The concept of sustainable development was described by the 1987 Brunt land Commission Report as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” When we look at sustainable development four important dimensions come to our mind, i.e. society, environment, culture and economy. Therefore, we can say that sustainable development is a multidimensional concept, involving not less than these four dimensions.
The importance of ecological sustainability follows from the fact the economy and society depend ultimately on the integrity of the biosphere and the ecological processes occurring within it. Nature provides human societies and economies with a complex life support system, comprising among other things air, water, food and a suitable climate for our survival, and the physical resources which are currently the foundation of economies. We interfere with these natural systems at our own risk. Therefore, the three identified core elements of sustainable development are environmental conservation, social development and economic progress. We would need to fine tune all of these in order to formulate a pragmatic sustainable development model. Therefore, it’s a war on for environmental conservation.
The Grey Areas
The recently released Environment Performance Index 2022, a global ranking system which measures environmental health and sustainability of countries has ranked India last amongst 180 countries. India attained a score of 18.9 across 40 parameters. Even countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam were ahead of us. The grey areas identified where we would need to work on were, bio-diversity, air quality, climate policy, ecosystem vitality, green house emissions, waste management and bio-diversity habitat.
It is a known fact economic prosperity makes it possible for nations to invest in policies and programs which lead to desirable outcomes. The country would need to invest in infrastructure for clean drinking water, sanitation, reduce ambient air pollution, control hazardous waste, respond to public health crisis and focus on soil conservation. The issue on soil conservation has recently gained prominence through a movement by Sadhguru highlighting the need to make soil free of chemicals, save organisms that live on soils (soil organic matter), maintain soil moisture (water content) and deal with damage to soil due to depletion of ground water as well as prevent soil erosion due to reduction of forest cover.
Sustainability Development Goals(SDG) 2030
The recently concluded World Economic Forum annual meeting 2022 resonated with two main themes- “The danger of climatic change and collective actions needed to move towards a sustainable path of development.” The Indian Government has embarked on certain initiatives towards its quest to achieve sustainability developmental goals by the year 2030, the foremost being to reduce carbon imprint through reduction of carbon intensive industries. India proposes to meet 50 percent of its energy requirements through renewable energy. It aims to enhance its installed capacity of non fossil fuel energy to 500 GW carbon emissions, lower by one billion tones. It aims to double its share of natural gas in energy mix by the year 2024.
It has also embarked on a “National Hydrogen Mission 2030”. It aims to produce 4 million metric tons of green hydrogen annually and assure more than one lac crores of fossil fuel import savings. Ethanol blending has also been started in a big way. The ethanol blending in petrol has been brought up from 0.67% in 2012 to 10% in 2022. The target is to achieve 20% by 2026 much before the 2030 deadline.
Hence, any efforts on our part to address environmental issues which concern us will have to relate to our society, culture and economy. This three pronged strategy will have to be formulated in case our country desires to achieve its sustainable developmental goals by 2030. Therefore, our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has very correctly identified “Lifestyle for Environmental Movement” as the cornerstone to kick start this process. “Mission LiFE puts individual and collective duty on all of us to do whatever we can for a better planet”. This mission therefore starts right from our home, our parents, our friends and peers, our teachers and so on. If we develop little habits like conservation of water, deposit of waste, conservation of energy, planting and nurturing plants/trees, we would be contributing immensely towards this important mission.
In India considerable progress has been made in the field of basic universal education, gender equality in education, and global economic growth, however there has been a slow progress in the improvement of health indicators related to mortality, morbidity, and various environmental factors such as air pollution, climate change, waste management to name a few, contributing to poor health conditions. Some 1.7 million Indians died due to air pollution in 2019, according to a report by interdisciplinary journal Lancet Planetary Health. This constituted almost 18% of the deaths in the country.
One of the major challenges for India is devising suitable indicators to effectively monitor the progress of SDGs. India’s past records reveal that it has not been very successful in setting relevant indicators to measure outcomes. The definition for “safe” drinking water has been misconstrued with the availability of hand pumps and tube wells and the official data suggested that 86% of Indians had access to safe drinking water and therefore were “on track” for the SDG goal on drinking water . But the number of waterborne diseases and deaths due to diarrhea are quite high. It is certainly a paradoxical situation.
India is also trying to enhance coal production and energy production from hydro power and other renewable energy in view of the energy crisis. Coal India will make available its closed underground mines to private companies for operations through allocation under the mine developer cum- operator contract. Skyrocketing international fossil fuel prices, particularly of natural gas, due to the Ukraine war, and a supply squeeze by energy exporting countries have compelled India to change its clean energy transition road map and revert to using both domestic and imported coal in a big way to meet its energy needs.
India’s growing environmental crisis
Green homes – the environmental need of the hour
Another challenge in implementing SDGs would be with respect to ownership. Though NITI Aayog is expected to play the lead role in tracking the progress of SDGs, its members have expressed reservations on being able to take on this mammoth task
The Singapore Model
It would also be pertinent to look at the Singapore Model for sustainable development. The basic premise being economic growth generates the resources to invest in education, research and development, security, infrastructure, and public services. With this pre-requisite they embarked on a journey with focus on a sustainable living environment, working towards a mass education system and incorporating international collaboration. Today Singapore is like a City in a Garden, with about 47 per cent green cover. More than 80 per cent of households are within a 10-minute walk from a park. They have 72 hectares of rooftop gardens and green walls today, and aim to triple this by 2030.
Since the 1960s, they have worked to achieve mass education at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. The next frontier is mass continuing education to prepare for the future of work. Rapid technological advances will change the nature of work and the skills required. Towards international collaboration they have trained more than 112,000 officials from over 170 developing countries in key areas such as sustainable urban, water, and human resource management, health, and education.
A carbon tax has also been introduced from 2019, so that those who emit the most carbon emissions will bear the cost to our environment and be encouraged to reduce their emissions.
We could learn a lot from this model but are we prepared to take on the builder lobby whose endeavor is to construct multi-rises and amass land banks?
Measures to Overcome Challenges
The challenges discussed above can be overcome by developing an exclusive model for implementing, monitoring, measuring and reporting SDG related course of action. Though India has well established organizations such as the CSO to provide statistical data many times they are general and do not match specific requirements. Therefore developing suitable indicators to assess the progress of SDGs and also simultaneously developing a system that can support this exercise by supplying the required data is of paramount importance.
While governments are key actors in the journey towards achieving the ambitious targets set, this will have to be done in unison on a public-private partnership model. The recent announcement by the Adani Group to invest in renewable energy and set up a climate crisis think tank is a welcome step. Private sector companies are seeking to systematically engage with climate change issues, a recognition that businesses and investments are directly being affected and the crisis cannot be ignored.
Renewable energy, such as wind, solar and biomass, is an alternative energy source, which doesn’t pose harmful effects to our health and our environment. New renewable energy technologies can also represent new economic opportunities.
Local initiatives can support access to clean water through sanitation programs, address hunger through community food banks and community gardens, promote local recycling initiatives and ensure that all children have access to a quality education through tailored support for girls, vulnerable children and those with disabilities.
A multi-dimensional approach would be required to address areas such as technology, the three Rs-Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, improve quality of life, promote environmental awareness and finally achieve resource utilization.
We as a country are lagging behind in environmental conservation. The resultant we are seeing in terms of high temperatures during summer, over dependence on monsoons, frequent landslides and tremors/earthquakes. Swami Vivekananda words should galvanize us as he said, “We all exist in interdependent, inter related and an inter-connected world. It is important that Governments, Organizations and individuals work together to make our planet prosperous and sustainable.” Let’s show everyone the “Takat of Bharat ki Mitti” as stated by PM Modi. We must not forget that our people are our precious and only resource, and investing in them is of utmost importance.
Quite a comprehensive write up encompasses all issues. The challenges faced are manifold. Some can be met easily, others require transfer of technology and funds as outlined in the Paris agreement from the developed countries to others including India. To reduce air pollution, the issue of stubble burning in India has not shown desired results till now. Lastly, greening dies not mean parks and golf courses. It means plantation and nurturing of native trees and for creation of mini forests with undergrowth in urban areas too. The concept of sponge cities need to be pursued on fast track basis.