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ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES IN 21ST CENTURY

Author: Anushmita Pramanik, Assistant Professor of Law, Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies


CLIMATE CHANGE-GREEN HOUSE GAS EMISSIONS, GLOBALWARMING, LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY, WATER SCARCITY, RIVER AND OCEAN HEALTH CRISIS


Introduction

The right to healthy environment is now firmly established in constitutional interpretations.The duties of both the state and citizens to protect and improve the environment have become the supreme constitutional mandate. All agencies, public or private, as well as individuals, are bound to follow the mandate. It is interesting to note the formulation of collective obligations of entities on the basis of fundamental duty of the citizens to protect and improve the environment.


Thus, the natural environment, i.e., air, water, land, trees, plants, animals, microorganisms, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc., is adversely affected by man-made environment- by scientific and technological advancements through various inventions and discoveries. Industries – particularly chemical industries-developments in the field of atomic energy, concrete jungles, excessive use of fossil fuel and rise in quality and standard of life resulting in exponential use of fossil fuel and rise in quality and standard of life resulting in exponential growth of population has badly affected the natural environment. Through ignorance and indifference, we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well-being depend. To defend and improve the human environment for present and future generations has become an imperative goal for mankind- a goal to be pursued together and in harmony with the established and fundamental goals of peace, and of worldwide economic and social development.[i]


The main responsible factor for global warming is pollution such as water, air and land pollution. The carbon dioxide is increasing in temperature and hence one of the major causes of climate change and global warming. It may change the rainfall pattern which may affect the agricultural productivity in diverse region of the globe. The rise of temperature cause death of microorganisms. Today there is serious threat to quality of life as environment which is deteriorating. The growth of science and technology, various human activities which are hazardous to environment.


In this study researcher is describing the causative activities of global warming. The significant legislative enactments on environment such as forest protection act, wildlife protection, biological diversity act, etc. is passed for safeguard of environment. After the Stockholm declaration, 1972 in India enacted legislations on environment protection. Indian water and air pollution act provides for establishment of pollution control boards. The Indian constitutional amendment, 1976 inserted constitutional provisions such as article 48A and 51A(g). Indian judiciary interpreted constitutional provisions such as Art. 14, 19 and 21 in respect of right to pollution free environment.


The present study is an attempt to examine and analyze the numerous measures that have been adopted to regulate the increase global warming and climate changes.


Meaning of Climate Change

Earth’s climate is a result of complex interactions between the sun, atmosphere, oceans, land and biosphere. Relatively small changes in climate could have a major effect on our resources like food, energy and water. The factors that influence global climate are the amount of solar energy the earth receives, the condition of the atmosphere, the shape and rotation of the earth, and the currents and other processes of the ocean. The scientific evidence suggests that the earth’s climate is changing. The atmosphere is warming, and this trend will continue. By the year 2050 scientists predict that the world will be warmer by an average of between 1.5°C and 4.5°C.[ii]


Greenhouse Effect

A glass house used for raising delicate plants is called ‘greenhouse’. A greenhouse has higher temperature inside than outside though the interior receives less radiations-it is called ‘greenhouse effect’. The factors which contribute to these effects are i) glass walls, ii) high carbon dioxide content, and iii) high water vapor content of the air in the greenhouse. They let the short-wave radiations pass through them but prevent the passage of long wave radiations emitted by the earth’s surface. This makes inside of the greenhouse warmer than outside. The greenhouse effect is a naturally – occurring process that aids the heating of the earth’s surface and atmosphere. It results from the fact that certain atmospheric gases, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane, are capable of changing the energy balance of the planet by being able to absorb long wave radiation from the earth’s surface.


Greenhouse gases

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2): It is responsible for more than 55 percent of the current global warming. Its concentration has increased by more than 30 percent since pre-industrial times. This has been largely due to the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, and increasingly, motor vehicle exhaust (75 percent). Deforestation and biomass burning contribute 25%.

  • Methane (CH4): It accounts for 16% of the increase in GHGs. It can trap 20 to 25 times more heat than CO2. It is produced from garbage dumps, freshwater wet lands (swamps), flooded rice fields and enteric fermentation in cattle.

  • Nitrous oxide: It accounts for 6% increase in GHGs. Its life span in the troposphere is 120 to 190 years and it traps about 200 times as much heat per molecule as CO2.

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): CFCs are synthetic gaseous compounds of carbon and halogens. CFCs can persist for 45 to 260 years or more in the atmosphere. CFCs are believed to be responsible for 24 percent of the human contribution of greenhouse gases. They can trap 1500 to 1700 times more heat than CO2.

  • Ozone (O3): It is a greenhouse gas that has 2,000 times the heat-retention property of CO2. At ground level, ozone is found in small quantities in the air and is formed when other pollutants react in sunlight.

  • Carbon monoxide (CO): It is indirectly responsible for increasing greenhouse warming because it raises the level of methane and ozone. Motor vehicles are the major source of CO.[iii]


Definition of the term ‘Global warming’

The Earth’s climate continuously changes following a natural process. It is a consequence of such natural process that that the ice-cold climate of the earth become favorable for the evolution of mankind. The solar energy that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere is absorbed by the surface of the Earth while a major portion of it is reflected into space.


As a consequence of the green- house effect, the global temperature of the earth increases. Such increase in temperature continues over a long period of time and is the main cause of extensive warming of the planet and hence termed as ‘global warming’. Apart from the naturally occurring green-house gases namely carbon-dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, there are certain other man-made greenhouse gases like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), per fluorocarbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Increase in the concentration of such manmade gases further enhances the average temperature of the earth and causes the enhanced greenhouse effect. When the increase in stock of the greenhouse gases goes beyond the carrying capacity or the assimilative capacity of the earth, there occur manifestations of the same through changes in the weather regime and impacts are also observed on the diverse ecosystems of the globe.[iv]


Effects of Global Warming

1. Climate effects

  • There will be a warming of the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere and a cooling of stratosphere.

  • Precipitation patterns will be changed. Some areas will become wetter and some areas dryer.

  • Seasonal patterns will change due to the changing of temperature and precipitation patterns.

  • Soil moisture regions will be changed due to the changes in evaporation and precipitation.

  • Wind direction and wind stress over the sea surface will be changed, which will alter ocean currents and cause changes in nutrient mixing zones and productivity of the oceans.[v]


2. Effect on River and Ocean Health crisis

The impact on marine ecosystem is also very discernible and glaring. Ocean acidification is one of the prominent outcomes of the increase in the greenhouse -gases in the atmosphere which is manifested from the shells and skeletons of marine animals that are acidified degenerated as a consequence of global warming. Extensive damage is also found in the coral reefs, marine snails and other planktonic organisms inhabiting the marine ecosystems. Apart from ocean acidification the other great damage caused by global warming is the reduction in sea ice caused due to increase in temperatures of the earth. With the melting of sea ice cover, animals such as polar beers and seals which have their habitat in such zone are at the peril of extinction.


Many of the world’s important cities and coastal areas will likely to be hit by storms and floods. Many important birds and fishes inhabiting in coastal salt marshes and estuaries will become extinct due to inundation in coastal salt marshes and estuaries will become extinct due to inundation of their breeding grounds. The direct effects of rise in sea level are;

  • recession of shorelines and wetlands,

  • increased tidal range and estuarine salt-front instruction, and

  • an increase in salt-water contamination of coastal fresh-water aquifers.

  • Thus, rise in sea level will have a negative impact on human settlements, tourism, fisheries, agriculture, water supplies and coastal ecosystems.[vi]


3. Loss of Biodiversity

Each plant and animal species occurs within a specific range of temperature. The global warming will shift the temperature range, which would affect attitudinal and latitudinal distribution of organisms. Rapid rise in temperature may cause large scale death of many trees, as they are sensitive to temperature stress. Many species may disappear, as they are unable to migrate fast enough to track temperature change. Global warming and biodiversity are interlinked, Global warming is enhanced with the loss of Biodiversity caused as a result of burning and cutting down of vegetation in particular regions of the globe, to serve diverse ends. For instance, the migratory patterns of the animals are severely affected by global warming leading to disrupted breeding habits for e.g., one third of the total number of breeding sites of the turtles in the to marine invertebrates and fishes and terrestrial animals are equally affected by global warming. Squids found in the North Sea are therefore likely to face the steam of extinction and shall also cause disruption in the food chain and affect the lives of the marine animals, such as whales & dolphins, that depend on the plankton, small fishes and squids for their sustenance.


It has been highlighted by the World Wildlife Fund that by the year 2050, half of the world’s polar bear species will be extinct if global warming continues at the present pace.[vii]


4. Impact on Human health (water scarcity and drought)

Global warming is a human induced issue that has begun to cripple the entire planet. A mere one-degree centigrade rise in temperature caused changes in the weather events, precipitation levels, sea-levels, availability of water resources, extinction of animals and plants.


The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its report made it explicitly clear that ninety of the global greenhouse gas emissions caused due to human- induced global warming stand responsible for longer droughts, shortage of clean drinking water, water scarcity, dimished flows in rivers and stream. A small rise in temperature, will have detrimental effect on crop productivity. Global warming could produce colder temperature in Russia and northern Europe resulting in the reduction of crop yields.


Solutions for global warming

The following are some of the suggested solutions to prevent global warming:

  • Reduction in the use of fossils fuels.

  • Shifting to renewable energy resources that do not emit GHGs.

  • Development of substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons.

  • Increase of the vegetation cover, particularly forest for photosynthetic utilization of CO2

  • Reduction of deforestation, adopting better forest management practices, and undertaking afforestation to sequester carbons.

  • Increasing the use of energy-efficient and cleaner production technologies and practices.

  • Developing disaster management plans and strategies.

  • Use fewer automobiles and public transportation, immediate and drastic reduction of emissions, as recommended by the PPC is the need of the hour.


Environmental laws and Policies

UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm 1972). Through this conference constitutional sanction was given to given to environmental concerns through the 42nd amendment, which incorporated Directive Principles of State Policy, fundamental rights and duties. India has several substantive laws for prevention or regulation of any activity that may cause climate change.

  • National Environment Policy, 2006

  • Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

  • Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

  • Atomic Energy Act of 1982

  • Motor Vehicles Act, 1972

  • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

  • Environment Protection Act, 1986

  • The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997

  • Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991

  • National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995

  • Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notifications.

However, a specific building national strategy that addresses India’s development concerns and mitigation and adaptation challenges was also important. This was the framework that was laid out in ‘National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC).

  • National Solar Mission (started in 2010)

  • National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency (approved in 2009)

  • National Mission on sustainable habitat

  • National water Mission

  • National Mission for sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem

  • National Mission for green India

  • National Mission for sustainable agriculture

  • National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change.

Each state is now also in the process of developing State action plans on climate change with recommendation how mitigation and adaptation can be streamlined into development policy. Individual ministries have developed their respective mission and policies for addressing climatic change.[viii]


Conclusion

The cause of the warming of the Earth’s average temperature is called “Greenhouse Effect” which is described as a process that occurs when gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. Over the last two decades, many countries have attempted policies and actions to address climate change. Still, we are far from containing the disastrous effects of global warming. Rather, they are getting worse and worse day by day.


Governments all over the world are doing what they can do contain emission of carbon dioxide which is the main culprit among the gases causing global warming. However, the individual and community behaviors as a climate action leave much to be desired. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that if one billion people out of the global population of approximately 8 billion adopt eco-friendly behaviors in their daily lives, global carbon emissions could drop by close to 20%. Such eco-friendly behaviors in their daily lives, global carbon emissions could drop by close to 20%. Such eco-friendly behaviors include turning off ACs, heaters and lights when not in use. This can conserve up to 282 kilowatts of electricity per day.


With a vision of harnessing the power of individual and collective action across the world to address the climate crisis, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi on June 5, 2022 launched an innovative programmed, called LIFE (Lifestyle for Environment), to bring individual behaviors at the forefront of the global climate action narrative. In many ways, the LIFE program me can become a tipping point in the climate change debate, compelling the world to consume responsibly, produce responsibly and live responsibly.[ix]

[i]S.C. SHASTRI, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW 36-37 (EBC Explorer. 6th ed. 2018). [ii]DR.K. VIDYULLATHA REDDY,ENVIRONMENTAL LAW 58 (Asia law house 2018) [iii]Id. Pg 59-61 [iv]Debashree Mukherjee, The emerging legal regime in global warming a study, 2-3 http://hdl.handle.net/10603/122757 [v]DR.S. R MYNENI, supra note 15 [vi]Debashree Mukherjee, supra note 35-40 http://hdl.handle.net/10603/122757 [vii]Ibid pg 35-40http://hdl.handle.net/10603/122757 [viii]Vijay K. Sodhi, Climate change-Indian law and judiciary, MONDAQ.COM (June 02, 2020)https://www.mondaq.com/india/clean-air-pollution/945304/climate-change--indian-law-and-judiciary [ix]The worsening effects of Global warming: COMPETITION SUCCESS REVIEW, Sep. 2022, 19