Nearly 190 countries are meeting in Rio de Janeiro from June 20 to 22 for the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Among the attendees would be the heads of state and government of most countries including India, which will be represented by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The level of attendance amply highlights the importance and significance of this gathering.
However, such high-profile assemblies – especially on an issue like environment that figures low on priority list of governments in this age of growth, development as well as economic slowdown – have a knack of turning into a sham, with participants agreeing to goals that do not fully address the actual challenges. Worse, most countries remain miles away from achieving even their watered down commitments on environment, even as the clock on climate change continues to tick.
With ‘Sustainable Development’ being the agendum of the Rio+20 Summit, the focus in Brazil would be on how to turn economies ‘Green’ – development
with care for the environment. The term ‘Green Economy’ is ambitious; hence it is quite difficult to achieve it for various reasons – growth has to be compromised, high costs to be incurred, and most importantly, there is possibility of falling behind in the economic race with others who have little respect for the nature and its resources moving ahead fast.
The developed world, as always, wants the developing world to contribute equally to achieve any environment-related goals. The developing world, on the other hand, seeks concession as it has yet to alleviate poverty, provide basic healthcare to all, develop its industries and agriculture etc.
The argument of the developing world is valid, as the developed world has passed through this stage of high carbon emissions (that primarily cause environmental degradation) and exploitation of natural resources (especially the forests) during industrialisation. It has exploited to the fullest extent available resources to achieve high standard of living, with negligible poverty and hunger.
But we must understand that time is critical. Everyone needs to pitch in. The failure to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a new pact at the Copenhagen Summit highlighted the seriousness of the leading nations in dealing with global warming. Every nation wants others to do more first than voluntarily starting to make a contribution.
At this critical stage, it is important to understand how crucial it is to turn green and have development that is sustainable.
The Indian Scenario
Looking locally at the issue, we find – for example - that Delhi may boast of an expanding green cover but it has failed to keep its lifeline river Yamuna clean – remember, all ancient civilisations existed near rivers but vanished as soon as the rivers dried up. Today, Yamuna river is no more than a drain that ‘humbly’ accepts the sewage and industrial waste pumped into it throughout its journey in the Indian capital.
Same is the case in other cities and of other rivers. In fact, river Ganga – the ‘holiest’ of rivers and a lifeline of millions of Indians – is on the verge of death. Not because of drying up Himalayas, but pollution that humans cause. A dip in Ganga is said to rid one of all sins, but the biggest sin that the humans commit is polluting the very same river.
Our cities have been growing at a rapid pace. But is this advancement sustainable? Not many believe so. The level of pollution is ever increasing, and laudable measures like making CNG (compressed natural gas) mandatory for public transport in Delhi have got negated due to various reasons. Population is one of the main factors, but the failure to put in place an efficient public transport system that has led to an alarming increase in ownership of cars is more to blame. Singapore is one example where ownership of cars has been effectively curbed by providing an efficient, dependable public transport system.
The Delhi Metro is a world class effort but once you step out of it, the lack of feeder services and an efficient and comfortable routine bus service force one to choose personal vehicle over public transport. This is what ails the roads of Delhi, and other Indian metropolitan cities too (remember, the others (except Kolkata) are still planning to get the Metro/monorail etc).
The governments also need to provide ‘green’ alternatives. The best bet would be to promote hybrid/electric cars, but nothing substantial has been done in Indian cities to put in place a system that ensures a ‘green drive’.
Delhi may boast of having ambitions of becoming the Paris of future, but a majority of the capital’s population is deprived of access to clean drinking water. This leads to exploitation of groundwater resources, something highlighted by a NASA survey – that the worst groundwater exploitation in the world is happening in North India.
Most Indian metros have no proper system of garbage/waste collection and disposal. Streets are literally full of litter. It becomes all the more important for a country like India to rely heavily on recycling and educate the masses about it. Delhi has taken an important step by banning poly bags, but the implementation of the measure has not been up to the mark.
It is important for local governments to implement measures that pave way for ‘green’ progress, ‘green’ living standards, ‘green’ actions of the citizenry. Once this happens, the economy would automatically turn ‘green’ and pave way for sustainable development.
PS: One may not agree with the author’s take on sustainable development but it is not always bad to expand the meanings of existing terminologies. Like from development to sustainable development.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)