Do we want dirty economic development

Updated: Jan 22 2007, 07:54am hrs
Rajendra K Pachauri is a busy man these days. The director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute is hosting two presidents and three former prime ministers besides corporate honchos, ministerial delegations and numerous thought leaders from abroad. They are in New Delhi to attend the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2007 (January 22-24), which is organised annually by Teri. In a freewheeling interview with Rajiv Tikoo of The Financial Express, Dr Pachauri explains how the event has become the most talked about global event on sustainable development and its contribution in understanding the complex issues and taking the lead in searching for solutions. Excerpts:

Whats the theme of Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2007

Our theme is Meeting the MDGs: Exploring the Natural Resource Dimensions. I think this edition is several steps above the previous ones. It's heartening to see the kind of attention we are getting from all over the world and from the levels that really matter.

Your first few summits did not peg on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as such. The next few did. Was it an afterthought because the MDGs are politically correct

The Millennium Declaration came in 2000. In 2002, during the Johannesburg Summit, the MDGs came into their own. We got into the MDGs before Johannesburg. Our theme that year focused on the road to Johannesburg.

You see it's at least a concrete agenda on which almost all the countries in the world are agreed upon and it represents the first step by which we might be able to achieve sustainable development goals.

But MDG 7 does not focus on all the major environmental issues. So, why are you linking up with MDGs this year

All the MDGs are constrained by the damage that we are doing to our natural resources. An essential prerequisite for poverty elimination is that you got to enrich your natural resource base. You can't plunder the soil, ruin your water streams, overexploit groundwater potential and yet be able to meet the MDGs.

Millennium+5 Summit is gone by. The mid-term review will be over this year. Kofi Annan is gone. We dont know the kind of priority the MDGs will have for Ban Ki-moon Is it a good idea to keep hanging around the MDGs

We focussed on the MDGs for a while, but next year it will be sustainable development, climate change and poverty.

You are able to get some of the worlds best thought leaders year after year. How do you manage it

I think there are two reasons. Firstly, the idea of a get together where one comes to grips with the concept of sustainable development and the challenges associated with it is appealing. It's also an opportunity to exchange experiences by those, who are involved in its pursuit.

Secondly, it has also to do with concerns worldwide about what the emerging economies are going to do. Are they going to pursue the same paths that the developed countries did If so, then the world obviously has to wake up.

If we get people of some standing who are leaders in thought and in action, then we would be able to carry conviction with our people and hopefully we will be able to convince those who know very little about the challenges the developing world is facing.

But isnt it difficult when the World Economic Forum (WEF) is meeting in Davos around the same time

Well, they join us because they see relevance in what we are doing. They also realise that the salvation of human race lies in coming up with a totally new framework of development. What we pursued in the past has obviously served us well in producing more goods and services. But it has also destroyed a lot of natural wealth. It's destroyed some of the things we have been taking for granted for some time. It has also created wide disparity in income, which is dangerous. A lot of the tension you find in the world today is because of the growing disparities in income. Poverty is something that cannot coexist with increasing riches and prosperity.

Besides, if you look at the agenda of the WEF, you will find that they are now talking about the same issues that we have been talking about for so many years. And they have done over the last three/four years. How much can you engage the attention of world leaders and even corporate leaders by focussing on only what is going to happen in the next quarter. We are focussing on the next quarter century. They are shifting now and also trying to address these larger social issues.

Industry has been an active partner at all the summits. Though we come across more and more initiatives on carbon regulation, reducing greenhouse emissions, etc, by industry abroad, we dont see anything similar in India. Why

It's because India has no binding to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If beyond 2012, in some form or the other, we have to accept some commitments, then certainly these will be passed on to companies of this country.

But I may also say that Indian companies as they become more and more global have to read the writing on the wall. They must realise that the technology of tomorrow is going to be low carbon technology. Therefore if I were to take a decision without bankrupting a company, I would get into some of this technology. The timing would be right now.

You have been criticised for your association with oil companies. You are still continuing. Why

The fact is that these are entities that have the means and resources that can really bring about a shift in their own policy as well as the countrys policy and I dare say that we have been partly successful in moving NTPC to use renewable energy in villages. They are implementing a number of projects in partnership with us. That shows their commitment to things we believe in. We are working with ONGC, too. They have formed a trust, which is going to focus on renewable technology.

If you want to bring about a change, you need to condition those who have the resources and the means to be able to do that. And you can't wish away oil companies. They are there. They will continue to prosper. Why not direct their prosperity in a direction that will make them happy 30 years from now.

You were also a director on the board of Indian Oil. What has been your achievement

I tried like hell in Indian Oil. They did initiate a few things, but these are not the best of times -- with crude oil prices increasing all the time.

Indian governments stated position is more in favour of economic development than sustainable development. Is it the right stance

We want economic development, but the question is do we want dirty economic development. But the fact remains that we are not focussed on some of these issues. It's important to do it at this stage. Otherwise it will be much too late. You can't turn the clock back.

You have been working closely with the government. How much have you been able to influence it to have a natural resources management policy

We do have a natural resource policy in bits and pieces. Part of the problem is that these things don't get integrated. It calls for total restructuring of the government on these issues. That's my view. How much can you get respective ministries to do It's not only the central government, you need to bring changes at the local level. Besides, there are other pressing political priorities.

So, what is the way out

You see basically public has to be energised on these issues. You really have to create a groundswell of public opinion to move in this direction. If we don't do that we are stuck.

How do summits like yours help

I hope with events like this one there will be at least attendant benefit. The message goes out to the public and they start understanding what's wrong and what needs to be corrected. All I can say is that those who are in positions of decision-making are more aware today because of summits like ours. It's difficult to link directly, though.