A voluminous report by the United Nations Environment Programme, called the Global Environment Outlook (GEO), released on Wednesday paints a pessimistic view of environment internationally. In its analysis of nearly 90 targets set by international pacts and agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, the report found that only a measly four of these targets showed significant progress. More than half the goals showed little progress or further deterioration from the prevalent standards.
According to GEO-5 review, the fifth edition of this report, environmental goals currently being addressed with least success include climate change; indoor air pollution; extinction risk of species; extent and condition of natural habitats, especially coral reefs and wetlands; invasive alien species; loss of traditional knowledge; access to food; desertification and drought; freshwater supply; fish stocks; marine pollution and extreme events. Fingers naturally pointed to the Asia-Pacific region, which accounted for nearly 40% of pollution and, among these countries, India.
While India’s leadership has been most voluble on its efforts to stem climate change, there is little evidence of its commitment to providing clean water or better air. The recently announced 2012 National Water Policy offers nothing different from what was announced in 2002 and the current vehicle emission norms in India lags Europe, and in some cases even China.
More than a lack of resources, it is a lack of will that such a situation exists. A committee constituted by the Union government three years ago is still to pass fuel efficiency norms—a useful proxy for estimating local air pollution. These changes, especially in times of volatile international crude oil prices, have efficiency and economic dimensions that cannot be ignored. In any case, clean water and air are public goods that should be available to all citizens. These issues are distinct from the problem of mitigating climate change and its global strategic dimensions.
In the current policy paralysis, it is likely that clean air and clean water will be further relegated and the government will have no one but itself to blame.
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