New Delhi

03 October 2018

Remarks on presenting Champion of the Earth Award to Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India

António Guterres

I am pleased to join you to present the United Nations Champions of the Earth Award for Policy Leadership for 2018.
Today, we recognize a statesman who embodies the true meaning of leadership.
Prime Minister Modi recognizes that climate change poses a direct existential threat to us all.
Prime Minister Modi knows what we need to do to avert catastrophe.
And Prime Minister Modi understands the enormous benefits of climate action.
Many other leaders also recognize, also know, and also understand. The difference is that Prime Minister Modi not only recognizes, knows and understands, but that he acts with enormous energy to make this change. And this leadership is today more necessary than ever.
Because let us be clear: climate change is still running faster than what we are. The Paris Agreement on climate change that we absolutely must implement is not being, indeed, fully implemented. And many leaders around the world are not doing enough to make sure that it becomes a reality.
And we know that the Paris Agreement is not enough. We know that we need more ambition. We know that we need to increase the engagements that were made in Paris [and], when in 2020, countries will present their new commitments. But the truth is that this example of leadership that Prime Minister Modi represents is not being followed enough in the world.
Now the truth is that Prime Minister Modi also represents an extraordinary legacy. India has always been a fundamental pillar of civilization, philosophy, culture in our world. And starting by the Vedas and looking at the extraordinary role of Mahatma Gandhi, there is always a very clear commitment to the harmonious relationship between human kind and nature. And this vision of harmony is the vision that guides, what is today, the most enlightened policy in relation to the environment and the economy, in relation to climate action as an absolute priority in today’s world, that is assumed by Prime Minister Modi and the Government of India.
And we need also to recognize that this example must come to fruition, that other leaders must look at what is happening in India and must do the same – of course with different circumstances in different countries – to make sure that we are able to win the race against climate change and that we are able to understand that today there is no contradiction between climate action and development.
On the contrary, the green economy is the good economy. Technology is on our side. Those that will bet on the grey economy will have a grey future, and those that, like in India, are betting on the green economy will have a dominant role in the global economy in the decades to come.
And this vision proves that it is absolutely possible, at the same time, to provide for the people of the country the jobs that are needed, the perspectives of development that are necessary, the conditions of wellbeing that are essential – and simultaneously guarantee the harmony with nature, have climate actions as a priority and make the green economy the economy of India.
And indeed, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, India has installed 300 million LED lightbulbs. I learnt it yesterday. It’s a remarkable achievement.
Also, some 40 million clean-burning cookstoves are now in Indian homes. When I was High Commissioner for Refugees, in many refugee camps, I saw the number of women that had to go sometimes miles and miles to search for wood to be able to use their stoves in their small huts or very small houses. And then to see the effect of the smoke of those stoves: in the health of the children; in the health of the parents.
Now, the truth is that with these clean burning cookstoves, India is addressing indoor air pollution which affects women and children so acutely, and it is another way to prove that the green economy is the good economy and the well-being economy. And, of course, let’s not forget, I was yesterday in the first General Assembly of the International Solar Alliance that was launched in Paris in 2015 during the climate talks by Prime Minister Modi and the President of France.
It is a remarkable achievement: a coalition of 121 countries dedicated to harnessing solar energy around the world for the benefit of the people and the planet.
And today, it is absolutely clear: solar energy became cheaper than the energy produced by coal, by gas or by oil, which means, again, that climate action is the right approach not only from the point of view of the environment, but also from the point of view of the economy and development.
And today, indeed, thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, India became the fourth largest producer of solar power and the fifth largest producer of renewable energy in the world. And I believe that, very soon, the ranking will improve thanks to the enormous investments that are being made and the strong determination to mobilise the people of India.
I must confess that the impact of Prime Minister Modi’s decision already reached the Executive Office of the United Nations. As it was mentioned, during the World Environment Day celebrations, Prime Minister Modi decided that India should get rid of single-use plastic in less than five years. Well, in the Executive Office of the United Nations, I decided to do it immediately, and there is no single-use plastic in the Executive Office now. And we drink water from a bottle, I mean a jar, coming from the tap. And all those small plastic bottles that have such a dramatic impact in pollution were eradicated, thanks to the decision to follow the orientation that was given here in India in relation to your programme. When I saw it could be done in India, I thought it can be done immediately in New York, in the Executive Office of the United Nations.
And this is the bold environmental leadership that the world needs, and so please join me in honouring the 2018 Champions of the Earth for Policy Leadership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Thank you very much.