Recommendations by Shankar Sharma, Power Policy Analyst, based in Sagara, Karnataka, to Jairam Ramesh, Chairman, Standing Committee of the Parliament (Science & Technology, Environment, Forests & Climate Change), which had sought inputs for a report on environment, climate change and public health:
Greetings from Sagar, Western Ghats, Karnataka.
This has reference to your tweet of 10 April 2020 asking for inputs to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on S&T, Environment, Forests and Climate Change for its work on a report “Environment, Climate Change and Public Health”.
In this context, in my four earlier mails between 27th April and 1st May, 2020 I have tried to list a good number of reports/ scholarly articles/ reports & opinions from credible global organizations such as UN / UNEP / World Bank etc. / opinion pieces and editorials etc. on very many issues relating to the intricate relationship between forests and other natural resources, biodiversity, climate change, wildlife and human health.
These are all hugely relevant to India in providing a credible set of references to our government so as to diligently proceed towards a holistic approach to the overall welfare of our communities by appreciating the need to maintain a healthy relationship between them.
In this fifth and concluding part I would like to focus on issues specific to few different economic sectors, and to provide suitable recommendations for the Parliamentary Committee to deliberate on the same, and to include them in the Committee’s final report. This email contains the gist of recommendations in the body of the message, and a detailed note attached as a word file.
- Since the intricate relationships between forests and other natural resources, biodiversity, climate change, wildlife and human health are well established, and also that these are all hugely relevant to India in its developmental pathways, it goes without any emphasis that there is a critical need for the society to diligently proceed towards a holistic approach to the overall welfare of our communities by appreciating the imperative to maintain a healthy relationship between them. The country must urgently adopt the developmental paradigm of moving from industrial civilization to the ecological civilization.
- Since it is also well known that the proposal to have a $5 trillion economy by 2024 means a GDP growth rate of about 12% CAGR, such doubling of the economy in about 5 years will have many serious consequences to bother the society, the primary question should be whether this doubling of the “wealth” in a decade should also come at a huge cost to most sections of our society, and how much such societal costs are acceptable. As is also well known, a sustained high GDP growth rate will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an unprecedented pace leading to: setting up of more factories/ manufacturing facilities; consumption of large quantities of raw materials such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc.; increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, minerals, timber etc.; acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural /forest lands; huge demand for various forms of energy; accelerated urban migration; clamor for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc. Vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total greenhouse gas emissions, will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of land, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes. Since these deleterious consequences will also bring in serious community health issues, the overall relevance of such a high GDP growth rate paradigm must be thoroughly debated at the national level to determine its true relevance to India.
- We should recommend that our finance minister, the economists and the concerned bureaucrats need not be apologetic about the low GDP growth rate, which the country is likely to register in the next few years, but to take this golden opportunity to advocate for a much lowered GDP growth rate for an all inclusive, green and sustainable economic paradigm for the country. We should also ask from the govt. that the tall claims on the issue of Climate Change and on the much advertised campaign ‘sub ka saath, sub ka vikaas, sub ka vishwass’ be matched by an effective action plan to minimize the pollution, contamination, and the associated health issues for our communities, by moving away from the high GDP growth rate paradigm urgently.
- In this context it is pertinent to know what Tamil Nadu State Action Plan on Climate Change (TNSAPCC) has said, and to diligently adhere to the associated policy paradigm. It says: “Global development experience reveals that one percent growth in agriculture (and associated activities?) is at least two or three times more effective in reducing poverty than the type of same growth emanating from non-agricultural sector.”
- Such a scenario will invariably require that every single patch of our natural forests, which is left standing as now, especially in the Protected Areas (PAs), should be adequately protected and enhanced, such that the overall forest and green cover in the country reaches at the least 33% of the land area of the country, and that the same green cover in hilly and mountainous districts reach 66% as per the national forest policy by 2030.
- In order to move to such a sustainable green future, the country should objectively consider adopting the recommendations of “The Brundtland Report”, which is also known as World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). The report defined the concept of sustainable development as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The Brundtland Report highlights three fundamental components to sustainable development: Environmental protection, economic growth and social equity. Even a college going student with a modest knowledge of our environment can say that our country has been ignoring all these three fundamental components of development.
- Keeping the water deficit scenario in our country in objective consideration four major initiatives will be required: (i) the critical need for highest levels of efficiency and accountability in water usage; (ii) effective rain water harvesting and the associated awareness campaign; (iii) early removal of various kinds of subsidies associated with water and energy; (iv) preserving and enhancing the role / sanctity of rivers by minimizing the obstruction to free flow and enhancing the effectiveness of catchment areas. In this context, the wisdom of our ancestors in constructing, preserving and enhancing surface water storage facilities such as tanks, lakes and open well should clearly lead us to the correct pathway.
- In view of the fact that the environmental degradation costs India $80 billion per year or 8.5% of its economy (World Bank estimate for 2013); its fossil fuel subsidy burden alone was about $209 billion (IMF data in 2017); there are many other kinds of direct and indirect subsidies such as financial bailouts of banks/financial institutions, and electricity companies; and air pollution related human costs of about 1 million premature death per year; polluted fresh water bodies etc., the country must adopt a different developmental paradigm to the one practiced all these years and which has resulted in massive concerns for our communities. Such a paradigm shall focus on those economic activities which will not lead to further diversion of forest/agricultural lands, which will not demand much of water and energy, which will not lead to pollution of land, air and water, and which will lead to sustainable harnessing of our natural resources, while providing largest number of job opportunities. Such activities may include sustainable agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry, forestry, health and educational services, IT&BT etc.
- Subsidies of various kinds, which cannot result in sustainable welfare activities of the masses, must be eliminated / minimized; all such savings should be effectively used to develop suitable health, energy and educational infrastructure so as to face many kinds of Zoonotic diseases in future leading to minimum impacts on our communities.
- In view of the strong nexus between energy and water, and their enormous influence in the context of food security and community health, there is no alternative for the country but to adopt global best practices in sustainable agriculture, efficient usage of energy and water, and implement only those industrial and commercial activities which will result in least pressure on our natural resources, including forests and water bodies. Small scale organic farming, focus on village level sustainability, minimized urban migration, manageable size of urban habitats, local management of natural resources and the inevitable pollutants/contaminants, polluter pays principle, effective public consultation on all important issues, diligent application of economic decision making tools such as costs and benefits analysis etc. are some of the important measures which need to be part of our governance.
- In view of the enormous impact of the energy sector on not only the Climate Change but also on human health, the country must move resolutely towards a sustainable and green energy demand/supply scenario at a great pace, latest by 2030, as required under Paris Agreement. Such a scenario should involve an effective management of energy demand, supply through decentralized Renewable energy sources, optimal efficiency levels comparable to the global best practices, local management of such sources, full realization of appropriate energy tariff, effective participation by consumers (PROSUMERS) etc.
- In view of their massive carbon foot-print and because of huge deleterious impacts on our natural resources, the conventional technology electricity sources should be discontinued and replaced at the earliest, which is also the recommendation of IPCC. These electricity sources should be effectively replaced by renewable energy based systems and ably supported by energy storage systems such as storage batteries.
- In view of the fact that at the global level cities/urban areas need more than 60% of the natural resources to sustain; consume more than 70% of energy; and contribute to more than 60% of pollutants and wastes; and are also the first causes of disease, injury and mortality, there is a critical need to minimize our dependence on urban areas, and to adequately develop the rural areas to minimize rural migration. More and more employment opportunities should be created in rural areas, and the expansion of urban areas should be contained at manageable levels. There is a serious case for considering de-urbanisation wherever feasible.
- The ongoing emphasis on industry, commerce, transportation and tourism as developmental priorities must be diligently reviewed to determine their carbon foot-print, impact on other natural resources, wastes and pollutants. The massive subsidies and financial support required by them on a regular basis should be another critical factor in such an exercise. Their true relevance to the overall welfare of our communities should be carefully examined, and only those segments which are essential, and which have least impact on our natural resources should be encouraged.
- The impact of tourism and the modes of transportation on the entire society should be diligently looked into, and their role should be appropriately determined.
I hope all these submissions will provide adequate evidence for the Committee to come to the conclusion that true welfare of our communities will invariably depend on how well we preserve and enhance the biodiversity in the country, and in that regard the correct economic paradigm should be that one which demands minimum amount of materials and energy at the national level, while ensuring adequate protection and enhancement of our natural resources.
I shall be happy to provide any clarifications and supporting documents to buttress my recommendations.