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'It can't be business as usual'

india Updated: Jul 01, 2012 00:17 IST
Sunita Narain
Sunita Narain
Hindustan Times
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Rio+20 has ended on a whimper. The final outcome entitled, The Future We Want, is weak and inconsequential in terms of the urgent actions needed to manage a fast deteriorating global economy and the crisis of ecology. It is, in fact, reflective of the future we do want. The only gain of the conference has been that the principle of common but differentiated responsibility - the right of development of poorer nations - has been reaffirmed. In this way, Rio+20 could have gone backwards in terms of the 1992 global agreement that environment, development and social justice go hand in hand. It did not.|

But what does Rio+20 mean for India? Has India secured its right to development or simply its right to pollute? The fact is that Rio+20 has come at a time, when the world is faced with the mother of all dilemmas that the current economic growth model, which is built on cheap production and consumption is costing it the earth. The world has not been able to design for an affordable or equitable growth model, which would meet the aspiration and purchasing abilities of people across the world, or indeed the needs of all across the world. There are also planetary limits to this growth model. It is not possible to emulate the lifestyle of the already industrialised, without compromising our future survival. But these limits will require the world to share its ecological space so that growth can be afforded and sustainable for all. This is why the principle of differentiated responsibilities is so important. Rio+20 needed to come up with the blueprint of how the world would reinvent growth without pollution in the interests of our common future. This would have required tough constraints on the growth of the already rich and means and methods for cleaner and greener growth in the emerging nations. Instead, Rio+20 became the battleground for contests over the right to status quo - business as usual but with a little colour at the edges to call it a green economy. This is clearly not the way ahead, for the world and for India.

The fact is that India cannot afford business as usual. It is a mistake to believe that we have the option to pit environment against development. Or that development as preached and practised by the already industrialised world, in which you first get rich, pollute and then clean up, is the way of our future. This model of growth is expensive and unaffordable. The industrialised north could work it, only because it had the financial resources to be able to mitigate the environmental cost of its growth. But it has done this at huge costs - costs to its own growth, which is today expensive and unaffordable and has stretched its financial capacities to the limits. And costs to the global environment as the world faces the inevitable spectre of devastating and catastrophic climate change because of the consumption of a few.

India also has the reality that large numbers of people live on the environment - this is their survival base. Therefore, the destruction of the environment - land, water and forests - takes away livelihoods and economic futures. We cannot therefore, afford development that's destructive. We will only make the poor even poorer. We will destroy not only our future options, but also the present.

It is for this reason that the message of Rio+20 of green growth cannot be negated. It is a fact that India's green growth strategy will be nationally grown, because of its own imperatives of building durable and local economies based on natural resources assets and imperatives of frugal and innovative growth that is sustainable. We were right in fighting against half-baked global prescriptions of what constitutes green growth. Our right to development is non-negotiable. But so is our imperative to get that development right.

The author is the director-general of Centre for Science and Environment.