World Environment Day – Revisiting “Only One Earth”

by | Jun 5, 2022


Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves…. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

As the “World Environment Day” Meet returns to Stockholm, where it was conceived 50 years ago during the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, it is a good moment to revisit the theme of that first celebration – Only One Earth. Not surprisingly, it has been chosen as the theme for this historic event as well.

While there has been a growing consciousness about the significance of the natural environment for the survival of the human species, and indeed of other species as well, we still have a long road to travel in implementing solutions that can help prevent further degradation. Although importance is given to reaching targets that restrict a temperature increase below 1.5 degrees centigrade by 2100, and there is mounting pressure for countries to achieve this, few solutions are offered to realistically attain these goals.

There are ongoing discussions between developed and developing nations on the responsibility of implementing strategies that urgently combat the effects of climate change, yet only a few of these lead to concrete and impactful action. Unfortunately, the burden of environmental degradation has enormous consequences especially for the poor and vulnerable. It is not only a matter of reducing, reusing and recycling, but also a need of tackling overconsumption. Trade in hazardous but essential minerals, nuclear material and water intensive crops, and waste disposal are some ways in which consumer markets transfer the impact of their industries to lesser developed countries. Another way of offsetting their carbon footprint is through purchase of carbon credits from the developing countries. Even though entities that are conserving the environment are rewarded through the carbon credit system, it is not enough to break the cycle of excessive consumption of the developed world.

The per capita carbon consumption for Africa is extremely low – it is only a fifth of the global average of 3.9 tons per person per year – still they are being pressurized to pledge carbon reduction, as is the rest of the developing world. This does cause heartburn in these countries, but it is essential for them to understand that achieving sustainability goals and ensuring energy needs are not mutually exclusive developmental objectives. There are examples which showcase that both are possible together. One of the few countries that is in line with achieving its Paris Climate Agreement emission targets within the stipulated timelines is India. Although its per capita consumption of energy is only about 15% of that of the developed world, it has been able to achieve these targets by pushing aggressively towards renewable energy resources, rather than de-industrialisation. Despite the cost per unit of renewable energy being at least twice the price of electricity from non-renewable sources, the nation’s leadership decided to use economies of scale to push for solar and wind power across the country, through regulatory support and subsidies. This, in turn, has resulted in the reduction of the per unit price of renewal electricity.

As we all wait for other nations to do their part, countries in Africa could be inspired by these innovative developments in India. The continent has abundant land and water resources to develop economies that could be completely dependent on renewable energy sources. In this process, it could conserve its precious forests to earn carbon credits for the continent. Complimenting this with regenerative agriculture, Africa can become the torchbearer for the pale blue dot, that we all call our home.  

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