The countdown to the June 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development picked up speed last week at the annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS). The DSDS, whose timely theme was “Protecting the Global Commons: 20 years post Rio,” brought together a diverse representation of leaders from around the world for annual deliberations, including the Prime Minister of India, Hon. Manmohan Singh, and California’s former governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. NRDC’s President, Frances Beinecke, spoke at the conference about the urgent need to act now to address imperative environmental and developmental issues, complementing NRDC’s efforts to have a meaningful Rio+20 Earth Summit through our “Race to Rio” campaign.
DSDS should help catalyze new partnerships with institutional actors working on Rio+20 within India too. We have found that these smaller and more personal interactions allow for a greater understanding of individual stakeholder motivations, and in turn help forge action coalitions in the policy realm. Focusing on commitments to short-term and medium-term actions by national and sub-national governments, entrepreneurs and civil society groups is one way to ensure concrete goals and targets are achievable. NRDC’s submission to the United Nations for Rio+20 lists about 40 such action items Similarly, in the climate change and clean energy space, which is the focus of NRDC’s India Initiative, another colleague, Jake Schmidt, has laid out how the vague promises in the “zero draft” for Rio +20 can translate into results on the ground by delineating specific initiatives against each broad goal.
Specifically, we believe India’s sustainable development opportunities and policy commitment can be more effectively implemented through concrete action-items, including the following:
- A participatory and responsive approach to environmental governance that includes all societal and economic sectors. Such approach should include takeaways from the Planning Commission of India’s recent initiative, which created key inputs toward the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017) through a series of national consultations that include the poor and marginalized.
- Use of information technology to increase accountability, which will leverage the fact that almost half of India’s population has access to mobile phones.
- Promotion of off-grid, localized renewable access solutions to energy poverty, especially with regard to cooking and lighting, which will also slow climate change.
- Focus on grass-roots-up actions through smaller, decentralized projects that involve communities and/or sub-national government bodies, thus making accountability more local.
- Tap into the potential of youth for a greener economy in a country with a median age of 25 years (in contrast to 35 years in China), with 11 million people expected to join the working population annually over the next two decades.
- Work with short-term achievable climate and energy objectives that can be tracked, and delivered in the short- and medium-term, including consumption and production goals.
- Build on-the-ground and directed adaptation capacities for vulnerable communities.
In past DSDS conferences, policymakers have spoken of India’s sustainability policy in the national and international context. However, as a recent appraisal of India’s environmental goals and clean energy targets shows, national implementation tends to fall short of policy intent. Twenty years after the original Earth Summit at Rio, DSDS 2012 provided a productive platform to help generate action-items for India to contribute to, and benefit from, the Global Commons.
Co-authored by Sangeeta Nandi, NRDC India Initiative Volunteer