India Announces New Steps to Protect Environment

By: Nick Engelfried 

October 20, 2010

One of the fastest-growing economies in the world, India, has announced new steps it will take to limit environmental damage and hold polluters accountable to the law.  At a United Nations conference on preserving global biodiversity, India is scheduled to unveil plans to track and take into account the economic value of natural ecosystems.  Earlier this week, India also established a “green court” that will make it easier for citizens to hold corporations accountable for polluting.  Both steps are suggestive that Indian leaders are growing more serious about preserving the environment as the national economy grows.

India is following a United Nations recommendation that ecosystem services such as clean air, water retention, and even increased peace of mind should be given the same kind of economic weight countries give to their gross domestic product.  Though India will likely be the first country to establish an ecosystem value accounting program, UN officials and the World Bank hope to convince 10-12 countries to take similar steps by the year 2015.  By 2020, the goal will be to have 20-30 more countries participating on top of that. 

As environmental degradation continues around the world, more and more nations are becoming aware of the economic benefits of natural ecosystems and species.  Preserving the environment can help prevent a degradation in quality of life, while environmental restoration in already-damaged areas can have a positive impact on the economy.  In one telling example, restoration of seventy hectares of damaged forests in India increased the productivity of local wells, allowing nearby agriculture to thrive.  An ecosystem services accounting program would ensure the economic value of such projects is taken into consideration as India decides how to develop.

Meanwhile Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is leading the charge to establish a green court.  Citizens who believe they’ve been unfairly damaged by corporations that fail to follow environmental laws will be able to approach the court and seek compensation, leading to more effective implementation of the country’s existing laws.  So far only two other nations—New Zealand and Australia—have a court charged with focusing specifically on environmental issues. 

Yet India isn’t the only developing country implementing new measures to protect the environment.  Last week China announced a new conservation plan designed to protect biodiversity and ensure a future for many of the nation’s endangered species.  In South America Ecuador has incorporated rights for nature into its national constitution, while Brazil is engaging in new efforts to slow deforestation in the Amazon.  Island nations like the Maldives and Kiribati have recently set aside large areas within their waters as marine reserves. 

While questions remain about how effectively many of these programs will be implemented, the trend that they signal is encouraging.  India’s announcements that it will track the value of ecosystems and establish a green court are just two of the latest examples of developing countries taking environmental initiative. 

Photo credit: McKay Savage

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