Human survival in jeopardy
Controlling Global Environment Crises
nineteen eighties saw a pro
lific rise in the level of exploitation of natural resources, with total disregard for global environmental problems. In a consequential chain reaction, this is leading to Global Warming and Climate Change that is threatening human existence. Notwithstanding this situation, however, it may be worth reviewing all the International efforts at stalling the mal-effects. These have certainly generated a global level of consciousness at all levels and a spate of proper measures, although much delayed!
Publications that generated serious concerns and made people ponder about the consequences of inordinate interference by man in the natural domain :
‘Silent Spring’ and ‘Sea around Us’ (Rachel Carson-early nineteen sixties), focusing on the effects of DDT, and pollution of the marine, biotic environment. ‘Small is Beautiful’ (E F Schumacher–much later) has led to the realisation that down-scaling of development is essential for conservation and sustainability.
It also echoes the Gandhian philosophy of ‘need and not greed’, which epitomises sustainability.
Limits to Growth (1972) : Set up in 1968, ‘The Club of Rome’, marked the first major collective intellectual effort to focus on global environmental problems. Ultimately, seventy-five members including scientists, educators, economists, humanists, industrialists, and eminent civil servants, embarked on a ‘Project on the Predicament of Mankind’. The Club felt that the ‘world problematique’ has three common and interactive characteristics that include social, economic and political elements, in almost all societies. This is not realised due to the tendency to examine a single item in isolation whereas the ‘whole is more than the sum of its parts’. Unquestionably, ‘The Club of Rome’ has played a major role to sensitise the international community.
‘World Conservation Strategy’ (1980–with illuminating illustrations and maps) was released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), United nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), with the collaboration of Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The untiring efforts of Mustafa Tolba, the first director of UNEP, enabled that all these organisations to prepare the document with the three following objectives: a) maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems; b) preserve genetic diversity; and c) ensure the sustainable utilisation of species and ecosystems. It defines the entire spectrum and inter-linkages of global environmental problems; and indicates that its implementation requires total sensitisation and involvement of civil society, besides governments and activist-crusaders.
CONFERENCES / COMMISSIONS
World Conference on Human Environment at Stockholm (1972) Due to the proliferation and awareness about environmental problems, the UN made efforts by hosting this conference attended by official delegates from most member nations ranging from the most industrialised to the most backward. The assembly enunciated basic principles that include :
The natural resources of the earth, including air, water, land, and flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of the present and future generations through careful planning or management as appropriate. The capacity of the earth to produce vital renewable resources must be maintained and, whenever practicable, restored or improved. The non-renewable resources of the earth must be employed in such a way as to guard against the danger of their future exhaustion and to ensure that benefits from such employment are shared by all mankind. The discharge of toxic substance or of other substances and the release of heat, in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted in order to ensure that serious or irreversible damage is not inflicted upon ecosystems. The just struggle of the people of all countries against pollution should be supported.
United Nations Environment Programme (Nairobi HQ) was launched as an acknowledgement of the alarming state of the global environment. The UNEP, has largely turned out to be a damp squib. However, it did afford space and funds for various countries (groups, environmentalists and governments) to undertake useful studies and planned action. In the mid-nineteen seventies, for instance, UNEP launched a massive global project to combat desertification during the protracted African (Sahel) drought.
United Nations Desertification Conference (Nairobi-1977), was a sequel to desertification ( even beyond deserts) affecting vast tracts of tropical and sub-tropical, arid and semi-arid lands, the world over.
UNITAR Conference on Alternatives for Desert Development (Sacramento-1977): The conference drew up various alternatives for combating desertification at national levels. Action programmes were thereafter initiated in countries in the affected regions.
World Commission on Environment and Development (1983) was formed by the UN General Assembly with Go Harlem Brundtland, the Norwegian Prime Minister as chairman. Its report ‘Our Common Future’ defined Sustainable Development, the goal of environmental conservation to be : “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 and the idea of limitation. The goals of economic and social development must be defined in terms of sustainability in all countries–developed or developing, market oriented or centrally planned”. Parity in the pricing of developing nation products declined by a third from 1955-75, at a steadily accelerating rate. For sustainable development, changes in the political, economic, social, production, technological and administrative systems are essential; and underlie national and international action on development. It called upon nations to integrate sustainable development into their goals. Brundtland Report is now a guiding document for the UN general assembly , its special agencies and even the World Bank and the likes of the Asian Development Bank. Yet, total indifference to equitable and sustainable development by the affluent is compelling millions and millions of rural poor to degrade natural resources–for bare survival.
United Nations Institutions dealing with environmental issues and their funding include :
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation; Convention to Combat Desertification.
Convention on Migratory Species.
World Health Organisation.
Convention on Biological Diversity.
United nations Foundation.
Global Environmental facility.
International Council for Science.
Framework Convention on Climate Change.
United Nations Environment Programme.
United Nations Development Programme.
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
UN Congregations attempted to make Nations accept certain environmental safeguards :
Rio Earth Summit for Environment & Development(1992)., climate change; biological diversity; and desertification.
Kyoto Conference Protocol (1997) to reduce emissions by a mere five percent by 2008-2112.
Johannesburg Conference for Sustainable Development (2002) to monitor implementation of Agenda 21. Almost no progress due to the WTO(World Trade Organisation) GATT (General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs) and TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) combine.
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands proved to be the most effective initiative by the UN to protect and preserve wetlands.
Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2001), a four-year programme, launched by Kofi Annan largely due to persistent efforts of the die-hard conservationists within the UN and at country levels
Its first publication, ‘Ecosystems and Human Well-being’ (2003) provides a Conceptual Framework for the assessment. The preface notes that it is an international work program for decision-makers for scientific information on the links between ecosystem change and human well-being. The report enumerates several broadly accepted norms for the decision-making process. Its Key Messages are :
l Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy, and secure life.
l Humans have made unprecedented changes to ecosystems in recent decades to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, fiber, and energy.
l These changes have helped to improve the lives of billions, but at the same time they weakened nature’s ability to deliver other key services such as purification of air and water, protection from disasters, and the provision of medicines.
l Among the outstanding problems identified by this assessment are the dire state of many of the world’s fish stocks; the intense vulnerability of the 2 billion people living in dry regions to the loss of ecosystem services, including water supply; and the growing threat to ecosystems from climate change and nutrient pollution.
l Human activities have taken the planet to the edge of a massive wave of species extinctions, further threatening our own well-being.
l The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease.
l The pressures on ecosystems will increase globally in coming decades unless human attitudes and actions change.
l Measures to conserve natural resources are more likely to succeed if local communities are given ownership of them, share the benefits, and are involved in decisions.
l Even today’s technology and knowledge can reduce considerably the human impact on ecosystems. They are unlikely to be deployed fully, however, until ecosystem services cease to be perceived as free and limitless, and their full value is taken into account.
l Better protection of natural assets will require coordinated efforts across all sections of governments, businesses, and international institutions. The productivity of ecosystems depends on policy choices on investment, trade, subsidy, taxation, and regulation, among others.
International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) is the latest multi-Governmental level initiative to focus on, and suggest steps for tackling the impending crisis of Global Warming. In view of its efforts to stave off the impending doomsday predictions, the panel and also Al Gore for his crusading efforts ( including the Oscar winning documentary – An Inconvenient Truth), have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
There were several thematic conferences including :
Convention for the Protection of the Ozone layer( Vienna, 1985)
Summit on the Protection of the Global Atmosphere (The Hague, 1989)
Conference related to the Depletion of the Ozone Layer( Montreal, 1987).
Conferences and protocols are being planned and held; while the earth is relentlessly treading on its path of ‘anthropocentric’ climate change! The last couple of years have witnessed its destructive manifestations in the form of untimely hurricanes and flooding in the mid-United States of America and the European continental areas–including the United Kingdom. Currently England is in the throes of a severe drought–compelling stringent cuts in water usage! The list can go on and on! Even the SAARC countries, including India, have been affected; with the King of Bhutan declaring that it is not a matter of squabbling about glacier retreat, but from his perch on the top of the mountains he finds that the Himalayas are turning brown–even in winter! Unfortunately, this phenomenon does not recognise political boundaries and, therefore, remedial action has to start from the local level—involving the involvement of school children (including the formation of local ‘Vigilante’ groups) to spread the Gandhian message that ‘Need and not Greed is the key to human survival!
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
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