Put eco-centric industrialization on the G20’s agenda

Workers walk outside the SKICC convention centre during a G20 tourism meeting in Srinagar (AFP)
Workers walk outside the SKICC convention centre during a G20 tourism meeting in Srinagar (AFP)


This is necessary for sustainable consumption and production shifts that the SDGs have not helped achieve

The G20 has a major say in the world since its members represent 85% of global GDP, 75% of international trade and 67% of the world population. Its track record is also commendable since its handling of the 2008 economic crisis when it was created. In recent years, the group has been helping countries achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Its presidency has come to developing countries since 2022, when Indonesia presided over the group, followed by India in 2023. It will remain with Brazil and South Africa for the next two years. This is an opportunity to take up issues important from the point of view of the Global South.

India’s presidency is guided by the motto of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbukum’, implying ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’, with emphasis on ‘Lifestyle for Environment-LiFE’, which calls for transformative changes in lifestyle by incorporating ethics and value systems. There is a need to adopt environment-friendly practices, which has been stated as “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" at all levels, from individuals to institutions.

Unfortunately, the adoption of SDGs in 2015 has not made any major change in the pattern of consumption. Material Footprint has risen 50% from 8.8MT per person in 2000 to 12.2MT in 2017. This trend is continuing in developed countries even after the adoption of SDGs. Material Footprint consumption has risen from 25.6MT to 26.3MT per person for high-income countries and 1.4MT to 2MT for low-income countries, which shows 15 times higher consumption by high- income countries. On the production side, domestic material consumption globally per unit of GDP has remained same at 1.16kg per dollar between 2010 to 2017, indicating no efficiency gain.

Hence, only the adoption of lifestyle changes would not suffice to alter production and consumption behaviour. Changes in production systems, both agricultural and industrial, are essential. SDG 2 addresses the concern of sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, SDG 9, which deals with industrialization, does not have any target to measure sustainable industrialization. So, the environmental damage caused by the process of industrialization remains unmeasured.

Higher value-addition from manufacturing is essential to increase incomes in developing countries. Countries including China, which has a manufacturing share of its GDP at 27.4%, South Korea at 25.64% and Malaysia at 22%, have shown higher growth in GDP and also personal disposable income. But most African countries get a small share of GDP from manufacturing even though they have the necessary raw material, skilled manpower and space to set up manufacturing units. Therefore, they have an opportunity to grow manufacturing.

Industrialization puts stress on the bio-network and natural systems. This has an effect on water, air, soil, biodiversity and health. Along with prosperity, industrialization brings many problems.

A number of studies the world over have confirmed its adverse consequences on ecology. Unplanned industrialization has serious ecological consequences like over-exploitation of groundwater, pollution of water with dangerous chemicals, and high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

There has been a lot of discussion on the need for industrialization that is sensitive to the environment. However, this alone would not bring the needed change. Policies must be ecology-centric, with stricter norms and effective implementation. This calls for the development of an integrated framework for eco-centric industrialization, which will help preserve natural resources and give the economy a sustainable boost. Some of the elements for such a framework may include strategic planning, adoption of the 6R principles—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover, Redesign and Rethink—of industrialization, making an appropriate technology choice, among others. Strategic planning may include all aspects relating to technical, ecological, socio-cultural and economic factors affecting industrialization.

The choice of technology plays a crucial role and has to be one that generates the least waste and emits least harmful gases. Another important issue is the type of energy used. One should look for renewable sources of energy so that coal-based energy consumption is reduced. Recycling of waste is another important priority that can be dealt with by a simultaneous establishment of a recycling industry. The system of treatment of effluents has to ensure extraction of maximum useful material and its reuse. Also important is the treatment of GHGs.

The present top-down approach to industrialization needs to change to ensure the participation of local governments right from the stage of planning to implementation. Often, international trade determines industrialization. Local government, including local leadership, which better understands the fragility of ecosystems, if engaged in the process of strategic planning may result in far better eco-centric industrial planning and implementation.

The balance between protecting the ecology while ensuring accelerated economic growth can be achieved without much damage to the environment through proper planning and participation of the local leadership. This is essential for sustained high economic growth.

The G20 should set up a working group to develop an integrated framework for eco-centric industrialization.

Ashish Kumar is a senior fellow, Niti Aayog and visiting professor, Institute for Studies in Industrial Development. These are the author’s personal views.

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