The news of India slipping down by 20 ranks from 21 to 41 in the recently released MIT Green Future Index 2022 is a wake-up call for a great democratic republic like India. It is also the time to revisit our policies and programs for accelerating our march on the pathways of growth and sustainable development. It should also remind us that mere economic growth would not suffice to create India of our dream as the current models of development and growth do not care for bridging the gap between haves and have not, let alone care for an inclusive and sustainable green future. The rising economic disparity, mounting levels of air and water pollution, slow pace of implementation of green practices and above all poor investment on green infrastructure, development of people, their attitude and mind set all add up to India’s down slide in Global Green Future Rankings.
The MIT Green Future Index 2022 is the second annual comparative ranking of 76 nations and territories on their ability to develop a sustainable, low-carbon future for their economies and societies. The report makes a categorical mention that “many countries may not be maintaining the rate of change first brought about by pandemic-related slowdowns and lockdowns. Moreover, faced with uncertainty as the pandemic drags on, many have reverted to old carbon-intensive habits to recharge their economies”. The report further reveals that European countries have maintained their green leadership position for the second year with Iceland and Denmark holding on to their first and second positions while the Netherlands and the UK have jumped to third and fourth ranks in this year’s Green Future Index.
The remarkable advancement on clean energy transition made by the UK and its focus on hydrogen as the fuel for the future made all the difference in its rapid rise to the fourth position in the Green Future Index from 17th last year. The memories of the maiden journey by UK’s HydroFLEX, the hydrogen powered train, developed in partnership with my Alma Mater, the University of Birmingham, to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26 at Glasgow are still fresh in our minds as to what can be achieved by the universities leading by example for creating a green and sustainable future. The exemplary leadership of the European countries has reaffirmed their firm resolve to move fast on green energy and zero carbon technologies to assure a green and sustainable future for their people. They have realized that it makes a big business sense to go green in respect of growth and development. The universities in European countries are also fueling the national development and economic growth by their continuous focus on green and clean technology innovations.
One great lesson that the humanity as whole has learnt from the Covid-19 is that the ‘Value of Life’ is far superior, rather unmatched by any amount of wealth possessed by an individual. Together with this realization was also a wakeup call to mend our ways of living, working, and the way we go about exploiting nature and its precious resources utilizing our power of science and the might of technology. It was quite clear that if we the humans do not mend our ways, we can be forced to lock ourselves in our cells so that the Nature cleans the enormous about of air and water pollution that we had accumulated over the decades of our mindless quest to accelerate development. The memories of blue sky during the covid lockdown and the clear waters in our holy rivers in India must remain in our mind afresh to understand the power of Nature to heal itself.
But the million dollar question is whether we have taken heed from the pandemic that has taken away some 6.3 million lives from all across the world, including some 5.24 lacks who lost their life in India(4.7 million excess mortality in India as reported by WHO). Leaving the numbers apart, the point to note is that no one was spared whether rich or poor, developed or underdeveloped all the nations suffered badly. The fear of Covid-19 is still not over as its variance are still at large.
The crux of the problem in India, however, lies in our ability or to say mentality to negate the ground realities of environmental degradation and our mindlessly trading and transacting the beaten track of business as usual, that pushed us to near disaster of the kind we have witnessed during the pandemic. Returning to business-as-usual, negating the clear warnings that it would lead us to even more disastrous consequences in future and making little or no effort to prepare people’s capabilities and their mindset to make amend to their lifestyle and the way they behave in responding to the problems at hand is a recipe of disaster in future for a country that is slipping away in MIT Global Green Index 2022.
The comparative ranking of nations for a Green Society in the Green Future Index 2022 were measured on the basis of society’s efforts to increase recycling, develop energy-efficient buildings, and its movement away from meat eating and adoption of electric vehicles for green mobility. Here also India stands at 45th Rank amongst the 76 nations that are mapped by the MIT Green Future Index 2022. Effective waste management practices, recycle and reuse of treated wastewater, clean air technologies and rapid advancement on green mobility powered by electric vehicles can make India jump to respectable ranking in the Global Green Future Index in the near future. Further, integrated development of smart cities and smart village clusters along the highways and expressways could do a lot of good to creating a sustainable green future for the Indian society.
We should not fail to recognize that our current developmental models are urban centric that create urban slums and cause exodus of rural population to cities and mega towns. We have assumed that economic growth is powered by urbanization and the mega cities as its growth centers. While urbanization worked well in the western countries, where rural population is relatively much smaller, it is a recipe of disaster for a nation like India where even after 75 years of urbanization in India, almost 65% population of the country resides in the rural villages. India thus has no choice but to ‘go rural with a high-tech mind and with scientific solutions’ to create economic growth clusters in rural areas. This would require a more balanced national economic development strategy that shall create mass entrepreneurship in areas including high technology in agri-tech, food-tech, herbal-tech, green energy-tech, water-tech and a host of green technology sectors including massive growth of high-tech cottage industries that shall create new and powerful clusters of economic growth in rural India and shall in true sense enhance the employment base purchasing power of the rural India.
It is here the investment in people, their behavior, their mentality and mindset that need to be given a renewed focus in our developmental policies and programs. We must not forget that a nations health tomorrow would not just be judged on its GDP but by the capabilities and maturity of its people and the goodness of its governance to create a happy and healthy society. A self-disciplined and responsible community conscious of its role in sustaining good health of the environment and living in harmony and peace is not just desirable but a must for the success of the democracy.
Sustainable development is not just a priority, it is our future. Immediate actions are needed to invest in people’s development and their mindset to go green as well as massive investment in green technologies for a sustainable green future for the vast humanity that resides in Indian Republic.
Aishwarya Sharma is a Computer Engineering professional in US and Prof Pritam B Sharma is an eminent educationist, Founder Vice Chancellor of DTU and RGPV and Past President of Association of Indian Universities, AIU.