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Unified call for resource pricing, stable policies by Indian officials and world leaders

“Energy subsidies must go,” stated Planning Commission member B K Chaturvedi at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit on Saturday.

Chaturvedi emphasized that achieving efficiency in use of energy; adding renewable energy generation, and removing subsidies to enable the more efficient pricing of resources were the three core areas for improvement in order for India to achieve food, water and energy security.

In context of agriculture, Chaturvedi specifically stated that the existing free energy for all policy should be removed--as it was accelerating the rate of water reservoir depletion via ground water pumping.

He further called for investment into water recycling technologies, citing urban and rural water technologies and practices already deployed in Maharashtra, Punjab and Singapore.

Nevertheless, the discussion on resource pricing among in Indian officials was fundamentally driven by a concern for India’s growth story.

Vivek Rae, Secretary Petroleum and National Gas, emphasised that “India's growth objective is paramount” in the face of dwindling savings, slow economic growth, and  the pressing need for extensive job creation for a young and growing population. "We need to get prices right, have clarity about [national] objectives, and pick up initiatives which kill multiple birds with one stone," said Rae, as part of the curtain-raiser event. “Sustainability is a secondary objective.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development reported that businesses cite land and water availability as the top two hurdles to implementing sustainability interventions globally. Facing risks to growth posed by climate change, nations will increasingly be forced to make a difficult choices between investing in "climate adaptation and resilience" versus "mitigation" strategies, said Phillipe Joubert, Managing Director of  Energy and Climate at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  The real price of water assets and land-use resources will need to reflect cost of mitigating environmental risks. 

Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, expressed sentiments last Wednesday, calling for more accurate pricing of ecosystem services, to be achieved through the implementation of carbon offsets, polluter pay mechanisms or a carbon tax. 

Another area which pricing can help boost India's currently poor performance is IP produced through R&D [link]. "R&D is not an act of God. R&D is a result of a clear vision on a market opportunity," said Joubert. R&D must be supported by confident and long term policy-making as this ensures businesses have clarity when looking to scale up R&D and new technology roll-outs. 

Sustainability and CSR practitioners in the field note challenging prospects for sending clear policy signals during an elections year. As one consultant notes, “Coming into what will be likely one of the most influential elections in the last 20 years, the level of political discord does not bode well for any ‘clear vision’ or ‘long term policy-making’ for the sustainability sector.’”

Dr. Bindu Lohani, Vice President, Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Asian Development Bank, noted the important role of PPPs, and the need to encourage and utilize CSR demand, for catalyzing sustainability action in the absence of stable policy in India. 

 In Asia, 70% of ADB business is geared towards achieving energy, water and food security. "Water is not a one time commodity", said Lohani, focusing on water recycling technologies as an emerging areas of interest for governments, along with national disaster management, land availability, and nutrition security. "There is a lot of potential on Asia to improve the 'E'", he added, referring to efficiency in resource use, and in particular, along the food value chain. 

Unlike the energy sector in India, there has been little movement on water policy innovations; water management solutions have been comparatively few and far between. The presence of utilities in nearly all water infrastructure and the absence of an adequate pricing mechanism for water has contributed to dormancy in this sector, though one expects the proposed water efficiency bureau to create momentum this year.


Image Credits: Stock Monkeys, PWRDF

Author: Sustainability Outlook