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India is set to fail the Sustainable Development Goals

19 Aug

A recently published study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) – the European Commission’s science and knowledge service – analyses the interaction between  and heat. The novelty of this study is that it looks not only at temperature but also  to estimate the magnitude and impact of heat waves. Heatwaves amplified by high humidity can reach above 40°C and may occur as often as every two years, leading to serious risks for human health. If global temperatures rise with 4°C, a new superheat wave of 55°C can hit regularly many parts of the world, including Europe. 

The study analyses changes in yearly probability for a high humidity heat waves since 1979 under different global warming scenarios. If  increase up to 2 C above pre-industrial levels the combined effect of heat and humidity (known as apparent temperature or Heat Index) will likely exceed 40°C every year in many parts of Asia, Australia, Northern Africa, South and North America. Europe will be least affected by up to 30% chance of having such strong heat wave annually.

However, if temperatures rise to 4°C a severe scenario is on the horizon. Scientists predict that a new super- will appear with the apparent temperature peaking at above 55°C- a level critical for human survival. It will affect densely populated areas such as USA’s East coast, coastal China, large parts of India and South America. Under this  scenario, Europe is likely to suffer annual heat waves with an apparent temperature of above 40°C regularly while some regions of Eastern Europe may be hit by heatwaves of above 55°C. (Read more )

Lipponen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, used publicly available data from NASA to demonstrate the rising temperatures across the world.

In light of the numerous reports of negative impacts of climate change, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa urged participants of the annual Munich Security Conference to consider climate change as a “security story” with far-reaching implications for global peace and stability.

In preparation for the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security released a series of reports on how SIDS could get adaptation support, including help to migrate, under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The above information is nothing new to the initiated and neither does it come as a surprise to the Political class of the World. Why else we would have been meeting up like clock work every year under the aegis of UNFCCC? And once more in less than 100 days, we meet at CoP23.

Yet when we look at the ground situation in India. The only narrative that we see is political. The noise is one of divisiveness, corruption & apathy of the governing class and neglect and ignorance of the people.

The only ray of hope lies with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who like many of his predecessors ( not all ) actually wants to lift India from the rut it has put itself in and considers that as status quo.

But how does one man alone change the narrative of a Nation?

While it is true that recent survey shows him as the most popular, with slightly diminishing returns. It is not because the NDA which he governs has done everything supremely. But more because many still believe in the person. Rather than the government. When people vote in State elections, Municipal elections they vote for PM Modi & not for the person who stands for the election. The wins of many MP, MLA, MLC is the direct aura of Narendra Modi, which kinds of blinds the vision of the voter, who otherwise would not even look at the ordinary achievements of these politicians who are no better than the ones defeated. And a couple of them even worse than them.

The PM began with taking up the broom & try clean up the filth in and around cities. But has failed to remove the filth of lethargy from the peoples. He is as the polls predict the best chance India has. Therefore it is all the more important that the Sustainable Development Goals don’t fail under his parties rhetoric of Good Governance.

We are a people who love the cacophony of posturing and politics instead of implementation of policy. We love to blame the politicians ( and rightly so to a very large extent) but don’t for a minute reflect that it is us who choose our representatives and they come from the very society which has forgotten its roots and have no pride in our traditions or culture. We are a Nation where a very high number have no civic sense, ethics or moral compass. While the remainder belongs to a class which has no influence to change the mindset.

Disconnected are the urban class and Disoriented the rural folks.

This allows the unscrupulous to bend every policy which would truly make India into a great Nation, to something they can use for their own narrow personal gains.

So much so that the narrative of a Shining India is slowly turning into a “Signing India”. Almost all the MoU’s which are being signed have headed nowhere. The states which copied the ideas of our PM to promote them have as of now not really made an impact. In a way, it should have.

Here is a test to prove it – If one still finds traffic violation, double parking, encroached footpaths and people throwing garbage all around, in-spite of CCTV installed all around. In the cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata. Not to mention the toxic froth spewing lake in Bangalore. 

Then India as a whole has failed! She voted for change. Which can’t be brought about by bringing in the same set of people into governance through the back door whom the people had rejected.

The country voted for change in 2014. And every State & Municipal elections thereafter!

A few good people at the Center can not govern India. We need the same mindset of people at the grass-root level. Sadly the NDA government equals the UPA government at this level. The apathy and inefficiency along with the latent corruption are slowly reducing the impact of all the good initiatives which India needs to take to fulfil its Paris Agreement Obligations.

The apathy & mindset of the lower rung in governance will not allow for any Sustainable Development. And Climate Change is a clear & present danger leaving us with very limited time.

Let us analyze The Global Goals vis a vis India. And see where we stand so that a course correction can be done by those who have the wherewithal and influence to do so.

spc20sdgs-globalgoalsforsustainabledevelopment-05207220dpi

Goal 1: No Poverty; Goal 2: Zero Hunger; Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being

These are goals which can’t be achieved 100% anywhere in the world. It was not possible when God’s walked the planet and will not be when AI – Robots would.

Having said that, in the Indian context, it is not just the population but the methods used which push people towards poverty.

In ancient India, there was the Varna system. A class where based on IQ and financial capacity a person was either a Teacher, a Warrior, a Tradesman or a Peasant. This combined with lower population increased the well-being amongst most. And this idea must be explored in the modern context. Sans Politics. A difficult but not impossible task.

Inequality is created when a person of a certain skill set is made to work on areas in which the persons simply can’t excel because they lack either in Physiological, Psychological or Financial strength, which makes it extremely difficult for them to train and apply the methods required to succeed and reach the higher echelon.

We have landless farmers coming into the city and do menial jobs such as security guards or sweepers etc. A person who would excel in cultivating the best wheat which a bread manufacturer, who perhaps employs them as menial labour, would never be able to. This tends to keep the poor always at the bottom of the pyramid, with hopelessness staring at their future.

This is simply because we lack the idea of creating urban farmlands which would enable the farmer to live within a city and yet find a job which he is skilled for. That such urban agriculture would have umpteen benefits can be discussed later.

India is always found to provide knee-jerk solutions more out of political compulsions rather than a long thought policy. It provides sops via loan waiver etc but has still not thought that under the PM mission for “Skill India”, it should first identify the aptitude of the people and then train them to excel within that sphere. We are trying to skill most of the farmers into everything to do with Urban India.

Skills like – Housekeeping, Shuttering Carpenter Solar Installer, Apparel, Machining, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning, Welding, Electrician Construction, 2 Wheeler Repair, 4 Wheeler Repair, Appliances, Fitter, Security, Bar-Bending, Construction-Mason, Plumbing, Kitchen, Front Office Tourism & Hospitality, Beauty Wellness, Healthcare, Retail.

How many generations would it take for a family of a poor marginalized tribal coming from the remote areas of Naxal infested states to become a skilled welder or a retail salesman? When AI is fast catching up and snatching away the traditional jobs of the urban poor, towards whom the Skill India is more targeted? Can’t really be sure poverty can be eliminated by becoming a bar bending or construction Mason. As for Beauty wellness & Hospitality, we have to be real in acknowledging that not many “customers” have the sensitivity to speak with a village bumpkin who can hardly communicate in the “slick city/town language” and is not trendy enough. Which would only lead to depression and failure for these marginalized sections of the society!

Yes, some of the urban low-income groups may benefit from the Skill India program. But it would be more of statistical and optical success good for politics rather in terms of SDG achievements.

The disaster through neglect of rural India, especially Agriculture and its related programs such as watershed implementations can’t be corrected within a short term. It would need a change in approach and mindset of all stakeholders.  But in the short term if India needs to eliminate poverty it must look at Urban & peri-urban farming as a solution and laws made to make it a viable alternative. Food is a fundamental requirement and India has the chance with its young demographic dividend, most of whom live in the rural areas to be the exporter of food and reduce inequalities amongst Nations.

However, it is most unfortunate, that even after years of running from one business house to another, by those who understand the crisis of poverty & food,  almost none have been able to figure out the math of considering Urban Farming as a profitable venture. For it is the “Cost of Land” which is very steep making RoI not very attractive for those who can help. (For the idea of terminal market complex click this link)

The laws of Capitalism is most powerful!

Goal 4: Quality Education; Goal 5: Gender Equality; Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth; Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

While we talk about education, all we focus upon is literacy. In the pretext of freedom of expression, we dish out out-dated and regressive soap-operas on Television in every regional language across India. For want of TRP, paid media creates false news and debates take place which completely polarizes society.

Cities look like hovels, as no civic sense is instilled within the citizens by the governing council members and the public at large give scant regard to basic cleanliness, driving sense or even bother about illegal construction. In-fact they willingly buy into those very properties knowing fully well that the political dispensation a decade from the present would regularize all that is illegal. This is the fallout of literacy without education. The reason for this can also be squarely attributed to politicians who have understood it to be a tax-free venture open institutions only to loot and also to launder their ill-gotten gains.

While there are no great incentives to be a teacher, in which women at large can excel & is one of the noblest profession. Decent pay and training can work wonders for the future of India.

With the city infrastructure creaking, commuting to work is one of the most stressful events for the common man, whose output shrinks day by day leading to a loss in economic growth.

Political parties are quick in mobilizing workers for disruptive agendas which serve their narrow political gains. But if the same mobilization is done of party workers, block by block, ward by ward of the elected council members to clean up the city and look into the ways by which urban farming can be done. Employ on a weekly rotation basis the unemployed persons who can monitor the basic civic rules amongst the citizens. And spread the awareness into the peri-urban areas of the megalopolises, there is hope yet that the above SDG’s could be met to some extent.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation; Goal 13: Climate Action; Goal 14: Life Below Water; Goal 15: Life on Land

As long as water would remain the cheapest commodity and education the last priority the availability of clean water is not possible. Couple that with corrupt industrial houses who still consider profit as the only motive in their lives.

While it was reported that the National Green Tribunal had taken strong action and closed down many industries in the start of this year, they are up and running with only cosmetic changes applied to the sewage treatment. These companies have the money and the legal minds to fight it out in courts to circumvent the strict laws so much so that in the state of Maharashtra at Navi Mumbai area stray dogs have turned blue in colour. (Click on the NDTV Report for video.) 

It is not just life below water that is affected by these kinds of pollution but also life on land gets affected. As ground water turns poisonous and unless stringent penalties are taken India would see Minamata Disease.

A simple solution would be to use drones with image sensing radars which can spot pollutants on both land and river. It could also collect water and soil samples through a robotic arm and help authorities to find the right solution.

We are already having CCTV cameras in our towns and city roads. Hovering drones over industrial areas would definitely help in limiting damages towards the planet and it would perhaps be the best climate action taken by the government.

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy; Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

India is blessed by the Sun & the Sea. It’s long coastline and abundant sunshine makes a perfect case to apply Wind/Solar power stations to meet its energy needs of the present and can tap into the wave energy as and when required in the future.

However, this opportunity for abundance hides the fact that large tracts of land are required to install solar power stations. Land at no point of time is devoid of biodiversity nor are there any place on earth where there is no Life on Land. There may not be human or mammalian occupation but micro-organism or invertebrates are sure to exist.

But then we have a proverb – “crushed like an ant”, “trampled the grass”  to prove our infinite strength and that is exactly what we do when we set up the wind or solar parks. Now we are also thinking of apeing some other countries and the thought of floating solar panels has gained currency. But when one covers vast track of water body, what happens to the marine life just under the shade? What would happen to the pond/river/sea bed which would not have the option of sunlight touching it? Would we then not disturb Life on Water?

There is no lesser evil. One must stop this choice between development and destruction. India stands in a unique position which can give it leadership position is showcasing a balance hereto unseen. And I daresay that it would be Prime Minister Narender Modi, should the right ideas reach the PMO.

India by default knows about sustainable living, it has been a way of life which we have forgotten only in the last 30 odd years, in our race to ape the “developed” west. The disconnect of a Nation from its culture is one of the root cause of global warming. A study of the link given above would make many agree that we know how to connect with Nature. What we need is how to do so in the modern concept.

We must declare mandatory Rooftop Renewable Energy, for both green field and retrofit. Yes, city skyscrapers are not of the same height. As of now let them be fed by the green power from already established RE Power Plants. But the Development Plan henceforth shall take into account the Sun Path and build heights across towns and cities would be determined by it. This would enable every roof to carry Solar PV. Roads cutting across cities would be as per the wind pattern determined through computation of fluid dynamics, so that tunnel effect is exploited to the maximum by vertical axis wind turbines which also doubles as street lamp-posts.

We must contain the spread of Powerplants to new areas. We must aim for Net Zero buildings not by deriving smart calculations but by use of vernacular architecture. By instilling pride in Indian Architecture so that we consume less energy and water, to begin with. Only through responsible consumption & production of already fragile and scarce resources, we can hope to survive. To adapt to a changing climate which we are already too late to stop.

The devastating cycle of floods and droughts have begun and no political calculations can stop the downfall of the ruling party when millions die or there is a scarcity of food. The vast majority of voters are the peasant and the blue collared workers. Who can simply connect to one attribute of the adult franchise; if s/he has voted for a particular party it is because they want their livelihood to be cheaper/better. The recent price rise of vegetables has already been squarely put as a failure of Modi Government by them. They will simply throw out the present incumbent irrespective of having the knowledge that the alternative would also not be better. It is their only way to vent frustration and they will use it.

But those who understand governance know that at present continuity is the best hope. We don’t need populist measures but hard risk-taking decisions which the Prime Minister has the gumption to take. Only such actions would help stave off the extreme danger which is already manifest.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Goal 9/11 is perhaps the most important in the Indian context as they are drivers for growth. They are the change agents which can catapult the country from a developing to a developed nation.

And therein lies the extreme danger and challenge!

The danger is building cities which would destroy forest and biodiversity, uproot indigenous population and further marginalize the poor. This would surely happen if we use the calculation of Capitalism. Where the only motive is to profit and to a large extent profiteer.

And therefore the challenge, the effort it would take to make truly Sustainable Smart Cities using the best of industry and innovation. Of using products which by themselves have a small carbon footprint and by design would help reduce consumption. They would not come cheap and would, therefore, fail in showing returns on investment in the traditional way of calculation. Where the principal factor is greed, not sustenance.

Mansoor Khan in his book The Third Curve. has rightly looked at the factors; excerpts are given below –

Financial markets are under threat. Growth rates are dropping. 
The age-old remedies prescribed to boost economic growth are proving ineffective, if not outright dangerous. 
Eight years after the 2008 global financial crash, nothing seems to work as per projections. 
But what if the rules of the game have inverted? 
What if economic growth is eluding us for a reason that we have discounted all this while? 
What if there are indeed limits to growth? 
Yes, the Modern Industrial World stands at a crucial and unavoidable turning point. The sacrosanct paradigm of modern economics, namely perpetual growth, is in the process of ending. Our economic growth model makes 2 simple yet amazingly unreasonable assumptions: 
1. That money is the currency that runs the world. In fact it is energy. 
2. That we have limitless energy & other resources on a finite planet.

Each of us must read what he says or hear him speak, to understand what each of us must do to push the government in the right direction.

We, therefore, can not design the mundane cities and call them Smart. We can not afford to use glib mathematical calculations and call buildings “Net Zero” and hang a plaque from some crediting agency whose underlying raison d’être is to promote Business As Usual.

Here is a simple example to prove the charge. India recorded the maximum temperature of 51°Celsius in May this year in Rajasthan. It has already been scientifically established that temperatures are set to rise in India due to climate change, the excerpts of which are at the start of this article. We also know that the mean average temperature of the Indian subcontinent has risen by 0.6°Celsius . This was declared by no other than Union Minister Dr. Harshvardhan on the 5th of August’17.

We also know as per NEERI report, that glass facade increase surrounding temperature by 17-19°Celsius. Yet we have “experts” who with the use of clever and sophisticated software prove that the building is a Net Zero energy emission building. This is not only happening in India but all over the World.

The Global Goals indeed require Innovations. But we are innovating lies! The problem with that is while the pretenders would make some money and the architects of the Paris Agreement would pat themselves on their backs.

Earth would neither spare the smooth talkers nor the soothsayers. It would simply extinguish everything. 

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals

August -15th: Climate change will have a negative effect on key crops such as wheat, rice, and maize, according to a major scientific report out Tuesday that reviewed 70 prior studies on global warming and agriculture. (phys.org)

August -18th: Extreme weather events are costing India $9-10 billion annually and climate change is projected to impact agricultural productivity with increasing severity from 2020 to the end of the century. In a recent submission to a parliamentary committee, the agriculture ministry said productivity decrease of major crops would be marginal in the next few years but could rise to as much as 10-40% by 2100 unless farming adapts to climate change-induced changes in weather. (Economic Times)

August -19th: Sending worrying signals to the farm sector, deficient rains in central and peninsular India have taken toll on the ongoing Kharif (summer crop) sowing operation, bringing down the total acreage as on Friday, as compared to the sown area during the corresponding period last year. Oilseeds and pulses are the worst hit. It will increase the country’s import bills if the sowing does not pick up in next two-three weeks. India, in any case, has to depend on imports to meet its domestic demand for these crops. (Times of India)

The Ph ys.org report on Climate change as reported on August 15th’17 juxtaposed with the two local news on India proves that nothing is a “Chinese Hoax” as claimed by a brilliant(?) analyst of world affairs.

In fact, both the Chinese and Indian governments must tone down their political rhetoric and get into actual cooperation to save their peoples from the Danse Macabre of Planet Earth. Unless peace prevails, there would be an atmosphere of mistrust and with the ever severe climate change impacts of drought/flood cycle neighbours would not come to rescue of each other when most needed. Hegemony will not help. We still have but one planet and finite resources. Greed has brought about Climate Change, further lust for an appropriation of wealth would lead to Armageddon. And there is no prize for knowing that Goddess Earth will win.

There has to be Partnership of Nations to ensure that the Global Goals are actually met. It is the need of the hour but real-politics is taking precedence of utopian ideals. While this article is India centric, it does not limit the issues to this Nation alone. For what happens to the Indian continent is true for the whole of Asia and in fact the world. We are failing due in our duty towards the planet. And no amount of platitude and self-praise would help us.
It is time to get real and do Justice to Earth.
 

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