An Indian businessman made a poetic case for taxing carbon and ending coal burning on Thursday, at an online event as part of New York Climate Week.
Nadir Godrej, managing director of Godrej Industries, which produces soap and vegetable oils, surprised viewers by answering questions about India’s growth path in verse.
The engineer and poetry enthusiast rhymed his way through a detailed set of policies to drive emissions cuts and switch to clean energy.
“A uniform carbon tax / Would protect all our backs,” he scanned, adding that a price of $60 a tonne “would surely get reduction done”.
Then he turned his attention to coal, which generates more than 60% of India’s electricity and is one of the biggest causes of global heating.
“Right now coal still looks cheap/ But the environmental cost is steep/ Both climate change and air pollution/ Show that coal’s not the solution,” said Godrej.
The poem went down well with the virtual crowd. “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING” wrote delegate Elaine Chao, in the chat box. “I have goosebumps. That was so good!” wrote Falgun Patel.
Moderator Divya Sharma, executive director of the Climate Group, India, was stunned. “I have no words,” she said.
Find a full transcript of Sharma’s questions and Godrej’s rhyming response below.
Q: What could be the key levers for low-carbon development in the Indian context, are we getting it right?
1st Lever: Universal Carbon Price
It is no longer Climate Change
Within a tolerable range.
A crisis is what it’s about
With fires, floods as well as drought.
Every week a constant blast
Far worse than seen in the past.
If we must, we will adapt
Prevention though would be more apt.
There is a cost to adaptation,
It’s rising fast in every nation
As well as for the world at large.
And this will be a heavy charge.
In fact we should by now conclude
Prevention would be really shrewd.
It actually would cost much less
Indeed avoid a lot of stress.
A uniform carbon tax
Would protect all our backs,
Collected by each Nation state
But universal in its rate!
All GHGs would be fair game.
Every country should charge the same.
The benefit that this would yield
Would be a level playing field.
Competitors just wouldn’t care
Because this system’s very fair.
Just how high should this tax be?
A range of numbers we can see.
But Sixty dollars per metric ton
Would surely get reduction done.
For carbon this could be the rate
For others we would calibrate.
The appropriate rate we would select
Based on the Greenhouse Gas effect.
Based on today’s emissions rate
Quite candidly I should state
It wouldn’t be a trivial sum
But there’s no reason to be glum.
In dollars it would be Two Trillion
It is a lot but not a Zillion!
Compared to global GDP
The percentage is less than three.
Compared to taxes then again
The percentage is less than ten!
Of course some would then take a call
To reduce emissions not pay it all.
But bear in mind it’s not a cost.
For the economy nothing’s lost.
A UBI could be instated.
Some other tax could be abated.
And if this is indeed just so
The economy would still grow.
Don’t you think it’s very nice,
That there is no real price
Since very little would be lost
As adaptation has a higher cost?
2nd Lever: Business action
But in the absence of a carbon tax
There is no reason to be lax.
Though business doesn’t find it nice
We already have a carbon price
Or rather we seem to have a range
That is ad hoc and very strange.
On coal we have a largish cess.
Our electricity rates are a mess.
Our motor fuels bear excise
With rates that regularly rise.
Climate change is now a curse
It steadily is getting worse.
Technology can save the day.
So far it has turned out that way.
As technology takes a leap
Green energy gets very cheap.
Keen observers quickly saw
That Solar also tracks Moore’s law.
Whether groundnut shell or bagasse
Our India’s full of biomass.
At first we thought we’d have to spend
But that’s not true, for in the end,
The more we thought, the more we slaved
We did invest but we also saved.
And solar is still getting cheaper
And as we do start digging deeper
In India it will hit the goal
Of being cheaper than even coal
In just a handful of years.
Already we and our peers
Are sourcing solar electricity
At lower rates than from the utility.
For quite some time we’ve been extorted
As their finances aren’t still sorted.
A silver lining can be seen,
All this incentivises green.
There are many paths that we can see
For achieving Carbon neutrality.
But the cheapest way is certainly
Through energy efficiency.
In times of plenty it was fine
To overuse and over design!
But now we find we always gain
If we only use our brain.
Real interest rates are very low
And high returns quickly flow
From any energy saving device.
For business this is very nice.
Not only are returns quite brisk
There’s also very little risk.
In India mandated CSR
Can help us go very far.
Multiple benefits is what one sees
With water projects or growing trees.
Good livelihoods are created.
Our carbon emissions are abated.
Trees planted at a river’s source
Maintain the flow throughout its course.
So many benefits we can see:
The preservation of biodiversity,
Now different species can be tried
Useful products can be supplied
Like biomass or edible fruits
And yet the trunk and the roots
Can sequester carbon, clean the air,
A win-win that is very fair.
3rd Lever: Electrification and Transmission
From government, all that is sought
Is steady and robust support
To electrify our transportation
And ensure that the Indian nation
Vigorously does its bit
To efficiently store and transmit
Quite intermittent green energy.
With solar and wind there’s synergy.
Their peaks are not correlated
So storage needs can be abated.
Green energy buyers have been dazed
As wheeling charges have been raised.
Net metering comes at a cost.
Thus all the benefit is lost!
Instead of being incentivised
Green Energy is penalised!
Dear policy makers won’t you please
Let energy move with greater ease
4th Lever: No New Coal Plants
Right now coal still looks cheap
But the environmental cost is steep
Both climate change and air pollution
Show that coal’s not the solution.
Green energy costs will steadily fall
So coal of course is not at all
Reliable for very long.
New projects could go very wrong.
Investing now can’t be a gain
If new projects can’t sustain.
Only fossil fuels with sequestration
Should be the rule throughout our nation.
Q: Are there perceptions that green growth is difficult to achieve and alternatively development cannot be green? What are your views on this, and what is the bargain that India can be making here?
A: No Bargain or Tradeoff
I’ve shown we can decarbonise
While we also monetise.
So never fall for either or.
Our hearts and minds demand much more.
Net zero emissions is in sight.
Businesses are seeing the light.
There’s no reason for our Group to fear
We’ll be net zero by next year.
And no there is no major cost
With our initiatives nothing’s lost.
There really is no give and take
We can both eat and have our cake.
All money spent is CSR
Which as I’ve shown can take us far.
So businesses must play a role
By setting an ambitious goal.
They can pay their climate dues
Without anything to lose.
Q: What role can businesses play in creating the demand for green growth and leading on low carbon development practices?
The Role of Business
Businesses can act one by one
But much more can be won
By also acting collectively
And doing so reflectively.
Membership one now foresees
Science-based goals reached very fast.
The energy intensive, expectedly last,
Could manage with setoffs instead.
The others could well forge ahead.
Their partnership with CII
Means many more would get to try.
There is a role in advocacy
With good supportive policy.
A good global carbon price
Would solve the problem in a trice.
And nothing much would be lost,
Indeed there is no net cost.
For going green we miss incentives
At least get rid of disincentives!
And of course it would be great
If all stake holders collaborate
To develop technology that’s green.
We should, hand in hand, plan it
Preserving people, profit and planet.