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India should have considered climate risks while developing a blueprint for its economy

MSMEs could have been provided subsidies through budgetary allocation for upgradation of technology and adoption of energy-efficient technologies

Dr Indu K Murthy, Consultant Scientist at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
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Dr Indu K Murthy, Consultant Scientist at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru

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Dr Indu K Murthy has always been working for and towards climate change vulnerability, land-based mitigation and adaptation/resilience building or climate-proofing development to climate change. An expert with the UNFCCC Roster of Experts for India (for GHG inventory), and a member of the REDD+ Cell constituted by the Karnataka government, she is also on the governing board of South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies (SaciWATERs). In her current capacity as the Principal Research Scientist and Head of the Adaptation and Risk Analysis team at Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), a research-based think tank, Dr Indu K Murthy, also a Consultant Scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, is a keen observer of all policy-level developments facing the climate and environmental issues. Speaking to Bizz Buzz, Dr Murthy minces no word in saying that the ongoing pandemic should have paved the way for a new approach to economic development — one that prioritised environment, ecosystems and green infrastructure — and the Budget could have done much more and much better towards this goal. When it comes to climate issues, it's a missed opportunity for India, she opines

Dedicated Budget outlay for climate-resilient infrastructure and nature-based solutions (NbS) could have generated jobs and business opportunities, while at the same time providing climate adaptation benefits

The Budget could have been the pivotal platform to launch coastal climate insurance to buffer losses incurred by about 250 million people residing on the coast as a result of increasing cyclones and floods

Do you think that the Budget 2021-22 has laid enough or required emphasis on climate and environmental issues?

The Union Budget 2021-22 is a clear plan to bring the economy back on track. But the current pandemic should have paved the way for a new approach to economic development — one that prioritised environment, ecosystems, and green infrastructure.With growing loss to life and infrastructure as a result of natural disasters, and India being ranked 7th by the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 — a reflection on the poor preparedness to deal with climate reality — focused Budget to climate adaptation was expected. But the opportunity to promote adaptation is missed in this year's Budget.

Can you please identify or point out some of the positive aspects of the Budget in this regard?

Let us first point out the positives: Support for source segregation of waste and bioremediation of legacy waste and constructionand demolition waste, support for Swachh Bharat and clean air programmes, launch of a comprehensive National Hydrogen Energy Mission progress towards net zeropathways, 100 per cent electrification of broad-gauge routes to be completed by 2030, and boost to the RE sector, were the positives. But unfortunately there have been more missed opportunities than one.

These days, people, more often than not, get to hear about concepts like climate resilient. There are always climate risks when you build new physical infrastructures. Do you think that this budget has addressed these issues sufficiently, although there have been enough thrust on building infrastructure- urban and rural?

While a series of announcements on increased outlay to power, road and rural infrastructure have been made, there is no reference to climate risks to these infrastructures, providing no policy intent or direction to building climate-resilient infrastructure. Dedicated Budget outlay for climate-resilient infrastructure and nature-based solutions (NbS) could have generated jobs and business opportunities, while at the same time providing climate adaptation benefits.

You (and your organisation) are one of the strongest advocates of creating what can be billed as climate information services. What does it exactly mean, and has there been anything in this Budget on this front?

The Government of India, with an agenda to double farmer's income, and plans to realign agriculture with changing climate and rainfall patterns, missed an opportunity to build resilience of farming systems and other climate-sensitive sectors by making no provisions to create improved climate information services.

What about coastal climate insurance! That is also extremely topical and extremely crucial…

Yes. The Budget could have been the pivotal platform to launch coastal climate insurance to buffer losses incurred by about 250 million people (14 per cent of India's population) residing on the coast as a result of increasing cyclones and floods. Insurance for coastal areas is promoted in Florida, in the UK and in France and Spain. India could have been one of the first emerging economies with dedicated coastal insurance funded by a federal budget encompassing coastal homes, lives as well as infrastructurean opportunity lost.

What more, according to you, the budget could have and should have done to mitigate climate risks while pushing for an economic recovery?

India, aiming to grow into a S$5-trillion economy by 2024, should have considered climate risks while developing a blueprint for its economy and development, by judiciously allocating budget for resilient and regenerative economy. Promoting NbSa benefit multiplier providing social and health benefits, employment, and poverty alleviation all at the core of development and contributing to several Sustainable Development Goals; incentivising climate-resilient infrastructure, budgeting for coastal insurance could have helped India grow into an economy that is resilient, even in the face of climate change. The only silver lining is the tabling of the 15th Finance Commission recommendation to enhance states' share to 41 per cent, with which clear directive could increase climate finance for adaptation in states.

Pollution from industries has been a major cause of concern for years together. Did the Budget address this issue sufficiently?

Another study done by our organisation points out that while the last Budget mentioned the need to shut down polluting industries, Budget 2021-22 provides no support to push this. Installing emission-reduction technologies and retiring old thermal power plants by providing budgetary allocation for employee compensation and rehabilitation would have helped India in transitioning from a coal-based to a gas-based economy. Furthermore, MSMEs could have been provided subsidies through budgetary allocation for upgradation of technology and adoption of energy-efficient technologies.

Talking about the pollution issues, the vehicle scrappage policy must have been a policy prescription in the right direction!

We have a separate wing to look into these aspects. But yes. Vehicle scrappage policy, though largely a step in the right direction, will reduce emissions and encourage eco-friendly transportation. The lack of scrapping infrastructure and automated fitness check centres would make policy implementation challenging. The Budget amply supports green transportation. However, the assessment rules for personal vehicles (20 years) and commercial vehicles (15 years) need to be tightly enforced.

Ritwik Mukherjee
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