How can India strike a balance between development and environment protection?
India and China with over 35% of the world's population are on a high-growth trajectory. This growth comes with a hidden environmental cost. As our population grows, finding a balance between economic advancement and consumption of natural resources is a vital question that India should address today.
Developing countries like India can become greener and lessen their environment footprint while at the same time continue to grow and deliver goods and services, for vital economic development. A two-pronged approach has to be followed to work in this direction.
Firstly, enterprises need to decouple production systems from the consumption of materials and energy (produce more with less) to become sustainable. Material and energy costs account for 40-60% of the operating costs of enterprises in developing countries. By following steps like switching from non-renewable to renewable sources of energy and materials targetting cleaner production, maximising recycling and reuse of wastes and environmentally sound product design, enterprises can significantly work towards sustainable growth.
Governments also have a key role to play. Policies need to be simplified to create an ecosystem for new sustainable businesses to flourish. Efforts like the introduction and adoption of Green Accounting standards will be a step towards enhancing the speed of transition among businesses.
The steps industry needs to take to strike this balance...
There is a greater need for industries across sectors to come together on a common platform to address the issues concerning economic development and environment protection. Globally, industry is responsible for more than one-third of the global primary energy consumption and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and has the technical potential to decrease its energy intensity by up to 26% and emissions by up to 32%.
Therefore, improving energy efficiency in industry is one of the most cost-effective measures in countries like India to loosen the link between economic growth and environmental degradation. The agenda to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency by industries should not be restricted to their own operations, but should be extended to the entire supply chain.
Businesses can transform themselves through sustainable practices and become engines of green growth by developing technologies that enable others to drive their sustainability agenda. An example of this is the Information and Communications Technology industry. According to the recent SMART 2020 report, by 2020, emissions from the ICT sector will represent an estimated 2.8% of total global emissions. However, ICT has the potential to enable others to achieve significant emission reductions, helping industries and consumers avoid an estimated 7.8 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions. That is 15% of predicated global emissions and of five times ICT's own footprint.
The ICT industry has a key role to play in enabling a low-carbon society by providing standardised information on energy consumption and emission across sectors, as well as capabilities and platforms to improve accountability in energy use and carbon emission. By replacing goods and services with virtual equivalents and by providing technology to enable energy efficiency, ICT has the potential to offer innovations that will capture energy efficient opportunities across industries including commercial buildings and homes, logistics and transport, power and manufacturing. In India, the government is recognising that ICT can help drive socioeconomic achievements via e-health, e-government services and smart grids for utilities.
Has Indian industry hidden behind the country's poor to avoid protecting the environment while pushing for higher growth targets?
Some larger companies are getting global recognition for their sustainability practices. India has about 11 million Micro Small and Medium Enterprises. These companies may not have the capacity or capital to implement sustainability in their businesses. This is where we need to provide support. In this sense, the industry is not hiding behind the country's poor, rather we are a poor country and hence our current priorities are to feed, clothe, house and educate every citizen of the country.