India’s action on SDG 12, which emphasises sustainable consumption and production patterns, has been unsatisfactory; write Ria Khetan and Nand Lal Mishra
The United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 deals with resource usage. India, the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is committed to reduce its emissions by a fourth and has prepared numerous sustainable consumption and production plans that are put in the mainstream priority.
India's progress in regard to the SDG is fair enough but not satisfactory.
The average lifestyle material footprint of India according to 2015 statistics is around 8,400 kg per capita per year, which when compared to sustainable material footprint of 8,000 kg per capita per year is quite acceptable.
Just like China and Brazil, India's material footprint per capita has been the same as domestic material consumption per capita over the years.
Resource-exporting nations like Russia saw a decline in resource productivity. India, on the other hand, achieved a relative decoupling with respect to material footprint and domestic material consumption.
The SDG 12.3 focuses on reducing per capita global food waste by 2030. About 50 kg food is wasted per person per year in India, UNEP highlighted in its 2021 report. It seems rather impossible to achieve the goal to halve food waste, with only nine years left, without significantly increasing investment.
Food wastage reduction can have a significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions, hunger, pollution and money-saving during recessions. India, among South Asian countries, has a lower level of food wastage compared to its neighbouring countries.
The estimated loss in value of production of horticulture in 2012-13 was about 11 per cent and that of livestock was 3.7 per cent. The losses declined by two per cent from 2005-07.
Storage loss has been brought down from 0.22 per cent in 2012-13 to 0.03 per cent in 2019-20 and transit loss from 0.47 per cent to 0.33 per cent during the same time period. Though this is a good sign, it is still a long way from the 12.3 goal.
Management of chemicals and their release in the environment is another important step to achieving sustainability and minimising adverse impact on human health. Estimated waste generated per capita in Canada and the United States, as per Nichols and Smith in their June 2019 analysis, is way above India.
The population of China and India together constitutes 36 per cent of the global population but generates only 27 per cent of the global municipal waste. Whereas, the United States constitutes only four per cent of the global population that produces 12 per cent of the waste.
Furthermore, the plastic policy index of India is well below the national requirement, according to 2018 statistics, but this gap is much lower compared to China.
China, India and Pakistan use the method of 'phytoremediation', a concept that stems from bioremediation through the usage of plants. This involves tree plantation to restore the environment as well as degraded soil restoration.
This method is, however, less efficient. The domestic recycling rate of India was about 30 per cent in 2019 and is expected to improve in the near future.
A considerable part of the total hazardous waste that India produces is recyclable but only four per cent is recycled. Efforts are required to upgrade recycling mechanisms.
India can achieve self-sufficiency in the next 10 years if National Recycling Policy is implemented properly and scrap care techniques are shifted in the recycling industries.
SDG 12.6 and 12.7 require large companies to adopt, promote and integrate sustainable practices and publish the related reports. Sustainability is closely interlinked with economics since it mainly deals with saving of resources which, in turn, leads to cost recovery and efficiency of resources.
Some companies are realising the need for greener ways of operation and SDG 12 is one of the many goals that they are mainly focusing on.
Another important aspect is education of people, so that they are aware of sustainable development and lifestyles. This would help them make smarter and evaluated choices that are in harmony with nature.
The Indian government has included environment education as a compulsory component in the formal curriculum. This is not new as the roots of such an education system date back to the 1960s.
In 2019, there was a hike in fossil fuel subsidy which was seven times higher than alternative energy subsidies. Renewable energy subsidies rose significantly in 2017 compared to 2014, and total quantified energy subsidies fell by a huge amount.
But after 2017, there has been a slight upward trend in the total energy subsidy. In the year 2020, the government spent nearly 0.2 per cent of its GDP on fossil fuels.
This is slightly higher than in 2019. While the increase in renewable energy subsidy is worth appreciating, there is a need for shifting more resources to this area and reducing fossil fuel usage.
A very closely knitted goal is sustainable tourism. Kerala has been the leading state with respect to innovative initiatives for sustainable tourism. The project of 'Responsible Tourism' in Kumarakom takes the help of the local community by linking them to the hospitality industry and sustaining eco-friendly tourism.
Similarly, Himachal Pradesh has introduced a 'Homestay Scheme' to draw tourists to rural areas with natural, comfortable and budget-friendly accommodation and food. These states are the 'early birds' and have been well-appreciated and awarded for their efforts and innovations in the field of sustainable tourism.
These initiatives give a raw experience to the tourists and also boost local incomes.
Among all the states and union territories in India, Jammu & Kashmir and Nagaland are top performing till date with respect to SDG 12, according to the NITI Aayog's SDG dashboard 2020-21. DTE
Views expressed are personal