India is going green

The world’s largest democracy is undergoing a green transformation after years of economic growth have taken an enormous toll on India’s environment. The country is now one of the fastest builders of solar projects. John Dyer reports.

Image credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures / Department for International Development via Flickr

Calling themselves the Green Police, a group of Indian schoolgirls in the northeastern city of Guwahati have been collecting plastic wrappers and sending them to the multinational companies that make them.

They hope their efforts will highlight the need to mandate extended producers’ responsibility, or EPR, a legal concept that compels plastic makers to make sure their products don’t become pollution.

“Solid waste management rules have a provision of EPR for producers of such food packets based on which the plastic packaging materials should be recalled by them and recycled,” said Aparna Bhattacharya, the girls’ teacher, in an interview with the Telegraph of India. “But no manufacturer has adopted this practice of collecting back from the market.”

Environment hurt by economic growth

The girls are part of a revolution in the world’s largest democracy, where more than 20 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion people live poverty but economic growth has been around 7 per cent. That mix has taken an enormous toll on the environment: air pollution, deforestation and overdevelopment, income inequality, scarcity of clean water and poor sanitation are common struggles in India today.

Around 500 million people, or 40 per cent of the Indian population, will lack access to drinking water by 2030 if global warming trends continue and the country fails to build infrastructure to more efficiently capture rains during the monsoon season, Bloomberg wrote.

School children demonstrate

Indian kids recently walked out of their classrooms as part of Fridays for Future, a movement inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg, who demonstrates for action against climate every Friday in front of the Swedish parliament.

“Our future should not be traded for the profits of big companies,” a student told DownToEarth, an Indian environmental blog. “We will keep going until we see the change, but we also have to be the change. We need to change our habits too.”

Billions for solar and wind

India is changing. The country has approved billions in massive solar and wind projects, doubling its renewable energy generations since 2015 and making it the fastest builders of solar projects after China, Bloomberg reported. Officials hope to quadruple renewables in the next three years. By 2030, India aims to produce 40 per cent of its electricity from clean sources.

At least 18 Indian state have planned single-use plastic, like bags or cups. The homespun cloth that Ghandi famously spun as a symbol of Indian independence, khadi, is now popular as a material for high fashion. Officials have also launched a major cleanup effort of the Ganges, a polluted river that is sacred to Hindus. The country’s markets in Fairtrade goods – or products that aim to improve environmental and social conditions for workers and others – is growing quickly, too.

Coal still common

But India faces a classic conundrum between curbing emissions and economic growth. Despite the advances in clean energy, coal provides more than 55 per cent of India’s electricity. Given how around 90 per cent of rural households lack electricity, that number won’t go down even if the country hits its ambitious renewable goals.

“However much renewable energy we build, it won’t eat into thermal,” said Sumant Sinha, who develops solar and wind projects. “The reality is that India’s emissions will increase very substantially going forward.”

New environmental court

Critics feel that Indian leaders are happy to promote economic growth at the expense of sustainability and environmental concerns. But in this regard things in India are changing, too.

The National Green Tribunal, a special court established in 2010 to handle environmental cases, has become an increasingly robust agent of sustainability in India. The tribunal, for example, recently slapped €12.8 million of fines on state government in Andhra Pradesh for illegal sand mining, for example, the Hindu wrote. That practice destroys riverine ecosystems.

India has a long way to go. But it’s trying. Richer countries might need to do more to make up for the extra emissions that India might produce as its leaders struggle to improve the lives of their fellow citizens while at the same time making progress in saving the planet.

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