Prime Minister Modi’s forthright address at the UN Climate Summit in New York, calling for greater global action, has rightfully turned the spotlight on India’s own efforts to combat climate change. While India’s progress in achieving its Paris Agreement goals is undeniable, a closer examination reveals a nuanced picture, interwoven with accomplishments, obstacles, and persistent environmental anxieties.
On the positive side, India has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy deployment, exceeding its initial target of 175 GW by 2022 and setting a revised goal of 500 GW by 2030. This ambitious shift away from fossil fuels is crucial for curbing emissions and building a sustainable energy future. Initiatives like the National Hydrogen Mission and the Production-Linked Incentive Scheme for Advanced Cell Chemistry Batteries display India’s commitment to fostering innovation and adoption of clean technologies. Programs like the Perform, Achieve, and Trade (PAT) scheme incentivize industries to improve energy efficiency, which leads to significant emission reductions. Recognizing the vulnerability of its vast coastline and agricultural sector, India has ramped up its adaptation efforts, investing in early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, and disaster preparedness initiatives.
On paper, India’s targets are ambitious. Aiming to reduce emission intensity by 45% before 2030, compared to 2005 levels and generate half of its electricity from non-fossil fuels, the country is actively pursuing clean energy initiatives. The UNEP report suggests that India, with its current trajectory of reduced emissions and increased renewable energy use, may even surpass its 2030 targets. Furthermore, the commitment to create billions of tons of carbon sinks through afforestation is a commendable long-term strategy.
Investing in Resilience: India is investing where its mouth is when it comes to climate change. In 2021-22 alone, the country spent over Rs 13.35 lakh crore (5.5% of its GDP) on adaptation measures, laying the groundwork for a more resilient future. This commitment extends beyond just finance, with India submitting its first Adaptation Communication under the Paris Agreement, outlining its vulnerabilities, actions taken, and future plans.
The Vulnerability Landscape: The assessment paints a stark picture. India’s agricultural sector, the backbone of its economy, faces potential losses of USD 28.6 to 54.8 billion by 2050, escalating to USD 612 to 1,014 billion by 2100. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra withstand the worst of these losses, highlighting the need for targeted interventions.
Adaptation in Action: India’s adaptation efforts are multifaceted, encompassing initiatives like:
Jal Jeevan Mission: Providing safe drinking water to rural households, building resilience against droughts and water scarcity.
PM Awas Yojana: Building climate-resilient houses, especially in vulnerable coastal areas.
Swachh Bharat Mission: Improving sanitation and waste management, reducing health risks associated with extreme weather events.
Ganga Cleaning Exercise: Restoring the health of a vital river system, enhancing flood protection and ecosystem services.
Heat Action Plans: Implementing measures to mitigate the health impacts of heatwaves.
Cyclone Warning System: Saving lives and livelihoods through early warnings and preparedness measures.
Despite these efforts, India faces significant challenges. The rising cost of adaptation, estimated to reach Rs 57 lakh crore over the next seven years, necessitates international financial support. Developed countries, as mandated by the international climate change regime, must step up their financial contributions to support developing countries like India in their fight against climate change.
Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, speaking at COP28, reiterated the importance of securing a new, higher target for annual climate finance flows to meet the needs of developing countries. India’s active participation in the Global Stocktake and its call for resource mobilization based on the needs of vulnerable nations underscore its commitment to a collaborative and equitable approach to climate action.
Environmental Reality Bites:
However, the rosy picture painted by commitments is contradicted by the harsh realities on the ground. India continues to grapple with rampant air and water pollution. The Ganges and Yamuna rivers, once considered sacred, are choked by industrial waste and agricultural runoff. Cities like Delhi remain notorious for their smog-filled skies, while picturesque regions like Jammu and Kashmir face environmental degradation from events like the Uttarakhand Forest fires. These stark realities raise fundamental questions about the effectiveness of current environmental policies and enforcement mechanisms.
Government Under Scrutiny:
The Indian government’s commitment to environmental issues also faces scrutiny. Critics point to the absence of Indian ministers at a crucial WHO event and their engagement in other activities during another important meeting as evidence of a perceived indifference towards environmental concerns. This lack of visible leadership at the global level further fuels doubts about India’s true dedication to tackling climate change.
Ranking Low, Forests Shrinking:
India’s low ranking in the Global Environmental Performance Index paints a concerning picture of limited progress in greenhouse gas emission reduction. Additionally, the ongoing decline in dense forest cover due to infrastructure projects like the Char Dham All Weather Road in Uttarakhand raises further concerns about environmental conservation efforts. These realities highlight the need for a more comprehensive approach to environmental protection that goes beyond mere policy pronouncements.
The Road Ahead:
India’s fight against climate change is a complex one, with promising strides tempered by significant challenges. To truly live up to its commitments and ensure a sustainable future, the country must bridge the gap between ambitious goals and on-the-ground realities. This requires strengthened environmental policies, stricter enforcement mechanisms, and a genuine commitment from the government at all levels. Only then can India truly claim to be a leader in the global fight against climate change, while safeguarding its own environment for generations to come.
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