India’s summary report card of environmental sustainability related indices records high positives tempered with extreme negatives, as recorded by global reports brought out by legacy organisations through 2021.
The Climate Change Performance Index (2022) ranked India at the 10th spot due to its high performance in greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and climate policy. The index’s top three spots remain vacant due to insufficient performers in the analysis on climate change mitigation efforts in 60 nations and the European Union, which together emit 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions according to Germanwatch, NewClimate Institute, and Climate Action Network.
The Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, (RECAI) ranked India this year at the third spot. In an era where the ESG factors are heavily influencing the agenda of investors and companies, India has been able to boost its renewable energy sector through inclusive policy, investment, technology and policy reforms. The US and China remained at the top two spots in the 58th edition E&Y’s index of top 40 nations.
These bright spots were to be dimmed by other reports. The Global Climate Risk Index 2021, which measures the impact of extreme climate events such as floods, storms, heat waves and flooding on a country and its economies, ranked India 7th. This was an improvement from its 5th last year. According to Germanwatch, heavy rains resulted in the loss of 1,800 lives and affected 11.8 millions people. This led to an estimated economic loss amounting to $10 billion.
The World Air Quality Report 2020, which was released earlier this year, ranked India third after Pakistan and Bangladesh. Almost half of the world’s 100 most polluted cities are in India. Despite improvements over the last few decades due to the National Clean Air Programme(NCAP), India’s air pollution is still dangerously high. According to IQAir, a Swiss company specializing in air quality technology, the main causes of indoor pollution in India are transportation, electricity generation and industry.
These mixed results are also reflected in Sustainable Development Report 2021. Although India is ranked at 117, a lower ranking than 120 in the previous year’s report, the report highlights that India is on track for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals on Clean Water & Sanitation and Climate Action (SDG 6), respectively. The report was produced by Jeffrey Sachs, and his team at Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an organization that works under the United Nations. It ranks countries according to their performance in achieving the SDGs.
These reports show that India still has a lot of work to do to make sporadic achievements last over a long period. It is important to take note of the failures and work at the ground level in order to improve performance. The ultimate goal is to improve overall indicators of development across all aspects of governance, social, and environmental.
Spats with agencies that sponsor reports that contain negative findings about India only help the former to gain more traction and establish their credibility as influencers. The Indian government would have felt offended by reports on human rights that were negative by western agencies in the past. This time, even rankings in reports such as the Freedom in the World 2021 or the Global Hunger Report 2021 were questioned. It is possible that India could feel offended in the future by other negative environmental indices. To make Indian arguments credible, authentic data is needed to support countering sponsoring organizations.
India should also engage with such organisations and share her point of view, just as it did in the past with Reporters Without Borders. (RSF) is a French NGO which produces the World Press Freedom Index. The engagement may not have succeeded to India’s satisfaction, as is evident from India’s low ranking in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, but it only overemphasises that there is a need to have continued engagement with such organisations for information and knowledge exchange in addition to addressing the issues flagged in such reports.
It is important to also consider the promotion and development of rankings that continue to highlight overindulgent consumption patterns in developed countries. This has been overlooked. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the per capita US emissions for the poorest 10% is 60% higher than the average Indian, and 12 times greater than the 10% richest Indians. These inputs are essential for continuously informing the global sustainability discourse. Not just for the benefit of the poor, but also to the benefit of the planet.