MDGs: India should take the lead in South Asia

    The South Asian region lacks a common plan of action to deal with the impact of climate change despite possessing common ecological habitat. Africa and Latin America fare a tad better on this front. India should take the lead to create elaborate policies for joint management of common resources and ecological preservation.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently addressed the UN Sustainable Development Summit from 25th to 27th September, 2015 in the United States. In his speech, Mr Modi pointed out the need to combat the perils of climate change while recognising the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities enshrined in the UNFCCC. He also focused on India’s commitment to eliminate poverty in all its forms and build a sustainable future. The world community unanimously adopted the 17 pointer draft of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals that reach their deadline in December, 2015.

    Since the last few decades, climate change and over exploitation of resources are leading to a threat for the world community in the form of rising sea levels, acidification of oceans, forest fires, cyclones and various other disasters. Thus, combating climate change and limiting its impact, conservation of natural resources, marine ecosystems and forests are among the necessary requisites to achieve sustainable growth. ‘Sustainable Development’ essentially seeks to shape economic growth while conserving natural resources by minimising exploitation of natural endowments. This will optimise use of resources in such a way that resources can be safeguarded for the future generations.

    Achieving the goals of Sustainable Development will critically depend on India’s domestic policy framework aimed at economic development and environmental sustainability and to a lesser extent also on the position it takes in multilateral platforms on Climate Change.

    The United Nations has published ‘The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015’ highlighting areas of positive developments as well as setbacks faced in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. According to the report, ozone layer depletion has witnessed a sharp fall with chances of replenishing it in the coming decades. At the same time, global greenhouse gas emission has increased by over 50% since 1990. The energy industry and industrial activity account for the largest share of carbon emissions but poor forest management and degradation of natural ecologies has further led to reduction in absorption of carbon.

    Marine ecosystems and livelihood face tremendous threat due to overexploitation of fisheries. Latin America, Western Asia and the Caribbean have presented successful institutional models aimed at protecting land and marine ecosystems. African nations are also in the forefront when it comes to innovative institutional models with respect to protection of wildlife and management of joint resources. South Asia, on the other hand, has neither been able to forge a coherent policy for dealing with environmental issues nor can the region boast of successful institutional models for managing joint resources or for addressing climate change through adaptation. Continuous conflict in the region casts a large shadow on the efforts aimed at dealing with ecological issues and climate change problems. Pakistan, Nepal and other member nations in the region could benefit from exchange of knowledge and information on shared ecologies, landscape and water resources. Given that South Asia is among the regions with largest number of people without access to vital resources, lack of integration makes it all the more vulnerable to the negative impact of climate change.

    India has showcased its commitment to tackle climate change since the onset of negotiations in the international forum. India has played an active role on the issues of climate change and sustainable development and is also a signatory to various international treaties and agreements such as the Ramsar Convention, the Montreal Protocol, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). India is the fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, but it’s per person emissions are very low compared to that of other developed nations. India has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by 20-25 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2020 voluntarily even though it is exempted from making mitigation commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. India has been facing pressure from the world community to take greater responsibility with respect to cutting greenhouse gas emissions but India has maintained its stance of being a developing economy and thus, not subjected to similar restrictions that are put on the developed countries. In order to deal with the challenges of climate change and degradation, National Action Plan on Climate Change was launched in 2008 which was the first comprehensive policy framework by India that proposed use of solar and other renewable energy sources, energy conservation, building strategic knowledge on climate change and aiming for sustainable agricultural practices.

    In 2014, a National Adaptation Fund was established with an aim to assist state and central government in mitigating the impact of climate change. The National Green Tribunal formulated under the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 has also passed several crucial judgements aiming at controlling the ecological destruction and restoring the green cover.

    But, all these measures have still not succeeded in bringing the effort at conservation on the forefront of public domain. Climate change not only has ecological implications but it also negatively impacts the livelihood and quality of life of the people residing in the vulnerable areas fostering a vicious cycle of poverty. People inhabiting these areas suffer from multiple disadvantages on account of being poor as they are exposed to floods, droughts and other natural disasters attributed to climate change and environmental degradation. Policy formulation in India at times uses a one dimensional approach and focuses on ecological preservation rather than a multidimensional approach that addresses issues of poverty, access to resources and livelihood support comprehensively. India also faces challenges in implementation of environmental policies as sustainability is often seen to be in conflict with the industrial development that India is pursuing intensively. Sustainable growth should ensure reliable, effective and long term development that meets the economic and social needs of the citizens rather than merely block the pace of progress in the name of environmental protection.

    Climate change and ecological degradation transcends territories. But, the South Asian region lacks a common plan of action to deal with the impact of climate change despite possessing common ecological habitat. Africa and Latin America fare a tad better on this front with elaborate policies for joint management of common resources and ecological preservation. Mechanisms such as the Nairobi Convention of 1985 and The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation (ACTO) serve as successful institutional models of management where multiple nations are involved as stakeholders. India has not taken the lead in formulating joint policy framework for adaptation to climate change impacts and to arrest resource depletion in sensitive shared ecosystems with its South Asian counterparts. Sustainable growth that aims to address climate change within the context of economic growth should be leveraged as the binding agent to build cooperation in South Asia, a region presently consumed by conflicts within nations.

    As the largest country in the region, India needs to take the lead in initiating policies that substantiate its commitment to mitigate the impact of climate change within and across its borders. Geographical insularity of South Asia, common ecological habitat and multiplying threat of climate change calls for an integrated plan of action to manage the joint resources. The opportunity to establish itself as a leader in sustainable policy matters that can integrate South Asia awaits India.

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