Sustainability in India: To achieve the UN’s SDG goals, youth must be engaged urgently

Published: January 13, 2020 9:58:14 AM

While India is already making rapid strides in the area of sustainability, there is an urgent need to engage our nation’s youth in enabling us to meet our sustainable development goals.

India, economy news, SDGIndia, which stands at the cusp of a new era of development, is at an interesting juncture with regards to its take on sustainability.
  •  Vineet J Mehra

While India is already making rapid strides in the area of sustainability, there is an urgent need to engage our nation’s youth in enabling us to meet our sustainable development goals. Sustainability has become one of the most definitive buzzwords of the 21st century and for good reason too — the modern world is currently grappling with the effects of uninhibited patterns of production and consumption. Simply put, even our population is exploding and technology advancing in leaps and bounds, our quality of life is rapidly declining.

India, which stands at the cusp of a new era of development, is at an interesting juncture with regards to its take on sustainability. While our country’s per-capita emissions are amongst the lowest in the world, we are also the third-largest generator of emissions. Further, despite being the third-largest economy in the world, we are also home to the largest number of people living below the international poverty line. Our sheer size and the rapid pace of our growth are the two biggest challenges with regards to our approach to sustainability.

A conscious aspirant 

India has taken on a leading role as an aspiring change-maker in tackling climate change and in framing developmental schemes that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals — these goals were adopted in September 2015 and encompass social, environmental and social dimensions of development, including ending all forms of poverty. To this end, efforts have been made to involve all stakeholders – from the public and private sectors — in framing effective policies, implementation strategies and best practices. For instance, in February 2018, a national workshop on capacity development was held with the intent of localising the sustainable development goals. In August 2018, a government and business partnership conclave aimed to sensitise private businesses and industries about sustainable development goals, and to analyse their programme strategies in accordance with these
goals. The NITI Aayog – a policy think-tank by the Government of India focused on sustainable development goals — released the SDG India Index — Baseline Report 2018 in December 2018, to track the progress made by all the states and union territories on the interventions and schemes initiated by the central government.

Up the ante 

India is one of the least wasteful economies. The country has been as a key player in shaping the Paris Agreement and has adopted various energy-efficiency measures. Sustainability is also an integral part of Indian culture, its philosophy and its values. Rural communities, which comprise roughly 70 per cent of the country’s population as of 2011, continue to live a simple and frugal lifestyle. As per Greendex, an international report on sustainable living
that measures the way consumers are responding to environmental concerns in their housing, transport, food and goods choices, India occupies a top spot among 18 contenders, which also include China and the US.

India has had one of the most successful campaigns on shunning off single-use plastic and amplifying Swachh Bharat. This has helped in creating awareness from the primary school level, with kids questioning their parents for their right to cleanliness. We need to make more conscious effort to create more sustainable jobs, and embark for children to live their right to a happy childhood. We need to focus on economic sustainability to make all aware that
any form of slavery, trafficking and organ trafficking, bonded labour and sexual slavery though large businesses in volumes of trade but are desperate reasons for lack of sustainable job creation and economic development at a block level of India or Bharat.

However, as the economy continues to develop and grow further, there is a marked shift in socio-economic trends. The country still faces tremendous environmental concerns, especially when it comes to developing sustainable communities. India’s booming population, which is often cited as its most valuable resource, can present considerable challenges of scale in terms of policy implementation, as a July 2019 report released by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The report finds that India has a “long way to go” to achieve its target of public health spending. The country’s primary health infrastructure was also found to be inadequate and there exists a severe dearth of data to track the progress made on achieving the sustainable development goals for health by 2030.

Agents of change 

Sustainability, especially in the national context, cannot be targeted in silos and calls for a collaborative, community-based effort. As per estimates, India is likely to have a GDP of USD 4 trillion and a population of 1.5 billion by 2030. This will lead to a corresponding increase in demand for critical resources such as coal and oil, as well as an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Considering that 80 per cent of India of 2030 is yet to be built, we have been presented with a unique opportunity to pursue development while managing our emissions growth, enhancing energy security and creating world-scale clean-technology industries.

As one of the youngest countries in the world — 42 per cent of India’s population is composed of people aged between 15-35 years; in the next 30 years, this figure will reach 55 per cent — our youth must be empowered to create business solutions that are not detrimental to the environment and aligned with government initiatives such as Skill India and Make In India. There also exists an urgent need to create a business environment that emphasises on sustainability as a key driver of innovation. Upskilling of an ever informed workforce is not a necessity but a compulsion. As a growing democracy with a complex and diverse society, we must be focused on creating a cohort that becomes a vibrant, constructive force that can address social issues and create a more just, equitable and
peaceful world. The youth of our nation are no longer passive recipients of services; they must be shaped into agents of change who have the energy, passion and creativity to make a deeper impact on society.

We need to question ourselves and all 193 countries that have signed to deliver the SDG’s to each one of us living with freedom or aspiring to live with freedom and fear on planet earth. We need to hold each of these countries audited for their efforts leading up to 2030.

  • Vineet J Mehra is Founder, DOT (green mobility solutions provider). He is also UN Speaker & Founding Member of the Global Sustainability Network (GSN).

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