Every company lists its assets and liabilities on its balance sheet. Assets provide a future benefit, while liabilities present a future obligation.
The difference between the assets and liabilities is the companies net worth.
Like the economic assets, every company, government or geography has environmental assets and liabilities. Environmental assets provide future benefits. Environmental liabilities present a future obligation. For example, a forest is an asset because it provides a future benefit of absorbing carbon, providing oxygen, seeding rainfall, protecting biodiversity to name a few benefits. Urbanization is an environmental liability because it creates a future obligation to absorb carbon, provide oxygen, provide water, provide biodiversity.
The environmental net worth of a company, government or geography is the difference between its environmental assets and environmental liabilities.
A positive environmental net worth means that we live in a healthy environment. One where we have no climate breakdown, one where there is no water emergency. If we have a negative net worth means that we are still in a climate breakdown, water emergency, and much more.
If environmental assets and liabilities are not declared, there is no way to estimate the environmental net worth of a company, government or geography. Currently it is not a practice to measure or publish the environmental assets and liabilities. It is not unsurprising, therefore, that we pay no attention to our environmental net worth.
Our governments have gotten used to treating the environment as collateral damage, our companies want licenses to clear the environmental assets and create environmental liabilities. They do not recognize their environmental net worth.
There is no environmental balance sheet of businesses, governments, or geographies. There is not even a listing of the environmental assets.
Our environmental impact studies do not list the environmental assets that are being liquidated and the environmental liabilities that are being created.
Unless the environmental impact assessment lists these, how can it determine the impact of a project on the environmental net worth?
We are facing a climate breakdown. Several studies including those of the United Nations have indicated that we have less than 10 years to take action that can protect the earth from a 1.5 degree rise in temperature.
This rise in temperature is expected, in turn, to have grave consequences on the ability of humans and other life forms to survive. We are, therefore, in a climate emergency.
Without information about our environmental assets that absorb carbon, and liabilities that cause a carbon debt to mount up, we cannot act to increase our environmental assets or decrease our environmental liabilities. To anyone addressing the climate emergency, it must be the essential first step to obtain this information.
What are our governments doing about this? The Government of India constituted a Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change in 2007. This is the highest body in the country addressing the climate emergency. This is an important assertion of the climate emergency.
The Prime Minister’s Council would be expected to have, or at least seek out, a list of environmental assets and liabilities for India and for different geographies and government bodies. Asked for this information under the Right to Information Act, the Public Information Officer from the Prime Minister’s Office, clearly surprised at the question, assumed that this information had nothing to do with the Prime Minister’s Office and felt it was not his job to find out who should supply the information. So, the Public Information Officer of the Prime Minister’s Office responded saying it was not his job to transfer the request to an officer who may have the information!
I’ve written back to the Public Information Officer highlighting that he should supply the information asked because the Prime Minister’s Council was part of the Prime Minister’s Office.
I’ll write to share whether the Public Information Officer does indeed make effort to share the list of the environmental assets and liabilities of India.
Whether he does share the information or not, it would not only be essential but prudent for the Prime Minister to ensure that this data is published, every quarter, for every government agency and every geography.
Unless the environmental net worth of each of these is positive, how can we be securing our future and ensuring sustainable development?
Unless we ensure that we are not destroying our environmental assets, how can we be sure that we get the safe environment our Constitution promises? Unless we ensure that we are not creating environmental liabilities, how can we be sure that we, and our future generations, will not be saddled with a huge environmental debt?
Measuring and reporting of the environmental net worth ensures that the Short Now, or the lifetime of a child born today or a hundred years, is not held hostage to the short term “development” that those with conflicts of interest keep pushing.
Shouldn’t we all be informed, every quarter, about the environmental net worth of India?
#All views expressed in this article are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph