Need for more ‘Earth’: An unaffordable reality

Celebrating Earth Day is one of the ways to remind ourselves of the monumental effort needed to save our only planet. This year’s theme, ‘Restore our Earth’ is highly relevant, as, at the present global rate of consumption of natural resources, we will need 1.6 Earths to sustain our lifestyle. This is a luxury even the richest cannot afford, and we need to act now to bend the curve of nature loss.

Even the present COVID-19 pandemic is a direct result of our destruction of natural habitats, wildlife trafficking, and unsustainable production and consumption. It has exposed our broken relationship with nature, and we are suffering its consequences of increased poverty, economic slowdown, and loss of livelihoods. The latest report to establish this connection between nature and human well-being is The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review. It makes a strong case for us to collectively mend our ways and ensure that our demands on nature do not exceed its supply. For this to happen, we need to restore our Earth’s natural habitats, wildlife, and life-supporting services through nature-positive lifestyles and policies.

WWF’s Global Futures Report starkly notes that ‘unless we reverse nature loss, trillions of dollars will be wiped off the world’s economies, industries will be disrupted and the lives of millions will be affected’. In India too, our economic development and the post COVID recovery needs to be based on the restoration of degrading natural resources. India’s soil, water, air, oceans and biodiversity are facing increasing pressures every day, resulting in their incremental degradation. Our old, environmentally disruptive, and unsustainable modes of development have caused degradation of 30% of India’s land, loss of dense forest cover, water stress in 256 districts, and a 40% loss of mangrove cover in the last decade.

But why should it matter to the ordinary person? Because India’s natural spaces and the rich biodiversity they harbour provide valuable services for us all in the form of clean water, pollination, temperature regulation, good air quality etc. These services, which are valued in thousands of crores, are vital to meet our everyday needs. It is especially true for the poor and the vulnerable people, who are more dependent on nature for their livelihoods. Nature and biodiversity loss have ceased to be issues concerning only ecologists and ‘nature lovers’. These issues are connected to human development, regional and national economies, security and peace, and therefore need the involvement of the whole of government and the whole of society.

We need to pay heed to the UN Secretary General’s call that “public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate.”

With 1.3 billion people, India is undergoing rapid urbanization, and this has fragmented natural landscapes across the country. In line with The Dasgupta Review observations, we should invest heavily in sustainable infrastructure including in the transport, urban development, communication and energy sectors to prevent worsening the problem.

India needs to balance development and nature conservation through better planning that promotes local prosperity and protects natural landscapes. At a time when there has been massive reverse migration from urban areas to the villages, it is essential to invest in green infrastructure and skill-building to improve agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods.

India must also ensure that biodiversity is not harmed by food and agriculture; fisheries; infrastructure; waste management, and mining/extractives sectors. These sectors should transition from inefficient and environmentally destructive production methods to more sustainable practices.

India’s aspirations of doubling farmers’ income, lifting people out of poverty and becoming a $5 trillion economy heavily depend on healthy ecosystems and their valuable services. We can ensure these for our generation and the generations to come by investing in the restoration of our ailing Earth and its critical habitats. Being a megadiverse country, India has a great opportunity to rejuvenate its ecosystem services and use them sustainably for the benefit of its people. India has already made ambitious commitments on reclaiming degraded land, e-mobility, renewable energy and improving forest cover. By making progress on these fronts, India can show the world how mainstreaming green and sustainable development pathways can restore Earth and achieve pro poor, nature positive development.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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