The Kerala floods fighting climate change

The recent floods in Kerala have reportedly displaced over 3,00,000 people in possibly the biggest natural disaster to have hit the State in the last 100 years. The people of the State need all humanitarian aid including physical, financial and emotional which has started to come in from not only within the Country but overseas as well. The heroic efforts of the rescue forces from various sectors is a matter of great pride for the entire nation.
The event has once again exposed the soft underbelly of developing economies especially with respect to environment degradation. Rapid and relentless urbanisation has resulted in widespread deforestation, reduction in urban green spaces, unsustainable groundwater exploitation, encroachment of sensitive wetlands, and increasing vulnerability of ecologically fragile assets; galloping consumerism is creating heaps of waste choking rivers and waterways; all of which are an invitation to disasters like floods. Steady growth of industrial activity in both manufacturing and services pushes up greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change and disastrous environment degradation.
A serious question to address is whether it is possible to decouple economic growth from environment degradation. The world has long been used to the argument that greenhouse gas emissions and environment damage is the price we must pay for economic growth and prosperity. Let’s remember that countries like India require several decades of sustained high economic growth rates in order to pull millions out of poverty and improve living standards. So there is no way, it seems, we can abandon the quest for high growth rates. Yet, can we afford the huge costs, especially human costs of tragedies like the Kerala floods? It seems there is a way. In a surprising but welcome development, the International Energy Agency (IEA) had reported a couple of years ago that there had been virtually no increase in energy related CO2 emissions in 2015 compared to the previous year. Importantly this happened for the second straight year. And these years were accompanied by world economic growth, not weakness. During the two years 2014 and 2015, when emissions fell year on year, the world economy actually grew over 3% each year. Several factors helped. Most significant among them is the heightened focus on renewable energy all over the world. Rapid technological advances have driven down costs notably of wind and solar. An interesting piece of statistic provided by the IEA states that ninety percent of all new energy generation in 2015 came from renewables. Half of this was from wind alone. (However as world economic growth improved further to 3.5 percent in 2017 (IMF estimates), energy related emissions too grew 1.4 percent in 2017 and reached a record 32.5 gigatons, as per IEA estimates, largely due to higher demand and slowing efficiency improvements).
This serves to prove that given strong focus on renewables and energy efficiency improvements, it is possible to achieve ‘green growth’. We need to drive low carbon technologies aimed at reducing emissions and sustainable economic growth. There is need for policies to promote long term investment in clean and renewable energy sources and disincentivisenon renewable energy such as coal and petroleum. Many measures have been taken; for example several state governments have put in place attractive fiscal incentives for promoting electric vehicles and charging stations to support them. Also policies to promote energy efficiency such as subsidising use of LED lamps and LPG use to prevent deforestation.
All these measures are in practice in several regions. However, implementation, compliance and enforcement are modest rather than robust. Improving this combined with higher citizen awareness can accelerate our drive towards more environmentfriendly economic growth. The Kerala floods, though a very painful human tragedy, can bind society in efforts towards such green growth.

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