HT G20 Agenda: Women can be harbingers of a global transformation | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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HT G20 Agenda: Women can be harbingers of a global transformation

ByTara Kartha
Jul 15, 2023 12:52 AM IST

India's presidency of the G20 comes at a crucial time, with multiple crises affecting the world. Urgent action is needed, particularly on the climate crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposed Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) initiative could be a revolutionary change. Cities need to prioritize sustainability and businesses should collaborate with governments. Simple measures like planting trees and preserving existing ones can have a significant impact. Security infrastructure should also consider environmental factors. Empowering women and mainstreaming gender considerations are essential for achieving sustainable development goals. The ministry of environment, forests, and climate change should work with the ministry of foreign affairs to preserve natural resources and share knowledge. Ultimately, individuals need to take accountability for their actions.

India’s presidency of the G20 couldn’t have come at a better time. Or a worse one, depending on whether one is inside the meeting rooms or out. Better, because the world is in crisis and there is potential for India to lead and excel. Worse, because multiple crises are affecting everyone, from the anxious farmer to the executive watching his investments, and urgent action is required on every front. That’s particularly true of the climate crisis, which is extracting the highest costs from countries least equipped to deal with it, as natural disasters hit hard.

Women comprise nearly half of the world’s population, and in most developing countries, produce between 60 and 80% of the food; and yet, they account for about 50% of the world’s extremely poor. (HT)
Women comprise nearly half of the world’s population, and in most developing countries, produce between 60 and 80% of the food; and yet, they account for about 50% of the world’s extremely poor. (HT)

India, for instance, recorded extreme weather on 241 of the 273 days from January to September 2022, including heatwaves, cold waves, cyclones, floods and landslides.

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There’s much to be done, and nothing short of a revolutionary change will do. That change could be LiFE – or the Lifestyle for Environment -- proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It lists a number of challenges for an individual to tackle, which is admirable. It is time for similar challenges for G20 governments, which simply require the right hand of the government to work with the left, in a theatre command approach towards implementation. In this action, remember that women comprise half the world’s population. That means not just a “whole of government” approach, but a “whole of society” as well.

First, data shows a steady loss in global forest cover that contributes directly to the rise in carbon emissions, which lies at the core of global warming. Globally, one of the biggest culprits is rapid urbanisation. Governments, however, get their revenues from cities. In India, for instance, cities occupy just 3.0% of the nation’s land but contribute a massive 60% to the gross domestic product (GDP). However, not all cities are equally productive, and Indian cities are also among the most polluted in the world.

A Niti Aayog study on how to realise the full potential of a city, and strengthen Tier 2 ones, doesn’t mention pollution once. Yet, business chambers estimate that pollution is costing Indian businesses some 7 lakh crore a year. This is a common problem across the Global South.

The lesson here is that businesses need to tie up with government bodies to ensure that a Smart City is also a sustainable one. For instance, urban rules could mandate that every establishment has to plant and maintain a healthy tree in its frontage, from the smallest shopkeeper to the largest builder. If implemented across countries, this has the potential to achieve a leap in climate goals. In other words, simple solutions are most easily done. Here’s a second challenge. And that is to get civic agencies and local organisations to follow a climate friendly path, and not just on paper. That means not just planting trees but training local governments to preserve the existing ones, as too many trees are being pruned to death.

Here’s a third. A 2020 Princeton paper identifies grass as the “secret” weapon against climate crisis, as long as no fertilisers are used. Urban corporations need a rule that every office or residential complex must have a specified acreage of grass. Most urgently, institute strict zoning laws that can check the greed of town planners, to prevent overburdening already strained systems. Simply put, the simplest of measures will work, but it requires different ministries to work together in ensuring that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not just on paper.

Then there’s the challenge of delivering on security infrastructure. The destruction caused by rains across north India, the tragedy at Joshimath and hte cracks in the vital road leading to the China border, are a grim wake-up call on how security is linked to the total lack of town planning, and environmental awareness when building infrastructure. Since 2010, the United States’ department of defense has begun to consider environmental issues that include identifying climate-related tasking, as well as working with local, state, and federal partners, to protect 14 key installations and ranges. This includes enhancing natural infrastructure solutions, preserving critical species and habitats, cooperating with local communities, a special fund and a lead office for the purpose.

India has already begun a stellar experiment in the “Parvatmala” national ropeway scheme, with plans for the longest and possibly highest ropeway in the world at 11,500 feet, an environmentally sustainable way for the Kedarnath trek. This can be vastly replicated across G20 countries using technology for bringing cable transit systems for military and civilian logistics.

Women comprise nearly half of the world’s population, and in most developing countries, produce between 60 and 80% of the food; and yet, they account for about 50% of the world’s extremely poor. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women. Achieving SDGs depends on not just women’s participation, but empowering them as agents for change. Empirical research suggests that carbon dioxide emissions per capita are lower in nations where women have higher political status and decision-making rights.

Again, India has a slew of projects such as the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana; Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and several others, all meant to reach women on the ground. The fact that rural women have borne the brunt of climate shocks points the way forward. Mainstreaming gender considerations into already parsimonious climate financing mechanisms is vital, but meanwhile, national schemes need to knit the two together. India’s commitment to Goal 13 of SDGs (climate action) needs to expand; even the commitment to include sustainability in education has now regressed, with the new school curriculum dropping the sustainable use of natural resources for ages 14-16. This needs urgent and immediate attention.

Meanwhile, the wealth of knowledge among women in preserving the environment can be utilised in rewilding urban spaces and depleted forests. This is a microscopic initiative here, but we can learn from Singapore; in turn, India can share the science of Ayurveda and its potential to turn forests into wealth for local communities, while Nepal needs urgent assistance to preserve its rich heritage of medicinal plants. That means the ministry of environment, forests and climate change working with the ministry of foreign affairs.

Finally, it is good to look to the Vedas that warned long ago of the imbalance between man and nature, and also remember an important aspect -- that the individual is accountable to society. This is the missing link in all government initiatives that serve an indifferent public that expects everything from the government but does nothing on its own. Both need to change. The rest in terms of sky, water and air will follow.

Tara Kartha is a former Director of the National Security Council Secretariat

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