Insights into Editorial: A fresh warning: what GEO-6 means for India

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Insights into Editorial: A fresh warning: what GEO-6 means for India


Context:

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.

 

  • 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.

 

  • Top 10% of populations globally, in terms of wealth are responsible for 45% of GHG emissions, bottom 50% are responsible for only 13%. Pollution impacts are borne by the poorer citizens.

 

Global Environment Outlook (GEO): UN Environmental Report Formalises Link Between Health and Climate Change:

        The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) is a consultative and participatory process to prepare an independent assessment of the state of the environment, the effectiveness of the policy response to address these environmental challenges and the possible pathways to be achieve various internationally agreed environmental goals. 

        The process also builds capacity for conducting integrated environmental assessments and reporting on the state, trends and outlooks of the environment.

        The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) is also a series of products that informs environmental decision-making for not only governments but also various stakeholders such as the youth, businesses and local governments and aims to facilitate the interaction between science and policy.

 

India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions:

India’s stated commitment is to lower emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030; increase total cumulative electricity generation from fossil free energy sources to 40% by 2030.

Create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons through additional forest and tree cover.

India is on track to achieve two of these goals: of emissions intensity and electricity generation, according to independent climate-watch site Climate Tracker.

However these actions are only enough and provided other countries to live up to their commitments to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees.

 

India could save trillions in healthcare costs if Paris climate goals are met: Global Environmental Outlook:

The sixth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO), prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme highlighted:

  • Damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.

 

  • Unless environmental protections were drastically scaled up, cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.

 

  • India could save at least $3 trillion (₹210 trillion approx.) in healthcare costs if it implemented policy initiatives consistent with ensuring that the globe didn’t heat up beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century.

 

Suggestions to improve towards the “Circular Economy”:

The GEO report, for its assessment on health benefits to India relied on a modelling study by group of scientists and published by Lancet Planetary Health in March 2018.

The report advises adopting less-meat intensive diets, and reducing food waste in both developed and developing countries, would reduce the need to increase food production by 50% to feed the projected 9-10 billion people on the planet in 2050.

At present, 33% of global edible food is wasted, and 56% of waste happens in industrialised countries.

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.

India should confirm to the older coal-based power plants to the emission norms at the earliest. Some of them should shut down in favour of renewable energy sources.

 

Conclusion:

The landmark Paris Agreement of 2015 aims to keeping a global temperature rise this century well to “below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

However there has been limited progress by countries since then in committing to greenhouse gas emissions cut since then.

Climate Tracker’s most updated analysis as of Dec 2018 mentioned that For India to leapfrog onto a 1.5-degree pathway it would have to “abandon plans to build new coal-fired power plants”.

 

Way Forward:

We need to get more serious about tackling air pollution. Rehashing the same action points with no real improvement in infrastructure, lack of inter-ministerial coordination and toothless enforcement of existing laws will not help.

Documents like the GEO6 are important because they validate the role of science, governance and stakeholder participation in creating positive outcomes for air quality.

It also highlights the fact that there is no shortcut to improving air pollution.

For clean air and better health, the government needs to enforce emission standards and mandate controls at sources.

In response to the urgent need for some respite, the environment ministry mooted the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to improve air quality in 102 cities.

All case studies including reducing transport emissions in Europe, economic incentives to promote use of improved cookstoves in Kenya, disseminating forecasts in the US, and multilateral agreements to reduce transboundary haze in Southeast Asia point to the need for a government that mandates changes to improve air quality.