Dec 5, 2008

India - HP;Funding a green vision

It is vital to protect the fragile Himalayan region, endowed with glaciers, forests, and rich biodiversity, from climate change and other environmental risks. Otherwise, the well being of its remote communities and the conservation of life forms cannot be guaranteed over the long term. Himachal Pradesh, a verdant State with glaciers covering nearly 17 per cent of its mountains, has notified a green fund. The Himachal Pradesh Environment Fund aims to protect and conserve, t o restore, mitigate. and build. It will be financed by direct contribution from government-nominated sources and donations from individuals, industrialists, NGOs, associations and corporate bodies. Collection by government employees in the discharge of official duties has been barred. Since donations can come in only by way of demand draft or cheque, there is a promise of integrity and transparency. To these instructions, the State can add one more — complete reporting of the fund’s working on a website. The fund has the potential to become a trendsetter for other States, particularly regions that face creeping sea-level rise, disastrous weather events, and high levels of pollution.

Himachal Pradesh has five major perennial rivers that either originate in or pass through the State. Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal cites scientific estimates of the annual economic value of environmental services rendered by Himachal’s environment and forests being as high as Rs.150,000 crore. But there is reason to be concerned about the health of these resources. Studies conducted since 1990 record unusual annual rates of retreat of major Himalayan glaciers such as the Parbati, causing worry that future climate change will worsen the trend. Many glaciers feed rivers with precious melt and endow the region with high tourism value. A loss of ecology will have direct economic consequences, above all, on livelihood. Mr. Dhumal has been making the progressive suggestion that India must move to green accounting, which would mean provisioning for environmental losses while calculating the Gross Domestic Product. His government has expressed a preference for run-off river projects rather than disruptive dams and water impoundment, for solar-passive technologies, afforestation, and curbs on coal use. On top of their intrinsic virtue, these policies will help the State earn carbon credits. As an early mover on climate issues, Himachal Pradesh is an invited participant at the forthcoming summit of the Climate Group, a non-profit organisation that coordinates a coalition of governments and business leaders, in Poznan, Poland. The State must now aim for higher levels of environmental performance.

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