Eleven years ago in 2009, we began “Ten Minutes to Earth”, a program with the aim of making our planet better, planting one tree at a time. Our mission was to bring the people together each year in giving – even if just ten minutes – towards taking care of our environment. I am very happy that today we are in the 12th year of the program. It is a great achievement that the program has continued for so many years and I am certain that the program will only grow in the future, connecting more and more people in the fight for the health of our planet.Ten Minutes to Earth mobilizes the public towards a commitment to nature. Although the program is focused on a plantation drive, the larger aim is to inculcate a feeling of connection to the earth and to our environment. In today’s fast paced world driven by technology where we are becoming more and more disconnected from nature, it is necessary to come back to our roots and to be in touch with the earth. Spending just ten minutes tending to nature can go a long way. So I encourage each and every person in Sikkim and beyond to participate and to act. Take ten minutes out of your day to plant a tree. When all of us act in unison, united by the common goal of protecting the environment and mitigating the climate change crisis, the impact will be powerful beyond our expectations.I cannot stress the urgency of the crisis enough, as well as the immediate action that it begs. The devastation of Climate Change is a reality and a crisis we are living through. Just in Sikkim, we are seeing unprecedented rains and landslides across the state. Our climate patterns are changing. Our glaciers are melting away and this in turn is leading to the rise in sea levels. Since 1880, our sea levels have risen by 8 inches with 3 inches being gained just in the last two decades. So not only are the sea levels rising, the rate at which it is increasing is also on the rise. It is the same for our Himalayan glaciers which have been in a state of retreat since 1850 and this rate of retreat too is accelerating. Sikkim has 84 glaciers which feed our water sources. At the same time, the acidification of our oceans is a tremendous problem. Heavier snowfall and longer and more frequent droughts is the norm today. The impact of climate change is far-reaching and it will impact our lives deeply. From changing migration patterns of animals to the disruption of our agricultural cycles, the impact of the climate change crisis is all pervasive. Our planet is in a state of severe environmental disbalance. The crisis is here and its urgent.The question to ask is what can we do? What can each of us do to battle this crisis? Each of us can take small steps towards protecting the environment and mitigating the impact of climate change. Whether it is planting a tree, forgoing the use of plastic or managing our waste well, we can do several things as individuals which can made a huge impact collectively. Though individual action is crucial, governments play a key role in framing polices and setting systems in place to garner action and long term planning for a cleaner, greener and more sustainable planet.The Environment has been a key priority of the Sikkim Democratic Front party. Environment protection is one of the key pillars of our political program and we consider the rights of the environment above all as per our political ideology. Translating this priority into a reality, soon after we formed the government in 1994, we took on various initiatives to drive our environment focused development model in Sikkim. Over the years, we devised and implemented several policies that protected our natural resources and ensured a sustainable form of development. From the first ever comprehensive State Policy on Forest, Environment and Land Use for the State to framing the Organic Policy which made Sikkim the very first organic state in the world, our interventions have been many and widely appreciated.Soon after forming the government, we declared 1996 as the “Green Revolution Year” or Harit Kranti Varsha to spread environmental awareness and inculcate a strong stance of protection and preservation. We also declared the years 2000-2010 as the Green Revolution Decade during which we undertook mass environmental awareness programs. Then the State Green Mission was set up to ensure massive plantation work in coordination with the community. The mission was funded through the receipt of 2% budget from Public Works Department and Rural Management and Development Department as well as 1% budget from all other Departments. We constituted a number of agencies, commissions and Acts from the State Environment Agency, Climate Change Commission, Sikkim Ecology Fund, Environment Cess Act to the River Course Development Project. All these were done to form a network of policy initiatives which would drive the development agenda in the state.Many of our achievements have been lauded nationally and globally. We banned the use of plastic and non-biodegradable materials in Sikkim as early as 14th August 1998 and this was appreciated widely. We also banned the use of diclofenac acid, chemical fertilizers and pesticides on our lands. In addition, we distributed LPG connection free of cost to the rural households to minimise the use of firewood for cooking. We prohibited the scaling of our sacred peaks as well as expeditions to our sacred caves and lakes. We notified the entire wildlife area in Sikkim and that has given protection to our forests. All these steps have led to the preservation not just of our natural but our cultural heritage as well. Felling of trees was also banned during the SDF government and afforestation drives were taken up through programs such as Ten Minutes to Earth. As a result of this, our forest cover increased by 4% from 43.95% in 1993 to 47.80% during our tenure. We were happy to receive a UNESCO world heritage status for the Kanchenjunga National Park under mixed criteria in 2016 for natural and cultural significance. Our Ecotourism Policy ensured that Tourism, the biggest industry in Sikkim, takes place in alignment with our environment.All these initiatives led to global recognition for Sikkim through awards such as the Greenest Chief Minister Award by the Centre for Science and Environment in 1998, the Agriculture Leadership Award by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India in 2009, Sustainable Development Leadership Award by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 2016, the One World Award Grand Prix by Rapunzel for our work in Organic Farming in 2017 and the Future Policy Gold award by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2018. I was also happy to receive the recognition of the Ambassador of an Organic Himalaya and an Organic World in 2017, an honour given by Dr Vandana Shiva. These recognitions from national and international organizations have put Sikkim on the global map for our efforts in sustainable development, environment friendly policies and action towards staving off the impact of climate change. This is something that all of us should take pride in.However, we should not become complacent; our efforts towards climate change mitigation should only intensify. Today we face an urgent call to take action to stop climate change. We live in a world that is interconnected and interdependent. What we do in Sikkim or anywhere else has an impact on our overall environment. Therefore, as responsible citizens, we must do our part to protect our planet. Today, the atmospheric levels of CO2 have reached unprecedented heights at 419.13 parts per million. In such a scenario, it is all the more important to protect our forests which are important carbon sinks. In this context, a program like Ten Minutes to Earth becomes extremely important.The reason why we celebrate Ten Minutes to Earth is to create a behavioural change, initiated by the small step of giving just ten minutes towards our mother earth. What we hope the ten minutes will initiate over time is an awareness of our impact on the environment. We also hope it will catalyse a process of transformation towards a more sustainable way of life. I urge civil society members, intellectuals and organizations committed to the cause to drive the public discourse towards sustainable living and environment protection. All of us must play a part. Today, as we witness a devastating pandemic, it is apparent that this grand scale of destruction too is a result of the deeply imbalanced world we live in. We have lost far too many precious lives to COVID-19 and perhaps this could’ve been avoided by a more aware form of living.In this climate crisis, it is heartening to see government across the world coming together in solidarity through agreements like the Paris Agreement to set a global cap on the CO2 carbon emissions and the recent G7 Summit where the main issue of discussion was the COVID pandemic as well as climate change and trade. The countries that were present made a commitment to “End the pandemic and prepare for the future” and “protect our planet”, cutting emissions and limiting rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, among others. Though it is wonderful to countries coming together in a united cause for the planet, we still have a long way to go. Beyond governments setting systems for sustainable governance which is crucial, the key still lies in each and every one of us changing our lifestyles so that we are kinder and gentler towards the environment.Nature in its essence is pure but it is human intervention that has created disbalance in nature. Though we have grown leaps and bounds in knowledge, science and technology, we have not been able to use these developments well for the benefit of our planet. It is ironic that our progress has become the cause of the destruction of our natural resources. We ourselves are the cause of the poisonous air we breathe, polluted water we drink and the chemical laden food we eat. The environmental problems that we are witnessing have been created by us and hence, the responsibility of rectifying them also lies with us. The protection of the environment means not only the protection of all living beings but of creation, of the planet and of our future. This is also the reason why we began Ten Minutes to Earth eleven years ago. And our message through Ten Minutes to Earth is to take care of our fragile planet and safeguard the future of the planet. So let us commit today in protecting our planet from the urgent crisis of Climate Change. Together we can and together we absolutely must!-Pawan Chamling
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