By Mary Howard, PISA Program Assistant
Influencing sustainable environmental policy through effective civil society organization (CSO) is a challenge anywhere. CSOs are powerful agents to generate public awareness, diffuse knowledge and spur action for an issue. On July 22, PISA hosted Indian environmental activist Mr. Mahesh Pandya as a part of our Climate Initiative. Mr. Pandya, Director of Paryavaran Mitra, discussed the impact of climate change in his native Gujarat, and his opinions about government and CSO roles in mitigation. From advocacy to policy interventions, Paryavaran Mitra’s work in Gujarat is thoroughly multi-faceted. Pandya described how at times, civil society can engage the public and private sectors in collaborative solutions such as India’s massive solar energy investments. Another example of collaboration is how his organization promotes native millet crop agriculture through available farmer subsidies, which in turn alleviates national farmer suicide rates and enhances food security. However, truly dynamic civil society also challenges public institutions, leading to tensions and ideally, productive debate. In Gujarat, for example, Paryavaran Mitra actively investigates the legality of government land acquisitions, encourages citizens to utilize Green Tribunals, and initiates policy interventions. Mr. Pandya’s presentation exhibited effective, well organized and targeted civil society action from the village community level, to Gujarati state legislation and India’s national policy. Green development triumphs in India come from a conglomeration of conscious work and civil collaboration from many activists, NGOs, officials and public policy. In the world’s largest democracy, opinions on most effective means for climate action vary widely, especially in light of another major priority: economic development.
While Mr. Pandya suggested that public decisions need more societal participation, other climate groups would argue that this doesn’t go far enough, and still other groups press for the “right to development” over environmental issues. The Indian government is caught between conflicting objectives: a firm stance on their right to the rapid development that early industrializers achieved, as well as the desire to take a global leadership position. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties is an arena in which the country can demonstrate leadership. Official Indian policy is strategically designed to weld the two camps namely by achieving growth through investment in renewable energy sources. According to statistics released by India’s Ministry of New & Renewable Energy this June, India has attained 4 Gigawatts of installed solar power capacity. Pandya’s home state of Gujarat accounts for 25% of the national solar capacity. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change describes eight missions dedicated to mitigation and adaptation through a multi-faceted, long term approach. While development is a priority, the government recognizes that sustainable development, poverty alleviation, resource management, technological innovation, and food security are all tied to green-growth inclusive policy.
As the world looks forward to COP-21 in Paris, India’s desire to be global leader and positive example should influence the talks in a positive direction. Although economic development is a priority, India’s investment in alternative energies and creation of multiple government agencies dedicated to environmental protection indicate its stance that development should not negatively impact the environment. While India is still the world’s fourth largest fossil fuel consumer, the country is also investing massive manpower and resources to renewable energy. A development approach that includes civil society contributions, government initiative, and private sector investments involves many actors and persistent lobbying. However, India’s example suggests that both economic development and green growth policies can be complementary forces in a nation’s climate change policy.