UN chief Antonio Guterres criticises India for fossil fuel company payments

Grants to coal, oil and gas sector increased by nine times in 2021-22, research shows

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres gave an environmental warning at the ancient Hindu Sun Temple in Modhera, in Gujarat state, western India. Reuters
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has criticised India for paying fossil fuel companies subsidies and grants and warned the country over critical pollution levels.

Mr Guterres was speaking at Modhera, the country’s first entirely solar-powered village, in the western state of Gujarat, on Thursday, during the last leg of his three-day visit to India.

“Instead of subsidising things, it is necessary to subsidise people,” the UN's top diplomat said.

“India today, in one of the most expanded programmes of social welfare in the world, provides hundreds of millions of families with financial support.

“This is the right thing to do to provide more and more support to the families in need and less and less support that benefits companies that are today making huge profits around the world.”

While fossil fuel subsidies by the Indian government have fallen considerably since 2014, grants to coal, oil and gas companies increased by nine times in 2021-22, according to a study by the International Institute of Sustainable Development and Council on Energy, Environment and Water think tank in May.

India has committed to meeting 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy and reducing total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030.

It is also planning to achieve net-zero emission status by 2070.

In a speech at the 1,000-year-old Hindu Sun Temple at Modhera, Mr Guterres said a green economy could be the solution to India's pollution problems.

India, which has a population of 1.3 billion, is the world’s second most polluted country, according to a report by the Air Quality Life Index initiative, produced by the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute.

And 63 Indian cities were among the 100 most polluted places globally in air pollution rankings by Swiss air quality technology company IQAir’s World Air Quality report in March.

Another study by the AQLI said that Indians are on average losing five years of their lives because of breathing air with particulate matter that exceeded the World Health Organisation levels.

The WHO considers five micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 particulate matter — tiny particles of pollutants that can enter deep into lungs and the bloodstream — as the safe level.

A report by London-based medical journal The Lancet in May said there were 2.3 million premature deaths due to pollution in India in 2019.

Nearly 1.6 million deaths were due to air pollution alone, while more than 500,000 were caused by water pollution, according to the Lancet Commission on pollution and health report.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during his visit at the Sun Temple in Modhera, in India's Gujarat state on October 20, 2022.  (AFP)

Mr Guterres said a “green economy is not only good for the planet but it is good for the health and being good for the health saves lives”.

“Polluting cities are killing seven million people in the world every year. So, it is our duty to rescue them, it’s our duty to fight pollution to preserve biodiversity and fight climate change,” he said.

Updated: October 21, 2022, 1:59 PM