India unveils the world’s tallest statue, celebrating development at the cost of the environment


Ruth Gamble, La Trobe University and Alexander E. Davis, La Trobe University

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will today inaugurate the world’s largest statue, the Statue of Unity in Gujarat. At 182m tall (240m including the base), it is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, and depicts India’s first deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

The statue overlooks the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River. Patel is often thought of as the inspiration for the dam, which came to international attention when the World Bank withdraw its support from the project in 1993 after a decade of environmental and humanitarian protests. It wasn’t until 2013 that the World Bank funded another large dam project.

Like the dam, the statue has been condemned for its lack of environmental oversight, and its displacement of local Adivasi or indigenous people. The land on which the statue was built is an Adivasi sacred site that was taken forcibly from them.




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The Statue of Unity is part of a broader push by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to promote Patel as a symbol of Indian nationalism and free-market development. The statue’s website praises him for bringing the princely states into the Union of India and for being an early advocate of Indian free enterprise.

The BJP’s promotion of Patel also serves to overshadow the legacy of his boss, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru’s descendants head India’s most influential opposition party, the Indian National Congress.

The statue was supposed to be built with both private and public money, but it attracted little private investment. In the end, the government of Gujarat paid for much of the statue’s US$416.67 million price tag.

The statue under construction, January 2018.
Alexander Davis

The Gujarat government claims its investment in the statue will promote tourism, and that tourism is “sustainable development”. The United Nations says that sustainable tourism increases environmental outcomes and promotes local cultures. But given the statue’s lack of environmental checks and its displacement of local populations, it is hard to see how this project fulfils these goals.

The structure itself is not exactly a model of sustainable design. Some 5,000 tonnes of iron, 75,000 cubic metres of concrete, 5,700 tonnes of steel, and 22,500 tonnes of bronze sheets were used in its construction.

Critics of the statue note that this emblem of Indian nationalism was built partly with Chinese labour and design, with the bronze sheeting subcontracted to a Chinese firm.

The statue’s position next to the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam is also telling. While chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, Modi pushed for the dam’s construction despite the World Bank’s condemnation. He praised the dam’s completion in 2017 as a monument to India’s progress.

Both the completion of the dam and the statue that celebrates it suggest that the BJP government is backing economic development over human rights and environmental protections.

The statue’s inauguration comes only a month after the country closed the first nature reserve in India since 1972. Modi’s government has also come under sustained criticism for a series of pro-industry policies that have eroded conservation, forest, coastal and air pollution protections, and weakened minority land rights.

India was recently ranked 177 out of 180 countries in the world for its environmental protection efforts.

Despite this record, the United Nations’ Environmental Programme (UNEP) recently awarded Modi its highest environmental award. It made him a Champion of the Earth for his work on solar energy development and plastic reduction.

The decision prompted a backlash in India, where many commentators are concerned by the BJP’s environmental record.




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Visitors to the statue will access it via a 5km boat ride. At the statue’s base, they can buy souvenirs and fast food, before taking a high-speed elevator to the observation deck.

The observation deck will be situated in Patel’s head. From it, tourists will look out over the Sardar Sarovar Dam, as the accompanying commentary praises “united” India’s national development successes.

But let’s not forget the environmental and minority protections that have been sacrificed to achieve these goals.


This article was amended on November 7, 2018, to clarify the role of Chinese companies in the statue’s design and construction.The Conversation

Ruth Gamble, David Myers Research Fellow, La Trobe University and Alexander E. Davis, New Generation Network Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Explainer: what any country can and can’t do in Antarctica, in the name of science



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In Antarctica, many countries want a piece of the action.
Flickr/Christopher Michel, CC BY

Julia Jabour, University of Tasmania

Antarctica is owned by no one, but there are plenty of countries interested in this frozen island continent at the bottom of the Earth.

While there are some regulations on who can do what there, scientific research has no definition in Antarctic law. So any research by a country conducted in or about Antarctica can be interpreted as legitimate Antarctic science.




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There are 30 countries – including Australia – operating bases and ships, and flying aircraft to and from runways across the continent.

Russia and China have increased their presence in Antarctica over the past decade, with China now reportedly interested in building its first permanent airfield.

It is not surprising there is significant interest in who is doing what, where – especially if countries ramp up their investment in Antarctic infrastructure with new stations, ships or runways.

Their actions might raise eyebrows and fuel speculation. But the freedom of countries to behave autonomously is guided by the laws that apply to this sovereign-neutral continent.

Treaties and signatories

There are 12 original signatories to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, including Australia, and they do not have to prove their commitment to the treaty since they wrote the rules.

Another 41 countries have signed on since 1959, and they do need to prove commitment.

Non-signatory countries, such as Iran or Indonesia, are freed from many of these legal obligations.

Until such time as the Antarctic Treaty has been designated customary international law applicable to all states by a high authority (such as the International Court of Justice), non-signatories can essentially do what they like in Antarctica.

The appliance of science

Autonomous freedom of activity by signatory countries is legitimised through the fact that science is the currency of credibility in Antarctica. This is important for two reasons:

  1. scientific research has legal priority
  2. new signatories can become decision-makers when they do science.

The “freedom of scientific investigation” is preserved in Article II of the Antarctic Treaty. It directs that signatories to the treaty can conduct scientific research of any kind anywhere in the Antarctic, without anybody else’s permission.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) coordinates Antarctic research, but being a member is not a prerequisite for doing Antarctic science.

Further, the treaty outlines the process for new signatories (that is, other than the original 12) to achieve Consultative Party (decision-making) status.

Decisions are made by consensus (that is, everyone agrees or there is no formal objection). So every country’s “vote” counts and new countries aspire to gain a seat at the table to further their national agendas.

They become Consultative Parties by conducting “substantial scientific research activity” (Article IX.2) and when this has been accomplished to the satisfaction of the other decision-makers, they will be accepted.

Piggy backing

Demonstrating interest in Antarctic science was initially interpreted as building a base or dispatching an expedition (Article IX.2). But after the adoption of the environmental protocol to the treaty in 1991, this was re-interpreted.

Parties were encouraged (but not legally bound) to consider piggy-backing on existing national scientific expeditions of other countries, and to share stations and other resources such as ships and aircraft where possible.

Currently there is only one jointly operated scientific base – Concordia, occupied by both France and Italy. The Novolazarevskaya airfield is a joint operation coordinated by Russia.

This encouragement was designed to reduce the potential for expansion of the footprint of human activities.

In 2017 the Consultative Parties adopted revised guidelines for how to become a decision maker. These outline new rules on a concept that has never been articulated publicly in an Antarctic forum before – evaluating the quality of scientific research.

This could put the brakes on the rapid addition of new signatories to the table.

There are limits

Although there is freedom to conduct science anywhere in Antarctica, what any country cannot do is lay claim to territory on the basis of its research efforts.

The treaty expressly excludes new claims or the extension of existing claims. Signatories that conduct research, and support those endeavours by building a base and infrastructure such as an airstrip, cannot use those actions as a basis of a claim while the treaty is in force.

Seven countries claim Antarctic territory: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Two others – the United States and the Russian Federation – have reserved their rights to claim any or all of Antarctica in the future.

These paper claims are acknowledged by Article IV of the treaty. But its artful craftsmanship prevents conflict over the claims and reservations during the life of the Treaty – which incidentally has neither an expiry nor a future review date.

Because the Article II freedoms permit research to be undertaken anywhere on the continent, the borders delineating claims become irrelevant to all but the claimant.

A party has an option of recognising a claim, or not, and does not need anyone’s permission to build a station or send an expedition. This means that the claimants have very limited capacity to exercise sovereignty in their territory. This effectively reduces their power to that of jurisdiction only over their own nationals.




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The sting in the tail is that conducting substantial scientific research activity in Antarctica – including the building of support infrastructure – is the pathway new states must take to achieve decision-making status.

This is only constrained by the legal requirement to undertake an environmental impact assessment of any activity prior to its commencement.

Irrespective of whether the activity’s proponent complies with best practice environmental evaluation, under the rules, no other party can veto that activity.

Essentially, any country – whether a party to the treaty or not – can do whatever they like in Antarctica.The Conversation

Julia Jabour, Leader, Ocean and Antarctic Governance Research Program, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Earth’s wilderness is vanishing, and just a handful of nations can save it


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Brazil, home to the Amazon, is one of just five ‘mega-wilderness’ countries.
CIFOR, Author provided

James Allan, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Jasmine Lee, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, The University of Queensland

Just 20 countries are home to 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding the high seas and Antarctica, according to our new global wilderness map, published today in Nature.

A century ago, wilderness extended over most of the planet. Today, only 23% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 13% of the ocean remains free from the harmful impacts of human activities.

More than 70% of remaining wilderness is in just five countries: Australia, Russia, Canada, the United States (Alaska), and Brazil.

The last of the wild. Remaining marine wilderness is shown in blue; terrestrial wilderness in green.
Watson et al. 2018

We argue that wilderness can still be saved. But success will depend on the steps these “mega-wilderness nations” take, or fail to take, to secure the future of Earth’s last remaining wild places.

Mega-wilderness countries.
James Allan, Author provided

Wilderness areas are vast tracts of untamed and unmodified land and sea. Regardless of where they are – from the lowland rainforests of Papua New Guinea, to the high taiga forests of Russia’s Arctic, to the vast deserts of inland Australia, to the great mixing zones of the Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans – these areas are the last strongholds for endangered species, and perform vital functions such as storing carbon, and buffering us against the effects of climate change. In many wilderness areas, indigenous peoples, who are often the most politically and economically marginalised of all peoples, depend on them for their livelihoods and cultures.

Yet despite being important and highly threatened, wilderness areas and their values are completely overlooked in international environmental policy. In most countries, wilderness is not formally defined, mapped or protected. This means there is nothing to hold nations, industry, society and community to account for wilderness conservation.

Beyond boundaries

Almost two-thirds of marine wilderness is in the high seas, beyond nations’ immediate control. This effectively makes it a marine wild west, where fishing fleets have a free-for-all. There are some laws to manage high-seas fishing, but there is no legally binding agreement governing high-seas conservation, although the United Nations is currently negotiating such a treaty. Ensuring marine wilderness is off-limits to exploitation will be crucial.




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And we cannot forget Antarctica, arguably Earth’s greatest remaining wilderness and one of the last places on the planet where vast regions have never experienced a human footfall.

Antarctica, the (almost) untouched continent.
Author provided

While Antarctica’s isolation and extreme climate have helped protect it from the degradation experienced elsewhere, climate change, human activity, pollution, and invasive species increasingly threaten the continent’s wildlife and wilderness.

Parties to the Antarctic Treaty must act on their commitments to help reduce human impacts, and we need to urgently curb global carbon emissions before it is too late to save Antarctica.




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Our maps show how little wilderness is left, and how much has been lost in the past few decades. It is hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009 a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres of terrestrial wilderness – an area larger than India – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures. In the ocean, the only regions free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are confined to the poles or remote Pacific island nations.

Saving wilderness

Almost every nation has signed international environmental agreements that aim to end the biodiversity crisis, halt dangerous climate change, and achieve global
sustainable development goals. We believe Earth’s remaining wilderness can only be
secured if its importance is immediately recognised within these agreements.

At a summit in Egypt later this month, the 196 signatory nations to the Convention on Biological Diversity will work alongside scientists on developing a strategic plan for conservation beyond 2020. This is a unique opportunity for all nations to recognise that Earth’s wilderness are dwindling, and to mandate a global target for wilderness conservation.

A global target of retaining 100% of all remaining wilderness is achievable, although it would require stopping industrial activities like mining, logging, and fishing from expanding to new places. But committing explicitly to such a target would make it easier for governments and non-governmental organisations to leverage funding and mobilise action on the ground in nations that are still developing economically.

Similarly, the role of wilderness in guarding against climate change – such as by storing huge amounts of carbon – could also be formally documented in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which holds its annual conference in Poland next month. This would incentivise nations to make wilderness protection central to their climate strategies.

Mechanisms such as REDD+, which allows developing nations to claim compensation for conserving tropical forests they had planned to clear, could be extended to other carbon-rich wilderness areas such as intact seagrasses, and even to wildernesses in rich countries that do not receive climate aid, such as the Canadian tundra.

The Boreal/Taiga Forest holds one third of the world’s terrestrial carbon.
Keith Williams, Author provided

Nations have ample opportunities, through legislation and rewarding good behaviour, to prevent road and shipping lane expansion, and enforcing limits on large-scale developments and industrial fishing in their wilderness areas. They can also establish protected areas to slow the spread of industrial activity into wilderness.




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A diverse set of approaches must be embraced, and the private sector must work with governments so that industry protects, rather than harms, wilderness areas. Key to this will be lenders’ investment and performance standards, particularly for organisations such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the regional development banks.

Our planet faces not just a species extinction crisis, but also a wilderness extinction crisis. Once lost, our wild places are gone forever. This may be our last opportunity to save the last of the wild, we cannot afford to miss it.The Conversation

James Allan, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; Jasmine Lee, PhD candidate, biodiversity conservation and climate change, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, PhD candidate, Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.