2022 was a crucial year for India in combating climate change, reverse nature loss
India set ambitious climate goals in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promises made in Glasgow and took crucial steps for environment protection and wildlife conservation in 2022, including the launch of Mission LiFE and the reintroduction of Cheetah 70 years after the species became extinct in the country.
The country established Asia’s largest Ramsar Sites network in the 75th year of Independence, introduced a ban on harmful single-use plastic items, and passed the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022 to strengthen the protection of endangered species and enhance punishment for illegal wildlife trade.
The government strengthened air pollution reduction targets under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) and implemented a comprehensive policy to fight winter pollution in Delhi-NCR.
Calling on people to adopt an environmentally conscious lifestyle that focuses on mindful and deliberate utilisation instead of mindless and wasteful consumption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in October launched Mission LiFE, a global plan of action aimed at saving the planet from the disastrous consequences of climate change.
The cover decision of the UN climate summit in Egypt also noted the importance of transition to sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production for efforts to address climate change.
India updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in August 2022, seven years after it first submitted its plans to fight climate change to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The country is now committed to reducing the emission intensity of its GDP by 45 per cent by 2030 as against the earlier target of 33-35 per cent (compared to 2005 emission levels). The second target is to achieve 50 per cent cumulative installed electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources (including nuclear) by 2030.
These NDCs are, however, contingent on delivery of finance and technology transfer. India submitted its long-term plan to achieve the net zero target by 2070 to the UNFCCC at COP27 in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh, emphasising climate justice, sustainable lifestyles and equity.
The plan focuses on “strategic transition” of several high-emission sectors, such as electricity and transport; urbanisation; carbon dioxide removal for industry; forests; finance and investments; and improving research, innovation, climate adaptation and resilience.
The introduction of eight Namibian cheetahs into Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park was the highlight of India’s wildlife conservation efforts this year.
Prime Minister Modi had released the first batch of five female and three male cheetahs into a quarantine enclosure at the Kuno National Park on his birthday on September 17.
The large carnivore had got completely wiped out from the country due to over-hunting and habitat loss.
According to the “Action Plan for Reintroduction of Cheetah in India”, around 12-14 wild cheetahs (8-10 males and 4-6 females) that are ideal for establishing a new population would be imported from South Africa, Namibia and other African countries, as a founder stock for five years initially and then as may be required by the programme.
The government told Parliament recently that Gujarat’s Barda Wildlife Sanctuary, located near the coastal city of Porbandar and 100 kilometres from the Gir National Park, has been identified as a potential second home for the Asiatic lions.
Efforts have been ongoing since the 1990s to find a relocation site for the Asiatic lions within Gujarat and outside the state, considering the species is vulnerable to threats of extension from epidemics due to low genetic diversity.
Parliament also passed the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022 which seeks to conserve and protect wildlife through better management of protected areas and rationalise schedules which list out species under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The bill also seeks to give effect to India’s obligations under ‘CITES’ – an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade of endangered wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.
On the eve of the 76th Independence Day (August 15, 2022), India added 10 sites to the list of wetlands of international importance (also called Ramsar Sites), taking the total number of such places in India to 75, the highest in Asia.
Ramsar sites form an international network of wetlands which are important for conserving global biological diversity and sustaining human lives through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and services. With 2,455 sites spanning 255.8 million hectares, the Ramsar sites represent the world’s largest protected area network.
India is one of the contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. New Delhi signed it on February 1, 1982.
In a defining step to combat plastic pollution, India from July 1 banned 19 SUP items: earbuds, plastic sticks for balloons, flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene (thermocol), plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, straws, trays, wrapping or packaging films around sweets boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners of less than 100 microns and stirrers.
The thickness of plastic carry bags will have to be increased to 120 microns from December 31. Plastic wrapping material less than 50 microns in thickness and plastic sachets used for selling and storing tobacco, pan masala and gutkha are also not allowed.
However, media reports suggest implementation of the ban has run into challenges.
The Centre also set a new target of 40 per cent reduction in particulate matter concentration in cities covered under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) by 2026, updating the earlier goal of 20 to 30 percent reduction by 2024.
According to the Environment Ministry, 95 of the 131 non-attainment cities covered under the NCAP have witnessed an “overall improvement” in PM10 levels in 2021 as compared to 2017 levels.
Twenty cities, including Chennai, Madurai and Nashik, have met the national standards for annual average PM10 concentration (60 microgram per cubic metre).
The government also sought to amend three key laws to do away with imprisonment as a penalty and increase monetary fines instead for violations. Suggestions from the public are being considered.
It said the reason behind amending the Environment Protection Act, 1986, the Water Act (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, is to “weed out fear of imprisonment for simple violations”. (PTI)