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Climate issues kept Environment Ministry busy in 2015


New Delhi : was a mixed bag for the Environment Ministry which claimed its efforts paid off at the Paris summit saying India was able to secure its interest in the landmark agreement adopted to reduce greenhouse gases even as back home it was plagued by issues like deteriorating air quality in Delhi and other cities.

There was another setback for the Ministry as a bill to amend six environment laws which was mooted by it after getting recommendations from a high-level committee could not see the light of the day as it failed to introduce it in Parliament.

The Environment Ministry headed by Prakash Javadekar remained focused on climate change this year and came on board with 194 countries to reach the global agreement which it termed as “durable and ambitious” and claimed to have acknowledged the development imperatives of developing countries like India.

The Ministry started off the year by preparing for the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) or voluntary pledges which every country had to submit to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) to cut GHG emissions.

A “comprehensive” consultation with almost all the ministries, stakeholders and green bodies among others were done before reaching a final plan.

India in its climate action plans announced to curb its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 35 per cent from the 2005 level. Apart from that, India also announced its ambitious aim to achieve around 40 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030 which was “appreciated” by other countries.

The Environment Ministry claimed that its efforts finally paid off after the “historic” agreement was signed in Paris as it was a legally-binding deal which covered both developed and developing countries with the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change.

The concepts of climate justice and sustainable lifestyle which had been put forward by India especially by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in various forums was also included.

However, experts maintained that the inclusion was just in the preamble of the agreement which means it was a broader goal than an actual one which countries needed to adhere to strictly.

Modi along with French President Francois Hollande also launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at a much- hyped event on the opening day of the Paris summit, a move which Prime Minister said was his “long cherished dream” of bringing in countries situated on the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn to tap the enormous potential of solar energy apart from increasing cooperation between countries for research and development in the area.

As Javadekar recently said, “The Paris Agreement acknowledges the development imperatives of developing countries like India. The Agreement recognizes the right of the developing countries to development and their efforts to harmonize development with environment, while protecting the interests of the most vulnerable.”

He also asserted that the issues which were raised by India like Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) have been incorporated in the agreement. However the issue of historical responsibility of developed countries which India has been raising on almost all occasions did not find a place in it.

Back home, the issue of air pollution was a worry for the ministry as air quality in Delhi continued to remain far below the global as well as local standards with green bodies comparing it to one of the most polluted cities of the world.

Claiming to have woken up to the “grave” problem of air pollution in the national capital, the ministry assured that it was taking concrete steps including imposing a ban of burning of stubble, revamping the existing laws and coming out with new drafts and conducting both official as well as ministerial level consultations with various state governments and agencies falling under NCR.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s plans to bring amendments to the existing green laws for ease of doing business also could not take off as the Environment Laws Amendment Bill 2015 could not be introduced in the Parliament.

The amendments were made after a high-level committee headed by T S R Subramaniam was set up by the ministry which gave its recommendations.

However, the Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Environment and Forest in its report recommended formation of a new panel to consider afresh specific areas of environmental policy after it found the objections raised by experts on the proposals of a high-level committee constituted to review green laws as “valid”.

Civil societies and green bodies maintained that the bill will have “disastrous” implications as it was a clear indication of the government’s intent to centralise environmental governance in order to push through various mega projects that would displace millions and destabilize decades old largely progressive environmental jurisprudence in India.

The Ministry in its effort to bring more transparency into the system launched two online platforms, one for environmental and the other for forest clearances.

In a major relief to home buyers in Noida, the Ministry approved the notification of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary that will allow those outside the ESZ to get occupancy certificates of their flats, which had been pending for quite some time as the NGT had passed an order barring development of any infrastructure within 10-km radius from the sanctuary’s boundary.

The Ministry’s notification which was cleared said that the ESZ will be the area up to 100 m from the eastern, western and southern boundary and up to 1.27 km from the northern boundary of the sanctuary, which extends up to DND flyover across the riverbed situated in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Buddh Nagar district and southeast district of NCT Delhi.

There was good news for the Ministry early in January when a comprehensive and latest census showed that tiger population in the country had risen to 2,226 in 2014, a 30 per cent jump since the last count in 2010 which the Environment Minister termed as “success story” of India.

“70 per cent of the world’s tigers are now in India. We have the world’s best managed tiger reserves,” Javadekar had said.

The Environment Ministry also claimed that there has been an increase in the forest cover of the country in its latest India State of Forest Report 2015.

According to the report, the increase in the forest and tree covers since the previous assessment in 2013 is estimated at 21.34 per cent and 24.36 per cent respectively.

India in its INDC has pledged to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Javadekar before leaving for the Paris summit had said, “Over the past 24 months, a carbon sink of 37 crore tonnes of CO2 equivalent has been created. We will achieve more than our INDC target, which is to create a carbon sink of 250 crore tonnes of CO2 equivalent.”

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