Science and Technology for Improving Environmental Sustainability

         History of sustainable development

The concept of sustainable development could begin with the US government’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.

This act came largely in response to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which had a devastating impact on wildlife and the natural environment in the area. But it was also the product of greater societal attention to the consequences of industrial pollution


  • The next step in the growth of sustainable development as a mainstream concept and practice was the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • This conference “brought the industrialized and developing nations together to delineate the ‘rights’ of the human family to a healthy and productive environment.


  • The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) was tasked by the Secretary General of the UN, in 1983, to “re-examine critical environmental and development problems around the world and formulate realistic proposals to address them.

This culminated in the 1987 Bruntland Report’s publication of “Our Common Future”, which established a suggested path for sustainable development on a global level and served to bring the concept of sustainability into the foreground

Gro Harlem Brundtland is a Norwegian politician, who served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway and as Director-General of the WHO from 1998 to 2003. She is also known for having chaired the Brundtland Commission which presented the Brundtland Report on sustainable development.

Born: 20 April 1939 (age 79 years), Bærum,


Nationality: Norwegian

Spouse: Arne Olav Brundtland (m. 1960)

Children: Jørgen Brundtland

Awards: Indira Gandhi Prize

Books: Madam Prime Minister: A Life in Power and Politics

Definition of sustainable development

  • Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.“ (our common future).

Agenda 21

  • A ground-breaking step came in 1992 with the first

UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. At this conference, an agenda called Agenda 21 was adopted.

  • Agenda 21 recognized each nation’s right to pursue social and economic progress and assigned to States the responsibility of adopting a model of sustainable development.

Objective of the agenda 21

  • One major objective of the agenda 21 is that every local government should draw its own local Agenda 21. Since 2015, Sustainable Development Goals are included in the Agenda 2030.

Structure and contents

  • Agenda 21 is a 350-page document divided into 40 chapters that have been grouped into 4 sections:
  • Section I: Social and Economic Dimensions is directed toward combating poverty, especially in developing countries, changing consumption patterns, promoting health, achieving a more sustainable population, and sustainable settlement in decision making.
  • Section II: Conservation and Management of Resources for

Development includes atmospheric protection, combating deforestation, protecting fragile environments, conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity), control of pollution and the management of biotechnology, and radioactive wastes.

  • Section III: Strengthening the Role of Major Groups includes the roles of children and youth, women, NGOs, local authorities, business and industry, and workers; and strengthening the role of indigenous peoples, their communities, and farmers.
  • Section IV: Means of Implementation includes science, technology transfer, education, international institutions and financial mechanisms.

Sustainable development and India

  • Gandhi emphasized that creation of wealth through fairer means and without endangering sustainable development has to be the basis of economic policy. Simple living and high thinking should be our philosophy of life.

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”


A cartoon by R.K. Laxman In the Times of India shows an industrialist exclaiming:-

“Why did I give up being an industrialist?

Because, whatever I did seem to result in ozone damage, or deforestation, effluent poison, air pollution etc”.

This is a nutshell, represents the paradox of our times as any development is accompanied by environmental degradation. A rapid pace of Industrialization, coupled with uncontrolled exploitation of Nature, has caused continuous dumping of industrial by- product, hazardous chemicals and nuclear wastes; deforestation in vast areas of the earth and pollution of the river- basins, lakes and seas.

In his quest for wealth and comforts, man has ignored Nature’s law and thus disturbed a number of natural cycles, what is after all this environment business?

PM Modi receives UN’s top environmental honour ‘Champions of The Earth’ 

Environment is regarded as “the sum total of condition and influences that affect the development and life of organism”.

The symptoms of the pending catastrophe are therefore to obvious for anyone to see.

It is therefore appropriate that the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (U.N.C.E.D) planning an Earth summit in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro to discuss many such controversial problems and it was first time that the North and South were meet to deliberate on issues of vital concern to both.

In fact, Ms Gro Harlem Brudtland, the PM of Norway, had earlier president over the WHO on Environment Development and prepared a report “our Comment Future” which has paved the way for the Rio Conference.

Agenda 21 of the Conference considered two important conventions- on climatic change and bio-diversity.

There is however, and apprehension that since North is setting the agenda, the South may have to give in some vital points and there could be danger of the free access of the North to the “global heritage”.

Each living organism from the lowest to the highest has its own environment and this is affected by changes in natural cycles.  As the state fully competent to prevent it?

Our present day legal and political systems are inadequate to prevent environmental degradation- there is lack of proper laws – not to speak of an environmental culture in most of our societies.


There have been numerous warnings in recent decades that the Earth’s climatic patterns – which followed an almost steady course for centuries – are undergoing visible changes.

This is being caused by changes in the composition of global atmosphere which consists of a number of natural and synthetic gases.

Any increase in the amount of certain gases – particularly synthetic gases- results in the absorption of infrared radiations reflected from the surface of the earth.

This leads to an enhanced heat trapping capacity of the atmosphere- a phenomenon called “Green House Effect’ –with a consequent increase in global temperature.

One of the major consequences of this is the melting of snows in the polar regions and increase in global sea-level was less than 15 cm but at the present rate of global warming, an increase between 30 to 210 cm is expected by 2075 AD.

Consider a scenario where vast parts of land areas in low- lying countries like Bangladesh and Maldives completely disappear, 30 to 80 % of the coastal wetlands of the U.S.A. disappear and the Nile Delta in Egypt just vanishes!


Although the composition of the atmosphere varies slightly from place to place, a major constituent is carbon dioxide which is a key factor in causing greenhouse effect. As early as 1861, the English philosopher John Tyndall proposed the increased concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide could conceivably raise surface air temperature and produce a change of the climate similar to that created by a green house.

 Since then, in the course of a century, the concentration of this gas has increased from 280 PPM to 350 PPM an increase about 25 %. This increase has been caused by various factors.

An indiscriminate burning of the fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gases releases huge quantities of the gas into the atmosphere. Each Boeing 747 burns an enormous amount of aviation fuel in an hour.

There are more than half a billion vehicles on the road. The burning of a large number of oil wells continuously for almost an year during the recent Gulf War is too recent an event to be forgotten. It was reported that dark clouds covered a number of Gulf countries for weeks together. There are more than half a billion vehicles on the road.

The burning of a large number of oil wells continuously fr almost an year during the recent Gulf War is too recent an event to be forgotten.

It was reported that dark clouds covered a number of Gulf countries for weeks together. As far as industrial emissions are concerned, the main culprits are the developed countries.

For example, in 1985, out of global total of 20,500 million tones of industrial carbon dioxide emitted, 23 % came from U.S.A other major countries responsible were the former Soviet Union, Western Europe, Japan and China.

The remaining developing countries accounted for only 20 % of the industrial carbon dioxide emissions. The industrialized nations are thus responsible for forcing the pace of global warming.

Nature has its own mechanism for “storing” carbon in plants by photosynthesis. Man has increasingly interfered with this mechanism by destroying forests over vast areas of the world.

There has been extensive deforestation in many countries of the Third World like India, Nepal, Indonesia, and Brazil. It is believed that ten million hectares of the forest lands have been denude.

The effective forest covert day is alarmingly low at hardly 14 percent when it should be around 33 percent when it should be around 33 percent in the plains and 60 percent in the hills.

Beside carbon dioxide, a number of other gases are present in the atmosphere. These include nitrogen oxides, hydrogen, ammonia, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphides, halogens etc.

An increase in the concentration of these gases is known to be harmful to living organisms i.e. plants, animals and human beings. Besides, these gases can also damage other articles like paper, leather, metals and even building materials.

There has been considerable debate and controversy in recent years about the location of the Mathura Refinery near the Taj Mahal is a matter of national concern and a number of studies have been made, viz. Wood is being used- or ‘misused’- for various purpose like firewood, timber and industrial raw material for paper board, newsprint etc. Unfortunately, this has not been accompanied by requisite Social Forestry.

This deforestation has resulted in an increase of 2000 million to 10,000 million tons of carbon dioxide absorbs infrared  radiations from the earth and re-radiates these back to the earth and thus contributes significantly to the greenhouse effect.

the Government’s Varadharjan Committee Report (1977) and other reports by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), the Process and Product Development Centre (PPDC) and UNDP. The reports recommend shifting of the iron foundries to another site.

There are mainly two kinds of pollutants from the foundries – one of the oldest industries of Agra – sulphur dioxide and Suspended Particulate Matter. It is also recommended that the power plants in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal should be closed and the dieselizing of the adjoining railway marshalling yards done.

Many industrial establishments may cause environmental pollution if the poisonous gases are not properly trapped and prevented from being released into the atmosphere.

The Bhopal gas tragedy some years back has been one of the biggest industrial environmental disasters causing death and disability to thousands of people.


The Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) have been extensively used in the refrigeration industry and as aerosols. The author has earlier written in detail about the background to this problem (See Employment News, April 6-12, 1991).

It has been found that when released into the stratosphere, these chemicals deplete the ozone layer which protects us against ultraviolet rays.

Any depletion in ozone layer will result in ultraviolet rays directly falling on earth’s surface and thereby causing damage to living organisms and also enhancing greenhouse effect.

The situation is worsening so fast that recently, the Canadian Minister of Environment has warned Canadian parents that they should not let their children play in the sun at any time, particularly those in the age group between two to eighteen.

Canadian environment scientists believe that ozone layer over Southern Canada will thin by about 15 % this spring as compared to six to eight percent in 1990.

It is estimated that a one percent depletion in ozone will bring a four percent increase in skin cancer cases.

New Zealand and Australia are already issuing such warnings like weather reports.

Recently, the US National Aeronautics and Space administration has released scientific findings showing record levels of ozone depleting chemicals over northern New England, eastern Canada, Greenland, British isles, Scandinavia and Russia.

Alarmed by the prospects of increasing expansion of the “Ozone Hole”, twenty industrialized countries have already initiated and signed a protocol in Montreal in September, 1987 and pledged to phase out the CFCs by 2000 AD.

This “Montreal Protocol” was signed by 34 countries but India and a number of the countries from the Third World refused to sign it in view of the unjust terms of the Protocol to the developing countries.

At the subsequent London meeting in June 1990, some major concessions were given to the Third World countries.

A ten year grace period has been given and they will eventually withdraw CFCs by 2010. Beside, the developed countries have agreed to set up a $240 million fund to be operated by the World Bank on the advice of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This will help these countries to switch over to CFC substitutes and India and China will get $40 million each

An intensive search is already on for suitable CFC substitutes. The situation is so bad that recently, the US President, Mr. George Bush, has announced the advancement of the schedule to phase out the production of CFCs to an earlier date and has ordered the production to be halted by 1955.

Earlier, the European countries had decide to advance the phase-out schedule to 1977.

India is now expected to sign the Montreal Protocol. India’s anger is understandable.

Although the western countries were aware of the ozone-hole problem in the ‘70s, the CFC technology was being sold to India as late as in 1984.

Now, we need a staggering amount of Rs. 3500 to Rs. 6000 crores to switch over to CFC substitutes. Since our annual production is low, we are not a party to global pollution. The developed countries together account for 85 percent of worldwide CFC consumption.

Thus, the promised interim funds to the tune of about 40 million dollars are quite inadequate for our purpose.

Our refrigeration industry is yet to take off and India is not in a position to provide required funds for R & D work on CFC substitutes and buying the technology is going to be a difficult task as multinationals are still busy in perfecting synthetic routes for new CFC replacements and will press for hard bargains.


Nuclear radiations from various sources constantly pose an environmental risk.

With the number of nuclear reactors all over the world reaching a figure of 420, there is always a lurking fear of the type of mishap which occurred at Chernobyl in Russia on 26th April, 1986 repeating itself.

 This accident not only devastated a vast area around Chernobyl which is still not safe for habitation, but also gave rise to a nuclear cloud which remained over a large part of Europe for several days.

Even though only two to six percent of the radioactivity contained in the core of the Unit-4 reactor was released during the accident, this was enough to cause nearly half a million cancer cases arid besides; several species of animal and plant life critical to the ecological balance have been threatened in large parts of Europe.

High levels of radioactivity continue to be detected in vegetation, milk, oil, food, water, air and soil.

From this, one can imagine the major threat to global environment by a nuclear war. Those of you who have been the much-talked movie “The Day After” will realize the horror posed by this scenario.

It is said that when the story-writer, Ed Hume, saw the movie, it sent a shiver down his spine and his thirteen year old son turned pale!

Whenever, a nuclear accident occurs, dangerous radiations are emitted. Similarly, the debris, that are left in the atmosphere, after nuclear explosion consist of dangerous particles which are harmful.

For example, an isotope of Strontium (Strontium-910) causes blood cancer and decays very slowly.

Cesium-137 binds itself to soil and causes genetic changes and Idoin-131 has a tendency to cause thyroid cancer.

Another cause for concern is that due to security reasons, atomic energy  establishments, like in India, do not come under the purview of any environmental legislation.


Water is unique chemical essential for our survival. Its pollution is a major global problem. Our rivers, lakes and seas have limits for absorbing pollutants and with an increasing world population.

There is a consequent increase in the discharge of sewage, industrial and harbor wastes and dumping of garbage, still worse pollutants are the chemicals, including pesticides and radioactive material which are carelessly dumped by industries.

There has also been an increase to oil pollution due to refinery effluent, offshore production platforms, pipe- lines and tanker accidents.

During the recent Gulf War, huge amounts of oil found its way into the sea due to damage to pipe lines and installation and the Red Sea had al long and wide oil slick running into several kilometers, damaging ecological system and badly affecting marine and bird life.

In February March this year there was news of oil slick drifting from Bangladesh towards India which could have affected marine life in the Sunderbans.

This slick was caused by the discharge of effluents and wastes from a large number of oil tankers which are crowding the Bay of Bengal.

The slicks are dangerous because these consist of non- biodegradable hydrocarbons which could damage eggs and larvae of fish and crustaceans.

As far as ground water is concerned, the polluted water not only affects food production, but also there is an increase in water-borne diseases. In India, about 80 percent of the diseases are believed to be water related. The 14 major river systems of our country account for nearly 80 percent of the population in their river-basins.

Thus the need for making the important rivers pollution free is obvious. Need for making the important rivers pollution free is obvious.

 In September, 1984 , the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, had directed the Union Department of Environment to draw up a plan of action of prevent further pollution of the Ganga Basin and the Yamuna Sub-basin.

Thus the need for making the important rivers pollution free is obvious. Need for making the important rivers pollution free is obvious.

 In September, 1984 , the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, had directed the Union Department of Environment to draw up a plan of action of prevent further pollution of the Ganga Basin and the Yamuna Sub-basin.

A very comprehensive report has since been prepared and preventive steps suggested to check the three chemical. Recently, the Government has launched an ambitious National River Action Plan (NRAP) to clean the grossly polluted major stretches of important rivers at an estimated cost of Rs. 1,115 crores.

This amount is outside the outlay of Rs.615 crores for the proposed phase Two of the Ganga Action Plan.

Hazardous Chemicals

Mention has earlier been made of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The danger of hazardous chemicals is increasingly progressively.

We are not discussing here the top-secret chemicals of mass destruction which can be used in warfare, in fact, there is a stockpile of thermo-nuclear, chemical and biological weapons which, if leaked, can destroy everything living.

In many industries, the manufacturing processes involve hazardous chemicals, and suitable steps are not taken to render the wastes and effluents harmless. In many cases, industrial establishments dump these dangerous discharges into the rivers, lakes and seas.



  • Is the term from Indian Mythology to describe a tree of which all the parts /entire tree is beneficial to the human life, i.e. all the parts of the plant are put to some use by human
  • Coconut plant is called as “Kalpavruksha” due to its enormous utility.
  • All pats of sugarcane can be used-Kalpavruksha

It Reduces Carbon dioxide Level


  • India is the largest producer and consumer of sugar in the world.
  • It means India should be Vishwa guru / World Leader in this field.

                                                  But it is NOT so

Why ?

Reason (s)

  • There is common saying in sugarcane sector
  • “Sugar is 10% and 90% Politics”