Listing ‘green’ programs is not the point
The Economic Survey is supposed to provide critical context framing the political choices in the Union Budget. On the climate front, the 2019-20 Survey failed to provide that context.
There are three elements that climate advocates look for in the survey:
On the first point, Chapter 6 (Sustainable Development and Climate Change) provides a figure for “India’s national GHG inventory (2014)”.
There is no trend, no attempt to provide at least an initial estimate for more recent years, and no breakdown by sector, region or urban/rural. In the Statistical Annex, there seems to be no mention of greenhouse emissions at all.
This kind of context is needed to make equitable policy. India argues at the international level that climate policy cannot treat a small farmer the same as a factory; we need to implement a similar approach to our national data collection.
Chapter 6 also throws out figures spent on climate priorities:
This provides the most rudimentary picture of climate relevant expenditure. There are frameworks with methodological instructions available on how to track climate expenditure and regularly report it, such as the UNDP’s Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review.
A proper framework would identify areas of climate relevant expenditure across the budget, not just in a few pockets. It would also identify spending which is undermining climate priorities.
This includes evaluating items such as fossil fuel subsidies for whether they bring economic benefits in excess of their climate costs. It also involves looking out for ‘maladaptation’ — spending which is presented as building climate resilience, but actually undermines it (such as increasing the irrigation-intensity of agriculture).
Finally, an Economic Survey in a warming world cannot do without an assessment of climate risks. Economy-wide analyses of such risks are getting increasingly sophisticated. At the very least, such an exercise can provide a ballpark figure for the economic costs of climate change.
More importantly, it should force a shift away from straight-line budget thinking, and toward the multi-scenario, probabilistic approach required to tackle the uncertainties of the climate crisis. Perhaps the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change (NMSKCC) will produce tools to address this gap — its Climate Vulnerability Map of India is due later in 2020.
The dismantling of the budget bureaucracy and the cosmetic upgrades to the Economic Survey website indicate that there is some appetite for change. That push for change needs more productive outlets, starting with the substantive content of the survey’s chapter on climate.
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