Panel discussion: Creating a sustainable growth strategy for India

  • Blog Post Date 07 June, 2024
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The previous I4I post presented videos from the first session of the India Sustainable Growth Conference hosted at LSE in May, wherein researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders deliberated on how India can balance its climate and growth objectives. This post features videos from the second session – a panel discussion on ‘Creating a sustainable growth strategy for India’.  

Delivering the opening remarks, H.E. Vikram Doraiswami (High Commissioner of India to the UK) contends that we need to think of sustainability in its most inclusive sense, including the sustainability of opportunities for all citizens to improve their quality of life. He highlights that India’s pursuit of sustainable growth and inclusion is situated in an increasingly changing global political ecosystem. The challenge is that sustainability must be achieved while generating growth – the country is building new infrastructure as well as retro-fitting old infrastructure to make it more environment-friendly. While seeking to provide affordable electricity access across India, there would also be a need to ensure that about half of the power generation comes from renewables by the end of the decade.

Panel moderator Anant Sudarshan (University of Warwick) discusses two ways of looking at the environmental Kuznets Curve. On the one hand, the view is that richer countries are ‘cleaner’ than poorer countries and hence, there should be a single-minded focus on becoming rich – assuming that positive environmental outcomes are obtained as ‘bonus’ while getting richer. On the other hand, a clean environment may be considered as an input into growth. He cites academic evidence pointing towards the latter: Chinese data showing that pollution adversely impacts worker productivity and cognitive performance, and the case of the agricultural state of Punjab that has experienced decline in prosperity simultaneously with groundwater level depletion.

Shamika Ravi (Member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India) notes that the burden of excess debt at the state level implies that the renewables push is limited to only a handful of states including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Further, she emphasises the high demand for energy in India as a lower-middle-income country, which, together with the rising proportion of net energy imports in the total energy use, points towards the concern of energy security. Hence, her view is that it is crucial for renewables to become an all-India phenomenon.

Representing the World Bank, Stéphane Hallegatte shares that the question vis-à-vis India and other developing countries is how they can achieve their developmental goals despite facing the effects of climate change. In his view, the type of priorities that we tend to look at for climate resilience are the same as that for development – healthy and educated population, financial inclusion, adequate infrastructure, etc. Hence, there is a greater alignment between climate and development objectives than is commonly perceived.

Speaking on how academic research fits into sustainable growth strategies, Balaji Srinivasan (EPIC Asia Advisory Group) advocates for the creation of climate schools within India, with a role analogous to that of the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) with regard to technology, in the country. He underlines the importance of economics and policy being genuinely owned in an Indian context.  

Jahnavi Nilekani (Aastrika Foundation) highlights that funding for environmental initiatives from private philanthropy in India is growing, albeit from a small base. In her view, Indian philanthropy should shift focus from need-based giving in the current scenario to long-term, future-oriented growth strategies. Given that this capital has the ability to be patient and to take risks – to a greater extent than what is possible for those answerable to voters or shareholders – philanthropists are well-positioned to prioritise climate issues.  

The session was brought to a close with concluding remarks from Robin Burgess (IGC and LSE).

The full recording, including audience Q&A, is available on the IGC website.

This is the second of two videos from the India Sustainable Growth Conference. The first one, on catalysing an ecosystem for sustainable growth research and policy in India, is available here.

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