In the midst of a global climate crisis, and as India gets closer to hosting the G20 presidency, it is important to recognise our country’s leadership at both ends of the climate debate: By walking the talk on our climate commitments as well as leading people-powered climate action. In November 2021, at the CoP 26 in Glasgow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in addition to announcing the panchamrit, or five climate-related commitments of the country, also articulated the concept of “Lifestyle for the Environment” (LiFE) — advocating for “mindful and deliberate utilisation” by people worldwide, instead of “mindful and wasteful consumption”.
There is unequivocal evidence that the Earth’s temperature is rising exponentially, with multiple threats around the world. It has been estimated that the global economy could lose up to 18 per cent of GDP, and India could lose $6 trillion by 2050 if no climate action is taken. In India alone, more than 50 per cent of our largely rural workforce will be negatively affected by climate change. Food and water security are already threatened across the world due to the climate crisis. Clearly, climate change can no longer be an after-thought to the global development agenda.
Over the last two decades, many countries have attempted policies and actions to address climate change. However, the positive impact that individual and community behaviours can have on climate action has remained under realised. According to the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP), if one billion people out of the global population of close to eight billion adopt eco-friendly behaviours in their daily lives, global carbon emissions could drop by approximately 20 per cent. Such eco-friendly behaviours include turning off ACs, heaters and lights when not in use, as this, for instance, can conserve up to 282 kilowatts of electricity per day. Avoiding food wastage can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by 370 kg per year. Reducing one flight trip per year can reduce per capita carbon emissions by 700 to 2,800 kg.
Individual behaviour, therefore, has enormous potential to make a significant dent in the climate conundrum. There is an urgent need for individuals to transcend geographical, social and economic boundaries, and come together as a global community to tackle the climate crisis. India can lead the global climate debate by nudging the world towards a new model of sustainable and inclusive development through the Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) movement.
LiFE was launched on June 5, 2022, World Environment Day, by PM Modi, with a vision of harnessing the power of individual and collective action across the world to address the climate crisis. The objective of the movement is to nudge individuals and communities to adopt simple and specific climate-friendly behaviours in their daily lifestyles. For instance, an individual can carry a reusable cloth bag instead of a plastic bag; or walk short distances instead of driving; or turn off electrical appliances from the sources when not in use; or prioritise public transport wherever possible and take other similar actions. By making such daily actions an integral part of our collective social norms, LiFE aims to activate a global community of “Pro Planet People” and steer the world towards a sustainable model of development.
There are already precedents of pro-planet initiatives around the world. For example, Denmark promotes the use of bicycles by limiting parking within the city centre and providing exclusive bike lanes. Japan has its unique “walk-to-school” mandate, which has been in practice since the early 1950s. There are other examples of how people can practice sustainable lifestyles. LiFE, however, is planned as a first-of-its-kind global movement, led by India in partnership with other countries, that will provide the world with a unique people-powered platform to relentlessly focus on bringing individual and collective actions to the core of the climate action narrative.
In many ways, Prime Minister Modi’s LiFE movement can become a tipping point in the climate crisis debate, compelling the world to:
Consume responsibly: Sustainable living and comfortable living are mistakenly perceived to be competitors. The prevailing perception that climate-friendly behaviour necessarily implies a frugal lifestyle has played a major role in preventing populations worldwide from adopting a sustainable lifestyle. LiFE plans to methodically break down this mental model by nudging the world to consume responsibly, rather than consuming less. Building on the unique insights from India’s recent jan andolans such as the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), LiFE will deploy a range of tested behavioural techniques, including nudges, social and behaviour change communication and norm influencing to make mindful consumption a mass movement.
Produce responsibly: Our society reflects our markets and vice versa. If sustainable choices are not supported from the supply-side, any change in our consumption patterns will only be temporary. While policies and regulations can incentivise the sustainability market to a limited extent, a long-term and stable shift in what and how the market supplies will have to be triggered by what the consumers demand. By nudging the consumption patterns of the society at scale, LiFE can also trigger a huge boost for the sustainability market. Several green industries and a large number of jobs are likely to be initiated as a positive externality of LiFE.
Live responsibly: The Covid pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us that no matter how much technological progress we make as a global society, we all remain at the mercy of the natural world. As a global community of people with a shared natural world, a threat to one is a threat to all. In this context, through its multi-dimensional, multi-cultural and global approach, the LiFE movement can play a pivotal role in not merely reversing the effects of climate change but, at a broader level, mainstream a harmonious and mindful way of living — a staple of Indian culture and tradition, practised by its people over centuries.
As the world moves in fits and starts towards its shared commitment to achieve ambitious climate goals, the time is ripe for India to lead the LiFE movement and mainstream it into the climate narrative. We will soon complete 75 years of Independence to move into an era of atmanirbhartha. Further, by December, India will assume the presidency of the G20 — a group that covers 60 per cent of the global population, 80 per cent of the global GDP and 75 per cent of global exports. This puts us in a pole position to shape the global development model. LiFE could arguably become the very heart of that model.
The writer is CEO Niti Aayog. Views are personal