The TrickyScribe: Economic equality is the key to solving environmental challenges, concluded stakeholders on Tuesday echoing the global concern in a conference on ‘Reducing Inequalities in India by 2030: Challenges and Way Forward in Implementing SDG 10’ organized by Department of Policy Studies, TERI School of Advanced Studies in New Delhi.
There is a need of paradigm shift in the policy orientation towards legal regimes that recognize ecosystem services and natural assets as public goods, empower systems of accountability, and expand public access beyond gender, caste, social identities and geographies if India is to achieve the SDGs.
Economic equality to contain Global Warming
The experts held that achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 10, can be a distant task in face of economic disparities and Indian government needs to chalk out comprehensive plans in case it is serious of achieving climate goals in line with Paris Accord.
In his keynote address, former union minister of environment and rural development Jairam Ramesh emphasized that for achieving sustainable development it is crucial to address the elements of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.
Ramesh said India is a much more unequal society now than it was earlier. Although we have seen high economic growth and reduction in poverty, there is a faster-growing risk of inequality.
He said there is disparity across geographies, states, income groups and social groups. The real question is whether there is income convergence amongst us, and is it converging India. The straight answer is no, Ramesh quipped.
“Disadvantaged minority groups within states are disproportionately at risk of climate change, coupled with the disparity of income, socio-cultural distances, health, and gender inequalities. International cooperation, domestic reforms and grassroots pressure is required if we are to achieve progress for both inequality and climate action,” said Ramesh.
There is a multiplier effect in doing so: investment in activities that alleviate climate change can also support economic growth, altering our energy trajectory towards cleaner production and new technologies, and improving health and quality of life for a country like India, which is now one of the globally recognized economies.
“India has realized this and is now moving towards rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth, and I am optimistic that with the sense of urgency and multiple benefits associated with these actions there is real potential for change to achieve SDG 10 and develop a public policy focussed upon the restriction inequality,” Ramesh said.
Inequalities in income and wealth are in precarious condition and have been widening not only in India, but globally. India has witnessed an admirable rate of economic growth in the last couple of decades, but we have been unable to address the challenges of inequalities which exist on every front – social, economic, gender, political and environmental.
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As per the recent estimation in 2017, the richest 1 percent in India owned more than 70 percent of the country’s wealth which means that small section of society shares lion’s share of national income whereas large sections of society are devoid of income. These income inequalities are further exacerbated due to costs imposed by degraded environments and an unequal access to resources.
Vice Chancellor, TERI School of Advanced Studies, Dr Leena Srivastava, while addressing the audience emphasized that sustainability is the new engine for global economic growth for any country, and India in its present economic path, is no exception.
Inclusive development a must
“The Agenda 2030 document, listing the 17 sustainable development emphasizes the importance of inclusive development and an equitable access to all social and natural resources to all segments of society. Existing deep inequities in India around access to social infrastructure and services as well as the vulnerabilities around depleting natural resources must be addressed with utmost priority for India to be able to reap the benefits of being a young country,” Dr Srivastava said.
Presenting their views while addressing various cross-cutting issues related to equity and inequality, Dr Govind Kelkar (Senior Advisor, Landesa), Prof Sudha Pai (National Fellow, ICSSR) and Dr Samar Verma (Senior Program Specialist, IDRC, Canada), emphasized that for India it is important to factor in environmental inequality that goes hand in hand with other forms of exploitation and discrimination.
They highlighted that poorer communities are disproportionately exposed to high levels of environmental pollution and that environmental protection measures are often poorly enforced or neglected altogether in the areas where such communities live, suggesting sort of “double-discrimination.”
They further emphasized that despite contributing little to environmental problems, such communities suffer disproportionate burdens and impacts which in fact leads to environmental injustice.