To

Sri. Jairam Ramesh

The Chairman,

Standing Committee of the Parliament

(Science & Technology, Environment, Forests & Climate Change)

Parliament of India, New Delhi

Dated, 1st May 2020

Dear Sri. Ramesh,

Greetings from Sagar, Western Ghats, Karnataka.

This has reference to your tweet of 10 April 2020 asking for inputs to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on S&T, Environment, Forests and Climate Change for its work on a report “Environment, Climate Change and Public Health”.

As mentioned in my earlier mails of 27th April and 28th April, 2020 I would like to provide my inputs in different batches of emails due to the limitations of the size of files one can send over email.  This fourth batch of input consists of two sections: one provides reference to a good number of news articles/ reports highlighting the intricate relationship between forests, environment, biodiversity, climate change, wildlife and human health, and urging the govt. to take a holistic approach to the overall welfare of communities by appreciating the need to maintain a healthy relationship between them; the second section consists analysis, data, statistics, articles and reports on how the economic policies of the successive governments have been impacting forests, environment, biodiversity, climate change, wildlife and human health.

Section A: Linkage between Environment, Climate Change and Human Health

At a time when the whole world is struggling to contain the havoc created by the Corona Pandemic, and when very many credible science based institutions are cautioning the global community of the potential for increased devastation from a family of viruses such as corona, because of the continued destruction of wildlife habitats, it is highly deplorable that the Union govt. through National Board for WildlIfe (NBWL) has completely ignored the potential disaster to our country from a number of ill-conceived projects in thick natural forests, including the Protected Areas (PA).  Thousands of Hectares of high quality natural forests and wildlife habitats are being destroyed every year in the name of developmental projects, but basically leading to more of pandemics such as COVID 19.

A number of reports/research publications have unambiguously linked the wildlife habitats, ecology and human health.  An UNEP report of 2016 (“Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern”) had said: Expanding populations and worsening climate-change impacts are putting greater pressure on the land, with deforestation, urbanisation, intensifying agriculture, and resource extraction providing more opportunities for pathogens to spill over from animals to people.  Doreen Robinson, chief of wildlife at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was reported to have said: “Human health is connected to animal health, but also to the health of forests.  Diseases passed from animals to humans are on the rise, as the world continues to see unprecedented destruction of wild habitats by human activity. Diseases passed from animals to humans are on the rise, as the world continues to see unprecedented destruction of wild habitats by human activity. Humans and nature are part of one connected system, and we need to understand how it works so that we don’t push things too far and face the increasingly negative consequences”.

Christine Johnson, from the University of California’s School of Veterinary Medicine, lead author of a latest research report says: “Our data highlight how exploitation of wildlife and destruction of natural habitat in particular, underlie disease spillover events, putting us at risk for emerging infectious diseases,”; “We alter the landscape through deforestation, conversion of land for growing crops or raising livestock, or building up communities,” . “This also increases the frequency and intensity of contact between humans and wildlife — creating the perfect conditions for virus spillover.”

A recent article with the title “Corona virus is linked to nature and its degradation” has said: “For decades the question asked was what would be the economic costs if the environment was given more importance over development. The COVID-19 pandemic gives the world an opportunity to think about what is the economic cost if we only talked about development and did not take the environment into consideration.   So was it with the land. Forested lands were fragmented for highways and railway lines. While mines ate forests from the insides, tourism infrastructure ate from the edges. More land at the edge of the forests was converted for agriculture. Large institutions with their elephant trenches and electric fences obstructed the path of the pachyderm herds. With increasing human-wildlife interaction there are more chances of zoonotic diseases transmitting from animals to humans. ”

At a time when the entire world is struggling to minimise the damages from COVID19, and at a time when India appears to be going for very serious health, economic and social problems, it is essential to consider what our ancestors did to learn from our mistakes.  Very many analysis of the direct/indirect linkages of our economic/environment policies to the outbreak of families of Virus such as CORONA have been appearing in the print and electronic media. One such analysis is in the news link below.

It says among other things: “If without the lockdown the COVID-19 is expected to spread in a geometric progression, it is also a time when the environmental consequences of economic policy, combined with the uncertainty of climate change, add to the impact of the pandemic. It is like facing a tidal surge of a cyclonic nature.   Just as how the coronavirus infection attacks the old and those with other health problems, its economic impact also affects most those who are financially weak and have been battered by earlier crises. A healthier economic system that reduces its adverse impact on the environment will provide better resilience to Indian society to deal with this crisis, and those in the future.

For decades the question asked was what would be the economic costs if the environment was given more importance over development. The COVID-19 pandemic gives the world an opportunity to think about what is the economic cost if we only talked about development and did not take the environment into consideration. 

So was it with the land. Forested lands were fragmented for highways and railway lines. While mines ate forests from the insides, tourism infrastructure ate from the edges. More land at the edge of the forests was converted for agriculture. Large institutions with their elephant trenches and electric fences obstructed the path of the pachyderm herds. With increasing human-wildlife interaction there are more chances of zoonotic diseases transmitting from animals to humans. ”

The World Economic Forum in one of its publications ahs said: (i) Health, economic stability and nature are interconnected; (ii) The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature; (iii) Studies show deforestation and loss of wildlife cause increases in infectious diseases; (iv) Half of the world’s GDP is highly or moderately dependent on nature; for every dollar spent on nature restoration, at least $9 of economic benefits can be expected.

It is human activity that enabled the virus to jump to people, and the specialists are warning that if nothing changes many other pandemics of this nature will follow.  “The emergence of zoonotic diseases is often associated with environmental changes or ecological disturbances, such as agricultural intensification and human settlement, or encroachments into forests and other habitats,” said a 2016 UNEP report.

If these revealing facts are of no consequence to the relevant authorities, the fact that the forest & tree cover at the national level is only about 24% of the land area against the national forest policy target of 33% should be driven home for them for the sake of all-round welfare of our communities.

Few other articles/reports in this regard are as below:

Surely the link between abusing animals and the world’s health is now clear

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/11/surely-the-link-between-abusing-animals-and-the-worlds-health-is-now-clear

 

‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/tip-of-the-iceberg-is-our-destruction-of-nature-responsible-for-covid-19-aoe

It takes a whole world to create a new virus, not just China

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/25/new-virus-china-covid-19-food-markets

 

Humans to blame for spread of coronavirus and other ‘zoonoses’  

https://www.deccanherald.com/science-and-environment/humans-to-blame-for-spread-of-coronavirus-and-other-zoonoses-828057.html

 

Asia’s rapid urbanisation, deforestation linked to deadly viruses

https://www.deccanherald.com/international/asias-rapid-urbanisation-deforestation-linked-to-deadly-viruses-812657.html

 

COVID-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/covid-19-nature-deforestation-recovery/

 

Coronavirus: ‘Nature is sending us a message’, says UN environment chief

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/coronavirus-nature-is-sending-us-a-message-says-un-environment-chief

 

Covid-19 is nature’s wake-up call to complacent civilisation

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/25/covid-19-is-natures-wake-up-call-to-complacent-civilisation

 

Delay is deadly: what Covid-19 tells us about tackling the climate crisis

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/24/covid-19-climate-crisis-governments-coronavirus

 

Coronavirus is linked to nature and its degradation

https://india.mongabay.com/2020/03/commentary-it-is-not-covid-19-alone-but-also-the-environment-and-the-economy/

 

Carbon Sequestration Potential of the Forest Ecosystems in the Western Ghats, a Global Biodiversity Hotspot

http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/64003/

 

The projected timing of abrupt ecological disruption from climate change

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2189-9

 

How will the world emerge from the corona virus crisis

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/31/how-will-the-world-emerge-from-the-coronavirus-crisis

 

Coronavirus Lockdown May Save More Lives By Preventing Pollution Than By Preventing Infection

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2020/03/11/coronavirus-lockdown-may-save-more-lives-from-pollution-and-climate-than-from-virus/?utm_campaign=The%20Unearth%20Bulletin&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter#7a64f38c5764

 

Economic development racking up an insurmountable debt to nature, researchers warn

https://www.deccanherald.com/science-and-environment/economic-development-racking-up-an-insurmountable-debt-to-nature-researchers-warn-831358.html

 

Biodiversity loss: Public health risk of disease spread and epidemics

http://www.atmph.org/article.asp?issn=1755-6783;year=2017;volume=10;issue=6;spage=1432;epage=1438;aulast=Patil

 

 

Connecting Global Priorities: Biodiversity and Human Health

https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/174012/9789241508537_eng.pdf?sequence=1

 

Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/destroyed-habitat-creates-the-perfect-conditions-for-coronavirus-to-emerge/

 

The next pandemic is already coming, unless humans change how we interact with wildlife, scientists say

https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2020/04/03/coronavirus-wildlife-environment/

 

Some statements of importance in these literatures of are:

“As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the novel coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics.”

“According to the World Health Organization, the adverse health effects brought in by loss of biodiversity far exceeds dangers of implication of climate change to human health. Health professionals should advocate for the preservation of biodiversity as it has a powerful impact on frequency of disease transmission in the community. Scientists have said protecting ecosystems like wetlands and forests is crucial because they store planet-heating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help address climate change.”

“… But environmental change also has direct human health outcomes via infectious disease emergence, and this link is not customarily integrated into planning for sustainable development.”

“Scientists have said protecting ecosystems like wetlands and forests is crucial because they store planet-heating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help address climate change. Decision-makers are also increasingly concerned, putting “biodiversity loss” as one of the top five risks the world faces, according to a 2020 report from the World Economic Forum. A landmark global science report said last year that a million animal and plant species were at risk of extinction, including medicinal plants and insects that pollinate crops.”

Keeping all these facts in proper perspective, it will not be irrational to ask whether various wildlife boards, both at the centre and states, and the EAC have become irrelevant since they are seen as abdicating their Constitutional mandate to protect the wildlife and the associated biodiversity.

Section B: Considering the economic/developmental paradigm from a holistic perspective

It is not difficult to find the causative relationship between the accelerating degradation of our natural resources, ecological health, human health and economic/developmental paradigm of the successive governments, which have embarked on a high GDP growth rate policy for the last 3-4 decades.  In recent years the objective has been 8-10% growth, and even a specific target of doubling the economy in about 5 years.  Such high growth paradigm invariably has adversely impacted the environment, ecology and human health, while the issue of Climate Change has evolved into a global Climate Emergency.

A sustained high GDP growth rate will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an unprecedented pace leading to: setting up of more factories/ manufacturing facilities; consumption of large quantities of raw materials such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc.; increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, minerals, timber etc.; acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural /forest lands; huge demand for various forms of energy (petroleum products, coal, electricity etc.); accelerated urban migration; clamor for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc. Vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total greenhouse gas (GHG, responsible for global warming) emissions, will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of land, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes. The corollary of all these issues is that the overall health of the humanity will go down drastically.

The dire consequences of the high GDP growth rate phenomenon being practiced by successive governments have been aptly highlighted by a blog posting by a retired IAS officer, as below:

“The latest EPI ( Environmental Performance Index) report released on the sidelines of the WEF conclave at Davos puts us at third from the bottom- at 177 out of 180 countries, a decline of 36 places since 2016 ( when we were at 141). We do even worse in the index of air quality, at 178 out of 180. The country is turning toxic in just about every indicator- its waters, air, pollution, health- but of particular concern is what the governments- centre and states- are doing do its green cover and forests.

According to a new study by the WRI (World Resources Institute) the country lost 1.6 million hectares of tree cover, and 16 million trees, between 2001 and 2018, of which 9.4 million trees were felled in just the last four years. In terms of climate change implications the effect of this large scale deforestation is disastrous: since each mature tree can absorb 22kg of carbon dioxide in a year, in four years we have added almost 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year to our air ( which could otherwise have been sequestered by these 9.4 million trees)But nobody in the government appears to be concerned, beyond regurgitating cooked up figures to show that our green cover is going up, not down, as all independent agencies stress. The UN has expressed reservations about our methodology for computing forest cover by including commercial plantations, orchards and taking a 2 meter height of trees instead of the internationally accepted figure of 5 meters.  (Inspite of our fudging, the area under Moderately Dense Forests, which make up the bulk of the carbon sink, has declined by 10,000 sq. kms between 2013 and 2019 (Forest Survey of India figures).”

A World Bank report of June 5, 2013 has highlighted how the environment has suffered in India consequent to the past decade of rapid economic growth. The report with the title “Diagnostic Assessment of Select Environmental Challenges, Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability: What Are the Trade-offs?” has many revelations of critical importance to the future of our communities; provided our leaders take cognizance of it. Salient features of this report are as follows:

l  Although the past decade of rapid economic growth has brought many benefits to India, the environment has suffered, exposing the population to serious air and water pollution.

l  The report finds that environmental degradation costs India $80 billion per year or 5.7% of its economy.

l  Green growth strategies are needed to promote sustainable growth and to break the pattern of environmental degradation and natural resource depletion. Emission reductions can be achieved with minimal cost to GDP.

l  In this context it can be added that in the medium to long term such emission reductions can even add to GDP through positive feedback impacts.

l  Simultaneously, poverty remains both a cause and consequence of resource degradation: agricultural yields are lower on degraded lands, and forests and grasslands are depleted as livelihood resources decline. To subsist, the poor are compelled to mine and overuse the limited resources available to them, creating a downward spiral of impoverishment and environmental degradation.

l  Environmental sustainability could become the next major challenge as India surges along its projected growth trajectory.

l  A low-emission, resource-efficient greening of the economy should be possible at a very low cost in terms of GDP growth. While a more aggressive low-emission strategy comes at a slightly higher price tag for the economy it promises to deliver greater benefits.

l  For an environmentally sustainable future, India needs to correctly value its natural resources, and ecosystem services to better inform policy and decision-making. The report says Green growth is eminently feasible: Green growth is necessary; Green growth is affordable; Green growth is desirable; Green growth is measurable. It can be argued that without green growth, India’s future development however measured will be at great risk.

l  A low-emission, resource-efficient greening of the economy should be possible at a very low cost in terms of GDP growth. A more aggressive low-emission strategy comes at a slightly higher price tag for the economy while delivering greater benefits.

l  Emissions reduction would have a minimal impact on GDP which would be offset by savings through improving health while substantially reducing carbon emissions.  A 10% particulate emission reduction will lower GDP only modestly. GDP will be about $46 billion lower in 2030 due to interventions, representing a loss of 0.3 % compared to business as usual.  A 30% particulate emission on the other hand reduction will lower GDP by about $97 billion, or 0.7 %. GDP growth rate will be negligibly reduced by about 0.02 to 0.04% in both scenarios. There will be significant health benefits under both scenarios which will more than compensate for the projected GDP loss.

l  The savings from reduced health damages will range from $105 billion in the 30% case and by $24 billion with a 10% reduction. Under both the scenarios, another important benefit would be a substantial reduction in CO2 as a co-benefit which has a potential of being monetized. Taken together the CO2 reduction and the health benefits will be greater than the loss of GDP in both cases.

A subsequent joint study by the World Bank and University of Washington released in 2016 has estimated that in 2013 the environmental degradation costs to India, including welfare costs and lost labor income due to air pollution, was of about 8.5 % of its economy.

These World Bank estimates may indicate that the net growth in our economy is likely to be negative when we take the environmental degradation and health costs into objective consideration.  In this context, how advisable is it to plan to double the size of our economy in the next 5 years, as the target of $5 trillion economy by 2014 should mean?  The serious concerns to our communities will be multifarious.

In this context two discussion papers: (i) “A high GDP growth rate based economy in the context of unacceptable levels of pollution, contamination and true welfare of our communities”; (ii) “A welfare oriented perspective of low GDP growth rate” are enclosed for diligent consideration of the committee.  These discussion papers have made an attempt to analyse the adverse impacts of such a high GDP growth paradigm, and have also argued that a low GDP growth rate, if implemented diligently, will lead to a much better developmental paradigm for the country.

The phenomenon of Climate Change has many other components to worry about as well, in addition to fossil fuel based energy systems. It is not just the transformation of energy scenario alone, which is required. We need an entirely different paradigm to the way we view the nature around us. There is a critical need for the entire society, especially the Union govt. to undertake a diligent analysis of our economic policies and seriously consider how to minimise the pollution/ contamination/ depletion of our natural resources, when aggregated at the country level.

A quick look at our energy scenario will corroborate for this statement.  Even if we assume that the political willingness across the world will allow the possibility of moving over to 100% renewable energy (RE) based scenario by 2040/50, it may not suffice to address all the concerns on Climate Change. The enormous number of solar PV modules, wind turbines, batteries, bio-energy units, geo-thermal units, hydropower units, computers, control systems, communication systems, protection systems, energy meters, associated transmission and distribution lines etc. required for a such scenario with a business as usual approach upto 2040/50 will be so much overwhelming that we may end up being the losers anyway.  Because, the total energy required by 2040/50 at the global level would have reached such an unimaginably high levels, if we continue with the energy demand growth rate as it is now (which may mean a CAGR of 3 to 5% between now and 2050).

In this context the projected energy scenario in the case of India can be a good example for discussion. The national energy policy draft (by NITI Aayog, India) has projected that India’s (i) energy related Emissions per capita may increase from 1.2 tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent/capita in 2012 to 2.7-3.5 tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent/capita in 2040; (ii) Per capita electricity consumption may go up from 887 kWh in 2012 to 2,911-2,924 kWh in 2040; (iii) CAGR of electricity supply may be 5.5% between 2012-2040.  Most countries from the developing world are likely to have similar growth trajectory, because of which the total energy demand at the global level can be massive by 2040/50.

In this context, another discussion paper by the title “A systemic approach in minimising the impacts of Climate Change” will provide a good basis for the country to diligently review its overall developmental philosophy, and in particular the energy philosophy.

The issues associated with the ongoing economic paradigm have give rise to so many concerns that the draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (EIA) 2020, is being seen as Environment Ministry’s attempt to further weaken environmental regulations in the name of ‘Ease of Doing Business’, and hence can be said to be a sure Doom for the Environment!

I hope all these submissions will provide adequate evidence for the Committee to come to the conclusion that true welfare of our communities will invariably depend on how well we preserve and enhance the biodiversity in the country, and in that regard the correct economic paradigm should be that one which demands minimum amount of materials and energy at the national level, while ensuring equitable distribution of the natural wealth available to us.

Regards

Shankar Sharma

Power Policy Analyst


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One Comment

  1. Re: demolish dams asap
    https://indianexpress.com/article/india/north-east-hydroelectric-project-study-tigers-wii-6392556/?utm_source=newzmate&utm_edium=email&utm_campaign=morningbrief&tqid=gqW9bXR5DFcBB0nbO6ez3Pf75wpZFffJ1zGlOdkPxw
    For the environment, forests and climate change ministry, Covid19 killing wild humans is not enough. they want all life to enter pralaya and become extinct. See Perfect Designs:CORONAVIRUS AND LIFE IN 2020- A Macro Perspective/Ramaswami Ashok Kumar at
    https://livingnormally.blogspot.com/2020/03/coronavirus-and-life-in-2020-macro.html