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The Environmental Crisis Is A Global Problem And Only Global Action Will Resolve it

“ Stopping Pollution Is The Best Solution!”

By Zile Singh

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm (Sweden) from June 5-16, 1972.  It was the first major conference on the subject and marked a turning point in the development of international environment politics.  It was attended by 113 delegates and two Heads of State (Olaf Palme of Sweden and Indira Gandhi of India) .  This Conference raised  a global awareness of an issue hitherto little talked about.  It secured a permanent place for the environment on the world’s agenda and led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  Its focus was to mark the relationship between the development and the environment.  The assessment was that the only way to unite the countries of the world is for them to face a common enemy;  and environmental degradation was that enemy.  It also marked the emergence of international environmental law.

Since the 1972 Conference, there have been many international environmental  agreements like Great Lakes Water Quality- 1978;  Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution -1979;  the Helsinki Agreement to reduce sulfur dioxide emission- 1985; Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer-1988 and Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes- 1989.  The World Commission on Environment and Development’s report published in 1987 as Our Common Future, declared that the time had come for a marriage between the environment and the economy and used the term “sustainable development” as the way to ensure that economic development would not endanger the ability of future generations to enjoy the fruits of the earth.  Canada became the second country to create a federal Department of Environment and in 1988 Canada passed Environmental Protection Act and in 1989 a Forestry Act.

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment the landmark Earth Summit was held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from June 3-14, 1992.  Its focus was the state of global environment and the relationship between economics, science and environment in a political context.  More than 130 countries signed a Convention on Climate Change and a Convention on Biodiversity.  The delegates also reached an agreement on Agenda 21, an action plan for developing the planet sustainably through the twenty-first century and on a broad statement of principles for protecting forests.

Ten years after the Rio Summit, the World Summit on Sustainable Development took place in Johannesburg, South Africa from August 26 to September 4, 2002. The Johannesburg Declaration is a more general statement than the Rio Declaration.  It is an agreement to focus particularly on “the worldwide conditions that pose severe threats to the sustainable development of our people, which include: chronic hunger, malnutrition, foreign occupation, armed conflicts, illicit drug problems, organized crime, corruption, natural disasters, illicit arms trafficking, trafficking in persons, terrorism, intolerance and incitement to racial, ethnic, religious and other hatreds, xenophobia and endemic, communicable and chronic diseases in particular HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.”

In December 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted that aimed to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming to 5.2 percent below 1990 level during the commitment period 2008-12.  It was hailed as the most significant environmental treaty ever negotiated because it is the first and only binding international agreement.  In December 2011 Canada became the first nation to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Canada ranked 55th out of 58 countries in the annual Climate Change Performance Index, last of all industrialist countries ahead of only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  United States also has not ratified the Protocol. In a sense the Protocol has been a failure.

The Paris  Climate Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaption and finance starting in the year 2020.  Under this Agreement, adopted by consensus in December 2015,  each country determines, plans and regularly reports its own contributions it should make in order to mitigate global warming.  There is no mechanism to force a country to set a specific target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets. Lately the United States has announced to withdraw from the Agreement weakening efforts to combat global warming.  The US is the second largest polluter with 15 per cent and China at top with 30 per cent.  India ranks at 7 per cent.

According to a World Health Organization reports, every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children.  Exposure of  children to toxins  can lead to reduced intelligence, attention deficits, lung damage and cancer. Children are also exposed to harmful chemicals through food, water, air and products around them.

There is a huge risk of global warming.  If warming continues;-

Sea levels are expected to rise 7 to 23 inches by the end of this century.

Hurricanes and other storms are likely to become stronger.

Flood and droughts will become more common.

Some diseases like malaria and Zika virus will spread.

Rainfall and snow fall will increase in some areas.

Steps to reduce global warming at individual level:  Use of fluorescent light bulbs, Switch off electric appliances, change your monitor with LCD, do not leave fridge door open for long time, uses of solar energy, use electric car or public transport, plant trees at home, save clean water, avoid lights at day time, get house insulated, reduce usage of hot water, forego fossil fuels, move closer to work and consume less.

In September 2015 the United Nations took an initiative popularly known as “The Future We Want” by adopting 17 Sustainable Development Goals from 2015 to 2030.  These are: No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Well-being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Descent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and Partnerships for the Goals.

“If we intend to provide a better life and a better world for our children, we can not ignore the quality of the environment we leave for them.”- John Kasich

Zile Singh is a former Ambassador(Retd.) of India and a Vipassana Meditator. He can be reached at zsnirwal@yahoo.ca .

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