UN environment chief lauds India's efforts to use solar energy, curb plastics

UNITED NATIONS: The UN's environment chief has lauded India' efforts to meet its energy needs through solar and curb use of plastics but said that countries still need to do lot more to protect the planet.

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Erik Solheim said 2017 is "the first year in human history" when more electricity was generated globally from the sun, than oil, gas and coal combined.

In an interview with UN News, he said southern India now has "the first all-solar airport in the world".

He said that some of India's southern states were experiencing "the most rapid economic development anywhere in the world based on solar energy".

The Cochin International Airport in Kerala is the first ever fully solar powered airport. Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), the company which owns and operates the airport, became power neutral in August 2015 with the commissioning of its 12 megawatt peak (MWp) solar power plant. It scaled up the installed capacity to 30 MWp by April 2018.

By September 2018, the solar capacity at CIAL is expected to be increased to 40 MWp, with a power potential of 60 million units per annum, according to information on the CIAL website.

In the United States, Solheim noted that "there are five times more jobs in solar, than in coal".

Speaking about Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 protecting life on land the UNEP chief was also upbeat, saying that China had recently prohibited all trading in ivory; "very important because it stops the market for those killing elephants in Africa".

Calling it a "huge, huge achievement", Solheim said that Indonesia has reduced deforestation across its peatlands by close to 90 per cent. Peat is partially decayed, dead vegetation, which stores enormous amounts of carbon and, among other things, soaks up water helping to mitigate flooding during wet season and releases water during dry season.

"Rwanda, Botswana and African nations are also doing very, very well" with wildlife protection efforts, he said, "but still, it is not adding up to being sufficient for the planet. We need to do a lot more".

He noted that India has promised to phase out all one-use plastic bags by 2022; while the European Union has announced a new strategy to use plastics in a more environmentally safe and sustainable way. Chile's parliament has also taken strong action against plastic, he said, adding that Kenya, Eritrea and Rwanda had all promised to take more action.

Companies that had previously refused to act, have now become strong supporters, he said, citing in the United States, Coca-Cola and Starbucks. But, he underscored, behind the countries and businesses is "the strong movement of people who say, 'We want to change.'"

Solheim said that linking sustainable tourism with economic opportunities, jobs, development and sustainable energy was "the way forward".

"The only way we can really protect the planet is at the same time, provide opportunities to people who are living on this planet," he added.

 

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PTI