India on the path to green growth

This country, which is water-stressed, energy-starved and in many parts ecologically-fragile, has rightly made sustainable development a policy priority

Countries around the world have accorded paramount importance to environment and development, as is demonstrated through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement on climate change. India's Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recognises poverty eradication, along with green growth, as central to the country's sustainable development vision.

Challenges to India's green growth remain manifold. Concentration of pollutants monitored show that respirable suspended particulate matter concentrations violate the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for most cities. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, only 31 per cent of the waste in Class I cities and Class II towns is treated.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List categorised as 1,039 species in India as 'threatened' this year. The National Institute of Hydrology estimates water availability for India at 938 cubic metre per capita per year. Any country with less than 1,700 cubic metre per capita per year is considered as water-stressed. Energy supply in India is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, with coal and petroleum products accounting for about 88 per cent of the total primary energy supply. In 2012, India had more than 300 million people who were deprived of electricity and more than 800 million people were dependent on solid biomass such as fuel for cooking.

For a country where more than half of the population is dependent on natural resources for livelihoods, the importance of green growth is paramount. The initiative on Green Growth and Development in India, which was jointly implemented by The Energy and Resources Institute and Global Green Growth Institute, brings out the fact that energy-related green growth measures can bring about a positive change by lifting additional people above poverty, thereby impacting the key education and health indicators as well. Moreover, additional employment of 117 lakh is envisaged in energy sectors over a time-horizon of 2031.

In terms of environmental stewardship, India has taken several initiatives. The 14th Finance Commission introduced a forward-looking incentive-based grant rewarding the States with quality forest cover measured by moderate and very dense forest cover. The Government of India has an ambitious renewable capacity target of 175 GW by 2022. In the past 15 months, the Modi Government quadrupled the coal cess from Rs50 per tonne to Rs200 per tonne, the proceeds of which will go towards the National Clean Energy Fund. It is also imperative that initiatives such as the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan and Smart Cities Mission are able to address socio-economic and environmental issues.

Achieving greener models of growth and development requires policy coherence and inter-departmental coordination. For further mainstreaming of environmental sustainability in the decision-making processes, the NDA Government can adopt green budgeting for India, wherein all departments can prepare environmental Budget statements highlighting key 'green' activities undertaken in their respective departments. An exercise for environment budgeting was undertaken in Punjab, wherein 24 agencies in the State were identified for preparing green Budget statements.

Collecting and synthesising the existing and new data related to environment is needed to facilitate decision-making as well as for the evaluation of existing policies. Currently, data on waste management, air quality and water are inadequate for decision-making. Data collection along with capacity-building at the local level is essential for operationalising sustainable development goals. Approaches will also need to consider the incommensurability of entities such as biodiversity as recognised by India's National Environment Policy of 2006.

While green growth provides developing communities with an opportunity to move beyond short-term thinking, the concept needs to evolve so as to consider a plurality of viewpoints, as expressed in concepts such as creative economy, blue economy, sharing economy, repairing economy, de-growth and post-growth thinking. Such plurality will help deliver sustainable development in a manner that flourishes within ecological limits and involves communities. From the manifold challenges, it is clear that mind-sets need to be changed and new models of growth need to be considered.