Make elephant corridors eco-sensitive zones, says NGT

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to consider declaring all elephant corridors in the country as eco-sensitive zones.

NGT has given two weeks time to the Ministry to look into the issue and to proceed in the matter for the declaration of such areas as eco-sensitive zones.

The observations came while the green panel was hearing a plea that highlighted the increasing number of unnatural elephant deaths taking place in the state. The petition said, “Owing to the increased denudation and loss of their forest habitats, elephants have come increasingly into conflicts with humans and faced deliberate retaliatory killings and accidents at railway crossings, high tension power lines, power fences, and trenches.”

What are the Eco-sensitive zones?

The Environment Protection Act, 1986 does not mention the word “Eco-sensitive Zones”.

The section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards

Besides the section 5 (1) of this act says that central government can prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of considerations like the biological diversity of an area, maximum allowable limits of concentration of pollutants for an area, environmentally compatible land use, and proximity to protected areas.

The above two clauses have been effectively used by the government to declare Eco-Sensitive Zones or Ecologically Fragile Areas (EFA). The same criteria have been used by the government to declare No Development Zones.

Criteria:

The MoEF (Ministry of Environment & Forests) has approved a comprehensive set of guidelines laying down parameters and criteria for declaring ESAs. A committee constituted by MoEF put this together. The guidelines lay out the criteria based on which areas can be declared as ESAs. These include Species Based (Endemism, Rarity etc), Ecosystem-Based (sacred groves, frontier forests etc) and Geomorphologic feature based (uninhabited islands, origins of rivers etc).

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Four new horned frogs discovered by Delhi University team

A team of biologists from Delhi University, University College Dublin (Ireland) and the National Museum (UK) have discovered four new species of horned frogs from the Himalayan regions of Northeast India. The team also comprised S D Biju from DU’s Department of Environmental Studies, known as the ‘Frogman of India’.

PhD research work carried out by Stephen Mahony at DU under Biju, as well as at UCD under Professor Emma Telling, led to the discovery. Horned frogs get their name from the “fleshy horn-like projection on the upper eyelids of some species”, and were discovered in the forests of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh.

The scientists named the four new Indian species as Himalayan horned frog (Megophrys himalayana); the Garo white-lipped horned frog (Megophrys oreocrypta); the Yellow spotted white-lipped horned frog (Megophrys flavipunctata); and the Giant Himalayan horned frog (Megophrys periosa). The study was published on Monday as a monograph in the scientific journal Zootaxa.

The scientists said the frogs vary in size — yellow spotted white-lipped horned frog measures about 5.7-7.5 cm and is the smallest, while the Giant Himalayan horned frog measures about 7.1 to 11.2 cm, making it the “largest of the 15 horned frog species now known to occur in Northeast India”.

Professor S D Biju said Northeast India was “rich in amphibian diversity, but despite being part of two globally recognized biodiversity hotspots (Himalayas and Indo-Burma), this region is neglected as compared to the Western Ghats hotspot in southern India”.

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NITI Aayog Constitutes Himalayan State Regional Council

NITI Aayog has constituted the ‘Himalayan State Regional Council’ to ensure sustainable development of the Indian Himalayan region. The Council has been constituted to review and implement identified action points based on the Reports of five Working Groups, which were established along thematic areas to prepare a roadmap for action.

Recognizing the uniqueness of the Himalayas and the challenges for sustainable development, Five Working Groups were constituted by NITI Aayog on June 2, 2017.

About the Council:

The Himalayan State Regional Council will be chaired by the Dr. VK Saraswat, Member, NITI Aayog and will consist of the Chief Secretaries of the Himalayan States as well as the Secretaries of key Central Ministries, senior officers of NITI Aayog as well as special invitees.

The Council has been constituted to review and implement identified action points based on the Reports of five Working Groups, which were established along thematic areas to prepare a roadmap for action.

The Himalayan States Regional Council will be the nodal agency for the Sustainable development in the Himalayan Region which consists of the twelve States namely Jammu &Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, two districts of Assam namely Dima Hasao and KarbiAnglong and Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal.

The terms of reference of the Council states that it shall monitor the implementation of action points for Central Ministries, Institutions and 12 Himalayan State Governments in Indian Himalayan Region which include river basin development and regional cooperation, spring mapping and revival across the Himalayas in phased manner for water security; develop, implement and monitor tourism sector standards as well as bring policy coherence, strengthen skill & entrepreneurship with focus on identified priority sectors, among other action points.

Recognizing the uniqueness of the Himalayas and the challenges for sustainable development, Five Working Groups were constituted by NITI Aayog on June 2, 2017. The five thematic reports were released by the NITI Aayog in August 2018 and framed the action points for the Terms of Reference of the Council constituted.

These Working Groups were tasked with preparing a roadmap for action across five thematic areas namely:

  • Inventory and Revival of Springs in the Himalayas for Water Security
  • Sustainable Tourism in Indian Himalayan Region.
  • Shifting Cultivation: Towards Transformation Approach.
  • Strengthening Skill & Entrepreneurship (E&S) Landscape in the Himalayas.
  • Data/Information for Informed Decision Making.
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India’s share in global air conditioning units to jump from 2.2% to almost 25% by 2050

Increasing incomes and urbanization will see an increase in room air conditioning units from 1.2 billion to 4.5 billion in the world by 2050 when India alone may account for one billion units.

The refrigerants used for cooling are the major contributors to global warming, and if left unchecked, they could cause global temperatures to rise by 0.5 degrees Celsius. Under a business-as-usual growth trajectory, about 4.5 billion room air-conditioners are estimated to be installed by 2050 — a nearly four-fold jump from today’s installed base, with emerging economies observing a five-fold increase.

HFCs are a family of gases that are largely used in refrigerants at home and in-car air-conditioners. However, they substantially worsen global warming. India, China, the United States, and Europe have committed themselves to reduce the use of HFC by 85% by 2045.

In 2016, India was a signatory to a compact of 107 countries to “substantially phase” out a potent greenhouse gas, called hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), by 2045 and move to prevent a potential 0.5 C rise in global temperature by 2050.

Need for energy efficiency in the area of air- conditioning:

Every one-degree increase in the air-conditioner temperature setting results in saving of 6% of electricity consumed. The new campaign will result in substantial energy savings and also reduce greenhouse gas emission.

Besides, normal human body temperature is approximately 36-37 degree Celsius, but a large number of commercial establishments, hotels, and offices maintain the temperature around 18-21 degree Celsius. This is not only uncomfortable but is actually unhealthy.

Setting the temperature in the range of 18-21 degree Celsius compels people to wear warm clothing or use blankets; therefore, this is actually wastage of energy.

Efforts by the government in this regard:

Union Power Ministry has launched a campaign to promote energy efficiency in the area of air-conditioning. This initiative is launched on a voluntary basis to increase awareness and encourage consumers to adopt the guidelines. It will save energy and reduce greenhouse gases.

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India among nations that face grave danger to soil biodiversity: WWF

India’s soil biodiversity is in grave peril, according to the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas prepared by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The WWF’s ‘risk index’ for the globe — indicating threats from loss of above-ground diversity, pollution and nutrient over-loading, over-grazing, intensive agriculture, fire, soil erosion, desertification and climate change — shows India among countries whose soil biodiversity faces the highest level of risk. Coloured red on the Atlas, these include Pakistan, China, several countries in Africa and Europe, and most of North America.

Highlights of the report:

Global wildlife population shrank by 60% between 1970 and 2014.

Declines are worst in the tropics, according to the data, as South and Central America saw an 89% decrease. Also, freshwater species saw an 83% drop, threatened by factors including overfishing, pollution and climate change.

The report estimates that only a quarter of the world’s land is untouched by humans, who are increasing food production and use of natural resources.

Since 1960, the global ecological footprint has increased by more than 190%. Globally, the extent of wetlands was estimated to have declined by 87% since 1970.

The two key drivers of biodiversity loss were the over exploitation of natural resources and agriculture.

 Threat to soil biodiversity and pollinators:

A key aspect of this year’s report is the threat to soil biodiversity and pollinators.

Soil biodiversity encompasses the presence of micro-organisms, micro-fauna (nematodes and tardigrades for example), and macro-fauna (ants, termites and earthworms).

The report notes that India’s soil biodiversity is in grave peril. The WWF’s ‘risk index’ for the globe — indicating threats from loss of above-ground diversity, pollution and nutrient over-loading, over-grazing, intensive agriculture, fire, soil erosion, desertification and climate change — shows India among countries whose soil biodiversity faces the highest level of risk.

To address these challenges, the WWF suggests three necessary steps: “clearly specifying a goal for biodiversity recovery; developing a set of measurable and relevant indicators of progress; and agreeing on a suite of actions that can collectively achieve the goal in the required time frame.”

The WWF has called for an international treaty, modelled on the Paris climate agreement, to be drafted to protect wildlife and reverse human impacts on nature.

The current efforts to protect the natural world are not keeping up with the speed of man-made destruction, and that the world is heading for an “ecological credit crunch” far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are overusing the natural resources of the planet.

This trend will continue unless human beings learn to minimise the use of resources and internalise the benefits of recycling/reuse. The nature conservation agenda is not only about securing the future of tigers, pandas, whales and all the amazing diversity of life. It’s bigger than that. There cannot be a healthy, happy and prosperous planet with a destabilised climate, depleted oceans and rivers, degraded land and empty forests, all stripped of biodiversity, the web of life that sustains us all.

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3rd Decadal International year of Reefs-2018

The International Conference on Status and Protection of Coral Reefs (STAPCOR – 2018) with the theme “Reef for Life” was inaugurated by the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhan on 22nd October at Bangaram coral Island of Union Territory of Lakshadweep.

The effect of climate change and global warming along with El-Nino on the corals has to lead to heavy bleaching internationally during the year 1998. This led to the foundation of STAPCOR with a decision to have an international conference in every 10 years to review the status and progress of coral reefs all over the world.

The goals of the 3rd IYOR – 2018 are to:

  • Strengthen awareness about the ecological, economic, social and cultural value of coral reefs and associated ecosystems.
  • Improve understanding of the critical threats to reefs and generate both practical and innovative solutions to reduce these threats.
  • Generate urgent action to develop and implement effective management strategies for conservation and sustainable use of these ecosystems.

The first IYOR was designated in 1997 in response to the increasing threats on coral reefs and associated ecosystems. The hope was to increase awareness of the value of and threats to coral reefs and to promote conservation, research, and management efforts on a global scale.

Corals are invertebrates belonging to a large group of colorful and fascinating animals called Cnidarians. Other animals in this group include jellyfish and sea anemones. Each individual coral animal is called a polyp, and most live in groups of hundreds to thousands of genetically identical polyps that form a ‘colony’. The colony is created by a process called budding, where the original polyp literally grows copies of itself.

Corals are generally classified as either “hard” or “soft”. There are around 800 known species of hard coral, also known as ‘reef-building’ or scleractinian corals. Soft corals, or octocorals, which include seas fans, sea feathers, and sea whips, don’t have the rock-like calcareous skeleton, instead, they grow wood-like cores for support and fleshy rinds for protection.

Soft corals also live in colonies, that often resemble brightly colored plants or trees, and are easy to tell apart from hard corals as their polyps have tentacles that occur in multiples of 8, and have a distinctive feathery appearance. Soft corals are found in oceans from the equator to the north and south poles, generally in caves or on ledges. Here, they hang down in order to capture food floating by in the currents.

Coral reefs have evolved on earth over the past 200 to 300 million years, and have developed a unique and highly evolved form of symbiosis. Coral polyps have developed this relationship with tiny single-celled algae known as zooxanthellae. Inside the tissues of each coral, polyp lives these zooxanthellae, sharing space and nutrients.

This symbiosis between plant and animal also contributes to the brilliant colors of coral that can be seen while diving on a reef. It is the importance of light that drives corals to compete for space on the sea floor, and so constantly pushes the limits of their physiological tolerances in a competitive environment among so many different species. However, it also makes corals highly susceptible to environmental stress.

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Green fund approves $1 billion to assist poor countries to tackle climate change

Green Climate Fund, the UN-backed fund has approved more than $1 billion for 19 new projects to help developing countries tackle climate change. The decision was taken during a four-day meeting in Manama, Bahrain that ended late on October 20, 2018.

The officials overseeing the Climate Fund also agreed to start seeking fresh money next year as its initial capital of about $6.6 billion will soon be used up.

Key Highlights:

• The funding was approved for projects linked to geothermal energy in Indonesia, greener cities in Europe and the Middle East and protection for coastal communities in India.

• Besides this, host nation Bahrain put forward a request to approve funding for a project aimed at protecting its freshwater resources. 

• The request led to a debate between the delegates present, in which the environmentalists pointed out that the Gulf nation could pay for the project itself using the money it has made off its vast reserves of oil and gas.

• The contested project was eventually approved, but with only $2.1 million of the $9.8 million requested by Bahrain.

• In other decisions, the decision on a funding bid by China was postponed after concerns from Japan and the United States about the possibility that the money could be used to subsidise research into new technology.

The debates within the Green Climate Fund have often split Western countries and large emerging economies such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The fund’s former director, Howard Bamsey, resigned in July 2018 after a “very difficult and disappointing” meeting.

The recent meeting has taken place weeks before a summit in Katowice, Poland, on the future of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The meeting is also expected to be centred on funding to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to global warming.

About Green Climate Fund

The Fund is a unique global platform to respond to climate change by investing in low-emission and climate-resilient development.

It was established to limit or reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing countries and to help vulnerable societies adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Given the urgency and seriousness of this challenge, the Fund is mandated to make an ambitious contribution to the united global response to climate change.

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There is a third pole on earth, and it’s melting quickly

When we think of the world’s Polar Regions, only two usually spring to mind – the North and South. However, there is a region to the south of China and the north of India that is known as the “Third Pole”.

That’s because it is the third largest area of frozen water on the planet. Although much smaller than its north and south counterparts, it is still enormous, covering 100,000 square kilometres with some 46,000 glaciers.

Scientists conducting research in the area have warned of disturbing global warming trends, and how, if they continue, they could affect the lives of 1.3 billion people

The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region spans an area of more than 4.3 million square kilometres in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The region stores more snow and ice than anywhere else in the world outside the polar regions, giving its name: ’The Third Pole‘. The Third Pole contains the world’s highest mountains, including all 14 peaks above 8,000 metres, is the source of 10 major rivers, and forms a formidable global ecological buffer.

The Third Pole region has enormous socioeconomic and cultural diversity; it is home to many different ethnic communities speaking more than 600 languages and many more dialects. It is endowed with rich natural resources and contains all or part of four global biodiversity hotspots. The mountain resources provide a wide range of ecosystem services and the basis for the livelihoods to the 210 million people living in the region, as well as indirectly to the 1.3 billion people — one fifth of the worlds’ population — living in the downstream river basins. More than 3 billion people benefit from the food and energy produced in these river basins that have their origin in the mountains.

The Third Pole and Climate Change:

Climate change has become a major concern in the Third Pole. Mountain systems are particularly sensitive to climate change and the Third Pole region is home to some of the people most vulnerable to these changes in the world. Changes in the river systems and their basins have impacted directly on the wellbeing of millions of people.

The rate of warming in the Third Pole region is significantly higher than the global average, and the rate is higher at higher altitude, suggesting a greater vulnerability of the cryosphere environment to climate change. This trend is expected to continue.

Climate change projections suggest that all areas of South Asia are likely to warm by at least 1°C by the end of the century, while in some areas the warming could be as high as 3.5-4°C. The life and livelihoods of the people in the Third Pole region is challenged due to climate change, and the stability and prosperity of the region affected by the Third Pole is at risk, which will have implications for all of Asia and for the world.

However, there is still little knowledge of this situation, and its potential implications, outside the immediate vicinity; a special effort is needed to raise awareness of the fragility of the mountain social-ecological system.

The melting of glaciers of the Third Pole could affect the lives of 1.3 billion people because of its proximity to densely populated and industrialised regions. And the continuous melting of glaciers will be catastrophic for the people who depend on water from the Third Pole.

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MoU Signed Between ICFRE & Navoday Vidyalaya Samiti and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan to Promote Environmental Awareness Among Students

Two Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were signed, by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Dehradun, with Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS). ICFRE is an autonomous Council under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

The MoUs have been signed to launch the programme “PRAKRITI” with the objective to promote awareness about forests and environment, to stimulate interest among the students of NVS and KVS in maintaining a balanced environment and for acquiring skills that reflect care and protection towards forests, environment and society.  Another objective is to provide a platform to school children to learn practical skills towards judicious use of our resources and to mobilize a cadre of youth for raising a peoples’ movement committed to conservation of forest and environment.

The two agreements have been signed for a period of 10 years. They aim to make the Indian youth more sensitive towards national and global issues of environment and thus, help them become responsible citizens.

The agreements also aim to mobilise a cadre of youth for raising a peoples’ movement, which is committed to the conservation of forest and environment.

The collaboration will enable transfer of knowledge to students and teachers of NVS and KVS on environment, forest, environmental services and contemporary areas of forestry research through lectures and interactive sessions by ICFRE scientists.

About ICFRE:

The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) is an autonomous council under the Union Environment Ministry.

The council mainly guides, promotes and coordinates forestry research, extension and education at the national level through its nine institutes and five centres located across the country.

The Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti is an autonomous organisation established under the Department of School Education and Literacy in the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The organisation was established to provide modern quality education to talented children, predominantly from rural areas, without regard to their family’s socio-economic condition.

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Dr Harsh Vardhan Releases Report on Strengthening Forest Fire Management in the Country

Strongly emphasizing that more and more people will have to be involved to make managing of forest fires into a mass movement, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhan has said that forest fire management is part of our long-term vision for Sustainable Forest Management. Speaking at the release of a report titled “Strengthening Forest Fire Management in India

Highlights of the report:

The occurrence of forest fires and their impact: Forest fires occur in around half of the country’s 647 districts every year. Central India has the largest area affected by the fire. North-East accounts for 56% of burnt forest land during 2003-2016, followed by southern states and the North-East. However, North-eastern states account for the biggest share of fire detections, with at least 55% of fire incidents reported during 2003-2016.

With at least one in four people dependent on forests for their livelihood, India is losing at least ₹1,100 crore due to forest fires every year, says a new World Bank report. The report calls for a national plan for the prevention of forest fire. Repeated fires in short succession are reducing the diversity of species and harming natural regeneration while posing a risk to over 92 million in India who live in areas of forest cover.

The findings are significant since preventing forest fires is crucial to meet Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) in order to limit global warming. As per the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, forest fires globally contribute 2.5 billion to 4.0 billion tonnes of CO2 to carbon emissions every year. Tackling forest fires is even more important in India as the country has committed to bringing 33% of its geographical area under forest cover by 2030, as part of NDCs.

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