US vice presidents have never really been known for the depth of their intellects. But Al Gore, former Vice President of the US, is an exception. He is passionate about the fight against climate change, and his address at the India Today Conclave in Delhi recently highlighted both the dangers and the opportunities that these present.
The entire climate change issue has got bogged down for too long in the ecology-versus-development debate. Developing countries like India and China have rightly opposed the efforts of the industrialised West—the biggest ecological offenders—to impose standards that will be a drag on the economic development of poorer nations. And the Kyoto Protocol has also been stymied by the reluctance of several countries—and, primarily, the US—to ratify its proposals.Business Today feels that the terms of the debate reduce this critical issue to a zero sum game. It is already well known that by 2050, large masses of low-lying coastal land will go under water, causing immeasurable social, political and economic upheaval around the world. India will not escape this catastrophe. The entire Eastern Coastal Plains, from Orissa to Tamil Nadu, will be submerged if urgent steps are not taken to address the issue.
The only way to move forward is to change the terms of the debate. The special interest groups that oppose any forward movement on climate change cannot be wished away. But a little imagination on the part of policymakers can convert them into proponents of ecological responsibility.
Here, too, Gore’s suggestion of imposing a tax on pollution and reducing that on payrolls deserves attention. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram—who has, in the past, imposed downright irrational levies, like the Fringe Benefit Tax—and his successors at North Block will do well to give this suggestion some deep thought. By giving companies fiscal incentives to be ecologically responsible, and by punishing those that aren’t with a levy, it will be possible to convert at least a section of the naysayers into a committed constituency.
Toyota Motor Company has successfully made the transition; so, there’s no reason why India Inc. cannot. This is just one of several measures that can make a difference. If Chidambaram, or any future Finance Minister, takes the lead in this regard, a small beginning towards making the world safer for future generations will have been made. And India can then rightly claim the high moral ground for having shown the way forward. It will be a win-win deal for the world, its inhabitants, and all the special interest groups.