Narendra Modi to launch key India-led initiative to boost infra in small island nations

An Indian event to launch a new initiative to make critical infrastructure in small island states resilient against disasters induced by climate change is expected to be one of the biggest sideshows at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow.

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference began in the Scottish city on Sunday. The conference, which will see participation from the leaders of countries around the world, will continue until November 12.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch IRIS, or Infrastructure for Resilient Island States, in the presence of leaders from several countries.

Host Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison are expected to attend, along with the Prime Ministers of Fiji, Jamaica, and Mauritius, countries that are likely to benefit from this initiative.

The new programme for the small island states is part of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), an Indian initiative announced by Modi at the UN General Assembly in 2019.

With the Covid-19 pandemic intervening within a few months of its launch, very little work could happen at the CDRI over the last two years. The launch of IRIS is expected to change that situation and give the initiative momentum.

“Small island states are the most vulnerable to climate change. They face the worst impacts. At the same time, each of their infrastructure is extremely critical to them. A larger country, for example, can have five or 10 airports. So, if one or two are damaged in climate disasters, the country can still manage it affairs by diverting its operations elsewhere,” said Kamal Kishore, member of National Disaster Management Authority, who co-chairs the executive council of the New Delhi-based CDRI.

“But many of the small island states have just a single airstrip. If this gets damaged, the country loses its connectivity with the rest of the world,” Kishore said. “It is therefore vital that these infrastructure in such countries are protected against the vagaries of nature. They have to be climate proofed. It is great the work of CDRI is starting with the small island states. These states need it the most, and they have been actively involved in the planning of this programme.”

Kishore said that despite the pandemic, the CDRI had not been sitting idle over the past two years. “In fact, we have been working closely with Odisha to safeguard its infrastructure, mainly the power plants and transmission lines, against cyclones. It is partly because of this work that power restoration after the recent cyclone was much faster,” he said.

The event to launch IRIS is scheduled on the second day of Modi’s visit to COP26. On the first day, Modi will make an address at the COP in the afternoon.

More than 100 other heads of state and government are attending the climate meeting. Among the notable absentees are Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CDRI was launched as a global partnership to promote resilience in all critical infrastructure anywhere in the world. So far, 25 other countries, including Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia, and the United States have joined this coalition.

CDRI is the second international collaboration set up by India in the climate change sphere, the other being the International Solar Alliance that has now evolved to the status of a “treaty-based” intergovernmental organisation.

CDRI hopes to become a knowledge-network through which member countries can learn from each other and adopt best practices in the development of climate-resilient infrastructure. CDRI does not itself aim to create infrastructure, or play the role of a funding agency.

Island states are extra vulnerable

Small island states are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Many of them face real and growing threats to their very existence from rising seas, and major weather events such as large storms triggered by climate change can knock out critical infrastructure like airports or power supplies and effectively snap their links with the rest of the world.

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