The policymakers say that to eradicate poverty, India needs to grow at the rate of 9 percent for the next 20 years. But why ignore the long term social, economic and environmental impacts on the vulnerable sections of our society of environmentally unsustainable ways to growth?
The obsession with economic growth has grave environmental consequences
The ‘expert group on low carbon strategies for inclusive growth’ which was set up under the Planning Commission to develop a strategy for India’s 12th Five Year Plan has released its interim report recently.
While this interim report echoes the earlier government stand that India is one of the lowest GHG emitters in world, and hence has a right not to be forced with carbon emission cap, it also clearly recognizes that India is highly vulnerable to climate change, and hence has a strong interest in minimizing the risk of climate change. It refers to India’s announcement to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20-25 percent over 2005 level by 2020 through pursuit of proactive policies.
This interim report has provided a menu of options to reduce GHG emission intensity in critical sectors of the Indian economy.
The main sectors examined in this report are power, transport, industry, building and forestry. Notably, this report indicates that it is feasible to exceed the target of bringing down the emissions intensity of its GDP by 10 -13 percent by 2020 through aggressive efforts.
In view of the huge deleterious impacts to vulnerable section and environment of high GDP growth strategy of the successive governments, and the looming crises associated with the inevitable climate change, the civil society has a special interest in effectively participating in exploring various options available to our society to reduce the total GHG emissions. In this regard an objective review of the menu of options recommended by this expert group to reduce GHG emission intensity becomes essential.
Increase in total GHG emissions will be closely associated with the increased pollution of air, land and water; and the increased denial of access to natural resources to the vulnerable sections of the society.
Towards unsustainable growth rate
A major concern with the approach of this expert group is that it starts with the base line assumption that India needs to sustain an economic growth of 8 – 9 percent over next 20 years to eradicate poverty and to meet its human development goals. It appears that the social, economic and environmental impacts on the vulnerable sections of our society associated with a sustained GDP growth of 8 – 9 percent over the next 20 years were never a matter of concern to this planning group.
Such a high growth rate will mean the manufacturing 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; unsustainably increasing demand for natural resources such as water, minerals, timber etc.; acute pressure on the governments to divert agricultural/forest lands for other purposes; huge demand for energy; clamour for more of airports, air lines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc. Vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total GHG emissions, will also reduce the ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests to absorb GHG emissions.
The net effect associated with high GDP growth target will be that the total GHG emissions will increase by considerable margin, even if reduced emissions intensity of country’s GDP is feasible. The desirability of this scenario to our society needs to be questioned in the context that the increase in total GHG emissions will be closely associated with the increased pollution of air, land and water; and the increased denial of access to natural resources to the vulnerable sections of the society.
Reduced area and density of forests, dammed rivers, polluted air, forced displacements which will all be the consequences of a frenetic 9 percent GDP growth are bound to impact the vulnerable sections of our society. Since the vulnerable sections of the society are also the most impacted lot due to climate change, the civil society has a crucial role to ensure that their legitimate interests are protected adequately.
Other Articles by Shankar Sharma in Environment Development
> Conservation > National Policies and Programmes
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Act green, get bonus! Wednesday, February 03, 2010
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