Good governance of land, forests and oceans key to achieving SDGs

The attainment of a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends on how efficiently we manage our land and forests.

One of the key resources that enables sustenance of life is land. To help put things in perspective, almost 12 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are related to land, directly or indirectly. Thus, efficient land governance is pivotal for sustainable development of society and to enable land in providing tailwind to the said goals. There are many ways through which land can become an enabler and accelerator for the SDGs and we need to come up with strategies for the same.

Land governance

Speaking at the World Sustainable Development Summit, Dr Naresh C Saxena, Former Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, talked about issues pertaining to policy and laws and stressed on the need to keep diligent land records. Even though computerisation is needed, he said there is a need to go a step further, and perhaps legalise leasing, given that it is currently illegal in most states. Leasing, according to Dr Saxena, helps in enhancing equity and productivity for the rural sectors.

Another key aspect of the land governance in India is that employment opportunities in the non-agricultural sectors is more vis-à-vis the agricultural sector, and thus provisions are needed to allow agricultural lands to be used for non-agricultural purposes, which will in turn enable the farmers in selling their land for reasonable rates. Dr Saxena also underscored the need to monitor whether or not women are becoming land owners.

According to a study by the World Bank in 2015, urban land records are in a terrible shape. Echoing this sentiment, Hukum Singh Meena, Joint Secretary, Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), said land records are being maintained by local community and not the state government, leading to a lack of accountability and veracity, which is a major cause of concern. The community also is not ready to share the records with the government for the fear of losing autonomy. Meena cited conclusive titling as a plausible solution and mentioned that it is being piloted currently. He added that the government has already drafted a conclusive titling policy in four Union Territories. Already implemented in Chandigarh, it is expected to be implemented in two or three more states in the next few years. He also emphasised the need to computerise the land record and registration process and to introduce some kind of automation to minimise human intervention.

Forest degradation and its ramifications

Moving towards the issue of forest cover, Dr Saxena said despite the rising forest cover in India, there exists a lack of sustainability, as the increasing forests are mostly man-made plantations. Dr Jitendra V Sharma, Director, Forestry and Biodiversity Division, TERI, also reiterated the point as he talked about the forest degradation and linked it to SDGs. He cited how a large part of the population is directly dependent on forest produce for livelihood, which is a major reason for forest degradation. Jigmet Tapka, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, also added that the current focus is mainly on short term production of crops, which is the main perpetrator of land degradation. Harpreet Singh Arora, Urban Advisor, DFID India, cited amalgamation and land pooling as possible solutions to increasing land degradation and stressed on the need for more compact cities.

Land and its impact on oceans

Bridging land to oceans, Dr Tareq Emtairah, Director of Energy, UNIDO, remarked on the need to create an open source, integrated common framework to analyze the pathways and tradeoffs for water, energy and land use. He also stressed on integration approach for land and water nexus.

This brings us to the alarming issue of marine pollution and litter. Land plays a key role here and we need a cumulative way forward for both land and water, said Dr Emtairah.

A panel discussion on Moving Towards Cleaner Oceans emphasised that land and litter are important factors to be kept in mind if we are to keep our oceans clean.

In a panel discussion on Moving Towards Cleaner Oceans, Kia Belton, Minister-Counselor, Norwegian Embassy in India, mentioned that approx. 80 percent of ocean pollution comes from land-based sources and the solution, thus, must come from land. We currently lack a coordinated structure and there is a need for a framework for action that can support government in policy making, she said. Stressing on the importance of a closed collaboration between all parties, she said the private sector has a key role to play to come up with sustainable knowledge-based solutions.

Integration with industry

Belton’s point was reiterated by Dr Vijay Habbu, Senior Vice President, Reliance Industries Ltd, who presented a multi-pronged outlook towards industry integration into solving the issue of marine litter. He underscored the need for an integrated approach to remedial measures. He spoke about understanding the different kinds of plastics and the need to consult with professionals from the packaging industry while understanding the kind of plastic pollutants in the ocean. The focus, he said, should be on litter management. According to him, the industry needs to move from multi component plastics to single ones and industry players can help with drone technology to map coastal regions and water bodies.

Professor Richard Lampitt, National Oceanography Centre, United Kingdom, spoke about how ecosystems are under a variety of pressures from humans, with threats such as increased temperature, acidity, sea level and solid wastes like plastics on the rise. He also underlined the need to understand the risks and break them down into exposure and the harm it is causing, creating better understanding of both. According to him there are some easy solutions, like changing behavior and legislation. Some solutions, however, are expensive and complex – replacing plastic bottles with glass ones increases CO2 levels due to their weight and are thus difficult to transport. He also talked about the need for good research to gauge the risk from marine pollution. According to him, combining skills from all parts of the world can resolve issues and find solutions.

The plastic menace

Talking about plastic-based pollution, Dr K Somasunder, Scientist –G, Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), theorised that unlike nutrients that get absorbed, plastics stay in the ocean for decades. Dr M.V. Ramana Murthy, Scientist-G, Director, National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES, India) identified that rivers carry a large chunk of pollutants into the ocean. Shri Arvind Nautiyal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) focused on the government’s efforts towards curbing this menace, especially the regulation of the coastal zone. He spoke of the recent comprehensive notification on the nuances of CRZ1 A and B areas, which are closest to the shore that have strict regulations. Nautiyal said the government is also looking into sustainable development and alternate livelihoods and has identified various livelihood options such as sustainable fishing, sea grass cultivation, among others. He briefly touched upon government initiatives such as the National Coastal Mission and the BEAMS programme, that have been pivotal in curbing and mitigating marine pollution.

Need for integrated waste management

Marine pollution is a multi-faceted issue, that requires a granular understanding and hyperlocal action. As Dr Ashish Chaturvedi, Director-Climate Change, Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) rightly said, we should look at an integrated waste management authority instead of ones in silos. It is important to realize that urban local bodies are hamstrung by lack of resources, he said, and there is a need for extended/shared producer responsibility, where producers need to work with local bodies.