The Earth Has Fever - Proved 2007
Environment took centre-stage in India and around the world in 2007, thanks to the issue of climate change. Another major development on the green front was the publication of the draft national biodiversity action plan by the ministry of environment and forests. It was also a year when the issue of rights over forests remained as contentious as ever, while NGO and judicial activism fought to protect the environment.
The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this year made it clear that global warming is a present and growing menace that threatens to undo over 100 years of human development.
The threat was underscored by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC - chaired by India's Rajendra Kumar Pachauri - and former US vice president Al Gore, which pointed out that climate change was a major potential threat to peace around the world.
The threat is most serious in the tropics and sub-tropics where most developing countries are located, and they are facing the effects of climate change right now - reduced farm production, more frequent and more damaging droughts, floods and storms, and a rising sea that is already surging into homes in small islands while it threatens to drown cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata this century.
Thanks to the IPCC report and the debates during the UN conference on climate change in Bali this year, policymakers in developing countries now realize they have to take three urgent steps - gear up to adapt to global warming, push developed countries to reduce emissions of greenhouses gases leading to this climate change, and move towards a system of energy generation that is not so dependent on coal and petroleum.
The Indian government did well in the first two areas in 2007. The country has earmarked 2.5 percent of its GDP to adapt to climate change in the just-approved 11th five year plan (2007-12), a higher percentage than any other country. At Bali, it also pushed industrialized countries very hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though the effect of that is yet to be seen.
On the move towards energy generation with less dependence on coal and petroleum, the verdict is still out, as the national action plan to address climate change is expected only in February and March.
After a seven-year effort, the ministry of environment and forest has published the draft of the national biodiversity action plan (NBAP) this year, but authors of individual chapters and NGOs working in the biodiversity sector for years are very unhappy with the current draft.
Ashish Kothari of NGO Kalpavriksh said: "The 2007 NBAP is substantially similar to the 1999 national policy and macro-level strategy on biodiversity. About half the 'actions' proposed in it are the same as those proposed in 1999. Most strategies picked up from the 1999 document have not been elaborated."
The authors of individual chapters in earlier drafts are unhappy that the latest NBAP largely ignores the ministry's own report on the subject it had submitted to the UN Development Programme in 2004.
"Crucial sections of the report that have been left out of the draft NBAP are about governance, on land use and eco-regional planning, on equity and participation strategies relating to tribal and other ecosystem peoples and on linking biodiversity and food security programmes," one of the authors told IANS.
In another contentious area, parliament passed a bill in December 2006 giving more rights over non-timber forest products to people who live inside forests and are dependent on them, but the government is yet to notify the new law.
This issue has divided the NGO community. Supporters of the new law say that people who live in the forests are their best guardians. Critics say wildlife will be wiped out if people are allowed to destroy forests further.
This debate raged throughout 2007.
While the debates continue, the environment has shown many alarming signs of stress in all areas - air pollution figures in major cities and industrial townships are getting worse, water pollution is so bad that fish are dying in thousands, there is no solution in sight for soil pollution due to unplanned garbage disposal.
But environmental NGOs keep fighting and have won one notable battle this year, when the judiciary kept a large mining firm out of a project in Orissa.
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