By Shankar Sharma
Sagara, June 5, 2019: As yet another World Environment Day passes with pomp and gaiety, there is a critical need for our society to remind ourselves that a lot more needs to be done to protect and enhance our environment than just going through the day in a routine symbolism. It has become just symbolism in most cases because, whereas few hundred tree sampling may be planted on that day without any guarantee that even 10-20% of them will grow to become useful trees, thousands of acres of natural forests are being lost every year in the name of the so called developmental projects. Whereas, most of the functions to be organised across the state/country on this occasion may not result in any effective action to protect the flora, fauna and general environment, some of them may even lead to further deterioration. While many of them may lead to unnecessary wastage of materials (such as petroleum products, plastic and chemicals etc.), there will be wastage of water and energy also without any corresponding benefits. However, the day is deemed necessary to continuously remind us of the fast deteriorating environment all over the world, and of the looming threats of Climate Change.
From the overall welfare perspective of our state, this day must have been be a critical annual day similar in importance to that of the state’s foundation day OR the Rajyotsava day. Whereas, one is to celebrate the herald of a new state, the other should be focused to protect the continued existence of our heritage. The geographic and climatic conditions of the state are such that there is a lot for the state’s population to worry about the state’s overall welfare future. Whereas, the severe fresh water crises facing the state this summer is nothing new, what is worrisome is that even those areas within the Western Ghats, which never had faced water scarcity, are witnessing the need to supply drinking water in vehicles during this year. Along with the severe heat conditions and air pollution issues in places such as Bengaluru, which is also facing unbelievable levels of rain related events, the state has much more to worry about than to celebrate. The rain and flood related disasters experienced in Coorg district during the last year cannot be ignored as a freak event.
The genesis of all these problems, which can only exacerbate due to the fast looming scenario of Climate Change, lies in the glaring realities such as drought prone characteristic of the state, fast disappearing forest patches and vegetation cover, uncontrolled urbanization and industrialization leading to unacceptable levels of pollution and contamination of air, water and soil.
In the context of these harsh realities and the vastly troublesome future projected for the state, it is very unfortunate that the state’s public is being denied the benefits of credible discussion at the state level on the sustainable developmental pathways for the state. No credible discussions on the associated issues can be noticed at any level of the society, including the all-important state legislature. The state has lost two good opportunities to effectively deliberate on such developmental pathways when the reports of Dr. Madhav Gadgil and Dr. Kasturirangan on the preservation of Western Ghats were being considered by the Union govt. Additionally, when the UN heritage tag was proposed for the Western Ghats, the societal level discussions as well as suitable discussions in the state legislature would have provided one or more suitable developmental models for the state.
Since the Western Ghats is the critical ecological zone for the state by providing the important lung space and the water resources, any developmental pathway for the future of the state will be ineffective without diligently considering the ways to preserve their importance. Whereas the need for developing an official state action plan on Climate Change was another great opportunity to deliberate on all the associated issues, it is very sad that the same was not effectively discussed either at the state level or in the legislature.
In this worrisome scenario, it is pertinent to highlight that the Karnataka State Legislature has the potential and powers to bring back the much needed confidence back in the minds of the public. By adequately focusing on critical issues impacting all sections of our society, the state Legislature can also persuade/force the media and the civil society groups to go to the depth of such critical issues on a continuous basis so as to herald a responsible era of environmental sustainability.
There must be thousands of concerned individuals like me, who are concerned that many issues of critical importance to the long term interest to our state, are not getting the due importance, and that they are not getting debated effectively to find suitable solutions. I would like to highlight only some of the issues such as environmental sustainability; associated issues in the sectors of forests, water, agriculture and energy; the associated impacts on our communities; and the fast looming threats of Climate Change. Since the subject of Climate Change can be seen as encompassing all these issues and much more, I may please be permitted to bring to your kind attention few serious issues of critical importance to the state’s public. I am sure you would know many of these issues because of your long association with the state Legislature; but for the sake of completeness I will list them anyway, but try to minimise your reading time.
A well-considered people’s action plan on Climate Change for the state has become a dire and urgent necessity to ensure the welfare prospects of various communities on a sustainable basis. Such an action plan should be based on the geographic and climatic strengths and weakness of the state along with its traditional strengths in agriculture, forestry and horticulture. Preserving the state’s natural resources and harnessing them on a sustainable basis is critical for the long term welfare of the state.
In the Climate Change context Karnataka has many serious issues to contend with, and hence needs all possible policy interventions on mitigation and adaptation. In the context of long term welfare of our society, there is no alternative but for all sections of the society to take active part in the formulation and implementation state action plan on Climate Change. Some of the state’s ground realities are:
o About 77% of the total geographical area of the state is arid or semi‐arid; drought is a threat to reckon with as two thirds of the state receives less than 750 mm rainfall per annum. Karnataka ranks second in India, next only to Rajasthan, in terms of total geographical area prone to drought. 54% of total geographical area of the state is drought prone.
o The state is endowed with limited water resources that are already stressed and fast depleting. Water resources are officially considered to be under severe threat in Karnataka.
o 64.6% of the total geographical area of the state is said to be under cultivation; and farmers and agricultural laborers account to 56.5% of the total workforce of Karnataka. The state experiences rich and diverse agriculture practices which contribute 28.61% to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP).
o With its urban population at about 34% of total population, the state is currently ranked as the fifth most urbanized state in the country. Increasing urbanization, which is contributing hugely to Global Warming, demands a thorough review of the related policies.
o With less than 20% forest and tree cover, and with Western Ghats as one of the Global bio-diversity hotspots, the state has an important role to play as a Carbon sink at the global level. Also in view of the national forest policy target of 33% forest and tree cover, the forest wealth of the state should not only be protected but vastly enhanced effectively.
o Electricity (35.9%); industry (22.5%); agriculture (20.2%); and transport (10.4%) are the major contributors of GHG emissions in the state.
o Karnataka has no known reserves of coal or petroleum products. Hence this prominence of fossil fuels in its energy mix, which also lead to high GHG emissions, needs a thorough review.
o Karnataka ranks seventh in the production of cement in the country. Karnataka is also the third largest steel producer in India. These two industries account for over 20% of the overall emissions of the state and over 40% of the emissions due from industrial sector.
Climate Change is projected to pose severe risk to all the important socio-economic activities in the state including agriculture and allied activities; health; fresh water availability; forestry and bio-diversity; coastal ecology in numerous ways. Hence, all possible investment in minimizing such risks will help in minimizing the deleterious impacts on our communities.
Keeping in view the criticality of people’s active participation in minimizing the impacts of Climate Change, a people’s action plan on Climate Change for the state under the title, “Recommendations to State Action Plan on Climate Change” prepared for Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), was released on recent World Environment Day, 2015 by the Chief Minister of Karnataka. This report was based on twenty one public consultation meetings held in different districts of the state, and contains the views of the public on the developmental pathway for the state keeping the threats of Climate Change in proper perspective.
A large number of concerns /recommendations have been expressed in these meetings, and they have been grouped under 19 headings. Some of these headings are: pollution of land, water and air; forests and biodiversity; Western Ghats; coastal ecology; agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry; food and human health; waste management; transportation; industries; energy; urbanization and infrastructure; general awareness campaign; rural Karnataka and north Karnataka; women’s perspective; traditional Knowledge and life style issues.
This people’s report has recommended that the state govt. should consider adopting some of the important policy statements as below:
Ø stop diverting the natural forests until the forest policy target of 33% of the land cover is reached again; take effective measures to increase the natural forest cover area by at least by 0.5% every year for the next 30 years;
Ø gradually reduce the inorganic chemicals used in agriculture so as to make our agriculture completely sustainable /organic by 2030; make sustainable agriculture, horticulture, dairying and other related sectors contribute a much higher share in state‘s income and employment;
Ø reduce the reliance on coal energy by certain percentage by 2025, 2040, 2050 etc. w.r.t the base year of, say, 2000; declare a peak coal year for the country, say 2022;
Ø reduce the consumption of petroleum products by certain percentage by 2025, 2040, 2050 etc. w.r.t the base year of, say, 2000; encourage the usage of bio-fuels so as to make it at the least 50% of our total vehicle fuel consumption by 2050;
Ø a minimum 75% of our total energy/electricity needs shall be met by new and renewable energy (RE) sources by 2050; of this about 70 to 80% should come from distributed type of RE sources such as roof top SPVs and community based bio-energy systems;
Ø make efficiency, conservation and demand side management as the fundamental doctrine of our energy policy;
Ø take all possible measures to miniise the urbanisation, and keep the overall urban population to less than, say, 30% by 2040;
Ø enact pollution control measures of adequate standards across the state before 2025.
Whereas most of the 600 and odd recommendations in this people’s report are straight forward for implementation, others may need further deliberation and suitable modifications before adoption.
This complete report prepared for Karnataka State Pollution Control Board under the title “Recommendations for state action plan on Climate Change”, can be accessed at https://kspcb.wordpress.com/
In this larger context, may I request on behalf of the people of the state that the two houses of the state legislature devote adequate time and discussions on the critical aspects of developmental pathways for the state keeping in proper perspective the implications of Climate Change, and the continued practice of the successive governments to divert forest and agricultural lands, along with scarce water resources to commercial and industrial applications at the cost of drinking water, dairying and agriculture. Such effective discussions at the two houses of the legislature will give adequate profile to the issue of a credible action plan on Climate Change, both at the govt. level and in the minds of the public, so that an effective action plan will emerge from such state level deliberations.
An arrangement may also be kindly considered wherein the honorable members of the state legislature are given a adequate briefing on various associated issues of Climate Change, and their importance to the state’s long term welfare. Many civil society representatives, who have been studying the Climate Change issues for a number of years, will be happy to contribute to such a process of effective interactions with honorable members.
Shankar Sharma is a power policy analyst and professional electrical engineer with over 38 years of experience in India, Australia and New Zealand