Interdisciplinary research is organised under two Centres: Centre for Environment and Development (CED) and the Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation. The Centres house two programmes each, under which are nested projects or working groups. There are two cross-cutting themes: climate change and governance that cut across all programmes since they are dynamics with disproportionately large effects on grassroot applications.
Programmes under CED are Forests and Governance, and Land, Water and Livelihoods. Ecosystem Services and Human Wellbeing and Ecosystems and Global Change, are programmes nested under the Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation.
The Centres try to address key research questions through an examination of issues from different disciplinary perspectives. This is reflected in programme taxonomy and scope, team compositions, issues addressed and research questions asked.
Human use of earth's natural resources is placing unmatched pressure on the capacities of local and global ecosystems. Countries in South Asia face a double challenge. The subsistence needs of a large rural population and the demands of a growing industrial sector and consumer class on forests, water resources and agricultural lands are generating both resource degradation and conflict. At the same time, the conventional development paradigm of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, supposedly leading to poverty alleviation, is generating air, water and solid waste pollution and affecting human lives and ecosystem health at multiple scales.
The brunt of both resource degradation and pollution is most heavily felt by the urban and rural poor. How the process of development - economic, technological, socio-cultural and political - can lead to sustainable and equitable use of natural resources and containment of the pollution burden, and how sustainable resource management can contribute to poverty alleviation and human wellbeing are the broad questions that drive the work of the CED. Currently, most of the research and policy outreach activities of the Centre are focused on two sectors - Forests and Land-and-Water systems. We have also begun to engage the challenge of containing green house gas (GHG) emissions while meeting developmental needs. We will also critically address the changes needed in environmental governance across sectors.
In South Asia, most ecosystems services are historically exploited by human beings for their own existence. In many cases, this has decimated biodiversity, and degraded the ability of these ecosystems to sustain critical ecosystem functions and support components of biodiversity. In other cases, limited human-use has been found to be compatible with the conservation of biodiversity. Accompanying this scenario is the state managed, top-down management system that is considered unviable for conservation of ecosystems such as rivers, marine areas, large wetlands and coastal areas. However, although strictly protected areas and areas with limited human-use and access managed by the state will continue to play a major role in conserving biodiversity, alternative models of conservation are essential to protect large areas such as forests, agro-ecosystems, wetlands, coastal and marine ecosystems, which lie outside protected areas.
Maintenance of biodiversity, ecosystem functions and associated ecosystem services in a changing environment is a challenging issue, as is identifying the scale and intensity of human use compatible with conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. It is imperative to develop governance models that enable participatory management and a more equitable, just and sustainable approach to conservation. However, our understanding of the complex web of social, political, economic and environmental change, the forces underlying these changes and the impact of these changes on biodiversity, local communities and humanity at large remains poorly understood.
The goal of this Centre is to build a critical body of knowledge about India's biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services of natural and managed ecosystems in the context of global, regional and local change and challenges. Understanding the role of biodiversity in sustaining human welfare is crucial to galvanising conservation awareness and eliciting civil society support for conservation. Recognising the structure, function, and value of biodiversity will enable us to prioritise outreach activities and natural resource management initiatives.