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India, and sustainable development

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Physics undergrad at IISER, Mohali.

Coronavirus has damped down the numbers a bit, as far as economy is concerned. However, the epidemic is a short term consideration; looking at the long term, there is a good chance that we are at a point that will be remembered as the starting of quite a bit of growth. Targets have been set, the government and the people are working together, and all are hoping for a bright future. This is the perfect time to educate ourselves on sustainable development, and factor in the advantages of sustainability into our business calculations.

There has been a lot of discussion for a long time now, on preserving the environment and developing industry in a way that doesn’t damage nature. Social values and natural resources should be protected from the tendency to greed that humans sometimes are subject to. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2015 came up with a set of seventeen goals set to be achieved by the year 2030. These are called the SDGs, or Sustainable Development Goals. They cover a range of topics, from energy production to poverty, agriculture to industrial development, economy to human safety.

These goals are meant to give direction to our thinking in terms of medium and long-term policies. To provide a practical basis for judging progress in these goals, the UNGA defined a set of targets for each goal. These provide a numeric value to compare a region’s situation with its past, and judge the effect of decisions. There are a total of 169 targets of all goals combined. Here, I list three goals and some of their targets, which I believe present great opportunities for India to lead the world in sustainable development, and to ensure that in the future progress is not dampened by damage to resources. I recommend the reader look up other goals too.

SDG #2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
It has become a cliche that agriculture is the backbone of India. In any case, agriculture is the backbone of the whole world – food is the basic human need. In India, a majority of farms are small-scale, so farming methods are usually less automated. This matches well with the fact that India is a labor-intensive economy – there are plenty of people available to work, and consequently plenty who need employment. One of the sustainable growth targets (target 2.3) for this goal is to “double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers“. This is in resonance with the situation in India, and any progress in that direction will give a boost to a large proportion of our population.

Another target under this goal is to maintain the genetic diversity of domesticated animals. This is very relevant to India, because we have a rich tradition of domesticating and utilizing the resources generated by the cow. The number of breeds of cow that are domesticated in India has came down quite a bit during the previous century, due to foreign rule and poor domestic policies after Independence. I think it is time for a revival, so that the cow goes back to being the economic powerhouse that it has the potential to be, justifying its sacred position in our society.

SDG #6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Indian waterways present quite an underutilized opportunity. The current government has been working to develop freight transport over the riven Ganga, which is a great initiative. Several projects of linking rivers are being undertaken. This links up with the previous goal – good water management ensures availability of water for irrigation, which increases agricultural output. Further, linking of rivers also acts as a system for flood management, providing a path for rising water to distribute itself more equally. That is what target 6.5 of this SDG is about – “implement integrated water resources management at all levels

The project Namami Gange that began in 2014 was an excellent initiative to clean the riven Ganga. Among many other initiatives, sewage treatment facilities were built to make sure that water discharged into the river was cleaned of most pollutants. This is the topic covered by SDG target 6.3 – “improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials…“. Just like the previous goal, in this case too Ganga is sacred to our culture. Let us not only give her the respect but also make use of the invaluable resource she offers to us.

SDG #7 – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
This goal is my personal favorite. Our country is blessed with the natural systems supporting all ways of clean energy generation. The Himalayas provide a great opportunity for hydroelectric power generation. One of the highest dams in the world – the Tehri dam – is located on the Bhagirathi river in Uttarakhand. The western plains of India, especially the Rann of Kutchch, are a great place for wind turbine farms, as is the Malabar coastal plain. A large part of the Deccan Plateau receives dependable sunlight throughout the year, which is conducive for solar power generation. These and other methods of renewable power generation should be utilized to the maximum.

India is a participant in the international program for production of nuclear fusion energy. Our country contributes both in terms of manufacturing and research. The SST-1 (Steady State Superconducting Tokamak – 1) is a nuclear fusion reactor at the Institute for plasma research at Gandhinagar. Nuclear fusion power is a great opportunity for continuous, reliable, renewable enrgy, and in the next quarter to half century, exciting new developments can be expected in this field. SDG target 7.2 is about “increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix“, and India is a proud contributor in that direction.

There are many other goals in which India’s contribution will align significantly with her economic interest and well-being. Industrial infrastructure development, with focus on de-centralization, is worth a mention. Our progress towards these targets deserves highlighting, and the distance we are yet to go deserves covering. Overall, our progress is most beneficial to us if we remember that the end goal is human happiness – both material and spiritual – and comfort and longevity of life. That perspective is necessary to keep in mind while thinking about development. The world that this thinking will result in, is captured well by the projected social and economic scenario SSP-1, a description of a future where

The world shifts gradually, but pervasively, toward a more sustainable path, emphasizing more inclusive development that respects perceived environmental boundaries. Management of the global commons slowly improves, educational and health investments accelerate the demographic transition, and the emphasis on economic growth shifts toward a broader emphasis on human well-being. Driven by an increasing commitment to achieving development goals, inequality is reduced both across and within countries. Consumption is oriented toward low material growth and lower resource and energy intensity

Shared socioeconomic pathway – 1

While this may sound utopian, it is a template worth keeping in mind while thinking about economic policy.

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Physics undergrad at IISER, Mohali.
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