Author: Shashank Sahay, Research Associate
Environment simply means ‘surroundings’. Obviously, environment is a concept that is relative to whatever object it surrounds. If used in that sense, environment could virtually include anything and everything. Hence there is a need for a specific definition for the word ‘environment’. The Environment Protection Act, 1986 defines environment as, “environment includes water,air and land and the inter – relationship which exists among and between air, water and land and human beings, other living creatures, micro organisms and property1.”
The World Health organization has observed that over 70 percent of all human ailments are influenced by environmental deterioration2. The industries are all source of hazardous emissions and effluents. The use of chemical insecticides and pesticides in agriculture also leaves dangerous residues. Public health infrastructure like sewage, garbage etc have detrimental impact on the environment3.
A country’s environmental problems are affected by the level of its economic development, the availability of natural resources, and the population along with its life-style. These parameters collectively work towards change in natural environment either contributing to conservation or degradation.
The lack of policy enthusiasm towards environment around the world as also in India has been so far based on the hypothesis that environmental degradation first increases with per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and then declines, as illustrated by the inverted U shaped Environmental Kuznets Curve[EKC]4. However, this theory came under much criticism during early 2000s. Researchers on the basis of empirical investigations showed that the development path may not necessarily improve the environment5. During the same time, scientist across the world also became more vocal about creeping disasters like desertification and therefore decade 2000 was declared as the First UN Decade to Combat Desertification.
Points to remember
The concern for environment in modern times is traced back to the Law of Seas, which came into force to protect the over-exploitation of marine resources in high-seas to allow equitable consumption to all nations6. Further the two world wars, which saw environmental destruction leading to declining quality of health and living standards across the world led to formation of World Health Organization in 1948. This strengthened the obligation of nations to protect and enhance “physical environment‟only when it becomes dangerous or potentially dangerous to human beings. This ideology of “human-oriented-protection” is carried forward in multiple international and regional agreements till date, including the concept of sustainable development.
THE EFFECTS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH ON ENVIRONMENT
The affluence (i.e. material aspects of per capita consumption of goods and resources) is an important factor in man-resource environment relationship. There is a fundamental conflict between traditional concept of economic growth and the preservation and conservation of environment. While economists tout record breaking increases in global commerce in recent decades, more sobering statistics are being put forth by World’s leading Biologists: the loss of living species in recent decades, they report, represents the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago7.
Globalisation is a powerful driving force behind today’s unprecedented biological implosion. Trade in timber, minerals and other natural resources is climbing, and many of the world’s hot spots of biological diversity are now threatened by a surge of international investment in resource extraction. Yet, the new rules of global economy pay little heed to the importance of reversing the biological impoverishment of the planet8.
Human beings remain fundamentally dependent on the natural world. One shot coming of conventional economics is failure to account for critical services provided by natural eco system such as forests, wet lands, coral reefs, rivers ad seas. In 1997, a team of 13 ecologists, economists and geographers published a path breaking article that put a price tag on the value of a range of functions provided by these eco systems. The study covered a broad array of services including genetic resources, flood control, pollination, water supply and the value of nature’s services added up to almost $33 trillion each year- almost as much as the entire annual gross world product9.
Unfortunately, despite their value to human kind, eco systems are being degraded at anun parallel rate as a result of human activity. For example, the planet’s forest cover is steadily shrinking as population and world economy continues to expand. Mining and petroleum development also threaten the health of the world’s forests, mountains, waters and other sensitive eco systems. Besides disturbing valuable eco systems mining companies, multinational oil and gas firms continuously scour the planet for new development opportunities, as the most accessible fields in the industrial countries have already been tapped10.
Economic justification for the protection of environment is probably, the most popular protection rationales in environmental debates11. For example, in 1902an international treaty for the protection of birds was justified on the grounds that certain birds provided economic benefit for agriculture. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the executive Director for the United Nations Environment Program, has once observed that “until recently, the language of mainstream economics has defined the economy in market terms, without giving much attention to non market elements such as subsidies provided by eco –system services, subsistence activities, household labour or cultural aspects of human social services. This must change. From an ecological and an economic perspective, both poverty and environmental degradation are symptoms of poorly functioning economic system12.
Currently, environmental questions are becoming increasingly dominated by economics. Despite the fact that many of those involved in environmental protection are weary of economic rationales, many have nevertheless accepted the central message of this type approach: namely that some form of economic analysis should control the level of environmental quality that society tries to achieve in practice13. A primary justification for this change is because of the high economic values that can be attached to the environment through reformulated economic methods. These new methods can act as powerful stimuli for environmental protection. The World Bank in its “World Development Report 1992”has pointed out that “primary cause of environment problems, is not the price making market, but rather the failure of markets and governments to price the environment appropriately14.
Humanity stands at a defining moment in the history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which humans depend. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed eco system and a safer and more prosperous future.
One of the most important of the side effects of development is environmental degradation. People who see or anticipate the environment degrading realize that it is going to degrade the entire life support system. According to their perception, the only way they can prevent the environment degradation is to oppose the development projects. Thus a conflict grows in intensity-the developers say that there cannot be development without environment destruction. They are vehement that that the environmentalists are preventing the development and progress. On the other hand the environmentalists allege that the developers are destroying the environment, making further development impossible and the development process unsustainable. The two sides are locked in battle. The conflict cannot be resolved within the framework of the conventional paradigm15.
EFFECTS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH ON ENVIRONMENTenvironment and developmentEnvironment verses developmentSustainable Development
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's observation that enforcement of environmental regulatory standards should not lead to a throwback to the days of the licence-permit raj strikes a jarring note in an era of enlightened, science-based conservation. By projecting regulation as a threat to economic development, he has brought needless pressure to bear on the nascent efforts of Minister Jairam Ramesh to bring accountability and transparency to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). In his address to the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, the Prime Minister lamented the weakening of the ancient symbiotic relationship between society and the environment on account of development and population growth; he prescribed the unexceptionable cure of sustainable development and called for inter-generational equity. But his advocacy is short on conviction because it comes laced with the scare scenario of bottleneck controls. It is certainly unhelpful to Mr. Ramesh, who has been working hard to strike the right balance between GDP growth and conservation, reduce carbon emissions without sacrificing growth — and vitally, to steer the MoEF away from the path of rubber-stamped environmental clearances. Such is the pressure on the Ministry, including from other Ministries, that it has had to show cause why it is implementing fundamental laws such as the Forest (Conservation) Act.
The MoEF now has the difficult task of introducing greater scientific rigour in environment impact assessment of projects. The Minister has gone about his job seeking expert counsel, holding public hearings, and publishing committee reports. This refreshing approach also serves a public education function and Mr. Ramesh must persist with it. His priority should be to make the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 effective; a weak EIA regime can do much harm. The Ministry's committee on the Posco project in Orissa, for instance, recorded “serious lapses and illegalities” in EIA and the majority of members recommended revocation of clearance granted in 2007 for a minor port and steel plant. That the Ministry had to subsequently ignore the report and conditionally clear the project is a measure of the pressure it faces. The present onslaught on environmental regulations, most of which are poorly enforced by State governments, is a far cry from the time of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who pioneered them in a different era. She memorably described unplanned development as violence against the landscape. In recent times, the Forest Rights Act has joined the list of progressive laws protecting the rights of people, and forests. Political India needs to learn the virtues of good environmental governance, which limits exploitation of natural resources to sustainable levels.