"Remove poverty beforetackling environmental problems"

25 Feb 2000

The capital hosted one of the biggest gatherings of recent years with world leaders and academicians coming for the conference on ?Global Sustainable development in the 21st century: Directions for innovation and change?. The occasion was TERI's 25th birthday. The conference had 400 delegates from 25 countries and those from corporates like Shell, Indian Aluminium Company and Unilever. They rubbed shoulders with representatives from World Bank, UNEP and ex-premiers from Japan, Sweden and Nepal. Dr R K Pachauri, TERI Director, spoke to Sonu Jain. What do you think were the highlights of the three-day conference? We managed to attract some of the most eminent people because they realized the importance of the subject. A conference like the one at Davos was like a person with a serious illness having an aspirin. Everybody agreed that the sheer magnitude of environmental problems will go beyond control very soon unless drastic measures are taken. It would involve change in the structure of government, ensure the involvement of civil society, the corporate sector behaving more responsibly and science and technology setting time-bound goals. Does a conference like this make any real dent in the minds of policy-makers? There was a clear consensus that this should become an annual event because of the galaxy of people attracted to it. This conference has generated a wealth of information and data and it is our job to bombard policy-makers through letters, workshops and individual meetings. I think the challenge starts from here. In many ways, the conference is the beginning of a process rather than an end of something. What about the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in India, something becoming common in developed countries? We are hoping that by bringing corporates like Shell and Unilever, we will convince corporates here to try and emulate their good work. There are some corporates in India who are doing good work. They have to realize that being eco-friendly also means good business sense. We should see some action as a fall-out of this conference. Does the theory that poverty is the biggest polluter still hold true? Yes, it still does. Environmental problems for both the rich and the poor are different. It is essential to remove poverty before we start tackling environmental problems. Since TERI has completed 25 years, what would you regard as its major achievements? We have grown to be an organization of 500 people, with offices in three centres - Washington, Europe, Russia, Germany and Japan. We do not get any regular grants and yet we have managed to retain our financial independence. Our work in biotechnology, forestry, and policy research in sustainable development is being used widely. Is an NGO like TERI ready to accept a role where it would have to closely work with corporates? We are already in a situation where corporates are demanding our resource output. They do not have the resources to analyze the situations the way we can. Issues like energy efficiency, improved environment performance, reduction of fuel needs leading to more profitability are areas where we can contribute. Why are Indian politicians not attuned to thinking green? That will only happen with growing public awareness, when people will be able to demand an agenda from politicians. This will then catch on among politicians. Till then, we will continue putting pressure on them. Was it difficult to get these stalwarts to Delhi to talk on environmental issues? A personal equation with most of them helped. But they agreed readily because they are committed. The participants had discussions with our politicians on other issues. People like Robert Mc Namara, former president of the World Bank, spoke widely of security issues, how arms race and nuclear arms are a wasteful expenditure at the cost of a country?s environment.
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