The earth nourishes humanity. The air, water, earth, sky, sun, moon, stars, ocean, mountains, deserts, and various flora and animals are essential components of this unique creation that comprises the world's ecosystem.As highlighted by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation - our planet's abundant natural resources can meet humanity's needs but not greed. Most luxury commodities, including expensive clothing and cosmetics, plastics and chemical dyes, luxury automobiles, electronics, modern medical, etc., contributed to the market's attractiveness. However, these advancements were made at the cost of environmental degradation.
The degradation of our earth started in the nineteenth century owing to the industrial revolution and still continues. This has led to an increase in various toxic pollutants, including greenhouse gases, leading to climate change. We are now observing increased frequency, duration and intensity of various extreme weather events owing to climate change, as depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Adverse extreme weather events and issues associated with climate change.
Scientists are worried about how fast the world's ice is melting, forests are burning from the tropics to the Arctic, the oceans have become garbage dumps, animal populations are in free fall, and microplastics are now in our air, water, food, and even unborn babies. There is also a threat to environmental activists all over the world. Three planetary emergencies majorly confront our mother earth:
- The climate is warming too rapidly for humans and wildlife to adapt;
- an estimated one million species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and other factors;
- and pollution continues to pollute our air, land, and water
The globe is being confronted with the devastation of climate change, air pollution, water pollution, waste management, and deforestation, and many other serious consequences. Therefore, this year's World Environment Day theme to be held annually on June 5, 2022, is "OnlyOneEarth", which is being hosted by Sweden.The tagline for the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNEP), held in Stockholm in 1972, was also "Only One Earth". The year 2022 is a significant turning point for the UNEP and the international environmental community. It commemorates the 50thanniversary of UNEP's founding as a major outcome of the Stockholm Conference.Fifty years later, the motive is as relevant as ever: this planet is our only home, and humanity must protect its limited resources.This day asks for radical changes to policy and lifestyle choices in order to celebrate, defend, and restore our planet by placing sustainable development on the global agenda.It requires collective, revolutionary action on a scale that encompasses harmony in nature.This day has become the most prominent international forum for environmental outreach, with millions of individuals worldwide taking action to safeguard the planet.
The topic for World Environment Day 2021 was "Reimagine, Recreate, and Restore" with ecosystem restoration as the focal point. Earth's ecosystems have been exploited and destroyed for far too long.Whereas in 2020, the theme was "Biodiversity"highlighting an urgent and existential issue. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the rapid destruction of ecosystems, it urges the governments worldwide to accept a new global aim to safeguard at least 30 percent of land and ocean by 2030.For 2016, the day theme was 'WildforLife' to stop wildlife crime worldwide. Angola, which is the host country, says it will stop the trade of elephant ivory. As a result, China, the biggest market for illegal wildlife products, also mentioned that it will shut down its domestic ivory market.
The environmental issues assumed the form of a crisis in the early 1980s and the consequences continue to this day. Climate change, air pollution, water pollution, poor waste management, cutting down trees, etc., are having terrible effectson the earth's environment. Figure 2 depicts the major environmental challenges and the Government of India's initiative to address them.
Figure 2: Major environmental challenges and government initiatives to mitigate their impacts.
Air pollution is one of the major problems facing civilization. In 2018, the World Health Organization projected that almost seven million people worldwide die annually due to air pollution. According to the World Air Quality Report 2021, India is one of the world's top five most polluted countries. Whereas Dhaka, Bangladesh comes second after New Delhi, India is at the top list of regional capital cities, ranking for exceeding the average annual PM2.5 concentration (µg/m3). Air pollution is the result of poor management, poor urban design, and disregard for environmental regulations. To understand the actual source of air pollution, extensive scientific research is required, and relevant technology may be helpful in its permanent mitigation.
The forests are regarded as one of the most significant carbon sinks and a limitless source of oxygen. In the name of development, many trees are being cut down. In addition to reducing forest cover, deforestation has affected biodiversity by removing the natural habitats of elephants, tigers, deer, birds, insects, medicinal plants, and many other valuable natural resources. Not only this, but the many places in the world are battling the forest fires that aredevastating the vital forest resources, including carbon locked in the biomass, impairing the flow of commodities and services from forests.
Moreover, the indigenous groups, i.e., tribal communities staying inside the reserve, are on the frontline in battling these wildfires. This situation not only persists in India but affects globally. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued its annual Frontiers report on February 17, 2022, stating that wildfires have become more destructive and have spread geographically more extensively. Therefore, there is an urgent need to increase patrolling, implement an efficient fire-fighting apparatus, and use visitors as reserve authorities 'ears and eyes'. Moreover, near Real-Time Forest Fire Monitoring and Early Warning Alert based on Forest Fire Danger Rating System needs to be strengthened.
India focuses on green infrastructure, but blue infrastructure is not getting as much attention in cities. Creating sustainable ways to handle water and green spaces is crucial to make a smooth transition to climate adaptation. Building infrastructure to collect water and protect natural water bodies must happen simultaneously as building green infrastructure to help people adapt and be more resilient. This will also allow wildlife to flourish in the city if done with care. Many people see wildlife in the towns as a problem, and people who live in cities often get scared when they see wild animals, which leads to human-wildlife conflicts. Hence, there is a need to address concerns and change the ways how people act. This can be done in several ways, such as by building the skills of governments and non-government organizations that deal with possible conflicts and by making the general public more aware. Responsible people living in cities could help protect wildlife by keeping an eye out for them. This will also help curb poaching and other incidents that hurt wild animals.
Since the world is now in the "Decade of Action" it has become important how we mitigate and adapt to climate change. The larger goal of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be seen as a natural catalyst for building partnerships, as also highlighted in the NITI Ayog's recently released SDG Index and Dashboard (2020-21). Here, the focus is on SDG 17, which is about working together worldwide to achieve all other goals. India is trying to move beyond the traditional donor-donee relationship as an emerging partner. However, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)-Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members should do more by keeping their promise to give 0.7% of their Gross National Income as ODA.
It is evident that the recent COVID pandemic has slowed down progress, leading to economic setbacks, political upheavals, and an increase in health emergencies. If the world wants sustainable growth, it needs to focus on building partnerships with a quick response and risk management system. An approach based on coalitions could be an excellent place to start. Consider how important it was for India to form the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015 and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) in 2019. These platforms provide a way for people to share their knowledge and teach technical skills to help other developing countries build strong and resilient societies. It also offers the opportunity to strengthen the economy, make investments, and improve the way institutions work in Africa and South Asia, which are both developing regions.
On June 5, it is crucial to reaffirm our commitment to restoring the balance between human systems and natural systems so that we can stop the damage we are doing to ecosystems that are important to us. Rapid urbanization and more human-dominated landscapes are two big reasons why natural habitats in cities are getting smaller. We live in the Anthropocene, which is the modern time when people's actions change the world in significant ways, and cities are a big part of this big change. Our cities are growing in ways that are not sustainable, which is hurting the environment and making it harder for wildlife to live there. How cities change is vital for the health of the planet. There is a need to protect Indian cities' wild areas, which act as carbon sinks, cut down on noise and air pollution, protect watersheds, and give wildlife a place to live. Linking animal and human behavior is essential for preserving biodiversity, predicting zoonotic transmissions, and tracking environmental changes.
As changes to the global environment speed up, it will be harder to set aside enough space for "pure nature." The future lies in the multispecies commons, where all species can learn to live together. To keep warming below 1.5°C this century, greenhouse gas emissions need a 50% reduction by 2030. Considering this, the Indian prime minister proposed Panchamrit to address the climate crisis, which includes 500 MW non-fossil energy capacity, 50 percent energy requirements from renewable energy, reduction in one billion tonnes of carbon emissions, and 45 percent reduction in the carbon-intensive economy by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissionstarget by 2070 as shown in Figure 3.Climate change has contributed significantly to the escalation in the severity of major climate disasters, which are on the rise. Several global and regional factors must be examined to arrive at an equitable solution for all parties. If nothing is done, the number of people exposed to unsafe air pollution levels will rise by 50% within a decade. The amount of plastic waste entering aquatic habitats will nearly triple by 2040.
Figure 3: Prime Minister ‘Panchamrit’ to address climate change.
Anthropogenic activities leading to climate change, air pollution, water pollution, poor waste management, cutting down trees, etc., have terrible effects on human health, seeking urgent action. These solutions need the immediate attention of larger entities such as national and subnational governments, financial institutions, and other organizations with the ability to rewrite the laws, shape our aspirations, and open new horizons. The Government of India has taken many initiatives, such as National Action for Clean Air Programme, NamamiGangeProgramme, National Programme on Climate Change and Human Health, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and many more. Still, the measurable impact is yet to be achieved. Hence, individuals and civil society roles become vital in creating awareness and taking action at the ground level to yield the desired results.
Figure 4: Illustrate simple actions by individuals to protect our mother earth.
Figure 4illustrates simple actions by individuals to protect our mother earth. Each one of us has our duty to protect the mother earth by making modifications in lifestyle and taking simple actions such as you can buy local and seasonal produce, putting a lid on vessels when cooking, turning off all electrical appliances instead of putting them on standby when not in use, use car pools whenever possible and avoid plastic bags. On this environment day, let us learn to live sustainably in harmony with nature and adopt a few simple practices, i.e.,
- following reuse, reduce, recycle practice
- segregate of waste and composting
- energy saving and moving to alternative sources, e.g., Solar energy
- choose sustainable products or eco-friendly products having cradle to a grave approach
- planting trees and supporting and promoting biodiversity
Living sustainably in harmony with nature also requires the active participation and engagement of various stakeholders, including Government, NGO's, Industry and the community.
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a major threat to public health and war conflicts to global food supply systems, which the world has never seen before.Also, the pandemic gave people a chance to stop and think about how they could improve their health by taking care of their environment. The pandemic has changed the way people think, what they eat, and how they live and has put pressure on promotingthe "ONE HEALTH" approach.
This was even realized by our ancestors, as highlighted in Atharvaveda "माताभूमिपुत्रोहंपृथिव्या" means the earth is my mother I am her son. This also means that humans and the environment share a holy bond, setting vital precedence for how we should live in harmony with all living and non-living components to save the only planet where life exists, i.e., our earth. India always focused on लोकःसमस्ताःसुखिनोभवन्तु,i.e., let the entire world be happy. This emphasizes that we all need to come together on this World Environment Day to protect and restorethe earth.
Dr.RavindraKhaiwal, Professor of Environment Health and author of the awareness series on environment and public health, including the Vaayu comic series for children. He can be reached at –
Prof. RavindraKhaiwal, MRSC, FHEA
Department of Community Medicine & School of Public Health
Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER),
Chandigarh, 160012, INDIA
Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by the author. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors only.