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India's environmental degradation loss 10%: 'More costs than benefits from high GDP'

Counterview Desk 

Top power and climate policy analyst Shankar Sharma's representation to Piyush Goyal, Union Minister for Commerce & Industry, has said that 8-9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of GDPover for 10-15 years will massively impact India's ecology and communities, adding, it will lead to increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
It will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests, soils, water bodies etc, to absorb GHG emissions, it said, noting, it will add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests, soils, water bodies etc, to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of land, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes.


This has reference to a statement attributed to you recently as in this news link.
 It is no surprise that the national media has carried many such statements recently by our political leaders on the very high growth rate of our economy. The above news link also has reported: "Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the country will become one of the world's top three economic powers in 10-15 years."
In this context, there are also media reports about the ongoing debate between the kind of growth suitable for such a high GDP growth rate paradigm: manufacturing or services; jobless growth or job focused growth etc.
However, the most disconcerting fact in this context is the complete absence of any reference to societal level welfare of our people, especially the vulnerable sections, due to the associated impacts on natural resources, and hence, on the general health of our communities. And of course, there has been no hint about the consequences w.r.t climate change, despite the fact that India aspires to be a global leader in climate actions.
It is common knowledge that in order to increase the size of our economy by an order of magnitude, say two times or three times in 10-15 years, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of GDP has to be very high and unprecedented anywhere on the planet; maybe about 10-12%.
Even if the CAGR is only about 8-9% over a shorter time span of 10-15 years, the ecological impacts for our communities will be massive. For a population of about 140 crores, with a vast majority of people being vulnerable (in one or the other perspective) to sudden changes, and most of whom have largely unmet aspirations, the social and health impacts can be vastly devastating/ unsettling.
A sustained high GDP growth rate will mean the manufacture 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 such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc.; increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, minerals, timber etc.; acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural/ forest lands; huge demand for various forms of energy (petroleum products, coal, electricity etc.); accelerated urban migration; clamor for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc.
A vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total greenhouse gas (GHG, responsible for global warming) emissions, will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests, soils, water bodies etc, to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of land, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes.
In this context it is worthy of our attention to know what is stated on the topic by the draft 'National Resource Efficiency Policy' (NREP), 2019 by MoEF&CC. It says among other things:
"Driven by rapid economic and population growth, the demand for natural resources, especially materials, have grown manifold over the last few decades. In the endeavor for economic growth, natural resources have been largely indiscriminately exploited, adversely impacting the environment and biodiversity.
"Further, cross linkages between resource use, climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss has been scientifically well established. Meeting the demand for products and services, of rising population with increased aspirations has led to mostly indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and would further lead to increased pressure on resources resulting in environmental degradation, thereby raising sustainability concerns.
"India, as one of the fastest growing economies with GDP at 2.6 trillion USD, has increased its material consumption to six times, from 1.18 billion tons in 1970 to 7 billion tons in 2015, however this economic growth has been coupled with inherent cost on the natural environment. The material consumption is projected to more than double by 2030, in order to provide for increasing population, rapid urbanization and growing aspirations.
"The projected pace of economic development is going to put pressure on the already stressed and limited resources and may lead to serious resource depletion and environment degradation affecting the economy, livelihoods and the quality of life."

A World Bank report of June 5, 2013 has said: "Although the past decade of rapid economic growth has brought many benefits to India, the environment has suffered, exposing the population to serious air and water pollution."
A subsequent joint study by the World Bank and University of Washington released in 2016 has estimated that in 2013 the environmental degradation costs to India, including welfare costs and lost labour income due to air pollution, was of about 8.5% of its economy.
Such environmental degradation costs to India in 2022 and beyond can be as high as 10%, which shall mean that India may experience more costs than benefits from a high GDP growth rate paradigm. 
When we objectively consider all such factors from the perspective of true welfare of every section of our country, the consequent damage to the critical natural resources due to depletion/ pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil, will be enormous; similar to that reported from China, which had undertaken similar high growth scenario for the previous 20-25 years.
The consequent deleterious impacts on the general health of every section of our population will become a matter of grave concern from the existential context.
In this scenario, a critical question that needs to be raised is: who will be the real beneficiaries of such a breakneck speed of the growth of our economy? The calamitous threats to our communities within the next few years because of climate change, which can be directly attributed to vast increase in GHG emissions, should become glaringly obvious even for a common man.
The fast depletion of natural forest cover, and the continuously worsening scenario of the air, water and soil health across the country alone should be able to indicate the enormous threats ahead of our people.
Since many ministers, economists and some high profile individuals seem to be craving for such a high economic growth scenario in recent years, and since the present government seems to be fully committed for such a high growth economy, the question that comes up in our minds is whether there is an absence of even a tiny group of rational thinkers in the governance structure, who can take a holistic view of all the associated issues, and advise our ministers accordingly.
Why the humongous potential in renewable energy sources is not being optimally harnessed through innovative means?
It also appears that many such strategic policies of critical importance to our communities are being formulated without adequate consultations with the relevant stakeholders; but this is critically needed for the overall welfare of our people. Three such strategic policies in recent months/ years can be listed:
(i) India on November 14, 2022 announced its long-term strategy to transition to a “low emissions” pathway at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP 27), which is premised on expanding its nuclear power capacity by at least three-fold in the next decade.
(ii) India in November 2021 at COP26, announced its 2070 target for net zero carbon. 
(Both these strategic policy announcements were made at the global forum without even a hint of them being informed (let alone with adequate consultations) to our people first.)
(iii) Whereas the above two announcements were made in dramatic fashion, the draft National Energy Policy (which was released in 2017) has not been finalised so far.
Whereas a common feature of all such strategic policy announcements have been the complete absence of effective public consultations, they are also beset by the lack of cohesion and coordination with the critical needs of welfare of our people: environmental sustainability, efficiency, lowest overall societal level costs, wide acceptance, true relevance to climate change needs, compliance with the relevant Acts of our Parliament etc..
The continued indifference to cohesion in such policies can be highlighted by another statement made by India at COP27.
If the Paris Agreement goal is considered so sacrosanct by India, why is it planning to add massive capacities to its electricity generating capacity through coal, natural gas, nuclear and dam based hydel power plants in the next 10 years (ref National Electricity Plan for 2022- 27/32 by CEA)?
Will the massive increase in the country's total GHG emissions by 2032, consequent to such power capacity additions and high GDP growth rate, be consistent with the letter and spirit of Paris Agreement goal? Whereas IPCC has been repeatedly asking for reduction in global GHG emissions by 45-50% of the 2005 level before 2030, has India been given the freedom to increase its own GHG emission by any magnitude? Whether the consequent damage to our natural resources will lead to any single quantifiable benefit to our people?
Will there be no negative consequences to our people? Will the proposal to expand India's nuclear power capacity by at least three-fold in the next decade (as stated at COP27) be consistent with goal, as it will entail massive import of nuclear reactor technology and nuclear fuels?
Why the humongous potential in renewable energy sources (such as solar and wind power) is not being optimally harnessed through innovative means such as rooftop SPV systems, solar powered agricultural pump sets, and energy storage battery systems?
Effective consultations with various stakeholder groups could have enabled the formulation of vastly improved strategic policies, and also could have highlighted the calamitous consequences of high GDP growth rate obsession.
But deplorably, multiple communications to Chief Economic Advisors, NITI Aayog, RBI, Finance Ministers and even PMO have not elicited any response so far on the true relevance of a high GDP growth rate paradigm for our country.
In this larger context, may I urge the Union government, through your good offices, to provide satisfactory clarifications to the people of our country on various associated concerns, some of which are listed as below?
Has there been one or more comprehensive studies at the national level, as to how a high GDP growth rate paradigm pursued for years/ decades will be of positive result for our people; what will be the negative consequences, such as community health issues because of the unacceptable levels of pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil?
What will be the consequences on our natural resources; the associated ecological costs; and should they all be essential and hence, acceptable to our people?
What will be the total GHG emission projected for our country by 2040/50 with such a high GDP growth rate paradigm, and will it be consistent with our global obligations/ expectations in the context of the escalating global climate emergency as per the UN?
Can the people of our country hope to get satisfactory clarification on all such issues of serious concern, before the Union government commits our communities to various consequences of such ill-conceived strategic policies/ practices? Union government should do all that is feasible urgently to negate the allegations made by many political observers w.r.t. undemocratic governance and indifference to people's needs.



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