Will India Take the Lead in the Race to Rio?
This week, people the world over are celebrating World Environment Day (June 5). As an emerging global environmental leader, India officially hosted the UN’s World Environment Day celebrations this year, with the theme “Forests: Nature at Your Service”. This year is also the International Year of Forests, and many World Environment Day activities in India reflected this focus, including a biodiversity film festival, tree plantation, green walkathon, and release of a new UN Report, “Forests in a Green Economy: A Synthesis”.
World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event, but this year it has taken on a very special significance: it marks the point when we have exactly one year before the pivotal Rio Earth Summit 2012. This is the start of the “Race to Rio”, when countries have to take stock of their policies and actions to protect the environment, and need to step up their commitments in the face of ever more urgent challenges facing our planet. As emphasized by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Program Executive Director, “WED 2011 comes precisely 12 months before the Rio+20 meeting in Brazil next year, where the world will come together to try and forge a new and more decisive response to the sustainable development challenge of the 21st century”.
Earlier Earth Summits have demonstrated that the biggest successes are achievable when developed and developing countries come together to create a common vision and join forces to turn that vision into a reality. At Rio 2012, we will be looking to India to reconcile divergent perspectives and demonstrate the kind of solutions-oriented leadership that India displayed at the UNFCCC’s Copenhagen and Cancun conferences. We’ll also be looking to India (and other countries) to come prepared to take additional steps to create a more sustainable future.
India has already taken many steps recently that will help it take up the leadership mantle at Rio in 2012:
- On May 25, 2011, India launched the UN Biodiversity Decade for Asia and the Pacific, and Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh stated that conservation is a national imperative for India, since lives and livelihoods of millions of rural and urban people are dependent on the sustainable use of natural resources.
- On May 12, 2011, at the 19th Ministerial of the UN Committee on Sustainable Development (of which India is a member), Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh stated that India is committed to equitable access and benefit sharing of natural resources and reiterated that there is a gap in funding flow from rich to poor countries for technological leapfrogging.
- On May 11, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests appointed an Expert Panel to provide a roadmap for Green National Accounting (GNA) and examine the impact on the environment of a 9% GDP growth rate. The aim is to evolve a mechanism so GDP reporting will incorporate environmental costs by 2015. The panel will be chaired by economist Partha Dasgupta.
- On May 9, 2011 India released an interim report on low carbon strategies for inclusive growth. The report signaled India’s intention to balance economic growth of 8-9% with a low carbon development pathway.
- On May 5, 2011, Deepak Gupta, Secretary of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy announced that India will add 17,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy by 2017, at an additional cost of 33.6 billion.
- On April 1, 2011, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency’s Perform, Achieve, Trade (PAT) program was supposed to go into effect within eight high energy-consuming industrial sectors, with nearly 500 Designated Consumers. PAT implementation has been delayed , but the scheme is expected to become operational this summer, and is expected to prevent the emission of 23 mMTCO2e by 2014.
- On March 29, 2011, MoEF launched an ambitious Black Carbon Research Initiative, a joint effort involving government agencies and scientific institutions. The study aims to produce definitive research on the global warming potential of black carbon aerosols, assess their albedo effect, determine what warming is caused by black carbon in the South Asia region (including Himalayan glaciers) and conduct modeling on glacial melt due to black carbon.
- On February 24, 2011, India’s Prime Minister approved the National Mission for a Green India, which aims to double India’s afforested areas by 2020, adding an additional 10 million hectares. The plan’s objective is for forests to absorb 50-60 million tons of CO2 annually, offsetting about 6% of India’s annual emissions.
- On February 18, 2011, MoEF launched a large study for valuation of natural capital and ecosystem services. The study aims at accurately monetizing natural capital and biodiversity in India, and includes formulation of a Green GDP and Green State GDP.
- India also announced that it will host its first National Forestry Congress later this year, with the theme “forests in a changing world”. It will bring together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss and create advances in forestry approaches.
NRDC has been closely studying many of India’s actions to move towards a low-carbon economy. In this coming year, as the “Race to Rio” intensifies, we look forward to India implementing even stronger actions. India has shown it can launch myriad progressive plans and policies, but in the coming year it should focus on achieving concrete results on the ground. The lead-up to Rio is an opportunity to do just that. India clearly shares the goal of the Rio Earth Summit: progress towards a green economy, and pathways towards sustainable development and poverty eradication. This is no small feat, but we hope India, the U.S. and other countries will rise to the challenge.
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