Environmental pollution or simply pollution refers to undesirable changes occurring in the physical, chemical, and biological composition of natural environment consisting of air, water, and soil. Pollution also means the presence of harmful pollutants in an environment that makes this environment unhealthy to live in.

According to National Academy of Science, USA (1966), pollution is defined as, “An undesirable change in physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of water, air, and soil that may harmfully affect human, animal, and plant life, industrial progress, living conditions and cultural assets.

Pollution is also viewed as ‘an unfavorable alteration’ in the sustaining and carrying capacity of the natural environment wholly or largely by the byproducts of human activities. Natural environment has an inbuilt capacity to replenish the losses or reduction in its constituents to restore it as sustainable and healthy as required.

Ever expanding population and evolution of man into modern homo sapiens have led to rapid urbanization, industrialization and unprecedented rise in human habitations. All these human endeavors have, in turn, virtually perpetuated deforestation, loss of habitats for flora and fauna, depletion of natural resources at a large scale over the last couple of centuries, which have told upon the inherent resilience of the natural environment. As a result, natural environment continues to be undesirably polluted.


A pollutant is defined as any form of energy or matter or action that causes imbalance or disequilibrium in the required composition of natural objects such as air, water, etc. A pollutant creates damage by interfering directly or indirectly with the biogeochemical process of an organism.


Pollutants may be −

  • Natural Pollutants − Natural pollutants are caused by natural forces such as volcanic eruption and forest fire.
  • Man-made Pollutants − These refer to the release of excess amount of gases or matter by human activities. For instance, increase in the number of automobiles adds excess carbon monoxide to the atmosphere causing harmful effect on vegetation and human health.

Classification of Pollution

Different types of pollution are classified based on the part of the environment which they affect or result caused by a particular pollution. Each type of pollution has its own distinctive cause and consequences.

The major types of pollution are as follows.

  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution
  • Noise pollution
  • Soil or land pollution

Every day, every moment, we breathe polluted air and may become a victim of air pollution. It is estimated that an average adult exchanges 15 kg of air a day, in comparison to about 1.5 kg of the food consumed and 2.5 kg of water intake. It is obvious that the quantum of pollutants that enter our body through respiration would be manifold in comparison to those taken in through polluted water or contaminated food.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is one of the most widespread forms of pollution all over the world. Wind is the main agent of air pollution. It gathers and moves pollutants from one area to another, sometimes reducing the concentration of pollutants in one location, while increasing it in another.

Causes of Air Pollution

Apart from the natural causes of pollutants, as stated above, human interaction and resource utilization is perhaps adding more pollutants to the atmosphere.

  • Industrialization − Industries big or small require steam to run. The steam is produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal, coke, and furnace oil. These fuels while burning release toxic gases in large amount into the atmosphere.
  • Automobiles − To meet the demands of exploding human population, the number of automobiles is increasing at a great space. The automobile exhausts are responsible for about sixty percent of air pollution. Released carbon monoxide from the automobiles pollutes the air and harms trees and other natural vegetation. It also has ill-effects on human health.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons − Scientists are now alarmed regarding the increased concentration of chemical substances together called chlorofluorocarbon in the atmosphere. These substances are responsible for creating holes in the ozone layer causing unwanted imbalance in the heat budget. These are produced by modern gadgets such as air conditioners, refrigerators, dyers, etc.

The adverse effects of air pollution appear in the form of poor quality of air, acidic precipitation (rain, snow and hail) and deposition, and other health hazards.

The main pollutants of air are carbon dioxide (CO2 ), carbonic acid (H 2SO2), water (H2O), nitric acid (HNO3O ), and sulphuric acid (H2SO4 ).

Air pollution has harmful effects on natural vegetation and human health such as respiratory illnesses. Acidic precipitation is highly fatal for aquatic flora and fauna, monuments, and also for natural vegetation.

Air Pollution Control

Air pollution control is an onerous task as there are large number of pollutants involved in air pollution. Some of these are even difficult to detect. However, there can be some basic approaches to control air pollution. They are as follows.

Preventive Approach

It is well said that prevention is better than cure. We can prevent pollutants of air from being produced by various ways. For instance, by changing raw materials used in industry or the ingredient of fuel from conventional to non-conventional sources of energy; by maintenance of vehicles and roads and efficient transport system; by reduction in garbage burning and shifting cultivation areas; afforestation, etc.

Dispersal Approach

We can prevent air pollution by raising the heights of smokestacks in industries so as to release the pollutants high into the atmosphere.

Collection Approach

Air pollution can be controlled by designing the equipment and machinery to trap pollutants before they escape into the atmosphere. To meet the standards, automobile engines have been re-designed and new cars have been equipped with devices such as the catalytic converter, which changes the pollutants into harmless substances. Because of these new devices, air pollution from car exhaust has also been reduced.

Legislation Approach

There have been many initiatives in different countries for making laws, setting standards and norms to check air pollution and ensure quality air. All the highly industrialized countries of the world have certain legislations to prevent and control air pollution. As pollutants of air are carried by the wind from one country to another for thousands of miles, there should be global initiatives agreed upon by all countries to save the earth from the menace of air pollution.

Water pollution may be defined as alteration in physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of water, which may cause harmful effects on human and aquatic life.

Pollutants of Water

Following are some of the reasons for water pollution.

  • Disposal of sewage and sludge into water bodies such as river, streams, and lakes.
  • Inorganic compounds and minerals by mining and industrial activities.
  • Use of chemical fertilizers for agricultural purposes.
  • Synthetic organic compounds from industrial, agricultural, and domestic garbage.
  • Oil and petroleum from tankers’ accident, offshore drilling, combustion engine, etc.
  • Radioactive wastes

Water Pollution Control

  • Environmental Education − Individuals and the masses should be educated about the significance of quality of water and its impact on the economy, the society, and ecology.
  • Sewage Treatment − The household water should be treated properly to make it environmentally safe. Necessary steps should be taken to ensure that effective sewage treatment process is put in place and contaminated water doesn’t get mixed with the fresh water bodies.
  • Accountability of Industrial Units − The industrial setups should make provisions for treatment of waste materials and water, and for its safe drainage.
  • Afforestation − Planting trees can reduce the water pollution to a large extent as they check surface soil runoff by running water.
  • Soil Conservation − Soil conservation add many inorganic substances in the surface and underground water. Soil conservation is, therefore, a useful technique to reduce water pollution.
  • Reduced Use of Chemical Fertilizers − Chemical fertilizers add nitrates in water bodies. Use of compost manures can help reduce the problem of eutrophication in the water bodies.
  • Financial Support − Governments should make provisions for adequate funds to the civic bodies for water pollution control.
  • Legislation and Implementation of Stringent Environmental Laws − The need of the hour is that the government should legislate and implement strict environmental laws for the protection of water bodies, treatment of waste water, etc. The violators of such laws should be given exemplary punishment.

Noise pollution refers to any unwanted and unpleasant sound that brings discomfort and restlessness to human beings. Like air and water pollution, noise pollution is harmful to human and animal life.

Noise pollution is also an important environmental hazard, which is becoming growingly injurious in many parts of the world. Noise beyond a particular level or decibel (unit of noise) tends to become a health and environmental hazard.

Noise Pollution

Sources of Noise Pollution

  • Household appliances such as grinders, electric motor, washing machines
  • Social gatherings such as marriages and other social parties
  • Places of worship
  • Commercial activities
  • Construction activities
  • Industrial activities
  • Automobiles and transport system
  • Power generators
  • Agricultural equipment

Noise Pollution Control

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), of all the environmental pollution, noise is the easiest to control.

Noise pollution can be checked at home by −

  • Turning off sound-making appliances when they are not in use.
  • Shutting the door when noisy machines are being used.
  • Lowering the volume of appliances such as television to a desirable level.
  • Using earplugs while listening to music.

At mass level it can be checked by −

  • By planting trees in large number to create vegetation buffer zones, which absorb noise.
  • Public awareness about the need of control of noise pollution.
  • Application of engineering control techniques such as alteration and modification of design to reduce noise from equipment and machinery, and by construction of sound barriers or the use of sound absorbers in industrial and factory sites can reduce exposure to noise to a great extent.
  • Construction of institutions and hospitals away from airports, railways, and highways.
  • Improved building design may also reduce the impact of noise pollution.
  • Stringent legislations at central and state levels to check air pollution at workplaces, urban centers, etc.

Soil pollution refers to an undesirable decrease in the quality of soil, either by man-induced sources or natural sources or by both.

Soil is vital not only for the growth of plants and growing food but also cultivating raw materials for agro-based industries. Health soil is a significant prerequisite for human survival.

Causes of Soil Erosion

  • Deforestation at large scale
  • Over-grazing
  • Mining
  • Decrease in soil microorganisms
  • Excessive use of chemical fertilizers
  • Excessive use of irrigation
  • Lack of humus content
  • Improper and unscientific rotation of crops

Soil pollution leads to many harmful consequences such as decrease in agricultural production; reduced nitrogen fixation; reduction in biodiversity; silting of tanks, lakes and reservoirs; diseases and deaths of consumers in the food chain due to use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, etc.

Soil Pollution Control

  • Adoption of soil-friendly agricultural practices.
  • Use of compost manures in place of chemical fertilizers; Use of bio-fertilizers and natural pesticides help in minimizing the usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
  • Scientific rotation of crop to increase soil fertility.
  • Proper disposal of industrial and urban solid and liquid wastes.
  • Planting of trees to check soil erosion in slopes and mountainous regions.
  • Controlled grazing.
  • Reduction in the heaps of garbage and refuse.
  • The principles of three R’s − Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce − help in minimizing generation of solid waste.
  • Formulation and effective implementation of stringent pollution control legislation.
  • Improved sewage and sanitation system in urban areas.

Solid waste management refers to the collecting, treating, and disposing of solid material that is discarded or is no longer useful. Solid waste management is an important aspect of urban area management. Improper disposal of municipal solid waste can create unsanitary conditions, which can lead to environmental pollution and the outbreak of vector-borne disease.

The task of solid waste management presents complex technical challenges. They also pose various economic, administrative, and social problems which need urgent attention.

The major sources of solid waste are households; agricultural fields; industries and mining, hotels and catering; roads and railways; hospitals and educational institutions; cultural centers and places of recreation and tourism, etc. Plastic waste is also a solid waste.

Solid Waste Management

Classification of Solid Wastes

  • Municipal Waste
  • Hospital Waste
  • Hazardous Waste

Effective Solid Waste Management can be carried out in the following ways −

  • Sanitary landfills
  • Composting
  • Landfills
  • Incineration and pyrolysis (a process of combustion in the absence of oxygen)
  • Vermiculture or earthworm farming
  • Bioremediation or the use of micro-organism (bacteria and fungi)
  • Reuse, reduce, and recycle

Hazardous waste (HW) is defined as any substance, in solid, liquid or gaseous form, which has no use in future and which causes danger or is likely to cause danger to health and environment.

The hazardous waste requires to be disposed of in a secured manner in view of their characteristic properties. When HWs are not used efficiently by the waste generators, they cause severe pollution of land, surface, and ground water.

Components of Hazardous Waste Management

  • Identification of hazardous waste generation by industries and other sources.
  • Characterization of hazardous waste pertaining to physical, chemical, and general characteristics and properties pertaining to ignitability, corrosiveness, reactivity and toxicity.
  • Quantification of hazardous waste in order to facilitate safe disposal.
  • Identification of sites for disposal.
  • Environmental impact assessment should be conducted and public acceptance should be accepted for the sites.
  • Hazardous waste management rules are notified to ensure safe handling, generation, processing, treatment, package, storage, transportation, use reprocessing, collection, conversion, and offering for sale, destruction, and disposal of hazardous waste.

Proper treatment, storage prior to treatment or disposal of hazardous waste is the need of the hour. Governments should make provisions for and prepare guidelines for the industries and other hazardous waste generating sources for safe disposal or treatment of hazardous waste.

Wastewater refers to any water that is not clean or is adversely affected in quality by human-induced activities. Wastewater originates from a combination of domestic, industrial, commercial, or agricultural activities.

Wastewater treatment or management refers to the processes used to convert wastewater into an effluent that can be either returned to the water cycle with negligible environmental impact or can be reused.

Waste Water Management

The major objective of wastewater treatment is generally to allow human and industrial effluents to be disposed of without danger to human health or unacceptable damage to the natural environment.

Wastewater Treatment Process

Phase Separation − It transfers impurities into a non-aqueous phase.

Sedimentation − Sedimentation is a physical water treatment process using gravity to remove suspended solids from water. Solid particles entrained by the turbulence of moving water may be removed naturally by sedimentation in the still water of lakes and oceans.

Filtration − Suspension of fine solids may be removed by filtration through physical barriers such as coarser screens or sieves.

Oxidation − This process diminishes the biochemical oxygen demand of wastewater and may reduce the toxicity of some impurities. Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs) are a set of chemical treatment of wastewater purported to remove organic and also inorganic materials in waste water by oxidation through reaction with hydroxyl radicals.

Chemical oxidation may remove some persistent organic pollutants and concentrations remaining after biochemical oxidation.

Wastewater treatment plants are set up for effective treatment of wastewater. They may be distinguished by the type of wastewater to be treated. They are as follows.

  • Sewage treatment plants
  • Industrial wastewater treatment plants
  • Agricultural wastewater treatment plants

Climate refers to the usual weather of a place. Climate differs from season to season, from region to region. A combination of all the climates of the world is termed as the Earth’s climate.

Climate Change

Climate change refers to a change or changes in the usual weather condition found in a place or region. Changes could be experienced in the rainfall or snowfall pattern, temperature, etc. Climate change is also a change in Earth’s climate.

Climate change is now a much-discussed concept around the globe. It is because it is now experienced that the world temperature is increasing during these years. The global average surface temperature is believed to have increased by 0.6° + 0.2° C over the last century. Globally, 1998 was the warmest year and the 1990s was the warmest decade on record.

Climate Change

Many countries have experienced increases in rainfall, particularly in the countries situated in the mid to high latitudes. In some regions, such as parts of Asia and Africa, the frequency and intensity of droughts have been observed to increase in recent decades.

Episodes of El Nino, which creates great storms, have been more frequent, persistent, and intense since mid-1970s compared with the previous 100 years. All these signs show that the earth’s climate is changing, making it more difficult for mankind to survive.

Causes of Climate Change

Climate changes on its own in nature. Earth’s distance from the sun, volcanic eruption at large scale, heavy rainfall for longer period, are the instances of natural phenomena that influence the Earth’s climate. These are natural and have nothing to do with our present concern about climate change.

What concerns us today is the rise in global temperature, especially. Most scientists say that human activities have caused certain changes in the natural climate of the earth.

Most scientists agree that the main cause of current global warming is human expansion of the ‘greenhouse effect’. Greenhouse effect is the increase in the number of certain gases that include, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide (N2O), water vapor, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), etc.

Greenhouse gases are produced naturally and trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere like a blanket. When there is increased concentration of such gases in the atmosphere mostly by burning fossil fuels, there is a proportionate increase in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is called global warming.

Significant human-led factors responsible for climate change are −

  • Exponential growth in human population.
  • Massive and unplanned urbanization and industrialization over the last century.
  • Burning of fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas at huge scale to meet the growing energy needs of the bulging world population.
  • Change in lifestyle and massive increase in the number of machinery, gadgets, etc.

Impact of Climate Change on Human Environment

It is now clear that climate change causes unwanted alterations in the natural systems. The environmental consequences of climate change are extreme heat waves, rising sea levels, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and droughts, intense hurricanes, and degraded air quality.

The above phenomenal changes directly and indirectly affect the physical, social, and psychological health of human beings.

Frequency in Weather-Related Disasters

Changes in precipitation create changes in the availability and quantity of water and also results in extreme weather events, such as intense storms, flooding and droughts. Frequency in all these weather phenomena sometimes lead to human causality in great proportion apart from huge loss of property, mostly in developing and underdeveloped countries.

Human Health

Climate change affects the prerequisites of human health such as clean air and water, sufficient and healthy food, natural constraints to infectious disease agents and the adequacy and security of shelter.

The report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health points out that disadvantaged communities are likely to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change because of their increased exposure and vulnerability to health threats.

Large Scale Displacement of People

Climate change effects such as desertification, rising sea levels and severity of weatherrelated disasters along with the spread of epidemics can destroy or affect human habitation causing people to seek shelter elsewhere.

Deteriorating environment and depleting resources can result in human conflicts at all levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that there will be over 150 million environmental migrants by 2050 and the number will be perplexing due to complexity of the issue and lack of data.

Apart from the above, following are some other consequences of climate change −

  • Change in hydrological cycle and water supply
  • The Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) may move northward in the northern hemisphere causing rapid changes in rainfall pattern
  • Increase in tropical and temperate cyclones, cloud cover, tornadoes and storms
  • Changes in pressure belts and atmospheric circulation
  • Warming of ocean water may endanger the corals worldwide
  • Expansion of deserts and more desertification within deserts
  • Effect on food supply and international trade of grains
  • National parks, sanctuaries and biosphere reserves may be altered
  • Countries such as Maldives and greater parts of Netherlands etc. may submerge under water
  • Climate change is making food crops less nutritious. Rising carbon dioxide emissions lead to iron and zinc deficiencies in food crops

Population Explosion & its Pressure on Environment

Finite Resources

Most resources being finite since the very beginning and natural limit to resource generation being slow, constant rise in the number of people on the earth exerts undue pressure on world resources.

Population growth and the resultant increase in human habitations in the last couple of centuries has taken away a considerable portion of natural vegetation, cultivable lands, and above all the natural habitats of wild animals. There has been loss of biodiversity and resultant ecological imbalance in severity in the current times.

More People, More Demand, More Waste

With the advent of science and technology man’s need for comfort and luxury has multiplied many times. This has necessitated the production of a great number of goods and services in the world.

Not only the huge population (7.4 billion in 2016), but also the lifestyle, consumption patterns in modern time directly affect the environment. More people demand more resources and generate more waste. Clearly one of the challenges of a growing population is that the mere presence of so many people sharing a limited number of resources strain the environment.

Rapid Urbanization and Industrialization

Rapid urbanization and industrialization during the last century in most part of the world has not only destroyed a substantial part of natural vegetation but also forced many wild animals on the verge of extinction.

Apart from the pressure on the resources due to high growth in population, technological and scientific innovations, rapid rise in automobile population, electronic gadgets, machinery and equipment have added a great number of pollutants to the environment. As a result, environmental degradation has risen to an irrecoverable level.

Developed countries where the levels of consumption are high add more to pollution than other countries. A child born in a country, where the levels of material and energy use are high, places a greater burden on the earth’s resources than a child born in a poorer country.

Nonetheless, sustainable development can be pursued more easily when population size is stabilized at a level consistent with the productive capacity of the ecosystem.

Crazy Consumerism

Consumption, although necessary for the economy, can be hazardous to the environment. Consumerism is a social and economic order that supports and encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever increasing amounts.

Man has developed an unprecedented craze for a mushrooming number of products and services available in the world market. This has been aggravated by improved marketing strategies, alluring advertisements, and consumer-friendly services offered by companies and outlets.

Approximately 2 billion people belonging to the “consumer class” are characterized by desire for processed food, desire for bigger houses, cars, durables, etc. to maintain their desired lifestyles.

Consumerism has become more acute in developing countries such as India and China than that in developed countries due to the rise in population in the former.

Reasons for Crazy Consumerism

  • Growing materialistic tendencies among the modern man
  • Easy access to markets due to faster development in transport and communication
  • Effective marketing and advertising strategies
  • Rising income levels in most part of the world
  • Globalization and liberalization
  • Rapid rise in income generation ways
  • Greed to possess more and more

Impact of Crazy Consumerism

Increasing consumerism has led to excessive production of goods and services, which in turn has led to enormous pressure on natural environment and natural resources. Resource depletion, environmental degradation, and pollution have become the order of the day. Mankind has reached the height of environmental pollution from where it seems very difficult to return. Race for comfort and luxury has vitiated the environment disproportionately.

Excessive demand for consumer products has created most of the current environmental imbalances and these imbalances have already caused ecological disaster in different places all over the world.

Consumerism has resulted in heaps of waste in urban and also in rural areas which lead to a pollution of environment. Mounting e-waste in the world, especially in developed countries, is causing more harm to the environment. Popularity of plastic for various purposes is adding severely to air, water, and land pollution.

Ozone is a form of oxygen in which three atoms of oxygen combine to form a single molecule of ozone. It normally is not found in the lower atmosphere. It exists in the stratosphere between 20 and 50 kilometers above the surface.

The presence of ozone is of singular importance because it filters out the incoming ultraviolet (UV) radiation and thus acts as a screen against ultraviolent radiation that can increase the occurrence of skin cancer, cataracts, and other diseases of eyes. It also affects the body defense mechanism, which increases the vulnerability of infectious diseases.

Increased ultraviolet radiation can seriously affect plant and fish production.

Ozone Depletion

Ozone depletion refers to the wearing out or reduction of the amount of ozone in the stratosphere. It was first identified in 1970s due to the advent of supersonic aircraft, which fly in the lower stratosphere and emit nitrogen oxides.

Ozone Depleting Substances

Ozone depleting substances are those substances which deplete the ozone layer.

It is found that the major cause of ozone depletions is the CFC (Chlorofluorocarbons) gases. CFCs are used for a wide range of applications including refrigerant, foaming agents, plastic manufacturing, fire extinguishing agents, solvents for freezing food, cleaners for electronic components fine retardant, solvents, aerosol, propellants, and the production of foamed plastics.

Other ozone depleting substances controlled by Montreal Protocol (discussed in a subsequent chapter) are −

  • Halon
  • Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), Methyl chloroform (CH3CCl3)
  • Hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs)
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Methyl bromide (CH3Br)
  • Bromochloromethane (CH2BrCl)

There are serious consequences of ozone depletion. Following are some of the significant consequences of ozone depletion.

  • Plants and animals vary in their tolerance of ultraviolet rays. The ultraviolet rays damage DNA (the genetic code in every living being). Crops such as soybean are the worst affected.
  • Animals and humans also have adapted to UVB radiation. In case of depletion of the ozone layer, there is danger of melanoma – a type of skin cancer. The disease is now almost epidemic in the United States.

With exponential growth in human population and consequential destruction of natural vegetation and habitats of other living beings for urbanization, industrialization in both developed and developing countries, there is large scale deforestation in tropical and subtropical countries in the world.

Deforestation simply refers to cutting down of trees and the destruction of natural vegetation in an aggressive way.


Factors Responsible for Deforestation

The following factors are responsible for deforestation −

  • Rapid growth of population in the developing countries.
  • Extension of agriculture and grazing land.
  • Increasing demand for lumber, timber, paper, pulp, fuel-wood, and charcoal and other forest produce.
  • Industrialization, urbanization, and consumerism in the developed and developing countries.
  • Demand of raw material for forest-based and agro-based industries.
  • Demand of land for infrastructure such as roads, highways, railways, irrigation, electricity, telecommunication services, and civic facilities.
  • Construction of multi-purpose dams all over the world.
  • Practice of shifting cultivation in the humid-tropical regions of the world.
  • Change in food habits – a visible shift from vegetarian food to non-vegetarian food.
  • High rate of poverty in the third world countries; it is said that poverty directly or indirectly lead to deforestation.
  • Both natural and man-made forest fire.
  • Delayed administrative decision and dilatory implementation of forest laws in developing countries.


Desertification is defined by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) 1995 as land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry-sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climate variation and human activities.

The problem of desertification is common to the susceptible dry-lands, with land degradation such as soil erosion, internal soil changes, depletion of groundwater reserves, and irreversible changes to vegetation communities.

The term desertification was coined by the French botanist, Aubreville, in 1949 to describe land degradation. Desertification is more anthropogenic (man-made) than it is natural. It is well-acknowledged that the principal agent of land degradation is human activities.

The tropical and sub-tropical lands are more prone to desertification. An estimate made by the United Nations (UN), about 40 percent of the African continent’s non-desert land is in danger of experiencing desertification. About 33 percent of Asia’s land and about 20 percent of Latin America land area are equally threatened with desertification.

Countries with extensive and severe desertification are Jordan, Lebanon, Somalia, Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Western Sahara.

Without a healthy and clean environment, human beings will be deprived of their right to a healthy and productive life. We have learnt substantially how environmental pollution is taking away our rights to such life. So, to keep the biodiversity and environment in a healthy condition is the need of the hour.

Environment and more specifically environmental pollution has no political boundaries. The air polluted in one region can be transmitted to thousands of miles without the manmade barriers. Thus, environmental pollution, global warming, climate change and other related issues have been given more weight at international forums and symposia.

A number of efforts are being made at international and national levels to maintain the equilibrium and resilience characteristics of the ecosystems with the objective to make them sustainable and productive. These efforts are given the nomenclature of international conventions or conferences and protocols.

What are Conventions and Protocols?

convention is a meeting or gathering to formulate or deliberate on a generally accepted principle, framework in which the parties decide the basic guidelines. For example, Rio Convention.

protocol, on the other hand, contains specific aims or legal obligations agreed upon by the members who gather in a convention or conference. Usually, when a major provision is to be incorporated on regulations of the convention, a protocol is called among the countries, who are signatory of the original convention when it was signed and approved.

The United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) is an international environmental treaty created at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992.

The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are annual events held in the framework of UNFCCC. The conferences are held to assess the progress made in efforts to deal with climate change.

These conferences serve as the formal meeting of the UNFCCC Parties and are popularly called Conference of Parties (COP). Palestine became the 197th party to UNFCCC in 2016.

The first UN Climate Change Conference or Conference of Parties (COP 1) was held in 1995 in Berlin.

Landmark Conferences of Parties (COPs)
YearName of the COPFocal Point
2007COP 13 – Bali Action PlanTo further commitments by parties to Kyoto Protocol
2009COP 15 – Copenhagen AccordTo establish an ambitious global climate agreement for the period from 2012, when the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol expires
2010COP – 16 – Cancun AgreementEncompassed finance, technology, and capacitybuilding support to help such countries meet urgent needs to adapt to climate change;Set up Green Climate Fund to support climate change mitigation efforts
2011COP – 17 – Durban AgreementTo adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015
2016COP – 22 – Marrakesh Action ProclamationPledge to press ahead with implementation of Paris Agreement

Objectives of UNFCCC

  • To stabilize Greenhouse Gas concentration to such a level that would prevent human induced interference with the climate system within a timeframe.
  • To enable the ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

Earth Summit

The Brundtland Report of 1987 sent an alert to the world about the urgency of making progress towards sustainable economic development without harming the already sick environment and without depleting the vanishing natural resources.

Five years later, the progress on enunciated sustainable development was sought by the UN and United Nations Conference on Environment & Development. Held in June 1992 at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the Rio Earth Summit as it became popularly known, was the largest environmental conference ever held, attracting over 30,000 people including more than 100 heads of state.

The Rio Conference was held primarily with an objective towards building upon the hopes and achievements of the Brundtland Report with a view to responding to mounting global environmental problems and to agree on major treaties on biodiversity, climate change, and forest management.

The major outcome of the Earth Summit was Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally, and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area that humans impact on the environment.

Besides, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted.

The Earth Summit influenced all subsequent UN conferences, which have examined the relationship between human rights, population, social development, women and human settlements — and the need for environmentally sustainable development.

The Kyoto Protocol

In order to reduce the growing concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth’s atmosphere, the UNFCCC put in place the first ever agreement between nations to mandate country-by-country reduction in GHGs. This historic Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and hence, got the name of Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol officially came into force in 2005, after being formally ratified by the required number of nations. Participating nations or the signatories have agreed to meet certain greenhouse gas emission targets, as well as submit to external review and enforcement of these commitments by the UN-based bodies.

The parties or the signatory countries committed to reduce the GHGs emission, based on the premise that (a) global warming exists and (b) man-made CO2 emissions have caused it.

Under Kyoto, industrialized nations pledged to cut their yearly emissions of carbon, as measured in six greenhouse gases, by varying amounts, averaging 5.2%, by 2012 as compared to 1990.

It excluded developing countries such as China and India, which have since become the world’s largest and fourth largest polluters according to the International Energy Agency, as well as second-placed United States which refused to ratify the deal.

A second commitment period was agreed on in 2012, known as the Doha Amendment to the protocol, in which 37 countries have binding targets: Australia, the European Union (and its 28 member states), Belarus, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, and Ukraine.

Initiatives like Kyoto Protocol has been necessitated as the UN has set a target of limiting global warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels — a level at which scientists say the planet may be spared the worst impacts of climate change.

Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol is related to the substance that depletes the ozone layer of the atmosphere. This International Treaty, is designed to protect the ozone layer, by phasing out the production of numerous substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion. The Treaty was opened for signature on 16 September, 1987 and came into force on 1 January, 1989.

Its first meeting was held at Helsinki in May, 1989. Since then, it has undergone several revisions in London (1990), Nairobi (1991), Copenhagen (1992), Bangkok (1993), Vienna (1995), Montreal (1997, Beijing (1999), and Kigali (2016).

It was agreed that if this international agreement is strictly adhered to, the ozone layer would recover by 2005. At first, the aim was to remove harmful chemicals such as CFCs by 50 percent by 1998. The target was further revised so as to curtail the production of these chemical at the earliest.

The Montreal Protocol has been ratified by 196 countries. It is the first international treaty to achieve complete ratification by member countries. In Kigali, Rwanda in 2016, the Parties (Members) agreed to an international phase down of 85 percent of Hydroflurocarbons (HFCs).

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement or Paris Climate Agreement is a UN sponsored pact to bring the world countries together in the fight against climate change.

Countries that sign on to be a part of the pact agreed to limit the century’s global average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the levels from the years 1850-1900 (the pre-industrial era) and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Participating countries made the Paris Pact on 12 December, 2015 to adopt green energy sources, cut down on greenhouse gas emission, and limit the rise of global temperature.

Every country has an individual plan or ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ to tackle greenhouse gas emission.

The agreement went into effect on Nov. 4, 2016; 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of the world’s global emissions ratified it on Oct. 5, 2016. As of May 2017, of the 196 negotiating countries that signed the agreement, 147 parties have ratified it.

In the previous chapters, we have learnt about the environment, ecosystem, natural resources, biodiversity and its importance for the living world, especially for mankind. We have also learnt how environmental problems such as pollution and climate change affect and threaten our survival. There is a need for knowing the legal and constitutional provisions for protecting and nurturing the nature. In this chapter, we will learn about such provisions and acts.

Need for Policy & Legislation

It has always been the desire of man to have clean air, clean water and environment free of toxins and pollutants. In the first half of the last century, there were few legal and constitutional mechanisms in place to protect the environment and the natural resources found in a country.

Environmental Policy

Increasing pollution and mounting pressure on air, water and land quality led to environmental legislations being designed to protect the environment from harmful actions. Due to the current state of the environment, policy makers in every country need to place a top priority on environmental policy.

Natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable and wildlife are continuously being under threat. It is estimated that considering the present rate of exploitation of such resources we are going to be devoid of many important resources in near future. Unless we take care of them and resort to a sustainable use, we will make our posterity live without resources. Hence, there is a need for environmental policies and legislations.

What is an Environmental Policy?

Policy refers to a set of principles or plans agreed upon by a government or an organization to be carried out in a particular situation. Environmental policy is defined as “any action deliberately taken to manage human activities with a view to prevent, reduce, or mitigate harmful effects on nature and natural resources, and to ensure that man-made changes to the environment do not have harmful effects on human or the environment”.

Environmental policy usually covers air and water pollution, waste management, ecosystem management, biodiversity protection, and the protection of natural resources, wildlife and endangered species. Proper policies and legislations at the national and the international levels can reduce the venomous pollution and help protect biodiversity and natural resources.

What is an Environmental Legislation?

Environmental legislation is a set of laws and regulations which aim at protecting the environment from harmful actions.

Legislation may take many forms, including regulation of emissions that may lead to environmental pollution, taxation of environment- and health-damaging activities, and establishing the legal framework for trading schemes, for example, carbon emissions. Other actions may rely on voluntary agreements. Among major current legislative frameworks are those relating to environmental permitting, and those mandating environment and health impact assessments.

Environmental Protection Act

Most of the countries in the world have enacted Environmental Protection Acts considering the need for the protection of our environment.

In the US, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 promotes the enhancement of the environment and established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). It is referred to as the ‘environmental Magna Carta’ in the USA because it was an early step towards the development of US’ environmental policy. Other environmental acts in the USA are as follows.

  • Clean Air Act of 1970 and 1990
  • Clean Water Act of 1972
  • Endangered Species Act of 1973
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976
  • National Forest Management Act of 1976
  • Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980

Environmental Protection Acts in India

In the Constitution of India, it is clearly stated that it is the duty of the state to ‘protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country’. It imposes a duty on every citizen ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife’.

There are a number of environmental acts enacted in India. Some of the important legislations in this respect are −

  • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  • Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
  • Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
  • Environmental Protection Act, 1986
  • Handling and Management of Hazardous Waste Rules, 1989
  • The National Environmental Tribunal Act, 1995
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002

Environmental Protection Act, 1986

Environmental Protection Act, 1986, was a statutory response that came into effect a year after the tragic Bhopal Gas Tragedy and is considered an umbrella legislation as it addresses many loopholes in the existing environmental laws. It was enacted as per the spirit of the Stockholm Conference held in June 1972 to take suitable measures for the protection and reinvigoration of environment and related matters.

The Environment (Protection) Act is applicable to whole of India including Jammu & Kashmir. It came into force on November 19, 1986. EPA 1986 was enacted largely to implement the decisions made at the UN Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in June, 1972.

It was to co-ordinate the activities of the various regulatory agencies under the existing laws. It also seeks collection and dissemination of information on environmental pollution.

A lot have been done to protect and improve the environment world over. However much remains to be done for building a sustainable society. New mechanisms are being put in place to expedite the process of protecting and improving the environment. For example, new institutions — the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the State Environment Management Authorities (SEMA) — in India have been proposed as full-time technical organizations with the capacity to process all environmental clearance applications in a time-bound manner.

Environment constitutes air, water, land, or vegetation. To protect the environment means to take constructive measures to free these natural objects from pollutants. The measures are backed by the constitution and the chief law making forum in a country so as to ensure an expedited and assured implementation of the measures. An Act provides for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution, water pollution, and forest degradation.

For instance, a number of acts have been enacted to protect and improve air, water and forest in India.

Acts Related to Air Pollution

The Factories Act and Amendment, 1948 was the first to express concern for the working environment of the workers. The amendment of 1987 has sharpened its environmental focus and expanded its application to hazardous processes.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 provides for the control and abatement of air pollution. It entrusts the power of enforcing this act to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules, 1982 defines the procedures of the meetings of the Boards and the powers entrusted to them.

The Atomic Energy Act, 1982 deals with radioactive waste.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Amendment Act, 1987 empowers the central and state pollution control boards to meet with grave emergencies of air pollution.

The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 states that all hazardous waste is to be properly packaged, labeled, and transported.

Acts Related to Water Pollution

The Indian Fisheries Act, 1897 establishes two sets of penal offences whereby the government can sue any person who uses dynamite or other explosive substance in any way (whether coastal or inland) with the intent to catch or destroy any fish, or poisonous fish in order to kill.

The River Boards Act, 1956 enables the states to enroll the central government in setting up an Advisory River Board to resolve issues in inter-state cooperation.

The Merchant Shipping Act, 1970 aims to deal with waste arising from ships along the coastal areas within a specified radius.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 establishes an institutional structure for preventing and abating water pollution. It establishes standards for water quality and effluent. Polluting industries must seek permission to discharge waste into effluent bodies. The CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) was constituted under this Act.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977 provides for the levy and collection of cess or fees on water consuming industries and local authorities.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Rules, 1978 contains the standard definitions and indicates the kind of and location of meters that every consumer of water is required to affix.

The Coastal Regulation Zone, 1991 Notification puts regulations on various activities, including construction. It gives some protection to the backwaters and estuaries.

Acts Related to Forests

The Indian Forest Act and Amendment, 1984 is one of the many surviving colonial statutes. It was enacted to ‘consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produce, and the duty to be levied on timber and other forest produce’.

The Wildlife Protection Act and Rules, 1973 and Amendment 1991 provides for the protection of birds and animals and for all matters that are connected to it, whether it be their habitat or the waterhole or the forests that sustain them.

The Forest (Conservation) Act and Rules, 1981, provides for the protection of and the conservation of the forests.

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 is an act to provide for the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and knowledge associated with it.

The effects of human activities related to the use of environmental resources on natural environment is called Environmental Impact. The assessment and evaluation of environmental effects of human activities are collectively called Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Environmental Impact Assessment is, therefore, a method of evaluating environmental consequences such as environmental changes which are likely to be caused by the proposed human activities related to land use changes, construction of dams, reservoirs, roads, rails, bridges, industrial locations, urban expansion, etc. and the possible adverse effects of these environmental changes.

Environmental changes mean environmental degradation and pollution resulting into ecological imbalance and ecosystem disequilibrium. The environmental impact assessment process began with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the US in 1969.

Objectives of Environmental Impact Assessment

In view of the colossal damage to the environment, there is a felt need for assessing the environmental impacts of developmental activities. EIA is a tool to anticipate the possible damage to the environment caused by developmental projects and schemes, and propose mitigation measures and strategies.

EIA exerts to declare a national policy to encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and environment. It promotes efforts to prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and the biosphere, and stimulate the health and welfare of man.

It seeks to increase the understanding of ecological system and nature resources important to the nation and to provide for appropriate institutional structure to carry out the objectives.

It provides a broad, integrated perspective of a region about to undergo or undergoing developments. EIA ascertains the cumulative impacts from the multiple development in the region. It establishes priorities for environmental protection. It also identifies the positive and negative aspects of any project as well as assesses the policy options and analyzes the impact on the environment therein.

Projects that Require Environmental Clearance

  • Manufacturing Industries
  • Mining
  • Thermal Power Plants
  • River Valley Projects
  • Infrastructure and Coastal Regulation Zone
  • Nuclear Power Projects

Steps in Environmental Impact Assessment

  • Describe the present environment
  • Describe the project, including purposes and needs
  • Describe the effects of the project
  • Describe the impact, both short term and long term
  • Suggest and compare alternatives (projects)
  • Suggest mitigating activities or remedial measures