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Our national policies have never focused on improving the state of nature

Shankar Sharma, Power & Climate Policy Analyst, writes to the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and Members of the NITI Aayog, New Delhi on why scientists are calling for paradigm shift as biodiversity loss worsens and India’s heatwaves are testing the limits of human survival:

Multiple concerns over the callous way our societies are approaching the existential threats due to Climate Change have been highlighted in the last few days by the global media. Some of them are as in the weblinks below.

When we objectively consider these concerns in the context of heat waves impacting millions in our country, the power sector crises, and other threats to biodiversity, especially in the true context of overall wellbeing of our poor and vulnerable sections, the credible threats to the future of our country should become obvious. It will not only be callous but also suicidal for the entire country, if our policy makers continue to ignore the credible concerns expressed by so many quarters of the larger society, and especially from the scientific community.
" ..... there is a growing chorus of scientists worldwide calling for an immediate paradigm shift in the way humans travel, produce energy, grow their food and consume goods. Such a shift is not only necessary to tackle climate change, but it’s also critical to mitigating the threat of mass extinction, as a rapidly increasing number of species of plants and animals face the threat of losing their natural habitats to inhospitable heat and the growing footprint of human industry and agriculture."
"Earlier this month, more than 1,000 scientists from around the world staged demonstrations and even faced arrest for civil disobedience as a way to decry a lack of action to address the climate crisis."
In the recent weeks, "a slew of research papers predicting horrific outcomes of biodiversity loss and mass extinction were published in major journals at an alarming pace, underscoring warnings from the scientific community that the consequences of global warming are becoming more intense and accelerating far faster than previously understood. Taken altogether, the studies show how the rate at which animals and plants are going extinct because of human activity is getting worse and accelerating beyond what scientists had previously feared,..."
"A sweeping new report from the United Nations found that more than 70 percent of the Earth’s land has already been altered by human activity, primarily because of expanding agriculture. And another study published by the World Resources Institute found that the world is essentially losing 10 soccer fields worth of tropical forest per minute because of development and industry."
"With the world facing multiple crises including, COVID-19, conflicts, climate crisis and biodiversity loss, our forests can help us recover from their impact, but only if we step up action to unlock their potential." In this context, the 2022 edition of The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) released on May 2, 2022 has the following recommendations:
  • Halting deforestation and maintaining forests
  • Restoring degraded lands and expanding agroforestry
  • Sustainably using forests and building green value chains
In this larger context, it has become more imperative than at any time in the past to diligently analyse whether we should continue to base our economic policies only on high GDP growth rate paradigm without considering the negative growth rate being heaped on our country because of unending loss of forests, wildlife, fresh water bodies and biodiversity; because of the health issues associated with pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil; because of the gross misuse of natural resources in the inefficiently and unimaginatively managed power/ energy sector etc.
Although such serious concerns have been raised many times in recent months by civil society in the country, it is not at all clear as to what is holding up the NITI Aayog and the Union Cabinet to urgently review these existential threats, and come up with necessary modifications to our developmental paradigm. For example, despite all the recent past concerns and failures in the electricity sector, we are continuing to have power shortages every summer, and we are only increasing our dependence on coal power and imported coal. Whereas our ministers, including the hon'ble PM, are claiming that India is a global leader in climate action plans, and in optimally harnessing the renewable energy sources, the country's bad investment in coal, nuclear and large dam based hydro power technologies is only escalating. As a consequence of persisting with such conventional power generation technologies, forest and vegetation cover even within the legally protected wildlife sanctuaries are being heavily compromised.
Whereas, the FAO says "Forests and trees can help us recover from multiple crises" , and despite repeated warnings from the scientific community that the consequences of global warming are becoming more intense and accelerating far faster than previously understood, there are clear evidences that the rate at which animals and plants are going extinct because of human activity is getting worse and accelerating beyond what scientists had previously feared.
A media report has said: "India's role in damaging climate negligible: PM Modi in Denmark". It must be emphasised here that whereas India's historical role in GHG emissions has been low, the present scenario (of being the third largest GHG emitter) and the future projections (as probably first or second largest emitter by 2050) can only be alarming, not only to the global population but primarily to our own communities, due to multiple factors: growing population from already an enormous base; never ending aspirations of such a large population to imitate the lifestyle of the industrialised countries; and the already stretched natural resources, as evidenced by the unacceptable pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil.
In such a gloomy scenario there has been a growing call on "Emissions reduction: Nature positive is the new net zero". It has to be emphasised here that "Nature positive" refers to economic activity that improves the state of nature, partly to help boost its contribution to society. "Nature can include improving the quality of soil and the quality and abundance of water, the health of the oceans and biodiversity."
The summary of all these emphasis is to provide focus on our society's primary goal as improving the state of nature: forests, water bodies, air, soil, flora, fauna, biodiversity, micro-organisms etc. Unfortunately, our national policies so far have never focused on such a goal with the consequence that we are staring at multiple crises for the growing population; especially for the poor and vulnerable, which are already facing an uncertain future due to lack of food, water, and shelter, and due to multiple health related concerns.
Hence, may I urge the NITI Aayog to urgently deliberate on how the calamitous threats of Climate Change can be put in proper focus in all our policies and practices, so that the goal of 'Nature positive becomes the new net zero' is relentlessly pursued? Early finalisation of a diligently prepared national energy policy, keeping in proper focus our country's true needs, constraints and strengths by 2050/60 should be the first step in this direction. A sacred goal of reaching soon and then maintaining at least 33% of our land covered with natural forests and trees should be the key focus among other primary goals.
Can the people of this country hope to secure a better future than what they have been experiencing all these years?

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