It's time to act...

climate change

It's time to act...

Extreme weather patterns and overcrowded cities have made the life-giving monsoons something like a life-wrecker! Floods, droughts, displaced people and the economics of devastation make for a serious destabilising force. In the past year alone, the whole of South Asia has been devastated by floods. This overpopulated part of the world has been bearing the brunt of climate change and El Nino for years now. From forest fires and parched farms to flooded cities, landslides and displaced people, climate change is in our face.

Hence, committing to eco-friendly  lifestyle and controlling the emission of greenhouse gases in order to keep global temperatures down needs to be a priority. Sustainable development, eco-friendly agriculture, afforestation, revival of carbon-absorbing wetlands and water-bodies — all need to be given preference in government policies and everyday practices. These methods create carbon sinks that have the power to curb global warming. 

Adaptation strategies
Sikkim has gone 100% organic and is leading the nation in the transition to eco-friendly agricultural methodology. Along with this, soil and water conservation activities can help reduce the impact of floodwater and prevent landslides.

The signing of the Paris Climate Agreement at the United Nations on April 22, 2016 seemed to signal better times. Opting for renewable energy sources such as rooftop solar systems in the urban setting in place of polluting and fuel hungry inverters and diesel generators, and biomass gasifiers in the rural settings can help meet the growing energy needs of the country in a sustainable way. 

According to studies, in Asia, just a hectare of tree cover absorbs about five tonnes of carbon annually and thus, it is essential to control climate change. Trees absorb pollution, fix carbon and provide shade and oxygen. Campuses like Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science and Chennai’s Indian Institute of Technology  prove beyond doubt the improved quality of life amidst these sources of oxygen. Hence, projects such as Shubhendu Sharma’s Afforestt and Uttarakhand’s Maiti Andolan, which encourage multiple tree-plantings and growing ‘mini-forests’ in your backyard, become important. These  are key adaptation strategies to fight climate change. Afforestation to improve livelihoods is a win-win situation for people and the planet. Though it is happening in small pockets across India, the efforts  must be scaled up. Take for example the World Bank–funded Mid-Himalayan Watershed Development Project in Himachal Pradesh which netted Rs 1.93 crore and facilitated the afforestation of 10 districts benefitting farmers of 602 villages.

Improving the quality and density of our degraded forests and focusing on converting the ‘paper forests’ into a reality  would be a huge step forward in enhancing the forest cover. A positive policy direction in this regard is the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill of 2015, which was passed in May 2015. It aims at utilising the unspent Rs 41,000 crore fund to facilitate revival of native plants species, regenerate forest ecosystems, protect wildlife and develop necessary infrastructure.

The Green Highways (Plantation and Maintenance) Policy which was finalised in July 2015 is another planet-friendly policy. The idea is to improve and maintain tree cover of the 97,000 km of existing national highways and newly planned roads as well as generating employment by encouraging participation of local communities and interest groups and funding it through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. While campaigns to ‘Keep coal in the hole and oil in the soil’ (is it a global campaign?) sound good, thermal power stations and dependence on fossil fuels can be eliminated only by making renewable energy cheaper and promoting it through government policies.

Asia’s urban profile increased from 27% to 38% between 1980 and 2000 and is projected at 50% (2.3 billion) by 2020. Even as we plan for 100 ‘smart cities’ in the country, cities such as the ‘Millennium City’ Gurugram, IT capital Bengaluru, and the financial capital Mumbai have witnessed flooding following monsoon showers. As a result, we need to relook at how sustainable our cities are. India’s metros, with the exception of its capital are all coastal and densely populated and are very vulnerable even as they unthinkingly encroach on essential floodplains, water-bodies and marshlands. Instead of valuing tree-lined avenues and colonies in our cities, they are being seen as liabilities that affect roads, sewage lines and traffic, and are cut down. These unsustainable trends must be reversed.

Setting examples
In Mylapore, Chennai, 20 years ago, a family planted saplings to commemorate a family event. They involved the residents in upkeep while providing wire meshes to protect the trees from herbivores. Today this suburb is a beautiful tree-lined enclave many degrees cooler, cleaner and quieter than other parts of the city. Also, during the Chennai Floods of December 2015 this suburb was one of the least disrupted despite its proximity to the flooded Buckingham Canal. Another planned development is planting of bamboos over the closed landfills on the wetlands of Pallikarnai. This could help both as a carbon sink and a green recreational area. Eliminating the need for landfills by encouraging source-segregation of waste, composting and recycling could be a major step forward in climate-change adaptations. The leftover wastes can be dealt with by waste-to-energy plants and address our energy requirement and the problem of urban waste.

Urban greening has become a prominent feature of many Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and can be replicated across the country. Tree planting need not be limited to Van Mahotsav week but must be practised whenever possible. It’s a great way for a community to come together. People need to connect to nature to thrive psychologically, physically and economically. And being planet-friendly is the only way to ensure our long-term survival.

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