The 10 biggest Indian environmental stories in 2021

A modified photo of a train passing through part of the Bhagwan Mahavir shrine. Original photo: Purshi / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cochin: India has made big promises to tackle climate change on the global stage. But at home, many environmental concerns continued to emerge and reappear in 2021. Air pollution levels in the nation’s capital have not improved this year either, despite the injection of money into measures to deal with it.

India has also reported forest fires and extreme weather events. But political leaders have dismissed environmental concerns while paving the way for many infrastructure projects. And yet, the year was also hopeful: people fought for their environment in many ways. Here is a look at ten environmental developments in India that shaped the year.

1. India has set itself ambitious targets to fight climate change

In one of the most ambitious targets set by a developing country to tackle climate change, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November that India will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070. That is, the country has promised to balance all the carbon it emits by sequestering, or capturing, an equal amount. Modi also said India will achieve non-fossil energy capacity of up to 500 GW by 2030, and that 50% of the country’s energy needs will be met from renewable sources. Finally, he said India will cut its carbon emissions by a billion tonnes by 2030. But are we really ready for decarbonization? India also took a strong stance at COP26 to “phase out”, not “phase out”, coal – which energy researchers say is necessary for India’s development paradigm.

2. Poor air quality in northern India

Like every year, the air quality in New Delhi has declined during the winter months. And like every year, stubble burning was the main cause. Burning of crops in Punjab and Haryana accounted for 30-40% of pollution in October and November this year. This is despite the fact that the government has injected 2,249 crore rupees over four years for several measures aimed at preventing farmers from burning their crop waste. In March, a report by a Swiss group revealed that New Delhi was the most polluted capital in the world for the third consecutive year in 2020, based on the concentration of PM2.5 particles. But the poor air quality was not limited to the National Capital Region: Uttar Pradesh also suffered, as The science of yarn reported. The air here is so bad that residents of the state capital Lucknow could lose an average of 10.3 years of their lifespan if the pollution persists.

3. People fought for the environment

It was the year of the citizen when it comes to the struggle for environmental issues, rights and livelihoods. In September in Chhattisgarh, members of tribal communities walked 300 km to draw the country’s attention to the government opening up more portions of Hasdeo Aranya, a dense forest on which people depend for their survival and livelihoods, to l coal mining. And yet, the Center and state governments have allowed mining to continue in the region. In Goa, people are questioning the goal of three development projects that would mean cutting down more than 40,000 trees in two protected areas in the state.

4. “Develop” the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

NITI Aayog’s development plan for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has been a source of concern to activists and environmentalists throughout the year. His Rs 75,000 crore vision includes the development of a transshipment terminal with an entirely new international airport, townships and solar and gas power plants on the islands. Sociologists have said it will affect the indigenous Nicobarais and Shompen peoples. In August of this year, the Union Cabinet also approved an expenditure of Rs 11,040 crore on a proposal to expand palm oil production in India, with a push to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This can quickly backfire on the region’s fragile ecology, experts have warned.

5. Forest fires in Odisha and Mizoram

Mizoram experienced one of its worst forest fires in April. A forest fire first spotted in Lunglei District in Mizoram quickly spread to 10 other districts in the state. Preliminary reports from only six affected districts revealed that the fire destroyed about 5,700 acres of forest. In March, the Similipal Biosphere Reserve in Odisha also reported a large fire. A task force formed by the state government confirmed that the blaze had spread to 26 of the state’s 30 districts.

6. Extreme weather events

It was yet another year of extreme weather events across the country. A rare rock and ice avalanche triggered flash floods in Uttarakhand in February. More than 200 people are dead or missing. Unusually heavy rains and subsequent landslides in Uttarakhand in October caused more than 50 lives. Flooding in western Maharashtra claimed more than 250 lives and destroyed large areas of standing crops. India actually reported two of the Top 10 costliest extreme events in the world, both in May: Cyclones Tauktae, which hit the west coast and affected Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and Yaas, which left more than 1 , 5 lakh of homeless people in eastern India. Together they caused losses amounting to approximately Rs 33,472 crore in four countries. A flagship UN climate report said India should prepare for more such events in the future.

7. Several megaprojects authorized, despite a flagrant environmental concern

Several megaprojects with obvious environmental concerns are now underway, thanks to the approvals they received in 2021. The Supreme Court pleaded for “national security” in December for dismiss environmental concerns on the disputed project to extend the Char Dham motorway by 825 km in Uttarakhand. However, the judgment did not address either environmental concerns or defense needs, and is in fact counterproductive for both, The science of yarn reported. The Union Environment Ministry also twisted the facts to promote seven hydropower projects, including the 1,000 MW Tehri II dam in Uttarakhand.

8. The government has started the ball rolling for India’s first river interconnection project.

With a nod from the Union Cabinet in December, the long-standing Ken-Betwa River interconnection proposal officially moved on to planning and construction. With an allocation of Rs 44,605 ​​crore, the project is expected to last eight years. This will involve building a dam and canal to transfer water from the Ken rivers to the Betwa rivers in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Although it is a question of irrigating agricultural land and supplying drinking water to the Bundelkhand region, activists have raised questions on fallout – including the submersion of a tiger reserve and the misconception of the interconnection of rivers itself.

9. Amendments, amendments and more amendments

During the year, the Ministry of the Environment initiated changes to several laws on biodiversity and the environment. Most of them will dilute existing guarantees to varying degrees. The draft environmental impact assessment notification 2020 was already in the news at the start of the year. Between 2011 and May 2021, the Center modified it more than 330 times, Thread reported, and diluted environmental protections in place for most industrial and infrastructure projects in order to obtain prior environmental clearance.

In April and then in June, the ministry called for two expressions of interest to shortlist advisory organizations that could draft comprehensive amendments to the Indian Forestry Act of 1927. A proposal to amend the Forestry Act 1980 forests (conservation) suggested in July could allow ecotourism to ‘develop’ unchecked in forest lands. Next, the ministry suggested changes to the Biodiversity Law of 2002 in a way that favors AYUSH medical practitioners and Indian companies with foreign participation over scientists and local communities. The department also plans to play with the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

10. India is now home to the largest network of Ramsar sites in South Asia

With the Ministry of the Environment designating five wetlands – Haiderpur in Uttar Pradesh and two each in Haryana and Gujarat – as “Ramsar sites” in the past six months, India is now home to the most. large network of Ramsar sites in South Asia. Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty to which India is a signatory and which provides the framework for international cooperation to conserve and use wetlands in a meaningful way. sustainable. To enable this, Ramsar sites have strict management plans. India is currently home to 47 Ramsar sites.