Check against delivery
Your Excellency the Minister of Environment, Mr. Pachauri, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be in India once again as head of the UN’s environmental body. It is a clear indication of the increasingly valuable role India is playing in the global policy making on environment.
I understand the country is preparing its 14th general elections. This highlights India’s proud accomplishment in democratic governance and economic development.
The country’s achievement of more than 7 per cent annual economic growth and envisaging it to increase to 8 per cent by the Tenth Plan is impressive indeed. This will double India’s per capita consumption level in 13 years reducing the poverty ratio significantly from the current 26 per cent.
Ladies and gentlemen.
A vital element required to sustain these economic initiatives will depend on how the natural resource base is nurtured. The natural capital is as important as the financial capital, for sustaining economic growth.
Doomsayers have said that such a balance between growth and environmental preservation is not sustainable. That the world does not have the natural resources to allow India’s more than 1 billion, or for China’s 1.3 billion people to enjoy the kinds of lifestyles they aspire to.
By following the principles of sustainable production and consumption and by taking advantage of new technologies, I believe India can bypass the environmentally damaging processes. The processes that characterised much of the development of Western countries since the Industrial Revolution.
We must ask how to provide environmental space for the poor people to fulfil their legitimate aspirations?
The solution partly lies in the Western world. As long as the richest 20 percent of the world population continue to account for 86 per cent of total personal consumption expenditure, it is unlikely that the poor will meet their aspirations of sustainable development.
What can the international community do in reducing excessive consumption among the more affluent?
The Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development called for a 10-year framework of programme for detaching economic growth from environmental degradation.
This concept is not new for India. When Mahatma Gandhi said that, “The world has enough for everybody’s needs but not enough for everyone’s greed,” he was asserting this principle of sustainable development.
I am happy to say that the United Nations Environment Programme is working, in partnership with governments, UN agencies, and civil society, to establish this framework and ensure its success.
Last year we organised meetings in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific Region and a global meeting in Morocco. These meetings showed that governments all over the world are willing to implement sustainable consumption policies.
Additional actions are also being undertaken through the multilateral environmental agreements, especially the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. A major outcome of these international actions, some more advanced then others, is to provide the environmental space for the poor to increase their resource use.
I am convinced that this is possible. Consider the example of Sweden, a prosperous country, and achieving top ranking in the UN Human Development Index, but emitting only 6 tonnes of carbon per person per year.
Of course, this work at the global level is not sufficient to ensure sustainability of development in India. The services provided by nature in the country have to meet the growing aspirations of the poor as well.
There is a need to turn water-stressed regions into water surplus areas ensuring quality and sustainability. Promotion of forests and prevention of desertification to sustain ecosystem services. Dealing with emerging environmental problems such as the threat of climate change. And growing pollution due to increasing affluence in the country and region.
What are the additional environmental actions that can support India’s declared goal for becoming a developed nation by 2020? Let me point these out:
• First and foremost it means mainstreaming the environment into economic development. In otther words bringing environment from the margins to the heart of India’s development to me is the main challenge. How do we ensure that all the knowledge generated on environmental management be fully considered by non-environmental institutions at all levels? This will make policy development more rigorous and tailored for specific States and situations.
Perhaps we can start by bringing together the multiple levels of action in India by delegating responsibilities also to the civil society and institutionalising it. The civil society is already active and this annual summit hosted by TERI is a good example of their potential.
• Secondly, harnessing the latest technology for the environment by removing barriers for faster adoption at affordable cost. Technological change is not only a driver for economic growth it is also essential for sustainable development. Environmental technologies in water-use and harvesting. Wind, solar-power and fuel cells for energy. Recycling, biotechnology and ecological farming. All offer great potential for India.
• Lastly, examining how the country’s growing markets work better for sustainable development. Can the country also make it a profitable business worth pursuing through tradable permit schemes? Or identifying environmentally sound business that can be subsidised, extending your experience in the renewable energy sector?
Ladies and Gentlemen, these ideas are not new to a large number of highly qualified experts in India. The challenge is to motivate this expertise in the civil society by designing incentives for integrating preservation of natural capital into economic growth. This will encourage businesses and civil society to design and offer better products and services.
As I mentioned at the start of my address, sustainable development is imperative for global security. UNEP is ready to work closely with India.
The twin actions at the national and international level can fulfil India’s aspiration to be a developed country and potentially a developed country with a difference, based on “eco-economy” as Lester Brown aptly describes it.
The country is a symbol of spirituality. It is now being recognised for its scientific and technical contributions as well. Together this can herald the emergence of a new beginning.
Now it is a matter of making real choices.