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Environmental Woes – The Statesman


India was ranked bottom at 180th position in the recently released Environmental Performance Report 2022

Index Report (EPI). The publication of the EPI report caused consternation within the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Indian government has categorically rejected the EPI 2022 report, saying, “The recently released Environmental Performance Index 2022 contains many indicators based on unsubstantiated assumptions. Some of these indicators used to assess performance are extrapolated and based on unscientific assumptions and methods.

The government may have good technical and/or statistical reasons for rejecting the EPI 2022 report, but the systematic rejection, in immaculate bureaucracy, of all studies and reports that show the Indian government in a bad light, for example, the report from the US State Department on religious freedom, the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI) report, or the WHO’s report on Covid deaths, makes the next rejection even more hollow than the last .

The Environmental Performance Index was developed by Yale University (Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy) and Columbia University (Center for International Earth Science Information Network). The 2022 EPI report has been audited by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission.

The 2022 EPI report ranks 180 countries on an integrated index derived from the country’s performance on climate change, environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The ranking is based on 40 performance indicators in 11 issue categories (climate change mitigation, air quality, sanitation and drinking water, heavy metals, waste management, biodiversity and habitat, ecosystem services, fisheries, acid rain , agriculture and water resources) which are in turn grouped into the three policy objectives: environmental health, vitality of ecosystems and climate change, and finally into the integrated environmental performance index, which aims to provide practical guidance to countries for move towards a sustainable future.

The 2022 EPI report reveals that despite solemn pledges, the latest at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), most countries have not done enough to protect the environment. To recap: in the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact, the global community set a goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century and committed to more ambitious climate policies to achieve this goal.

However, the 2022 EPI report shows that only a handful of countries – including the best, Denmark and the UK – are currently on track to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050. Many other countries like the China, India and Russia are heading in exactly the opposite direction, with rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

IPE projections indicate that, on current trends, only four countries ~ China, India, the United States and Russia ~ will account for more than 50% of the world’s residual greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 . A total of 24 countries ~the “dirty two-dozen”~ will be responsible for nearly 80% of emissions in 2050 unless climate policies are strengthened and there is a change in climate trajectories. emissions.

The 2022 EPI report notes that the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the challenge of meeting climate change targets. The remarkable improvements in air quality and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions seen during the lockdown have come at a terrible cost in terms of human health and economic well-being. Moreover, policymakers have squandered the chance to preserve pandemic-induced gains in environmental health and ecosystem vitality and to rebuild their economies and societies on a more sustainable basis. Air pollution has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels almost everywhere, as have greenhouse gas emissions from many countries. Additionally, the response to the Covid-19 pandemic has generated millions of tons of plastic waste in the form of face masks, plastic food containers and protective gear, much of which has yet to be disposed of.

The Indian government has unequivocally rejected the EPI 2022 report, but citizens can ignore our rapidly deteriorating environment at their peril. Rivers that flowed unimpeded in living memory have degenerated into cesspools, pleasant Indian summers are now reminiscent of sweltering ovens, spring winds bring nothing but smog and dust, ice on the snow-capped Himalayas is melting at a record pace and our majestic forests have lost their trees to furniture makers.

What must be obvious to all but the most myopic is that our environment has been degraded immensely, and assessed by any methodology, our environmental performance would rank closer to the bottom than the top.

India’s still low PPE ranking of 141 in 2016, 177 in 2018, 168 in 2020 and the lowest of 180 in 2022 calls for serious introspection. Environmentalists feel that current government policies favor industrial development at the expense of the environment. One example is the government’s response to public opposition to the draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notice 2020, which would have made it easier for many types of megaprojects to proceed with less public scrutiny. The draft EIA notification received 20 lakh public objections and around 100 environmental groups, organizations and individuals have launched a nationwide campaign to oppose the draft notification.

Facing massive opposition, the government let the notice bill lapse – only to reintroduce its provisions through a number of orders, memos and other notice bills. This subterfuge has severely reduced the consultation mechanism between project developers and other stakeholders, including members of the affected community.

Similarly, the government is seeking to water down the Forest Conservation Act, the centerpiece of environmental protection laws, to exempt project developers from requiring deforestation in many cases. Similarly, the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZN) Notification 2011 has been superseded by the CRZN 2019, allowing the opening of coastal zones, more specifically the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, to large commercial, tourism and maritime projects that do not will inevitably destroy the delicate ecology. of the Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago. To stir up the wounds of environmentalists, the government has approved a proposal to expand the cultivation of oil palm, which poses a significant threat to the environment, in the hitherto untouched North East region and the Nicobar Islands.

Sweeping changes were made to the Wildlife Act to facilitate industrial projects in forest areas, and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act was amended to facilitate cheaper and more efficient coal mining. dirty. On the other hand, little is done for environmental concerns, such as scientific water management, including salt infiltration management and aquifer pollution control.

One of the results of these environmentally unfriendly policies is that natural forests are being depleted at an alarming rate. According to Global Forest Watch, in 2010, 11% of our geographic area, or 31.3 million hectares, was covered in natural forest, but instead of increasing forest cover, we lost 132,000 hectares of natural forest now until 2020.

The findings of the State of India’s Forest Report (ISFR) 2021 are somewhat different, but according to the definition of “forest” in the ISFR 2021, a group of 30 to 40 trees in a park could be called a forest. The government and many public interest organizations have tried to improve tree cover, but the outcome of these efforts has varied widely ~ while some places like the Tirumala hills have been successfully greened, a majority of young trees have been planted in place of trees felled to make highways, have perished.

The 2022 EPI report highlights a decidedly unhealthy trend in environmental performance; richer countries almost always performed uniformly better than poorer countries (please see figure reproduced from EPI 2022 report).

According to the EPI report, the relationship between 2022 EPI scores and GDP per capita is positive and strong (r=0.70), although many countries outperform or underperform their economic peers. This phenomenon can be explained by the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) ~ which suggests that environmental degradation first increases with the wealth of the country, but then decreases as countries devote more resources to the protection of the environment. If true, this assumption does not bode well for India, being ranked 144th in GDP per capita ~ in the natural course, our environment would be damaged beyond repair before any improvement could be expected. There is little time left to repair Earth’s degraded environment. Barack Obama, the former US President, succinctly summed up the urgency required from the human race: “We are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it.”

Let’s act while we can.