The end of 2014 is actually the beginning of a process to decide the most important factor to save the earth from the perils of human-induced climate change.
The upcoming year will witness finalisation of an international treaty that will mandate the rich nations and emerging economies to cut down on their carbon dioxide emission so that global warming does not cross the 2°C guard rail, imposed by the UN inter-governmental panel on climate change.
At the recently held Lima climate summit, all nations agreed that intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) will lie at the core of the next legally binding emission cut treaty, which will be adopted at the Paris climate change summit in December 2015.
Everyone will have to submit their INDC at the earliest so that the UN secretariat can prepare a synthesis report by November 1. The report will tell the world if the cuts are enough or if the rich nations have to do more to prevent the dangerous consequences of climate change.
Since emission cut is intricately linked to economics, finalisation of the INDC will be a critical challenge for India.
Being one of the world’s top emitters, India is under pressure on the INDC composition though the government made it clear that besides mitigation (emission cuts), adaptation measures (long-term plans), too, would be a part of INDC as India cannot compromise on poverty alleviation.
On the domestic front, the NDA government would have to decided on the future of Western Ghats–one of the world’s foremost biodiversity hot spots–as 2014 went by without the government determining if developmental activities are allowed in the Western Ghats.
The Narendra Modi government, however, rejected the recommendations of an expert panel headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil on protection of Western Ghats.
Instead, it said it would go by the report of another expert committee, led by space scientist K Kasturirangan that moved away from the tough stand taken by the Gadgil panel.
The Kasturirangan panel recommended not to have any commercial activity in 37 per cent areas, which comes to around 60,000 sq km. As several states objected even to that, the government asked the states to carry out a survey.
Kerala was the first to complete it. Others sought time citing monsoon as the reason for the delay. They were asked to finish it by December 15 after which the central government would take a decision.
Six green laws, which were being seen as the main roadblock to the government's development agenda, were also reviewed in 2014. They are: The Indian Forest Act, 1927; The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; The Air(Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977.
A high-level panel that examined the laws found that compliance with environmental standard is poor because the punishment provisions are ridiculously low and cumbersome. The state pollution control boards do not have adequate legal authority.
The panel proposed a fresh law with the concept of “utmost good faith” to ensure that project applicants are responsible legally for their statements and would be severely penalised for any deliberate falsehood.
In the new year, the environmentalists will eagerly wait for the NDA government's decision.