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Climate change: Has India given up even feeble but much-needed mitigation efforts?

Shankar Sharma, Power & Climate Policy Analyst, writes to the Secretary, MoEF&CC, Govt. of India, with copy to the Union Minister, Environment, Forests & Climate Change, New Delhi, and the Vice-Chairperson, NITI Aayog:
This has reference to a statement attributed to you, which has reported: "The forthcoming United Nations Conference of Parties (COP-28) in Dubai must focus on adaptation instead of mitigation, Leena Nandan, Secretary, Environment Ministry said at a public meeting."
From the perspective of a common person like me, the general understanding among the masses has been to put the primary focus on mitigation in addressing the fast looming threats of Climate Change, while adaptation is deemed necessary/ essential to minimise the hardships to the vulnerable sections of the society. The recommendations from the scientific communities also have been on the same lines. It is not clear from the IPCC reports, whether there has been a clear recommendation to shift our focus to adaptation, from the earlier stance of providing focus to both mitigation and adaptation.
For a commoner like me, this statement of yours will raise multiple concerns. Does your statement mean that India has given up, more or less, the much needed efforts on mitigation; however reluctant, feeble and ineffective they might have been all these years?
It is no rocket science, that adequate focus on mitigation can bring long term benefits for the entire humanity, by reducing/ minimising the total of GHGs in the atmosphere. Such efforts also would lead to reduced degradation of the critical elements of nature, such as air, water, soil and biodiversity; either directly or indirectly. But shifting the primary focus to adaptation "instead of mitigation" has the credible potential to take away even a modicum of sense of responsibility/ accountability left in the minds of our authorities to protect these critical elements. This scenario can have catastrophic consequences for humanity as a whole within a few decades; even if we leave out the true welfare of other life forms, which have already been compromised to a large extent.
The first image that came to my mind, as soon as I read about your statement, was the horrific image of a large land mass of our country which appeared vastly dry; with a vastly reduced cover of forests and trees than what it is at present. It was a deeply troubling scenario of concrete structures all over; industrial/ commercial complexes spewing out smoke/ pollutants; millions of air-conditioned vehicles swarming on highways/ motorways; a hazy atmosphere with difficulty in breathing air etc. This scenario seems to fit in the ongoing policy of successive governments to pursue a high GDP growth rate economic paradigm in perpetuity, which will eventually lead to such a scenario.
The accelerated degradation of forest wealth; polluted and depleted rivers; polluted air as has been reported in Delhi and many other cities; annihilation of roadside trees to build a massive number of highways/ motorways all over the country; unabashed policies to encourage the ever increasing commercial and industrial activities, etc. are all visible even today. Such associated concerns to our people can only become acute with the passage of each year with the advocacy by India for providing focus on adaptation instead of mitigation at global platforms. Has there been any due diligence process at all levels of our governance to analyse the pros and cons of such a policy change through one or more credible science based reports?
The associated concerns for the larger society can be said to be based on the fast evolving science on species extinction. Scientists studying the Permian-Triassic mass extinction have found that the ecosystems, because of the steady destruction of wildlife, can suddenly tip over, as reported in the this link.
"Many scientists think the huge current losses of biodiversity are the start of a new mass extinction. But the new research shows total ecosystem collapse is “inevitable”, if the losses are not reversed, the scientists said. However, species are being lost today even faster than in any of the previous five mass extinctions that have struck the planet. Wildlife is being destroyed via the razing of natural habitats for farming and mining, pollution and overhunting.. Humanity relies on healthy global ecosystems for clean air and water, as well as food."
On the basis of similar multiple scientific studies, it should become evidently clear that without a resilient base of our natural resources, adaptation measures will not be able to sustain life on the planet beyond a few decades.
It should also become unambiguously clear that various mitigation measures on Climate Change, as recommended by the scientific community, including IPCC, have primarily aimed at strengthening the resilience of our natural resource base, by adequately enhancing the geographical area over which they operate effectively. Since our natural resource base has already shrunk to an alarming level, not focusing on mitigation measures will only lead to faster degradation of the same. Whereas, adequate focus on the mitigation measures, while benefiting every one, will help the vulnerable sections to survive, the so called adaptation measures will benefit only some sections, mostly rich people, while leaving the vulnerable sections to be heavily impacted by multiple consequences of Climate Change. It has to be emphasised that most of the mitigative measures provide the much needed benefits from adaptive measures. One example is that the increased forest & tree cover will reduce the local atmospheric temp. and absorb CO2, while also helping to increase the ground water table.
Another example is the latest case of approval being given to undertake iron and manganese ore mining in the only remaining patches of lush green hills in the generally barren district of Bellary in Karnataka. This export oriented mining project in an area of total 981 acres of forest land, includes 450 acres of Hosapete Reserve Forest near to sensitive Daroji Bear Sanctuary. About 99,300 mature trees are at risk, which if cut, will increase the local temp. appreciably in a region, which has the dubious distinction of having only two seasons: hot and very hot summer days. None of the adaptation measures can be helpful to the locals in such a deplorable scenario.
I have not come across any media report todate, to indicate that such a policy change at the national level has been discussed widely across any section of our society. May I hope that a policy level decision has not already been taken in this regard, similar to the unfortunate decision to inform the global community of Year 2070 as net-zero carbon target for India, which apparently was done without any public consultations?
In this larger context, it is worthy of drawing your attention to what has been stated on the topic by the draft 'National Resource Efficiency Policy' (NREP), 2019 by MoEF&CC. The draft says among others:
"Driven by rapid economic and population growth, the demand for natural resources, especially materials have grown manifold over the last few decades. In the endeavor for economic growth, natural resources have been largely indiscriminately exploited, adversely impacting the environment and biodiversity. Further, cross linkages between resource use, climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss has been scientifically well established. Meeting the demand for products and services, of rising population with increased aspirations has led to mostly indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and would further lead to increased pressure on resources resulting in environmental degradation, thereby raising sustainability concerns.”
It goes on to say: "India, as one of the fastest growing economies with GDP at 2.6 trillion USD, has increased its material consumption to six times, from 1.18 billion tons in 1970 to 7 billion tons in 2015, however this economic growth has been coupled with inherent cost on natural environment. The material consumption is projected to more than double by 2030, in order to provide for increasing population, rapid urbanization and growing aspirations. The projected pace of economic development is going to put pressure on the already stressed and limited resources and may lead to serious resource depletion and environment degradation affecting the economy, livelihoods and the quality of life. Further, material use is also closely associated with the problem of increasing wastes, which when suitably processed could deliver valuable secondary resources.”
On the current status, the draft policy lists many concerns: “High import dependency of many critical raw materials; 30% of land undergoing degradation: Highest water withdrawal globally for agriculture; 3rd highest CO2 emitter, responsible for 6.9% of global CO2 emissions; Much lower recycling rate at 20-25% vis-à-vis of as high as 70% in developed countries (Europe); Low material productivity compared to global average; 3rd largest material demand (year 2010); Resource extraction of 1,580 tons/acre is much higher than the world average of 450 tons/acre.”
Can we hope that MoEF&CC and the Union govt. have not disowned the overall message (and hence, the implications to our people) contained in the draft 'National Resource Efficiency Policy' (NREP), 2019 by MoEF&CC?
The long list of high impact and linear projects being planned/ implemented in the meager patches of remaining forests of Karnataka alone, as in the list enclosed, can be a clear indicator that, as a society, India is clearly failing in mitigative measures, whereas the effective adaptation measures are nowhere visible.
Our people deserve to know suitable clarifications in this regard. On behalf of civil society, may I urge you to provide such clarifications through a suitable official statement addressed to the people of our country?



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