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Working with India to make clean power accessible, says U.K. Minister

Lord Ahmad. File   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The United Kingdom, which holds the Presidency of the next UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, planned for next year, is committed to building resilience to climate change among communities and working with India on clean energy, Lord Ahmad, U.K. Minister of State (Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth), said on Tuesday.

Speaking to The Hindu via video conference, Lord Ahmad, who was on a virtual visit to India, said green finance was high on the agenda.

“The Green Growth Equity Fund (GGEF) with the UK and the Indian government co-investment of £240 million, is starting to mobilise private investment. BP [the oil and gas major] recently committed over £55 million ($70 million) towards this,” he said.

“India matters to us. From the strength of the Indian diaspora, I know also that Britain-Indian relations matter to us. I believe it is important to strengthen the partnership on a whole raft of issues,” Lord Ahmad said. “Last week I was engaging directly with the new Indian ambassador to the United Nations. We look forward to working in the multilateral sphere and within the Commonwealth sphere.”

Lord Ahmad said as progress was made with the [COVID-19] Oxford vaccine in the U.K., the relationship through the private contract agreed with Astra Zeneca and the Serum Institute [of India] on production of the vaccine was notable. At a time of crisis, India and the U.K. could work collaboratively.

“Due to the pandemic, we had to delay CoP26. India has a lot of expertise on solar energy and we on wind energy. The relationship with India is a pivotal one,” he observed.

CoP26 should be profiling good practice, Lord Ahmad said. He had held discussions with Chief Minister of Gujarat Vijay Rupani on the positive steps taken by that State on Tuesday.

Coal-free power

The U.K. Minister said Britain recently completed 67 days of coal-free power (April-June) adding that it would phase out coal completely in the next 5 years.

“Earlier this month, we announced a new green recovery package, including a £3 billion investment to create green jobs and upgrade buildings. Over £1 billion would go to make buildings , including schools and hospitals, greener,” he said. A common commitment to move to cleaner fuels was necessary, although the pace at which this could be done would vary by country.

The U.K. had contributed analysis and market simulations for India’s Real-Time Power Market which launched on 1 June, to get more renewables on the national grid at more competitive rates.

Lord Ahmad said India’s momentum on climate action, despite the current crisis, including a solar auction on 30 June which set a record low tariff was impressive. In March, the U.K. was confirmed as the first co-chair of the Governing Council of the global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). The Coalition is an India-led initiative to upgrade infrastructure from design, construction, operation and maintenance perspectives, and make renewable energy accessible and affordable.

The U.K. would strengthen its collaboration, in areas such as increased use of renewable energy by Indian Railways to help it become a net zero carbon emitter by 2030.

Air pollution

The Minister said the U.K. recognised that air pollution was one of the biggest threats to public health and the government had announced its ambitious clean air strategy last year, which would cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year in 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

Britain was working with Indian partners on a clean energy transition. The U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) power sector reform aimed at making utilities cleaner, smarter and more efficient. UKRI research partnerships would help develop the next generation of solar buildings and through the Newton–Bhabha fund, Catapult innovation centres were partnering institutions in Bangalore to develop electric mobility and air pollution solutions.

MGNREGA

Asked about the British partnership in flood protection and aquifer recharge under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Lord Ahmad said, “We are working together through the MGNREGA to build climate resilient livelihoods.”

This focused on drought proofing, flood defences and river structures for aquifer replenishment.

The Infrastructure for Climate Resilience Growth (ICRG) has invested in climate-resilient livelihood strategies in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Bihar. Also, India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences was collaborating to harness land, sea and atmospheric data to aid monsoon forecasting.

The GGEF first investment in India had gone to Ayana Renewable Power, with a target of 6 GW in 5 years. The Fund has also invested in e-mobility and integrated waste management.

India was showing leadership with the International Solar Alliance and the UK was working with it and other countries to mobilise more than $1 trillion of investments in solar energy by 2030.

Separately, the U.K. was supporting a £40 m programme for technology advancement and market development of electric cooking, using solar and other energy sources. This programme, in operation in 15 ISA member-countries, was now establishing itself in India.

Within the context of the Commonwealth, India could offer its experience to small island states, such as tiny Vanuatu, facing climate change impacts.

Lord Ahmad’s visit was preceded by an announcement of a joint collaborative programme on anti-microbial resistance (AMR) in India. The research aimed to develop a better understanding of how waste from antimicrobial manufacturing in India could be fuelling AMR. The five projects were planned for September 2020 and the UK was contributing £4 million from the UK Research and Innovation Fund for International Collaboration, and India was matching this, for a total of £8 million.

The Minister’s virtual visit included scheduled meetings with Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs Minister V. Muraleedharan, regional governments and others, on opportunities in wind power and a tour of a U.K.-funded solar plant in Rajasthan.


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