- An Example from US
- State of Environment in India
- Need to preserve environment
- Urgent call for Action
Urgent call of action for Environmental Protection
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As per IMF COVID-19 threatens to damage the global economy more than that of the recession of 2007-2009 and has triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The governments around the world are desperate to reopen moribund economies. Hence, there is pressure on governments to lower environmental standards, suspend environmental monitoring requirements and reduce environmental enforcement, in the belief that this is necessary to salvage economic growth.
An Example from US:
- At the end of March, the US announced a significant reduction in fuel efficiency standards for new cars, which could result in increased gasoline consumption by 80 billion tonnes, pumping increased carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
- The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will not be enforcing compliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations of environmental protection, for an indefinite period.
- The UN has condemned such steps as “irrational, irresponsible, and jeopardizing the rights of vulnerable people”.
- The UN emphasised that COVID-19 must not be used as an excuse to weaken environmental protection.
- The temptations of short-term solutions in response to the present crisis should be resisted.
State of Environment in India:
- India has even greater reason to resist the temptation to put clean air on the backburner.
- First and foremost, people living in areas with higher levels of air pollution face increased risk of premature death from COVID-19.
- New Delhi was the world’s most polluted capital city for the second straight year in 2019.
- Further India was also home to 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities as per the study of Swiss-based group IQ AirVisual.
- The State of Global Air 2019 Report finds air pollution responsible for over 1.2 million deaths in China and India each, based on 2017 data.
- Whereas China succeeded in reducing air pollution in its cities by 32 per cent on average in four years from 2014-2018, India has had little success.
- Again, continued air pollution directly translates to mortality under COVID-19.
Need to preserve environment:
- There is enormous inequality in the impact of the COVID-19 fallout.
- Those who suffer the most from air pollution are the millions who live and toil in the open, who cannot afford air-purifiers or other mitigating measures, as also the elderly and children.
- There is good evidence that three-quarters of the emerging infectious diseases migrate from wild or domesticated animals into humans.
- This includes Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID-19.
- Deforestation, industrial agriculture, illegal wildlife trade, climate change and other types of environmental degradation increase the risk of future pandemics.
- The dramatic improvement in the quality of air and water in the most polluted cities around the world has been transmitted by social media.
- This may well result in a groundswell of public support for measures to protect the environment.
- It is possible that the cataclysm of corona will jolt the markets into giving a clean, healthy and sustainable environment the economic value it deserves.
Urgent call for Action:
- For all these reasons and more, the pandemic is an urgent call to action on the environment — air pollution in particular — on a war footing.
- In the past, we have never treated air pollution as a national emergency, failing to coordinate between the Centre and state governments.
- The COVID pandemic has been declared a national disaster in India, under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.
- This legislation mandates the disaster authorities at the national, state and district levels under the Act, as well as the Central and state governments, coordinate among themselves and take measures for the prevention and mitigation of the pandemic.
- Air pollution creates medical conditions that gravely increase the risk of fatalities from COVID-19.
- Preventing and mitigating the risks of COVID-19, therefore, means the mandate for the disaster authorities is also to tackle air and other forms of pollution head-on.
- The NDMA is a platform which should be used to combat air pollution as an emergency, with a framework for coordination between different levels of the government.
- Similar coordination will be required at an international level to continue to work towards reduced emissions under the Paris Agreement.
The pandemic is an eye opener for the world that economic growth versus clean air is a false dichotomy. Hence, it is expected from the governments around the world to treat Environment on a priority basis even after the pandemic is over and for people to realise its value. In the words of Mark Carney, “the traditional drivers of value have been shaken, new ones will gain prominence, and there’s a possibility that the gulf between what markets value, and what people value, will close.”