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Economic Survey Claims India Is 'Progressing’ on SDGs, Water Supply, Climate Action

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled the Economic Survey 2021-22 in the Lok Sabha on January 31.

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Kochi: Achieving more climate action, tap water supply to households, bringing polluting industries and the menace of single-use plastics under strict regulation – India is making progress as far as actions to address sustainable development and tackle climate change go, claims the Economic Survey 2021-22.

The Economic Survey, which Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled in the Lok Sabha on January 31, details the state of the economy and is traditionally released ahead of the government’s Union Budget for the next fiscal year.

Sitharaman will table the Budget tomorrow, on February 1.

Climate change and SDGs

The year saw India ‘progressing further’ in achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the Economic Survey. SDGs come under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as “a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity”, according to the UN. It includes 17 goals, including Affordable and Clean Energy and Life on Land, that recognise that social and economic development has to happen together with tackling climate change and preserving our oceans and forests.

The Survey cites the NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index and Dashboard released in June last year to make this point. According to the Index, India’s score improved to 66 in 2020-21 from 60 in 2019-20. The index also ranks states based on their performance, and Kerala emerged on top.

Similarly, the Survey also quotes another government report that was released recently – which shows an increase in India’s forest and tree cover – as more proof of achieving SDGs. Incidentally, the report in question prepared by the Forest Survey of India has drawn flak from conservationists and remote sensing experts for several methodological flaws, as The Wire Science reported.

Also read: India’s New ‘State of Forest’ Report Is Not Really About Forests

Predictably, another finding in the report – that India’s carbon stock in forests has increased by 79.4 million tonnes as compared to the last assessment of 2019 – has also found its way into this year’s Economic Survey. It is listed as the progress under India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. According to the UNFCC, NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Energy

The Survey focuses on the steps taken to commission more renewable energy in the country. The Indian Railways too, has set a target of Net Zero Carbon Emission by 2030, primarily through sourcing its energy requirements through renewable energy sources, listed the Survey.

However the progress as far as solar power is concerned does not appear very significant. As of December 31, 2021, solar power capacity of 49.35 gigawatts (GW) has been installed in the country, says the Survey. 

Also read: Study Finds India’s Rich Emit 7x More Emissions Than the Poor

That’s only around 12 GW more than what the previous Economic Survey tabled in 2021: a cumulative capacity of 36.9 GW as being commissioned till November 2020. Around 36 GW solar energy capacity is under installation, and an additional 19 GW capacity was tendered, it said. However, these projects under installation or at the tendering stage do not appear to be available yet. 

To build capacity, and implement technology to implement renewable energy on field, a Global Center of Excellence in Affordable and Clean Energy was launched at IIT Dharwad on January 28. It is supported by the Honeywell Hometown Solutions India Foundation, a not-for-profit under the multinational conglomerate Honeywell.

But despite this huge push for renewables – including generating hydrogen from green energy sources – the demand for coal is likely to remain in the range of 1.3-1.5 billion tonnes by 2030, the Economic Survey 2021-22 said. However, several initiatives are being taken by coal lignite producing PSUs to reduce their carbon footprints, the Survey added. One plan is to bring about 30,000 hectares of additional land (in and around coal mining areas) under green cover by planting around 75 million trees by 2030, it says.

Yet in the international arena, India has continued to exercise “significant climate leadership” with the International Solar Alliance (ISA), Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT Group), said the Survey. The LeadIT Group, for instance, is one of the nine action tracks identified by the UN Secretary-General to boost climate ambitions and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.

“There is a greater thrust on climate action following the announcement of India’s target of becoming Net Zero by 2070,” according to the Survey. Climate finance, however, will remain critical to successful climate action by developing countries, including India, it added.

Tackling pollution

According to the Survey, there has been an improvement in the compliance status of Grossly Polluting Industries (GPIs) located in the river Ganga and its tributaries, from 39% in 2017 to 81% in 2020. There has also been a reduction in effluent discharge from 349.13 million of litres per day (MLD) in 2017 to 280.20 MLD in 2020. 

India will phase out single-use plastic by 2022, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August last year.

Also read: At COP26, Has PM Modi Dragged India Onto Path of Decarbonisation Before It’s Ready?

The Economic Survey 2021-22 lists out several legislations, including the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, which will take India closer to this goal. The draft regulation on the Extended Producer Responsibility for plastic packaging has also been notified to strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote development of new alternatives to plastics and sustainable plastic packaging, the Survey detailed.

While the National Clean Air Programme is being implemented in 132 cities to achieve up to 30 percent reduction in concentrations of particulate matter (PM, an air pollutant that impacts public health) by 2024 across the country, air pollution still remains a major concern, admits the Survey. Though 96 cities showed a decreasing trend of PM10 concentration in 2020-21 as compared to 2019-20, 36 cities show an increasing trend in PM10 concentration in 2020-2021, the Survey finds.

Progress under the Jal Jeevan Mission

As of January 2 this year, 5,51,93,885 households have received tap water supply since the start of the Jal Jeevan Mission, according to the Survey. However, only six states and Union Territories so far have achieved 100 percent tap water supply: Goa, Telangana, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Puducherry, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu and Haryana. As on January 19, more than 8 lakh schools have obtained water supply under the Jal Jeevan Mission, revealed the Survey.

Over the last two and half years, some states have done “particularly well” – such as Telangana, Bihar, much of the northeast and Ladakh – said Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance, who detailed some of the findings of the Survey during a press conference.

“This is not a trivial change we are talking about. This is transforming lives at the bottom of the pyramid,” he said.