Our world today is in turmoil, facing multiple, mutually reinforcing crises. Even as we mount a fragile recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, war fuels a devastating energy, food, and cost-of-living crisis. And for the first time since it began over 30 years ago, the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report has warned that global human development measures have declined across most countries in the past two years.
This comes against the backdrop of the greatest existential threat of all — the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Nine of the warmest years on record have come in the past decade alone. This year’s record-breaking heat waves, floods, droughts, and other extreme forms of weather have forced us to face these increasingly devastating impacts. Climate change is a disruption multiplier in a disrupted world, rolling back progress across the global Sustainable Development Goals.
The Paris Agreement and the COP26 summit in Glasgow represent urgent, collective steps countries are taking to limit emissions. Yet, the window for action is closing fast. Commitments we have now will not keep warming below the 1.5°C target that gives us the best chance of averting catastrophe.
With the narrative so focused on geo-politics, the scope for each of us to make a difference as individuals seems increasingly lost. While governments and industry carry the lion’s share of responsibility for responding to the crisis, we as consumers play a large role in driving unsustainable production methods.
LIFE, a fresh perspective
LIFE, or Lifestyle for Environment, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at COP26 in November 2021, brings a fresh and much-needed perspective. Rather than framing climate change as a ‘larger than life’ challenge, LIFE recognises that small individual actions can tip the balance in the planet’s favour. But we need guiding frameworks, information sharing and the scale of a global movement.
Mindful choices cultivated by LIFE animate this spirit — actions such as saving energy at home; cycling and using public transport instead of driving; eating more plant-based foods and wasting less; and leveraging our position as customers and employees to demand climate-friendly choices.
Many of the goals of LIFE can be achieved by deploying ‘nudges’, gentle persuasion techniques to encourage positive behaviour. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) employs proven nudging techniques such as discouraging food waste by offering smaller plates in cafeterias; encouraging recycling by making bin lids eye-catching; and encouraging cycling by creating cycle paths. According to the UNEP, more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to household consumption and lifestyles — the urgent cuts to global emissions we need can only be achieved through widespread adoption of greener consumption habits.
And while LIFE is a global vision, India is an excellent place to start. With over 1.3 billion people, if we achieve a true jan andolan here, the momentum generated will be enormous. As India leads, we see the world increasingly follow.
India’s track record
Today, in Gujarat, from the Statue of Unity, this vision of LIFE is taking flight as a global mission launched by Mr. Modi together with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who has come to India to show his support. The Prime Minister and Secretary-General are calling on all consumers across the world to become “Pro Planet People” by 2027, adopting simple lifestyle changes that can collectively lead to transformational change.
India has a proven track record translating the aspirations of national missions into whole-of-society efforts. The success of the Swachh Bharat Mission, which mobilised individuals and communities across socio-economic strata to become drivers of collective good health and sanitation is an example.
The LIFE mission also recognises that accountability is relative to contribution. Emissions across the poorest half of the world’s population combined still fall short of even 1% of the wealthiest. Those who consume the least, often the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society, will not be asked to consume less, but rather supported to participate in the green economy. Each ‘Pro Planet’ stakeholder is nudged according to differentiated approaches.
Onus on the developed world
The same applies across countries. LIFE resonates with the global climate justice India has rightfully called for — highlighting enhanced obligations those in developed countries bear, to support climate adaptation and mitigation for those most affected, yet least responsible. The average carbon footprint of a person in a high income country is more than 80 times higher than that of a person in a least developed country. It is common sense and only fair to call on the developed world to shoulder a proportionate share of this transition. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
And there has never been a better time for India’s leadership on climate action, at home and on the international stage. From the Panchamrit targets announced by Mr. Modi at COP26, to support for the International Solar Alliance, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure and South-South cooperation platforms, from the world’s fifth largest economy with vibrant businesses making enormous investments in renewables and electric mobility, to a world class public digital tech stack, India brings scale, expertise and legitimacy; a well-positioned founding UN Member State bridging the G20 and G77.
With COP27 next month, and India set to assume the G20 Presidency weeks after, followed by the halfway mark to Agenda 2030 next year, we at Team UN India and our 26 entities are proud and committed partners in this mission to help give new lease of LIFE to climate action.
Shombi Sharp is UN Resident Coordinator in India. Shoko Noda is Resident Representative, UN Development Programme. Atul Bagai is Country Head, UN Environment Programme