“How can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers, and the air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source?” asked Indira Gandhi in her address in the UN conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. The powerful statement formed the basis of arguments of developing countries which tread a fine line between poverty alleviation and environmental concerns. The industrialized countries cannot thrust strict environmental regulations upon the developing countries as it would prevent all measures that address social problems in the country.
The consensus among developing countries around the Paris agreement shows a change in the scenario. Developing countries like India have a lot more at stake due to climate change and it is reflected in urgency for such an agreement. India, China and most of the developing nations are large pollutants. For any measure to keep global temperature below limits, it is important for these countries to switch from fossil fuels to renewables. In addition to the international commitments, there are several issues that India can address by adopting renewable energy. Some of the pressing reasons for India to ditch fossil fuels are concerned with the protection its vulnerable communities. Hence here are 5 such reasons for India to adopt a Swachh Energy mission.
A study in 2015 showed that there was a 30% increase in cases of acute respiratory infection in the country since 2010. The high levels of pollution in Delhi caused a nationwide furore owing to the imminent health effects. Reports suggested that about 2 million children in the capital would never attain full lung capacity. 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India and with the increasing urbanisation, same trends can be seen in semi-urban regions of the country as well. Pollution at such alarming levels is caused prominently by fossil fuel usage in vehicles and power plants. The increasing health hazards also take a toll on the health expenditure which could further denigrate the growth rate.
A study shows that majority of the untapped coal reserves are in the Central Indian Landscape. The landscape is home to some of the densest forests in the country and houses about 30 % of the world tiger population. India currently uses open cast mining to extract coal which is the least expensive and requires low-level technology. Destruction of such forests comes with costs of destruction of forest cover, mass migration of people dependent on the forests and subsequent poverty and unemployment and increase in human-animal conflict.
There is ample scientific evidence to show that natural disasters have increased in frequency and intensity due to human activities. The imminent effects of climate change are being felt every day in cities like Chennai that saw unprecedented rains that crippled the city and killed hundreds, in Hyderabad where heat wave claims lives every year and Delhi where the cold winters kill several on the streets. The urban governments in general lag behind in providing required infrastructure for the low-income groups of the city which makes them more vulnerable to such incidents. Corruption, Flouting of norms and Regularisation puts thousands at risk since the population density is high.
About 50% of the country’s workforce is dependent on Agriculture and agriculture is largely dependent on rainfall. Uncertainty in rainfall can impoverish thousands across the country. Moreover, failed rainfalls have been associated with an increase in farmer suicides and drop in food production. One failed monsoon in 2009has led to a drop in rice production by 15 million tons. India cannot achieve food security nor realise its demographic potential if half of the workforce is put out of work for a year. In the contrary, unexpected rains in the harvest season can destroy crops.
Migration to urban areas is on the rise over the years and the issues discussed previously is poised to displace more people. A Greenpeace study in 2009 showed a possible increase in migrations due to sea level rise along the Indian coast. This further increases the load on resources especially in urban areas which has been witnessing high population density. Any increase beyond the carrying capacity of the supporting ecosystem would lead to severe scarcity of essential resources like water which is being seen in cities like Bangalore.