At the recently concluded annual convention of
the Global Compact Network India, the local arm of the UN Global Compact, what stayed with me was the immense opportunity that we have as a country. India is blessed with people and favourable context, is displaying the will to make a difference and has the capability to leverage technology to pursue a new paradigm of development that is both people and planet friendly. Given that India’s contribution to sustainable development goals (SDGs) is almost 50 percent of global targets, she is uniquely positioned to help the world while helping herself.
The theme of the summit was -- ‘SDGs: Pioneering Solutions for India’, in sync with the UN-led effort to use SDGs to drive inclusive growth. It explored ways to solve large, chronic problems and methods of implementing solutions at scale.
We have, in the course of the last five years, seen the advent of many government programmes and discussed them individually at length. The alignment of the programmes to the SDGs became clear during the conversation on how the government sought to address the SDGs. The interactive effect of the programmes makes them even more powerful. A noteworthy example of programmes that work together to help reduce inequality (SDG 10) is the combination of Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (the world’s largest financial inclusion programme), Aadhaar (the system of using biometrics to establish identity) and enhanced mobile telephony coverage. This combination helped disburse Rs 1.6 trillion ($25 billion) to 329 million beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfers.
Another example of co-ordinated impact of multiple programmes is on SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). The Government of India has launched schemes to enhance energy efficiency, increase the availability of clean energy and reduce its cost. The National Solar Mission set an ambitious target to deploy 175 GW of grid connected solar power by 2022 (up from the earlier target of 20GW); the combination of reverse auctions and government guarantees reduced the cost of generating solar power and the implementation of the world’s largest LED programme along with energy efficient motors, air-conditioners, etc. enhanced energy efficiency.
There was validation of India’s exemplary approach on Climate Action (SDG 13). Emission intensity of India’s GDP has reduced by 21 percent in the period 2005 to 2014 (more than 2 percent average annual improvement). The good news is that the rate of improvement in the 2010 – 2014 period has been sharper than the 2005 – 2010 period, suggesting that India could go well beyond its commitment made in Paris.
India’s strong performance on the emission intensity reduction commitment has been possible because of its pioneering solutions in, among other things, making LEDs go viral, enabling appliances to become highly energy efficient, becoming the most energy efficient cement manufacturer in the world and aggressively driving the creation of renewable energy capacity. These solutions involved adoption of new processes and technologies by corporations as well as by leveraging methods such as aggregation of demand and reverse auction for price discovery.
The GCNI conference focussed on 3 SDGs (SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production and SDG 13 - Climate Action), highlighted the work done and the lessons learnt in each of them. The takeaways include the importance of keeping programme deployment costs low to ensure mass reach and thereby achieve national SDG targets. Several illustrations of how digital, physical and biological technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, robotics, energy storage, bio-materials, among others, are providing scalable breakthrough innovation to address sustainability challenges were presented and discussed. Technology can help us achieve our SDG targets by triggering many benefits like cost effectiveness, accessibility, scalability and the ability to engage diverse stakeholders.
A 2018 GCNI report stated that SDGs present a $1 trillion market opportunity and employment generation potential of 72 million by 2030 in India. The spate of solutions that are being adopted by the government and corporations generates hope that India will leverage the opportunity presented by the SDGs to build a stronger economy, a more equitable society and a planet that remains amenable to continued human existence.
Anirban Ghosh leads sustainability at the $20.7-billion Mahindra Group. Read his columns