Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 04 January 2023
- Protests over Eco-Friendly Zones
- The Road to Decarbonisation After the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Several farmers’ organisations and church bodies in Kerala have announced protests against the state government’s satellite survey of eco-sensitive zones, which is being conducted in accordance with a Supreme Court order.
GS Paper-3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution, and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment
What are eco-sensitive zones, and what is the recent Supreme Court decision that has sparked outrage in Kerala? Discuss. (250 Words)
What exactly are Eco-Sensitive Zones?
- According to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change’s National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016), land within 10 kilometres of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is to be designated as eco-fragile zones or eco-sensitive zones (ESZ).
- While the 10-kilometer rule is implemented as a general principle, the extent to which it is applied can vary.
- Areas larger than 10 km can also be designated as ESZs by the Union government if they contain larger ecologically significant “sensitive corridors.”
What is the purpose of Eco-Sensitive Zones?
- ESZs are designed to act as “shock absorbers” for protected areas, reducing the negative impact of certain human activities on “fragile ecosystems,” and to serve as a transition zone between areas requiring higher protection and those requiring less protection.
- The guidelines also state that the ESZs are not meant to hamper the daily activities of people living in the vicinity, but are meant to guard the protected areas and “refine the environment around them”.
Activities permitted in ESZs include:
- Prohibited activities include: o Commercial mining, sawmills, industries that pollute the environment (air, water, soil, noise, etc.), the establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, tourism activities such as hot-air balloon rides over the National Park, the discharge of effluents or any solid waste, and the production of hazardous substances.
- Regulated activities include: o Tree felling, the establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water,
- Allowed activities include ongoing agricultural or horticultural practises, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, the use of renewable energy sources, and the use of green technology in all activities.
What is the recent Supreme Court decision that has sparked outrage in Kerala?
- On June 3, a three-judge Supreme Court bench heard a PIL that sought to protect forest lands in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris but was later expanded to cover the entire country.
- The court directed all states to have a mandatory 1-km ESZ from the demarcated boundaries of every protected forest land, national park, and wildlife sanctuary in its judgement, while referring to the 2011 guidelines as “reasonable.”
- It also stated that within the ESZ, no new permanent structures or mining will be permitted.
- If the existing ESZ extends beyond the 1-kilometer buffer zone, or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, the court will rule in favour of the extended boundary.
What is the reason for the protests?
- Because of the high density of human settlements near the notified protected areas, farmer’s groups and political parties have demanded that all human settlements be exempted from the ESZ ruling.
- Some farmers are concerned that the regulations that may accompany the ESZ delineation will make farming impossible. They are concerned that they will be gradually evicted from their properties.
- The establishment of a buffer zone would result in the establishment of a parallel administrative system run by the State Forest Department.
- Once the buffer zone is notified, forest officers will call the shots and create unnecessary obstacles for farmers and settlers.
- The State Government believes that the SC’s notification will worsen the ground situation because it will harm the State’s interests while upsetting the lives of millions who live near protected areas.
- In its order, the Supreme Court directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of each State and Union Territory (UT) to compile a list of existing structures and other relevant details within the respective ESZs and submit a report within three months.
- The court stated that the states/UTs could seek the assistance of any governmental agency for satellite imaging or photography using drones in order to compile the list.
- The Kerala State Remote Sensing and Environment Centre (KSRSEC) was tasked with this task by the Kerala government.
- Report Findings: o Using satellite images, the KSRSEC report identified 49,330 existing structures, including 14,771 residential buildings and 2,803 commercial buildings.
- The KSRSEC also reported that 115 villages in Kerala would be included in the buffer zone of the state’s protected areas.
- According to its report, ESZs would cover a total area of 1,588.709 square kilometres.
- The state’s sanctuaries and national parks cover an area of 3,441.207 square kilometres.
- The assessment discovered 83 tribal settlements within the State’s ESZs.
- With several farmer organisations, Church factions, and political parties protesting the study’s ‘inaccuracy,’ the Kerala government was forced to appoint an expert committee headed by Thottathil Radhakrishnan, a former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, to conduct field verification of the report.
- For a state sandwiched between mountains and sea, any attempt to change or fine-tune the ecological regulatory mechanism is bound to elicit a volley of protests.
- In order to achieve long-term sustainable development, the states should act as trustees for the benefit of the general public in relation to natural resources.
The Ukraine conflict has disrupted the international energy market, and India will have to navigate the difficult situations of a volatile petroleum market without deviating from the “green” path toward clean energy.
GS Paper-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
India must shift its energy compass needle toward short-term energy security and long-term decarbonization. Examine. (150 words)
Why Should India Shift Its Energy Compass Needle Towards Short-Term Energy Security And Long-Term Decarbonization?
- The energy market has fragmented, and energy nationalism is driving policy.
- Even if the Ukraine conflict is resolved, Russia will be denied access to western markets for as long as President Putin is in charge, resulting in a tightening energy embrace between Russia and China.
- OPEC plus one, Saudi Arabia, as well as Russia, have stepped outside the Western orbit. Saudi Arabia has stated that it intends to pursue a “Saudi first,” non-aligned approach to international relations, including relations with the United States.
- New energy power centres are emerging around countries that have a large share of the metals, minerals, and components needed for clean energy, with China currently dominating.
Do you have any idea?
- Decarbonisation o Decarbonisation is the process of reducing the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2). Its goal is to achieve a low-emission global economy in order to achieve climate neutrality through the energy transition.
- Net-zero Emissions:
- Net-zero, also known as carbon-neutrality, does not imply that a country’s emissions would be zero. That would be gross-zero, which means reaching a state with no emissions at all, a difficult scenario to comprehend.
- As a result, net-zero refers to a state in which a country’s emissions are offset by absorption.
Is it possible for India to completely phase out coal?
- Coal will continue to be the backbone of India’s energy system for decades.
- It is without a doubt the dirtiest of fuels, but it remains one of, if not the, cheapest sources of energy.
- Furthermore, lakhs of people rely on the coal ecosystem for a living, so phasing out coal, while environmentally appealing, is not yet a macroeconomic or social possibility.
Managing the Current Energy Crisis:
- Securing a sustainable energy source: o While discounted Russian crude is an opportunistic panacea, it does not provide a long-term solution to our needs.
- In order to secure such a cover, the government must increase the productivity of its existing producing fields and allocate additional resources to access relevant enhanced oil recovery technologies.
- Establishing a long-term supply relationship: India should use its market potential to establish a long-term supply relationship with Saudi Arabia as well as an equity partnership with Iran.
- Increased strategic petroleum reserves: Strategic petroleum reserves should be increased to cover at least 30 days of consumption.
- Facilitating a smooth market mechanism: Unnecessary obstacles for public sector petroleum companies created by vigilant bodies such as CBI/CVC/CAG should be avoided so that their traders can profit from market volatility without fear.
- Pan-India gas pipeline grid: The construction of a pan-India gas pipeline grid should be accelerated.
Interim Steps Required For Balancing Livelihoods And Moving The Green Agenda Forward:
- increased R&D spending on coal gasification and carbon capture and sequestration technologies; and
- implementation of a carbon tax.
- The establishment of regulatory and monitoring mechanisms for measuring industrial carbon emissions.
- The closure of inefficient and old plants, as well as the refusal to approve any new ones.
- In the meantime, Niti Aayog, in collaboration with a group of economists and energy experts, must assess the competitiveness of coal versus solar on a full-cost basis, as energy security cannot be achieved by focusing solely on the supply and distribution sides of the equation.
Other Measures to be Included on the Policy Agenda This Year:
- Transmission grid network upgrade:
- Allocation of funds for transmission grid network upgrade to make it resilient enough to absorb “clean” electrons on an intermittent basis.
- Addressing the underlying structural issues impeding renewables scaling up:
- The repair of state distribution companies’ (discoms’) balance sheets, easing land acquisition procedures, and removing regulatory and contract uncertainties are critical.
- Failure to sort out discoms’ finances will erode trust in the power purchasing agreements (PAAs) signed between them and renewable companies.
- Mineral and chip diplomacy facilitation:
- Harnessing indigenous resources of critical metals and minerals for clean energy and developing a domestic chip industry will take decades.
- In the meantime, diplomats should secure diverse supply sources to reduce the country’s vulnerability.
- Promoting third-generation clean energy technologies:
- Promoting the development and commercialization of third-generation clean energy technologies such as hydrogen, biofuels, and modular nuclear reactors.
- Although India is not to blame for global warming, it will be among the worst affected.
- Millions of people live along its coastline. Rising sea levels will threaten their livelihoods. Melting glaciers and extreme temperatures will also affect millions.
- So, whoever is to blame, India must continue on the path of decarbonization. It cannot afford to develop first and then clean up.