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NUMERO 20 - 29/10/2014

 The Protection of Environment in BRICS Emerging Economies: a Comparative Approach to India and China

According to their GDP growth rates India and China are the fastest growing economies of the world today. Apart from this statistical index they share also the label of “new emerging powers” of the Asian continent and probably of the entire globe, imaginatively identified in the acronym “Chindia”. But the success of these two economic as well as institutional systems does not come without a price to pay, and in fact India and China, according to a recent comparative study on their common environmental concerns (the CAEP-TERI Report, 2011), “on their way to becoming world-class societies” are also turning out to be “major consumers of resource and polluters of the local and the global environment”. In this perspective India and China are going to be “central to any path that the world will take on in the future and whether that path is environmentally sustainable”. India and China are surrounded by some of the world’s most severe environmental problems, which have already started to exert enormous pressure on their human and ecological health.  With the rapid growth in their populations over the years, “India and China were among the top three nations (led by the United States) with largest total ecological footprints in 2003. At the national level, the per capita footprints of India and China exceeded their bio-capacity by nearly 100% in 2003. Clearly, both the countries are running high ecological deficits, with increasing growth prospects as well as essential improvements in human development markers”. To introduce the environmental condition that characterizes these two Countries, I will rapidly mention here a series of factors as they are highlighted in the CAEP-TERI joint Report above mentioned. First of all declining water quantity and quality (especially groundwater) is a challenge for the two countries and the equitable water provisioning for all sections of society is still difficult to achieve. In addition to that rising pressure on forests have resulted in low per capita availability and low productivity widening the gap between demand and supply of various forest products. Factors such as growing vehicular fleet and dependence on coal for power generation in both countries have led to poor air quality levels. The disposal of municipal waste on open land is causing land pollution and water pollution and increasingly raising health concerns. We must also consider the huge economic costs implied by a rapid environmental degradation. Based on different research studies, the estimated economic costs of degradation for India have ranged from 3.5% to 7.5% of India’s GDP. Likewise for China, estimates from various research studies peg environment-induced GDP loss between 1.8% and 3.05% of GDP. According to the CAEP-TERI Report the rising level of urbanization, that has been a key feature of the process of economic development in both countries, was rarely accompanied by sound urban planning. For instance, “in India, nearly 48% of the urban population was without access to improved sanitation in 2006 as against 26% in China. The countries have also been experiencing extensive changes in lifestyles of its populace, with falling share of expenditure on food and rising share of expenditure on secondary goods in the consumption baskets”. As a consequence of their impressive economic growth the two countries have also seen a massive increase in the energy demand, with an energy budget orientated toward a massive use  of non-renewable sources. Both countries are coal dependent (China 70% and India 55%) apart from having large oil import dependency (China 50%, India 71%). Such energy-use dynamics have led to huge environmental implications and have raised severe energy security concerns. The CAEP-TERI Report also underlines that both China and India suffer of regional disparities in terms of economic development, and show a lack of provision of basicservices, which include water supply, sanitation, and clean energy. Such characteristics “are indicative of the fact that although the magnitude of the rise and fall in the indicators may vary, both countries face similar challenges with huge implications for equitable development”. The acknowledgment of those problems has resulted in a renewed interest for equitable and environmentally sustainable development, in the perspective of the Millennium Development Goals. India and China are also very concerned by the impacts of climate change. Global warming is a fact today, and both these countries are vulnerable to it, though in different capacities. The CAEP-TERI Report underlines that, according to the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates, temperature has been rising at a rate of 0.68 °C per century in India and that similarly, in the past 100 years, China’s average surface air temperature rose by 1.1 °C. As a response to climate change, China launched the National Climate Change Programme and India launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change, highlighting the priority areas for the countries in combating climate change. Adhering to the goals of Agenda 21 in 1992 India and China have taken a proactive attitude in promoting sustainable development and have developed an abundant environmental legislation. Nevertheless, despite the presence of extensive environment management frameworks in the two countries, environmental governance still shows many problems in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. In the following pages we will try to discuss the response of both legal orders to such difficulties, emphasizing that, in spite of similar environmental problems, the legal solutions have been quite different and that both countries would benefit very much of a comparative effort to study the alternative solutions attempted in addressing environmental challenges with the tools of environmental law... (segue)

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