Localised, piecemeal solutions don’t work in the long run
The theme of the World Environment Day this year being air pollution shows no amount of attention to the matter can ever prove enough. To illustrate, the climate action consensus achieved at the Paris meeting has been squandered since, given growth in global fossil fuel emissions, after remaining flat in 2015 and 2016, inched up by 1.6% in 2017 and clocked 2.8% in 2018. The US, under climate sceptic Donald Trump, walked out of the Paris Agreement and many other countries have either threatened to follow suit or are reassessing their commitments under the agreement. India, as an analysis by Climate Action Tracker shows, is one of the four countries that have 2oC—compatible national action plans. To be sure, air pollution is still a major headache for India, but the greater thrust on renewable power generation, prodding a shift towards electronic vehicles, improving green cover, linking 8 crore households burning plant and animal waste to LPG, and other such action should go a long way in bringing down emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. On the other hand, the country seems to be failing badly at curbing water pollution and plastic pollution.
There are many climate action/pollution mitigation measures being implemented across the country. There is a Ganga clean-up plan that focuses on action against polluting industries whose effluents flow untreated into the river, building effluent and sewage treatment capacity, solid waste processing plants, etc. On solid waste management and plastic pollution, the Commissionerate of Municipal Administration (CMA) of Tamil worked hard to ensure state-wide progress in compliance with the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016—from waste segregation at source to composting of wet waste, the state has made considerable progress in a short span of time. Within corporate India, Infosys has relied on tech/design solutions for its buildings and many other efforts to build a culture of environmental sustainability. The Indian IT giant now has 18.25 million sq ft of the highest-rated green buildings, having overhauled energy and water consumption, and waste management—the company has reduced per capita water consumption by 20.6% and per capita energy consumption by about 5% in 2018 over 2017.
Many such solutions are thriving in India, but are extremely localised or benefit, at best, certain small pockets. Replication of best practices, scaling up from the locality-level to the state or even national level, wider reach of sustainability solutions, etc., are often hobbled for the want of capital, lack of will or vision among policy makers, and, crucially, market interest. If India is to be on the front foot in its fight against pollution, an entirely decentralised approach may not make much sense—quite like how India battling a future that sees a >2oC rise in global temperature with a handful of other nations is futile. A concerted response to pollution needs a body to link individual, localised solutions to a broader market for these. For instance, why shouldn’t other corporates and even public sector buildings make use of technological/design innovations that are helping Infosys reduce its dependence on fossil fuel-power? Getting the market interested in such solutions will require convincing it of the need for these, and if the dire warnings sounded by expert panels on the planet’s future because of the unfolding climate crisis can’t do the job, there is little else that can.