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July 2020: Monthly Environmental News Roundup

1. NGT recommends no general authorization for groundwater extraction without consideration of the environmental effects

 The National Green Tribunal (NGT) recommended that there should be no general permission for groundwater extraction, particularly to any commercial entity, without an environmental impact assessment of such action. The tribunal expressed unhappiness with the Central Ground Water Board’s (CGWB) submission that the ban on groundwater extraction in overexploited, sensitive and semi-critical areas is likely to adversely affect some states’ agricultural development, job opportunities, and GDP. As per Water Management Plans, removal of groundwater should be required to be prepared in terms of this order based on the mapping of individual assessment units, the bench suggested. The NGT ordered that all overexploited, critical, and semi-critical (OCS) evaluation units are mapped with water. Water management plans need to be prepared based on the mapping data for all OCS assessment units in the region, beginning with overexploited blocks, the bench said.

2. Report predicts that most polar bears will vanish by 2100

Scientists estimate that there are less than 26,000 polar bears remaining, distributed across 19 different subpopulations ranging from Svalbard, Norway, to Canada’s Hudson Bay to Alaska-Siberia’s Chukchi Sea. Polar bears cannot find adequate ground sustenance and depend on sea ice to hunt from. Polar bears rely on energy reserves built up during the winter hunting season to make it on land or time spent on ice in impredicative waters during lean summer months. The research analyzed 13 of the 19 polar bear subpopulations worldwide, comprising 80 percent of the species’ overall population. Bears inhabiting an area in the Canadian Arctic known as the Archipelago ecoregion were not included because the geography of the area – islands and small channels – made it too difficult to forecast potential ice depth. Polar bears can only be rescued if their habitat, which includes addressing global climate change, is preserved.

3. Greta Thunberg gives environment groups 1 million euro in award money

Greta Thunberg won a Portuguese rights prize and offered the €1million ($1.15 million) fund immediately to groups working to protect the environment and fight climate change. The first €100,000 of the award money will go to Fridays for Future Brazil’s “SOS Amazonia” initiative to combat the coronavirus epidemic in the Amazon.

Thunberg said on Twitter that another €100,000 will go to the Stop Ecocide Foundation “to support their work to make ecocide an international crime. The € 1 m is the biggest reward earned by the 17-year-old environmental activist who has also received the highest human rights reward from Amnesty International and the Swedish Right Livelihood Award, also described as an alternative Nobel prize.

4. Red kites thriving in England after 30 years after they were reintroduced

In July 1990, British Airways jet had to fly 13 red kites from Spain before they could grace the Chiltern skies.

Last year, Natural England issued licenses to allow five white-tailed eagles to be positioned on the Isle of Wight as part of a long-term project to bring this large raptor’s breeding pairs back to England after their successful reintroduction to Scotland. The 25-year environmental strategy of the government contributes to the re-introduction of organisms where environmental benefits occur.

5. Methane falls to record-highest

Animal farming and fossil fuels have pushed the powerful greenhouse gas methane’s global emissions to record high, setting the planet on track for rapidly rising heat levels of 3C to 4C. In its contribution to global heating, methane is second only to carbon dioxide; the gas is emitted in much smaller amounts but is 28 times more effective at trapping energy over a 100-year period. The planet’s atmosphere consumed approximately 600 m tons of methane in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, up 9 percent from the early years of the century when concentrations were fairly stable. Throughout the study period, agricultural methane emissions increased by nearly 11%, while those from fossil fuels increased by 15%.

6. CO2 in the atmosphere of the Earth about 15 m years ago

According to the authors of a study, the volume of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is reaching a level not seen in 15 m years, and maybe never encountered before by a hominoid. At pre-lockdown rates of rising, atmospheric CO2 would reach 427 parts per million within five years, which was the probable height of the mid-Pliocene warming cycle 3.3m years ago, when temperatures were 3o C to 4o C hotter and sea levels 20 meters higher than they are today. Sometime around 2025, after the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum 15 m years ago, the Earth is likely to have CO2 levels not encountered, around the period when our ancestors are believed to have diverged from orangutans and become recognizably hominoids.

7. Car tyres are a big source of microplastics at oceans

This estimated that each year 550,000 tons of particles smaller than 0.01 mm are collected, with about half ending up in the ocean. More than 80,000 tons fall on remote ice- and snow-covered areas and melting can increase as the dark particles absorb the heat of the sun. Microplastic pollution has poisoned the whole world, from Arctic snow and Alpine fields to deepest oceans. Particulate matter can harbour toxic chemicals and harmful microbes and some marine organisms are known to damage. People are also believed to ingest and breathe them through food and drink, but the human health effect is not yet understood. Airborne transport has received much less attention than rivers because the wind can blow only the smallest particles and their size make it hard to identify them as plastic.

8. The destruction of bushfire leaves nearly 50 native Australian species at the risk of danger

The researchers found 70 species that had a significant portion of their habitat damaged by bushfire, including 49 that were not currently covered by national environmental laws but should be assessed urgently. If all were found to be at risk, the number of Australian soil and freshwater species deemed to be at risk will increase by 14%. The researchers found that three species – the Kangaroo Island dunnart, the long-footed potoroo and the leaf-tailed gecko of Kate – had been affected by fire- more than 80 percent of their habitat. The gecko and the short-eared possum included vulnerable animals that needed assessment. Approximately 97,000 sq km of vegetation is burned in areas around southern and eastern Australia homes to at least 832 native species of animals.

9. KURMA mobile app helps save turtles in India

Tortoise and freshwater turtles are among the country’s most heavily trafficked. A 2019 study by TRAFFIC, an international wildlife monitoring group, found that every week at least 200 tortoises and freshwater tortoises fell victim to illegal poaching and smuggling, or 11,000 per year, adding up to more than 1,11,130 poached or smuggled tortoises between September 2009 and September 2019. Within just a few weeks, the app has reported 90 facilities for assistance.

If anyone records a turtle using KURMA from any part of the country, he or she gets advice on the species and its survival. The organizations that created the app said a good response was generated.

10. The Indian battalion has been awarded the UNIFIL environment

An Indian battalion stationed with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has received an environmental award for a project aimed at minimizing waste generation, plastic reuse, constructing greenhouses, and composting pits.

UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Stefano Del Col presented the annual environmental awards to seven mission agencies for the introduction and implementation of ground-breaking environmental protection projects. In December last year, UNIFIL unveiled the “Annual Environment Awards” to honour environmental accomplishments in the field of operations of the Agency. The awards recognize persons, UN positions, contingents, sections and units who have demonstrated leadership, creativity, or outstanding environmental protection activities.

11. Bollywood couple Genelia, Titesih Deshmukh launch a meat focused venture on plants

In the coming months, the company called Imagine Meats will introduce a range of tailor-made items for Indian palate across various retail channels. It has worked in collaboration with the Indian arm of the global non-profit organization The Good Food Institute (GFI) supporting plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs as well as meat produced as an alternative to traditional animal farming products. Imagine Meats also joined up with global ingredient supplier Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Nutrition India, which helped it to gain access to expertise in food science, flavors, and product creation across Singapore, Berlin, and the US. These experts worked closely with Imagine Meats to appeal to Indian palate with items to produce dishes such as kebabs, biryanis, and curries.

12. More than 60 retired officials urge Centre to withdraw draft legislation on environmental impact assessment

A group of 63 former bureaucrats wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Sunday, urging them to withdraw the controversial Environmental Impact Assessment Policy 2020 and replace it with a more public and habitat-friendly program. The letter’s signatories stated the government had no plan to act on public opposition to the EIA draft. The signatories expressed concern about proposed changes to the draft

EIA policy which they said would be detrimental to the environment.  Instead of 10 August, Javadekar set a deadline for seeking public input and objections on the plan for 30 June. The latest amendments, which aim to amend the current EIA 2006, recommend the process for companies to determine the ecological and environmental effects of their proposed operation and the method by which expert committees appointed by the Ministry of the Environment will evaluate such activities.

13. After 88 years Himalayan butterfly is the largest in India

The largest of India is a Himalayan butterfly called Golden Birdwing, a record held by an unknown specimen for 88 years.

With a 194 mm wingspan, the species’ female is slightly larger than the Southern Birdwing (190 mm) reported by British military officer and lepidopterist Brigadier William Harry Evans in 1932. But at 106 mm the male Golden Birdwing (Troides aeacus) is a lot smaller. The latest issue of Bionotes, a quarterly newsletter for life forms science, released new measurements of this and 24 other species of butterflies. The authors of the study are Shristee Panthee of the Chinese Academy of Sciences at Yunnan University, and Peter Smetacek of the Butterfly Research Center at Bhimtal in Uttarakhand.

14. India’s 2018 Tiger census sets Guinness Record for World’s Largest Wildlife Camera Trap Survey

Last year, on Global Tiger Day, Premier Narendra Modi revealed to the nation the results of the fourth period of the 2018 All India Tiger Estimate. For the survey, camera traps were placed around 141 separate sites at 26,838 locations.

It had estimated 2,967 tigers, or 75 percent of India’s global tiger population, compared with 2,226 in 2014. The All India Tiger Estimate is now the highest camera trap wildlife survey in the Guinness World Records, a wonderful moment indeed, and a shining illustration of Aatmanirbhar Bharat,” tweeted Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Saturday, June 11.

15. Assam and Nepal floods kill hundreds and displace millions

In Assam, heavy monsoon rains breached the banks of the Brahmaputra River, causing more than 2,000 villages to be enveloped in floods and mudslides and the last two weeks to displace 2,75 million persons. There were 85 confirmed deaths in the State. Officials expressed concern that the flooding and rapid evacuation of millions of Assam residents would cause a substantial rise in north-eastern coronavirus cases known for their tea plantations. Actually 50,000 people are housed in crowded relief camps but officials acknowledged that no physical distancing measures were being implemented due to the size and severity of the evacuations.

16. Bander coal block has taken off the auction list after activists 

raise environmental concerns

THE Union Coal Ministry has agreed to withdraw the Bander coal bock situated near the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) from the list of coal blocks up for sale.  On 18 June, the ministry issued a list of 41 coal blocks for sale. Protests from many wildlife activists followed the coal block announcement, as the 1,644-hectare block is believed to be in TATR’s eco-sensitive zone and any mining operation is likely to be harmful to tiger conservation. The activists said it could block a critical wildlife corridor linking TATR to other tiger areas in the districts of Nagpur, Bhandara, and Gondia. This, the activists had said, would further escalate the dispute between man and animal in district Chandrapur. Former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who in conjunction with the coal ministry had demarcated coal blocks into go and no-go areas on the basis of ecological sensitivity, had written to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar seeking the withdrawal of the Bander coal block from the auction list.

17. Malaysia uncovers 110 containers of radioactive waste illegally transported from Romania

Malaysia found 110 containers full of radioactive waste on Sunday. The waste was reportedly coming from Romania and was on its way to Indonesia. Located at the Port of Tanjung Pelepas where it was dumped last month, the containers produced 1,864 tons of electric arc furnace dust (EAFD), a deadly residue of steel manufacturing, including poisonous elements such as lead and chrome. The containers were allegedly brought in from Romania and were mistakenly identified as concentrated zinc.

18. Monkey species of Malaysian origin spotted in Singapore

There is a new species of monkey in town, and scientists here are evaluating how its existence could impact the two existing species of monkey in Singapore. In Woodlands last August three dusky langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus), a species native to Malaysia but not to Singapore, were first seen. By December, two of them had made their way to Thomson Nature Park where they remained until January of this year, the Singapore researchers reported in a paper published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa last month. By March, just before the start of the circuit breaker time when it was not possible to perform biodiversity surveys, the researchers found that the two remaining individuals, both males, went further south to Windsor Nature Park.

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