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India’s Green Lessons for the West


GUJARAT, INDIA, November 22, 2009: Ahead of next month’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen there’s a lot of anger in India about the West’s pressure on it to sign up to emissions cuts. The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder travelled to India’s most industrialized state, Gujarat, to see at first hand some very effective – if homegrown – attempts at tapping renewable energy.

In the middle of an open field, a man crouches over some cow dung and uses two pieces of metal to scrape up large amounts of it before deftly depositing it into a pan. He then transports this to a large biogas plant – essentially made up of three silos sunk into the ground and connected via an intricate maze of pipes to a large collection bin in which the cow dung is collected. This is where the dung is mixed with water and fermented to create gas, which is then piped to a large temple next door, the Jagganath temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s biggest and most polluted city. The temple uses the gas to cook food for 1,000 pilgrims every day.

As dusk approaches, thick smog settles on Ahmedabad and the green activist Kartikeya Sarabhai drives me into a teeming shanty-town of densely packed tin shacks. Women dressed in colorful saris hunch over stoves, cooking dinner while half-naked children play on top of a rubbish dump. Looming large behind them are three giant chimneys from a coal-fired power plant, belching thick black smoke into the air. It’s a perfect illustration of the dilemma that India finds itself in – to improve the lives of its poorest it needs to develop further and in the process build more carbon-emitting thermal plants among others. But Mr Sarabhai believes that there are other solutions and the answers may well lie in the slums. “You need to look beyond the squalor and see how efficiently they live their lives,” he says as he takes me on a tour. Most of the houses, he explains, are built from broken bricks, tiles, stones which have been left over from construction sites. “They dry their clothes on the roof and in the process cool their homes. They live close to their workplace,” he explains. “Sometimes poverty offers us the most creative solutions. You don’t have to waste to grow rich.” It’s a message that India will take to Copenhagen – that the answer to low-carbon growth lies in homegrown solutions. And rather than being told what to do by the West, they could actually offer the world some expertise of their own.

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