ET Energy World, December 30, 2020
By Bipul Chatterjee and Sarthak Shukla
With the Paris Climate Agreement becoming operational from 1 January, 2021, India already has a head start and momentum going forward in the next decade in terms of its performance on achieving climate goals.
The fact that India is the only nation in the G-20 group of countries, which is primed to achieve its climate commitments of keeping global temperature rise to 2-degrees and has now vowed to perform beyond expectations, puts us in a driving seat of this global transition.
Such paradigms tilt the balance of power in favour of India by making other countries greatly dependent on the climate behaviour of the Indians. They call for a more cautious approach, not only for achieving the climate goals in a fair and just way, but also for making sure that the benefits of such a transition are realised by the society at large, in an inclusive manner.
To begin with, interesting takeaways can be learnt from the political and economic history of modern India. After all, ‘building back better’ has to begin with inquisitively looking back and learning from the past to inform the future plan of action.
First, there is a need to get over the colonial hangover in designing policies and plans for tackling climate change. As India gained independence in 1947, the era of political and economic exploitation came to an end, and intrinsic values of freedom and rights of the people got their due consideration.
Such exploitation in the climate space can potentially creep in on two levels. One is in the global framework where a country like India, which is contributing a proportionally less amount of global emissions, should become a rule-maker, as against a rule-taker.
Fortunately, checks and balances by the global order in fixing Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs)are in line with respective nation’s contribution to pollution, and India’s globally inclusive efforts like the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), have kept this fear at bay.
The other type of colonialisation is in the national framework, where climate action plans and policies are systematically designed to cater to the needs of a few, well-off people. Ironically, most of these are produced by deploying physical and intellectual labour of masses of people who are not adequately compensated.
This is much like how the textile industry of India was tailored into a weaving factory for providing cheap raw materials to the mills in Manchester, to produce clothing for the elites of England.
Thus, as many economists have also pointed out, there is a need to make green technologies accessible and affordable for the masses, so that people can adopt and adapt them at scale, and the additive effect of scale can work in the climate space.
This implies fostering an ecosystem of development, manufacturing and operations of low-carbon technologies like green buildings or electric vehicles, to be at a price parity at which most Indians can use them. The benchmark for affordability could very well be the wage given to the same workers that are manufacturing them.
The next lesson that the modern Indian history has in store for future climate actions is from our experience on liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. Much like the urgency in the form of balance of payment crises of early 1990s that led to the opening of the economy in 1991, there is a pressing climate emergency as the United Nations Secretary General recently urged all the nations to declare. Structural changes and reforms are the need of the hour to address this climate emergency.
In order to do so, there is a need to adopt a liberal approach on our efforts for achieving climate ambitions. This implies that the ‘problem of the commons’, which seems to be plaguing our society needs to be addressed first.
‘If it’s everyone’s problem, why should I only bother to act on it’ is a prominent thought among many of us when it comes to adhering to climate-friendly ways of living.
This phenomenon runs across all elements of our society, economy and government. The reason why an individual won’t switch to electric vehicles is the same as why an industry won’t take the pain to install a zero liquid discharge system and the coupled impact of which results in the government’s desperate and, more often than not, ineffective attempts to use subsidies to make it a viable proposition.
This intrinsic fault line offinancial unviability leads to the next lesson of privatisation. With access to much basic needs still on the table, there is a need for private players to lead the climate battle from the front, which is gradually happening, however only in case of large business houses. The key is notto prove the hypothesis that there is an economic case for saving the environment, because that only becomes true at a given scale of operations.
This runs the risk of excluding most micro to medium level players in the economy. Rather, the need is to institutionalise the behaviour of valuing the need to protect the environment, human life and society at large, all of which are our constitutional obligations as citizens of India.
Similarly, the notion of doing it not just for fellow Indians but the humankind as a whole is the lesson that the paradigm of globalisation brings forth. In order to do so, there needs to be a strengthened sense of fiduciary duty on all humans to align their actions and behaviour by keeping in mind its consequences on fellow humans.
Borrowing from our Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, it’s indeed the responsibility of the society to actually be the change they wish to see. What better tribute to him than using his preaching to deliver on the Prime Minister Modi’s vision of a ‘Centennial India’, and therefore, a better world to live in!
[This piece was authored by Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, and Sarthak Shukla, Assistant Policy Analyst at CUTS International, a global public policy think tank on trade, regulations and governance]
This news item can also be viewed at: