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Analysing Local Environmental Footprints

Context:

While climate change is a global issue, problems like water scarcity and air pollution are often localized or regional. For instance, excessive water usage in one area may not directly impact water scarcity in another. Therefore, focusing on local environmental issues is vital, emphasizing the importance of understanding household environmental footprints.

Relevance:

  • GS2- Health
  • GS3- Environmental Pollution and Degradation

Mains Question:

What is the significance of evaluating household environmental footprints? Do these footprints show an increase as one analyses households that are richer and affluent? Analyse. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Distribution of Household Environmental Footprints in India:

  • A recent study titled “Water, Air Pollution, and Carbon Footprints of Conspicuous/Luxury Consumption in India” highlights the environmental impact of affluent individuals who consume beyond basic needs.
  • This study investigates the CO2, water, and particulate matter (PM2.5) footprints linked to luxury consumption choices among Indian households across various economic classes.
  • It compares these luxury consumption footprints with those from non-luxury consumption. The luxury consumption category includes items such as dining out, vacations, furniture, and social events.

How were Environmental Impacts Assessed in this Study?

  • The study used an input/output analysis of the entire economy to map different components of household consumption to the resources or materials involved in their production.
  • This approach allowed the researchers to capture and aggregate the indirect or embedded environmental impacts at each production stage.
  • For example, the water footprint quantified water usage throughout the various stages of producing different goods and services, as well as direct household water use.
  • The PM2.5 footprint included both embedded emissions and direct emissions from household activities such as using fuelwood, kerosene, and vehicular fuels.
  • Similarly, the CO2 footprint captured both embedded and direct CO2 emissions associated with household consumption.

What were the Key Findings?

  • The study found that environmental footprints for water, air pollution, and CO2 increase as households move from poorer to richer economic classes. Specifically, the richest 10% of households have footprints approximately double the overall average across the population.
  • A significant increase in footprints is seen from the ninth to the tenth decile, with the air pollution footprint increasing the most by 68%, the water footprint increasing the least by 39%, and CO2 emissions rising by 55%.
  • This indicates that Indian consumers, especially those in the top decile, are in a ‘take-off’ stage, with substantial increases in consumption-related environmental footprints primarily among the wealthiest segment.
  • The increased footprints in the tenth decile are mainly due to higher expenditure on luxury consumption items.

What are the Key Contributors?

  • The study identifies several key contributors to the rise in environmental footprints, particularly among the wealthiest households.
  • Eating out and restaurants significantly increase all three types of footprints in the top decile households. Additionally, the consumption of fruits and nuts drives the water footprint up in the 10th decile.
  • The presence of fuels like firewood in the consumption baskets of poorer households contrasts with the impacts of modern energy transitions.
  • While moving from biomass to LPG reduces direct footprints, the affluent lifestyle choices lead to a rise in PM2.5 and CO2 footprints.
  • The average per capita CO2 footprint of the top decile in India, at 6.7 tonnes per capita per year, is higher than the global average of 4.7 tonnes in 2010 and the 1.9 tonnes CO2eq/cap required to meet the Paris agreement target of 1.5°C.
  • Although still below the average levels in the U.S. or U.K., this disparity highlights the need for policymakers to address elite lifestyles to align with sustainability goals.

What are the Implications?

  • The study underscores that while global climate change efforts focus on reducing global environmental footprints, local and regional environmental issues, often exacerbated by luxury consumption, disproportionately affect marginalized communities.
  • For example, water scarcity and air pollution impact marginalized groups more severely, while affluent sections can afford protective measures like air-conditioned cars and air purifiers.

Conclusion:

This emphasizes the need for multi-footprint analysis to address environmental justice concerns and ensure equitable sustainability efforts. Policymakers should prioritize reducing the consumption levels of affluent households to achieve sustainability goals and mitigate the local and regional impacts of luxury consumption.


June 2024
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