World Environment Day: Reimagining Strategies for a Sustainable Future

Tikender Panwar

Climate change, loss of biodiversity, land use change, including desertification, and the issue of pollution form the crux of ‘World Environment Day’. This year’s theme for World Environment Day is ‘Restore lands to build drought resilience and combat desertification’.

The UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, has called for restoring ecosystems and joining this global movement. Notwithstanding the fact that the relevance of the day and the challenges outlined are extremely urgent and need utmost attention, but reality across the world shows a different pattern. A cursory look shows that ‘giving a damn’ to such concerns is happening and this is orchestrated by some of the powerful state players.

Gaza: Focal point of humanitarian and environmental crisis

The eight-month genocidal war on Palestinians has not just led to more than 1,00,000 deaths or injuries, but has posed one of the worst climate crises. It is estimated that the planet-warming emissions generated during the first two months of the war in Gaza were greater than the annual carbon footprint of more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that 1,00,000 cubic metres of sewage and waste are being dumped daily onto land or into the Mediterranean Sea, leading to massive marine pollution as well. Solid waste dumped in informal sites and hazardous substances are leaching into porous soil and potentially entering and contaminating the aquifers.

Lives of nearly a million children are on the frontline of the climate crisis. Water pollution from bombardments is leading to a dearth of safe drinking water and waterborne diseases. Gaza has become the centre of environmental and human crisis. Some voices are being heard across the world, but a lot more needs to be done.

Alter developmental strategy

India must realise that we are at the cusp of one of the worst climate crises. The Sixth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points out that the Indian sub-continent is one of the most vulnerable zones across the globe. The vulnerability does not just flow from the spatial aspect, but also from the adaptability and preparedness aspect. The country is already facing extreme heat waves that are killing dozens of people and simultaneously flooding is affecting large parts of the northeastern region.

The current model of development unleashed by the Central Government, whereby the environmental laws have been systematically diluted for the benefit of mega projects, must be revised. Land use change is taking place at an unprecedented pace. The mega projects planned for extremely vulnerable zones like the Andamans and Lakshadweep islands would impact the entire ecosystem of these regions.

Unprecedented and spontaneous urbanisation for facilitating real estate development is worsening the situation and is also responsible for usurping the urban commons. These commons include open spaces, gardens, playgrounds, water bodies, lakes, and so on. Such disastrous moves are not just increasing the vulnerability of the regions, simultaneously impoverishing large sections of marginalised communities, but also responsible for loss of biodiversity and disasters leading to loss of lives and assets.

Himalayas need tailor-made attention

The Himalayas also need special attention. The impetus from the Centre and state governments to go for large hydro projects, road projects like four-laning, widening of roads, laying of tower lines, unchecked tourism, which is not linked to eco-sensitivity, is playing havoc in the Himalayan region. Adding to this, the rapid pace of urbanisation and violation of laws were further impacting the region adversely. The recent forest fires are another reminder of two fault lines.

First, the policy of planting trees which are highly flammable at the behest of multilateral institutions just to appease them and exhibit satellite imagery of green cover; second, the disconnect between the people and the executive.

The people have been kept at bay by the forest management. Historically, they have been managing them and should have been their first caretakers. However, viewing forests from a utilitarian aspect has compounded the problems.

What needs to be done?

It is necessary that protests, demonstrations and discussions are carried out involving the students, but a new paradigm of systemic changes must be brought about. It is high time that Himalayan states take a collective and individual call on forestry, eco-tourism — sustainability; hydropower policy; agriculture and horticulture policy that should be based on hydroponics, etc. and move forward with a new Himalayan vision that is based not on ‘utilitarian conceptualisation’, but rather on a symbiotic relationship with the Himalayas. The vision should be driven by pro-people, eco-sensitive contours.

The writer is a former Deputy Mayor of Shimla.

The article was first published in The Tribune as Call for systemic changes on World Environment Day on June 6, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a visiting researcher at IMPRI.

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