One of the highlights of the latest budget which is otherwise is a lack lustre one, is the time and space devoted for ‘Environment & Climate Change’ by the Finance Minister in her Budget speech. This will definitely help to send right messages and underline the significance given by the government to the burning issue. Now the government needs to follow up its words with proper actions.
India is a Party to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Aim of the Paris Agreement is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Under the Paris Agreement, India has submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) outlining eight (8) targets for 2021-2030, including (i) to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level, (ii) to achieve about 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance, (iii) to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. The other targets pertain to sustainable lifestyles; climate friendly growth path; climate change adaptation; climate change finance; and capacity building and technology.
It’s not just about meeting our commitments to world at large but also about overcoming hardships faced by millions of people at home due to climate change. As per information of Central Water Commission, in the year 2017, due to floods/heavy rains, 6.076 million hectare (mha) of area was affected and damage to crops represented an area of 4.972 mha. As per information of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, five States were affected by drought in 2016-17 and 2017-18, whereas six States were affected by drought in the year 2018-19.
Therefore, the government needs to take more measures to develop heat and drought tolerant wheat, flood tolerant rice, drought tolerant pulses, water logging and high temperature tolerant tomato etc. Recent price rise of many food related items may be related to loss of crop due to vagaries of Monsoon and steps in the direction mentioned above may help not just the farmers but also the common man. Further, there should be interventions like site specific rainwater harvesting structures in drought affected areas; recycling of harvested water through supplemental irrigation to alleviate moisture stress during mid-season dry spells; improved drainage in flood-prone areas; conservation tillage; artificial groundwater recharge and water saving micro-irrigation methods and measures like these would help us to overcome the perpetual problem of flood and droughts.
In another welcome move, the FM has proposed closure of thermal power plants that are old as their carbon emission levels are high. However, this is easier said than done as it involves various other issues such as honouring the PPA, objections by the trade unions and providing alternative jobs for those who lose their jobs due to closure. For example, in Punjab, when the Rophar and Bathinda thermal power stations were shut down there were some issues relating to trade unions.
Even before the FM made the announcements, steps were being taken in this regard by many power generating companies. For example, NTPC has already given an in-principle clearance to replace around 11,000 MW of its old and inefficient thermal power plants. At this juncture, what we may need is a policy directive by the government clearly spelling out how to deal with old PPAs, land, coal linkage and job losses due to shutting down of old power plants.
The budget also mentions concerns about clean air in the large cities and steps to combat the problem. But the problem of pollution is all pervasive and is not restricted to just large cities and therefore the government needs to proper measures even for comparatively smaller cities (with population less than one million). Remember, in India population is growing fast and urbanisation is taking place at a rapid pace and as such it may not take much time for smaller cities to become large ones. So the measures to tackle the problem of air pollution need to be taken right now.