Climate Change

Economic Survey 2019-20: Need was to get serious about climate crisis

Listing ‘green’ programs is not the point

By Tarun Gopalakrishnan
Published: Friday 31 January 2020
climate change

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:

  • A breakdown of India’s greenhouse gas emissions trend
  • An assessment of the ‘climate relevance’ of India’s past budget expenditure
  • An economic analysis of the climate risks facing India

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.

It is particularly surprising to see no serious attempt at such assessment, given the existence of civil society as well as aid-supported initiatives to systematically compile GHG data in India.

Chapter 6 also throws out figures spent on climate priorities:

  • Rs 290 crore over five years starting in 2014 for the ‘Climate Change Action Program’
  • Rs 364 crore allocated to the National Adaptation Fund between 2017-18 and 2019-20
  • References to various ‘flagship’ schemes such as the National Water Mission, the National Solar Mission and the National Missions for Sustainable Agriculture and Habitat

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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