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Yannick Glemarec, UN Assistant Secretary-General, on why fuel subsidies must eventually be phased out and the role of women in addressing climate change
Indoor air pollution is a killer in India. According to a recent WHO assessment, over a million deaths occur in the country because of it. In India to encourage women entrepreneurs to take up small businesses in clean sources of fuel, Yannick Glemarec, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women spoke to The Hindu on Tuesday on why fuel subsidies must eventually be phased out and its relevance in the context of the Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015.
Referring to the Modi government’s campaign that has encouraged around one crore Indians (according to statistics cited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his radio address Mann ki Baat) to give up their LPG subsidy in order to make clean fuel options available for women without access to it, Mr. Yannick said that it was an excellent scheme from a fiscal management point of view.
“Subsidies are often designed to help the poor, but in the end it is the middle classes that end up benefitting from them, as in the case of LPG subsidies. These schemes have been shown to deliver six times their benefit to the middle classes,” he said, explaining why it was a great idea to redistribute its benefits.
According to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2015, 67 per cent of the population in India depends on traditional biomass for cooking, which, in absolute numbers, works out to 841 million people in the population.
With India and over a hundred other countries signing the Paris agreement in April, Mr. Glemarec said that getting this large biomass-dependent section of the population to switch to alternative, cleaner energy could also help address climate change in a big way as biomass burning is a major source of greenhouses gases, including carbon dioxide.
“It is not only LPG subsidies going to the middle class, but even fossil fuel subsidies that ought to be eventually phased out if we have to meet climate action goals,” he suggested. In 2013, according to the IEA fossil fuels subsidies database, India spent around $38.2 billion on subsidising fossil fuels. India has reduced its subsidies on fossil fuels over the years, but the process of phasing out will have to pursued gradually, he said.
Also, unlike 10 years ago, when price of renewable or alernatives to fossil fuels was a major issue, today that is no longer the case, he said. “The price of solar energy has dropped from $315/ megawatt in 2009 to $125 dollar in 2015,” he said. “It is cost effective and has the ability to create new jobs for local communities and India is rightly embracing this, he said.
Touching upon the primary reason for his current India visit, Mr. Glemarec said that he was here to work with women entrepreneurs in renewable energy, and see what could be done by UN Women in India to promote work in this area.
“Women have a comparative advantage in this sector of work. The price of renewables has come down significantly, and if rural women have access to easy credit via microfinance, then they can work in the grassroots to drive a change in energy consumption behaviour on the ground. This will address concerns relating to climate change, and also address problems of energy poverty in India, which remains a huge challenge, he said.
Such steps could also help India towards reaching its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals pertaining to gender equality (Goal 5), he noted. In 2015, India aged behind in meeting its Millennium Development Goals pertaining to empowerment of women through wage employment. Therefore, Mr. Glemarec said that enabling poor women to become renewable energy entrepreneurs could help in their empowerment as it could shatter several barriers imposed by the need to seek biomass fuel for cooking and other household purposes, thus saving precious time and improving their health.
From: The Hindu