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Weather, climate and water challenges in spotlight at annual session of UN weather agency council

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]trengthening weather and climate services to protect lives, property and the economy from increasingly extreme and unusual weather is among the pressing issues being discussed at the annual session of the United Nations weather agency’s coordinating body, which kicked off today in Geneva.

The Sixty Ninth Session of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Executive Council, which runs in the Swiss city through 17 May, will also provide an opportunity to help shape the agency’s contribution to the global agenda on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change.

Highlighting efforts to strengthen partnerships within the UN system, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the agency seeks to meet the needs of development and humanitarian agencies for more information on El Niño and La Niña events and seasonal predictions, as well as warnings of extreme weather through a potential global alarm system.

Such an alarm system – if implemented at a global level – could serve as an aggregator and repository of authoritative weather warnings and related alerts worldwide.

Mr. Taalas went on to say that WMO will seek to increase the profile of its expertise on water and ocean affairs, and bolster research, while continuing to provide scientific advice on the state of the climate.

“We have seen a number of records broken in terms of temperatures and low Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. Sea level rise is accelerating,” he said, also warning on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, and stressing that the benchmark Global Atmosphere Watch observing station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, recently reached more than 410 parts per million.

CO2 levels had previously reached the 400 parts per million barrier for certain months of 2016 and in certain locations but never before on a global average basis for the entire year, trapping heat and causing the earth to warm further. Carbon dioxide is the single most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities.

Extreme weather events

Extreme weather events are on the increase, Mr. Taalas stressed. Indeed, on the eve of the Executive Council session, Tropical Cyclone Donna reached the equivalent of Category Five status in the South Pacific – the strongest late-forming cyclone on record in the region.

“Besides temperatures, we also need to focus on rainfall issues,” he continued, noting the severe drought in parts of Africa and Mongolia, as well as flooding in Colombia and Peru and, most recently, in Canada.

Year of Polar Prediction

One of the highlights of the meeting will be the launch of the Year of Polar Prediction – acoordinated international drive to improve predictions of weather, climate and ice conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.

The remoteness and prevalence of harsh weather and climate conditions contribute to making the Polar Regions the poorest observed in the world while, according to the WMO, there is a high level of public interest – especially among youth – about how rapid climate changes at high latitudes affect the weather and climate in the rest of the world. The expansion of human activities into the Polar Regions is also increasing the demand for more information and better predictions.

The Year of Polar Prediction is part of the 10 year international Polar Prediction Project and aims to minimize the environmental risks associated with rapid climate change in Polar Regions and to close the current gaps in polar forecasting capacity.

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Green Planet

Green Politics: What Drives Us and What Drove Us?

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Authors: Aaditya Vikram Sharma and Anurag Mishra

In the previous installment, the authors discussed the ‘discovery’ of damage to the environment and the inception of the Green movement. In this part, we discuss the genesis of green politics. The authors will discuss both the western as well as Indian notions in this respect. The article starts with determination of the ethical connect between green politics in the ancient world and the contemporary world. We then discuss the origin of green political movements in the west and our country, India. The discussion is varied as it spans through continents and centuries.

Connecting the Past and the Present

Unfailingly in all cultures and civilizations, ancient or modern, nature has had a role to play. From the Nature worshipping Totemistic and Animistic societies to Christians and Hindus, nature has been present in one form or the other, revered or feared. While the Bhagavad Gita talks about the material world being the manifestation of God himself, the Bible teaches that humans are ‘stewards’ of the Earth. The intent behind all these teachings is to make men have compassion and regard for the surroundings that they live in. Even the modern, secular world which touts itself as rational and based on science eventually realized that preservation of nature meant the preservation of human life. To pick up from the previous article, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we, the modern world humans, have just started to take steps and how long we tread this path will decide if it will lead to our preservation or our inevitable doom.

Of late, the environmental agenda has seemingly come to take the centre stage in world politics. It is evident from the fact that as many as sixty six countries today have a dedicated ministry in their governmental set up working for the protection and preservation of the environment. As many as 197 countries are party to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of Ozone Layer, Montreal Protocol and United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change. The four most subscribed treaties are concerning the environment in one or the other way.  The pressing need that the world (albeit not all countries) feels to protect the environment is barely two decades old. However, it is one of the foremost issues today.

Green Politics

Origins in the West

The adherents of green politics state that it is not just a political ideology. In fact, they consider it to be a higher worldview which needs to be respected by all. Further, the theoretical groundwork for their policies is derived from varied sources and persons such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jakob von Uexküll and Baruch Spinoza. These people influenced green thought in their advocacy of long-term seventh generation foresight, and on the personal responsibility of every individual to make moral choices. In the west, ancient Roman philosophers argued about protecting nature.

Green politics first began as conservation and preservation movements, such as the Sierra Club, founded in San Francisco in 1892 in the US. However, the modern inception of the movement in the West can be pointed to the Dutch group Kabouters. This political fringe group proposed the ‘Green Plans’ for their constituencies and the country.

As pointed out in the previous installment, the first political party to be created with its basis in environmental issues was the United Tasmania Group, founded in Australia in March 1972 to fight against deforestation and the creation of a dam that would damage Lake Pedder; whilst it only gained three percent votes in state elections, it had, according to Derek Wall, “inspired the creation of Green parties all over the world.”

Listing all the green political parties is beyond the purview of this article. However, it is pointed out that the movement sprang across the western world and by the 1980’s, Green political parties were present in the United Kingdom, France, West Germany and other States.

Subdued Environmentalism

India of the 21st century has been among the fastest growing economies of the world. With a $5 trillion economy plan in the offing (even during the current pandemic), it is only likely that the environment will be at the receiving end of the unprecedented economic growth which we are to witness in the coming years. Amidst the hullabaloo of firing all the economic engines at once, it becomes all the more pressing that we stop for a moment and do some stock taking.

As discussed earlier, environmentalism is not a stranger to Indian society or politics. With movements like Chipko and Narmada Bachao Andolan as the lodestar of India’s environmentalism, it is evident that the country has both a long and powerful history of environmental action. However, a careful analysis of green movements in India reveals that the environmental action in the country has inevitably been centred around habitational and livelihood concerns and not the ecological concerns per se. A study published by the CMS ENVIS Centre on Environment and Media, New Delhi makes it amply clear that environmental concerns aren’t ‘primetime material’ either, even in the teeth of a climate emergency. The coverage of news relating to the environment is mostly with regard to either a natural catastrophe or disaster or human concerns springing from such an event. The reactions from political leaders too follow a similar approach as ‘Green’ is not the color which wins elections in a country where poverty is still widespread. The environmental action for protection of forests and ecosystems still remains confined to acts of political mendicancy by the activists and a full fledged “Environmental Mass Movement” has so far failed to take off.

Conclusion

In this installment, we have discussed the inception of the green political movement in the Global North and India. We have also considered the presence of green political parties in these regions. The next part will cover the contemporary green political party movement as well as the future of green politics and ancillary issues. The part will relate the future with current developments in International Environment Law.

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The dilemma of Environmental Politics

Shahzada Rahim

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Since the emergence of neo-liberal globalization in the 1980s, it has changed the socio-political, economic and environmental discourse across the global spectrum. Basically, it was the rise of Green politics, Green parties and rising civil society concern about the ecological disaster that has shaped the discourse of environmental politics back in the 1980s. As a major field of the contemporary comparative politics, the major focus of environmental politics and diplomacy is on the policy making and strategies to tackle global warming and the climate change. Moreover, as discourse, it encompasses two major premise that shapes the foundation of the environmental politics. First and Foremost, environmental politics examines the connection between human realm and the natural world. Secondly, as a major subject of the contemporary political discourse it emphasizes on the ideological debate over ecological issues.

As an illustration, with in-depth examination of the ecological degradation and environmental apocalypse, the major focus of the environmental politics is on conservation and preservation of the natural outlook of the mother earth. Basically, it was the end of the world with shocking event of Hiroshima that has brought the discourse of environmentalism to the forefront. As a result, the broad range of the environmental issues such as air pollution, water pollution and land pollution has given birth to the Green parties across the west in the 1970s. Hence, it was the emergence of the Green parties across the west which have further explored the major themes surrounding environmentalism in the 1980s.

In this respect, over the last two decades, the major themes of environmental politics such as climate change, global warming, ecological degradation and the loss of biodiversity have exacerbated the environmental debate. Perhaps, these major themes were developed into major environmental narratives across the west by exposing their impacts on the human realm through films, songs and literary discourses. In the broader context, the popular environmental narratives across the media and political landscape have also brought the discourse of neo-liberalism and globalization to the forefront. It is because, according Green politics experts, Globalization has kept the internationalization of trade on the top priority while despising its impacts on human environment. Perhaps, this is what has brought the debate of social justice and environmental politics at the crossroad.

In contrast, it was the relationship between the human societies and the environment that has brought the issue of social justice and political constancy at the center of the ecological discourse. However, the concept of social justice elaborates about the human conduct in changing and transforming the natural world. In this respect, the basic premise of the social justice theory focuses on correcting the conduct of human actions by making human behavior more environmental-centered. Moreover, according to the ecologists and environmental theorists humans need to change their behavior towards the natural world in order to tackle the crisis of environment and ecological degradation. Perhaps, the ecologists mainly establish their political arguments concerning environmental crisis by using the theories of social justice advocated by the ancient philosopher Plato.

Basically, the whole context of Platonic philosophy concerning social justice surrounds the human nature and behavior. Moreover, the theory of social justice advocated by Plato in his book ‘The Republic’ lays much emphasis on social ethics and morality to regulate the human nature and human behavior. Perhaps, it is only through the social justice theory of Plato, we can explain the relationship between social justice and political stability. Moreover, the close connection between the social justice and political stability has clearly explained by Plato in first two books of the republic.

In both books, Plato clearly distinguishes between the Just and unjust societies from the standpoint of politics and peace. Although, the philosophy of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle does not directly discuss about the environmental politics. However, the distinction between the Just and unjust societies explicitly explain about the dynamics of social justice in contrast to human behavior. Moreover, it is the moral and metaphysical philosophy of Plato in the Republic, which anticipates about the concepts such as regulation, maintenance and sustainability from the moral and ethical standpoint. For instance, in the book II of the Republic the discussion begins with Plato’s brother, who challenge Socrates to explain to them about the actual meaning of Justice in contrast to human behavior. In this way, the discussion begins, in which Socrates explains the dynamics of justice from the perspective of Just actions to Plato’s brother.

In contrast, after thoroughly examining the social justice theories of ancient philosophers; it can be said that their theories presents a great emphasis about the concept of ‘sustainability’. Thus, from standpoint of Plato’s social justice theory, we can draw a conclusion by relating the human behavior and conduct with major environmental themes such as Climate Change and Global warming.

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Plant Rights: A Neglected Regime

Siddharth Singh

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Whenever an entity stood for itself to claim specific interest, it has faced humiliation at every possible level. Fight for rights never gone smoothly in history, for instance, women’s rights, slave’s rights, children’s rights, rights of a prisoner of war, etc. (Stone 1972: 451). Nobody thought in earlier times that even these could be considered as rights. The problem with our society is that we work for our self-interest. We exploit a thing up to a level that entity itself gets a realization that whatever is happening with them is not correct. Apart from self-interest, a perspective always plays a vital role in protecting the interest of the victim. The exploiters might never imagine that their actions are, in a way, harmful to the other being. Such exploitation can be rectified only with enlightenment and awareness among the general masses in time. It is to be understood that rights are always needed by the oppressed, not the oppressor. The journey of plant rights is no exception to this situation. When people come across this term, they laugh at the very first instance, considering it to be just a vague concept. This notion did not even find much discussion among the academician across the globe.

Furthermore, we disregard someone’s right, either knowingly or unknowingly. In the case of plant rights, it is mostly unknowingly since we do not consider plants to as being as they do not behave like humans or animals. Various studies suggest that plants own life, and they do respond to their surroundings in their way (Tandon 2019: 593). However, scientists are skeptical about the question of sentience in plants (Pelizzon and Gagliano 2015). Thus it makes the whole regime uncertain and necessary to be further analyzed with extra care.

The fact that plants cannot speak like other creatures does not make them less being. If they live and die like other entities on this planet, then we should reconsider our legal regime to address their concerns. Present laws for the protection of plants provide a limited scope in their application. Humans consider plants as a commodity and govern their conservation for the fulfillment of their own needs. This issue necessitates a plant-centric legal regime that should enable plants to possess their own legal identity and rights. There exist scientific limitations to provide evidence for this study. However, it is appropriate to develop an approach today, so to avoid any guilt in the future. 

NEED FOR PLANT RIGHTS

The underlying issue with the plants is that they are not granted rights per se. Any violation of plant rights cannot be brought before the courts with a reason that an injury has been inflicted upon plants. The actions against plants can be challenged in the court only when it affects the interests of other human beings related to such plants. If one cannot show the nexus between the plant and its owner or regulator, then the accused party shall not be held liable for its derogatory actions. This scenario depicts a problem where the interests of the plants are compromised, and those of humans prevail. 

The human-centric legal regime provides that nature should be conserved and protected to fulfill the needs of humans (Shastri 2013: 523). On the contrary, one should argue that several plant species are on the verge of extinction. It is necessary to develop a legal regime to prevent biodiversity loss and mitigate floral destruction (Marder 2013: 46-47).

Further, scientific studies are uncertain on the issue of pleasure and pain in plants (Calvo, Sahi and Trewavas 2017). Scientists have a difference in opinion on this issue. Where one set considers that plants lack a nervous system so they cannot respond to pain, the other argues that plants work differently from humans (Shepherd 2012). Daniel Chamovitz, in his 2012 book ‘What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses’ has called such a response of plants as “anoetic consciousness” – an ability to sense and react (Chamovitz 2012). However, if plants feel pain, for instance, then even plucking a leaf from the plant will constitute an illegal action that will not be preferred by the plant. Thus a need arose to determine the status of a silent entity to ensure global justice in the world.

PLANT RIGHTS: DEFINITION AND SCOPE

As per Christopher Stone in his book “Should Trees Have Standing? – Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects”, the realm of legal rights entails three aspects for the right holder. Firstly, such rights-holder can take legal action at their will. Secondly, the injury needs to be identifiable by the court that is determining relief for such an entity. Thirdly, such assistance must be in the interest of rights-holder and benefit him (Stone 1972: 458).

The definition of plant rights can be read in similar lines of human rights. Those inherent rights that every plant possesses by being a plant are its plant rights. International human rights found its basis on the principles of universality, indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness (Whelan 2010). These plant rights shall be based on the similar principles of human rights. Apart from the right to live and protect against their extinction, plant rights shall also include dignity and ethical considerations for the plant. The plants shall not be subjected to the arbitrary and unethical actions of a human.

The term ‘arbitrary’ and ‘unethical’ are subjective and open for debate. While determining the scope of these rights, some might consider even plucking of the flower to be arbitrary. In contrast, for the others, arbitrariness could include deforestation, destructive cultivation, affecting reproduction, and changing the genetic pattern of plants. Although this debate is unsettled, however, the plant’s life and their dignity need to be respected beyond doubt (Schulp 2019: 112).

NATURE OF PLANT RIGHTS

Both Christopher Stone and Peter Singer have argued that these rights should not be followed in their strict sense. Granting of rights did not mean equal treatment, rather equal consideration (Singer 1993). If we take plant rights up to the absolute sense, humans cannot even have food on their plates. In such a scenario, then will it means that we are compromising the right to life of humans. Also, before identifying their rights, it is to be determined that whether each plant on earth shall be given equal rights, or we could bring some differentiation or exemption while conferring rights to some of them. Thus a distinction between vegetable and ornamental plants could be observed while determining the nature and extent of plant rights. 

Science mentions that plants and animals have a similar origin (Meyerowitz 1999). Where we have a plethora of rights for one animal (humans), it is pertinent to have rights for plant kingdom that must be plant-centric instead of being human-centric. The new system should protect the interests of plants instead of humans.

WHAT ARE THE PRESENT LAWS FOR PLANT?

The present plant regime is regulated by numerous international instruments covering various aspects of plant protection. International Plant Protection Convention of 1951 prevents the entry and spreading of pests on plants. International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of 2004, also known as the International Seed Treaty aims for food security through conservation and sustainable use of plant’s genetic resources. It works in the collaboration of the Convention on Biological Diversity, another multilateral framework with a goal of conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1973 (CITES) is another multilateral arrangement to protect endangered plants and animals. International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1961 (UPOV) provides intellectual property rights to the generators of new varieties of plants.   

Though the present international law non-uniformly recognizes the intrinsic value of plants still, it does not accord any legal personality to plants. Notably, some of these instruments consider plants as an object and protect them, not for their conservation but to fulfill the requirements of human. The present situation could be understood similarly as to the rights of indigenous peoples that are considered necessary for their lives and livelihood against economic developments (Phillips 2015). Thus, plants should have a mechanism available to seek redressal for their grievances.    

In the 21st century, there were attempts to recognize this new realm of rights. On the 56th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Venezuelan government organizations and biological groups adopted the Universal Declaration of Plant Rights that consists of 22 principles. This declaration presents a very stringent protectionist view of plant rights. Also, the April 2008 Swiss Report “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants” claims that since plants are alive, their morality must be respected. Further, they must not be considered as an object that can be owned by anyone (Willemsen 2008: 20).

States have reflected a commendable approach to provide legal rights to environmental entities. In the year 2008, Ecuador became the first state to adopt the rights of nature in its constitution (Revkin 2008). In 2010, Bolivia adopted legislation to grant legal standing to nature (Eckstein et al 2019: 805). New Zealand provided legal personality to Te Urewera national park in 2014, and later such status was also conferred to Mount Taranaki and Whanganui river to represent their interest through its guardians (Gleeson-White 2018). Similarly, in 2017, Uttarakhand High Court in India has conferred the status of ‘living entity’ upon river Ganga and Yamuna by making Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, ‘Namami Gange‘ project director and Advocate General of the State as a legal parent to the river to represent their interest in the court (Salim v State of Uttarakhand and Others 2014). In the same year, Columbia has granted legal rights to the river Rio Atrato (Mount 2017). Thus, a similar approach is needed to be undertaken for plants as well where custodians are to be appointed those who may speak purely for the interest of plants before the court of law.

SUGGESTIONS

As we need a law to protect our liberties, provide remedies, and tackle all forms of oppression and discrimination. Similarly, plants also require the same for their existence. It is not a justified argument that since plants cannot speak so they cannot argue and plead in the court of law for their rights. Bentham advocates that the threshold to determine rights for a being should be their capacity to suffer (Singer 1993). Being a right-holder, plants can bring the claim for their interest. Moreover, such law much is made considering their interest at large. The emergence of a new right for an entity diminishes the existing realm of rights exercised by the others. Thus such necessary amendments need to be brought in our present legal system. Also, such plant rights shall be treated at par with human rights, if not superior.  

CONCLUSION

Both plants and animals require sunlight, air, water, wind, earth, for their survival and development. Studies say that plant does communicate with each other in different forms (Karban 2008). Plants like ‘Touch-me-not’ (mimosa pudica) (Kumar et al 2009) or sunflower (helianthus) (Vandenbrink et al 2014: 21) shows a response to the external stimuli. It is also said that plant never dies until affected by any human-made or natural factor (Trewavas 2016). Most importantly, the plant produces ‘seeds’ that signifies the essence of life in them. It can be said that they are not a machine that breathes carbon dioxide in the presence of the sun and vice-versa. On the contrary, they occupy an essential part of the environment, along with humans. Based on a few fundamental differences between plants and animals, for example, mobility, one cannot ignore equality between the components of the environment. 

The critical question is, ‘Whether plants feel pain?’ Up till now, no accurate answer has been obtained from studies. Different scientists have suggested various theories for it. The response to the issue of plant rights found its basis in a more nuanced scientific discovery. So now, another question could arise ‘What should be done until we get a certain answer?’ In the absence of such knowledge, should it be appropriate to leave the notion of plant rights aside to be decided by our future generation? Another preferable aspect could be to set up a framework for now identifying the fundamental issues of plant rights. Such a regime should come from the plant’s perspective as a matter of being a living entity. No matter, science may take the time to answer the plant mystery; however, as a human, it is our responsibility to show respect towards the plant and their dignity in our actions (Koechlin 2009). It requires sensitization among people that rather objectifying plants as a matter to fulfill their selfish needs.

A strict need for change in perception is required. Since all of our previous generations, including us, have grown up exploiting plants from ages directly or indirectly, consequently today we do not sense any form of injustice in it. We got very well accommodated in this regime, and it seems beyond imagination to think of any such idea as plant rights. This reform is challenging; however, not impossible. It would be an honor for our generation and a gift for future ones if we can correct something that has been wrongly followed by our forefathers, especially after industrialization. 

REFERENCES

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  • Chamovitz, Daniel (2012): What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Eckstein, Gabriel et al (2019): “Conferring legal personality on the world’s rivers: A brief intellectual assessment,” Water International, Vol 44, No (6-7), pp 804-829.
  • Food and Agriculture Organization (1951):“International Plant Protection Convention,” UNTS, Vol 150, opened for signature 6 December, pp 67.
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  • Gleeson-White, Jane (2018): “It’s only natural: the push to give rivers, mountains and forests legal rights,” The Guardian, 1 April <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/01/its-only-natural-the-push-to-give-rivers-mountains-and-forests-legal-rights>.
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  • Whelan, Daniel J (2010): Indivisible Human Rights: A History, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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