Environmental issues are central to the new government’s plan. Refusing to sign up to “any legal commitments or binding, mandatory targets on climate change”, Jairam Ramesh, the new Environment and Forests Minister reiterated that India will stick to its own climate change initiative: the eight national missions announced in the NAPCC last year. Perhaps reacting to the much repeated criticism of the climate change action plan, the government has stressed the need for more “action” and less “talk” this time around.
To start, the self certification clause that would have allowed industries to simply “self certify “ the environmental impact of any expansion will be dropped. BT Brinjal will not be hitting the supermarket shelves anytime soon either as the government has indicated that a comprehensive study on genetically modified foods is needed before clearance for any new foods will be given.
While the finance ministry may be keen on doing away with these “anti-market” environmental obstacles, Jairam Ramesh has declared that he will focus his energies on strengthening the regulatory system and ensuring stricter environmental norms. Environmental laws have long been seen in India as obstacles to development and growth. Arguing that a more accountable and transparent system will integrate environmentalism into the country’s economic model creating a more sustainable growth plan, Jairam Ramesh hopes to set up new overseeing authorities as well. The new government has announced that the current Central Pollution Control Board will be converted into a new environmental protection authority. Biodiversty and wildlife protection authorities and a new public environmental research institute will also be set up.
This new pro environment stance taken by the government is a good start. Till now, the environmental ministry has generally maintained a low profile and a strong environmental ministry that is ready to a take a stand is a welcome change. India really needs to start putting in place the promised missions and enforcing environmental standards. But there also is pressure on the government to maintain economic growth rates during the economic slowdown and in order to do so it appears they have realised that India will have to match economic growth with environmental protection and adaptation.
According to a UNEP report, investment towards renewable energy in India increased by 12 percent this past year, with a 17 percent rise in investment in the wind energy sector and India has been lobbying at the international level for more technology transfer. At the domestic level, the new Minister has set the right tone. But for India to come out on top, the government has to follow through these next five years.