Tracking the Evolution of  Sustainable Development

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This post has been written by Seher Bhalla, a student of Symbiosis Law School Pune. 

The Industrial Revolution is often considered the first step in the modern world by humanity. What started as a mere shift to mechanical labour over manual labour has shifted the course of entire history. That is primarily attributed to what fuelled  the mechanical labour; coal, petroleum and natural gas.

 The globally agrarian society saw a rapid industrial inclination as machinery spread across the world. Population also saw a boom around this time which can be attributed to reduction in the amount of manual labour required. But that reduction meant a subsequent increase in the process of procuring and utilising aforementioned natural resources. 

This went unchecked for almost two centuries before questions began to be raised at the possible impact the revolution had on the earth, the people and the future. In 1949 American Geo-physicist  Hubert predicted the need for alternatives to fossil fuels due to the possibility that they will be exhausted and their overall impact. 

In 1962 Rachel Spring became the first recorded person to take on any industry (in her case it was the chemicals industry) and hold them accountable for the damage to the environment. 

The actual prelude to the concept of Sustainable Development came in 1968 in the form of the essay ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ by Garrett Hardin.. 

The morality of an act is a function of the state of the system.” 

Hardin believed that the context in which an action is judged should be given priority. 

In the present day scenario that is what sustainable development presents the idea that 100 years ago given the population and technology levels the fossil industry was a viable option but today with the threat of global warming and availability and need for ecological alternatives it is harmful to continue with the same thought process as that from 100 years ago.

 This was succeeded by Limits to Growth published in 1972 by Club of Rome predicting the impact of unchecked industrialisation on the environment which is seen to be largely accurate presently. All the aforementioned papers and reports set the stage for 1972 when the Stockholm Conference happened and set the stage for active and international proactive discussion on the need for protection of global ecology. 

1987 was when the world was introduced to the concept of Sustainable Development set in stone on the basis of the instances. The Brundtland Commission report is the first time the term saw coinage and has since come a long way. Even then it was seen as a vague definition, “the human ability to ensure that the current development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

The United Nations soon after this partnered with the World Meteorological Organisation in 1988 in order to accurately study the impact of human actions on the climate in order to forge a plan of action under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 1990 is when the work for a cohesive framework for the issue is initiated.

 In 1992 The Rio Conference takes place and United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Rio Declaration are signed by interested parties like Countries, private players and activist organisations.

1996 Berlin is when the first Conference of the Parties took place which eventually led to 2015’s landmark COP21 where the Paris (Climate Change) Agreement was envisioned but has sadly seen little to no progress. 

The 1990s were a truly standalone decade in terms of the attention given to the issue, for it was newly introduced as a global threat and saw nations come together whether to point fingers or to join hands. The Kyoto Protocol was the next major international agreement to come into play with the specific focus on reduction of carbon emissions.

All of these combined with worldwide movements like Fridays for Future led by Greta Thunberg to protest climate change have accelerated us into an era of conscious efforts from all ends. Zero waste movement has been adopted in multiple formats across board in ministries, companies and other institutes alike.

But the current global pandemic has led to a major rollback on environment efforts with more and more countries focusing on using traditional means to reset their economies. The high risk of contracting the virus given its ability to spread fast has led to a further reduction of basic green steps like reusing and recycling as well. 

India too is going through a major environmental crisis with more and more previously protected or maintained areas coming under the threat of deforestation. The Dibang valley being a major example of the same. It has some of the rarest flora and fauna of the world and yet is being considered for deforestation, this is especially chilling given the numerous links that have been found between new viruses and climate change inducing activities like large scale deforestation. 

    Source: Science Mag

With steps like easing up the Environmental Impact Assessment and Dibang Valley deforestation India could experience a huge setback in the progress made against climate change. 

Now more than ever India needs to push itself to focus on sustainable energy and material alternatives which would help accelerate the progress and give the country a fighting chance against the combined impact of COVID-19 and climate change.  

Climate change is an invasive problem with an impact on every minute aspect of life from international conflicts to the very psyche of humans. But two essential components affected by climate change and global warming are: Land and Humans. So the ball is literally in our court and how we move decides how mankind survives 200 years down the lane. 

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