In these excerpts from Journey of a Nation, author Sanjaya Baru reiterates why climate change will remain a major challenge for India’s further growth
In 2015, members of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted what has come to be called ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The UN member countries set for themselves and the global community 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be attained by 2030. These are:
- No poverty
- Zero hunger
- Good health and well-being
- Quality education
- Gender equality
- Clean water and sanitation
- Affordable and clean energy
- Decent work
- Industry, innovation and infrastructure
- Reduced inequality
- Sustainable cities and communities
- Responsible consumption and production
- Climate action
- Life below water
- Life on land
- Peace, justice and strong institutions
- Partnerships for the goals
While the Covid-19 pandemic and the global geopolitical situation would have made attaining some of these goals by 2030 more difficult, they remain the stated objective of public policy worldwide. If India’s development experience over the past 75 years is evaluated against these goals, it is evident that despite all the impressive achievements thus far, India has to travel some distance and fairly rapidly to attain many of them. The accelerated growth process of the period 2000–2015 did bring poverty, the first goal, down sharply. However, the recent growth slowdown along with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown of the economy has been accompanied by an increase in the population regarded as poor. A revival of growth and the creation of new employment opportunities will remain a priority for any government.
Attaining each of the 17 SDGs, including key objectives, such as universal health care and education, climate action and social justice, will remain important challenges in the near term. Climate change will remain a major challenge for India’s further rise. While India has been committed to climate action and has taken several measures to promote the use of renewables and clean energy, and reduce carbon emissions, the policy goal of fostering rapid industrialization, housing for all, mass transportation and better infrastructure, and so on, will make the challenge of reducing the carbon footprint that much more difficult. In the coming years, negotiating this global agenda and making the growth process environmentally and ecologically sustainable will remain a major policy goal.
Many years ago, when India’s population size was much smaller, Mahatma Gandhi understood the enormous nature of the challenge that planet earth would face trying to provide enough for all and expressed his warning in these simple words: ‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.’ This statement has since come to shape global thinking on climate action. The excessive use of fossil fuels, the high consumption and ecologically wasteful and destructive lifestyles of the rich in all nations, and the human abuse of nature in pursuit of excessive and extravagant consumption have all combined to harm the environment and have contributed to climate change. Many in the developing world have rightly asserted that much of this damage has been inflicted on planet earth by developed economies, mostly the countries of North America, Europe and East Asia. In seeking to reduce carbon emissions, the developed countries should not force low- and medium-income countries to forego development opportunities.
The Indian view was clearly articulated as early as 1972 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who took a keen interest in environmental challenges to development and the protection of the environment, when she told the first UN Conference on Environment:
There are grave misgivings that the discussion on ecology may be designed to distract attention from the problems of war and poverty. We have to prove to the disinherited majority of the world that ecology and conservation will not work against their interest but will bring an improvement in their lives.
Over the years, the international community has tried to come to grips with the problem of global warming and climate change and identified the reduction of carbon emissions as a key policy goal. The Indian government chose to adopt a proactive approach even as it has sought to highlight the culpability of rich, industrialized nations. In 2008, the Government of India adopted a National Action Plan on Climate Change and constituted eight national missions. These are national missions on solar energy, energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, sustainable agriculture, water, Himalayan ecosystem, Green India and strategic knowledge for climate change.
A report of the Ministry of Earth Sciences presents a detailed assessment of the impact of climate change on the Indian subcontinent. In a worst-case scenario, India is expected to experience a rise in average temperatures in the range of 4.7 degrees centigrade to 5.5 degrees centigrade, with the Indo-Gangetic plain and coastal regions facing the worst impact of climate change. However, India has also echoed concerns about what has been dubbed ‘carbon colonialism’—the developed countries’ attempt to shift carbon dioxide emitting technologies to developing countries, such as China and India, and claiming that they do better on emission reduction than the latter.
While resisting pressures from the developed nations in dealing with climate change, India has decided not just be a part of the problem but also an active part of the solution. The Indian approach to climate change and climate action has been best summarised in an excellent collection of essays by Navroz Dubash that looks at the science, economics, technology and politics of climate change and presents a comprehensive account of India’s approach.
India’s principal challenge today is, in many ways, not very different from the challenge it faced at the time of Independence, namely, to eliminate hunger, banish poverty, educate all its citizens and ensure that their healthcare needs are adequately met. India has graduated from the ranks of a ‘low-income’ economy, according to the old classification of countries adopted by the World Bank, to being classified as a ‘low-middle income’ economy. On the other hand, China has moved up into the ranks of ‘upper-middle income’ economies. India will certainly continue to rise, but it requires constant and conscious effort.
Excerpted from Journey of A Nation: 75 Years of Indian Economy by Sanjaya Baru, by permission of Rupa Publications
Journey of A Nation: 75 Years of Indian Economy
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