From India to Paris: Fighting Climate Change Can Also Help Fight Poverty and Injustice

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Climate change is a global challenge that threatens all of us. But right now, it is hitting some communities harder than others. As leaders huddle in Paris to craft a universal agreement for stronger action on climate change, the Indian city of Chennai is recovering from record-breaking storms that dropped 16 inches of rain in two days last week. More than 245 people died in flooding there since October.

These floods follow on the heels of an especially hot summer in India. At an event this week in Paris, my colleagues and I talked about the heat wave that hit the country last May killing 2,300 people and solutions like the Heat Action Plan that the City of Ahmedabad has put into place. Those living in the slums suffered most, since their shelters are built with heat-trapping materials like plastic tarps. And with no electricity to power fans or fridges, they have few ways to escape the heat. Dr. Arunabha Ghosh of the India Council on Energy, Environment and Water told the crowd at the event that the poor are also calling for clean energy, because they want to build a better future for their families without making climate impacts worse.

This is what's at stake in the Paris climate talks.

As we head into the final stretch of the negotiations, the US, EU and 79 developing countries are calling for a "high ambition" goal for reducing carbon pollution.

It's a matter of survival, and it is a matter of justice. It is also a pathway to stronger communities.

Climate change erodes the stability people need to improve their lives. We see it in the slums of Ahmedabad, India when people are sickened by heat and in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward after a destructive hurricane. By reducing the climate threat and making communities more resilient, we can help shield families from this instability. But that's not all climate action can achieve.

The international community is mobilizing enormous resources to fight climate change, and this offers a chance to rethink how we power growth. The developing world needs energy to bring millions of people out of poverty. Yet instead of relying on the fossil fuels that cause climate change, they can leapfrog to cleaner technologies through efficiency, wind and solar.

India is key to the Paris climate talks as a country on the frontline of climate change and as a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Two-thirds of the large buildings that will exist in India in 2030 have not been built yet. If they are constructed like most US buildings of the past 50 years, they will hog energy. But if they include sustainable materials and efficient appliances, they can slash energy use in half.

India's current grid only serves about 50 percent of the population. India has an opportunity to lead in building cost-effective, off-grid renewable energy systems that release zero pollution and save villagers money.

This is a turning point, when nations are laying the groundwork for energy systems that will last decades. We have a chance to rethink old, dirty models and build smart from the start. We can alleviate poverty and provide just access to energy for all without heating the planet even more.

An ambitious climate agreement will accelerate the shift to this cleaner, more sustainable and more equitable development. It will ensure all people around the world are better protected from extreme drought, flooding and heat. And it will help deliver justice to those living on the climate change frontlines already. That is what we need from Paris.

Take action and let leaders know that you want strong climate action in Paris and beyond.