Dilemma in Indian Regulatory Framework towards Commitment for Sustainability Governance: The Crisis and Commitment

PC: Jasmin Sessler. Source: www.unsplash.com.

(Part I of a two-part series)

This year, India witnessed the second lowest pre-monsoon rainfall in 65 years. The three-month pre-monsoon season of March, April and May ended with a rainfall deficiency of 25 per cent. Along with a decline in monsoon rainfall since the 1950s, there is a marked increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall events. In this very year, Mumbai received the second highest July rain over a 24-hour period in 44 years, after the 2005 floods.

Extreme heat, changing rainfall patterns, droughts, over exploited groundwater, glacier melt, sea level rise, agriculture and food security, energy security, water security, health, migration and conflict – you name a climate change induced crisis, and India is being impacted by it. This has been identified by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics who have been commissioned by the World Bank Group to look at the likely impacts of temperature increase from 2°C to 4°C in three regions. 

When countries across the globe committed to creating a new international climate agreement at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015, India too submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to the UNFCCC. At that time, the whole world applauded India for taking a big step towards transforming the nation as well as the world, despite not being the main contributor to climate change. 

Sustainable lifestyles, cleaner economic development, reducing emission intensity of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increasing the share of non-fossil fuel based electricity, enhancing Carbon Sinks (Forests), adaptation of climate change by enhancing investments in development programmes, mobilizing finance, and technology transfer and capacity building are the key elements of India’s INDC.

As a signatory and a committed partner to the international community, India adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, that has, in turn, set in motion this historic plan, aiming to build a more prosperous, more equal, and a more secure world by the year 2030.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, proudly proclaimed “The sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world and our beautiful planet.”

No doubt, the adoption of SDGs by business sectors in India is better than that of the Millennium Development Goals. However, in reality, India fares among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index 2018, plummeting 36 points from 141 in 2016, according to a biennial report produced jointly by the Universities of Yale and Columbia, along with the World Economic Forum. While India is flat at the bottom of the list in the category of environmental health, it ranks 178 out of 180 as far as air quality is concerned. 

Unsurprisingly, its overall low ranking — 177 among 180 countries — has been linked to poor performance of environment health policies and deaths due to air pollution. As per the World Health Organization (WHO) report of 2015, out of 10 most polluted cities in the world, 7 are in India. According to a report of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), in 2017, a total of 1.24 million deaths in India were attributable to air pollution. According to the NITI Aayog, India is ranked at the 120th position amongst 122 countries on the Water Quality Index. Particularly, most Indian states have achieved less than 50% of the total score in augmentation of groundwater resources.

In 2008, eight Government missions were designed under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), recognising that climate change is a global challenge. The plan promised that India will engage in multilateral negotiations in the UNFCCC in an active, positive, constructive and forward-looking manner. A decade back when the plan was introduced, we were one of the 10-odd countries to have a consolidated policy in place to deal with climate change. Yet, we still don’t have clarity on how the NAPCC has fared. The NAPCC is still being implemented and for sustainability governance to succeed in India, the NAPCC needs to succeed in letter and spirit.

On 12th December 2015, India became signatory to the COP21. In 2018, at the COP 24 in Katowice, Poland, all signatory countries agreed on rules to implement the Paris Agreement which will come into force in 2020 – that is to say, a rulebook on how governments will measure and report on their emissions-cutting efforts. Therefore, essentially, we have one year to show some significant effort towards our climate change commitments. 

These efforts undoubtedly needed some financial and policy level boosting from the new Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget for the first year of NDA-II government. Although Sitharaman’s Budget’s vision statement is “pollution-free India with green Mother Earth and blue skies”, no road map was proposed for the National Clean Air Programme(NCAP). Ironically, the ruling party’s election promise was to reduce air pollution by 35%, in the next five years, across 102 polluted cities. The new budget placed in the Parliament lacks a comprehensive funding strategy for multi-sector clean air action under the NCAP. The only way to make the new budget work for clean air is to leverage some of its proposed spending in transport and energy sectors.

The need of the hour is an element-by-element assessment of the NAPCC with respect to our dynamic and rapidly transforming regulatory framework and its effective realignment with India’s INDC to UNFCCC. A robust regulatory framework intended to implement the NAPCC and to meet the commitments made in the INDC, along with channelising resources through policies, are the only hope to save our nation from embarrassment in front of the global community in 2020.Hopefully, the NITI Aayog will not discard the NAPCC, drafted by their predecessors in the Planning Commission under the rule of UPA II, but implement it in letter and spirit for the wellbeing of our nation.

Arnab Basu

Arnab Basu is a Sustainability Consultant, with 15 years of experience in advising industries and institutions on sustainability governance, environment and safety performance and complaisance.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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