Summary of State of Environment Report 2021 – Explained, Pointwise


The Centre for Science and Environment(CSE) has released its annual State of Environment Report, 2021. This year’s assessment has been made against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. The report highlights the dismal state of the environment in India wherein the country is jeopardising its natural wealth for meeting its economic objectives. 

It also throws light on the impact of Covid-19 over India, which may create a pandemic generation in future who would possess poor health and education levels.

The report is a reminder for humans to stop indiscriminate usage of the environment. As the Environment has increased, the progression towards sixth mass extinction. The focus should now be on developing eco-friendly products and living harmoniously with nature in order to attain sustainable development. 

About State of Environment Report
  • It is an annual publication by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) along with Down To Earth.
  • It covers aspects such as forests, wildlife, agriculture, rural development, water and sanitation, and climate change. 
  • This publication is regarded as the most credible and complete annual survey of India’s environment.
About Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)
  • CSE is a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi. 
  • It researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable. 
  • It creates awareness about problems and proposes sustainable solutions. For instance, it exposed the high level of pesticides present in American brands of soft drinks such as Coke and Pepsi.
  • In 2018 the CSE was awarded Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development
Key Findings of the State of Environment Report 2021
  • Biodiversity and forests:
    • Environmental crime cases are increasing and the disposal of the cases is slow. In 2019, 34,671 crimes were registered and 49,877 cases are pending trial. To clear the backlog in a year, courts need to dispose of 137 cases a day.
    • Forestland diversion is continuing consistently. In 2019, over 11,000 hectares were diverted in 22 states. Eight coal projects were granted clearance in ‘No-Go’ areas.
    • More than 160 species have gone extinct over the last decade (2009-2019).
  • Sustainable Development Goals:
    • India ranks 117 among 192 nations in terms of sustainable development. Its rank was 115 in the 2020 report. 
    • Five best performing states in achieving SDGs: Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana
    • Five worst-performing states in achieving SDGs: Bihar, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Pollution Levels:
    • India’s air, water, and land have become more polluted between 2009 and 2018.
    • Tarapur in Maharashtra has emerged as the most polluted cluster.
    • In 2019, 1.67 million Indians died due to air pollution. Its economic cost was over $36,000 million, which is equivalent to 1.36 percent of India’s GDP.
    • Both the surface and groundwater in the country are under threat, with 86% of the water bodies critically polluted.
  • Rural India:
    • Community health centres in rural India need 76 percent more doctors, 56 percent more radiographers and 35 percent more lab technicians.
  • Climate Change:
    • India recorded 12 of its 15 warmest years in the period between 2006 and 2020. Further, India also had its warmest decade on record. 
    • Extreme weather events continued their rampage across the country. India was the fourth-worst hit in the world in terms of internal displacements due to disasters.
    • Between 2008 and 2020, some 3.73 million people per year were displaced because of floods, earthquakes, cyclones and droughts. 
  • Pandemic related:
    • The world is going to face a pandemic like the current one more frequently, as we know just 0.1 per cent of potential zoonoses. These are diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals. Ex – Bird Flu, Anthrax, Ebola etc.
    • The country is all set to host a ‘pandemic generation’. 375 million children (from newborn to 14-year-olds) will have a long-lasting impact ranging from being underweight, stunting, and increased child mortality.
    • Out of the 500 million children forced out of school globally, India accounts for more than 50%.
    • Covid-19 has also turned the world’s poor into poorer. 115 million additional people might get pushed into extreme poverty.
Analysing the Key Findings of State of Environment Report 2021

First, the data shows that humans possess a minuscule level of information to tackle future pandemics. The world remains ignorant of 99.9 percent of potential zoonotic viruses.

Second, the nations would be left with poor human capital in the future if immediate steps towards sustainable development are not taken. 

The report said that malnutrition and hunger levels could rise with more pandemic events in the future. This would reduce the potential of human capital.

Third, humans have been increasingly exploiting the environment, as observed by rising air and water pollution levels.

A reduction in intervention would allow natural healing of the environment, as seen by the appearance of the “clean air and blue sky” during the country-wide lockdown.

Fourth, India is performing poorly in the attainment of SDG goals in comparison to its peers. It is behind all South Asian nations except Pakistan.

Challenges such as hunger, low food security, achieving gender equality, fostering innovation are the reasons why India’s rank slipped in 2021.

Fifth, the loss of species and biodiversity shows a progression towards the Sixth Mass Extinction (Holocene extinction).

As per the report, before an extinction phase sets in, there are two signs: Loss in population and shrinking distribution areas. These two signs are evident among all species currently.

Suggestions from the State of Environment Report 2021
  1. The government must undo its 2020 policy decisions that effectively diluted India’s environmental regulation regimes. 
    • For instance, the draft Environment Impact Assessment notification 2020 was an extremely lenient version of its predecessor.
  2. The focus should be on tackling the pandemic without jeopardising the environment.
    • For instance, the rise in plastic waste due to the higher usage of masks and PPE kits can be tackled with innovative solutions. 
    • Dr Binesh Desai’s model of Eco Bricks should be adopted in constructing buildings and hospitals. (Around 52% of the Eco brick is made from plastic.)
  3. There should be timely completion of targets aimed at countering climate change and achieving Sustainable Development goals. This demands timely devolution of funds and resources to the respective departments. For example, 
    • With just 55 percent of the target met, India is nowhere close to installing 175 GW of renewable capacity by 2022
    • The country also has a target of setting up at least 50 solar parks by 2021-22. However, not even one park has been operationalised till now.
  4. The expenditure on health and environmental research should be enhanced. This will help in finding out eco-friendly methods of production and develop greater resilience against future pandemics. 

The State of Environment Report is a reminder of the progressive worsening of the environment due to human actions. It calls for resetting our relationship with nature in such a way that it leads to sustainable development. India should now switch from a reactive to a proactive approach in order to mitigate and develop greater resilience against the upcoming environmental changes.


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