Why environmental protection in India is the need of the hour

By Sudhir Shenoy

Mumbai : Today, India stands as the 5th largest economy with a strong GDP growth rate of 7.2 percent. This figure is projected to increase to 7.6 percent in the next fiscal year. As has been the global trend, when an economy prospers and cash flow increases, the pace of urbanisation, industrialisation and use of resources, too, witness a steady rise and India is no exception. This has been evident as issues like environmental pollution, water scarcity and rising temperatures have caught national attention, calling for immediate action to adopt a more sustainable economic model.

The Government has taken a slew of measures to deal with climate change and curb environmental pollution. In line with the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) 2030, India too set its sustainability goals and solemnly pledged for a safer environment. However, action at the grassroots level has been slow with delays in implementation and economic prosperity taking precedence.

In light of the absolute urgency to preserve the deteriorating environment and resources, what should India do?

While the government has established concerted measures to conserve both water and energy, little action has been taken so far, even as India continues to witness recurring droughts, extreme temperatures and rising pollution.

At present, India is sustaining an estimated number of 63.4 million people living without access to clean drinking water. One of the primary reasons for this paucity is uncontrolled abstraction of water for industrial and agricultural use. It is therefore imperative to focus on promoting recycling and reuse of water and waste water treatment as part of the national agenda to create value.

As far as energy is concerned, the government’s efforts to promote use of renewal energies is commendable. India played a significant role in the formation of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and it is believed to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brain child to harness solar energy to address the power deficits in the country. India aims to generate 100 MW solar power by 2022, thereby reducing its dependence on coal and nuclear energies. At this juncture, what India should do is work towards creating the necessary infrastructure for the implementation of these measures, which would require close collaboration between public and private sector entities.

In order to bridge the gap between economic and environmental sustainability, we must mend our approach to validate these measures:

Sustainable economic models: We know that economic prosperity cannot be achieved at the cost of the environment. It is critical for us, as an industry to shift from ‘pollute-first, clean-up later’ attitude and commit to preserving our diminishing natural resources. Adopting the model that promotes the use and reuse of resources, will bring in healthy practices of consumption of non-renewable resources. A research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on confirms that the circular economic model could bring India annual benefits of Rs 40 lakh crore ($ 624 billion) in 2050 compared with the current linear model – a benefit equivalent to 30 percent of India’s current GDP. However, for this to happen, we need to establish the need for industry-government collaborations to jointly prepare a road map to success.

There is a long-felt need for stringent measures and timely regulatory interventions as more often than not, India tends to lag behind its international counterparts when it comes to enforcement for environmental protection. A common standard for environmental regulations and policies must be devised and strictly implemented so that all industries, irrespective of their size and economic strength, can make efforts to protect the environment.

Technology adoption and advancements: With advancements in the field of technology, India has been working towards accessing best practices relevant in the current scenario. In view of such developments, we must look to leap frog generations of technology to gain scale. This is all the more important as initiatives like Make in India, Smart Manufacturing and are gaining momentum. The need to reassess our regulations and governance will help raise the baseline standards for all industries, even to the lowest common denominator.

Three-fold collaboration: The intent and aspiration to align economic efforts with the environment should not be restricted to the government. Collaboration between the industry, government and regulatory bodies will help in evaluating decisions on economic viability and environmental benefits. For instance, being the authoritative body to safeguard the environment, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change along the National Green Tribunal and industry can bring to steer a giant leap towards adopting sustainable economic models.

Making environmental health integral to the national economic growth agenda of the country is the way forward for India. Integrating climate action into economic policies will only lead to greater output and favourable growth prospects. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), major economies could boost their long-term economic growth by 2.8 percent with policies that lower greenhouse gas emissions and boost resilience to climate change impacts.

Like they say, the planet belongs to all of us – human beings, animals, birds, plants, insects and others. On the 46th year of World Environment Day, let us reconnect with nature, and recommit to creating a cleaner, greener and healthier planet.

Sudhir Shenoy is chief executive officer of Dow Chemical International Pvt Ltd (Dow India)

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