CAG’s Role in Bridging Sustainability Governance Gaps

Thu, 23/12/2021 - 13:02
Edition
October - December 2021

Currently, India holds a below par position in terms of SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) scores and Environmental Performance Index (EPI), despite its national and international commitments to take actions for the 17 SDGs. Chennai, which was once the only Asian city to be adopted under the Sustainable Cities Programme of the United Nations Habitat in 1995, is now facing serious water stress. Also, it is now among the 12 coastal cities “that could be nearly three feet underwater by the end of the century” due to sea-level rise from climate change, according to a recent report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Hence, there is a strong need to strengthen the sustainability governance in Chennai (and other Indian cities) by mainstreaming NGOs and civil society in creation, enforcement and review of policies for bringing change at the systemic, community and individual levels. 

The Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) came into existence in Chennai in 1985 and in the last 36 years, CAG has come up with several innovative projects that are focused on achieving SDGs. CAG proactively supports Indian states to make a shift in their approach from government-centric efforts towards people-centric efforts to cut-down CO2 emissions for sustainable and inclusive development in India.

climate change

Sustainability Issues 

Tackling sustainability issues have become embedded in all areas of CAG’s work. We find this evident in the available food choices, irresponsible waste management and water depletion, to the unavailability of sufficient public transportation like buses. We emphasise the need to create a bridge between policymakers and stakeholders through solution-driven recommendations backed by research and advocacy to strengthen policies and actions of the national/state/local governments. We also focus on capacity building of various stakeholders on systemic changes that are needed to rectify the unsustainable practices that our country has come to normalize.

  1. Water, Sanitation and Drainage: Limited access to water and sanitation services leads to devastating consequences on public health and the environment. In addition, expansion of such services relies solely on unsustainable sources such as groundwater, desalination plants, and piping water from far away fresh water sources. Thus, the government needs to identify and implement innovative, localised solutions such as rain-water harvesting, mobile water purifiers (solar-powered) and grey-water recycling for/by communities to achieve SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.
  2. Energy: The focus of government policies on affordable and clean energy is largely limited to investment, expansion, and technological advances to boost energy transition, and no serious efforts are taken to identify and involve local communities for equitable achievement of SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy. 
  3. Waste Management: A gigantic amount of waste goes uncollected daily, especially where low-income communities reside in cities, and the waste that is collected is either dumped in dumpyards or burnt openly. The below par management of waste is leading to public health and aesthetic problems along with serious impact on the environment and livelihood. Plastic pollution is one serious issue under waste management that needs serious attention. If we continue to produce and use plastics at the same rate we are doing now, it will pose a problem that will surpass our ability to tackle it. Moreover, the important role performed by informal waste pickers is overlooked and their plight needs to be taken into consideration and addressed. It needs serious efforts from the government and communities to acknowledge these impacts and take legitimate actions to achieve SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being.
  4. Transport: Growing numbers of private transport like bikes, cars and cabs causes road accidents and traffic jams that are choking cities with pollution. The commuters need to make different travel choices and integrate different modes to ensure their travel is convenient, safe and less-polluting. To aid them, an affordable, accessible, integrated, easy-to-use transport network should be in place. Private transport and infrastructure that favour private transport (e.g. parking spaces, flyovers, wider roads, easy purchase of cars/bikes) should be curbed. Safe roads, sustainable commuting habits and reduction in private transportation will help in achieving SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
  5. Consumption and Production: The high carbon footprint of industries, businesses and urban people have destructive impacts on the natural environment and resources. Therefore, concrete actions towards detaching economic growth from environmental degradation, increasing resource efficiency and promoting sustainable lifestyle are needed to overcome the challenges in achieving SDG 12: Responsible Consumption & Production and SDG 13: Climate Action.

How Sustainability Governance can help?

In 2008, the “IUCN report: Governance for Sustainability - Issues, Challenges, Successes”, had mentioned that “All forms of governance whether formal or informal, explicit or implicit, display marks of covenantal relationships. Ultimately, governance relies on mutual trust or a covenantal bond in much the same way that a government relies on its constituents. The better we, as individuals and communities, are able to formulate such a covenant, the better the chances for sustainable governance.” 

“Sustainability Governance” reduces climate risk and provides other social, economic, or environmental benefits through effective management of these factors. A concrete urban sustainability framework (see figure 1) is necessary for India to meet the adaptation and mitigation needs of society.

Figure 1: Urban sustainability framework (Source: Global Platform for Sustainable Cities).

The greenwash of individual behaviour change has been pushed by corporations for decades as a way to avoid taking responsibility for the pollution they (the corporations) cause. If this is not regulated no matter how many changes we make, we cannot stop climate change. This is where CAG plays a major role as we believe in addressing public grievances through institutional and participatory processes. The core of our work lies in  our belief that effective consumer/citizen representation is critical for good governance.

What has CAG done so far?

As a non-profit, non-political and professional organisation that protects citizens' rights in consumer, civic and environmental issues and promotes good governance processes including transparency, accountability, and participatory decision-making, CAG has made a significant progress towards bridging the gaps in sustainability governance through its work in the following areas:

  1. Environment and Climate Action: Environmental protection always remains one of the big challenges in India. This is especially so when industrial activities are situated in eco-sensitive areas, such as coasts, forests, and rivers, causing irreparable damage to the fragile biodiversity and livelihood ecosystems. The current environmental regulatory setup for thermal power plants in India includes a mechanism for the local communities to register their apprehensions about proposed Thermal Power Plants in public hearings. However, it has become known that local communities’ knowledge and understanding of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is limited. We work to build the knowledge of local communities about the regulatory and administrative processes that industrial activities will have to adhere to, and the current recourse avenue set up and available to them. Under the Thermal Watch Initiative, we work to strengthen climate and energy governance through research and advocacy. We also work on issues of low carbon cities and water management.

Table 1: Key works by CAG to strengthen the sustainability governance through research and advocacy on environment and climate action.

Project name

SDG

Ensuring the protection of public parks and water bodies by preventing concretisation 

GOAL 13: Climate Action 

Post tsunami environment initiative

GOAL 1: No Poverty, GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality, GOAL 13: Climate Action and GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Air quality monitoring in Tamil Nadu

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being and GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

  1. Solid Waste Management: CAG is doing research in this area to promote sustainable and inclusive solid waste management (SWM) in Chennai. The work is aimed at filling gaps in  knowledge and understanding about waste, its management and the actors involved through both qualitative and quantitative research. The broad themes for research and advocacy are empowering informal waste-pickers and promoting sustainable and inclusive SWM.

Table 2: Chronology of key works by CAG to strengthen the sustainability governance through research and advocacy on solid waste management.

Project name

SDG

Bio-medical waste management

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Solid waste management towards a zero waste policy

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

  1. Sustainable Transportation: CAG works with government and other actors in Tamil Nadu to promote public transit, walking and cycling and discourage private transport, through research and data-driven advocacy. CAG also works with varied stakeholders across India to strengthen road safety policies and mechanisms.

Table 3: Key works by CAG to strengthen the sustainability governance through research and advocacy on sustainable transportation.

Project name

SDG

Joint action forum for road safety

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Check your vehicle emission

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and GOAL 13: Climate Action

Road safety

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Sustainable transport

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 13: Climate Action

  1. Electricity Governance: CAG is effectively working towards empowering and educating electricity consumers about their rights to access and demand quality electricity services, to increase consumer’s participation in electricity governance to push for transparency and accountability in its functioning. CAG’s initiatives follow a two-pronged approach to promote sustainable energy goals. On the one hand it engages with the policy makers and institutions in the electricity sector to represent consumer interests. On the other hand, it supports consumers with their electricity issues and disseminates information among consumer categories around electricity regulations, policies and clean energy transition.  The broad themes for research and advocacy are energy and electricity planning, electricity governance and consumer participation.

Table 4: Key works by CAG to strengthen the sustainability governance through research and advocacy on electricity governance.

Project name

SDG

Campaign for sustainable energy consumption

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Clean energy transition in TN-Electricity Consumer Cells

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

  1. Consumer Protection: CAG is proactively working to reduce the gap in consumer rights, protection and awareness. We conduct research that informs policy on consumer protection and interact with government agencies to strengthen the legal/regulatory framework. The broad themes for research and advocacy are consumer education and awareness and consumer advisory. CAG conducts campaigns on a yearly basis to promote sharing resources and sustainable lifestyles. CAG started the initiative of forming consumer groups with low income consumers and college students in Chennai to encourage, promote and practise sustainable consumption in daily life. The main aim of the initiative is to connect the consumers with the government departments like civil supplies and consumer forums, through one on one meetings between the consumer group and the concerned officials to address the consumer issues. 

Table 5: Key works by CAG to strengthen the sustainability governance through research and advocacy on consumer protection.

Project name

SDG

Functioning of consumer courts in Tamil Nadu

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

Public Distribution System (PDS)

GOAL 1: No Poverty, GOAL 2: Zero Hunger and GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

Legal standards of healthcare services

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

Citizen’s charter in Tamil Nadu

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

Improving nutrition of children in schools

GOAL 1: No Poverty, GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being and GOAL 4: Quality Education

Understanding linkages between trade policies and livelihood

GOAL 1: No Poverty, GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality and GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal

Draft rules to curb promotional practices of pharma companies

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being; GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

Sustainable food for all

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being GOAL 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production 

Trans fat regulation and implementation

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

  1. City Governance: This work area of CAG looks into aspects of public administration, open data and the use of technology, and works to overcome challenges to governance posed by  lack of data and information, while improving the organisational and institutional capacity to be transparent and accountable. The broad themes for research and advocacy are urban resilience and smart cities.

Table 6: Key works by CAG to strengthen the sustainability governance through research and advocacy on city governance.

Project name

SDG

Study of crematorium and burial grounds

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Stop ECR (East Coast Road) development - as it involved cutting down trees

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities; GOAL 13: Climate Action

Action against unauthorized construction

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities; GOAL 13: Climate Action

  1. Water, Sanitation and Drainage: In this area CAG explores information and knowledge about the inequalities of availability, access and quality of water and sanitation services, and the state of infrastructure. It works with communities and governments to draw attention to the problem, improve the delivery, and to make planning and practices pro poor. The broad themes for research and advocacy are public sanitation and water and drainage.

Table 7: Key works by CAG to strengthen the sustainability governance through research and advocacy on water, sanitation and drainage.

Project name

SDG

Cleaning the Adyar River

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Study of potable water in Chennai

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Conclusion

The resources that are the fundamental source of life of all living creatures on Earth including humans are rapidly depleting or getting polluted due to un-sustainable practices by humans, such as investing in fossil-fuels, wasting water, food and other crucial things, using plastics and less use of public transport, hence, there is urgent growing need to prevent it through strong sustainability governance. From ensuring good health of the environment to contributing to saving the resource footprint, time and money of consumers, CAG has done meaningful and impactful work in bridging the gap in sustainability governance and it is committed to reinforce the actions further, in collaboration with communities, civil society organisations and local-governments. 

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