Mankind has been reshaping Earth’s ecosystems for generations by large-scale conversion of natural habitats, and unsustainable utilization of bio-resources for food, water, timber, fiber, medicine, fuel etc. Globally ecosystems have undergone significant degradation with negative impacts on environment, biological diversity and peoples’ livelihoods. Cities consume 75% of natural resources and produce 50% of global waste accounting for 60- 80% of global GHG emissions. The once pristine natural habitats are being converted to monoculture plantations and about 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost. In the last two centuries, humans have converted 70% of the grassland, 50% of the savannah, 45% of the temperate deciduous forest, and 27% of the tropical forest biome for agriculture. At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders recognized that desertification, land degradation and drought, were challenges affecting sustainable development. The recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals has set a target to “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss by 2020”.
Natural landscape such as coastal and inland waters, mountains, forests, farm lands and constructed spatial surroundings, including urban and rural landscapes and places of cultural significance, and the social, political, cultural, economic, working and other factors influence the environment. People are part of the environment and are at the centre of concerns for its sustainability. Environment sustainability index is a relative measure of sustainability and ESI 2011 shows that Kerala is moderately sustainable and lies in the 40-60 percentile group where as during the previous assessment it was in the more sustainable group (60 to 80%). An analysis of the sub indices reveals that Kerala tops in Forests and Biodiversity and has a positive score on Policy response. Kerala has a negative score on pressure on ecosystem, state of environment, impact on humans and ecosystem, impact on health and ecosystem, water quality and availability.
In Kerala of the total geographical area of 38.86 lakh ha, one fourth was under forests, and one tenth was put to non agricultural use. The immense productivity potential of Kerala “ Gods own country” is not fully utilized in terms of land and people for sustainable development and in spite of ample rainfall Kerala is not self sufficient in terms of food. The unique urban – rural continuum has resulted in rapid urbanization and drain of semi skilled and unskilled workers to the tertiary sectors like construction leading to a negative growth rate in agriculture.
Due to poor retention capacity of the soil, steep slopes in terrain, deforestation, conversion of wetlands and grasslands and land use change, pollution of water bodies, degradation of natural aquifers, water available through rainfall is not conserved effectively. Water quality in Kerala is degraded by a combination of factors including saline intrusion, sewage and industrial effluents and urban and agricultural run−off. The major threat to coastal area is the loss of natural coasts and almost 53 % has been converted into artificial coasts by sea walls and similar structures and are erosion prone. The sea level is on the rise due to global warming and the projected Sea Level Rise (SLR) along Kerala coast on a conservative estimation is about 100 to 200 mm over the next 100 years. It is predicted that if the sea level rises by one metre, 169 sq. km of the coastal region surrounding Kochi will be inundated.
Improving the functioning of urban ecosystems can significantly enhance human health and well-being that have a direct bearing on the livelihoods of the rural poor. Ecorestoration of degraded areas can be achieved only by investing in restoring, protecting, and enhancing infrastructure and ecosystem services for a green and sustainable growth. The Environment agenda of Government of Kerala strives to include environmental concerns in economic and social development, foster economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide environmental services. The NavaKeralam mission focuses on ensuring clean air, water, soil, and food; a house to live, job security, basic education, basic health protection, social and cultural security for its 33.41 million population. The Harithakeralam mission with focus on waste disposal at source , revitalizing aquifers and promoting agriculture link different aspects of ecosystems as land, water, forests, biodiversity and addressing different drivers of change as pollution, land use change etc is aimed at pushing Kerala in a trajectory of green development. Community participation and social inclusiveness in decision making, planning and implementation are essential in the transition towards a Green Economy and sustainable livelihood. Local Governments are ideally placed to bring about this transformation and the Biodiversity Management committees established at LSG level, “The Environmental Watch Groups of Kerala” will facilitate emergence of local solutions to developmental problems for a NavaKeralam.