Climate change a public health issue: Jairam

Updated - May 23, 2016 04:41 pm IST

Published - October 25, 2014 04:55 am IST - CHENNAI:

Jairam Ramesh

Jairam Ramesh

There is accumulating evidence in India that pollution and contamination are becoming a serious public health issue, which requires focussed strategies to mitigate.

“Environment in India is not a lifestyle issue. The missing dimension in the environment debate is the public health debate. One way of getting a larger political focus for environmental issues would be to pitch it as a public health issue,” said Jairam Ramesh, former Union Minister for Environment and Forests.

Delivering a public lecture at the Asian College of Journalism for the The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, of which he is a senior visiting fellow, Mr. Ramesh said if, as a country, India was serious about public health, it was imperative to make economic growth not just inclusive and rapid, but also sustainable.

Delineating what a pragmatic agenda for India could look like in the run-up to the 21 Conference of the Parties for Climate Change to be held in Paris in 2015, he said India should revisit its articulation of “equity and differentiation”.

While a new agreement on emission cuts should not become an excuse to wipe out past obligations, it must also not become an opportunity to reaffirm stratifications of the past. The 1992 Rio summit criteria of differentiation may no longer be valid, he said.

“There was a necessity now to introduce a system of graduation where countries take on increasing responsibilities as they move up the equity ladder,” he observed.

India should also shift demonstrably to a trajectory of low-carbon growth, he added.

Studies had shown that the difference between a high-carbon and low-fuelled economic growth could be as little as 0.1 to 0.15 per cent. The investments for this would require about 1.5 per cent of the GDP, which the country had the capacity to meet on its own.

Mr. Ramesh said there was a feeling in the international community that India was not taking requisite efforts to address climate change. Advocating a legal framework for executive action, he said India should pass legislation in which aspects such as trading system for meeting energy efficiency standards and meeting fuel efficiency targets were embedded.

However, he expressed concern at the Narendra Modi government’s haste in reviewing environmental laws, each of which was enacted in a particular context over decades. With the country expected to add another 400 million to the population in the next 40 years, sustainable growth was a non-debatable imperative. The concept of “grow now and pay later” with regard to climate change would not apply to India, given its demography. “Grow we must, but we need to think of a different way of growing,” he said.

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