Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Mains level: Suggestion by GEO to deal with air and water pollution
The sixth edition of the Global Environment Outlook from the UN Environment Programme has come as another stark warning: the world is unsustainably extracting resources and producing unmanageable quantities of waste.
Relationship between economic growth and environment degradation
- The linear model of economic growth depends on the extraction of ever-higher quantities of materials, leading to chemicals flowing into air, water and land.
- This causes ill-health and premature mortality, and affects the quality of life, particularly for those unable to insulate themselves from these effects.
Suggestions for India
- The UN report, GEO-6, on the theme “Healthy Planet, Healthy People,” has some sharp pointers for India.
- It notes that East and South Asia have the highest number of deaths due to air pollution; by one estimate, it killed about 1.24 million in India in 2017.
- As India’s population grows, it must worry that agricultural yields are coming under stress due to increase in average temperature and erratic monsoons.
- The implications of these forecasts for food security and health are all too evident, more so for the 148 million people living in severe weather ‘hotspots’.
- Evidently, the task before India is to recognise the human cost of poorly enforced environment laws and demonstrate the political will necessary to end business-as-usual policies.
- That would mean curbing the use of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals across the spectrum of economic activity.
Managing air and water pollution
- There are some targeted interventions that only require the resolve to reduce air and water pollution, and which in turn promise early population-level benefits.
- Aggressive monitoring of air quality in cities through scaled-up facilities would bring about a consensus on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, and provide the impetus to shift to cleaner sources of energy.
Responsibility for pollution
- It is significant that GEO-6 estimates that the top 10% of populations globally, in terms of wealth, are responsible for 45% of GHG emissions, and the bottom 50% for only 13%.
- Pollution impacts are, however, borne more by the poorer citizens.
- Combating air pollution would, therefore, require all older coal-based power plants in India to conform to emission norms at the earliest, or to be shut down in favour of renewable energy sources.
- Transport emissions are a growing source of urban pollution, and a quick transition to green mobility is needed. In the case of water, the imperative is to stop the contamination of surface supplies by chemicals, sewage and municipal waste.
- As the leading extractor of groundwater, India needs to make water part of a circular economy in which it is treated as a resource that is recovered, treated and reused.
- But water protection gets low priority, and State governments show no urgency in augmenting rainwater harvesting.
- New storage areas act as a supply source when monsoons fail, and help manage floods when there is excess rainfall.