UPSC MAINS 2020: A new ethics for a sustainable planet

Topic : A new ethics for a sustainable planet

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3: Ecology & Environment


Brazil’s Amazon forests are ablaze with dozens of fires, most of them set intentionally by loggers and others seeking greater access to forest land. They are paving the way for a global climate catastrophe. There is a need for new ethics that supports alternative systems for the future, for a sustainable earth. 


Causes of climate change:

  • Energy and transport are mainly responsible for the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, changes in land use patterns too have made significant contributions.
  • Deforestation, industrial agricultural systems and desertification are major drivers of climate change.
  • Agriculture, forestry and other land use activities accounted for 23% of the total net anthropogenic emissions of GHGs between 2007-2016.
  •  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently brought out a special report on ‘Climate Change and Land’ stating that unless land is managed in a sustainable manner, the chance that humanity will survive climate change will become smaller.
  •  Decades of poor land management resulted in depletion of land minerals with heavy use of chemicals and farms have few or no beneficial insects.
  •  Moreover, monoculture has led to a reduction in the use of indigenous crop varieties with useful characteristics, groundwater is depleted and polluted farm runoffs are contributing to contaminated water bodies while destroying biodiversity.

Effects of climate change:

Many cities in Europe and elsewhere have seen high temperatures never before experienced. 
Heat waves have also accelerated melting of glaciers in Greenland at a rate that was not anticipated by scientific models until much later this century.
The burning of the world’s largest forest reserves as witnessed in Amazon recently.
Need for land management

  • Land is part and parcel of people’s lives. It provides food, water, livelihoods, biodiversity and a range of other benefits from its ecosystems.
  • Land use is interlocked with social, political, economic aspects of life on earth.
  • Land matters for climate also. Its rehabilitation and sustainable management are critical for closing the emissions gap and staying on target.
  • Energy, Transport as well as the Changes in land patterns are the major contributors to Greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions in the atmosphere.
  • Land can play an important part in accelerating the achievement of many Sustainable Development Goals also.

Ways to improve land management and reduce climate change effect:

  • Sustainable agriculture practices
    • Reducing chemical input drastically and taking the practice of food production closer to natural methods of agro ecology.
    • These practices would reduce emissions and enhance resilience to warming.
    • There is a need to avoid the conversion of grassland to cropland.
    • There is a need to bring equitable management of water in agriculture, crop diversification, agro forestry and investment in local and indigenous seed varieties.
  •  Establishing sustainable food systems
    •  It means reducing food waste. Food waste is estimated to be a quarter of the food produced.
    •  It necessitates eating locally grown food and cutting meat consumption.
    •  It is important to put an end to deforestation while conserving mangroves, peat land, and other wetlands.
  •  Government’s role
    • Government should incorporate better access to markets for small and marginal farmers.
    • It should empower women farmers in expanding agricultural services and strengthen land tenure systems.
    • It should focus on sustainable land management to reduce multiple stressors on ecosystems and societies. This will also help societies adapt better to warmer climates and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Role of international groups

  •  There have been successful civil society movements that have promote sustainable farming and positive climate change, for example, La Via Campesina, The Transition Network, Great Transition Initiative and Eco regionalism.
  •  More recently, Fridays for Future and Fossil Fuel Divestment are part of such evolving sensibilities.

Why is there a need for new planetary ethics?

Currently, the following events have the potential to impact the environment adversely.

  • Burning of the Amazon forest reserves and limited actions of Brazilian Government
  • Withdrawal of the world’s leading polluter i.e. the USA from Paris Agreement.
  • Actions of respective governments are in line with the national interests, forgetting that these events can impact the whole planet.
  • Challenges are also becoming transnational in nature due to high-speed globalization.
  • So, there is a need to do away with the practices focussing on nationalism and adopt a new planetary ethic that supports alternative systems for a sustainable earth.
  •  New system can cultivate the growth of ecological sensibilities, support pluralism, and enhance the quality of life.
  • It can shift values away from consumerism and creates new identities and cultures that transcend conventional boundaries.

Sample Question:

Viewing the transnational challenge of climate change through the narrow lens of nationalism will only spell disaster. Comment.