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Sterlite Copper Plant shutdown impact – India turned copper importer from exporter in 3 years

Sterlite Copper Plant shutdown impact – India turned copper importer from exporter in 3 years


  • GS 3 || Environment || Environment & Ecology || Sustainable Development

Why in the news?

The closure of the Vedanta group’s Sterlite Copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi, would remove a third of domestic production of copper and also may cause loss of livelihood for thousands of people.

Environment sustainability:

  • The concept of ‘sustainability’  did not emerge until the 1970s when the Brundtland  Report titled “Our Common Future” brought in the concept of sustainability for the first time.
  • The rapid but careless economic growth had already resulted in severe damage to the environment and ecology. The report prominently highlighted this fact.
  • The genesis of the debate ‘growth versus environment conservation’ therefore can be said to have originated in the 1970s when the Brundtland report was published.
  • In the 1990s the debate went one step further as in the Rio Climate convention, the concept of ‘sustainable development’ was introduced rather than mere sustainability.

Impacts of Economic factors on Environmental Sustainability

  • Promotes Poor Environmental Compliance: Poor environmental complacence due to lack of economic resources or for the concern of saving resources endangers the environmental sustainability in the long run. The projects which do not invest adequately in sustainability suffer in the long run.
  • Ill-effects of Subsidies: Government subsidies are necessary in a welfare state. However, subsidised nature of services like energy and electricity leads to their overuse and undermines environmental sustainability. Further, subsidies also undermine the revenue base and limit the government’s capacity to invest in new, cleaner technologies.
  • Less regard for Environmental Resources: Access to natural resources is entirely open and no individual user bears the full cost of environmental degradation and resources are consequently overused.
  • Complexity of Demographic Dynamics: Increasing population tends to exacerbate the linkages between underdevelopment and environmental degradation. Further, poverty generates significant incentives to raise large families and stimulate migrations, which makes urban areas environmentally unsustainable. Both outcomes increase pressure on resources and consequently worsen environmental quality, diminish productivity and reinforce poverty.

Development versus Environment :

  • Both Development and environment are intertwined and should not be seen in exclusion of each other.
  • On one hand people are concerned about the environment in which they live. Major climate related issues like global warming, greenhouse effect, air and water pollution, increasing recurrence of disasters etc. are increasing each day. On the other hand, to eradicate poverty and increase growth in the economy, development is mandatory. Without economic development no nation can eradicate poverty.
  • As the population grows, finding a balance between economic advancement and consumption of natural resources is a significant challenge that India has to address.
  • At the same time, from past experiences we have learnt that development without environment is meaningless. We need to balance our existing growth paradigm which will address the concerns associated with the environment.
  • Also, any development model which disregards nature is also unethical as it later takes a toll disproportionately on the poor and vulnerable in the form of major disasters.
  • The only way out from such a situation is “Sustainable development”.

Sustainable Development:

  • Brundtland report defines “Sustainable development” as a development model that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Inclusiveness, responsive consumerism, investment in innovation, etc are some of the dimensions of Sustainable Development.
  • The best example of Sustainable development has been demonstrated by PepsiCo.
  • Faced with various criticisms on the social and environmental fronts, PepsiCo adopted the ‘Performance with Purpose’ strategy.
  • This strategy was based upon the philosophy that the company’s financial performance should go hand in hand with its responsibilities toward society and the environment.
  • The new sustainable development program contained 47 commitments that PepsiCo made toward society and these were divided into four broad areas: Performance, Human Sustainability, Environmental Sustainability, and Talent Sustainability.
  • The global community has now adopted 17 very specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets under these SDGs to be achieved by 2030.

What is the difference between sustainable development and sustainability?

  • According to UNESCO, ‘Sustainability’ is often thought of as a long-term goal (i.e. a more sustainable world), while ‘Sustainable development’ refers to the many processes and pathways to achieve it (e.g. sustainable agriculture and forestry, sustainable production and consumption, good government, research and technology transfer, education and training, etc.).”Thus, to achieve sustainability, sustainable development is prerequisite.

Why should we prioritise environment conservation over careless economic growth?

  • This should be noted that the environmental protection itself contributes to economic growth. The renewable energy sector generates millions of jobs across the world. It has emerged as one of the major sectors of economic activities.
  • The ignorance towards environment conservation and excessive focus on economic development facilitates recurrence of major disasters. For eg: the recent flash floods in Chamoli in Uttarakhand is a glaring example of this
  • Also, the climate problem is not caused by economic growth, but by the absence of effective public policy designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • For eg: The Centre for Environment Studies (CES) observe that India can reduce more than 40% of emission if it implements the Environment Impacts Assessment (EIA) effectively.
  • Similarly, the major statutes such as Environment protection Act (EPA), 1987, which are enacted with  intention of conserving the environment can help in striking a balance between development and environment conservation if implemented letter and spirit alike.

Way ahead:

  • Rationalise Economic Policies: Economic policies such as rationalisation of price subsidies, the clarification of property rights, facilitation of technology transfer may help in achieving environmental sustainability.
  • Restrict subsidies: Rationalising subsidies will save financial resources, improves efficiency and can significantly lower pollution.
  • Conditional access to environmental resources: Open access to environmental resources needs to be replaced with some ordered system of use or ownership rights.
  • Community ownership of resources: Community ownership of resources can result in sound environmental stewardship, particularly where it is based on customary social practices.
  • Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge: Regions and countries can benefit from the knowledge of indigenous people and their understanding of large ecosystems. Thus, Governance, including customary institutions and management systems should involve indigenous peoples and local communities to safeguard nature and understand climate change.
  • Conserving Biodiversity: The linkage of biodiversity and environmental sustainability highlights the critical need to integrate biodiversity considerations in global decision-making.
  • Effective implementation of laws meant for environment protection can also help India achieve its SDG goals within the stipulated time framework.
  • Responsive consumerism and Corporate responsibilities: The consumer behaviour needs to be aligned with 17 Sustainable development goals and the corporate should also own the responsibilities related to repair, reuse and recycle the products.
  • International Cooperation: International cooperation is also a must for sustainable development for the world. The developing and LDCs must be assisted with technology and finance to reduce the emission.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Critically analyse the ‘development versus environment conservation’ debate. Suggest measures to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in India within the determined time period.