India faces the challenge of achieving gender equality, urban sustainability and improving public health, while it builds infrastructure for its fast-growing urban population, said renowned economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Dr. Sachs was at The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) University here on Sunday for the launch of Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an initiative by the United Nations’ South Asia Regional Network .

“India’s urban population has increased eight times since the 1950s and urban sustainability – clean air, safe water, sewage management, green areas in cities – will need to be set as goals. India features in the list of the worst spotsin air quality, primarily because it is a coal economy, and there is widespread use of cooking stoves. This causes smog and the air is difficult to breathe in at times, which manifests in the high number of cases of cardio-vascular diseases,” said Dr. Sachs in an exclusive interview to The Hindu. Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable is one of the 17 goals in the Zero Draft of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. The SDGs will succeed the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to conclude in 2015.

Dr. Sachs commented on instances of gender violence in the country that have attracted international attention and criticism recently.

“Over the past few weeks, the news has centred around girls being raped and hung from trees and politicians making controversial statements on gender violence, and this is the news for domestic not foreign audiences. India is by no means the only country witnessing this but such instances and remarks do not fit the values of any society. But these tragedies have led to some soul searching and could prove to be an opportunity for change in values,” said Dr. Sachs.

Dr. Sachs said the 17 goals – including promoting healthy lives, biodiversity, ending poverty, reducing inequality, promoting sustainable energy, tackling climate change – proposed in the Zero Draft on SDGs on June 2 will be whittled down to 10 goals after discussions. He said the SDGs were a logical progression over the MDGs as poverty could not be reduced without focusing on the environment.

“Capital intensive economic growth is not enough. How to re-invest growth’s dividends, how to build human capital, preserve natural capital are crucial,” he said.

Following the launch of the SDSN on Sunday, TERI along with BRAC University, Bangladesh, will mobilise efforts for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 in South Asia. TERI along with 14 other research organisations all over the world will work on technological breakthroughs especially on the use of renewable and sustainable energy. “India has the engineering talent, but where are the researchers working on these subjects? Low carbon sources, including renewables, safer nuclear energy, carbon capture and sequestration – all are areas where we need research, deep analysis. India’s new government, like governments all over the world, will need top analysis on this and be prepared to be heavily engaged because right now, there is very little we know about these technologies,” said Dr. Sachs.

He said the SDSN will require developed countries to “reconfirm aid” for financing the means of implementation for switching to new technologies in developing countries and that this will be done before the Finance Summit in Ethiopia next July.

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