Positive steps amidst greater challenges - GulfToday

Positive steps amidst greater challenges

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Positive steps amidst greater challenges

The scale of environmental problems that India faces almost necessitate a war-like situation.

A nationwide ban on plastic bags, cups and straws on October 2, the release of funds to 27 states for afforestation, the Green Skill Development Programme (GSDP) that was launched in June 2017, promises to rejuvenate 50,000 hectares of degraded land – all these are recent, positive and welcome green measures announced by the Indian government. The backdrop, however, looms large and huge environmental challenges seek urgent solutions!

According to the recent State of India’s Environment (SoE) report, India’s position of Global Environment Performance Index fell from 141 in 2016 to 177 in 2018. Extremely high air pollution levels, rapidly depleting groundwater and freshwater levels, staggering waste generation statistics, rising health impacts – these are just a few of the highlighted issues.

Efforts are underway as mentioned earlier. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently announced the scrapping of such plastics by 2022, will launch the campaign with a ban on as many as six items on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi

In May 2018, during the launch of the GSDP mobile app, then Union Minister for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Harsh Vardhan, said that 225 thousand people will be employed through GSDP by next year, and about 500,000 by 2021.

The present Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said India had committed to rejuvenate 50 lakh hectares (5 million) of degraded land between 2021 and 2030. But these are not enough – the scale of environmental problems that India faces almost necessitate a war-like situation.

For instance, India faces a severe problem of land degradation, or soil becoming unfit for cultivation. About 29% or about 96.4 million hectares are considered degraded. This January, India became part of the “Bonn Challenge”, which is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. India has pledged to bring into restoration 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030. India’s pledge is one of the largest in Asia.

At another level, scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) have stated that pollution levels amplify the severity of droughts in the Indian subcontinent. Long-term trends show that since the 1950s, overall rainfall during the southwest monsoon season has declined by a whopping 7%. Pointing out that rising pollution levels in the atmosphere over the past 70 years are a significant factor for this declining trend, scientists say that the drought-amplifying impact of pollution is a cause of concern for the rain-fed agricultural sector in the country. Their study adds that the role of pollution in exacerbating the severity of droughts is already evident.

There have been several startling reports about the extremely poor air quality in cities across India and their far-ranging health impacts. Research studies highlight the link between air pollution and the economy and sustainability.

The draft National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP) brought out by the Union ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is seeking comments and suggestions on the draft report from experts and the general public. The deadline to submit suggestions is September 24.

According to the report, meeting the demands and expectations of a rapidly growing economy, population and the aspirational values of a young country is taking an enormous toll on the environment and the country’s natural resources. India is enroute to becoming the world’s most populated country within a decade. By 2030, urbanization is expected to go up to 50%.

The report points out that India extracts 1580 tonnes of natural resources per acre against the global extraction rate is 450 tonnes/acre. Its use of primary materials such as biomass, minerals, fossil fuels and metals is projected to triple to 14.2 billion tonnes by 2030. India also has a higher wastage rate than developed countries, with a recycling rate of only 20-25. It is also the third highest carbon dioxide emitters, accounting for around 6.9% of global emissions.

Stressing the need for more checks and balances in terms of policy measures to ensure sustainable development, the report states that multiple policies addressing the issue of resources do exist. However, they are isolated interventions and fail to capture the opportunities of resource efficiency across all the stages of the life cycle.

The draft policy envisions a sustainable future that respects ‘planetary boundaries’. It proposes to reduce primary resource consumption to sustainable level, create higher value with less material and minimise waste creation.

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