Poshan Outlook

India - Go Green Or Perish

A country struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic is hit by a cyclone from the east and locusts from the west. Last year, such a scenario would have been rejected as implausible. But that became a reality for India.

Poshan Outlook
Joydeep Gupta - July 14, 2020
India - Go Green Or Perish

Aside from those invested in conspiracy theories, it seems clear that the Covid-19 virus jumped to humans from one or more animals to which we have become dangerously close because we keep cutting down forests and hunting them for their imaginary medicinal value. For years, experts have warned that habitat destruction fuels the emergence of zoonotic diseases, of which Covid-19 is one.

It is even clearer that Cyclone Amphan that decimated eastern India and southwestern Bangladesh in May 2020 became a super cyclone because the temperature on the surface of the Bay of Bengal was at a record high due to climate change.

And it is just as clear that locusts are breeding in far larger numbers than usual in the Horn of Africa and southern Yemen due to repeated bouts of unseasonal rainfall, yet another effect of climate change. After decimating farmlands in large parts of eastern Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Iran and Pakistan, the swarms have already invaded three states in western and central India, in the greatest locust swarm in 26 years.

Fanning the flames

What is the rational response to these multiple disasters? Two courses of action are obvious. One, safeguard biodiversity by safeguarding forests. Two, move transport and industry to aggressively go green, to minimise emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. India is weakening its environment protection laws. Most of these laws have been changed to make way for “development”. Large tracts of forest have already been done with to build dams and roads. In a detailed report, data news portal IndiaSpend counted 270 projects approved in and around India’s most protected areas since then. Now the government is allowing firms to drill oil wells and mine coal inside forests.

India is also planning more dams though most of the existing ones can be run only four hours a day at a profit, when the demand peaks. Most of these dams are in the Himalayas, inside forests, biodiversity hotspots and ecologically sensitive zones. Apart from what they will do to the area around them, they will affect water supply to all of northern, eastern and north-eastern India, and this when climate change is already making water supply more erratic.

New opportunities

One fundamental problem in our current economic model is that governments do not take into account the health and environmental costs when approving plans or projects. The Covid-19 pandemic proved how dangerously myopic this is. Low-carbon investment would save eight times more than costs when accounting for reduced health and environmental expenditures.

A new study led by Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and leading climate economist Nicholas Stern found that spending on new green energy projects generates twice as many jobs for every dollar invested, compared with equivalent allocations to fossil fuel projects.

A group of firms working together as an Energy Transitions Commission has come up with a detailed roadmap of how to have a green post-lockdown stimulus. The main points are:

•Unleash massive investment in renewable power systems;
•Boost the construction sector via green buildings and green infrastructure;
•Support the automotive sector while pursuing clean air;
•Make the second wave of government support to businesses conditional to climate commitments;
•Provide targeted support to innovative low-carbon activities;
•Accelerate the transition of the fossil fuels industry;
•Do not let carbon pricing and regulations spiral down.

There is no shortage of plans. G20 finance ministers – including that of India – have committed their countries to an “environmentally sustainable economic recovery” from the lockdowns forced by Covid-19. But there is hardly any sign of that in India’s stimulus package.

Short-term thinking backfires

Focussing on immediate profits rather than a robust and sustainable economy – has its negative consequences. It often feels that there is all-out assault on the very ecosystem on which the economy is based.


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