A clean environment will be our best gift to posterity
We have already compromised a lot on the prospects of the future generations to live in a healthy environment.Updated: Jan 28, 2019 07:37 IST
Early this year, Oxfam reported that the richest 10% of India’s population owns 73% of its wealth. As the graph of earnings of the rich climbed, and as the residence of the richest Indian was aiming at the sky, the poorest half of Indians was struggling, with a mere 1% growth. It is in the backdrop of this glaring disparity, that we have to read Robbie Andrew’s (CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Norway) comment that India’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions grew by an estimated 4.6% in 2017, despite it being a turbulent year for its economy. India’s emissions are low at 1.8 tonnes of CO2 per capita, compared to the world average of 4.2 tonnes, but it is a growing economy with an increasingly urbanising population. Andrew makes an interesting observation that demonetisation and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) had noticeable effects on the economy and, therefore, on emissions, in the first eight months of 2017. Two contributing factors to this decline were the reduction in the consumption of petroleum products and the decline in cement production.
As one of the world’s largest economies, China ranks the highest in CO2 production. It is also the world leader in the fight against climate change, through its energy efficient green buildings and technological innovations and adaptations. According to China’s official news agency, its carbon intensity fell 5.1% in 2017 compared to the previous year. Its plans include commissioning eight large scale, carbon capture storage facilities, following the “Climate Works”, a Switzerland-based company that works on technologies for carbon footprint reduction. Their commercial plant, the first in the world, established in Hinwil was commissioned in May 2017. The plant removes 900 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year by passing it through a proprietary filter. This gas is then fed to nearby greenhouses with 20% increase in the yield of crops such as lettuce.
India was ranked as the third highest CO2 emitter in the world in 2015 after China and the US by the International Energy Agency. It has pledged under the Paris Agreement to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 33-35% by 2030. As a leading destination for private sector players in clean technology sectors, India is committed to achieve the renewable energy commitments made for the Paris Agreement, having created a 13-gigawatt-plus market for solar energy and the fourth largest wind power market in the world. However, if India is to lead climate change initiatives, it has to make more investments in technologies such as carbon capture. Developed nations are discussing several strategies for reducing carbon. These include higher efficiency at the coal-fired power plants, expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low/zero emitting alternatives, increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses, and more. Steps suggested at the societal and individual levels are lifestyle related- energy efficient homes, solid waste reduction/recycling, choice transportation etc. Of course all this points to a sustainable style of living for generations to come.
One of my favourite definitions of sustainability is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Our Common Future, a Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development). A few years ago, an elderly friend of mine, who lives in a plush area in Delhi, stayed at my home in Bangalore. Her stay at Bangalore was to relive two sights that she loves most: a starry night and a blue sky. Still possible to do both in Bangalore, perhaps not as spectacularly as she must have done in her youth. I asked her what our grandchildren would do and she replied sadly, “They will never miss this, as they would not have a chance to see them in the first place.” We have already compromised a lot on the prospects of the future generations to live in a healthy environment, to be able to breathe good air and drink pure water, or watch blue skies and starry nights. As political parties wrestle for power, let this be a pledge, an obligation to posterity: a clean and healthy environment.
Kusala Rajendran is professor at the Centre for Earth Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India
The views expressed are personal
First Published: Jan 28, 2019 07:32 IST