India In 2047: Environmental Paradise Or Ecological Nightmare?

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By Anurit Kanti

The scenario of India’s environmental and state of sustainable development can take two shapes, one is where India has met its Nationally Determined Contribution targets and has achieved SDGs

30 years from now, India will definitely be a superpower in the geopolitical realm, which is apparent from its position in the current global arena. However when it comes to the environment, the extrapolation of the trajectory of various metrics might paint a rather abysmal picture.

The scenario of India’s environmental and state of sustainable development can take two shapes, one is the best case scenario where India has met its Nationally Determined Contribution targets and has achieved the Sustainable Development Goals.

However a more realistic picture would take into account the rate of population growth, resource depletion, urbanization, deforestation, greenhouse emissions increase, energy usage and biodiversity loss and show a rather tragic picture of India’s environment, where the “tragedy of commons” has led to the destruction of India’s environment. However to consider India’s position in 2047, we must look at various factors and extrapolate the data to assess what state India’s environment would be in, and where India would be in terms of sustainable development.

As clear from the above graph, India would be the most populated nation by 2047, surpassing China, with an estimated population of between 1.5 to 1.7 billion people. This would have ramifications on the energy demand, consumption rate, rate of urbanization and per capita greenhouse emissions rate. This would also put a stress on the agricultural sector, which will have to cater to the food security needs of the large population, and as the agricultural sector accounts to about 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in India, the carbon footprint of the country is also set to increase.

With the urbanization rate steadily increasing in India and the urban population set to cross 50 per cent by 2047, as shown by the above graph, consumption and waste generation is also set to increase. With the urban population having a higher ecological footprint than the rural population, one can imagine the stress on the environment the urbanization of India is likely to have.

However it must be noted that certain government policies like having electric cars and green buildings mandatory will have a good impact on the environment. With 2030 set as the target by the Indian government to only sell electric cars, 17 years post that target, in 2047 there will be more efficiency and eco-friendliness incorporated into the transportation system. By 2047, with policies aimed at making every building green, which uses less water, optimises energy efficiency, conserves natural resources, generates less waste and provides healthier spaces for occupants, there will be a conscious shift to eco-friendliness which will be beneficial for the environment.

However with rise in consumerism, India will need large landfills to accommodate the waste generated, which will lead to degradation of land and deterioration of the environment. With some reports stating that India is losing 1.5 million hectares of forest cover each year, while other reports stating that India having a reforestation rate of 0.93 per cent, the state of forest cover in India will entirely depend on efforts made towards afforestation in the coming years. However given the rate of urbanization and population increase, the amount of forest cover may also face a blow if large afforestation efforts aren’t made.

By 2030, India has pledged to decrease its emission intensity by 30 per cent, and make 40 per cent of the population dependent on renewable energy; hence by 2047 there might be an optimistic scenario when it comes to greenhouse emission rate and renewable energy. However this too is speculative, given that India will have to provide energy security for a large section of the population by 2047, which can be met through non-renewable sources if India doesn’t change its energy mix (which it will likely do).

With global rise in temperature and climate change effects, there might be an increase in biodiversity loss and hazard to India’s 3,214 km coast with rising sea levels. For achieving the SDGs, there is an annual investment gap of $1.9 trillion to 3.1 trillion, which will make the achievement of the SDGs difficult, but by 2047, India may emerge as a leader in the climate change realm along with China giving the tectonic shifts in geopolitics, with the usual superpowers like USA, France and so on taking a backseat.

According to Dr Vaibhav Chaturvedi, Research Fellow at the Council of Energy, Environment and Water, “State of sustainable development will be driven through two channels- public awareness and pressure, and through proactive government intervention. As research has shown, environmental consciousness is directly correlated to income levels. At current per capita income level of over 8000 US$ in China, we are seeing a mass awakening as well as government response. India’s current income level is just above $1700 per capita. At a 6 per cent average annual growth rate in per capita income, India will reach China’s income level after 26-27 years.”

He also added “Being a democracy, we should start seeing public awareness and pressure much earlier at least in the urban areas where people with higher incomes reside. We are already seeing beginnings of environmental awareness in Indians, mostly because of health impacts like that due to air pollution.”

“By 2047, I do expect the situation to be much better for sustainable development related issues as people face increasing resource scarcity in their day to day lives as well as are better aware due to communication technologies. So even if we don’t see any proactive government intervention, we can expect public pressure to bring about a positive movement in the direction of sustainable development, though this progress will be uneven across the country depending on the level of income, education, and awareness across the country,” said Chaturvedi.

Being one of the fastest growing countries, India has an optimistic future, however the scenario of the environment can take two different turns, given the efforts made in the coming few years, which will determine where India stands in terms of sustainable development and the environment. Here’s to hoping that it becomes an environmental paradise and an epitome of sustainability, and not an ecological nightmare.

Source: BW Businessworld

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