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Opinion - Environment


Sustainable development — Role in enhancing economic growth

Manoranjan Sharma

Economic change invariably produces socio-economic upheavals in transition economies with resultant stresses necessitating compensation to the affected individuals and reversing damage to the ecology. Thus, environmental concerns need to be dovetailed into development planning to promote balanced development at national, regional, sectoral and project levels.

THE pursuit of sustainable development in a proper historical and comparative perspective on the basis of incontrovertible global experience has brought to the fore the emergence of certain themes critical to life in the future.

These have implications for life, biodiversity, environmental devastation and inter-generational equity. Despite a broad consensus, disconcerting gaps in implementation are visible in several areas.

The outcome of the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg belied high expectations. Nevertheless, the participating Governments agreed on a series of commitments in five priority areas backed up by specific announcements on programmes.

This and the identification of more than 220 partnerships — representing $235 million in resources — to complement the government commitments marked some headway.

The Brundtland Commission of the United Nations defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

The strategy includes four basic themes of:

  • Social progress that recognises the need of everyone;

  • Effective protection of the environment;

  • Prudent use of natural resources; and

  • Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

    Sustainable development requires a judicious mix of policy measures and technological options with monitoring under an institutional framework.

    Unsettling spectre of bio-diversity devastation

    Some of the drivers of today's inexorable socio-economic and cultural transformation are the wanton destruction and fragmentation of natural habitat, rising pollution levels and toxic stress on the ecosystem caused by the increasing use of pesticides, industrial waste, untreated raw sewage and agri-chemicals.

    The response — in intent, strategy and action — to such looming catastrophes needs effective correction.

    Global experience shows the significance of the participatory approach, local community involvement and conservation education in the preservation of biodiversity.

    Economic change invariably produces rapid socio-economic upheavals in transition economies with resultant stresses and strains necessitating concurrent, objective and urgent compensation to the affected individuals, reversing damage to the ecology and strictly monitoring the functioning of polluting industrial units.

    Perspective of the developing countries

    According to the Asian Environmental Outlook 2001, "environmental degradation in (Asia and the Pacific) is pervasive, accelerating and unabated. At risk are people's health and livelihoods, the survival of species and eco-system services that are the basis for long-term economic development".

    While developing countries — saddled with three times more population than the developed countries — were far less responsible for "polluting" the global atmosphere with greenhouse gases, the contribution of developing countries to environmental deterioration increased rapidly.

    A `dualistic society', wherein environmental problems emanate from the greed of the rich and the poverty of the poor characterise most developing countries. Conventional wisdom suggested that developing countries had nothing to gain from environmental concerns — they were `too poor to be green'. However, it is now agreed that priority areas for developing countries constitute water and sanitation, energy, health, agriculture and bio-diversity and eco-system management (popularly called Wehab).

    Successive Five Year Plans stressed the need for harmonisation of development plans with maintenance of eco-balance. But plans and programmes and a comprehensive legal framework for environmental protection need to be strongly supported by executive interest, strict enforcement of regulations and an increased green consciousness to prevent irreversible damage.

    The Ministry of Environment and Forests is the nodal agency for the management and control of hazardous substances.

    A crisis management plan provides for a three-tier system by establishment of crisis groups at the Central, State and district or local levels.

    The Ministry is implementing the "India: Environmental Management Capacity Building Technical Assistance Project" with World Bank assistance to enhance environmental management capacity across the range of issues, such as priority setting, cost-benefit analysis of alternative policies for pollution control, resources management and biodiversity conservation.

    Strategy for environment-friendly development

    Environmental concerns need to be dovetailed into development planning to promote balanced development at national, regional, sectoral and project levels.

    The cost-benefit analysis of projects must factor in appropriate discount rates, substitutability and the assurance of inter and intra-generational equity through regulation, community participation and education to seek long-term solutions.

    Accordingly, the World Development Report 2003 stressed that the interaction between economic, social and environmental problems and opportunities are manifest spatially wherever people live.

    These problems, which require lasting solutions, are often not amenable to quick fixes.

    The institutional intervention needs to be improved at many levels — from the local to the global — to promote growth in ways that protect environmental and social assets and strengthen the foundations for better oversight. This requires the removal of inequitable access to assets and the pervasive barriers to inclusion.

    The commonality of interest requires equitable allocation of resources, new technologies for efficient resource use and balanced economic and ecological development.

    In the Indian context, empowering local governments and people to promote afforestation and prevent the breakdown of traditional social and cultural systems would help in the pursuit of sustainable options.

    The WDR 2003 attributed the failure to implement effective long-term policies "to address the social and political problems associated with distributing costs and benefits within and between groups and generations".

    The initiation of useful measures to this end by various agencies needs to be strongly reinforced by the sensitisation of the common man to environmental concerns.

    (The author is Chief Economist, Canara Bank, Bangalore. He can be reached at sharma_m@canbank.co.in)

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