Baroness Verma – 2013 Speech on Empowering Women


Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Verma, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, in Hyderabad, India on 6 September 2013.

Good Morning. I would like to thank the VC and faculty members of NALSAR for extending me a very warm welcome. I am, of course, delighted to be here. The UK government is committed to broadening, deepening and strengthening our partnerships on education. That means building stronger and deeper links between the best institutions in India, like this one, and the best institutions in the UK, and encouraging the brightest students to study in the UK. I was pleased to hear from your Vice Chancellor that NALSAR already has several collaborations with UK universities- I am certain that this will only deepen with the presence of the British Deputy High Commission here.

The UK India Education and Research Initiative has supported over 1,000 partnerships between UK and Indian institutions. Last year we saw over 150 institutions undertaking joint research and programme delivery, including research partnerships, study missions, staff and student exchanges, policy dialogues and networking events. I know that NALSAR has worked closely with UKIERI through the Higher Education Leadership Development Programme and I am certain that we can deepen that collaboration in the future.

Today I want to take this opportunity to address three key issues:

– The double challenge of climate change and population growth;

– The importance of resource efficiency to global competitiveness and economically resilience; and

– The need to involve women and all parts of society in decision making around economic development and future energy generation

On the first of these – climate change – this is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. Earlier this year, carbon dioxide briefly reached 400 parts per million in the atmosphere – 40% higher than before the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century and most likely higher than at any point in the last 3 million years.

Extreme weather events, such as the devastating floods in Uttarakhand earlier this year, are happening with increasing frequency. Global weather patterns, including the Indian monsoon, are changing in ways we cannot confidently predict.

The scientific evidence is solid and accepted by pretty much every government on earth. If we are to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change, if we are to keep global temperature rises to below 2°C, we need to lower emissions of greenhouse gases on a global scale – effectively decarbonising the way our societies function.

And we need to do this at a time when we are living through an age of global growth and development. The UN estimates that by 2040, the world’s population is likely to be around nine billion people. India, currently home to 1.25 billion people, will soon have the largest population in the world. By 2040, India’s population could be approaching 1.6 billion.

The good news is that more and more people will enter the middle class. This means that more Indians than ever before will be able to afford air conditioners, televisions, computers, motorbikes and cars. This rise in prosperity is a colossal achievement;lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, improving the welfare and life opportunities of a whole generation,is a wonderful thing and should be celebrated.

At the same time, it also presents a challenge. How to provide the increased energy required by a growing and prospering India, without gambling with the lives and livelihoods of millions of people by increasing the risks of the most severe impacts of climate change.

There are those that say you can’t address both: that it is a myth. That it can’t be done. They say that reducing emissions means limiting economic growth. That caring for the environment means leaving millions in poverty. That resource-efficiency means having to limit the aspirations of hundreds of millions of young people. That a green economy is a brake on competitiveness for India as a whole.

That view is out of date.

Which brings me to my second issue – the importance of resource efficiency. In the twenty first century resource efficiency is not an optional extra for businesses, but an indispensable part of being globally competitive and economically resilient. Not only can genuinely sustainable development be affordable. If done right, it can actually compete – and win – against the old economy alternative.

In addition, by becoming more energy efficient, and using more indigenous renewable energy, countries which are net importers of energy, such as the UK and India, can potentially reduce their reliance on imports and volatile global energy markets.

To give just one example, in the UK we have ambitious plans to roll out smart meters to every household. These communicate electricity use by households to the supplier on a real time basis and will allow households to manage their electricity use more effectively, for example taking advantage of lower electricity prices at different times of day, or even sell power back to the grid. It will spur a whole new market for energy efficient appliances, technologies and business models to take advantage of the new, ‘smart’, grid.

The Indian government and Indian businesses also understand that efficient low-carbon development can be the foundation of a successful globally-competitive economy. Your government has developed and implemented a host of policies which tackle this challenge head on:

The National Action Plan on Climate Change, with its missions on solar power and energy efficiency;

State action plans on climate change, which mandate action at the state level,

And a host of other policies and initiatives around renewable energy, off-grid clean energy, smart grids and new technologies.
And Indian businesses have understood this for years. It is the essence of the Indian tradition of ‘frugal development’ which makes some Indian industries amongst the most resource efficient in the world.

In the UK we have made a commitment to cut carbon emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. And we have made this commitment legally binding through the 2008 Climate Change Act – the first comprehensive economy-wide climate legislation of its kind.

I want to take this opportunity, given I am standing in front of a room full of people who know a lot about the law, to encourage you to think about the importance of legislation in this whole equation. In the UK, we couldn’t have come so far without the political consensus embodied in the Climate Change Act. It changed the nature of the whole domestic debate: from should we tackle climate change to how and in what sequence we should tackle it. It has given industry and policy-makers the certainty to make medium and long term decisions.

GLOBE – the UK-based international NGO which works on climate change legislation – publishes a study every year, setting out different legislation across their member countries. This year it looks at 33 countries – India and the UK included. I will share a copy with Professor (Dr) Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor.

I know that the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly is also taking a real interest in this issue. The Deputy High Commission team is working closely with the Speaker of the Assembly and the Assembly’s environmental committee to share our own experience. So I would urge you here at state and national level to give real thought to how you can use such legislation to back up your own actions to tackle climate change.

Now, back to the UK’s own legislation.To achieve the 80% target we have committed to internationally, we have been taking action on three fronts: saving energy; reforming our electricity market; and encouraging new solutions.

We plan to cut our energy use by between a third and half by 2050 – much of which will be achieved through improved building efficiency. Later today I am visiting the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Green Business Centre, which is housed in a green building, which, in 2003 was first building outside the US and only the third in the world, to receive the prestigious Platinum Rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Quite possibly some of the design innovations and technologies I will see could be used to help improve energy efficiency in buildings in the UK.

The UK’s Energy Bill, which is currently going through parliament, will also provide a competitive energy market where low-carbon technologies participate on a level playing field.

And finally, we are investing in research and development both in the UK, and in research partnerships with countries like India. UK-India research collaboration has grown from £1 million in 2008 to over £100 million now. Much of this research is in the energy field, in sectors like sustainable bioenergy, solar and nuclear power and smart grids and energy storage. Because, quite simply, the UK won’t meet its low carbon targets with current technologies at current costs.

All well and good, but, to my third issue,what has the global challenge of climate change got to do with empowering women?

For a start, both are amongst the top priorities of the UK Government.

Indeed, British Prime Minister David Cameron not only committed to making his administration the “greenest government ever” but has also committed to building a fair and equal society.

The well-being of women and children has been placed at the centre of the UK Government’s international aid policy.

In 2010 we published the first ever UK Equality Strategy which gives a commitment to building a strong economy and a fairer society.We have established the Women’s Business Council to ensure that the government gets the best advice on how to ensure that women can fulfill their full potential and also achieve economic growth.

But more needs to be done, in the UK, and in India. Not only is it morally right to give women the same opportunities as men in order to fulfill their potential – but it is also economically smart. As Prime Minster David Cameron, has said, “where the potential and perspective of women are locked out of the decisions that shape a society, that society remains stunted and underachieving”.

Decisions about how our economies develop and how we generate the energy to support them are among the decisions that shape our society. And the fact is that all too often women are locked out of those decisions.

Worldwide the energy sector workforce is overwhelmingly male dominated. In the UK, the proportion of women in the energy sector workforce is approximately 23%, compared to 50% across the workforce as a whole. The gender divide is even more pronounced in the upstream oil and gas sector.

I spoke to a range of impressive senior women working in the energy and climate change space in Delhi on Thursday evening. They confirmed that they too face many of these issues here in India.

We have some shining examples of female leaders in the energy sector in the UK, such as Juliet Davenport the CEO of Good Energy, a renewable electricity supplier, Ann Robinson Director of USwitch, a consumer group, and Sarah Butler-Sloss, Founder Director of the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, a charity encouraging increased local sustainable energy. But unfortunately they are still the exception.

Why does this matter?

It matters because if we are to successfully tackle the challenges I have outlined above, we need to ensure we use all tools at our disposal. Encouraging more women into the energy sector will bring fresh perspectives, talent, better decisions and broader experience.

But it’s not just about bringing more women into energy sector workplaces. It is also about how changes in the energy sector can actually help empower women.

3 billion people around the world have no access to modern cooking fuels. They depend mostly on direct burning of solid biomass such as wood and animal dung for cooking and heating. The smoke from these rudimentary stoves cause about 4 million deaths annually, destroy millions of tonnes of crops and also lead to global warming and large scale regional climate change.

Women and children, particularly girls, are disproportionately affected by the indoor air pollution caused by the stoves. They also bear the burden of drudgery collecting fuel, a task which can often take 4-5 hours a day – time which could otherwise be spent on educational, economic and other opportunities.

The Indian government is taking action. The National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative (NBCI) was launched by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in December 2009 to provide improved cookstoves which directly address health concerns and welfare concerns of the weakest and most vulnerable sections of society.

The UK’s Department for International Development is working with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

The aim of the TERI project is to have improved cookstoves delivered and being used by 100,000 households, and to have created Technology Resource Centres serving an estimated 400,000 households adopting solar lighting systems in India. As a result, a total of 500,000 poor women will benefit from lower health risks from indoor air pollution and reduced drudgery, and 2.5 million people will benefit from new or sustained access to modern, clean energy either for cooking or lighting needs. In addition, TERI plans to contribute new research and evidence to national or state-level policies in the area of sustainable development.

As part of the project TERI works closely with women both in their capacity as direct beneficiaries and, by developing new, sustainable business models, as economic actors in the supply chain. TERI has incubated women’s organisations as Energy Enterprises which provide after sales services for the cookstoves. It is also helping women to start up sustainable businesses by providing support to them to open bank accounts and providing training in social marketing and technical servicing.

Similarly, women candidates are given priority for selection as village level entrepreneurs under TERI’s Lighting a Billion Lives programme – which supports the establishment of micro solar enterprises to provide high-quality and cost effective solar lamps in un-electrified or poorly electrified villages.

This is not about hand outs. It is about supporting the development of sustainable business models that empower women and provide clean energy and lighting.

And it works. In Uttar Pradesh, more than 175 solar charging stations are now being operated by women entrepreneurs. 100 are operated and maintained by women self-help groups, while 75 are operated by further marginalized sections of the society such as handicapped women, widows and dalits. In Bihar, TERI has created energy enterprises to extend after sales service to more than 1,000 women self-help groups.

Earlier this week I visited some of those villages in UP where TERI has been working. I was able to see some remarkable women entrepreneurs who have transformed their lives by developing successful and sustainable business models in the energy sector.

I was struck by the enormous the impact such simple yet innovative technologies and business models can have on the lives of the women using them, and their families. But there is still scope for even more innovation here – particularly around how to develop the financial products and legal frameworks to help women access very small scale financing needed to adopt these products.

So it’s not all just about the engineering. You lawyers have a role to play here too.

We know that when a woman generates her own income she re-invests 90% of it in her family and community. And we know that in India, the states with more women in work have seen faster economic growth and the largest reductions in poverty. So empowering women economically makes sense for both local communities and national economies.

It is also essential if we are going to tackle the challenge of powering the economies of the future in a sustainable way. We simply can’t afford to overlook half the population as we search for solutions. We need more women in the energy business. In order to achieve this we need to provide them with access to finance, technology, and quality education and training.

So, in conclusion, I have talked about the twin challenges of climate change and population growth. I have also discussed why resource efficiency is not only key to tackling these challenges, but is also central to global competitiveness and economically resilience.

Finally, I highlighted the need to involve women in the decision making process. Because if we fail to, not only will be perpetuating a system that is inherently unfair and wrong, we will also be missing out on the new ideas, fresh perspectives and entrepreneurial talents of half of society. By doing so, we would make tackling the climate change and energy challenge a lot harder.

I will conclude with one question to you- once you have left this room, what is the one thing that you will do to address these issues that I have outlined to you- what is the one thing that will do to make this world a better place for your future generations?

Thank you.