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Environmental footprints UPSC NOTE

 Environmental footprints

  • While climate change is a global concern, issues such as water scarcity and air pollution are often localised or regionalised. 

  • For example, excessive water use in one region may not directly affect water scarcity elsewhere

  • Focusing on local environmental issues is crucial; and here in comes the importance of understanding household environmental footprints.

How are household environmental footprints distributed 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, particularly those who engage in consumption beyond basic needs

  • This study specifically examines the CO2, water, and particulate matter (PM2.5) footprints associated with luxury consumption choices among households in India across different economic classes

  • The analysis contrasts these luxury consumption footprints with those associated with non-luxury consumption

  • The luxury consumption basket includes various categories such as dining out, vacations, furniture, social events etc.

How were environmental impacts assessed in this study?

  • Methodologically, the study employed an input/output analysis of the entire economy to map or link different components of household consumption to the resources or materials involved in their production

  • This approach enabled the capture and aggregation of the (indirect or embedded) environmental impacts associated with each stage of production. 

  • For example, the water footprint was utilised to quantify water usage throughout various stages of production of different goods and services, as well as direct water usage by households

  • The PM2.5 footprint encompassed both embedded emissions and direct emissions from household activities such as the use of fuelwood, kerosene, and vehicular fuels

  • Similarly, the CO2 footprint was used to capture both embedded and direct CO2 emissions associated with household consumption.


What were the key findings?

  • The study reveals that all three environmental footprints increase as households move from poorer to richer economic classes

  • Specifically, the footprints of the richest 10% of households are approximately double the overall average across the population

  • A notable surge in footprints is observed from the ninth to the 10th decile, with the air pollution footprint experiencing the highest increase at 68% in the 10th decile compared to the ninth

  • Conversely, the rise in the water footprint is the lowest at 39%, while CO2 emissions stand at 55%

  • This suggests that Indian consumers, particularly those in the top decile, are still in the ‘take-off’ stage, with only the wealthiest segment exhibiting substantial increases in consumption-related environmental footprints

  • The heightened footprints in the 10th decile are primarily attributed to increased expenditure on luxury consumption items.

What are the key contributors?

  • The study identifies eating out/restaurants as a significant contributor to the rise in environmental footprints, particularly in the top decile households, across all three footprints

  • Additionally, the consumption of fruits and nuts is highlighted as a factor driving the increase in water footprint in the 10th decile. 

  • Luxury consumption items such as personal goods, jewellery, and eating out contribute to the rise in CO2 and air pollution footprints

  • Notably, the presence of fuels like firewood in the consumption baskets of poorer households is emphasised, showcasing contrasting impacts of modern energy transitions

  • While transitioning from biomass to LPG reduces direct footprints, the lifestyle choices associated with affluence lead to a rise in PM2.5 footprints (and subsequently, the CO2 footprint).

What are the implications?

  • The study emphasises that while sustainability efforts often focus on global climate change, global environmental footprints do not necessarily align with local and regional scale footprints

  • However, local and regional environmental issues exacerbated by luxury consumption disproportionately affect marginalised communities

  • For instance, water scarcity and air pollution disproportionately impact marginalised groups, further marginalising them, while affluent sections can afford protective measures such as air-conditioned cars and air purifiers

  • This underscores the importance of multi-footprint analysis in addressing environmental justice concerns and ensuring equitable sustainability efforts.


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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Environmental footprints UPSC NOTE
Environmental footprints UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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