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The State of India’s Environment

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    5th Jun, 2021
The State of India’s Environment


  • In 1972, the UN General Assembly designated 5 Juneas World Environment Day (WED).
  • The first celebration, under the slogan “Only One Earth” took place in 1974.
  • In the following years, WED has developed as a platform to raise awareness on the problems facing our environment such as air pollution, plastic pollution, illegal wildlife trade, sustainable consumption, sea-level increase, and food security, among others.
  • Furthermore, WED helps drive change in consumption patterns and in national and international environmental policy.
  • In 2021, the global official celebrations are being held on 4-5 June.

2021 Theme: Ecosystem Restoration

  • The theme for World Environment Day 2021 is “Ecosystem Restoration” and will see the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. 
  • Ecosystem restoration can take many forms: Growing trees, greening cities, rewilding gardens, changing diets or cleaning up rivers and coasts.
  • This is the generation that can make peace with nature.

Why this year, focus is on ‘ecosystem restoration’?

  • Ecosystem restoration means assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. 
  • Healthier ecosystems, with richer biodiversity, yield greater benefits such as more fertile soils, bigger yields of timber and fish, and larger stores of greenhouse gases.
  • Restoration can happen in many ways – for example through actively planting or by removing pressures so that nature can recover on its own.
  • It is not always possible – or desirable – to return an ecosystem to its original state. We still need farmland and infrastructure on land that was once forest, for instance, and ecosystems, like societies, need to adapt to a changing climate.
  • All kinds of ecosystemscan be restored, including forests, farmlands, cities, wetlands and oceans.
  • Restoration initiatives can be launched by almost anyone, from governments and development agencies to businesses, communities and individuals. That is because the causes of degradation are many and varied, and can have an impact at different scales.


  • An ecosystem is a community of plants and animals interacting with each other in a given area, and also with their non-living environments.
  • The non-living environments include weather, earth, sun, soil, climate and atmosphere.
  • The 8 vital types of ecosystem include:
    • forests
    • farmlands
    • grassland and savannahs
    • rivers and lakes
    • oceans and coasts
    • towns and cities
    • peatlands
    • mountains
  • The ecosystem relates to the way that all these different organisms live in close proximity to each other and how they interact with each other.

Ways to restore ecosystem

  • erosion control
  • reforestation
  • removal of non-native species and weeds
  • re-vegetation of disturbed areas
  • daylighting streams
  • reintroduction of native species, and habitat
  • range improvement for targeted species

India’s pledge for restoration

  • India has made substantial commitments to restoration. It joined the Bonn Challenge in 2015 with a pledge to restore 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020 and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030.
  • This was further increased to a target of 26 million hectares by 2030 during the Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) held in Delhi in September 2019.
  • Moreover, as one of its three Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), India has also committed to the creation of a carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Significance of ecosystem restoration

  • Ecosystem services: Between now and 2030, the restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services.
  • Removal of greenhouse gases: Restoration could also remove 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Economic benefits: The economic benefits of such interventions exceed nine times the cost of investment, whereas inaction is at least three times more costly than ecosystem restoration.

2021 Host Country: Pakistan

  • Every World Environment Day is hosted by a different country, in which official celebrations take place, and this year’s host is Pakistan.
  • The Government of Pakistan plans to expand and restore the country’s forests through a ‘10 Billion Tree Tsunami‘ spread over five years.
  • Through the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, Pakistan is contributing to the Bonn Challenge.
    • Bonn Challenge is a global effort linked to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
    • Under the challenge, countries are pledging to bring 350 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2030.

UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030)

  • The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restorationfollowing a proposal and resolution for action by over 70 countries from all latitudes.
  • It is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature.
  • It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, and restore them to achieve global goals. Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.
  • Timeline: The UN Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change. 
  • Led by: the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
  • The UN Decade is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future.
  • That will include building political momentum for restoration as well as thousands of initiatives on the ground.

The State of India’s Environment

The 2021 World Environment Day is being observed at the most difficult of times with India battling on two fronts —

  • the second wave of Covid-19 has caused devastation, and evidence shows that the country has not augured well on environmental norms
  • Water and air continues to be as polluted, and forest degradation continues, as India tries to revive its economy.
  • Data from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)‘s annual state of environment report shows that bad environment with the Covid-19 pandemic can have a devastating impact on rural India, where health infrastructure is very poor.
  • There is a 78% shortage of medical human resource and 32% of health infrastructure in villages as compared to urban areas.

Major issues faced by India

  • Climate crisis: The year 2020 was the eighth warmest year on record, and 2016 was the warmest ever, followed by 2009. 12 of the 15 warmest years were recorded during the past 15 years (2006-2020), and 2011-20 was the warmest decade on record.
  • Air pollution: Of the 6.67 million deaths due to air pollution in 2019, 1.67 million were in India, the second highest after China, according to a Lancet report.
    • According to a CSE report, deaths because of particulate matter 2.5 pollution have increased by 2.5 times in the past decade, with air pollution rising in most places in India, especially the Indo-Gangetic plains.
  • Water: About 80% of surface water in India is polluted due to dump sewage and garbage, and an alarming percentage of ground water is contaminated by various organic and inorganic sources, said a study Water Sources and Challenges in India published in March 2020.
    • Water bodies in most places are shrinking and according to minor irrigation (MI) census, water bodies declined by about 8% between 2001 and 2006 and another 10% were not in use because of poor quality of water.
  • Toll on biodiversity: To pursue higher economic growth and meet aspirations of people, India is sacrificing a part of its biodiversity.

India is one of the world’s most bio-diverse countries, with 7% of the world’s animal and plant species and 21% of its geographic area under forest cover.

  • Threat to Agriculture: Environmental degradation is a major cause of concern for Indian agriculture, with rising use of insecticides and pesticides, which is contaminating soil and ground water.
    • As per a recent study (March 2021), depleting ground water will cause a fall in agriculture produce, especially in wheat growing states such as Haryana and Punjab by 20% by 2025.
  • Renewable energy: India’s ambitious renewable target, which was a commendable step towards going green, has slipped. With just 55 per cent of the target met, India is nowhere close to installing 175 GW of renewable capacity by 2022. The country also has a target of setting up at least 50 solar parks by 2021-22. 
  • Rise of Brown industries: There is an eight percentage point increase in polluting industries between 2019 and 2021, with 35% increase of such industries in Uttar Pradesh and 12% in West Bengal.

Any industry which discharges waste water more than 100 kilolitres a day and/or 429 hazardous chemicals used by the industry as specified under the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules of 1989 under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 are considered polluting industries.

  • Unsustainable cities: Many Indian cities are environmentally unsustainable. Only 28% of sewage generated in India is treated to remove environmentally hazardously effluents before being released to water bodies.
  • Forest fires: The warming of temperature and reduction in rainfall has also led to increase in forest fires in India.
  • Wild species: Wildlife is on decline in the country.

Threat to Wildlife

  • India has over 45,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals.
  • The IUCN Red List monitors 1,212 animal species in India, and over 12% of them are endangered. Of the 148 endangered species in India, 48 are mammals, 56 reptiles and 23 amphibians.
  • Of the world’s top 35 biodiversity hot spots, four are in India — Western Ghats, Himalayas, Sunderbans and Indo-Burma region.
  • Less than 10% of these hot spots are protected and the vegetation in these hot spots has fallen by up to 50% in the last four decades or so.
  • Despite the increase in climate-induced weather events, spending on disaster resilience measures was either reduced or not increased significantly by most states in 2019-20.

Reasons behind the degraded situation

  • Human activity: Humans stand at number one when it comes to polluting the environment.
  • Unsustainable practices: Unnecessary use of pesticides, industrial wastes, mining and exploration, and construction activities are some of the reason for bad environmental health.
  • Overpopulation: Excessive pressure on natural resources is primarily because of the population imbalance.
  • Consumerism: Rising consumerism has eroded our ecosystem and damaged the environment, perhaps irreparably.
  • Plastic: The uncollected plastic waste often ends up in seas and oceans, harming aquatic life.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), despite a ban on single-use plastic, India generates an estimated 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day, of which more than 10,000 tonnes remain uncollected.

  • Microbeads/microplastic: Several kinds of toothpaste, beauty products (such as face and body scrubs), and detergents contain plastic microbeads. Millions of tonnes of these microplastics enter the oceans every year, devastating the marine environment. These microbeads are not biodegradable and are so tiny they cannot be filtered or picked up during routine clean-ups.
  • Laundry detergents: Laundry detergents also adversely impact oxygen supplies for marine life and overexposure to detergents can turn the water acidic and end up damaging marine life.
  • Electronic devices: Electronic devices run on batteries that contain a toxic cocktail of cadmium, lead, and mercury – all of which are major pollutants.

Recent initiatives to protect and conserve Environment

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change implemented
    • the National River Conservation Programme
    • Green India Mission,
    • National Afforestation Programme
    • National Coastal Management Programme
    • National Mission on Himalayan Studies under Climate Change Program 
  • The Ministry also monitors the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and has been carrying out enabling activities and other obligations of the Convention.
  • Other important schemes include:
    • National Clean Air Programme
    • Green Skill Development Programme (GSDP)
    • Swachh Bharat Abhiyan
    • Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY)
    • Jal Jeevan Mission

What about ‘net-zero’?

  • India has refused to agree to net zero emissions aim being propagated by the developed world before Glasgow climate change conference to operationalise the Paris climate agreement.
  • Net zero would mean India will have to set target to phase out usage of coal.
  • Navigating the diplomatic challenge where India resists the target for its economic goals, but continues to shift to renewables, will be a challenge.

Impact of environment degradation

  • A good number of animal species have already vanished from the earth owning to environmental change brought about by humans and many others are on the verge of extinction.
  • Global warming, untimely rainfall, floods and seasonal variations are nothing but the overexploitation and alteration of environment at the hands of humans.

Economic cost

  • A 2018 study on the Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought in India, done for the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change revealed that India’s GDP suffers a loss of 2.5% on account of land degradation and the cost of inaction would be far greater than that of restoration.
  • Moreover, with land degradation and climate change closely intertwined, the Economic Survey of India 2017-2018 indicated that the impacts of climate change could reduce agricultural income by 25 per cent.

Way forward

The world is witnessing the destruction of the foundations of its survival at an alarming rate. Thus, it is now or never. It is absolutely crucial to ensure a resilient and green recovery in post-COVID world.

  • Preventing, halting, reversing the decline of ecosystems globally, form the main goal of ecosystem restoration to safeguard the environment in post-Covid world. After all, sustainable use and restoration of biodiversity would be the best way to mitigate the post COVID-19 crisis.
  • The restoration can ensure getting rid of 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in the post-Covid world.
  • Revival of 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems would guarantee a better, greener, healthier environment to support life.
  • Setting up urban green spaces such as parks, gardens, riversides or lakesides, sports fields, woods is also an effective solution to mitigate the effects of pollution and reduce the urban heat island effect which refers to the heat trapped in built-up areas.
  • Furthermore, the government should take adequate measures to preserve and protect these already established green spaces, and use their resources, time, and staff to monitor them effectively.

State of Finance for Nature 2021

The recently released State of Finance for Nature 2021 report highlights that investments in nature-based solutions will have to triple by 2030 and increase four-fold by 2050 if we are to resolve planetary crises.

It further recognizes that currently, with public funding making up 86 per cent of finance-flow into nature conservation and restoration, private sector finance and engagement will have to be significantly scaled up.