India and the United States were among the earliest countries to ban flights from China into entering, a decision that was the subject of a comment by the WHO that such a ban was not needed, as SARS2 was not easily transmissible. The manner in which the WHO echoed the views expressed by Beijing (which for months sought to underplay the significance of the disease) lost the rest of the world precious time. It was this loss of response time that led to the aftershocks of the onset of SARS2 being so much more severe than that of SARS1, when after initial hesitation, the authorities were candid about the problem. During SARS2, some claim that the decision to allow international travel (indeed, welcome visitors to China) despite the spread of the pandemic within the PRC was a deliberate tactic intended to ensure that the difficulties caused to China by the onset of SARS2 was distributed across the globe rather than remain confined to that country. It is a reflection of the poor state of functioning of the investigative agencies of either the WHO or the US that to date, the latter has not come up with a definitive finding on the origins of SARS2. After months of effort, all that the Presidential commission set up by Joe Biden could say was either it was from nature or lab created. Lack of an early WHO warning about the nature and severity of the disease led to the erosion of lives and livelihoods on the scale of a kinetic global conflict. Once it spread, SARS2 showed that unless the world is safe, no country can be safe. The same applies to climate change. Lately, even the richer parts of the globe, such as Australia and Germany, are being affected by climate-related incidents. At COP25, $100 billion was promised to the developing countries to strengthen their defences against the adverse consequences of climate change. Hardly any of the rich countries came anywhere close to doing their share in order to ensure that the promise given in the Paris conference was kept. The consequences of such parsimony are now being witnessed by them. The lack of effective action as a consequence of their negligence in accepting their responsibilities towards climate change is costing not only the rest of the world but their own countries dear.
From the start of his tenure in office as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has understood the importance of climate change, as well as the need for India to be “part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem”. Prime Minister Modi attending COP26 in person rather than virtually showed his intent in ensuring that the country walk the extra mile in seeking to bring down carbon emissions to a level that can prevent overall temperature from rising to levels that inflict serious damage to health, life and livelihoods. Few were anticipating that India would announce a cut-off date to achieve net zero in carbon emissions. The earliest date practicable for a country of the size and level of development of India was 2027, given present technology, and this is what the Prime Minister pledged to his international audience at Glasgow. Most of the policymakers dealing with the need to speed up economic development favoured 2080 as the cut-off. Instead, the Prime Minister opted for the most ambitious date that was doable. Should technologies develop in a fashion that promotes reduction in carbon emissions, it may be possible for India to reach net zero well before 2070. Prime Minister Modi also pointed to the need for lifestyle changes, especially in the rich countries, that would be more sustainable. An example is the consumption of red meat. The less of this is consumed, the better for the planet. Countries that talk of reduction in methane emissions while increasing or keeping intact their consumption of red meat need to be reminded of such a contradiction. Also, they need to stop buying timber from countries such as Brazil, as unless the demand for timber decreases, there will be those in Brazil who will have no hesitation in chopping down still more of the trees in that land that act to lower the carbon footprint caused by activities elsewhere. Another step that needs attention is rainwater harvesting, which is essential in order to protect the water table from depletion. Wars have been forecast over water, and the storing of rainwater needs to be a priority. The Prime Minister has taken the global initiative in harnessing the power of the sun, and India has an abundance of sunlight that can be used for purposes of power generation. Blockages to innovation and the setting up of businesses needed to be cleared away, and during Modi 2.0, this is taking place at a speed that is reminiscent of the initial years of the Prime Ministership of Narasimha Rao. The years ahead need to be the period of transformational reform. The people of India are, with few exceptions, responsive to the public need, and the manner in which so many have steered away from firecrackers during Diwali even in metropolitan centres illustrates this. Light, not sound, is what is needed. Of course, it is wrong to bring in the police to ensure that firecrackers are not burnt. Whether it be the right signalling during festivals that in the past involved more sound than light or in moving forward with developing the potential of solar power, India has emerged as an example that the rest of the world would be well advised to follow.MDN