As a young boy, Abhiir Bhalla, an Indian environmentalist, often had a seasonal cough, especially during the rainy season and the winter period when the disease became somewhat severe.
It was after visiting the doctor that he learned that his condition was due to endemic pollution in the city where he lived.
But the activism in him wanted to do something, not just to protect him, but for everyone around him, even as a young boy.
And that’s when he decided to become the change he wanted to see. Bhalla was only twelve years old.
Now 20, the young activist is a sustainability consultant, focusing on air pollution and waste sorting. He also produces a podcast on climate change, “Candid Climate Conversations”.
He has worked with different non-profit organizations, schools, colleges and other institutions in various capacities, but mainly in the field of environmental sustainability.
Bhalla was among the delegates who attended the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which took place in Kigali.
Bertrand Byishimo of the New Times had a conversation with him about environmental protection, his experience at CHOGM, and global environmental sustainability as a whole.
You participated in CHOGM Kigali 2022. What was your experience?
In the beginning, we had many meaningful conversations during our meetings with over 300 young people. We had plenary sessions which were more educational on topics such as sustainability on climate change and what can be done.
We also talked about how we can build partnerships and meaningful ways to collaborate.
But apart from that we also had breakout rooms where we discussed a range of things like health care and youth empowerment, the impact of covid-19 on the economy and with the environment ; we talked about renewable energies, marine biodiversity.
What caught your attention the most?
It’s interesting to see how different Commonwealth countries deal with the same problem differently and, you know, to understand how and what can be done.
In India, when we had the second wave of Covid-19, around that time, statistics showed that our air quality during the second lockdown had improved by 79%. So it shows that when people are indoors, there are no moving cars, buses, trains, planes or ships, which is very beneficial for the environment.
But at the same time, it is unrealistic for us to say that we will always stay indoors. We won’t go out. So we were discussing how electric vehicles are a necessary solution. To overcome this problem of vehicle emissions contributing to pollution, for example in France, each patrol pump and each service station is required to have a charging station for electric vehicles.
In India, we are also adopting this. And you know, we had this conversation about how more electric cars would help reduce gas emissions. With this type of solar and electric solutions, people can make money. So it’s a win-win situation.
There is a big debate about whether plastics should be banned or recycled? Some say the ban is a threat to innovation. What is your opinion on that?
When there is a policy of innovation or recycling and collecting plastics, and citizens propose it, the government turns around and says, listen, we are making our offer for the environment. But you know that the policies in place are not being followed.
So, I’m very impressed with the idea of banning plastic as long as it’s followed according to the instructions.
Instead of following the ‘blame game’ of government saying we are waiting for people, and people saying they are waiting for government, and in the process nothing happens, young people should come in – because they are in a unique position to influence the decisions that are being made now, 20 years from now.
We must order a ban on plastic because we will be the only ones affected in the next 20 or 40 years. That is why we should have a say in the decision-making process, and it is up to us young people to take individual action.
Obviously a lot more plastic is wasted and ends up in our ocean than it is recycled so the amount in the ocean is devastating and that means it will also go through the food chain, be eaten by fish then by people in turn.
You advocate for the use of electric vehicles, but there are countries that make money by selling oil? Do you think you can convince them?
Yes I know and for the Middle East oil is one of their biggest commodities that they sell to the world. But they should learn from Western countries that are investing heavily in renewable energy.
They have to put eggs in different baskets like selling gasoline and also adding electric power initiatives.
In Delhi, some taxi companies only offer electric taxis. It means that no matter what, change is coming and if we are not ready to embrace it, we will find ourselves overwhelmed. Private companies want to make money, but we also have to ask ourselves, how do we make sustainability profitable?
So we do this by investing in all forms of technology and green economy. This is the way forward to embrace current trends and discourage deforestation and/or encourage renewable energy.
What should world leaders see as your recommendations?
We discussed net zero goals and the Paris agreement, and realized there was a flaw in the fact that there was no roadmap.
What does this show the world? This shows that by 2039 or 2049, if a country is not on track, they can simply walk away. This is one of the biggest shortcomings since you can exit and enter whenever you can.
We have to put our milestones in different laps. For example, at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26), instead of saying, by 2050 we will have net zero, India said, by 2030 we will have this by 2040, this and that by 2050.
So it’s important that we set smaller milestones, for smaller, more achievable goals, and then hold each other accountable.