Local Sustainable Development Efforts Continue in India Despite Reckless Rhetoric

Recent attacks on the UN's Agenda 21 and ICLEI (“International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives”) in Tennessee and Virginia have portrayed their promotion of sustainable development and smart growth as elements of an international conspiracy to limit property rights in the U.S. This irresponsible politicization of important initiatives could impact communities far beyond the American South. As we’ve seen firsthand with our work in India, groups like ICLEI South Asia have made significant strides to increase sustainability in communities throughout India. Continued support of these groups’ efforts – removed from the political arena – are vital to promote a low carbon future that also alleviates poverty.

Agenda 21 was adopted by more than 150 countries 20 years ago at the first UN Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. It is not a treaty or legally-binding agreement. Rather it provides recommendations to governments on how to achieve sustainable development. As stated in Agenda 21's preamble, “integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment (sic) of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future.” Following the Earth Summit, more than one hundred countries and scores of cities established their own councils and committees to create their own plans for sustainable development.

Established in 1990, ICLEI is made up of cities around the world that share the objective of improving local transportation, energy access, waste management, and the urban environment, and developing sustainably while fighting climate change and pollution of our water and air. ICLEI has been a proponent of cities adopting their own local Agenda 21-inspired plans through engagement with the full range of stakeholders.

This is the sort of democratic, bottom-up approach that conservatives should support. My colleague, David Goldstein, has highlighted how land use planning policies actually bolster individuals’ property rights and should be valued more than the status quo by conservatives.

Yet according to the Tennessee’s legislative resolution passed this month, Agenda 21 and ICLEI are “destructive,” “insidious,” and “covert.” Such an off-the-wall characterization would be laughable if it wasn’t so disparaging of the good work ICLEI is doing worldwide.

Despite Tennessee's vilification of Agenda 21’s mission, groups like ICLEI South Asia (ICLEI-SA) soldier on to find effective and cost-efficient ways to help countries develop low-carbon economies sustainably. For example, ICLEI-SA provides technical consulting, training, and information services to support local governments’ implementation of energy, climate change, and sustainability programs in India, including:

  •  Collaborating with city corporations in Mysore, Bhubaneswar, and Shimla to analyze how to effectively implement the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) project.
  • Holding a series of stakeholder meetings to develop urban climate guidelines for Indian cities in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan to build sustainable low carbon cities in a low-cost way, and an India-specific GHG Protocol and Monitoring, Reporting and Verification system for low carbon actions.
  • Preparing solar energy plans for 12 cities –Agra, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur, Kalyan-Dombivli, Imphal, Kohima, Thane, Gurgaon, Rajkot, Aizawl, Coimbatore, and Chamoli Gopeshwar – and working with Nagpur and Chandigarh, which have been selected as “Model Solar Cities” to implement pilot solar programs.

These programs demonstrate the strong interest among local Indian cities to implement the  sustainable development goals of Agenda 21. These types of projects – through which groups like ICLEI and NRDC partner with local organizations and governments – are needed to continue moving India toward a clean energy economy. Despite the unfounded and irresponsible conspiracy theories memorialized most recently by Tennessee’s legislature, groups like ICLEI and NRDC will continue working together with local governments internationally to find solutions to alleviate poverty and curb climate change on the local level.