Achieving tangible SDG results in India

By bringing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into effect in January 2016, the United Nations along with the support of all the member countries made a decisive commitment to sustainable development in the world.

SDGs comprise of 17 goals, framed on the success of Millennium Development Goals[i]. SDGs replaced the MDGs, by including economic growth and environmental sustainability, with key focus on adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

India has been instrumental in the development of the SDGs. It was one of the 40 countries that volunteered to take part in the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). Many of India’s policies, especially those pertaining to poverty reduction, access to energy and social inclusion, directly align with SDGs.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has generated over 2 billion person-days of employment during 2016-17 alone, largely for the disadvantaged sections of society[ii] in rural India, which is in lines with SDG 1: End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere. The Saubhagya scheme which promises electricity for all, including free electricity to beneficiaries indentified under Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), is in line with SDG 7: Clean and Affordable Energy.

India continues to develop and implement policies in lines of SDGs. Recently, NITI Aayog, the Government of India think-tank responsible for SDG implementation in India, released an SDG Index, assessing the status of each state with respect to different SDG Indicators.

However, it is also important for India to realize the cross-linkages and variable impacts of different SDGs with each other. A policy could simultaneously affect different SDGs either positively or negatively at the same time.

This overlap of goals is evident in the Indicators and Monitoring Framework for SDGs[iii]. This framework enhances the focus on cross-sectoral impact measurement, leading to impact especially in climate change adaptation and environmental protection.

Therefore, national policies should incorporate cross-cutting targets for a holistic achievement of sustainable development.

Image result for SDG india
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Cross-linkages: The problem of trade-offs

Each of the SDGs cannot be taken independently[iv] as it could potentially result in conflicts within the targets leading to complications. For example, improving industrial infrastructure (SDG 9) to accelerate economic development (SDG 8), will certainly improve the chances of reducing poverty (SDG 1). However, this could potentially challenge the country’s targets of reducing emissions (SDG 13), if the industrial growth is driven mostly by fossil fuels.

Similarly, significant reduction in poverty is possible by narrowing the economic divide in the society (SDG 10). Studies have shown that in countries where the economic divide is large, economic growth through better infrastructure may not necessarily reduce poverty and hunger[v]. Poverty reduction will not be significant if the economic growth bypasses rural areas or does not require the use of unskilled labor[vi].

Another example is the development of hydroelectric power. Harnessing the vast hydroelectric potential of India could meet the energy requirements of huge sectors of the economy (SDG 7). However, reservoir-based systems affect natural ecosystems (targeted under SDG 15). The displaced rural population also faces significant problems in rebuilding their lives (SDG 10).

The underlying factor in all of these trade-offs is the business-as-usual approach and conventional financing. Therefore, cross-linkages and mutual impacts need to be understood properly and trade-offs need to be minimized through innovative business and financial models for a holistic development through SDGs.

How does Green Growth achieve holistic development?

Green growth[vii] stands on four principles, i.e. social inclusion, poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. These four pillars together ensure sustainable development by-

  • Creation of green jobs by focusing on environmental sustainability.
  • Increased jobs leading to better economic growth.
  • Responsible economic growth through adequate resource mobilization and utilization.
  • Social inclusiveness by providing equal opportunities to men and women for the jobs created.
  • Social inclusion in the distribution of growth leading to higher satisfaction levels and willingness to contribute to the country’s growth.

Green Growth opportunities in India

Opportunities to implement green growth strategies continue to grow. The national and state governments are increasing allocation of resources towards the same. Many state governments have considered aspects of green growth in their 15-year plan to achieve the SDGs, highlighting the growing recognition of green growth strategies.

The Haryana government, for example, has included green growth as one of the 5 principles in its Vision 2030 document[viii]. The document highlights Haryana’s vision for 2030, aligned with the Prime Minister’s transformative agenda. The decision to align goals with this agenda has allowed the plan to incorporate indicators that cut across various SDGs simultaneously. For example, “Cleanliness not impurity” allows the government to target SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) with SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production).

The Assam government seeks to revolutionize governance and resource management, in order to achieve its SDG targets and emerge as one of the leading states of the country[ix]. Green growth strategies in the implementation of such overhauls can ensure that sustainable long term growth of the state is assured.

Incorporating the principles of green growth into policy documents allow the integration of SDG targets and indicators in the background.

The Way Forward

The SDG India Index has identified the gaps in SDG achievements in various states across the country. With this framework as the base, states have been given a tool to address these gaps through policy, process and technological interventions.

Addressing these gaps require vertical as well as horizontal cooperation between different government agencies, especially the nodal agencies for SDG implementation.

Also, the responsibility does not lie with the governments alone; private players can also significantly contribute to this cause. Private organizations are recognizing the importance of understanding cross-linkages of SDGs and its impacts based on their activities and the government is considering options to include their contributions to India’s targets.

Policy interventions and implementation measures need to reinforce the strategies of green growth, in order to achieve the holistic development targeted by SDGs and maximize cross-linked impacts. This is needed not only to reach our targets, but also prevent conflicting of SDG implementation measures.

With clear goals, strong implementation and cooperation infused with green growth, India could be fast-tracked to achieve Agenda 2030.

[i]UN Millennium Development Goals.

[ii]Voluntary National Review Report on the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals – NITI Aayog.

[iii]Indicators and Monitoring Framework for Sustainable Development Goals.

[iv]Nature – Policy: Map the Interaction between Sustainable Development Goals.

[v]Blog: Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth.

[vi]Blog: Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth.

[vii] GGGI Refreshed Strategic Plan 2015-2020

[viii]Govt. of Haryana: Vision 2030.

[ix]Assam 2030: Our Dream, Our Commitment.

This post was written during my employment with Global Green Growth Institute.

Author: Saurab Babu

Usually found sitting with a good book, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Always ready for a good story.

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