Paving a path towards ‘Sustainability’ in India

The focus should not just be on GDP, but the SDGs too

When it comes to environmental matters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a passionate leader. He has set ambitious goals in a number of sectors, such as increasing the capacity for renewable energy sources, capping coal-fired power plants, and reducing emissions. Such aspiration is crucial given that India is the third-largest emitter of carbon emissions. Recalibrating our existing conception of progress will be necessary to ensure sustainable development.

The issue of the second half of the century will probably be sustainability rather than poverty because of population growth and increased income. The value of growth in today’s world is not being minimised in any way. It is critical to make life better for the billion people who continue to live in poverty. It is becoming more and more obvious that focusing solely on GDP development at the expense of everything else can jeopardise the interests of future generations.

Future growth is dependent on the sustainability of natural resources, which is threatened by the narrow pursuit of GDP development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced seven years ago, and according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Report 2022, “the world is on course to accomplish nearly none of the goals.” The COVID-19 pandemic, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), halted six years of worldwide progress on the SDGs.

The UNDP has urged a concerted worldwide “SDG Push” to get things back on track. According to the UN, attaining this requires focusing on four major areas: governance, social protection, the green economy, and digitalisation. The usage of digital public goods (DPGs) and digital public infrastructure (DPI) is also encouraged by the UN in order to advance the SDGs. The timing to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in India has never been better.

India should put a lot of effort towards achieving the SDGs in other areas; such as peace, justice, strong institutions, sustainable cities and communities, good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, etc. One can contend that what needs to be preserved is not the stock of assets but rather their economic value. This appears to be the most effective use of the resource because a forest may be turned into a farm. Provided that misuse doesn’t endanger the long-term viability of the forest itself, this reasoning is valid. The issue is that it is impossible to know where these limits are and whether the current rate of resource consumption is sustainable.

Secondly, the marginal approach, which poses a question “What is the ideal size of a rainforest?” is incompatible with the functioning of complex ecosystems. Usually, change happens at a pace that allows for progression. Climate change and competition both influences how species evolve. However, scientists believe that 50% of species are in danger of extinction due to the speed at which the ecosystems are being damaged today. Even those who doubt our responsibility to steward the environment ought to consider sustainability in light of this. After all, not only those in the distant future, but also current generations will begin to experience the effects of environmental degradation.

When making current policy decisions, it might be difficult to account for the preferences of individuals in the future. Therefore, an asset-based approach is necessary when considering what legacy to leave for future generations. Finding pertinent solutions should be the main goal. First and foremost, the destruction of renewable natural capital should be made up for with advances to other forms of renewable capital. Besides this, the rents from the depletion of non-renewable natural assets (minerals and oil) should be used to establish a natural capital fund.

Reason being, it is challenging to appraise renewables. As a result of their inherent ability to renew, they have no marginal costs, and therefore, limitless advantages. However, there is a possibility that they could vanish forever if they become exhausted. This worry is most acutely felt in relation to the groundwater table in the states of northern India where water-intensive crops have been recklessly farmed to the point of depletion.

India has an opportunity to pave a path in demonstrating the rest of the world what sustainability and inclusion can accomplish. It has a chance to avoid embracing the West’s high-energy route, which is in many respects the main factor and engine behind the current global climate disaster. It is not necessary for our country to adhere to the current forms of capitalism that have resulted in a widening wealth inequality. India has the potential to develop as the world’s central knowledge hub for sustainability in the coming years. However, economic development will inevitably result in the replacement of natural capital by artificial capital.

An assessment of natural resources, thresholds for ecosystems at the international, national, and regional levels, along with the distribution of rents from non-renewable resources to future generations is mandatory to be carried out. This will encourage us to identify the least-polluting avenues for economic development and aid agents in internalising the costs where destruction is unavoidable. In this manner, a significant improvement can be made over the present situation, in which sustainable development is merely a theoretical concept with little practical application.

Therefore, we must adopt a vision, as well as a way of thinking and acting, known as ‘Sustainable development’. This is to make sure that we have enough resources and a healthy environment for future generations. Although the advancements, attaining SDGs would not happen only because of legislation; society as a whole need to adopt it as a guiding principle. It should focus on streamlining the daily decisions each individual makes as well as the significant political and economic choices that have a widespread impact. Undoubtedly, future generations will bear the brunt of the expenditures associated with environmental deterioration.

Future generations are detrimental in comparison to current generations. This is because they may inherit a low quality of life, share a structural weakness of lacking a voice and representation among the current generation. As a result, their interests are frequently disregarded in current decision and planning process, even though it is crucial that we must consider our generation as well.

The emphasis on incorporating residents and stakeholders is the only way sustainable development can be improved. The vision will ultimately become a reality only if everyone makes a contribution to a world where economic freedom, social justice, and environmental protection go hand in hand, making our current and future generations better off than they are now.

Despite pure sustainability will be difficult to achieve, it is an obligation that can be met with better preparation, more robust policies, and an efficient implementation. The incorporation of the sustainable development agenda in public and corporate policy realms is not just inevitable but necessary if we are to prevent destabilisation of the planet. It is time for India to promote more cooperation between the market, the government, and the civil society in order to support its efforts to raise the standard of living for all of its citizens.

To achieve the latent benefits, a focus on practical outcomes, plethora of policy reforms and programmatic measures are required. The Government of India may synchronise its efforts to have a multiplier impact over the steps it is already taking and mitigate any possible hazards from the digital world by closely collaborating with civil society and markets. If this criterion is satisfied, it will enable us to advance toward the SDGs and sustainably provide a more prosperous environment for the future generations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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