Environment, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 3 July- 10 July 2016

1]Remote Pacific nation threatened by rising seas

Issue

  • Impact of climate change on Kiribati.

Key points

  • Pacific island nations are among the world’s most physically and economically vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events like floods, earthquakes and tropical cyclones.
  • While world powers have summit meetings to negotiate treaties on how to reduce and mitigate carbon emissions, residents of tiny Kiribati, a former British colony with 1,10,000 people, are debating how to respond before it is too late.
  • Much of Kiribati, a collection of 33 coral atolls and reef islands scattered across a swath of the Pacific Ocean about twice the size of Alaska, lies no higher than 6 feet above sea level.
  • The latest climate models predict the world’s oceans could rise 5 to 6 feet by 2100.
  • The prospects of rising seas and intensifying storms “threaten the very existence and livelihoods of large segments of the population.”
  • For years, scientists have been predicting that much of Kiribati may become uninhabitable within decades because of an onslaught of environmental problems linked to climate change.
  • And for just as long, many here have paid little heed. But while scientists are reluctant to attribute any specific weather or tidal event to rising sea levels, the tidal surge last winter, known as a king tide, was a chilling wake-up call.

[2]Ozone layer over Antarctic shows signs of healing

Issue

  • Atmospheric scientists have seen signs of the mending of the ozone hole above the Antarctic.

Ozone hole

  • The ozone hole is a region of depleted layers of ozone above the Antarctic region, whose creation is linked to increased cases of skin cancer.
  • Depletion of ozone is due to many factors, the most dominant of which is the release of chlorine from CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) which destroys the ozone.
  • CFCs are released by products such as hairsprays, old refrigerators etc, and the decision taken by all countries in the Montreal protocol to ban products that release CFCs has been effective.

Stages in the ozone recovery process

(a) reduced rate of decline

(b) levelling off of the depletion and

(c) ozone increase linked to reduction of the levels of CFCs

Theory of healing

  • Typically, depletion of ozone becomes significant in September and peaks in October. So the measure of the “ozone hole” in September is a marker of the extent of ozone depletion.
  • Scientists has found that the ozone hole has shrunk by more than four million square kilometres since 2000.
  • This is the year when ozone depletion was at its peak. They also determine by comparing with a simulation that this healing is due to the reduction of chloroflourocarbons in the atmosphere.
  • In addition, and throwing doubts in the theory of healing, there is an observed peak in the size of the ozone hole in 2015. The scientists attribute to a volcanic eruption that took place that year.
  • The Montreal protocol to ban the use of CFCs was implemented more than 37 years ago. Many people expected the ozone hole to heal quickly.
  • This has not happened because of the long residence time of CFCs in the atmosphere and the role of natural processes such as El Nino and volcanic eruptions.

[3]Apply polluter pays principle to U.S.: CJI

Issue

  • Observations of CJI on climate change

Responsibilities of US

  • The entire human race has been affected by the excesses of industrialised nations like the U.S.
  • It is easy to pin accusations of environment degradation and climate change on emerging economies like India, while advanced nations like the United States have been emitting carbon 10 times more than India for the past 200 years.
  • An international framework should be evolved to apply the polluter pays principle to advanced economies like the U.S.

Importance of International Law

  • International law should not be treated merely for furthering global trade and commerce but its sweep should factor in the formidable issues of environment and climate change which are threatening the entire human race irrespective of nations and boundaries.
  • India is also affected if environment is harmed in Pakistan or Bangladesh and vice-versa.
  • So an international law based on comity of nations taking into consideration the humanity living in both industrialised and non-industrialised nations should be framed.

[4]New species of ‘ant-mimicking’ spider found

News

  • A new species of spider, which mimics the characteristics of ants, has been discovered in the moist deciduous forest of the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary.

About the spider

  • This spider belongs to Aetius genus of the ant-mimicking spider family Corinidae.
  • Even though there are more than 200 variety of ant-mimicking spiders, this is first time a spider, which is so much similar to an ant, is being discovered,
  • This spider, which lives along with ants in the corrugated bark of large trees, is difficult to differentiate from ants.
  • The lean male spider almost looks like slender ant (Tetraponera rufonigra).
  • It’s raised front legs during movement mimics the antennae of the ant.
  • The spider uses this (Batesian mimicry) to escape from predators.
  • As found only with ants, it is very difficult to spot this spider in a group of ants. In case of disturbance, it hides itself in the crevices of tree bark.

[5]Volcanic eruptions in India linked to dinosaur extinction: study

Issue

  • Causes behind mass extinctions of dinosaurs.

Key findings of a study

  • Combined impacts of volcanic eruptions in India and the impact of an asteroid in Mexico brought about one of the Earth’s biggest mass extinctions of dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Recently developed technique

  • Researchers used a recently developed technique called the carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometer to analyse the chemical composition of fossil shells in the Antarctic Ocean.
  • This analysis shows that ocean temperatures rose approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and links these findings to two previously documented warming events that occurred near the end of the Cretaceous Period.

India and Mexico link

  • One event was related to volcanic eruptions in India, and the other, tied to the impact of an asteroid or comet on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
  • To create their new temperature record, which spans 3.5 million years at the end of the Cretaceous and the start of the Paleogene Period, researchers analysed the isotopic composition of 29 remarkably well-preserved shells of clam-like bivalves collected on Antarctica’s Seymour Island.
  • The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary is widely associated with the mass extinction of dinosaurs.
  • It is actually a physical boundary usually marked by a thin band of rock found in geological structures all around the world.

It was the asteroid

  • Scientists have shown that the K-Pg boundary contains iridium, also found in asteroids, meteorites and comets, bolstering the theory that an asteroid killed most of the creatures of the Cretaceous Period.

[6]231 clean Ganga projects to take off today

News

  • Government has launched 231 projects under the ‘Namami Gange’ project, which would take it closer to achieving its Clean Ganga objective.

Locations

  • 231 projects would be simultaneously inaugurated at various locations in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Haryana and Delhi.

Scope of the projects

The projects deal with

  • Commissioning and improving sewage treatment plants
  • Re-developing ghats and crematoriums
  • Development of sewage infrastructure and treatment
  • Afforestation, tree plantation (medicinal plants)
  • Pilot drain project, trash skimmers and
  • Conservation of biodiversity.

Additional points

  • Eight biodiversity centres would be developed along the Ganga for restoration of identified priority species.
  • The projects were just a portion of the nearly 1,000 projects of various kinds that would be undertaken across various stretches of the river.
  • The Ganga Act would be formulated by the Centre to ensure proper and speedy implementation of the ‘Namami Gange’ project.
  • States would be consulted before the draft of the Ganga Act was finalised.
  • People who continue to dump industrial waste and sewage water into the Ganga would be sent to jail.
Environment, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 26 June- 2 July 2016

[1]A station in Himalayas to study climate change

What happened?

  • A team of glaciologists from the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research is  studying Himalayan glaciers to understand the impacts of climate change in the polar climate and its connection to the Indian monsoon.

Key points:-

  • The newly established station would be one of the few high-altitude research facilities in the Himalayas that would help the scientists to study the region throughout the year.
  • The station would have several automated research facilities to detect the changes in glaciers, and glacial melt-water.
  • The scientists will be looking into various aspects of climate change and the present status and future stability of glaciers from the Himalayas.
  • Scientists will be undertaking an integrated study on the health and fate of benchmark glaciers from the Chandra basin (part of the Indus river basin) in Lahaul-Spiti valley, Himachal Pradesh, Western Himalaya, he explained.
  • The multidisciplinary project has researchers from glaciology, geology, biology, physics, and chemistry that helps in understanding the cryospheric systems in a holistic way.

Why Himalaya?

  • The effects of global warming is most perceptible and amplified in the Polar Regions — the Antarctic and Arctic — and the Himalaya.
  • The ice sheets and glaciers also act as natural recorders of climate variability and change.

Study

  • A sobering report released by the International Energy Agency says that air pollution has become a major public health crisis leading to around 6.5 million deaths each year, with “many of its root causes and cures” found in the energy industry.

Key points:-

  • The agency, whose 29 members are wealthy, industrialised countries, was founded in response to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 to coordinate international responses to energy issues.
  • The agency argues that pressing concerns about climate change and the emergence of countries like China and India as major energy consumers and polluters mean that the it needs to shift its strategy.
  • It has been working to build bridges with China in particular, which energy experts say is crucial to the success of global efforts to reduce emissions.
  • According to it, environmental issues are very important to emerging economies like India and China, whose cities are often plagued by choking smog.
  • Helping these countries solve problems through increasing energy efficiency or filtering out pollutants can make progress on climate change goals.

[3]Around the world in Health this week

A ‘fitbit’ for plants?

  • Scientists have developed a tool called ‘Phenocart’ to capture essential plant health data.
  • The ‘Phenocart’ measures a plant’s vital signs like growth rate and colour the same way a Fitbit monitors human health signals like blood pressure and physical activity.
  • It can also help plant breeders design larger experiments.
  • Knowing what physical traits a plant has is called phenotyping.
  • Measuring phenotypes is very labour-intensive, and really limits how big an experiment we can do.
  • The new tool will allow for faster measurements and accelerate the breeding process.

Self-organising soft materials

  • Researchers have created self-organising soft materials that mimic the spontaneous folding motion seen in the Mimosa pudica plant.
  • The technology could benefit numerous emerging technologies and commercial applications including wearable sensors, microfluidics, and artificial muscles.
  • Many biological systems in nature adapt to their environments using self-assembly techniques; the crystallisation-driven formation of seashells is one example.

Signatures and cancer treatment

  • Researchers have found unique signatures in four different human breast cancer cell types that could be used to develop tailor-made cancer treatment.
  • This will increase the efficacy of drug treatments for breast cancer patients as well as reduce side effects.
  • Certain cancer-triggering genes, or oncogenes as they are called, drive solid tumour growth in some breast cancer patients but are just passenger genes in others, i.e. expressed but not essential for growth.
  • As a result, tumours in different breast cancer patients may respond differently to the same treatment depending on which oncogenes are active and which are just along for the ride.
  • Identifying the panel of active genes in a patient’s tumour — called the functional oncogene signature — could help an oncologist select therapies that target its growth.

The ‘nice’ and ‘nasty’ genes

  • A mathematical model claims to shed light on why some individuals may be genetically programmed to be nice while others are nasty.
  • Using colony-living microbes as inspiration to explore why some individuals are by nature generous and others less so, the researchers produced an innovative model of social evolution that allows them to understand how far this is likely to be influenced by conditioning or the surrounding environment.
  • They found that the behaviour of individuals can often evolve to be determined by a set of inherited genetic tendencies that accurately predict social relationships, including their likely relatedness to other members of their community and their surroundings rather than in direct response to what they sense or experience.

[4]India’s thriving biodiversity: 445 new species added in 2015

News

  • The report on animal and plant discoveries of 2015 was released by the government to mark the conclusion of the centenary celebrations of Zoological Society of India (ZSI).

Key points

  • Four species of reptiles, six species of amphibians, 26 species of fishes, three species of wild ginger and three of figs are among the 445 species new to science identified in India in 2015.
  • The figure includes 262 animal species and 183 plant species.
  • Some of the notable additions to the list of animals include a rock gecko (Hemidactylus yajurvedi) found in Kanker Chhattishgarh, a new frog species (Fejervarya gomantaki) from the Western Ghats, and a shiny new species of fish (Barilius ardens), also from the Western Ghats.
  • Among the plants, a new species of ginger Zingiber bipinianum has been found in the South Garo hills of Meghalaya, and a species of mushroom (Bondarzewia zonata) has been collected from north Sikkim at an altitude of 2,829 m.
  • The most discoveries were made in the Eastern Himalaya region, which accounts for 19 per cent of the total discoveries followed by the Western Ghats (18 per cent) and Andaman and Nicobar Islands at about 15 per cent.

[5]Nobel winners slam Greenpeace on GM crops

Issue

  • Tussle over Genetically Modified Crops between scientists and environmentalists.

Context

  • About a third of living Nobel laureates have signed an open letter which attacks Greenpeace for campaigning against genetically modified crops, especially one called Golden Rice.

Golden Rice

  • This genetically-modified rice contains genes that produce high levels of beta carotene and related compounds which are converted in the human body into the crucially-needed vitamin A. Many in the developing world who do not have access to fruits and vegetables suffer from chronic vitamin A deficiency which results in night blindness.
  • According to the WHO, vitamin A deficiency hits the poor in 96 countries, resulting in over five lakh blind children every year.
  • This blindness is irreversible, these children will never see.
  • The significance of this red-gold rice containing carotenoid genes obtained from daffodils is the potential it offers to counter vitamin A deficiency.
  • There are enough precursors of vitamin A in one average portion of the rice to prevent night blindness through ordinary dietary intake.
Nobel laureates Greenpeace
  • They have alleged that  Greenpeace has “misrepresented the risks, benefits and impacts” of genetically altered food plants.
  • There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption.
  • It has called on Greenpeace to “cease and desist” in its efforts to block GM crops, and on governments to embrace “seeds improved through biotechnology.
  • Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.
  • The Nobel winners singled out Golden Rice as a genetically modified crop with huge potential to improve health and save lives in the developing world.
  • Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice are false.
  • Corporations are using the strain “to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops”.
  • Greenpeace’s longstanding position is to oppose all patents on plants or animals, or their genes, and that “life is not an industrial commodity”.
  • Golden Rice was “environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health, and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security”.
  • The NGO also maintains that genetically modified organisms should be held back “since there is not an adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health”.

 

Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 19 June- 25 June 2016

[1]Letting them off easy

Issue

  • Critical analysis of  a draft notification seeking to amend the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of 2006.

Importance of EIA

  • The EIA process has its origins in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit where over 170 countries committed to balancing environmental concerns and economic needs.
  • The EIA was a tool to do this. In India, it has been in place since 1994 and is also called the environment clearance process.
  • It is the law that mandates that detailed studies be carried out before implementing projects that carry social risks and could damage the environment.
  • The studies are discussed at public hearings before being evaluated by a set of identified experts who then recommend a decision to the Ministry or State government on the project.

What the amendment seeks?

  • It seeks to provide an Environment Supplement Plan (ESP) for projects that have already initiated construction activity and expansion before going through an EIA process.
  • It ends up providing illegally operating project developers an ESP as a license to violate.
  • The ESP will draw up an assessment and cost of damages which the project developer is expected to pay up.
  • This sounds less like an environmental fine — an important component among a slew of mechanisms to deter projects from violating environmental norms — and more like a crude form of ‘pay and use’ service.

Conclusion

  • It is a well known fact that those project who violates environmental norms never pay up.
  • Take the case of the fine of Rs.200 crore on the Adani SEZ in Gujarat, or Rs.5 crore for the Art of Living event on the Yamuna floodplains.
  • Even if one were to be more optimistic about these collections, the government’s ability to use these resources to restore the environment, or provide justice to scores of affected people, is severely lacking.
  • By killing the EIA process, it is the government that will lose its claim to sustainable development.

[2]Trekkers must take back trash from forests

News

  • Garbage bins to be removed from 10 prominent wildlife parks to ensure cleanliness and to reduce man-animal conflict

Key points:-

  • As part of a Swachh Bharat Mission drive, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to do away with garbage bins in 10 prominent wildlife parks and make visitors take their litter home.
  • This is done because people dropped litter around garbage bins, inviting animals and thus aggravating the man-animal conflict.
  • By this move, the government is compelling the visitors to arrange for jute bags to collect their trash.

[3]NASA Curiosity rover discovers unexpected mineral on Mars

News

  • NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered an unexpected mineral in a rock sample on Mars, a finding that suggests the red planet hosted explosive volcanoes during its evolution.

Key points:-

  • Analysing data from an X-ray diffraction instrument on the rover that identifies minerals, scientists detected significant amounts of a silica mineral called tridymite.
  • Tridymite is generally associated with silicic volcanism, which is known on Earth but was not thought to be important or even present on Mars.
  • The discovery of tridymite might induce scientists to rethink the volcanic history of Mars, suggesting that the planet once had explosive volcanoes that led to the presence of the mineral.
  • On Earth, tridymite is formed at high temperatures in an explosive process called silicic volcanism. Mount St. Helens, the active volcano in Washington State, and the Satsuma-Iwojima volcano in Japan are examples of such volcanoes.
  • The combination of high silica content and extremely high temperatures in the volcanoes creates tridymite.

[4]Centre’s draft forest policy moots green cess

Issue

  • National Forest Policy, 2016.

Key proposals in the policy:-

It says governments must switch focus:-

  • From Forests to landscapes
  • From canopy cover to healthy ecosystems
  • From substituting wood to promoting sustainable wood use
  • From participatory approaches to empowerment
  • From joint forest management to community forest management and
  • From qualitative policy statements to a results-based policy framework.:-

It proposes a national implementation framework to be in place within six months of the notification, and exhorts States to draft their state forest policies and prepare an implementation framework.

Green cess

  • Environmental cess, green tax, carbon tax etc. may be levied on certain products and services for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour, garnering citizen’s contribution and supplementing financial resources

Promotion of sustainable use of wood

  • Wood has a significantly lower carbon footprint than many of the substitutes that consume fossil fuels in their production.
  • Use of wood also has the potential to create new green jobs by giving a boost to indigenous manufacturing using locally grown raw material.
  • Thus promotion of wood use, obtained from sustainably-managed forests and trees, would play a positive role in mitigating climate change and ensuring sustainable living.
  • Governments and stakeholders must shift from regulating to promoting cultivation, harvesting, transportation and marketing of wood.
  • This even as the forest policy also emphasises that the government “must double tree cover, outside forests, within a decade.”
  • Promoting the use of wood outside forests could incentivise forest dwellers to not gather firewood from forests.

Boost to native species

  • India has set an ambitious target of bringing a third of its geographical area under forest-and-tree cover within a decade, up from the current one-fourth.
  • The policy acknowledges it but recommends that this be done by replenishing these lands with native species rather than “introducing exotic species.

[5]Environment Ministry withdraws draft forest policy

What happened?

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has repudiated a ‘Draft National Forest Policy’ that it uploaded on its website earlier this month calling it an “inadvertent” error.

Background

  • The Environment Ministry had tasked the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management, an affiliated organisation, with reviewing and revising the existing forest policy.
  • This is the first time that the policy was being re-looked since 1988 as it wanted to update the several changes in forest laws and provide a forward-looking policy that talked about increasing India’s forest cover and tackling the effects of climate change.

Government’s clarification

  • The Ministry said that it has not issued any draft Notification on National Forest Policy.
  • What has been uploaded on the website was a study done by Indian Institute of Forest Management. Bhopal.
  • The study has not been evaluated by the Ministry. The Ministry has not taken any decision on Draft Forest Policy.
  • The study report prepared by IIFM, Bhopal was inadvertently uploaded as Draft Forest Policy on the website.
Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 12 June- 18 June 2016

[1]Nurture waterbodies, keep floods at bay this monsoon

Issue

  • For effective steps, communities have a definite role in their localities to mitigate floods.

Role of the communities

  • There is a need for communities to understand the significance of waterbodies in their neighbourhoods and protect them.
  • Residents have to be aware of the lakes and ponds in their area, their inlets and outlets and how their surplus courses travel.
  • Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), which is involved in protecting water resources, is now joining hands with residents in increasing water literacy and also helping people to conserve waterbodies.

Role played by EFI

  • The organisation recently launched ‘Green Gramam’ — a programme to reach out to people on water literacy and flood prevention through street plays and workshops for youngsters.
  • From following weather forecast and preparing emergency kits to keeping their stormwater drains and surplus courses free of garbage, it sensitise people to the significance of social responsibility, particularly towards safeguarding water resources.

Play your part

  • The organisation appeals that every individual in their own locality should contribute by restore waterbodies in their locality.
  • People need to voluntarily stop misusing water resources.
  • They can contribute by taking simple measures like clearing the garbage and debris that block floodwater entry into inlets and clearing vegetation around the waterbodies.
  • These simple measures would significantly reduce the impact of floods.

 

[2] Scientists turn atmospheric CO2 into rock

Revolutionary study

  • Scientists have turned carbon dioxide into rock in a matter of months by pumping it deep underground, offering a revolutionary new way of storing the greenhouse gas to tackle climate change.

Experiment

  • The pioneering experiment in Iceland mixed CO emissions with water and pumped it hundreds of metres underground into volcanic basalt rock — where it rapidly turned into a solid and it is permanently and rapidly locked away from the atmosphere

Key points

  • Measures to tackle the problem of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are numerous.
  • One approach is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), where CO2 is physically removed from the atmosphere and trapped underground.
  • Geoengineers have long explored the possibility of sealing CO2 gas in voids underground, such as in abandoned oil and gas reservoirs, but these are susceptible to leakage.
  • So attention has now turned to the mineralisation of carbon to permanently dispose of CO2.
  • Until now it was thought that this process would take several hundreds to thousands of years and is therefore not a practical option.
  • But this study has demonstrated that it can take as little as two years.

How it was done?

  • The gas was injected into a deep well at the study site in Iceland.
  • As a volcanic island, Iceland is made up of 90 per cent basalt, a rock rich in calcium, magnesium and iron that are required for carbon mineralisation.
  • The CO2 is dissolved in water and carried down the well.
  • On contact with the target storage rocks, at 400-800 metres under the ground, the solution quickly reacts with the surrounding basaltic rock, forming carbonate minerals.
  • Carbonate minerals do not leak out of the ground, and it results in permanent and environmentally friendly storage of CO2 emissions.

Future potential

  • Basalt is one of the most common rock type on Earth, potentially providing one of the largest CO2 storage capacity.
  • Storing CO2 as carbonate minerals significantly enhances storage security which should improve public acceptance of Carbon Capture and Storage as a climate change mitigation technology.

[3] Climate change: Australian rodent may be first species to go extinct

Study

  • According to a study, Bramble Cay melomys, an Australian Great Barrier Reef rodent may be the first  mammal  lost to the global phenomenon of climate change.

Key points:-

  • The Melomys rubicola, considered the Great Barrier Reef’s only endemic (found nowhere else) mammal species, was first discovered on the cay in 1845 by Europeans .
  • Researchers said the key factor behind the extinction was “almost certainly” ocean inundation of the low-lying cay, likely on several occasions, over the last decade which resulted in dramatic habitat loss.
  • Available data on sea-level rise and weather events in the Torres Strait region point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys.

[4] Marching onwards from Paris

Issue

Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA)

  • It is  the body now responsible for developing mechanisms and detailed steps for the implementation of the Paris deal.
  • These would include mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions to meet the goal of staying well below 2°C; mechanisms that support adaptation on the ground; means for support through finance, technology and capacity building; and the development of specifics on the global stocktake agreed upon every five years.
  • Ensuring that countries set up the frameworks for implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), establishing processes for transparency across the board on a range of issues, and for dealing with loss and damage as a result of climate change are other matters to be addressed.

Bonn meeting

  • Since the historic Paris Agreement on climate change (COP-21) signed last December, the first meeting of parties took place in May in Bonn.
  • In the meeting, there was  overall difference in opinion between developed and developing countries on whether mitigation alone should be a part of the NDCs or whether adaptation and the means of implementation should also be included.
  • This controversial agenda item was later set aside by the chair to be discussed separately and not included in the negotiation.
  • Other points of contention appeared around interpretation of the Paris Agreement regarding differentiated transparency of action in developed and developing countries.

Differences between Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol discussed

  • An important point discussed in Bonn related to specifying the differences between the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol.
  • The Paris Agreement will be quite different from the Kyoto Protocol, since all parties have agreed to the Paris Agreement; the Kyoto Protocol was meant only for wealthier or Annex-1 countries. Significantly, there was no final clarity on what it means to “deliver an overall mitigation in global emissions”, which will likely determine at least one benchmark of a legally binding global target.
  • All of these concerns would require further discussion and have to be resolved before COP-22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

India’s Position at the meeting

  • It reiterated the importance of Article 3.1 of the Framework Convention (UNFCCC) which uses as a yardstick the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) of the parties in responding to climate change.
  • It asked for the need for clarity on the role of non-state actors in the Paris Agreement.
  • India’s concern was that there could be a conflict of interest in their participation, and the rules and guidelines on non-state actor engagement need to be clear so that their roles are transparent and the integrity of the UNFCCC process is safeguarded.

[5] Vermin or victim?

Issue

  • Conflict between Man and Animal.

Context

  • The Centre approved the culling of wild animals such as nilgai and wild boar in Bihar and rhesus monkey in Himachal Pradesh by declaring them ‘vermin’, under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, in December 2015, following requests from the respective States as they cause harm to the resident population.
  • The nilgai, wild boar and rhesus monkeys are abundant in population and figure in the IUCN Conservation list’s ‘least concern’ category.
  • India’s wild animals run the risk of ending up on a government approved “kill list” if State governments insist that they are ‘vermin’ or nuisance animals, attacking crops, property or people as such.

What the law says?

  • As per Section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, States can send a list of wild animals to the Centre requesting it to declare them vermin for selective slaughter. The Central Government may by notification, declare any wild animal other than those specified in Schedule I and part 11 of Schedule H of the law to be vermin for any area for a given period of time.
  • As long as the notification is in force such wild animal shall be included in Schedule V of the law, depriving them of any protection under that law.

Have endangered species been declared vermin?

  • The Government  has not approved the culling of any endangered species like the elephant.

Animal is not the real problem

The reasons which are responsible for this conflict are following:-

Habitat loss: Deforestation and lowered green cover in cities has been driving animals into crop fields and human dwellings in search of food.

Fall in predator population: Fall in population of predators such as tigers and leopards leads to a consequential rise in population of herbivores such as nilgai and deer.

Drought: If natural calamities such as drought affect human beings, so is the case with animals in the forest. Drought dries up availability of food for foraging driving wild animals into nearby crop fields and human dwellings in search of food.

Humans feeding animals: Last but not the least, if you are a tourist offering a banana to a monkey you saw at the temple, you sure cannot complain when a troop of monkeys comes chasing after you asking for more.

Scientific management is required

  • Culling does not offer a meaningful solution.
  • There should be a  nation-wide policy framework to manage human-wildlife conflict.
  • Any scientific management policy for wildlife must be adapted to the population dynamics of the wild animal and be region specific.
  • Not all animals that come across as populated and create nuisance for humans, may be in need of culling.
  • Scientific monitoring of wild animals must be extended outside the reserved forest area and if necessary, animal census be conducted outside protected areas to understand why certain species are entering into greater conflict with humans.
Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 5 June- 11 June 2016

[1]Nature’s answer to climate risk

News

  • Gaumukh, the snout of the Gangotri glacier, named after its shape like the mouth of a cow, has retreated by over 3 kilometres since 1817.

Analysis

  • Though a three-kilometre retreat over a period of two centuries might seem insignificant at first glance, but study shows that the rate of retreat has increased sharply since 1971.
  • The rate of retreat is 22 metres per year.
  • The retreat points to lesser ice formation each year than its current rate of melting, a process that is continuing.
  • Winter precipitation is when the glacier receives adequate snow and ice for maintaining itself.
  • About 10-15 spells of winter snow as part of western disturbances feed the glacier.
  • But last year Gangotri received very little snowfall.
  • It has  also been observed that more rainfall and a slight temperature rise in the region, both of which transfer heat on to the glacier, has contributed to the warming of the glacier.
  • In summer, the melting of the glacier feeds the Bhagirathi River, the source stream of the Ganga.
  • However, dwindling snowfall levels have also affected the volume of water discharged during summer into the river, compared to peak levels.

[2]After 1,00,000 years, Arctic may turn ice-free again

Case study

  • According to a study, a scientist has predicted that Arctic may become ice-free this year or next for the first time in more than 1,00,000 years.

Key points:-

  • The last time the Arctic was clear of ice is believed to be about 1,00,000 to 1,20,000 years ago.
  • The scientist has predicted that  Arctic ice may well disappear, that is, have an area of less than one million square kilometres for September of this year.
  • Sea ice is usually at its lowest in September and starts to build again when the winter sets in.
  • Even if the ice does not completely disappear, it is very likely that this will be a record low year.

[3]‘Mulugu will soon become seed hub’

Key points:-

  • Minister for Agriculture Pocharam Srinivas Reddy said Mulugu (Mulugu is a Mandal in Medak district of Telangana State,) would become the seed hub of India.
  • The horticulture university would be established soon that would give a fillip to research activity.
  • Cultivation of vegetables and fruits would be taken up on a large scale with the help of research activity in the university.

[4]Preparing cities for high water

Context

  • In recent past, we have noticed that at time of floods induced by heavy rainfall experienced in Mumbai (2005) and Chennai (2015) caused severe damage of life and property.
  • It is estimated that by the end of the year 2030, India will have  14 major clusters of cities accounting for 40 per cent of its GDP.
  • So, as India is marching towards urbanisation, so we need to prepare our cities to withstand the vagaries of monsoons and other weather events.

Man made disaster

  • The Chennai floods exposed the mindless permissions for construction in floodplains, and the high tolerance to commercial encroachment of wetlands.
  • They also highlighted the indifference among policymakers over providing decent housing for migrants.
  • This approach is eroding the economic gains of urban India.
  • It has been noted that after such incidents of flooding, a substantial amount is spent on reconstruction, mainly of roads.
  • And least attention is given to creation of new assets.

What needs to be done?

  • Prevention is better than cure. And it applies aptly to disaster management.
  • Governments should now draw up integrated plans to make cities and growing towns resilient to weather events and disasters.
  • This should begin with the creation of information systems that tell administrators about weather patterns, anomalies, flooding data and population impacts.
  • If megacities that face seasonal storms are to be strengthened, they should be provided with more water harvesting facilities in the form of urban wetlands with connected drains.
    Suburban lakes have to be revived.
  • City administrators should not make the mistake of letting the precious rain water flow into the sea, rather it should be used to revive the suburban lakes.
  • Governments need to ensure that during the monsoon, basic requirements of urban living such as transport, safe water supply, energy and health systems are not severely disrupted

[5]NASA takes 23,000-ft view of the world’s coral reefs

News

  • NASA and top scientists from around the world are launching a three-year campaign to gather new data on coral reefs by using specially designed instruments mounted on high-flying aircraft.

Objective of the Study:-

  • The scientists plan to map large swaths of coral around the world in hopes of better understanding how environmental changes are impacting these delicate and important ecosystems.
  • The researchers hope to discover how environmental forces including global warming, acidification and pollution impact coral reefs in different locations by creating detailed images of entire reef ecosystems.
  • Reefs are among the first ecosystems to be dramatically and directly impacted by global warming, according to the researchers.

About the project:-

  • CORAL (Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory) is an airborne mission to survey reefs at select locations across the Pacific.
  • The CORAL team will study the reefs of Hawaii, Palau, the Mariana Islands, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over the next three years.

[6]Missing the wetlands for the water

News

  • The Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2016, will replace the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules of 2010.

Main feature of this draft

  • It seeks to give power to the States to decide what they must do with their wetlands.
  • This includes deciding which wetlands should be protected and what activities should be allowed or regulated, while making affable calls for ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecosystem services’.

Provisions which requires immediate concern

  • First, the draft does away with the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority, which had suo moto cognisance of wetlands and their protection.
  • Second, the draft rules contain no ecological criteria for recognising wetlands, such as biodiversity, reefs, mangroves, and wetland complexes.
  • The 2010 rules outlined criteria for wetland identification including genetic diversity, outstanding natural beauty, wildlife habitats, corals, coral reefs, mangroves, heritage areas, and so on.
  • Third,  it has deleted sections on the protection of wetlands, and interpretation of harmful activities which require regulation, which found reference in the 2010 rules.
  • Fourth, regulation of activities on a wetland and their “thresholds” are to be left entirely to local or State functionaries. There are insufficient safeguards for the same, with the lack of any law-based scientific criteria or guidance.
  • Fifth, the only clause which talks about Restriction of Activities in Wetlands is so broad-based and nonspecific, that it is nearly unimplementable: “Restrictions of activities in wetlands.—(I) The wetlands shall be conserved and managed in accordance with principle of ‘wise use’ for maintaining their ecological integrity.” Now, the principles of Wise Use, Ecosystem Approach and Ecologic Integrity etc., though used rampantly in Ramsar parlance, are slippery terms which have no specific application. Use of such words ensures that the Act lacks any specificity and teeth.

Experiments with water systems

Dredging:-

  • Dredging is an excavation activity usually carried out underwater, in shallow seas or freshwater areas with the purpose of gathering up bottom sediments and disposing of them at a different location.
  • River dredging may increase the capacity of a river channel, but can also interfere with underground reservoirs. Over-dredging can destroy these reservoirs.

River interlinking :-

  • It changes hydrology and can benefit certain areas from a purely anthropocentric perspective, but does nothing to augment water supply to other non-target districts.

Barrage:-

  • A barrage is a type of low-head, diversion dam which consists of a number of large gates that can be opened or closed to control the amount of water passing through the structure, and thus regulate and stabilize river water elevation upstream for use in irrigation and other systems.
  • Constructions of barrages have impacts on ecosystems and economies.

Why  do the Draft Wetland Rules award full authority to the States? And, is there is real decentralisation of power?

  • It has been argued that one of the main reasons for diluting Wetlands Rules was to give more authority to States as land and water are state subjects.
  • This reason alone is unacceptable for a number of reasons.
  • Firstly, Wetlands are far more than state subjects of “water” and “land”. To see wetlands only limited to land and water shows environmental bankruptcy, since wetlands are much more than that.
  • Secondly, The Rules of 2010 required Centre Government to overlook any work done by the State Government for the betterment of wetlands by the States. But the Center seems to have abdicated its responsibility.
  • Thirdly, wetlands are an important ecological entity giving multiple services to the society and their protection lies firmly in the realm of Environment, which is under the concurrent purview as per Indian Constitution. Ironically, there is no decentralization here either. There is no role for the local community to play, unlike the Framework Rules. So it is still as centralized as ever.
  • The State Wetland Authority does not have Powers to Prohibit any activity in the Wetlands, only regulate them.
  • State Wetland Authority does not have any authority to take Penal Action against parties who violate the Rule

Conclusion

  • In the proposed scenario, with an absence of scientific criteria for identifying wetlands, it is imperative to have a second independent functioning authority.
  • Sustainability cannot be reached without ecology. Towards this end, our wetland rules need to reinforce wetlands as more than open sources of water, and we need to revise how wetlands should be identified and conserved.
Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 29 May – 4 June 2016

[1]Nature’s answer to climate risk

Issue

  • Nature based solutions for climate and disaster risk.

Effect of climate change on coastal areas

  • Nearly half the world’s population lives near coasts.
  • As climate change exacerbates the effects of storms, flooding and erosion, the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of those people will be at risk.
  • Coastal areas has to face economic losses as well owing to infrastructure damage and lost revenues from farming, fisheries and tourism.
  • Priorities of the governments worldwide
  • According to a report, failure to adapt to the effects of climate change is the single greatest risk, in terms of impact, to societies and economies around the world.
  • But, the international community currently spends on risk mitigation less than one-fifth of what it spends on natural-disaster response.

Priorities needs to be set

  • It is time to shift resources towards risk reduction.
  • Doing so will require national governments, industry, aid organizations and other NGOs to make the most of their investments.
  • And some of the most effective and cost-effective solutions are already available in nature.

Nature’s solutions

  • Coastal and marine ecosystems have considerable potential to mitigate the effects of storms and other risks, especially when combined with traditional built infrastructure
  • Mangroves can reduce wave height and  lower peak water levels during floods.
  • Coral reef  can reduce wave force by 97%, lessening the impact of storms and preventing erosion
  • These and other coastal ecosystems are the first line of defence for many cities around the world.

Conclusion

  • In the face of rising climate and disaster risk, investments in nature-based solutions can protect lives and safeguard prosperity in a cost-effective manner—all while preserving imperiled natural ecosystems around the world.
  • Paris climate agreement has also explicitly affirmed that ecosystems play a role in capturing greenhouse gases and helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change.
  • It is time for governments, business and NGOs alike to recognize that when it comes to fighting the effects of climate change and protecting coastal communities, preserving and restoring nature may be the smartest investment we can make.

[2] Harappa:older than we thought

News

  • According to some studies, climate change was probably not the sole cause for the collapse of the Harappan civilisation in the Indus-Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys and it is older than we thought of it.

Key findings in the study:-

  • Harappan civilisation itself was much older than thought — it is at least 8,000 years old.
  • Despite the monsoon decline, the civilisation did not disappear. The people changed their farming practices.
  • They switched from water-intensive crops when monsoon was stronger to drought-resistant crops when it was weaker.
  • Study suggests that other causes, like change in subsistence strategy, by shifting crop patterns rather than climate change was responsible for the Harappan collapse.
  • The findings come from a major excavated site of Bhirrana in Haryana that shows preservation of all cultural levels of this ancient civilisation from the pre-Harappan Hakra phase through the Early Mature Harappan to the Mature Harappan time.
  • Bhirrana was part of a high concentration of settlements along the now dried up mythical Vedic river ‘Saraswati’, an extension of Ghaggar river in the Thar desert.
  • To find out how old the civilisation is, the researchers dated pottery of the Early Mature Harappan time — by a technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) — and found it to be nearly 6,000 years old, the oldest known pottery so far.
  • The levels of pre-Harappan Hakra phase have been dated as old as 8,000 years.

[3] Australia’s Great Barrier Reef , a third of coral killed due to bleaching

What happened?

  • Incidents of mass bleaching has killed more than a third of the coral in the northern and central parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

What are corals?

  • Coral organisms, called polyps, can live on their own, but are primarily associated with the spectacularly diverse limestone communities, or reefs, they construct.
  • Corals live in tropical waters throughout the world, generally close to the surface where the sun’s rays can reach the algae.
  • While corals get most of their nutrients from the byproducts of the algae’s photosynthesis, they also have barbed, venomous tentacles they can stick out, usually at night, to grab zooplankton and even small fish.

How coral reefs are formed?

  • Coral polyps are tiny, soft-bodied organisms related to sea anemones and jellyfish.
  • At their base is a hard, protective limestone skeleton called a calicle, which forms the structure of coral reefs.
  • Reefs begin when a polyp attaches itself to a rock on the sea floor, then divides, or buds, into thousands of clones.
  • The polyp calicles connect to one another, creating a colony that acts as a single organism.
  • As colonies grow over hundreds and thousands of years, they join with other colonies and become reefs.
  • Some of the coral reefs on the planet today began growing over 50 million years ago.

What is coral bleaching?

  • Warmer water temperatures can result in coral bleaching.
  • When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white.
  • This is called coral bleaching. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead.
  • Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.
  • Though bleached corals that haven’t died can recover if the water temperature drops, older corals take longer to bounce back and likely won’t have a chance to recover before the next bleaching event occurs.
  • Coral that has died is gone for good, which affects other creatures that rely on it for food and shelter.

What has triggered coral bleaching?

  • Experts say the bleaching has been triggered by global warming and El Nino, a warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide.

[4] Two foot-long bug declared world’s longest insect

News

  • A bug, measuring over half-a-metre long, discovered in southern China has been declared the world’s longest insect.

About the bug

  • A stick insect measuring 62.4 centimetres found two years ago in the southern province of Guangxi has broken the record for length amongst the world’s 807,625 known insects.
  • The previous record-holder was a Malaysian 56.7-centimetre-long stick insect discovered in 2008 and now on display in London’s Natural History Museum.
  • The bug has been dubbed Phryganistria chinensis Zhao in his honour, and a paper about it will soon be published.
Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 22 May – 28 May 2016

[1]More extreme rainfall on land masses predicted

Issue

  • According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, extreme rainfall events can be expected to increase in both dry and wet land regions of the world in the current global warming scenario.

Key points

  • The water vapour concentration increase in the atmosphere per degree Celsius rise in temperature is 7 per cent according to the Clausius-Clapeyron theory.
  • Over the ocean, where evaporation is greater than precipitation (rainfall), such as in dry areas, the atmosphere will get drier with increased global warming as the evaporated water, in the form of vapour, is carried away by winds, leaving behind a dry atmosphere. And where the precipitation is greater than evaporation such as in wet areas the areas will get wetter.
  • But over the land masses it has been less clear as to how the rainfall patterns change with global warming.
  • Based on models and observations it has been found that global average precipitation increases only about 2 per cent.
  • In some way the atmosphere produces less rain.
  • One way that this could happen is if rain increases at the Clausius–Clapeyron rate when it does fall, but falls less often, making precipitation events more extreme.
  • This is what is seen typically in general circulation models (GCM), the most detailed models of the climate system.
  • Another point is that the heat released by the condensation of water itself tends to pull more moisture into a precipitating system.
  • This suggests that intense rain might instead increase with warming at even higher rates than the Clausius–Clapeyron rate— perhaps twice as fast, as some observations for short timescales (minutes to hours) seem to show.
  • On the other hand, as the atmosphere’s capacity to evaporate moisture from arid regions and to transport it away will increase at the Clausius–Clapeyron rate, arid regions are expected to become drier still, and it seems plausible that this would reduce all precipitation (from light to heavy) in these regions.

Limitations of the study

  • The study, though significant for its findings has the drawback that the tropics were poorly covered. The global warming effects are most severely felt in the tropics where complex physical interactions make prediction hardest.
  • Also, extreme rainfall data is widely available only on the daily timescale.
  • It cannot be known how it will change on shorter and longer timescales, which will indicate the flood risk in different places.

[2] Water staircases in seas

Issue

  • Water staircases.

Water Staircases

  • Water staircases are steplike variations of density of water due to steplike changes in temperature and salinity.
  • Though internal waves exist where the density gradually increases with depth, they cannot propagate where the density is uniform, for instance, within the steps of the staircase.
  • This suggests a possible mechanism by which the upper layers of the Arctic Ocean warm up, causing the ice to melt.
  • Ocean warming
  • The Arctic Ocean has inflows coming from the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean.
  • In this, the top layers consist of cooler and less saline water and below that is a layer of water coming from the Atlantic Ocean which is more saline and warmer, too.
  • The effect of salinity wins over that of temperature and so, though the water below is warmer, it is heavier than the cooler, less saline layer on top.
  • Warm, but salty water — ultimately originating from the Atlantic Ocean resides near the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
  • If turbulence could somehow mix this water with that above, then, eventually, the surface could warm more rapidly, and this would increase the rate of sea-ice melt.
  • One mechanism for mixing is the result of breaking internal waves.
  • In a staircase-like formation, though the density is constant within the step, there is a jump in density from one step to another.
  • Hence, the wave’s energy can be transmitted from one interface to another.

Selective filtering

  • So the scenario is that when an internal wave strikes a density staircase, a part of its energy may be transmitted through the staircase.
  • In other words, density staircases in the ocean can act to reflect short wavelength internal waves and transmit longer wavelength waves.
  • This is analogous to the selective transparency of glass windows on modern buildings that have multilayered coatings designed to reflect red light (long wavelength light) and allow green-blue (shorter wavelength) light through.
  • On reaching the ocean floor, the long-wavelength waves which have been transmitted cause turbulence and mix up the water.
  • The warm waters then rise to the top and warm the top layers.

[3] Why sea ice cover around Antarctica is rising

Issue

  • Why has the sea ice cover surrounding Antarctica been increasing slightly, in sharp contrast to the drastic loss of sea ice occurring in the Arctic Ocean?

Study by NASA

  • A new NASA-led study has found the geology of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is responsible for this phenomenon.
  • The researchers used satellite radar, sea surface temperature, land form and bathymetry (ocean depth) data to study the physical processes and properties affecting Antarctic sea ice.
  • They found that two persistent geological factors — the topography of Antarctica and the depth of the ocean surrounding it — are influencing winds and ocean currents, respectively, to drive the formation and evolution of Antarctica’s sea ice cover and help sustain it.
  • They focused on the 2008 growth season, a year of exceptional seasonal variability in Antarctic sea ice coverage.

Analyses

  • Their analyses revealed that as sea ice forms and builds up early in the sea ice growth season, it gets pushed offshore and northward by winds, forming a protective shield of older, thicker ice that circulates around the continent.
  • The persistent winds, which flow down slope off the continent and are shaped by Antarctica’s topography, pile ice up against the massive ice shield, enhancing its thickness.
  • This band of ice, which varies in width from roughly 100 to 1,000 km, encapsulates and protects younger, thinner ice in the ice pack behind it from being reduced by winds and waves.
  • Older, thicker sea ice returns a stronger radar signal than younger, thinner ice does.
  • They found the sea ice within the protective shield was older and rougher (due to longer exposure to wind and waves), and thicker (due to more snow accumulation).
  • As the sea ice cover expands and ice drifts away from the continent, areas of open water form behind it on the sea surface, creating “ice factories” conducive to rapid sea ice growth.
Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 15th May – 21st May 2016

[1] Mexico’s Vaquita porpoise headed toward extinction

News

  • Scientists have warned that the population of Mexico’s endangered vaquita marina, the world’s smallest porpoise, has fallen to alarmingly low levels and is heading toward extinction soon if drastic measures aren’t taken.

Vaquita

  • The vaquita (Phocoena sinus), also known as the Gulf of California harbor porpoise, is the smallest and rarest of the cetaceans – which include whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
  • The vaquita has a gray body with a pale gray or white belly and a dark patch around its eye.
  • They are very rarely seen in the wild.Vaquitas have the most restricted range of any marine cetacean.
  • They appear to live only in the northern end of the Gulf of California.

Threats

  • The greatest threat to the remaining vaquita is incidental death caused by fishing gear.
  • Vaquitas are known to die in gillnets set for sharks, rays, mackerels and chano, as well as in illegal and occasionally permitted gillnet sets for an endangered fish called totoaba.
  • The vaquitas are threatened primarily by gillnet fishing for the totoaba fish, another endangered species in the area that is hunted for its swim bladder, considered a delicacy in China.
  • They are also killed by commercial shrimp trawlers.

Gillnetting

  • It is a common fishing method used by commercial and artisanal fishermen of all the oceans and in some freshwater and estuary areas.
  • Gill nets are vertical panels of netting normally set in a straight line.

Last census found just under 100 of them

  • The last such survey found just under 100 vaquitas in 2014. Overall, their numbers are down 92 percent since 1997.

Joint Action is required

  • The Mexican, the U.S. and Chinese governments need to take urgent and coordinated action to stop the illegal fishing, trafficking and consumption of totoaba products.
  • In the end, if the vaquita goes extinct it would inevitably be a shared responsibility of the three countries.

May join the ‘extinct’ list

  • The Steller’s sea cow disappeared in 1768, the Caribbean monk seal in 1952, the Japanese sea lion in 1970 and the Chinese river dolphin in 2006.
  • While capture and captive breeding remain as a possible last resort, no one has ever succeeded in keeping a vaquita alive in captivity, much less breeding them.
  • Activists said extinction could also end the kind of shielding effect that the protections for the charismatic porpoises resulted in for the surrounding habitat.

[2]Asian waterbird census data causes mixed feelings

News

  • A quarter century of ornithological observations of wetland birds of Kerala come with a mixed bag of joy and despair for birders.

Ornithology

  • Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds.
  • The science of ornithology has a long history and studies on birds have helped develop several key concepts in evolution, behaviour and ecology such as the definition of species, the process of speciation, instinct, learning, ecological niches, guilds, island biogeography,phylogeography and conservation.

Key Observations

  • At a time when the wetlands of the State are facing multi-pronged threats, the population of a few bird species has been found soaring whereas some others have nose-dived in the population chart.
  • Researchers focused their attention on the data generated from the four Ramsar sites of the State – Sasthamkotta Lake, Ashtamudi Lake, Vembanad Lake and Kole Wetlands – and also the other important wetland habitats to get a bird’s eye view of the population trends of wetland avian fauna.
  • The annual census, coordinated by Wetlands International, also happens to be the first country-wide citizen science activity on natural history in India.

Threats identified

  • Demographic pressure, industrial development, pollution, urbanisation, agriculture and aquaculture and water transport have been adding pressure on the wetlands of the State.
  • Reclamation of wetlands and the aquatic ecosystems, which are often considered as wastelands, is spelling trouble to several taxa.
  • The stake nets used for fishing removes a wide array of non-target organisms, which are functionally important to the aquatic environment.
  • Destructive fishing practise are also taking a toll on the bird population, it was reported.
  • Unregulated fishing, reclamation of wetlands, dumping of solid waste and domestic sewage too posed threats to the wetlands of Kerala, according to ornithologists.

[3] Conservation suffers as roadkills in Chinnar sanctuary shoot up

News

  • Conservation has suffered a severe jolt with roadkills in the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary accounting for a large number of fatalities over the past six months, mainly owing to lack of strict measures to enforce speed limits on vehicles on the Chinnar-Udumalpet road.

Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

  • Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS) is located 18 km north of Marayoor on SH 17 in the Marayoor and Kanthalloor panchayats of Devikulam taluk in the Idukki district of Kerala state in South India.
  • It is one of twelve wildlife sanctuaries among the protected areas of Kerala.
  • It is under the jurisdiction of and contiguous with Eravikulam National Park to the south.
  • Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary is to the north and Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary is to the east.
  • It forms an integral part of the 1,187 km2 (458 sq mi) block of protected forests straddling the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border in the Annamalai Hills.
  • The Western Ghats, Anamalai Sub-Cluster, including all of Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site

[4]Waiting to exhale

Context

  • Though, Delhi’s ranking has improved in the latest air quality assessment published by the World Health Organization, the problem of small particulate matter (PM) measuring 10 and 2.5 micrometres is still deep-rooted, and its health impact has been under official scrutiny only in recent years.

Key Points

  • While Delhi has come to the 11th place for fine particulate matter pollution, many other cities in north India with a history of poor air quality are still high on the WHO list.
  • This is unsurprising, as scientific studies point to distinct causative factors and atmospheric conditions in this part of the country that lead to very poor air quality.
  • It is strongly quantified through research that air pollution increases the risk of death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart problems, lung cancer and other chronic ailments.
  • This should prompt the Centre, which frames environmental law, to act speedily.

Some measures need to be taken

  • It has been known for long that the States along the Indo-Gangetic basin register higher levels of particulate matter pollution due to specific factors.
  • Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh contribute a large part of the air pollution suffered by populations in the east too.
  • A policy of mitigation should therefore aim to reduce the burning of solid cooking fuels and agricultural biomass, which takes place in the post-monsoon and winter seasons.
  • This requires a coordinated approach involving the Centre and the States, and enlightened welfare policies relating to improved cooking stoves, solar stoves and cooking gas, low-cost heating facilities and affordable shelter.
  • These measures would contribute to a reduction in the general burden of disease, and reduce the number of premature deaths linked to pollution
  • It is important to curb the use of automotive fossil fuels, and promote public transport and non-motorised alternatives such as cycling and electric vehicles.
  • Urbanisation also needs to become green, with eco-sensitive administrations providing paved surfaces, wetlands, parks and trees.

What is particulate matter?

  • Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.
  • Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time.
  • Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope.
  • Many manmade and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM.

Size matters

  • These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes.
  • Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system.
  • Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks.
  • Particles with diameters between 2.5 and 10 micrometers are referred to as “coarse.
  • Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.

Sources of PM

  • Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion activities (motor vehicles, power plants, wood burning, etc.) and certain industrial processes.
  • Sources of coarse particles include crushing or grinding operations, and dust from paved or unpaved roads.
  • Other particles may be formed in the air from the chemical change of gases. They are indirectly formed when gases from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor. These can result from fuel combustion in motor vehicles, at power plants, and in other industrial processes.

Implications

  • According to a study,  increase in PM2.5 by one microgram per cubic metre reduces life expectancy by three weeks, which implies that such alarming increases could chop off a significant portion of one’s healthy years.

[5]Shaping the deal in Bonn

Issue

  • To effectively participate in the post-Paris climate negotiations, India must first ratify the Paris agreement.

What is Paris agreement?

  • The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.

How is ratification done?

  • Countries follow different systems and domestic laws to adhere to international treaties or agreements.
  • In India, approval of Parliament will not be required for the government to ratify the Paris Agreement. A Cabinet decision to this effect would be enough.
  • The United States, on the other hand, would need the approval of both Houses of Congress to join the Agreement.
  • In the case of the EU, ratification will be even more complicated because the consent of each member country will have to be obtained.

Importance of Paris Agreement

  • The Paris agreement neither replicates the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change nor is it guaranteed to end global climate change.
  • It does not also cater to all of India’s asks (or those of others) in the negotiations. It does, however, contain “hooks” and “place holders” to ensure that India can, if it so chooses, continue to shape the climate regime, for instance on the defining issue of equity.
  • The Paris agreement embodies a hybrid architecture combining “bottom-up” and “top-down” elements.
  • Nationally determined mitigation and adaptation contributions comprise the “bottom-up” element and a system of oversight comprises the “top-down” element.
  • States have autonomy in the form and stringency of their contributions.
  • States are expected to ensure that their successive national contributions represent a progression from their previous ones, but the nature and extent of “progression” is nationally determined.

An oversight system

  • These contributions are paired with an oversight system consisting of three components
  1. A transparency system that ensures countries are doing what they agreed to do,
  2. A global stock-take process that periodically assesses collective progress towards the agreement’s long-term goals,
  3. And a compliance system that facilitates compliance with the agreement.

India’s interest in Paris Agreement

  • India has a compelling interest in having a rigorous oversight system.
  • India and its economic growth are vulnerable to climate change.
  • In the absence of a rigorous oversight system, India will be left with an imperfect method of ensuring that other countries are keeping their promises, the world as a whole is moving in the right direction, and countries are sharing the burden equitably.
  • In relation to transparency, India needs a system that is rigorous yet tailored to its own capacity constraints.
  • In relation to the global stock-take process, we need the consideration of equity. India could introduce benchmarks — qualitative and quantitative — in the global stock-take process.
  • In assessing collective progress towards long-term goals, this would cast light on the relative sharing of responsibilities between parties.
  • This is key for countries like India with limited historical responsibility for climate change, low per capita emissions, high energy poverty and much of our growth ahead of us.
  • It is only if we participate thoughtfully in the post-Paris negotiations on the oversight system that we will have a system that strikes the right balance between rigour for all and flexibility for those who need it.

Why India should ratify Paris Agreement?

  • India’s ability to participate effectively in the post-Paris negotiations will be influenced by its approach to the ratification of the Paris agreement.
  • Ratification of the Paris agreement signals a sense of ownership, commitment, good faith and continuing engagement.
  • If we do not ratify, our ability to influence the post-Paris agenda, if we are on the sidelines, however, will be compromised.
  • India should focus on shaping the post-Paris agenda to ensure that the oversight system is rigorous, effective and tailored to our constraints and capacities.

[6] Ken-betwa project

Issue

  • Development vs Ecology.

Context

  • Ken-Betwa interlinking will help irrigate 600,000 hectares of land and provide drinking water to 1.34 million in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, but the ecological impact of the project may be disastrous.

The Ken-Betwa link project

  • The Ken-Betwa link project envisages diversion of surplus waters of Ken basin to water deficit Betwa basin.
  • The quantity of water proposed to be diverted from Ken basin, after considering in basin demands and downstream commitments earmarked for providing irrigation in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, is 1020 Mm3 .
  • This link canal will provide irrigation to water short areas of upper Betwa basin of Madhya Pradesh by way of substitution and also to enroute areas of Madhya Pradesh & Uttar Pradesh.
  • The command envisaged in the earlier proposed Ken Multipurpose Project (KMPP) by Madhya Pradesh State Government is also to be irrigated from this project.
  • It is the first-ever inter-State river linking project since India’s independence

Conflict

  • The Union Water Resources Ministry has told the Union Environment Ministry that many measures are in place to ensure that territories and habitats of tigers and vultures in the region are not damaged.
  • The Ministry was responding to a report filed on Monday by wildlife experts, constituted by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), who warned of dangers to wildlife resident in the core region of the Panna tiger reserve.
  • NBWL clearance is necessary for the go-ahead and subsequent commissioning of the Rs 9,000-crore project that proposes to irrigate the drought-ravaged Bundelkhand region.

The problem

  • The project involves building the 288-metre Daudhan dam, and transfer of surplus water from the Ken river basin to the Betwa basin.
  • This will submerge nearly 4,141 hectares of the Panna tiger reserve — held as model of tiger conservation after its numbers fell from 35 in 2006 to zero in 2009, and rose again to at least 18 after seven years of conservation.
  • On the contrary, water that will result in the region may lead to new water bodies that will draw herbivores and thus prey and carcasses for the tiger and the vultures.

Any solution offered

  • The Madhya Pradesh government had promised 8,000 hectares of alternate forest land as compensation and much of it — currently barren — would be replenished with vegetation that had once existed in the region, the source added.

Experts’ opinion

  • Wildlife experts says the project will not channel water to drought prone regions of Bundelkhand.
  • They have  warned of the dangers to the ecology and animal life due to the proposed Ken-Betwa project.
  • Apart from threats to the tiger habitat, there are also threats to gharial, hyenas and vultures that live within the sanctuary.

[7]‘Space veggies’ grow in Dutch greenhouse

News

  • Agricultural researchers at a Dutch university are growing vegetables in soils similar to those found on the Moon and Mars, looking for ways of helping space pioneers grow their own crops.

How did they manage to get the soil?

  • NASA, the U.S. space agency made ground similar to that on the Moon from sand found in an Arizona desert, while Mars’ crimson “soil” was scooped from a volcano in Hawaii.

The major problem in growing ‘Space Veggies’

  • Martian and lunar soil, including NASA’s own imitation, may contain heavy metals that are harmless to plants but could prove deadly to humans.
  • If analyses show that the vegetables contain arsenic, mercury or iron making them unfit for human consumption, the soil can be purified by growing other plant species such as violets which absorb the poisons.

[8]Towards a viable climate target

Context

  • The author has given arguments that a target of zero emissions should be pursued in order to tackle the menace of climate change.

Vague targets

  • The problem lies, first and foremost, with the goals spelled out in the agreement.
  • Targets like limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C cannot effectively guide policymakers and the public.
  • They address the whole Earth system, not individual actors or governments.
  • By failing to state explicitly what individual countries are required to deliver, it allows leaders to support targets that seem ambitious, while pursuing mitigation efforts that are in reality insignificant.
  • No scientific formula can describe how to share the burden of global mitigation equitably among countries, leaving every government able to declare confidently that its policies are in line with any given temperature target.
  • An evaluation of whether the goals are being attained can be carried out only on a global level, and thus no country can be held responsible if the target is missed.
  • As a result, every UN climate summit concludes with expressions of grave concern that the overall efforts are inadequate.
  • In climate policy, most governments choose a progressive stance while talking and deciding, but a more cautious one when it comes time to act
  • Ambitious UN climate targets have not served as a prerequisite, but as a substitute for action.

Case for ambitious goals

  • This is no reason to give up on climate targets altogether.
  • Complex long-term policymaking works only if ambitious goals are in place.
  • But targets cannot be vague aspirational goals; they must be precise, evaluable, attainable and motivating. The Paris agreement itself offers one possible approach.
  • Hidden behind a vaguely defined formula, a third mitigation target has been introduced: reaching zero emissions in the second half of the century.

Why we should opt for zero emissions?

  • A target of zero emissions tells policymakers and the public precisely what must be done, and it directly addresses human activity.
  • Every country’s emissions must peak, decline and eventually reach zero.
  • This provides a transparent system to evaluate the actions not only of national governments, but also of cities, economic sectors, companies and even individuals.
  • Replacing temperature thresholds with an effort to reduce emissions to zero would ensure accountability and minimize political inconsistency.
  • The gap between real-world emissions and what will be needed to keep warming below the agreed-upon limits is rapidly widening.
  • Whatever our temperature target, global emissions have to peak soon and decrease afterwards—all the way to zero.
  • The Paris climate agreement will be remembered as a success only if we manage to shift our focus from talk to effective action
Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 8th May – 14th May 2016

[1]Conserving the last drop

Context

Water scarcity in parts of India

Theme 1 : Borewell Drilling in Latur

  • Regions such as Marathwada, Bundelkhand, Telangana, and northern Karnataka are reeling under drought-like conditions.
  • Parched villages and cities, driven to desperation, have plunged headlong into a borewell-digging spree. From Mumbai to Hyderabad, borewell operators are frenetically drilling, sometimes against municipal regulations and bans, to below 400 or 500 feet, yet not always hitting water.
  • The rules permit the digging of only five borewells every one square kilometre with a depth of not more than 200 feet. With the total district area of 715 sq km, the number of borewells in Latur should ideally not cross 3,575
  • Yet there are 90,000 borewells here even as the official count of the ground water survey authority stands at a measly 34,778
  • The government has undertaken schemes like Jal Yukta Shivar to artificially recharge depleting water bodies and make 5,000 villages drought free every year. But its impact will only be known after a good monsoon

 

Theme 2 : Tankers supply water in Telangana

  • 1.57 lakh hand pumps have also gone bone dry, Telangana’s monsoon rainfall deficit in was 30 per cent in 2014-15
  • Water supplied by the Rural Water Supply Department or private sources, tanker water comes at a steep price
  • Failure of three out of the last four successive monsoons not only affected most parts of the newly-formed State but also in the catchment areas of the Godavari and Krishna rivers originating in the Western Ghats and some of their tributaries taking off in Maharashtra and Karnataka.

 

Theme 3 : Water quality in the districts of Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu

  • This region has been seriously afflicted by fluoride-contaminated groundwater, with sometimes catastrophic health consequences for the population
  • On the Panchayat’s (Oddanur in Nagamarai Panchayat in Pennagaram) request water quality was tested by the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board and the hand pump was red-marked as highly contaminated.

Fluorosis Mitigation project

  • Multi-billion dollar Hogenakkal Drinking Water and Fluorosis Mitigation project
  • Japan-funded at a cost of Rs.1928.80 crore
  • Distribution loss-In many places, the pumping of the water cannot reach the people because the power supplied to the project is low without tampering of pipelines or pilferage at places.

 

Theme 4 – Interlinking of rivers

  • CWC divides India’s rivers into 12 major basins.
  • The most updated estimates of per capita water availability in India’s river basins show stark inequality

Positive:

  • Being able to successfully transfer water through the interlinking of rivers will mean 35 million hectares of irrigation, raising the ultimate irrigation potential from 140 million hectare to 175 million hectare and generation of 34000 megawatt of power, apart from the incidental benefits of flood control, navigation, water supply, fisheries, salinity and pollution control, according to the Central government.

Negative:

  • River interlinking will cost the government about Rs. 10 trillion and the number of projects that involve connecting 14 for Himalayan rivers and 16 in peninsular India implies that 15,000 km of new canals will have to be added to relocate 174 BCM of water.
  • Massive displacement of people
  • Since the Ganga basin’s topography is flat, building dams would not substantially add to river flows and these dams could threaten the forests of the Himalayas and impact the functioning of the monsoon system.
  • Climate change is another concern. In interlinking systems, it is assumed that the donor basin has surplus water that can be made available to the recipient basin, if the glaciers don’t sustain their glacier mass due to climate change then interlinking will not work

 

Theme 5 – Improper use of excess water in Mettur region of Tamil Nadu

  • Despite receiving excess rainfall during the months of November-December, the rural areas of Salem district are bracing for an acute water crisis with Mettur Dam and other water bodies drying up fast
  • The Mettur dam has “surplussed” more than 40 times in its 82 years of existence.Surplussing occurs during the southwest monsoon when five to 80 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of water drains into the sea, while 70 per cent of lakes in Salem remain dry.
  • Water ends up as runoff, which is water that is wasted rather than channelled for any useful purpose.
  • Accumulation of silt has been a serious obstacle to attaining full storage potential at the Stanley reservoir in Mettur
  • The Reservoir was constructed in 1934. Yet it has not been desilted even once, silt accumulation accounting for 20 per cent of the storage capacity of the dam.

Theme 6 : Water conservation methods of ancient India

  • Ecologically safe engineering marvels of water conservation have existed in India for nearly 1,500 years, including traditional systems of water harvesting, such as the bawari, jhalara, nadi, tanka, and khadin.
  • In Jodhpur, Satyanarayan ki bawari, the small stepwell named after the temple next to it, is one of hundreds of similar structures, old Jodhpur has over 200 stepwells, little rain that the region receives between June and September water is diverted from canals built on the hilly outskirts of the city to man-made tanks or talabs.
  • Water seeps into the ground, recharging the aquifer, and the steps narrowing down to minimise the water that could evaporate

Conclusion

  • For India to resolve its acute shortage of water, it has to focus on water conservation, storage and groundwater recharge
  • Policies about the subsidies of crops that are water intensive such as sugarcane and other cash crops have to be reduced or totally done away with.
  • Old conserving methods (bawari, jhalara, nadi, tanka, and khadin) should be implemented to recharge our aquifers and water table

[2] Save Aravalli to save wildlife

Context

7 Leopards have died in Gurgaon over 2 years

Arvalis

  • Aravalli provide unbelievable natural ambience to the Leopards
  • Leopard is at the top of food chain in Aravalli Range on Haryana side, they are the most adaptable of the large cats and typify wildlife that lives outside forests
  • After the ban on mining the Aravali habitat has improved, the Aravali is surrounded by Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary on Delhi side and a continuous Aravalli chain in Rajasthan which extends up to Sariska National Park

How did  it happened?

  • Although mining has been banned in the Aravalis, the encroachment in their habitat like the roads and highways that pass through the Aravalli range bifurcating the natural habitat of the leopard
  • Neither the departments concerned have provided safe passages to the animals to cross these roads nor any signages have been put for the motorists to drive slow in this area.

[3] ‘Plant kingdom faces increasing threats’

Report

  • The “State of the World’s Plants” report was drawn up by botanists at the Kew Gardens research centre in west London, which has one of the world’s largest collections in its greenhouses and sprawling gardens.
  • Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens has warned of the threats facing the world’s plant kingdom in the first global report of its kind aimed at drawing attention to often-overlooked species.
  • The 80-page report is intended to become a database and global reference point as it will be published annually and allow for comparisons on preserving the world’s plants.

Threats to plant kingdom

  • The threats to the plant kingdom come, above all, from farming.
  • House building, diseases and pesticides are also top killers.
  • Climate change  plays only  a marginal role for the moment.

[4] Centre’s afforestation bill faces Rajya Sabha stumble

What happened?

  • Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha but opposition has moved amendments to the bill in the Rajya Sabha, which has postponed the bill to the  monsoon session of Parliament.

Compensatory Afforestation

  • Compensatory afforestation pertains to development of new forests to compensate for loss of existing forest area due to their transfer for non-forestry purposes, such as setting up of industries, building roads, etc.
  • This is as per a provision under the Rules to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
  • The ‘user agency’ which seeks the diverted forest land is rule-bound to provide the land or the funds to plant the trees.
  • Currently, funds accumulated through the implementation of this provision are being managed by an ‘ad hoc’ authority set up by the Supreme Court.

Issues related to Bill

  • While on the face of it, developing forests through plantations might seem like an environment-friendly initiative, there appear to be several issues pertaining to this Bill which require closer attention.

What the Bill says:

  • Establish a Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Centre and the States for crediting monies received from various agencies under compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value (of forest) and all amounts recovered as per the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
  • The Fund is created as per Supreme Court ruling in 2002 in the Godavaram Thirumalpad vs. Union of India case
  • Besides artificial regeneration (Plantations), the Fund shall also be utilised for undertaking assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests, infrastructure development, wildlife protection and other related activities
  • An independent system of concurrent monitoring and evaluation be evolved and implemented through the Fund to ensure effective and proper utilisation
  • A group of experts appointed by the Centre shall monitor the activities undertaken from amounts released from the Fund
  • All funds realised from the user agencies involving cases of diversion of forest land in protected areas be used exclusively for undertaking protection and conservation activities in protected areas of the State including facilitating voluntary relocation from such protected areas

The objections to it

  • According to the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a federation of tribal and forest dwellers’ organisations from eleven States, this Bill allows states to plant a huge number of trees (or undertake other “forest management” projects) in natural landscapes – such as grasslands, natural open forests, grazing areas, common lands or people’s cultivated lands – without checking if people have rights over them, and without consulting them about where they should be planted, what species should be planted, and what impact this will have on their lives.
  • Plantations have been one of the major sources of conflict in forest areas, as forest bureaucrats routinely use them as a way to get more people’s land under their control, the organisation notes in a statement. As a result of loss of access to land, many tribal groups have been pushed to starvation, they note.
  • The amendment moved by the Opposition in Rajya Sabha will not block the spending of proposed afforestation funds but will only add one small check to ensure that people have one forum where they can defend their rights.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2006 found that the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds are being spent on all kinds of activities; for instance, the Uttarakhand Forest Department was spending CAMPA funds on office equipment, vehicles, etc.

[5] Delhi not ‘most polluted’, but dirty air fouls many cities

Report

  • According to the  the ‘Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database (update 2016)’ ,  latest air quality report from the World Health Organization (WHO), Delhi is no longer the most polluted city in the world.

Rankings

  • Delhi  now stands 11th among 3,000 cities in 103 countries in terms of fine particulate matter or PM 2.5.
  • It is placed on 25th place based on bigger particulate or PM 10 levels. Particulate matter affects everyone but causes harm faster to children and senior citizens.
  • Delhi’s place as the most polluted is taken by Zabol, in Iran.
  • Gwalior and Allahabad, meanwhile, come a close second and third in terms of PM 2.5, while Patna and Raipur are ranked 6th and 7th.

About the database

  • WHO used data from government and research organisations to prepare the database.
  • It is based on ground measurements of annual mean concentrations of particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5) .
  • It  aims at representing an average for the city or town as a whole, rather than for individual stations. Years of measurements range from 2010 to 2015, unless the latest available data was older.

Additional points:-

  • PM 2.5 refers to atmospheric particulates with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers. Exposure to fine particulates is linked to premature death from heart and lung disease. They trigger or worsen asthma, heart attack, bronchitis and other respiratory problems.
  • The WHO states that as urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma increases.
  • Common causes of air pollution include diesel-fuelled vehicles, heavy construction activities, temperature control in large buildings and use of coal or diesel generators.
Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 1st May – 7th May 2016

[1] Western Ghats under threat: Report

Case Study

  • According to a report ‘Protecting people through nature,’ prepared by the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),  many natural and mixed World Heritage Sites,are threatened by harmful industrial activities such as mining.

What kind of harmful industrial activities?

  • The harmful industrial activities include oil and gas exploration and extraction, mining, illegal logging and large-scale constructions, according to the report.
  • The harmful industrial development poses a threat to these ‘ecosystem services and the communities that depend on them.

Indian sites under threat

Three of the seven such Indian sites have been listed as being under threat.

  • Serial sites of Western Ghats, the report says the sites are facing “extractive threats” in the form of “oil and gas concessions” and “mines and mining concessions.”
  • The Manas Wildlife Sanctuary faces unsustainable water use.
  • Sundarbans has issues related to water management.

Indian response

Responding to the assessment, V.B. Mathur, Director, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, said the methodology of the report and its outcome were too generic in nature.

[2] A long and hot summer ahead

News

  • On April 22, representatives from 175 countries gathered in New York to affix their signatures on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which was adopted by consensus by the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which met in December 2015.

Road Ahead

  • The scene will now shift to obtaining enough instruments of ratification to bring the agreement into force before 2020, the first year of its proposed implementation.
  • The agreement will enter into force with the ratification of at least 55 countries, whose aggregate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions constitute at least 55 per cent of global emissions.

Should India ratify it?

  • One will need to watch what happens in the United States after the forthcoming presidential elections.
  • There is a real risk that the Kyoto Protocol drama may be repeated with the U.S. Congress rejecting an agreement that the U.S. administration has signed.
  • Were this to happen, other countries may withhold ratification since the U.S. is the second largest emitter of GHGs after China.
  • India should not be in a hurry to ratify the Agreement until there is clarity on the U.S. position.

Still a work in progress

  • The Paris Agreement represents only a skeletal framework which will now have to be fleshed out in post-Paris negotiations.
  • Several major concepts and provisions were deliberately left ambiguous and open to differing interpretations in order to reach consensus.
  • Further negotiations are necessary to reach a common understanding to enable implementation.
Issue Developed countries Developing countries
Transparency Developed countries claim that transparency requires a “common and unified system” to compare climate action undertaken as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) by Parties. The Expert Review Teams (ERTs) under the UNFCCC currently evaluate the achievement of quantitative reductions in GHGs by developed countries only. There are demands that this should be modified to enable a common template to review national GHG emissions and removal (by carbon sinks) data for all countries after 2020. Developing countries, on the other hand, point to the “flexibilities” available to them in recognition of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (the well-known CBDR principle) and insist that this should be reflected in the application of the transparency provision.
Evaluation Developed countries want to make the mitigation aspect specific and measurable while keeping other aspects such as finance and technology transfer to developing countries as indeterminate as possible so as not to be held accountable for what they have pledged in these areas. Developing countries should question the rationale for such a registry ahead of a negotiated outcome on this issue.

 

Back-pedalling

  • While trying to impose specific and onerous commitments on developing countries, the developed countries continue to evade providing any clarity on what they intend to contribute by way of finance, technology and capacity building to fulfil their Paris Agreement pledges.
  • On finance there has been backsliding. When the agreement talks of “financial flows” rather than public resources in the form of official transfers, it is not clear what would be the constituents of these flows and the value assigned to each.
  • On technology transfer, there is already an offensive by the U.S. corporate sector to ensure that in the post-Paris negotiations there is no concession on intellectual property (IP) issues.

What India should do?

  • India has already made substantial concessions to enable a consensus and successful outcome at Paris.
  • Now it must ensure that it is not caught in a relentless attrition process where each concession becomes an argument for making the next one.
  • The post-Paris negotiations will determine more precisely the shape of the climate change architecture for the next several decades.
  • We must ensure that India’s vital interests are safeguarded and the principle of equity and equitable burden-sharing is reflected across this architecture.

[3] Hospitals yet to master handling of biomedical waste

Why in news?

  • Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has conducted  surprise inspections  in hospitals across the city and it has revealed alarming discrepancies in segregation and treatment of biomedical waste.

Key findings:-

  • In several hospitals, KSPCB found medical waste being stored in black bags meant for general waste, and biomedical waste being mixed with unsegregated waste.

 

The law regarding biomedical waste

  • The Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, state that ‘no untreated bio-medical waste shall be kept stored beyond a period of 48 hours’.
  • But KSPCB found that not all hospitals are complying with this rule.

Notices issued

  • The board has issued notices to all the hospitals and given them three months to comply with the norms, failing which they risk criminal charges. That said, closure of hospitals is not being considered as it would affect the treatment of patients.
  • On an average, hospitals can generate between 350 gm and 500 gm of biomedical waste per bed.
  • If such waste is handled by personnel at the waste management plant, it could make them sick.

[4] Rare sighting of Amur falcon near Nagpur

What happened?

Amur falcon — has been spotted at the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary near the Pench Tiger Reserve, 60 km from Nagpur.

Its importance

  • The Amur falcon (Falco amurensis) is a small raptor of the falcon family. It breeds in south-eastern Siberia and Northern China before migrating in large flocks across India and over the Arabian Sea to winter in Southern Africa.
  • The raptor (bird of prey) — the size of a pigeon — makes its home in Nagaland, flying a staggering 22,000 km from there to South Africa, then onto Mongolia and back to Nagaland.
  • The bird has one of the longest and most fascinating migratory paths in the avian world.
  • The falcon breeds in south-eastern Siberia and north-eastern China, where the Amur River divides the Russian Far East and China.
  • Amur falcons typically begin their annual journey from north-eastern Siberia and northern China, heading to north-east India and roosting in Nagaland, before leaving for Africa, where they spend their winters.

[5]Loss of vultures damaging for humans, ecosystem: study

Case Study

According to  findings  published in the journal Biological Conservation, decline in vulture populations in some parts of the world, including India, may have serious consequences for ecosystems and humans alike.

Risk

Poisoning is the greatest extinction risk facing vultures, and impacts 88 per cent of threatened vulture species.

How do vultures become victims of Poison?

  • In many continents, vultures are the unfortunate victims of poisoned carcasses — especially impactful because dozens, or even hundreds — of vultures can feast on a single carcass.
  • Populations of most vulture species around the world are now either declining or on the brink of extinction.

Their make could be their unmaking

The results suggest several inherent ecological traits that likely contribute to vultures’ extinction risk, including their large body masses, slow reproductive rates and highly specialised diets, researchers said.

Indian experience

  • In the mid-1990s India experienced a precipitous vulture decline, with more than 95 per cent of vultures disappearing by the early 2000s.
  • The cause was eventually traced to diclofenac, a veterinary anti-inflammatory drug that relieved pain in cattle, but proved highly toxic to vultures.
  • Hundreds of vultures would flock to each cattle carcass.
  • And if the cattle had recently been treated with diclofenac, hundreds of vultures would die.
  • Because of this highly gregarious feeding behaviour, less than one per cent of cattle carcasses contaminated with diclofenac could account for the steep vulture decline.

How does it affect humans?

  • Losses of vultures can allow other scavengers to flourish.
  • Proliferation of such scavengers could bring bacteria and viruses from carcasses into human cities.
  • Following the decline of vultures, India experienced a strong uptick in feral dogs — by an estimated seven million.
  • The increase in dogs, potentially feeding on disease-ridden carcasses, is thought to have at least partially caused the rabies outbreak that was estimated to have killed 48,000 people from 1992-2006 in India — deaths that may have been avoided if not for the disappearance of vultures.