Maharashtra State BoardHSC Arts 12th Board Exam
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Issues since 1991 - Environment and Sustainability

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Issues since 1991 - Environment and Sustainability:

Environment is everything that makes up our surroundings, the air we breathe, the water that covers most of the earth's surface, the plants and animals around us, and much more. It is the conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives. The natural environment consists of all living and non-living things occurring naturally. It would include soil, rocks, atmosphere, air, water, and climate, etc. There is also the built environment. This refers to such areas where man has transformed landscapes such as urban settings and agricultural land conversion. The natural environment is modified into a human environment.

The word 'environment' is derived from the old French word 'environer' – which means to 'surround, enclose, and encircle'. Environment refers to an aggregate of conditions or surroundings in which living beings such as humans, animals, and plants live or survive and non-living things exist. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm was the first world conference to make the environment a major issue. The participants adopted a series of principles for sound management of the environment including the Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment and several resolutions.

The Stockholm Declaration, which contained 26 principles, placed environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns and marked the start of a dialogue between industrialized and developing countries on the link between economic growth, the pollution of the air, water, and oceans and the well-being of people around the world. The Action Plan contained three main categories: a) Global Environmental Assessment Program (watch plan); b) Environmental management activities; (c) International measures to support assessment and management activities carried out at the national and international levels. In addition, these categories were broken down into 109 recommendations.

One of the major results of the Stockholm conference was the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. When the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and some artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the Earth. This process maintains the Earth’s temperature at around 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it would otherwise be, allowing life on Earth to exist.

The relationship between economic development and environmental degradation was first placed on the international agenda in 1972, at the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm. The main purpose of the conference was to encourage and provide guidelines for the protection and improvement of human environment. In 1983 the UN set up the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission). The Report of the Commission (1987) put forward the concept of sustainable development as an alternative approach to one based on economic growth.

The UN General Assembly called for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) as a follow up to the report of the Brundtland Commission. The goal of the summit was to understand the concept of development that would support socio-economic development and prevent the continued deterioration of the environment. It also aimed at creating a partnership between the developing and the more industrialised countries to ensure a healthy future for the planet. This summit was held at Rio in 1992.

The Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit (1992) also called the Rio Summit, the Rio Conference, or the Earth Summit sought to create international cooperation on development issues. It tried to raise public awareness on the need to integrate environment and development. In 2002 the Earth Summit was held in Johannesburg with the goal of again bringing together leaders from government, business and NGOs. Sustainable Development was recognised as the most important goal for institutions at the national, regional and international levels. In 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was again held in Rio, and is also commonly called Rio+20 or Rio Earth Summit 2012.

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