India- the Global Hosts for WED 2011: A Prelude

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on 22 February 2011 at Nairobi (Kenya) announced that India, with one of the fastest growing economies in the world that is embracing the process of a transition to a Green Economy, will be for the first time ever the global host of World Environment Day 2011 (WED) on 5 June. The WED will be celebrated across the world under the theme 'Forests: Nature at Your Service' which underscores the intrinsic link between quality of life and the health of forests and forest ecosystems. 2011 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Forests; and World Environment Day this year will reinforce this global concern with the official tagline - Forests: Nature at Your Service.
Mumbai and Delhi, the two most progressive cities, will be the venue for this year's global celebration, with a myriad of activities spanning several days to inspire Indians and people around the world to take action for the environment. The celebrations in India on 5th June will be part of thousands of events that will take place around the globe. WED 2011 will emphasize how individual actions can have an exponential impact, with a variety of activities ranging from school tree-planting drives to community clean-ups, car-free days, photo competitions on forests, bird-watching trips, city park clean-up initiatives, exhibits, green petitions, nationwide green campaigns and much more.
According to Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, "Over close to the 40-year history of WED, India's cities and communities have been among the most active with a myriad of events undertaken across the country each and every year- so it is only fitting that this rapidly developing economy is the host in 2011".  "From its manufacturing of solar and wind turbines to its Rural Employment Guarantee Act which underwrites paid work for millions of households via investments in areas ranging from water conservation to sustainable land management, foundations are being laid towards a fundamental and far reaching new development path," he added.
"India's offer to host WED is another expression of India's strong commitment to work with the global community for sustainable development. This event will serve as the inauguration of a series of events leading up to the hosting of the 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It will also flag off the celebrations of the international decade for biodiversity. This will in addition signal India's commitment to the biomass economy so dependent on the sustainability of our natural resources," said Dr. T. Chatterjee, Secretary for Environment and Forests, Government of India.
One reason as to why India has been awarded to host this year WED is because it is a country of 1.2 billion people who continue to put pressure on forests especially in densely populated areas where people are cultivating on marginal lands and where overgrazing is contributing to desertification. On the other hand, while the socio-economic pressures on the country's forests are tremendous, India has instituted a tree-planting system to combat land-degradation and desertification, including windbreaks and shelterbelts to protect agricultural land. India has also officially joined the billion tree planting campaign.
In conserving its critical ecosystem, India has successfully introduced projects that track the health of the nation's plants, animals, water and other natural resources, including the Sunderbans - the largest deltaic mangrove forest in the world, and home to one of India's most iconic wildlife species; the tiger.
India has also launched a compensatory afforestation programme under which any diversion of public forests for non-forestry purposes is compensated through afforestation in degraded or non-forested land. The funds received as compensation are used to improve forest management, protection of forests and of watershed areas. Moreover, a government authority has been created specifically to administer this programme.
This is underlined by India's introduction of the Clean Energy Fund into its national budget which provides subsidies for green technology and has been the basis for a National Action Plan on Climate Change which sets specific targets on issues such as energy efficiency and sustaining the Himalayan eco-system. India is currently planning one of the largest green energy projects in the world that will generate 20,000 megawatts of solar energy and 3,000 megawatts from wind farms on 50,000 acres in Karnataka in southwest India. The first phase of the US$50 billion project will start next year.
India's  role  in global mitigation efforts  is  informed by  its position as one of  the  largest aggregate emitters of GHG but with one of  the  lowest per capita emission  rates.  The government has adopted a stance of 'common but differentiated responsibility' to affirm  India's commitment  to combating climate change as a  responsible global citizen,  but  only  as  part  of  a  globally  coordinated  approach  that  recognizes  the responsibility of developed nations  to  lead  the  response. However, with the changing geo-political and global economic scenario, any legally binding international environmental treaty could not take place without the mandate of China and India, the two emerging economies and the future largest emitter of GHGs.
India  is  confronted  with  the  challenge  of  sustaining  rapid  economic  growth  amidst  the increasing global threat of climate change. Evidence has shown that climate change will affect the distribution and quality of India's natural resources, which will ultimately threaten the livelihoods of the most poor and marginalized sector of the population who are closely tied to India's natural resource base. More than 56% of workers are engaged in agriculture and allied sectors, while many others earn their living in coastal areas through tourism or fishing; indeed most of the poorest people live in rural areas and are almost completely reliant on natural resources for their food and shelter (UN Human Development Report 2008).
Although  agriculture  only contributes  around  20%  of  India's GDP,  its  importance  in  the  country's economic, social, and political fabric goes well beyond this indicator. Rural areas are still home to some  72%  of  India's  1.2  billion people, most  of whom  are poor  and marginalized  and  rely  on agriculture as  their main source of  income  (World Bank 2009). The effect of the rising temperatures across the Earth's surface will lead to changes in average temperatures, rainfall patterns and monsoon timings which have the potential to undermine human development in India and across the world.
By awarding India the privilege of hosting the WED 2011, the global community is only placing in India’s hand the opportunity as well as the responsibilities of taking a proactive role towards combating climate change and to undergo a safe transition from conventional developmental strategy to clean development mechanism, from GDP oriented growth paradigm to a more efficient green economy.  Inaction is a luxury that the world community can no longer afford; and through this WED, planet earth is calling on us to go green and act green.
Conserve to Sustain!
Issued by,
Green Foundation Wokha.