In an age where climate change has become a pressing concern for all, the European Union through its SWITCH-Asia program is helping interested parties adopt sustainable practices. With the end goal of promoting economic prosperity and reducing poverty in Asia through the means of sustainable growth, the program has paved way for many innovations. It also acts as a common platform for Europe and Asia to come together and engage in the exchange of ideas and explore trade opportunities. Since 2008 it has been working across 18 Asian developing countries through 100 demonstration projects and policy support actions. In an interaction with Governance Today, Dr Uwe Weber, Team Leader, SWITCH-Asia Network Facility talks about the program with special focus on its activities in India. Edited excerpts:
Can you elaborate on SWITCH-Asia and its achievements in the field of sustainable development?
SWITCH-Asia has been promoting the concept, approaches and policies for sustainable consumption and production (SCP) in Asia, including India, since 2007. On the production side, the grant projects of the SWITCH-Asia Programme have worked with Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) of various sectors to improve resource efficiency, reduce pollution, implementing health and safety measures for workers as well as improving energy efficiency. Furthermore, the SWITCH-Asia Programme addresses the complementary issue of sustainable consumption and has worked with retailers, consumer associations, civil society and public authorities to promote changes in consumer behaviour, e.g. reducing use of plastic bags, supporting green public procurement initiatives and increasing the share of green products.
Waste management is one of the biggest problems in India and SWITCH-Asia has been involved in providing solutions to this. What are the bottlenecks that you have faced at the implementation level, if any?
SWITCH-Asia has funded a project that was implemented by GIZ in India to improve the situation of e-waste recycling in Delhi, Pune, Kolkata and Bangalore. The project provided policy recommendations and inputs into the updated legislation for e-waste recycling, which is still under development. From our understanding, more needs to be done to provide incentives to establish recycling facilities, which conform to acceptable environmental standards and occupational health and safety standards. The active involvement of the informal sector, which was supported to formalise its waste collection and recycling business, in developing practical solutions is important.
Identified challenges resulted, for example, from the widespread attitude of e-waste producers to sell their scrap equipment to the highest bidder. The waste collectors paying highest prices for scrap are normally those not considering costly environmental and safety requirements in their activities. This situation creates a deviation from best e-waste management practices, which generally require waste generators to pay for the disposal of their electric and electronic scrap in environmental compliant and safe ways. It can be perceived as a general bottleneck that the willingness to pay for environment related services is not yet well developed.
SWITCH-Asia has been trying to encourage MSMEs to adopt sustainable technologies. Has it met with progress?
Yes, there has been progress made in many fields. An example from India is the “ACIDLOOP” project, which introduced sustainable practices and technologies for acid recovery and efficient water use in the Indian metal finishing industry. Another project is the “MSME Cluster” project that promotes cleaner production among MSMEs in the foundry sector, to reduce greenhouse gas emission. To achieve this, the project provided technical training and consultation, where MSMEs adopted energy efficiency measures, e.g. better cupola that reduce coke consumption. .
In a developing country like India, financial viability is seen as the most important factor in taking a project forward. What are your suggestions to encourage research and innovation in a field that is perceived as cash strapped?
That’s not only an issue in India, but within all countries in Asia, and also in Europe. There are two main issues to be addressed here. First, funding for research and innovation on environmental technology needs to come from both government and the private sector. Funding can be leveraged from the private sector with adequate legislations putting a cost to unsafe and environmentally harmful production practices via energy and water as well as waste water and waste pricing. Another issue is financing for SMEs to upgrade their technologies. SWITCH-Asia has supported several projects that work with financial institutions to try and develop mechanisms that provide better access to finance for SMEs. Much more work on this still needs to be done in the future. Financial institutions require capacity building on environmental related criteria for loans i.e. reduced risks of environmental and safety accidents or economic benefits resulting from an improved resource efficiency technology. SMEs require support to submit loan applications (because every financial institution has different and many times complicated loan application system) and to provide the required documentation (e.g. financial history) to make their investment proposals bankable.
Are there any sustainable development models in India that have attracted your attention?
The most promising model seems to the Green India Campaign, but it is too early to conclude how successful it will be. Another important element of sustainable development in India are grassroots initiatives and NGO action, for instance our Going Green project which promotes sustainably produced local textiles via a combination of grassroots actions with government schemes. In so doing, it helps preserve local handicrafts, empowers women, offers literacy and trainings, ensures social entitlements and nurtures a culture conducive to sustainable consumption.
What do you think of the Paris Agreement on climate change?
The Paris Agreement is an important step in the global process to prevent dangerous climate change. The Agreement also includes language on SCP, acknowledging that SCP is a crucial element to mitigate climate change. Another important aspect is the acknowledgement of the 1.5 degree target. The challenge now is to implement the Paris Agreement, including the mobilisation of the substantial financing required for this.
What are the areas that SWITCH-Asia is looking to get involved in the future?
SWITCH-Asia will continue to co-finance projects in Asian countries to realise SCP solutions until at least 2020. What SWITCH-Asia will support depends to a large degree on the contents of the proposals, which are submitted to the European Commission. In the latest batch of projects starting in 2016, many projects work on issues like sustainable construction and energy efficiency in buildings.