Only India can help itself combat pollution: UN Environment head Erik Solheim (IANS Interview)

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New Delhi, June 5 (IANS) United Nations Environment head Erik Solheim believes that only India can help itself when it comes to “Beat Plastic Pollution” — this year’s theme of World’s Environment Day that the country is hosting — or to rustle up the finances for this.

With the United States working on its way to quit the historic Paris Climate Agreement, Solheim says it’s just the right time for India and China — among the world’s top polluters — to lead the world in the war against climate change and pollution.

“First of all, only India can change India. Indian political leaders and its people can change India,” Solheim told IANS in an interview.

“But we can help,” he continued, adding that despite being in a desperate situation to work upon its solid waste management, the world can still learn from India and India can learn from China and vice versa.

India produces over 62 million tonnes of solid waste every year, of which only 43 million tonnes is collected, only 12 million tonnes treated and the rest dumped. According to the experts, the figure is expected to rise to 436 million tonnes by 2050.

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“There is a huge issue of waste management in India and everyone can see that; we went from train to Agra from Delhi and we saw. There was plastic all over the rails, that’s a problem,” he said, highlighting the “big need” to manage that.

Speaking of plastic waste alone, approximately 900,000 tonnes of PET — used to make soft drink bottles, furniture, carpet, paneling, etc. — was produced in India in 2015-16, as reported by the National Chemical Laboratory.

About 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated evey year in India, of which only 60 per cent, according to Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan, is recycled. Delhi with 689.52 tonnes tops the chart of plastic waste followed by Chennai (429.39 tonnes), Mumbai (408.27 tonnes), Bengaluru (313.87 tonnes) and Hyderabad (199.33 tonnes).

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Solheim, however, was optimistic about India and counts on the initiative taken by the country’s political leaders. According to business analysts, Indian waste management Industry has a potential of $15 billion with promising growth prospects.

“To tackle the situation, you need to see how these problems were resolved in the past. For instance, we resolved the biggest global environment problem of 1980s — the hole in the ozone layer. At that time also political leaders and businesses bought us the solutions,” he pointed out.

Appreciating China for cleaning its rivers, Solheim highlighted the scope of learning for India. “If China can do that then India can do that in Ganga and other rivers,” he added.

Pointing to the International Solar Alliance, Kochi airport, which is the world’s first solar-powered airport, and the world’s biggest solar power plant in Tamil Nadu, Solheim believed that the world can learn much from India.

“We can provide the best Indian practices to the world and can bring best practices from the world to India,” he noted.

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Asked about the polluting images of India and China he lauded the two nations for working towards solutions.

“India and China, frankly speaking, are in the lead of solving their environment issues, obviously there had been challenges,” he said.

“China has been cleaning its rivers like no other nation in human history. They have reduced pollution in Beijing by 30 to 40 percent. Similarly in India, city of Hyderabad has been declared plastic-free and soon the area around the Taj Mahal will also be,” he said.

Drawing parallels between the issues of India and China — traffic and vehicular pollution — he pointed out how China had built Metro rails in 35 cities in the last 10 years and has also emerged as the biggest market for electric vehicles, adding that given the trajectory of its growth, India will catch up very fast.

(Kushagra Dixit can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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