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Economic Growth vis-a-vis Environmental Conservation: A study of Sustainability in Asia-Pacific

Written by: Anindhya Tiwari
Environment Law
Legal Service
  • Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity---these are the areas in which progress is possible with the resources, and technologies at our disposal, said Mr. Kofi Annan , at Johannesburg, proposing special attention on these five key thematic areas forming the WEHAB framework. Ten days of intensive deliberations at the WSSD resulted in a significant outcome: partnerships for sustainable development involving Governments, Corporate, Funding Agencies, Scientific and Technology concerns, and Civil Society groups, meant at implementing agendas built around the WEHAB themes. While an encouraging number of partnerships have come up and a considerable amount of funding has already been committed, more initiatives are needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals of poverty reduction i.e. economic growth vis-a-vis protecting the earthˇ¦s environment for sustainable future.

    This requires unprecedented efforts on the part of all stakeholders: the role of science and technology becomes paramount. Besides, governments have to agree on many propositions, corporates have to show greater resolve, and civil society groups have to be more proactive. With the inescapable perils posed by erratic changes in the earth's climate, the imbalances in its biodiversity, and the alarming depletion of its natural resources, we have no other option but to operationalize the sustainability of our development. It is imperative that our-efforts-both at local and global levels-are informed by a clear mission and imbued with collective vision and resolve.

    Sustainable development in simplest term according to the Brundtland Report, a 1987 report from the United Nations, means that "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Currently sustainable development describe it in terms of balancing the social, environmental and economic needs of everyone to ensure a better quality of life, which consists of :-

    Social progress which recognizes the needs of everyone; Effective protection of the environment; Prudent use of natural resources; & Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

    Some deal this issue as considered to be closely attached to economic growth which is a sustainable increase in living standards that implies increased per capita income, better education and health as well as environmental protection and the need to find ways to inflate the economy in the long term without using up natural capital for current growth at the cost of long term growth, talking about only GDP will be a narrow measure of economic welfare that does not take account of important non-economic aspects such as more leisure time, access to health and education, the environment, freedom, or social justice. Few deal this as , the concept of growth in itself is problematic, as the resources of the Earth are finite. Conserving the biodiversity and reducing poverty are also vital to sustainable development. The concept of Sustainable Development arose from concern over the situation we live in today. Our resources are being dwindling at an alarming rate, the quality of our natural environment is decreasing, and the pressures on disadvantaged and deprived communities continue to grow.

    These trends of unstable and inefficient growth are happening on a local, national and global scale. Sustainability is a term used to describe an efficient way of living to try and reverse some of the damage done and preserve our resources for future generations. Experience of the recent past has brought to us the realization of the deadly effects of development on ecosystem.

    The entire world is facing a serious problem of environmental degradation due to indiscriminate development. Industrialization, burning of fossil fuels and massive deforestation are leading to degradation of environment. Today the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide, the principal source of global warming, is 26% higher than pre-industrial concentration. While economic development should not be allowed to take place at the cost of ecology or by causing widespread environment destruction and violation; at the same time the necessity to preserve ecology and environment should not hamper economic and other developments. Both development and environment must go hand in hand, in other words, there should not be development at the cost of environment and vice versa, but there should be development while taking, due care and ensuring the protection of environment.

    The doctrine of sustainable development although is not an empty slogan, it is required to be implemented taking a pragmatic view. Making the concept of sustainable development operational for public policies raises important challenges that involve complex synergies and trade offs. The development of the doctrine of sustainable development indeed is a welcome feature but while emphasizing the need of ecological impact, a delicate balance between it and the necessity for development must be struck, whereas it is not possible to ignore inter-generational interest, it is also not possible to ignore the dire need which the society urgently requires. It has been observed by Professor Michael von Hauff that, "it is remarkable that India was the first country in the world to enshrine environmental protection as a state goal in its Constitution".

    The sustainable development requires the States to ensure that they develop and use their natural resources in a manner which is sustainable. The goal of the government should be to come out with some laws and ideas with a commitment to preserve natural resources for the benefit of today & tommorrow. The government should also bring out some appropriate principles for the utilization of natural resources based upon harvests or use which is "prudent," or "rational,", yet other agreements require an "equitable" use of natural resources, suggesting that the use by any State must take account of the needs of other States and people and lastly it is also required that, environmental considerations should be integrated into economic and other development plans, programmes, and projects, and that the development needs are taken into account in applying environmental objectives. Then we will be able to achieve sustainable development.
    Due to the unequitable use of the natural resources which are non-renewable in nature harmful gases are released in the atmosphere which is bringing climate change in the whole asiatic region and in whole world.

    Recently drought in Assam (extreme eastern part of India which has places like Cherapunji which recieves highest rainfall in world) and flood in Rajasthan particularly in the city of Jaiselmer and Barmer (which recieves lowest rainfall in India, to the extent that people of those places have never seen rainfall in there life and rain is considered as holyday). We have to combat these climate change and achieve sustainable development at the same time. Both issues are two sides of the same coin.

    There is no way to achieve sustainability in a devastated world. Therefore, both developed and developing countries share common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries have to rapidly re-direct their societies and economies towards clean energy, energy efficiency and more sustainable consumption patterns. The countries in the developing world must get their chance to take a direct road towards a sustainable future, avoiding the deviation of relying on unsustainable energy forms such as fossil fuels and nuclear. There is no reason why developing countries should go through the same mistakes that developed countries have committed. Developing countries like ours can do better and we definitely should, as it is our responsibilty and moreover necessity.

    At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the world community agreed that poverty eradication and access to clean energy have to go hand in hand. At the summit, the European Union took the initiative to form a group of like-minded countries which are willing to agree on timetables and targets for increasing the use of renewable energies. India was also invited by some European countries to join this initiative. I, believe that focussing on renewable energies is the key to the future.

    Forest Management

    It is the present zenith in a progression of basic forest management concepts. Forest management is the term currently used to describe approaches to forest management that set very broad social and environmental goals. A range of forestry institutions now practice various forms of sustainable forest management and a broad range of methods and tools are available that have been tested over time. Forests in India have continued to deteriorate under pressure from the growing population, both human and livestock. A growing number of foresters, economists, social scientists, public administrators, and policy-makers now acknowledge that unless local communities are effectively involved in establishing sustainable forest management systems, deforestation will continue at a rapid rate. Therefore, the challenge for forest regeneration and protection is to develop a management practice that combines the economic interests of forest users and their active involvement in forest regeneration and conservation.

    The area under the Shivaliks, which was once covered by dense forests with a variety of flora and fauna, reached its worst form of degradation in the early 1970s. Reckless felling of trees, frequent forest fires, and increasing biotic pressure destroyed the vegetation in the area. Large tract of lands was cleared for agriculture. The problem of grazing was so serious that in heavily grazed areas, 4-6 cm of topsoil used to disappear after just one heavy shower. On the other hand, because of the poor economic conditions of the people, forest laws and traditional methods of forest regeneration proved ineffective. Against this background, an intervention has been designed with three criteria, namely ecological viability, economic feasibility, and social desirability (social and political acceptability).

    Forest management is the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfill, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social funcions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems. Seven common thematic areas of sustainable forest management have emerged based on the criteria of the nine ongoing regional and international initiatives. The seven thematic areas are:-
    1. Extent of forest resources;
    2. Biological diversity;
    3. Forest health and vitality;
    4. Productive functions and forest resources;
    5. Protective functions of forest resources;
    6. Socio-economic functions; and
    7. Legal, policy and institutional framework.

    We need to create an ecosystem approach as a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Application of the ecosystem approach will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention. An ecosystem approach is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization, which encompasses the essential structures, processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. It recognizes that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of many ecosystems.

    Sometimes the government in itself starts winding up of forests for the profit but it must keep in mind the ˇ§Public Trust Doctrineˇ¨ evolved by the supreme court of India while standing for the cause of environment and said that is, to protect the forest as it is a public property of which government is the caretaker not the owner as it can be used by it wims and fancies. We need an integrated approach to rural development which has to be adopted, to elicit people's participation in regeneration and conservation of forests. The stress is on fulfilling the social, economic, and human development needs of communities in the belief that a self-reliant community is essential to sustaining forests and should be the basic philosophy for community forestry programmes. Actions like Joint Forest Management have shown positive results in the sub-continent and has increased employment in the field of forest management ultimately serving to the purpose of all round development.


    Desertification is like a skin disease on the earth's surface, erupting in patches that grow and merge over time if not treated. ¨For some, desertification is merely thought of as desert encroachment. However, desertification is a larger dynamic. It refers to the ultimate degradation of drylands, the point at which that land no longer can be returned to a productive state. It results from complex interactions between unpredictable climate variations and unsustainable land use practices. Desertification is the dilapidation of land in areas, lacking enough water for things to grow, semi arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities. Desertification often arises from the demands of increased populations that settle on the land in order to grow crops and graze animals. It is a common misapprehension that droughts cause desertification. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands. Well-managed lands can recuperate from drought whenever it rains. Persistent land exploitation during droughts, however, increases land degradation. Increased population and livestock pressure on marginal lands has accelerated desertification. The presence of a nearby desert has no direct relationship to desertification.

    Desertification has been considered at an international level as a great threat to biodiversity. Therefore, numerous countries have developed Biodiversity Action Plans to counter its effects, particularly in relation to the protection of endangered flora and fauna.

    The best way of avoiding desertification is afforestation. Oases and farmlands in windy regions can be protected by planting tree fences or grass belts. Sand that manages to pass through the grass belts can be caught in strips of trees planted as wind breaks 50 to 100 meters apart adjacent to the belts. Small plots of trees may also be scattered inside oases to stabilize the area. As done in China, they have planted a natural barrier of thousands of tree to protect there land from being desertified. We in Rajasthan have also started following them and has constructed a ˇ§Green Wallˇ¨ covering an area of about 100 Km long by the joint task force consisting government, NGOs & local villagers by providing them employment, the process is still being continued.

    To fight with the problem we need the help of developed nation in order to:-
    # Allocate adequate resources.
    # Establish strategies and priorities which address the underlying causes.
    # Arrange means for the promotion of awareness and facilitating the participation of local populations.

    Some other solutions to it is, including improving crop production, irrigation practices, livestock husbandry and rangelands, reducing stock numbers and afforestation, which receives great emphasis in many Asian countries. Other practices involve desert reclamation, social forestry (where villagers take responsibility for forests that surround their village which eventually has increased the quality of land and its produces) , the use of plantations and agro-forestry or forest farming shows that economic development and environmental conservation can go hand in hand.

    This is a vast area which needs great contemplation in order to circle over the issues. As without energy now a days we cannot do anything. For each and every job we need energy developed nations are those nations who has learnt to use this energy in a respectable manner. All the nations worldwide has the capacity to develop but the rate of development will be decided by the mindfull use of the available resources. By energy we mean a source of power, such as fuel, used for driving machines, providing heat, etc. This is very short definition of the energy is used in many more things without which we are helpless to live our life.

    There are two kinds of sources from which we get energy. They are:-
    # Renewable Sources:- Tidal energy, flowing river, wind, solar panels, green fuel etc.
    # Non-Renewable Sources :- Coal, Oil, Nuclear energy etc.

    For sustainable development we have to use renewable sources, which is less harmful for the environment. As stated by the Supreme Court of India in no case the developmental projects should be stopped. Dams are the life lines of any nation, which provides employment, energy, irrigation. It helps in complete development of any country. But it should be constructed only after making full environmental assesment. We should also follow the climate policy of developed nations like Germany which has incorporated wind power plants, solar power generators and biomass as there most reliable sources of energy and has created many jobs and helped in overcoming the wrath of two World Wars to become a world leader. Use of nuclear fussion & fission energy also contemplate the idea of development with environment.

    Water Resources Management

    "Saving the lakes, ponds and rivers from overexploitation and pollution is a patriotic duty of every individual"

    It is recognized that water problems cannot be solved by quick technical solutions. Solutions to water problems require the consideration of cultural, educational, communication and scientific aspects. Given the increasing political recognition of the importance of water, it is in the area of sustainable freshwater management that a major contribution to solve water-related problems, including future conflicts, can be found . The statistics show an alarming trend for Indian sub-continent: rapid population growth, urbanization and industrialization which in turn, will lead to a greater demand for an increasingly smaller supply of water resources in the area. So we need avert the ominous crisis.

    Our needs are unique, nowhere else in the world does population growth and poverty play such a large role in affecting water resource issues. Poverty in South Asia will be eradicated and living conditions of all people will be uplifted to sustainable levels of comfort, health and well-being through co-ordinated and integrated development and management of water resources in the region. The two most important issues are how to balance the India's rapid economic growth with the need to ensure equitable distribution to all sectors, in particular the urban and rural drinking water supply.

    There are certain limitations which are preventing India in the competition of the balance between economy and ecology.
    They are:-
    # Policy failures and Institutional Weaknesses,
    # Competition for Water,
    # Health and Environmental Needs and Effects,

    We need to overcome these limitations so manage our fresh water resouces which in turn will fetch us the our aim of developed economic condition. Initiative like watershed technologies which has helped in improving agricultural productivity, farmers' income and ability to cope with drought. The success of the interventions has resulted in the model being replicated in hundreds of villages in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Institution like International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is combining satellite technology with on-the-ground assessments, for drought monitoring and impact management in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and in Central Asia. We should also work at policies to improve groundwater governance and the use of water harvesting as a strategic tool for drought mitigation. This will surly fetch us the fruit of our choice.

    Our aim should always be to foster the well-being of all human beings by encouraging sustainable economic development and facilitating access to world-class higher education, especially in the developing nations of South-East Asia and of Central / West Africa. Our aim should always be to encourage a high level of reflection on the integration of ecological principles and traditional values in the economic planning and legal framework of developing economies. We need to open up the process leading to further commitments and timetables to combat the adverse effects of climate change, leading us into the future of climate change negotiation and action. A future with less greenhouse gas emissions, less risks of floods and droughts and more benefits for both developed and developing countries. And by these method we can say that economic growth and environmental conservation can go hand in hand by the application of modern technique, series of open minded thoughts, dialogues between the nations of the world and pro-sustainable living values. All these things will bring a good life for an individual, a society, a state & a nation. Hence, a more sustainable future.

    The author can be reached at: [email protected] / Print This Article

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