The Indian embassy in Madagascar went solar to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2, becoming the first Indian embassy to embrace renewable energy.
An 8 KW solar power plant was inaugurated at the embassy premises in the capital Antananarivo in the presence of the Malagasy Prime Minister Christian Ntsay and environment minister Rahanirina B. Vahinala.
“Our violence towards nature has led to biodiversity loss, environmental pollution, and climate change,” Abhay Kumar, India’s ambassador to Madagascar, said on the occasion, drawing a link between Gandhi’s message of non -violence and the ongoing biodiversity loss and climate change crisis facing the world.
“On his birthday and on the international day of non-violence today, we must commit ourselves to non-violence towards nature,” Kumar said of Gandhi’s message.
Madagascar, one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, is also facing immense challenges in protecting its biological wealth. It hosts over 100 species of lemurs, a primate endemic to the country, but nearly all of them are threatened with extinction.
A large section of the population depends on forests for firewood and construction. Biomass accounts for almost 80% of the people’s energy needs. Woodland is also routinely cleared to create agricultural fields. Less than 15% of the population has access to grid power.
At the same time, lying in the tropics, Madagascar has immense potential to develop solar energy. It is the fourth largest island in the world, larger than the U.S. state of California. Almost all corners of this vast island receive over 2800 hours of sunshine in a year.
India and Madagascar are both part of the International Solar Alliance, an intergovernmental organization initiated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was launched during the Paris climate summit in 2015, which saw the signing of the landmark climate treaty committing to keeping global average temperature rise to under two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
A move towards renewable energy is considered critical to meet this target. “India is showing us now that it is possible to change. Switching from thermal to solar is a great challenge, but we need to go beyond words and make it a reality,” Ntsay said.
“I expect that all Embassies in Antananarivo and all over the country will also switch from fossil energy to solar energy,” he added. The Malagasy prime minister also acknowledged that a Malagasy company, Vision Madagascar, has been hired to implement the switch to solar.
Most of Madagascar’s installed power generation capacity relies on coal. A move towards clean energy sources like solar is considered essential to achieve the government’s goal of getting power to 70% of the households by 2030. It could also create jobs for younger Malagasys; over 60% of the country’s population is under 25 years.
Balancing the need for economic development in a nation where 75% of the people are poor and protecting the environment is a real challenge for Madagascar.
“Mahatma Gandhi said—‘Be the change you want to see in the World’, and lo and behold, setting up such a solar power plant is one example of the change we want, that we would like to see in this World,” Vahinala, the environment minister said.
She added, “I want to congratulate the Embassy on this initiative on behalf of our Government because it is a big step towards economic development without losing sight of our environment.”
This story originally appeared in Mongabay and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.