Sustainability, Resource Use Efficiency and the Norwegian Ethos

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) has evolved as a major global event, providing a unique platform for thought leaders and those in leadership positions drawn from every stakeholder group, including government, business, research and academia as well as civil society. The Summit addresses issues of crucial global relevance with a focus on solutions that would ensure development across the globe in the direction of sustainability. The theme of the Summit in 2013 was on "The Global Challenge of Resource Efficient Growth and Development". The significance of this theme lies in the fact that since the beginning of industrialization the world has moved rapidly towards expanding the production of goods and services in a manner that entails a staggering increase in the use of resources of various kinds. Of course, human society has always shown resilience in moving from established use of one set of resources to new substitutes whereby crises have been avoided and scarcities that were manifest either through the market or physical constraints got converted into opportunities by which newer processes, products and resources came into existence. However, concerns today stem not only from the stresses and pressures that growing demand for resources are placing on available supplies, but also because there are environmental implications of growing production and use of these resources. A prominent example of this reality lies in the fact that an increase in the emissions in greenhouse gases (GHGs) is leading to global climate change, which since the middle of the last century has been overwhelmingly attributable to human actions.

It is particularly relevant to highlight these issues in a Norwegian publication. Norway as a nation has provided exemplary leadership and focus on issues related to the good health of planet earth. What is particularly remarkable about the value systems that people of that country apply in setting directions and formulating strategies for the future is the fact that Norway is a major exporter of hydrocarbons. But nowhere is there any evidence of misplaced aspirations in Norway to construct the tallest building in the world or for that matter consume resources far beyond its reach in a manner that would stress the already overburdened ecosystems of the planet. My own association with Norway was based on the pursuit of these laudable qualities by the citizenry and leadership of the country, and it was really in 1990 through a friendship that I developed with Mr. Ted Hanisch that I learnt about Norway’s long term priorities and perspectives which was strengthened through engagement with several institutions, including CICERO. What is particularly noteworthy about Norwegian institutions and leaders is their emphasis on taking a global view of the challenges that each part of human society faces. This translates effectively into a desire to reach out and collaborate with institutions throughout the globe.

My own institute TERI has greatly appreciated and benefited from the Norwegian emphasis on global partnerships and collaboration. Consequently, over the past few years TERI has been able to work on a range of research projects and activities that have growing relevance to Indian society and the globe as a whole. My belief is that India, as a country of 1.2 billion people, has to adopt and pursue methods of development that are uniquely efficient in the use of resources of various kinds and provide an example for the rest of the world. My colleagues and I have found Norwegian institutions and our collaborators in that country echo this aspiration most admirably. It is becoming abundantly clear that the globe today is interconnected. Not only is the economy of each country becoming increasingly dependent on other parts of the world, but in an emerging economy like that of India aspirations and the desire to consume are strongly driven by images that we see from other parts of the world. Consequently, it would be unrealistic to believe that the North can continue to consume more and more while the South is relegated to a path of frugality in response to a global need for reducing the burden on our global commons. Solutions not only need to be found together but will have to be applied and accepted together. What better way of doing this than by forging collaborative activities and initiatives by which we create examples of sustainability in production and consumption and related policies! There would also be enormous power in disseminating solutions developed through such collaboration in countries of the north and the south.

One main reason why a country like India has to think afresh on pathways by which resource efficiency can be attained is because of the size of India’s population. Gandhiji rightly questioned such an approach when he was asked whether he would not want India to reach the same level of prosperity as Britain. His typically thoughtful response highlighted the fact that Britain had reached its level of prosperity using the resources of half this planet. Hence, "how many planets would a country like India require?" was his response. Recent work carried out under the sponsorship of UNIDO shows very rapid increase in the consumption of resources in Asia. For instance, if we are to evaluate the extraction of resources including biomass, minerals, fossil fuels and metal ores in Asia, we find that economically used resource extraction increased from 9 billion tonnes in 1985 to 13 billion in 1995 and reached almost 18 billion tonnes in 2005. The share of the 19 Asian countries studied in global resource extraction has thus increased from 22 percent in 1985 to 31 percent in 2005.

We at TERI face an important challenge. DSDS each year distills the best ideas and most responsible philosophies that could contribute to sustainable development of human society. Our efforts at disseminating these invaluable ideas and being able to assist leaders and decision makers across the globe to use these effectively has been far less than adequate. Perhaps, those who read this article might provide some suggestions on how we could expand and strengthen our outreach. Any ideas in this regard would be deeply appreciated.