SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Business and civic leaders, along with representatives from India-focused NGOs, delivered several innovative approaches to combating the impacts of global warming at the Forum on India Climate Action, held here Sept. 12.

The Forum was held on the sidelines of the Global Action Climate Summit – an initiative of California Governor Jerry Brown – which began Sept. 13. The Forum was jointly organized by the Natural Resources Defense Council; The Energy and Research Institute; the Self Employed Women’s Association; the U.S.-India Business Council; and the Administrative Staff College of India. Mayors from the Indian cities of Ahmedabad and Pune attended the event, and public officials from Maharashtra and Telangana also participated.

The Forum was also held a day ahead of the Indian government’s announcement of its National Cooling Action Plan, which will focus on reducing the country’s dependence on hydrofluorocarbons, per its commitment at the Paris Climate Change Accord. The plan – which can be viewed at envfor.nic.in – will highlight energy-efficient standards for buildings; efficiency for air conditioning; and non-HFC refrigerants.

“India is the first country to put out this integrated action plan. This makes sense economically and environmentally,” said TERI general director Ajay Mathur during a press conference at the Forum. He noted the plan would provide regulatory provisions and financial incentives for India’s residents and businesses to adopt its mandates.

Reshma Singh, Indian American program director for the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab-Center for Building Energy Research & Development, introduced a new report: “Building Innovation,” a guide to building energy efficient buildings in India at the Forum’s press conference.

SEWA, one of India’s pioneering organizations for low-income women, highlighted an exciting initiative to equip Gujarat state’s women salt farmers with solar salt pumps, replacing equipment which requires costly diesel. Farmers in the desolate Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat provide India with three quarters of its salt needs, but laborers, plying the trade of their ancestors, earn very little for their hard labor.

There are 15,000 female salt-panners in the state of Gujarat.

Currently, salt farmers – known as agriyas – spend roughly 40 percent of their annual income to procure diesel to fuel their salt pumps. But research by NRDC and SEWA found that women who switched to a solar-fueled pump increased their annual earnings by a whopping 94 percent, about $538 per pan. Once the loan to purchase the pump is paid off, women’s incomes double to about $1,092 per pan, according to an NRDC-SEWA report.

NRDC president Rhea Suh noted that the solar-powered pumps also elicit fewer emissions, leading to better health among salt farmers, as well as monetary savings. “The next generation has access to a better, brighter, cleaner future,” said Suh.

Gauri, a salt farmer from Gujarat who spoke at the Forum, later told India-West through a translator that she had bought one solar salt pump through a loan from SEWA and used it during the day, but kept her diesel pump going at night. With the savings accrued from using less diesel, Gauri was able to buy a second solar pump, and now uses only the solar systems.

“I can now buy good clothes, and put nutritious food on the table for my family,” said Gauri, who lives in Surendranagar. “My standard of living has gone up tremendously.”

The salt worker noted that she was uneducated, but hopes to build sufficient savings to allow her to send her daughter Aarti – currently in 8th standard – to college to become a teacher. Gauri said she is determined to keep Aarti in school.

Heena Dave, regional president of SEWA, told India-West that 1,100 solar pumps have been distributed thus far. Fifteen thousand solar pumps will be distributed by 2022, she said.

Arvind Kumar, principal secretary of Municipal and Urban Development in Telangana, noted that his state was the first in India to implement Energy Conservation Building Code compliance. ECBC compliance, launched by the Indian Ministry of Power in 2007, promotes energy efficiency in the building sector.

Kumar noted the “cool roofs” pilot project in Hyderabad – which employs simple solutions such as adding tarp or white ceramic tiles to roofs to dramatically bring down temperatures inside the structure – and said he hoped to extend the initiative to cover all low-cost housing projects, hospitals, and other public buildings throughout the state.

Telangana has also launched a new electric vehicle policy, beginning with 40 public buses, which will expand to 2,000 buses by 2019. All new auto rickshaws in the state must be electric, according to the state’s provisions, said Kumar.

Mukta Talik, the mayor of Pune, said her city has implemented a similar plan to phase out all non-electric public vehicles. The city also employs 3,000 women who go door-to-door through Pune’s 600,000 households to collect waste that would normally go into a landfill.

“India is where we can collectively make a difference,” said NRDC Board chair Alan Horn.

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