Helping nature recover

How green are the post-Covid recovery plans being set by countries, asks Nidhi Adlakha

The novel coronavirus is not going away anytime soon, nor are the vast economic and environmental implications the pandemic has brought upon us. Countries across the world have been working on their ‘green recovery plans’ that involve pumping trillions of dollars across sectors.

In India, several stimulus measures have been introduced, and a second round might be in the offing. A lot has been said about these measures and if they are adequate enough to overcome the economic disruptions due to COVID-19. What hasn’t been discussed at length is whether these recovery plans being set by countries are big on the environmental quotient, which should be the primary motive of any pandemic recovery goal.

The Greenness of Stimulus Index, a recent analysis by UK-based consultancy Vivid Economics (as part of the Finance for Biodiversity initiative), is a good place to start. The report states that the economic packages announced by leading economies will pump approximately US$3.7 trillion directly into agriculture, industry, waste, energy, and transport. These are five sectors ‘that have a large and lasting impact on carbon emissions and nature’. The investments earmarked till date, highlights the report, will have a net negative environmental impact in 16 of the G20 countries and economies. Among developed nations, the US, Australia, Italy and Japan are on the net negative side, ‘owing largely to the existing negative impacts of their environmentally intensive sectors’, and their lack of decisive action to use the stimulus to take specific actions to restore nature and mitigate climate change’.

Developing economies such as China, India and Mexico have announced measures ‘that will damage the environment’, while stimulus funding announced by South Africa and Russia largely reinforces the existing damaging impacts of their environmentally intensive sectors. If we are to look at the analysis of India’s packages, the study says the stimulus ‘appears to support business as usual, industry and energy activities’ and that a large portion is directed at environmentally intensive industries.

‘A reduction in the stringency of environmental monitoring and the approval of environmentally harmful projects undermines a green recovery,’ it says. I hope our leaders focus on the latter part of that statement, given the slew of disastrous announcements over the last few months. First came the highly controversial draft EIA 2020, followed by other project approvals and amendments in laws — the Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill 2020, for instance — at the cost of natural resources.

The most recent controversy follows in the wake of a proposal by the Dehradun government. As per reports, Dehradun has reached out to the National Wildlife Board seeking the transfer of 243 acres of forest land to the Airport Authority of India (AAI) for the expansion of the Jolly Grant airport. Protests are now underway, as this transfer will involve the felling of over 10,000 trees in the Shivalik Elephant Reserve.

It’s surprising, or perhaps not so much, that a country that is on board global climate agreements like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, is passing laws that adversely impact climate change mitigation efforts.

After signing international environmental charters, if now the government proposes to weaken its EIA regime at the domestic level, it is in a position of cognitive dissonance, says a recent piece in Down to Earth. Authored by environmental law specialist Abhishek Chakravarty, it addresses how ‘such a non-conformity to pledges made at international negotiations and agreements will weaken India’s stance as a global leader in environmental governance and climate politics.’

Rather than detain young and minor protestors for voicing concerns against these issues, it is time leaders looked at rehauling archaic laws to make them less detrimental. Investing in clean energy, working on pollution levels by revamping urban transportation, and including the voices of the common people are just a few starting points to consider.

Many countries such as Japan, Ireland and Bangladesh have started to put in place more local and community-driven approaches, involving communities (including the most marginalised people) in decision-making processes on how investments are spent ( What we need is for India to follow in the footsteps of such countries and bring in stringent green laws, not make it easier for large corporations to continue polluting.

Battling the climate crisis is no mean feat. Combine with it the implications of a pandemic and governments certainly have a hard task at hand. Joining hands with those who are getting it right will go a long way rather than having a myopic view that only focuses on profits. Making the rich richer at the cost of the poor and the environment is a recipe for disaster that we need to stop stewing.

A fortnightly column on environmental sustainability and urban issues


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