Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

Protecting the Global Commons:



The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) reaffirms the sovereign rights of the states over their biological resources with three well defined objectives in form of conservation of biological diversity,the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

The thrust of CBD has been largely responsible for not only highlighting the concerns of those societies who have been largely dependent upon the common natural resources but also the associated local institutions responsible for managing common property resources and securing the livelihoods of the ecosystem people.

But the processes of economic development over past fifty years at the cost of the undervalued ecological systems have transformed the objectives of the CBD in form of critical challenges. The findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment stresses that over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

In the textual context of ‘Global Commons’ the biodiversity per se has not remained as the common heritage of the mankind due to its sovereign nature as defined by the CBD. But at the national level irrespective of the hemisphere issues remain common making biodiversity as a case for Global Commons. The protected areas are becoming the last resorts for magnificent wildlife. The ecosystems such as grasslands, rocky plateaus, meadows, wetlands etc. are increasingly been perceived as wastelands by ignoring their ecological roles and values. The economic frameworks to value the components of the biodiversity such as ecosystems, species and genes remain inadequate to recognize the contribution of the biodiversity for national accounting. The traditional conservation systems such sacred groves, community conservation areas remain largely unrecognized as management systems. Thus in the context of biodiversity the theme Global Commons leaves us with common issues such as

a) The perceived threats due to the loss of biodiversity in form of reduced provisional services such as drying up of water sources, exhaustion of medicinal plants, etc. The overall reduction in the provisioning services would have cascading impacts on health of people, poverty and food security. The lack of understanding the regulatory services provided by the ecosystems such as mangroves as a buffer against the Tsunamis, coral reefs for breeding fish stock, etc. may lead to further devastation. The non recognition of cultural bondage of the society with the natural systems is resulting into the intangible loss to the people and the biological resources

b) The national commitments to the international conventions on biodiversity such as CBD, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Ramsar (Convention on Wetlands), etc. require an awakened audience at the national level for implementation.

c) The opportunities such as Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, REDD plus and Green Development Mechanisms provide a hopeful scenario for addressing the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable utilization and securing the livelihoods.

The platform of DSDS envisages flagging these concerns, bringing on board the stakeholders to pledge for corrective and necessary actions.

Dr Yogesh Gokhale,
Fellow, Earth Science and Climate Change

India, a country of 1.2 billion people is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with 8% annual growth over the decade.

However, food security has always been a challenge for us and even today ? 40% of the Indian children remain chronically malnourished. In some areas the hunger related statistics are even more startling, for instance in Madhya Pradesh two-thirds of children under 5 years are malnourished, a rate higher than most countries of sub-Saharan Africa. In recent years per capita food availability has declined in the region. For example in 2008, India produced 436 grams of food grains per person per day, a drop from 445.3 in 2006.

Starting from mid 1960s, India like many other countries in the region reaped benefits of Green Revolution technology and emerged as a food sufficient nation. Indian farmers could grow 70 million tonnes of wheat in 1999 compared to the meager 12 million in 1960. Like any other technology, Green Revolution also came at a cost; the varieties developed demanded relatively higher amounts of water, fertilizers, pesticides resulting in receding ground water levels, salinity build up in soil, soil erosion, and contamination of ground water with fertilizers and pesticides. Further, like for any other technology, the fatigue in terms of productivity was visible since 1990s.

Unfortunately, in the last few years, investments in agricultural research have declined and farm sizes have considerably reduced, the average today being less than 2 hectares. Further, the farm growth rates have been pathetically low over last many decades, in the process widening the economic gap between farming communities and those in other professions. The subject is further complicated as farmers have lost risk taking capacity as they cannot afford to invest in new technologies especially when we are not ready with the other instruments of micro financing, crop insurance, etc. The extension system should also be more proactive, disseminating information about new technologies, which are evolving at a much faster pace.

In the recent years, food prices have skyrocketed by at least 20% resulting in many of the poorest countries unable to afford to buy food. Even the laborers who till the land cannot afford two courses of meals and many of them are under raising debt. The projects made by many nations of being surplus in food production is just an illusion as large proportions of existing population cannot afford to buy food at prevailing prices.

The mounting population pressures, declining per capita availability of land and water and fear of further decline in productivity due to climate change are the main challenges forcing scientists and policy makers to develop innovative technologies and creating an enabling environment for their adaptation. This also calls for larger investments in infrastructure, be it granaries for staple crops; electricity supply for cold stores; improved road infrastructure for transportation of perishables or food processing. The conventional technologies must be supplemented with newer tools so as to increase food productivity at much faster pace; ensure that agricultural activities are sustainable and impact the environment the least. We must ensure that every farmer anywhere in the world is able to produce nutritious and safe food at a competitive price that is affordable by the fellow citizens.

Dr Vibha Dhawan
Executive Director (Adv. Biotech.)
Biotechnology & Bioresources

Twenty years since Rio, we are still working towards a workable management of the global commons. Forests were an inherent part of both the biodiversity and climate change conventions adopted at Rio in 1992.

Despite the failure to reach a specific forest convention, Rio did result in the Forest Principles – the “Non-legally binding authoritative statement of principles for a global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests”. In any case, the Rio Declaration and the Forest Principles, in particular, led to the establishment of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) in 2000. The Forum adopted the landmark Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests on 28 April 2007.

Recognizing that forests and sustainable forest management can contribute significantly to sustainable development, poverty eradication and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, the UN General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests.

As important to protect the tropical forests as global commons for mitigating climate change (as deforestation and forest degradation represent a major source of greenhouse gas emissions) is to conserve them as wildlife habitat or, indeed, as biodiversity habitats. It was in the same vein the UN General Assembly had declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.

It should be noted that while the Forest Principles at Rio were agreed upon, they were found to be weak on account of US refusal to go along with any binding commitments in the climate treaty. While the industrial nations set out wanting a binding forest convention, the developing nations resisted having the forests as the focus of carbon sequestration rather than the limiting of carbon emissions by the North. Not to mention their fear of loss of national sovereignty; they were still prepared to sign away a part of the sovereignty (by setting aside part of their forests) in return for increased aid that was not forthcoming. Also, while the developing world demanded a greater share of the economic benefits arising from the use of resources within their boundaries, the developed world became increasingly apprehensive about the accelerating rate of biodiversity loss and its global consequence, e.g., the climate change effect of tropical deforestation. While the situation 20 years on has improved in terms of UNFF and Bali Action Plan, among others, the developing world would still need to be adequately compensated for their efforts at maintaining global ecosystem services of forests – an issue that needs urgent attention in light of their very legitimate development aspirations. Rio strongly added the development dimension to the environment and wildlife issues of Stockholm. Rio+20 would have to further add an economic angle to the debates.

Mr Soumitri Das
Earth Science and Climate Change

Over the last four decades or so, several agreements have been signed to deal with environmental issues. As a matter of fact, there is not even unanimity on the number of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) that exist today as varying methodologies led to different numbers.

However most studies agree there are more than 500 MEAs. While most of these are regional, some of them are truly global in nature. The proliferation of MEAs has also led to a growing number of MEA secretariats. However, in spite of the considerable increase in institutional, human and financial resources for promotion of sustainable development, the world is becoming more and more unequal and the environmental quality continues to deteriorate despite environmental quality achievements in a few areas. Environment is probably the second most common area of global rule-making after international trade. Interestingly, many of the regional and bilateral trade agreements also have environmental provisions, which by virtue of the nature of the agreements are also binding. However, little is known if such provisions are enforced or if they have created any impacts on the environment.

In recent years, concerns have been expressed in several quarters that the global institutional architecture for sustainable development is quite fragmented and too weak for effectiveness. Hence, there is a call for strengthening the global institutional architecture on sustainable development, including creation of a single agency. However, this is not a panacea. When we talk about the weakness of global environmental governance or lack of its effectiveness, implicitly it is based on the premise that these MEAs have failed to achieve their goals. It may be argued that such lack of effectiveness is due to the fact that most environmental agreements are not binding but declaratory in nature. But the question remains, will making them binding make any difference? After all the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol are binding, but still some members did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which includes many of those who swear by it could not live up to its commitments.<.p>

Even the binding environmental agreements are not really “binding” in the sense the trade agreements are called binding. In trade agreements, in case of violations, there are affected parties that can be clearly established and they would bring the case for dispute settlement and the violators may be penalized. But in case of environmental agreements, damages are often long term and affected parties are not easy to establish. Moreover, for many of the violations, when the damage is caused to the local environment, the affected parties are local people and hence they are supposed to be dealt with within a nation’s domestic judicial system. Hence, it has to be recognized that the efficacy of global environmental governance will ultimately depend on implementation not at the global but at domestic levels.

Arguably, there are some potential benefits for having a multi-focal institutional architecture as opposed to a single agency with an overarching mandate. One obvious benefit of such a system could be lower costs of failure. In case of a single agency, if there is any failure would involve high costs. In case of a multi-focal system with several agencies, it is unlikely that all of them will fail equally at the same time. Agenda 21 that came out of the Rio Summit in 1992, stated the overall objective of the institutional arrangements as “the integration of environment and development issues at national, sub-regional, regional, and international levels, including in the United Nations system institutional arrangements.” Chapter 38 of Agenda 21 broadly defined the division and areas of responsibilities within the UN System. It also recommended continued active and effective participation of non-governmental organizations, the scientific community and the private sector, as well as local groups and communities, in the implementation of Agenda 21.

While dealing with enforcement, compliance or effectiveness of the institutional architecture, first the primary reasons need to be understood for environmental performance not being satisfactory particularly in developing countries. In many developing countries, environmental performance standards are not high enough, primarily because of their low financial and technical capabilities and access to modern technologies. Hence, the question that arises is: Has the institutional architecture been good enough to ensure adequate finance and technical capabilities and transfer of technologies to developing countries? Given the geo-political compulsions, the institutional architecture cannot be “enforcement” oriented. Attempts to make it enforcement oriented may lead to a situation where countries can shy away from making commitments at the international level. Hence, the effectiveness of MEAs or global governance of environment will depend on political will of nations, particularly in the developed world.

Mr Nitya Nanda
Resources, Regulation & Global Security

Global natural resource commons include global fossil fuel supplies; the global climate and ocean and the “services” they provide to humanity; and air and water quality at large geographical scales and are being threatened with degradation as a result of collective human activity.

Increased economic access and changing demographics particularly the emergence of a new “middle class” which is the fastest growing segment of the population in the developing world has resulted in distinctive lifestyles, consumption patterns and social identity that is breaking down the boundaries in standards and aspirations and making a profound, and many a times irreversible, mark on the planet’s shared resources- the global commons.

Current generations are ignoring their responsibility to its future generations and other species and many examples are available of the consequences of their unsustainable lifestyles that are causing serious ecological damage including those to the global commons which will eventually undermine social and economic development. To give an example, the changing food consumption patterns and the underlying agricultural production processes are accounting to a significant degree for global environmental pressures, including land use changes, water use, biodiversity loss, and even climate change through methane emissions. Further, the energy intensive lifestyles are causing a rise in greenhouse gas emissions which adversely affect the atmosphere that we live in. There is a need for the global community to recognize the damage to the global commons that is resulting from the increase in their resource use, and greenhouse gas emissions from the scale of the infrastructure needed for every aspect of their lifestyle choices- energy, housing, transport to education and health care.

However any endeavor towards the path of sustainable development will require this damage to be controlled and the lifestyles to change to ways that encourage informed and compassionate use of the global commons. From a sustainability perspective, damaging the global commons damages not only the natural capital, but also affects the entire gamut of ecosystem services, and the interdependent web of life that constitutes the planet’s ecological life support system. There is significant amount of research that has been done on the use and misuse of the commons, but the impact that the unsustainable lifestyles can have on the global commons needs to be examined and the average citizens need to be made aware of these impacts. No individual, organization, or nation-state has the “right” to damage these entities. Attention needs to be focused on reducing the pressure on global commons that is being generated by unsustainable lifestyles and consumption patterns combined with the goal of minimizing depletion and reducing pollution.

Dr Shilpi Kapur
Associate Fellow
Resources, Regulation & Global Security

Twenty years since Rio, we are still struggling to develop a world with equitable and sustainable energy access utilizing the global commons.

Around 1.4 billion people, representing around 20% of the total global population, continue to live in darkness. And if we map these numbers, they are mostly from low income or lower middle income households in the global South especially sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. While, it is a fact that positive contribution of electricity to the Human Development Index is strongest for the first kilowatt-hour, i.e. the bottom of pyramid population is most likely to benefit from even minimal electricity inputs, still, they continue to be cut-off from the global economic opportunities and progress. With no electricity access, these people are also deprived from undertaking any productive activities which can result in opportunities for enhancing the local economy and adequate money flow to the households. And without development of local capital, financial and social, they continue to remain in darkness - a virtual trapping in the vicious cycle of energy poverty and deprivation.

While the global North has attained their current economic progress and access to modern forms of energy following an (unsustainable) approach leading to the current situation of anthropogenic climatic changes, vast sections of the global South continues to be deprived of the basic energy needs. We have to provide the have-nots the benefits of electricity to develop a world with energy equity, and at the same time have to ensure that this is done through sustainably exploiting the global commons, for our coming generations to lead a decent and healthy life. This calls for a paradigm shift at the way we exploit our energy resources for providing access to modern forms of energy to all – from a non-renewable to a renewable way – with the global North bringing in the state-of-art technologies and finances for enhancing energy access at all levels, (i) basic human needs for the economically challenged population; (ii) productive usage for those have it now, albeit in minimal quantity, and (iii) modern societal needs, for ensuring sustainable development.

For vast majority of the ‘energy poor’ global South population, energy need is in kilowatt and not in megawatt. A large scale adoption of decentralised clean energy options, that can sustainably utilise the abundant renewable energy base of the global south, could probably ensure energy access in a sustainable way and contribute to removal of poverty and deprivation. The decentralised generation is not governed exclusively by economic considerations but also is respectful to social upliftment, justice and democratic principles. In TERI, the issue is addressed through its “Lighting a Billion Lives” campaign, which displaces kerosene and paraffin lamps with environment friendly solar lighting devices, thereby facilitating education of children; providing better illumination and kerosene smoke free indoor environment for women to do household chores; and providing opportunities for livelihoods both at the individual and village level. While basic energy access is created through a clean technology, the local economy is also strengthened by provisioning of these lanterns to generate livelihoods for the resource poor.

‘Energy for all’ is not included as MDGs, however, there is no denial on the importance of access to energy to achieve the MDGs. What we need now is to debate how holistically we view the issue of energy access and energy supply and at the same time addresses this critical determinant without compromising on our future ability to sustain the economic progress in all global regions, utilizing the global commons, to have a World with Equity.

Mr Debajit Palit
Decentralised Electricity Solutions

Science and technology can play a dual role towards protecting the global commons, which refer to natural resources that are un-owned by either one person or state, may cross national boundaries and in which altercations can have global impacts and implications.

These include the earth’s natural endowments such as atmosphere, oceans, biodiversity and space. Firstly science and technology can facilitate or aid approaches that allow for their utilization in a sustainable fashion. Besides this, technologies can also be developed to mitigate the degradation of these resources. The ability of scientific research and development to contribute to sustainable development has been articulated on several occasions from as early on as in the 1987 in Brundtland Commission's report and later in Agenda 21 that materialized from United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Science and Technology’s role in sustainability issues was also the highlight at the discussions at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg in 2002.

Technologies that protect global commons are for example those that can help attenuate global warming and destruction of the ozone layer as well as reduce fossil fuel use. These range from air pollution control systems to renewable energy technologies such as photovoltaics, wind energy and biohydrogen. Technology interventions that improve the efficiency of fuel use in transport systems and reduce energy consumption in buildings are other illustrations of sustainable science. On the other hand rain water harvesting systems, waste water treatment facilities help efficiently conserve surface and ground water systems by reducing the magnitude of water use and maintaining the quality of water systems. Biodiversity protection can be enabled through investing in ecological sciences research that examines functioning of ecosystems as well as biotechnology tools such as tissue culture and gene banks. Other strategies such as information technology based techniques for establishing biodiversity databases and modeling species distribution etc. are also being availed to conserve biodiversity. Ecofriendly microbial based remediation technologies have also been utilized to protect marine life and ecosystems in the face of oil spill disasters.

While it is clear that sustainability science has a key role to play in safeguarding global resources in various ways, much needs to be done to effectively utilize science and technology for this purpose. First and foremost especially in developing countries, there is a need to orient R&D endeavors towards development challenges in ways that are relevant to policy making. Furthermore it is also essential that a transdisciplinary approach is cultivated to address the problem of the global commons since global environmental problems are complex and necessitate the involvement of various scientific disciplines (natural, physical, engineering and social sciences) for developing solution oriented interventions. Lastly environmental challenges that assume global proportions invariably originate from complex interactions between humans, their social milieu and the ecosystem and moreover also need to be tackled at local levels. Therefore institutional frameworks within the science and technology domain must make its boundaries porous to accept and acknowledge the role and expertise of other stakeholders and use a participatory approach to development and diffusion of interventions in society.

Dr Shilpanjali Sarma
Associate Fellow
Energy Environment Technology Development

Atmosphere refers to a layer that surrounds the Earth and consists of mixture of gases having a total mass of about 5.10 x 1018kg.

It extends from the surface to thousands of kilometers above sea level before thinning out in outer space. With almost three quarters of atmosphere lying in first few kilometers, it is not only important for sustainability of life on the surface of Earth but also protecting it from the harmful ultra violet rays from the Sun. With radiations from Sun driving the regimes of atmosphere at climate and weather scales, the complex and highly dynamic interactions between atmosphere and ocean coupled with complex terrestrial and aquatic biological processes underlines the importance of atmosphere.

Being one of most important global commons it has been always open to risk of not being protected by any nation. This risk has now progressed into a warning as since pre-industrial times, the concentrations of harmful greenhouse gases most of which are attributed to anthropogenic causes, have considerably increased in the atmosphere which has very strongly impacted towards an increase in the global temperatures. The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported warming trends of 0.65 ± 0.15oC for the last 50 year (1956 – 2005) period. Any forcing to the atmosphere has an effect on its constituents and feedback mechanisms which in turn results in changes in climate responses. The climate change has varied environmental, biological, economic and social consequences due to the close linkages between climate and global ecosystems. Numerous studies on climate change have brought out the adverse direct and indirect effects on human health, impacts on agricultural systems and inhabitable zones across the world. Changes in global climate are also associated with changes in precipitation patterns, distribution of climatic parameters, sea level rise and other parameters in hydrological cycle.

Unlike other global commons - the oceans, outer space and Antarctica, for which an overarching body of international law viz. Law of the Sea Convention of 1982, Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and Antarctic Treaty of 1959 are established, for atmosphere no law is currently in existence. Though UN bodies like UNEP (United Nation Environment Programme) have published several reports on protection of the environment and the sustainable utilization of natural resources but there is relatively little mention made of the atmosphere in international law. Hence, urgent measures should be undertaken for implementation of the outcomes from the relevant international conventions like the UNCED . There is a strong need to build monitoring capabilities, research & development, institutional capacities and encourage information exchange. The developed world in view of their favorable technical, financial and economic standing should take the lead in addressing various concerns and providing assistance to developing countries for the same.

The use of atmosphere as an unlimited dump for humankind’s continuous abuse is no longer possible without serious consequences. Hence, it’s high time that steps should be taken forward to sufficiently protect this resource.

Mr Saurabh Bhardwaj
Associate Fellow,
Centre for Global Environment Research

A lot is being said about the global commons especially in the wake of the forthcoming International conference, Rio + 20 scheduled at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 4-6, 2012.

This United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development hopes to strengthen further the global call for Protection of Global Commons. Considered as the basis of human survival and growth, global commons is a wealth shared amongst different nations. Though it is an inheritance we have received, it is also a legacy we will be passing to our next generations.

Some of the growing global concerns have significant overlaps between sectors such as environment, social, economic and ecological. Hence a global concern is on the rise since our global economic system is now in grave crisis, which in turn is also threatening the entire planet, its institutions and species.

Youth not only inherit the responsibility of looking after the Earth, but are becoming more and more aware of the problems facing the earth due to environmental pollution and degradation. The specific interests of youth need to be taken fully into account in the participatory process on environment and development in order to safeguard the future sustainability of any actions taken to improve the environment. Hence it is a timely and befitting strategy to channelize the youth energy to maximize and benefit the growing global concern on ‘global commons’.

It is required that a meaningful dialogue is conducted between the youth community and government at all levels and mechanisms established that permit youth access to information and provide them with the opportunity to present their perspectives on government decisions.

Collective youth action brings together the finest minds and the leading thinkers of the world to focus attention on the challenge of sustainable development as it relates to current trends at the global, regional, and local levels. If youth power is brought on board along with the talents of leaders from government, bilateral and multilateral development organizations, business and industry, and civil society, solutions can be articulated that will be increasingly important in a world with major threats such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and damaged ecosystems, along with of large-scale hunger and malnutrition, extensive disease, and physical suffering.

Youth comprise nearly 30% of the world's population. The involvement of today's youth in decision-making and in the implementation of programs is critical to the long-term success of Agenda 21. Enhancing the role of youth and actively involving them in the protection of the environment and the promotion of cultural and social development is the basis for positive action. They are the catalysts for change and the single most important influence in any family. Sensitization of public through youth has always been an effective exercise. An opportunity to express themselves along with guidance and information can empower them to find solutions not only for themselves but for the society too. Youth are well equipped with skills involving community mobilisation and networking activities, which are handy in designing awareness generation campaigns.

TERI has initiated several projects and activities with the aim of providing today’s youth with a secure and healthy future. The overall focus of these programs is to provide a ‘quality’ environment with improved standards of living. Maximum engagement of youth is sought through thematic projects that empower the youth so that they influence and catalyze environmental improvement through effective resource management initiatives, both at the local and global levels. All projects are participatory in nature with adequate representation of youth at all stages of implementation—planning, execution, and monitoring.

Some unique initiatives through youth involvement are:
• Create awareness to initiate action that would create a cleaner, healthier environment in the local communities
• Develop, initiate and provide guidance for youth campaigns
• Develop training capsules and resource material to guide youth to take appropriate positive action
• Ensure multiplier effect to reach out to maximum number of people

One such event organized by TERI annually is YUVA (Youth unite for Voluntary action). The First YUVA Meet on ‘climate change’, held in 2009, witnessed participation from approximately 150 youth from across India. The Second Meet in the series was on “Understanding climate change through the social glass” held in February 2010. YUVA Meet 2011, the third in the series was held on 1-2 February 2011 on the theme ‘Road to global sustainability via local initiatives’. Attended by around 200 participants coming from 59 colleges and universities from 14 states of India and 12 international universities, the meet enabled the youth to share their ideas and initiatives and enhanced their understanding on concepts related to sustainability and inter linkages between local knowledge and global sustainability. The theme for YUVA Meet 2012 is ‘Conserving Global Commons: Transforming Knowledge Into Action’.

Ms Livleen Kahlonh

World Sustainable Development Forum World Business Council for Sustainable Development BCSD India BCSD India Earth Charter Initiative Climate & Development Knowledge Network