The birth of eco-awareness
It was in the 90s that the world at large realised the climate crisis, and mitigative measures are being taken since then.
It is heartening to know that India is among the leading nations today where much discussion happens around the environmental crisis we are facing. However, we were not among the early thought leaders, at least not until the 90s. The two decades, viz., 60s and 70s, produced many books and scientific reports in the west, so much so that the phrase ‘sustainable development’ first appeared in a public document in 1980 by the World Conservation Strategy.
It was then defined as ‘the integration of conservation and development to ensure that modifications to the planet do indeed secure the survival and well-being of all people.’
Though highlighting environmental issues was not welcomed by all, it paved the way for setting up of World Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED), chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1983. Its epoch making report of 1987, popularly called as Brundtland Report, defined sustainability as ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, a line most often quoted since then. Incidentally, one of the authors of the report, Nitin Desai, is an Indian.
Many observations of the report are true even today, like endemic poverty is prone to ecological catastrophes; equity is important, hence the poor should get their fair share of resources; the affluent need to adopt lifestyles within the planet’s ecological means; painful choices have to be made; sustainable development must rest on political will and such others.
During the 80s, environmental issues had a low profile, despite books like Silent Spring, Limits to Growth, Small is Beautiful or the 1972 Stockholm U.N. conference which preceded the decade.
Also, the cold war between U.S. and USSR nearly ended, proliferating a certain kind of western lifestyle worldwide, creating environmental concerns.
Rapid improvements in technology and connectivity across nations meant increased consumption and waste generation.
This encouraged privatisation, reduced budget for social causes, opening the markets to imports and many such others further leading to resource consumption.
Fortunately, the Montreal Protocol of 1987 made it mandatory on nations to reduce major ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons; the 1990 report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned against the rise of global average temperature 1.5 to 4.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels and the need for 60% reduction in carbon emissions from the then levels to stabilise the climate.
However, many developing nations including India, felt environmental protection is an obligation for the rich, who have been undervaluing and overexploiting resources.
It was in the 90s that the world at large realised the climate crisis and the awareness is continuing since then. Today of course, nearly everyone accepts that human action is causing climate action, which should make us think.