, I am happiest to be part of the ‘original’ right here – Mujhe Jaipur aa kar bohat khushi hui!
We are living in difficult times. As we struggle to emerge from the pandemic, having learned how fragile is the fabric that connects our world – we still see war and conflict in many parts of the world. The senseless invasion of Ukraine is now reminding us that, in addition to the horrific human cost unfolding that must stop, our continued dependence on fossil fuels means greater vulnerability for all countries to external geopolitical and environmental shocks – a vicious confluence of war, pandemic and climate change.
Now, please imagine, if you will:
In Odisha, a tribal girl mourns the loss of her ancestral forests – and her people’s livelihood. Once lush forests, reduced to barren scrubland.
A few hours away, on the coast, a young man surveys the destruction left by a cyclone, the waves coming closer, threatening to swallow his village.
In rural UP, a teenage girl despairs that her community doesn’t know the very air they breathe – polluted by industry & dirty cooking fuels – is shortening their lives.
Yet what you just imagined is real, stories of actual young Indians at the frontlines of the triple planetary crisis – nature and biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution.
Launching the latest IPCC report a few weeks ago, the UN Secretary-General called the findings “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” It is no longer just a warning; we must now move with urgency towards building resilience and adapting to this new reality already upon us. As one of the JLF organizers said to me last night, we need to be on a climate change war footing.
The hard truth is that the IPCC shows India will be among the countries worst hit by the triple planetary crisis. Already, its fragile ecosystems are facing irreversible damage.
India’s coastal cities are set to experience disastrous flooding as sea levels rise – many cities will experience heat and humidity beyond human tolerance. The immense cost to human health has been brought into sharp focus.
Cases of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue may rise, not to mention future variants of Covid as humans and animals are pushed further into conflict.
Yet, there is scope for measured optimism.
A few months ago, the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow saw the world come together and take steps to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Every fraction of a degree closer to that goal counts.
We saw countries, including India, commit to net-zero emissions.
Here in India, I see hope and find inspiration in the young people on the frontlines of the climate battle, offering us solutions and adaptations.
The tribal girl from Odisha grieving the loss of her people’s forests grew into a strong young woman, Archana Soreng, who is now advocating tirelessly to bring indigenous perspectives and forest protection practices into the climate discourse.
The young man on the coast, Soumya Biswal, is working passionately for nature-based solutions, including replanting mangrove forests to protect his community and marine life.
The teenage girl from Uttar Pradesh, Hina Saifi, is now educating her community on protecting themselves from air pollution and generating clean energy through solar power.
And yesterday, I sat with an innovative young sarpanch, Mr Rathore and the women and men, girls and boys of Jahota village, an hour from here (Jaipur). Under the welcome shade of a banyan tree, I learned how the community is embracing flagship programmes like Jaal Jeevan, Swachh Bharat, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act with community activism to realise their own stated vision of a clean, resilient and plastic-free village, a vibrant hub of life.
These are just some examples of the inspiring young people and communities offering innovative, sustainable and equitable climate solutions that the UN in India are proud to partner with.
India has emerged as a leading force in development for all, a champion of multilateralism, and a leader in climate action – we must together nurture and accelerate this.
Since arriving in India, I have been impressed by how deeply rooted philosophy and values of sustainability is in the Indian culture.
This is articulated in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal for a whole-of-society behavioural transformation movement – LIFE – Lifestyle For Environment. Imagine with 1.3 billion people taking mindful steps in their consumption habits – recycling, conserving energy, turning to renewables – we can generate massive collective change.
There is a collective, urgent need to tackle climate change, and there is also a fundamental right to development. India’s ambitious targets demonstrate to the world that climate action does not and cannot mean sacrificing development.
The Panchamrit targets announced by the Government of India, including the addition of 500GW of renewable capacity, meeting 50 percent energy demand through renewables understands that investment in green energy delivers economic and climate benefits.
And at the global level, India is accelerating the solar power revolution through initiating the International Solar Alliance.
Apart from these commitments, India announced the launch of a National Hydrogen Mission to boost clean energy and make India the new global hub of ‘green hydrogen’ and its largest exporter.
And leaders in India’s dynamic business sector are on the cutting edge of clean energy and climate-friendly technologies, driven by companies like Tata and Mahindra and others. While civil society helps ensure all actors in society are held accountable to commitments.
The economic case for clean energy and climate change mitigation is clear. Investments in renewable energy generate three times more jobs than investments in polluting fossil fuels.
I would also like to highlight the urgent need to take action on plastic waste, a major driver of the triple planetary crisis and causing irreversible harm to marine and land-based ecosystems. I commend the Government of India for its ban on the manufacture, sale and use of single-use plastic from July 2022. Since the pandemic, an estimated 100 tonnes of extra biomedical waste a day is being added to India’s overburdened waste management system.
India is rightfully calling for global climate justice. Yet out of the $100 billion in climate finance promised by high-income countries, little has materialised – this must change. And India’s leadership of the G20 presents an ideal platform to hold countries accountable and work together.
As the IPCC report tells us, we must take urgent action to halve global C02 emissions by 2030, and the world must be carbon neutral by 2050 to keep 1.5 alive.
A transition to renewables is the only pathway to energy security, universal access and the green jobs that India, and the world, need. Here this can help ensure a tremendous demographic divided in the coming decades.
We must commit to throwing our full weight into this fight – to tackle the triple planetary crisis, speed up decarbonisation, prevent biodiversity loss and eliminate pollution. Together, we are an irresistible force.