The sad irony of this is not lost on a planet that has been failed time and again by humans on account of indiscriminate industrialisation, habitat destruction, and uncontrolled population growth.
A study called the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) report, prepared by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, was released late last month. Termed as a landmark assessment of biodiversity, it revealed that nations had failed to satisfactorily achieve even one of the 20 global biodiversity targets set by the UN a decade ago. The targets include eliminating leakage of plastics into oceans by 2050, incentivising banks and businesses to value the natural world, and protecting coral reefs, an issue that has gone from bad to worse.
Leaders from 64 countries and the European Union acknowledged the world is in a state of a planetary emergency and pledged to put an end to this cycle of ecological degradation, putting nature back on recovery within the next 10 years. Unfortunately, big-ticket polluters which include India, Russia, Brazil, China, and the US have steered clear of being signatories to the pledge. This has huge implications for India where environmental clearance is often seen as a procedural hurdle to developmental projects, both by private enterprises as well as the government.
The country’s track record on measures undertaken towards sustainability is lacklustre, to put it mildly. On the biennial Environmental Performance Index, India was ranked 168th, next to Ghana in a study that encompassed 180 nations. Four years ago, the nation was ranked 141st. And last month, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change placed in the public domain, a draft which said the government was looking at reducing public participation, exempting a few projects from rigorous scrutiny, and even legalising a few projects operating without environmental clearance. It argued the current rules are too stringent and that they prohibit investment in an economic milieu that has been battered by the pandemic.
IndiaSpend recently reported that the primary cause of landslides in the country is human intervention. Mining, quarrying, construction and hydro-electric projects are responsible for the removal of soil and vegetation, which in turn increases the risk of flooding. Coastal cities like Chennai have also faced the bane of unplanned construction. Here a tug of war has ensued between the owners of luxury bungalows at Olive Beach in Muttukadu and the Madras High Court. The homeowners had moved the court three weeks ago with a plea to stop the demolition of houses that were found in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. While the homeowners argued that erosion of the sea had caused their properties to be located on the edge of the ocean, the government pleader clarified the houses fell within 200 metres of the High Tide Line, which is classified as a No Development Zone.
Similarly, in February, activists in Chennai were up in arms over yet another development. The Madras High Court had directed the Tamil Nadu government and the Greater Chennai Corporation to examine the feasibility of building an elevated corridor linking Marina and Besant Nagar beaches. The activists pointed out it would be an environmental disaster on all counts – with the fallout including eviction of fishermen families, rising sea levels, damage to the Olive Ridley nesting zones, and destroying the Adyar Estuary that is home to hundreds of marine life forms as well as migratory birds.
Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes had once said, “The best proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence is that they haven’t contacted us.” For as long as we keep up this culture of indifference towards the Earth, the status quo isn’t likely to change.