Formidable Tasks, Now and Then

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By Rajendra Shende, Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre, Former Director UNEP, IIT Alumni

When I joined the United Nations in 1992, I dedicated myself to the cause of the protection of the Earth’s life-shielding Ozone Layer. About 15-35 km above the earth’s surface lies stratosphere which is characterised by the presence of Ozone molecules with the average concentration of fewer than 10 parts per million of ozone. It is absolutely amazing that such a small fragile concentration of Ozone in the lower stratosphere acts as armour to protect the life on the Earth. It prevents the dangerous UV rays reaching on the Earth.

But that’s how is our planet’s ecosystem has been designed by the unknown force which we call God. In the modern era, humans developed the uncanny style of living by scrubbing and scouring all that has been placed by God to maintain the ‘ Ecolibrium’. The man-made gases caused the destruction of that Ozone Layer that can be described as nothing but destroying ourselves by constructing the weapons of mass destruction! Such was the blind-folded modern development that we are engaged in.

Damage to the Ozone Layer in the later years of the 19th century impacted the health of the people and animals globally. Widespread skin cancers, loss of immune systems that prevented diseases, eye-cataracts were some of such health impacts, apart from the loss of food, vegetation and the overall economy.

This description surely brings us closer and in the midst of the COVID19. That’s right. During similar global threats that we see today, I joined the United Nations.

As planned, within 18 years i.e. by 2010 the world leaders agreed to set the depleting the Ozone Layer on the recovery path. I was assigned the responsibility of enabling 146 developing countries to achieve that formidable task. The framework for implementation was embedded in the International Agreement called the Montreal Protocol.

Collective efforts by governments, industry and civil society that I was able to garner as part of that task succeeded. That became the world’s singular success story and remains so till this date.

Dedication worked.

Come February 27, 2020, 10 years later I was on the podium with the dignitaries par excellence under the largest dome in the world. The occasion was the convocation of the MIT ADT University where I was conferred with ‘ Honoris Causa’- Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy

( PhD) .

Nearly two months in the COVID19, the New Coronavirus had already started showing its devastating potential to the life on the Earth. Its health impacts were wide-ranging and pierced into the world economy and the social fabric of human society.

I said in my acceptance speech on 27th February, in the midst of the new Corona crisis, that I dedicate my honorary doctorate and myself to the cause of the health and the well-being of the society, particularly the students in the universities, on their way to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals ( UNSDGs). The world leaders have agreed to achieve that by 2030.

Yet another formidable task. But that was exactly the nature of the task in 1992 when I joined the United Nations.

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