New Delhi: Echoing the global concern and concluding a high-level conference titled "Reducing Inequalities in India by 2030: Challenges and Way Forward in Implementing SDG 10", key note speakers and panelists highlighted that economic equality is key to solving environmental challenges to achieve the SDGs especially Goal 10, if India wants to achieve its ambitious climate goals in line with the Paris Agreement.
The conference was organized by the Department of Policy Studies at the TERI School of Advanced Studies in sponsorship by Oil and Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC).
Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament and Former Minister of Environment and Rural Development, Government of India and Dr. Leena Srivastava, Vice Chancellor TERI School of Advanced Studies emphasized that for achieving sustainable development it is crucial to address the elements of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.
In his keynote address "Persisting Inequalities and the Implementation of SDG10 in India" Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament and Former Minister of Environment and Rural Development, Government of India, emphasized that for achieving sustainable development it is crucial to address the elements of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.
Jairam Ramesh said, "India is a much more unequal society now than it was earlier. Although we have seen high economic growth and reduction in poverty but there is a faster growing inequality danger now in India. There is disparity across geographies, states, income groups and social groups. The real question is whether there is income convergence amongst us, and is it converging India."
He added, "The straight answer is no. Disadvantaged minority groups within states are disproportionately at risk of climate change, coupled with the disparity of income, socio-cultural distances, health, and gender inequalities. International cooperation, domestic reforms and grassroots pressure is required if we are to achieve progress for both inequality and climate action."
He further said, "There is a multiplier effect in doing so: investment in activities that alleviate climate change can also support economic growth, altering our energy trajectory towards cleaner production and new technologies, and improving health and quality of life for a country like India, which is now one of the globally recognized economy's. Fortunately India has started to realize this and is now moving towards rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth, and I am optimistic that with the sense of urgency and multiple benefits associated with these actions there is real potential for change to achieve the SDG 10 and develop a public policy on inequality."
Inequalities in income and wealth are in precarious condition and have been widening not only in India, but globally.
India has witnessed an admirable rate of economic growth in the last couple of decades, but we have been unable to address the challenges of inequalities which exist on every front - social, economic, gender, political and environmental.
As per the recent estimation in 2017, the richest 1 per cent in India owned more than 70 per cent of the country's wealth which means that small section of society shares large part of national income whereas large sections of society are devoid of income.
These income inequalities are further exacerbated due to costs imposed by degraded environments and an unequal access to resources.
Dr. Leena Srivastava, Vice Chancellor TERI School of Advanced Studies emphasized that for any country sustainability is the new engine for global economic growth, and India in its present economic path, is no exception.
"The Agenda 2030 document, listing the 17 sustainable development goals, emphasises the importance of inclusive development and an equitable access to all social and natural resources to all segments of society. Existing deep inequities in India around access to social infrastructure and services as well as the vulnerabilities around depleting natural resources must be addressed with utmost priority for India to be able to reap the benefits of being a young country."
Presenting their views while addressing various cross-cutting issues related to equity and inequality, Dr. Govind Kelkar (Senior Advisor, Landesa), Prof. Sudha Pai (National Fellow, ICSSR and former Professor JNU) and Dr. Samar Verma (Senior Program Specialist, IDRC Canada), emphasized that for India it is important to factor in environmental inequality that goes hand in hand with other forms of exploitation and discrimination.
They highlighted that poorer communities are disproportionately exposed to high levels of environmental pollution and that environmental protection measures are often poorly enforced or neglected altogether in the areas where such communities live, suggesting a form of "double-discrimination".
They further emphasized that despite contributing little to environmental problems, such communities suffer disproportionate burdens and impacts which in fact leads to environmental injustice.
All three speakers stressed that there must be a shift in policy orientation towards legal regimes that recognize ecosystem services and natural assets as public goods, empower systems of accountability, and expand public access beyond gender, caste, social identities and geographies if India is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The event brought together renowned academicians, bureaucrats, development organizations, faculty and students to deliberate, reflect, understand and discuss the possibilities for sustained action towards the aspect of inequality and the cross-cutting issue of environmental protection.
On the sidelines of the conference, with an emphasis to engage youth, a poster competition for undergraduate, post graduate and doctoral students, on the topic titled "Innovative solutions to reduce Inequalities for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 10" was held under the thematic areas of 1) Health, Gender and Education, 2) Financial Inclusion and Social Protection, 3) Migration and Urbanization and 4) Digital Inclusion.
The competition was an opportunity for young and budding scientists and researchers to share their innovative ideas, thoughts, and/or any successful models towards reaching more equitable society.
TERI School of Advanced Studies is committed to build the capacity of youth to address the national, sub-national and global sustainability challenges.
This was evident through presentations by young alumni of Masters programme in Sustainable Development Practices, who are making a dent on both policy and action areas.