Despite having a range of legislations, and a variety of efforts, we are still lagging, which conveys that India needs to rethink its policies towards its environment and natural heritage.
WE live in a country where people believe in the philosophy of छिति जल पावक गगन समीरा। पंच रचित अति अधम सरीरा।। This couplet portrays the five elements constituting the human body – earth, water, fire, air and ether. However, something has surely gone wrong; as per the 2022 Environmental Performance Index (‘EPI’) by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network Earth Institute, Columbia University, India is the least ecologically sustainable out of the 180 countries studied. India has the lowest EPI score of 18.9 out of 100.
One of the most peculiar parts of the evaluation was the country’s ranking of 179th in the category ‘Biodiversity & Habitat’. This particular category assesses a country’s efforts to protect natural ecosystems and the full range of biodiversity within its borders. The 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an important international treaty that tackles these issues. It recognises sovereign rights to biological resources and permits governments to control access to them in line with their laws. It identifies the contributions of local and indigenous populations to conservation and sustainable use through traditional knowledge, customs, and inventions. In 1994, India joined the CBD’s list of signatories. The CBD has ratified two protocols: the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2003) and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (2014). India approved the Cartagena Protocol in 2003, and ratified the Nagoya Protocol in 2014.
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The EPI, 2022 is a data-driven evaluation of the global level of environmental sustainability. The EPI rates 180 nations on climate change performance, environmental health, and ecosystem vitality using 40 performance indicators across 11 issue categories. These metrics show how near countries are to meeting stated environmental policy objectives on a national basis. The EPI produces a scorecard that recognises environmental leaders and laggards, and gives practical suggestions for nations seeking to move toward a more sustainable future.
The EPI findings are terrible and disturbing in terms of our natural ecosystem. However, India is one of the world’s mega biodiversity countries; according to the National Wildlife Database Cell, India has a network of 990 Protected Areas, which includes 106 National Parks, 565 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 100 Conservation Reserves, and 219 Community Reserves, covering a total of 1,73,306.83 sq. km of geographical area, or approximately 5.27 per cent of the country. We must bear in mind that we also have the world’s second-largest human population. To make things sustainable, all decisions or directives should be area-specific; we cannot impose a single legislation at the pan-India level.
As per the 2022 Environmental Performance Index, India is the least ecologically sustainable out of the 180 countries studied. It has the lowest EPI score of 18.9 out of 100.
Moreover, another critical study, the 2021 World Air Quality Report, prepared by Swiss air quality technology company IQAir, highlights that air pollution contributes to about seven million global early deaths annually while burdening the global economy upwards of $2.9 trillion annually. Another alarming finding for India in the study is that we have 35 of the 50 cities with the poorest air quality, with New Delhi continuing to be the most polluted capital city in the world for the fourth year in a row in 2021.
According to a recent progress update to the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, air pollution killed an estimated 1.6 million people in India in 2019 – the greatest number among all countries in the world. Overall pollution-related mortality in India was likewise the greatest (2.4 million); this included water, lead, and occupational pollution. Most of these fatalities were caused by particle matter 2.5 (PM2.5) pollution. Household air pollution was the country’s second leading cause of death.
Also read: Climate change and air pollution: Two sides of the same coin
In the last few years, the Union Government has come up with several schemes to cope with environmental hazards, such as the National Clean Air Programme, the Green Skill Development Programme, the Atal Bhujal Yojna, the Namami Gange Programme, the Swacch Bharat Mission, and the Ujjwala Yojana, among many others. However, even after all these schemes, we find our country at the last rung in credible global reports like the EPI, the World Air Quality Report, and the Lancet Commission.
India is the largest democracy in the world; according to the International Monetary Fund’s Gross Domestic Product growth predictions for Fiscal Year 2022, India is the world’s fastest-growing major economy. In this scenario, maintaining economic growth while protecting the environment and ecology is a significant challenge for every state. Whereas India has multiple legislations that deal with the country’s environment and ecology, the big question is how we are implementing them.
We have 35 of the 50 cities with the poorest air quality, with New Delhi continuing to be the most polluted capital city in the world for the fourth year in a row in 2021.
As per the environment and development politics magazine Down To Earth’s State of India’s Environment: 2020 report, at the current rate, Indian courts would take between nine and 33 years to settle the current backlog of cases for violations of various environmental regulations. Despite having a range of legislations, and a variety of efforts, we are still lagging, which conveys that India needs to rethink its policies towards its environment and natural heritage. At least, at this juncture, India should strictly follow Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s climate commitments, the five-point action plan on climate change which includes India getting its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts by 2030, meeting 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030, reducing the projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now until 2030, reducing the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 per cent by 2030, and achieving its target of Net-Zero by 2070.
Policymakers and the citizens should always carry the Buddha’s quote on nature for the betterment of humanity “Every single thing in existence is worthy of supreme reverence. Nature is not something for human beings to exploit as they see fit, solely for their own interests. Both nature and humanity are part―and at the same time, complete expressions―of the life of the universe. To destroy the natural world is to destroy human life.”