On Earth Day, which started out as a celebratory event for the environmental movement in some universities across the world and which has now grown into an international day of recognizing the need for sustainable development, it seems only necessary to review what we have so far achieved for the conservation of our planet and more importantly to chart out a strategy or a way forward to a promising future for this movement. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held at Paris, also known as the COP’21, was the greatest human gathering in history where people from all over the world cogitated and pondered on the very question of their survival in the future. Climate change is certainly the greatest threat to the existence of the planet earth, it was unanimously and rightly held. In my opinion, in terms of its impact, it may not be an exaggeration to place this issue above any other that bothers humanity including problems like poverty and even terrorism. The predominant goal of the Paris Convention was to diminish greenhouse gas emissions so as to limit the global temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. It is indeed an ambitious goal that the humankind has set for itself, yet its achievement has become more pressing than ever before.
James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist along with his team has predicted that mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted, that is, 10 feet by 2065 – fifty years from now. This would have adverse impact over the coastal population and would even threaten the survival of entire island nations, who may be the last generation dwellers on their landmasses now. Not to mention the other devastating effects that such a phenomenon would have such as the salinization of water across the globe that would have result in serious health hazards for all living beings. Therefore, it can be established with certainty that the threat of climate change is undeniably very real and what the world has committed in the Paris Conference could define the fate of posterity.
More than two decades have passed since the first international level discourse on sustainable development took place at Rio in the Earth summit, 1992. The value of this idea of sustainable development lies in the fact that it seeks to address all the problems that are faced by the world today, encapsulated in form of the ‘three pillars’ or the ‘three focus areas of sustainable development’ – the social, the economic and the environmental. Indeed, these three issues are intertwined. Illustrating the interlink-age of environmental issues with economic ones, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that the “global mean losses could be 1 to 5% of GDP for 4°C of (global) warming, but regional losses could be substantially higher”. While some environmental issues like land degradation and loss of marine life, besides others, have a severe economic impact, other issues such as water stress and occupational pollution may create negative social impact. Therefore, it is no surprise that in a study titled “Is Blood Thicker than Water?” Bros and Couttenier have shown a clear causal link between the sources of water supply in public infrastructure and the atrocities committed against the scheduled caste population. Climate change can affect the way human being relate to each other and the way human society functions.
The three problems of the society, the economy and the environment, in their turn exist on three levels – local, regional and global. For example, in the realm of economics, penury of a group of people could be considered to be a local problem, which on the regional level could be termed as national poverty and when it extends to a global level could take form of a large-scale economic depression. In similar parlance, the manifestation of a social problem of oppression could be an isolated murder on a local level, on a national or regional level it could be a genocide and on a global level – ethnic cleansing. Hence, in the domain of environment, one could consider issues like waste management as a local problem, draughts and floods regional or national ones, and climate change as a global issue.
All these problems have in essence, three solutions – these are – agreement (a will in the minds of the people to address the problem), technology (the availability of appropriate means to address the problem) and execution (actual action towards the addressing the problem). Hence, in order to have sustainable development in the true sense of the term, there would have to be firstly local bodies working on the three issues of environment, economy and society using the three tools of technology, agreement and execution. On the second level, there would have to be regional bodies or nations working in their own capacity on these issues using the three tools; and finally in a concerted manner, there would have to be a committed global community working on the same issues using these the aforementioned three tools. At each level, whether global, regional or local a transfer of technology, a common agreement and coordinated execution would be required to find a holistic solution to the problem, thereby culminating into a 3 X 3 X 3 model of environmental action.
However, with reference to the problem of the environment, the trend of solution finding from the time of COP’3 at Kyoto, which resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, had been following a top-down approach. While the Kyoto Protocol in essence marks a watershed in the history of a united front to address a global challenge such as climate change, it essentially can be summed up as a global gathering persuading individual nations to commit to certain targets with the hope to bring about changes at the grass-root level. Yet the fact is that truly sustainable change can only come about employing a bottom-up approach. It is when local bodies identify their environmental issues and begin to see their link with the national level environmental problems and in their turn, the nations feel urged to improve the state of their environment, only then an intrinsic force would take birth to trigger an operative effort for the cause.
This intrinsic trajectory of the environmental concern travelling from the grassroots to the global level shall obviate the need for the ‘dictation’ of targets. Precisely on this theory of intrinsic motivation is the concept of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) based. Yet a true culmination of a united action to save the environment would only occur when the nations, in their own turn solicit targets from within their constituent regions and states, and the states from their grass-root level districts.
While this last lap of the inclusion of grass-root level agreement is yet to be covered, the signs look positive. Perhaps one could hope that in years to come, individual parliamentarians would be submitting their district level targets and looking at micro-environmental issues in their constituencies as part of the macro climate-change problems. It is only after achieving such a stage that an end-to-end concerted effort would be possible to bring about a paradigm shift in the current state of affairs relating to the environment.