Inequality is only increasing in India — the resulting lack of trust may make climate change a tougher challenge to tackle
- The divergence between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor is increasing world over but it’s particularly pronounced in India.
- Inequality can impact the sense of community and common purpose influence how a common pool of resources — like the planet as a whole — is managed.
- Interventions that ignore the linkage between nature and culture can further reinforce the poverty trap.
India is ranked among the top 10 performing countries on the Climate Change Index. The country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has also been lauded for initiating the International Solar Alliance — a collection of 121 countries working towards increasing the consumption of solar energy to drive down dependence on fossil fuels.
The Modi administration has also been pushing for the use of LPG cylinders among the poor with its Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to replace coal burning.
While the intention behind these moves is commendable, implementation is key. The use of LPG cylinders, for instance, has been plagued by the increasing cost of gas leading users to go back to burning wood and coal.
So, billionaires like Gautam Adani can build 2,500 acres of solar farms, and ReNew Power can commission 531 gigawatts of wind energy, but none of it matters if people can’t afford it.
And, affordability comes from two places — the cost of using renewable energy and the income of the household. India is trying to curb the first but the income inequality is going from bad to worse. Moreover, the pandemic has only further exacerbated the problem.
Inequality in India
Inequality can impact the sense of community and common purpose influencing how a common pool of resources — like the planet as a whole — is managed. “Greater inequality can lead to more rapid environmental degradation because low incomes lead to low investment in physical capital and education,” said the report.
The divergence between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor is increasing the world over but it’s particularly pronounced in India. The top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth, according to Oxfam.
The non-profit group estimates that it would take nearly a millennium for a minimum wage worker in rural India to what a top executive at a leading Indian garment company earns in a year.
As India battles rural distress, the Economic Survey 2018 predictively warned that rising temperatures and poor rains threaten to hurt farmers’ incomes. Arvind Subramanian, the then chief economic advisor, estimated that a one-degree Celsius rise in temperature in a year could lower farmer incomes by about 6% in the Kharif and Rabi seasons in unirrigated districts.
And, inequality doesn’t imply income inequality alone. The interconnections between inequality, the biosphere, and global sustainability go beyond the unequal distribution of wealth.
When it comes to the environment, distributional, recognitional and procedural inequities also have a role to play.
|Types of equity||What it means|
|Distributional equity||How different groups have access to resources, and how costs, harms, and benefits are shared|
|Recognitional equity||Ongoing struggle for recognition of a diversity of perspectives and groups, e.g. referring to nationality, ethnicity, or gender|
|Procedural equity||How different groups and perspectives are able to engage in and influence decision-making processes and outcomes|
Here’s an example
Every winter, the government of India and the state government in New Delhi finds themselves at loggerheads with the farmers around the national capital region to stop burning stubble but with little result. Until last winter, the farmers’ argument was that there is no incentive for them to stop doing it without realising that the toxic air hurts them and their children a lot more than people who live a few miles away.
However, this year, the government has further alienated the farmers of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab with its new farm laws. The farmers have argued that the Narendra Modi government did not consult them or take into account their perspective before framing these laws and therefore, they should be repealed.
If the status of the argument over the new laws remains as it is right now, the issue of stubble burning may not even be up for discussion before winter. The cost of which will be intense damage to the environment and the lungs of the common man.
Fighting climate change is not just a regulatory activity. People have to agree with the cause and participate by investing their time, resources and energy.
Since greater inequality leads to low investment, it can cause excessive pressure and degradation of natural capital, which — simply put — is the environment. This results in a downward spiral of incomes declining even further and increasing degradation.
A study published in 2017, highlights that climate change is projected to disproportionately influence disadvantaged groups, especially women, girls and indegenous communities.
Therefore, interventions that ignore the linkage between nature and culture can further reinforce the poverty trap. Lack of access to basic resources, like fresh water, air to breathe, and food, will only exacerbate the problem of inequality.
In India, examples of water shortage, lack of nutrition and clean air have been prevalent for nearly a decade and are only expected to get worse.
According to the Water Project, children in 100 million households across the country lack water and one out of every two kids are malnourished. And, out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world — 21 are in India.
Reducing inequality will lead to better policy
Effective policy has the potential to not only reduce inequality, but strengthen the planet’s capacity for dealing with extreme events — both climate driven and otherwise.
In this decade we must bend the curves of greenhouse gas emissions and shocking biodiversity loss. This means transforming what we eat and how we farm it, among many other transformations.`
The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, has highlighted the vulnerabilities that currently exist in the system. India’s migrant labour force was seen fighting for its survival amid the lockdown, unable to go home and unable to earn money in urban centres.
Reducing inequality will increase trust with societies, according to the State of the Planet report. This trust is integral for governments to make long-term decisions else the poor will be worse off for it.
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