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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 50 New Delhi December 3, 2016

Is Delhi Ready to Take Tough Decisions?

Monday 5 December 2016

by Anshuman Gupta

Delhi is increasingly becoming a difficult place to live in with increasing levels of pollution there. It has been manifested with the recent blanket of thick haze at the onset of winter. This is in spite of the tough measures taken by the Delhi Government under the leadership of Mr Kejriwal during the last one year or so. He started the odd-even scheme at the risk of losing his popularity as a result of the inconveniences it caused to the citizens of Delhi. However, it was supported by the Delhi people at large. It proves that people are ready to bear inconveniences for the sake of better environment. Now at least A-class cities of India have reached a level of economic development where the citizens of these cities can afford the good air by sacrificing their conveniences. There is a close relationship between environment, energy and globalisation. They, in fact, impact each other in many ways.

Environment, energy and globalisation are related concepts. Their relationship apparently runs in one direction. Higher level of globalisation leads to increase in opportunities for economic activities, more productive efficiencies and further specialisation and innovations on the premise of comparative/absolute advantages. It leads to additional uses of energy which, in turn, result in more deterioration of the environment. Globalisation does not have only a negative impact on the environment. It can have a positive impact as well through import of environmentally sound technologies and complying with higher standards of environment. In fact, it has been found that at the initial level of economic development, the increased economic activities cause fast damage to environment on account of more emphasis on economic activities rather than the quality of air or environment. People are more worried about their livelihoods at the cost of the quality of environment. However, after reaching a certain level of income, the citizens of the country start demanding the luxury goods. Since good quality of air and surrounding environment are considered a luxury (which they can now afford), they start demanding it from the government. Even the government is now ready to take the risk of adopting strict environmental regulations as they do not seem to be politically costly at this point of time. It means after a certain critical level of income, the local environment starts improving. This has been verified empirically the world over. Recently the Delhi Government’s odd-even policy (which appeared to be causing a lot of inconveniences to the residents of the State) is also a testimony to it. This income effect is famously called the Kuznets curve: a loose U-shaped relationship between income and environmental quality. The critical level is estimated to come to around a per capita income of $ 5000-6000 per year in case of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2). However, this Kuznets’ impact is because of the increase in income, which might not necessarily be on account of increase in trade and investment. Some researches have found that after controlling the impact of income, trade and investment do not have a detrimental impact on environment.

So after a certain level of income, the local pollution can be controlled by taking some administrative and legislative measures at the local level. Besides the odd-even policy, the Delhi Government can initiate measures like banning the burning of leftover crops on farms, phasing out the old diesel vehicles, adopting more stringent emission norms, driving the industry and power plants out of the NCR, etc. However, these measures are not workable in case of global pollutants. Global warming is the result of global pollutants, which are termed as greenhouse gases. These mainly result from the combustion of fossil fuels. They are global pollutants leading to externalities at the global level. To tackle them, there is a need to have an agreement at the global level. The Kyoto Protocol was meant for it. The Montreal Agreement was another example of tackling the problem of ozone depletion. However, a comprehensive successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2012, is still elusive, though a relatively weak version of it in the form of the Paris Agreement has been agreed upon of late.

India, being an emerging economy, has achieved a threshold level of economic development where she can afford the improved quality of environment at least in A-class cities. Her willingness for the same is manifest even at the national level through the renewed emphasis of the new government on environment with many of its programmes and policies. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF), Government of India has explicitly mentioned its main objective as conserving environment and natural resources for the present and future generations in a manner consistent with the aspirations of the country for growth and development. In order to achieve this, the MoEF aims at increasing the forest and tree cover to 33 per cent of the geographical area of the country; conserving the existing forests, wildlife and water resources; surveying of various areas for identification of new species; and controlling pollution. The ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, launched by our Prime Minister, is another testimony to it. Providing LPG connections to below poverty line families in the recent budget is also a step in the same direction. India has further reaffirmed the pledge she made in the Paris Agreement by ratifying her commitments.

However, at the same time, generating jobs for approximately five million graduating youths every year too is a challenge confronting the government. The government has planned to face this challenge by reemphasising the manufacturing sector and pledging to increase its share in the GDP to 25 per cent. It would require the increased use of energy. In keeping with the “Make in India” vision, the new five-year Foreign Trade Policy (2015-20) of the Government of India plans for increasing exports of goods and services, generation of employment and increasing value-addition in the country with new initiatives to support both the manufacturing and service sectors, and improving the ‘ease of doing business’ in India. In the same context, India’s national energy policy has also taken many initiatives giving high priority to energy accessibility, energy security and mitigation of climate change. So while the energy and environmental policies are taking care of both energy and environment, trade policy, along with industrial policy, is to ensure economic growth and employment generation.

Since still a major chunk of the population is below the poverty line in India, it is difficult to take tough decisions to tackle environmental problems at the national level. However, difficult decisions can be initiated selectively in some A-class cities, which have gone up the evolutionary curve of development and whose citizens can afford now the good air in lieu of sacrificing some conveniences.

Dr Anshuman Gupta is a Professor, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.