Climate Change

India can’t have a piece-meal approach of fighting only food security or climate change

Any effective solution to mitigate climate change in India must take in to account poverty, inadequate food distribution and lack of basic shelter

By Miniya Chatterji
Published: Monday 20 April 2020

India is ranked 129 of 189 countries — sandwiched between Nicaragua and Namibia — in the global listing on the Human Development Index. There is nearly no social security provided by the state or private insurance in India to protect against events such as job loss that typically result from declining gross domestic product (GDP).

Given that our GDP growth rate is currently steadily declining from eight per cent in 2016 to currently six per cent, this further lack of social cushion provided by the state or private sector affects several aspects of the ecosystem we live within.

For example, it increases familial ties and kinship as we have nothing else but to fall back on these in times of financial crisis. It reduces the need for the rich and the poor to truly dismantle inequality in India.

It also severely aggravates environmental degradation as GDP decline adversely affects livelihood that distracts individuals from being environmentally responsible. Hungry stomachs cannot be thinking about saving the planet.

Further, there is little money to treat ailments resulting from environmental degradation. There is death, ill health, and habitat destruction caused by environmental degradation.

These translate into enormous costs for the economy as well, making it a dangerous, vicious circle of economic and environmental degradation that feeds in to each other.

For example, air pollution from burning fossil fuels currently costs about 5.4 per cent of India’s GDP. Yet, the measures to counter the impact on human life of this environmental degradation is inadequate. The spending of only about 1.25 per cent of the GDP on health further decreases with India’s GDP decline.   

Since 2010, India has kick-started several national programmes to boost cleaner economic development. These have focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean transport among others.

We have done well in implementing energy efficiency policies, pushing solar energy, and replacing over 700 million street and household lights with energy-saving and long-lasting LEDs.

It is also interesting to note the massively important role that state governments have played in developing regional climate strategies that offer important learnings for scalability and success.

In fact, the top 10 performing states on climate action have higher contributions to the national GDP, lower emissions intensity, better energy efficiency, higher utilisation of renewable energy potential and a higher percentage growth in forest cover.

India’s per capita emissions today are 1.6 tonnes of CO2, which, because of our demographics, is well below the global average of 4.4 tonnes.

It is also because of our demographics and growing economy that India is vital for the success of the Paris agreement to keep the global temperature rise this century well below two degrees Celsius (°C).

India has therefore set a target of achieving 175 Gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022, of which 100 GW is solar capacity addition and 60 GW is wind power capacity.

Over the past decade, both the energy and emission intensities of India’s GDP have decreased by more than 20 per cent, but total energy-related CO2 emissions continue to rise in India which indicates that we need to do more.

So what do we need to do more?

India needs to be far firmer on not building new coal-based power plants and transitioning the existing ones to renewable energy technologies. Arunabha Ghosh of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in India, has been advocating this for years.

Building more coal plants could push India off the 1.5°C-compatible pathway. India also needs to transition to electric private and public vehicles.

One of our mentors at the Fellowship for Climate Action, Chetan Maini created Reva, India’s first electric car in 1998 which was seven years ahead of Elon Musk's Tesla Motors. But use of electric vehicles are still far from popular in India.

Also, while we cannot scientifically attribute the whole responsibility of increased rainfall and flood to global warming alone, it is also proved that climate change does play a role in increasing extreme precipitation events as well as desertification.

This means that there will be lands with massive rainfall or with no rain at all. While each situation will need its own set of solutions, over all, we need to identify with all seriousness ecologically vulnerable zones, map them, and see what kind of protection can be given. Being prepared early will avoid panic later. 

Currently, a large part of what we hear about the effects of climate change or the solutions to mitigate it originate mostly from Europe. We read and hear very little about how climate change is affecting India and the solutions that are working in the specific context of India.

Emerging economies such as India are grappling with immediate issues such as poverty, inadequate food distribution, lack of basic shelter, besides the effects of climate change.

Therefore, any effective solution to adapt to or mitigate climate change in these regions must take in to account all or at least some of these challenges.

These issues affect each other and need to be addressed together in solutions for it. Immediate challenges of food security, basic resources, and shelter, no longer must be an issue of conflict between the actions by the developed and developing world.

Instead, they need to be taken into account into solutions developed by Indian policy makers and the private sector for the solutions to be effective and successful.

We can, therefore, no longer have a piece-meal approach of only fighting food security or climate change.

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