The need for today thinking for tomorrow: Sustainable development & Energy by Mohit Benjwal
What is sustainable development? Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations,” which otherwise means “economic development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources.” India, which became a sovereign nation, had to develop its agricultural resources and national infrastructure to meet sustenance of approximately 330 million people and take the country on a development trajectory.
Until the 1970s, sustainable development had never attracted the imagination of the global community. At the 1972 UN Conference in Stockholm, the world body raised concerns for preserving and enhancing the environment and its biodiversity to ensure human rights for a healthy and productive world. The developing countries, including India, argued that their priority was development, whereas the developed countries made a case to bring environmental protection and conservation in the forefront of the global agenda. Ancient Indians had practised to live in harmony with nature – worship of nature and its creations has its roots in this doctrine.
However, over the ages, we have plundered our natural resources, with scant regards to its sustainability. We forgot the dictum of our forefathers that the present generation is only a custodian of the natural resources and has the responsibility to pass it on without depleting it, to our future generations. As India raced to catch up with the developed world, it was caught in a vortex to bring development and energy security for self-sufficiency. At the same time, it could seamlessly join the environment bandwagon, as protection of nature was in our national DNA.
India has joined hands to ‘fight against’ global warming and climate change and brought in responsible changes in its development doctrine and energy generation and usage to bring down its contribution to global warming. In fact, today, India is at the forefront of the global campaign against these phenomena. India’s energy requirement is being met primarily from conventional sources, like coal and oil. But with worldwide concern over the impact of fossil fuel on climate and global warming, India decided to tap alternatives that contribute less carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
Sustainable and renewable energy sources are a crucial strategic national resource. Creating environment-friendly development programmes is one of the most challenging tasks for most countries. Harnessing sustainable energy resources becomes important while planning for energy programmes. And hence, meeting the nation’s energy requirements is high on the agenda of any government. Renewable energy sources contribute to a nation’s sustainable growth trajectory, in addition to protecting the environment, promoting investment and conserving ecology. India, like most other countries, has a very high dependence on fossilized fuels for its energy requirements. The other major energy source is coal.
It is generally accepted that fossilized fuels are liable to be exhausted as they are not replenishable. And thermal plants are highly polluting. At the same time, the need for energy is increasing at an alarming rate. Whether it is industrial energy, household energy or vehicular energy, the demand is more than the capacity. Hence the need of the hour is increased energy supply, which is replenishable and at the same time does not damage the environment. India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions centre around the promotion of clean energy, especially renewable energy; enhancement of energy efficiency; safe, smart and sustainable green transportation network; abatement of pollution and India’s efforts to enhance carbon sink through the creation of forest and tree cover.
Solar energy, bio-gas, geo-thermal energy and ocean energy are some clean energy sources that may help mitigate the ill-effects of environmental pollution. While energy harnessed from oceans is still in a nascent stage in India, geothermal energy seems a more viable renewable energy technology that has the potential to provide clean energy for both electric power production and direct heat applications. Bio-gas as an energy source can be a boon to rural India. Bio-gas energy can not only ease the energy situation in rural areas but also ensure waste recovery–both agriculture waste and dairy waste. Other more well-known energy sources, like solar and wind energy are in use in some parts of the country. But financing renewable sources is a major issue.
Financial assistance in the form of low-interest rate, long-term loan guarantees are some available means of addressing the high capital costs of creating renewable energy sources. Institutional finance is also one way of solving this problem. As on date, India is heavily dependent on imported oil and gas as well as coal to meet its energy requirements. But concerted efforts are on, at the same time, to harness renewable energy sources and so that India is able to honour its commitments as per the Paris Accord on Climate Change.