Environmental degradation and challenges

The major causes of the environmental degradation are modern urbanization, industrialization, over-population growth, deforestation etc. Environmental pollution refers to the degradation of quality and quantity of natural resources.

Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of “enoughness” in his saying “the earth provides enough to satisfy every persons need but not for every person’s greed” According to World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (1987) , Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

Environmental influences are important both at the prenatal and postnatal stages of human development. At the prenatal stage, when a fetus is in the mother’s womb,  internal or external harmful agents, such as certain legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, lead and pollutants can harm the unborn baby’s development. The mother’s nutrition, diseases and emotional stress can also affect the development of the fetus.

The environment provides various resources to man-both renewable and nonrenewable. Renewable resources are those resources which are replenished easily over time, and hence can be used without the possibility of the resource becoming depleted or exhausted. Examples of renewable resources include trees in the forests, fishes in the ocean, etc. Non-renewable resources, on the other hand, are those resources which can get exhausted or depleted over time as they are used up. Examples of non-renewable resources include fossil fuels and minerals like petroleum,natural gas, coal, etc. Thus these resources need to be used carefully, while keeping in mind the requirements of the future generations.

Economic Growth and Sustainability

  • Over-consumption has led to depletion of resources
  • Main environmental threats
    • Depletion of resources
    • Global warming
    • Expansion of waste arising from production and consumption
    • Population pressure
    • Pollution
    • Loss of biodiversity and extinction of species.
  • Green National Income Account
    • Conventional national income accounting does not capture the environmental degradation due to production and consumption
    • This omission leads to misrepresentation of improvements in social welfare
    • Since there is no market for many environmental resources, it is difficult to place monetary values on them
    • Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare: adjusts the national income to make an allowance for defensive spending (i.e. that incurred in cleaning up for pollution and other forms of environmental damage)
  • Economic Sustainability
    • Calls for reforms in the manner that we conduct our economic activity
    • Removing unfair trade barriers and subsidies that harm the environment
    • Upholding the polluter pays principle
    • Tax not on labour but on consumption <already there in the form of indirect taxes>
    • Pricing products in terms of value they have deducted from the common natural base
    • Increase resource productivity
  • Sustainable agriculture
    • Use of practices and methods to maintain/enhance the economic viability of agricultural production, natural resource base, and other ecosystems which are influenced by agricultural activities
    • Minimizing the adverse impact on the natural resources base
    • Flexible farming systems to manage the risks associated with climate and markets

Ecological Sustainability

  • Sustainable forest management
    • ‘Forest Principle’ adopted at the 1992 Rio Summit
    • In 2007, GA adopted the Non Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests. The instrument is the first of its kind and is committed to promote SFM by bringing all stakeholders together
    • Ministerial Conference on Protection of Forests in Europe defined SFM as the attainment of balance between society’s increasing demands for forest products and benefits, and the preservation of forest health and diversity.
    • Forest managers must assess and integrate a wide array of sometimes conflicting factors to produce sound forest plans
    • Ecosystems approachhas been adopted by the CBD. The CBD definition of Ecosystems Approach is known as the Malawi Principles.
    • Ecosystems Approach is a strategy of management of land, water and living resources in a way that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Focused on use of scientific methodologies for each level of biological organisation and their interaction.
    • SFM was recognised by the parties to CBD in 2004 to be a concrete means of applying the Ecosystems Approach to forest ecosystems
  • Objectives of SFM
    • Maintain environmental stability through preservation of ecological balance that has been adversely affected due to the depletion of forest cover
    • Preserve the natural heritage of the country
    • Improve productivity of forests
    • Protecting through cooperation with local communities on the principle of Joint Forest Management
  • The rapid pace of population growth has led to the excessive utilization of natural resources. Huge population also leads to huge production of wastes. The resultant outcomes are loss of biodiversity, pollution of air, water and soil and increased pressure on arable land. All these have been putting great stress on the environment. If you take the case of India, it supports 17 percent of world population on just 2.4 per cent of the world land area.
  • The earth’s carrying capacity in terms of its food resource is approaching its limits. Oceanic supply of fish, rangelands which support livestock, and the hydrological cycle to produce freshwater are strained. The backlog of unused agricultural technology is shrinking in industrial and developing countries alike, slowing the rise in cropland productivity. At the same time, soil erosion, air pollution, soil compaction, aquifer depletion, the loss of soil organic matter, and the waterlogging and salting of irrigated land are all slowing food production. At present, it appears that nothing can reverse the worldwide decline in grain output per person. The bottomline is that the world’s farmers can no longer be counted on to feed the projected additions to the present population. Attaining a humane balance between food production and population growth now depends more on family planners instead of farmers.
  • The Environment Protection Act is an important legislation that provides for coordination of activities of the various regulatory agencies, creation of authorities with adequate powers for environmental protection, regulation of the discharge of environmental pollutants, handling of hazardous substances, etc. The Act provided an opportunity to extend legal protection to non-forest habitats (‘Ecologically Sensitive Areas’) such as grasslands, wetlands and coastal zones.The Environment (Protection) Act was enacted in 1986 with the objective of providing for the protection and improvement of the environment. It empowers the Central Government to establish authorities charged with the mandate of preventing environmental pollution in all its forms and to tackle specific environmental problems that are peculiar to different parts of the country.
  • The Environment Protection Act is an umbrella legislation that consolidated the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of  Pollution) Act of 1981.  Within this framework of the legislations, the government established Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) in order to prevent, control, and abate environmental pollution.
  • Under the EPA, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification was introduced in 1994, it was modified in 2006 and the latest amendment was in 2009.  Under the EIA it has become mandatory to seek environmental clearance for several activities and industries with the involvement of the public as per procedure.
  • Main Features of The Environment Protection Act are:-
  • i) Co-ordination of actions by the State Governments, officers and other authorities
  • ii) Planning and execution of a nation-wide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.
  • iii) Laying down standards for the quantity of environment in its various aspects.
  • iv) Laying down standards for emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from various sources whatsoever. Provided that different standards for emission or discharge may be laid down under this clause from different sources having regard to the quality or composition of the emission lr discharge of environmental pollutants from such sources.
  • v) Restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards.
  • vi) Laying down procedures and safeguards for the prevention of accidents which may cause environmental pollution and remedial measures for such accidents.
  • vii) Laying down procedures and safeguards for the handling of hazardous substances.
  • viii) Examination of such manufacturing processes, materials and substances as are likely to cause environmental pollution.
  • ix) Carrying out and sponsoring investigations and research relating to problems of environmental pollution.
  • x) Inspection of any premises, plant, equipment, machinery, manufacturing or other processes, materials or substances and giving, by order, of such directions to such authorities, officers or persons as it may consider necessary to take steps for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.
  • xi) Establishment or recognition of environmental laboratories and institutes to carry out the functions entrusted to such environmental laboratories and institutes under this Act.
  • xii) Collection and dissemination of information in respect of matters relating to environmental pollution.
  • xiii) Preparation of manuals, codes or guides relating to the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.



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