Introducing Gross Environment Product in Uttarakhand: A jargon or reality?

Source: Down to Earth

Synopsis: The Uttarakhand government may introduce a well-defined concept of ecosystem services Gross Environment Product’ (GEP) its objectives.

Background
  • Degradation of ecosystems had led to adverse impacts on more than 60 per cent of services we get from the ecosystems.
  • The idea of valuation of the components of environment got impetus following rapid degradation of ecosystems.
  • Recently, the Uttarakhand government has announced that it will initiate valuation of its natural resources in the form of ‘Gross Environment Product’ (GEP), along the lines of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Ecosystem Services
  • The term “ecosystem services” was coined in 1981.
  • According to Costanza, ecosystem services are the benefits human populations derive, directly or indirectly, from ecosystem functions.
  • Ecosystem services represent the benefits humans get: Forests, lakes and grasslands; timber and dyed; carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling; soil formation and productivity; and tourism.
  • Degradation of ecosystem services, increased risks, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people.
  • These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems.
  • Ecosystem services are now the well-defined field of research worldwide.
Ecosystem Services provided by Uttarakhand
  • Uttarakhand holds a distinct position historically on social awareness towards the importance of ecosystems
  • It may be emphasised that because of the river connection, Uttarakhand has a special place in providing soil and water to the Gangetic plains.
  • Harnessing hydropower potentials is an aspect that demands wider scope of ecosystem services.
  • Further, Himalayan rivers not only drain down water but also carry millions of tonnes of sediments.
  • However, the ecological regime of the hills of Uttarakhand and other Himalayan states is being destroyed with little or no benefit to regions from where they are being harnessed.
Concept to measure Ecosystem Services
  • According to the recommendation of the 12th and 13th Finance Commissions, grants were transferred to forest-rich states in amounts corresponding to their forest covers.
  • However, considering only the forest cover in transferring funds to states is inadequate.
  • If the payments are to reflect the true value of the services provided, then Ecosystem services need to be measured and assigned unit values.
  • Singh introduced the concept of service providing (example, the Himalayas) and receiving zones (example, the Gangetic Plains).
  • It should be understood that while valuing ecosystem services, the population size served is important.
  • That is why Uttarakhand, which substantially serves Gangetic Plains, is far more important than Sikkim, which has only a small population to serve in plains.
  • Singh and his team suggested a system to valorize ecosystem services in the Himalayan states of India, in a way that is consistent with the national mission on Himalayan ecosystems.
  • According to them, ecosystem services of a state benefiting the rest of the country and world should be valued, and these values should be incorporated into national accounting.
  • The main argument is that since the market does not perform money transfers from regions that benefit from ecosystem services to regions that produce them, the central government should perform this transfer.
Way forward
  • The decision of Uttarakhand government to incorporate GEP appears to be a welcome step. But the purpose of introducing GEP is not transparent.
    • Is it a process of simple valuation of state’s ecological wealth? or
    • It is an attempt to claim budget from the centre against ecosystem services the state provides to the rest of the country? or
    • it is a process of providing benefits to its own residents is not clear
  • Introducing a new term  Gross Environment Product’ (GEP), with no clear-cut narrative invites serious doubts on the intention of the government.
  • So, it is important that the state should be steady in approach, focussing on Ecosystem Services, which have global acceptance and a strong knowledge base.
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