Mission Life: Ifs and buts

08 May 2023
Mission Life: Ifs and buts

Opinion: Sanjib Pohit and Somya Mathur.

Mission LiFE (life style for environment) was introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi—at COP26 in Glasgow on 1 November 2021—as a mass movement for “mindful and deliberate utilization, instead of mindless and destructive consumption” to protect and preserve the environment. Incidentally, India is the first country to include LiFE in its Nationally Determined Contributions. As our PM quotes “India will put forward and propagate a healthy and sustainable way of living based on its traditions and the values of conservation and moderation, including through a mass movement for LIFE, as a key to combating climate change.” The Mission builds upon India’s environment-friendly culture and traditional practices which has resulted in carbon footprint per person in India to the tune of 1.8 tonnes per year as compared to the global average of 4.5 tonnes.

Mission LiFE envisions three core shifts towards sustainability in phases viz. change in demand, change in supply and change in policy, by collective actions of individuals, industry and the Government. In phase one, the shift can be achieved by changing demand through nudging individuals across the world to practise simple yet effective environment-friendly actions in their daily lives. In phase two, one can expect that changes in large-scale individual demand actions following phase one would lead the industries and market to respond to cater to the new consumer preferences. Lastly, by influencing the demand and supply dynamics of India, the long-term vision of Mission LiFE is to trigger shifts in large-scale industrial and government policies that can support both sustainable consumption and production.

Of course, these phases are more of a normative concept and they occur in tandem in real life. Whatever one proposes about nudging individual actions, in reality, command and control action on policy front may be the driving force in steering the consumers towards sustainable consumption and production pathways.

No doubt, the positive spill-over would play an important role in supporting sustainable production process. For instance, as we move from fossil-based electricity production to renewable sources, demand for railways for carrying coal, a major source of revenue for railway sector will cease. This will also open up space for carrying other freight through railway leading to sustainable/low carbon freight system. Currently, railways modal share is only 30%, which is unusually low for a country of a size like India. Over dependence on road transport is a lot more costly and carbon intensive. Thus, any shift towards railway is always welcome. That is the vision of India’s new logistics policy.

The pricing of urban public transport system is a key factor whether commuters will avail or not. Another important aspect for its better adoption is the availability of a network of feeder transport for last mile connectivity. In Luxembourg public transport is free and in many countries, in the west, its cost is kept low to encourage its usage. Moreover in some European cities, you can avail public transport till 200 metres of residence. By contrast, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the lifeline of the national capital’s cost is quite high by world standard. Moreover, if one includes the cost of last mile connectivity after getting down from the metros, the cost aggravate further. Given the affordable pricing of 2 wheelers electric vehicle, commuters are discarding metros in Delhi and preferring to use their own vehicle. The extremely high growth of registration of new 2 wheelers electric vehicle in NCR probably suggests so. Thus, one also needs a dynamic pricing system for public transport system.

Reduced consumption of animal protein is considered to a sustainable consumption pathway as it reduces carbon footprints. However, in India, animal protein is the cheaper/affordable source of protein for poorer households. Thus, a dichotomy exists, income level needs to rise before one advocates this policy choice. Moreover, livestock is an equally important source of income for small and marginal farmers. Thus, contraction of livestock sector has far reaching implications- one need to provide them alternative source of income before one contemplates about dietary changes in Indian households.

Sanjib Pohit is a Professor at National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). Somya Mathur is an Associate Fellow at NCAER.

Published in: The Daily Guardian, 08 May 2023