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June 2020: Monthly Environmental News Roundup

1. Hundreds of elephants dead in mysterious mass die-off

A cluster of elephant deaths in the Okavango Delta was first recorded in early May, 2020 with 169 people dead by the end of the month. By mid-June, the number had more than doubled, with 70 percent of deaths clustering around waterholes, according to local sources preferring to remain anonymous. More than 350 elephants died in a mysterious mass die-off that scientists described as a “conservation tragedy” in northern Botswana. The Government of Botswana has not yet analyzed samples and there is no knowledge on what causes the deaths or whether they may pose a danger to human health. Elephants of all ages and from both sexes have died, local records have been recorded. Several live elephants appear frail and emaciated indicating that more would die in the weeks to come.

2. In the UK, the probability of 40 degrees temperature rapidly accelerates

Research indicates that such searing heat will become a daily occurrence by the end of the century unless there is a reduction in carbon emissions. Global heating has already made heatwaves in the UK 30 times more likely and from 2016-19, extreme temperatures resulted in 3,400 early deaths. The highest recorded temperature in the UK is 38.7o C, set at Cambridge in July 2019, while the summer of 2018 was recorded as the joint hottest. The southeastern and southern regions of the United Kingdom are most affected by the rising weather, while the cooling impact of the Atlantic Ocean rises in other areas. The study found that many northern areas for which 30o C is extremely rare and will reach that amount by 2100 at least once per decade.

3. Europe’s loss of forests worrying harvests, data indicate

Most of the EU’s forests – accounting for about 38 percent of its land surface area – are managed for timber production, and are therefore harvested regularly. Yet, according to satellite results, the loss of biomass increased by 69 percent over the period from 2016 to 2018 compared to the period from 2011 to 2015. In the same measure, the forest area harvested increased by 49 percent. Demand for timber and wood products, such as pulp and paper, and more biomass burning for fuel could be behind the rapid rise in harvesting observed in the Nordic countries. If so, it’s necessary to learn so that any harmful effects can be easily handled, according to the researchers.

4. Air pollution is likely to worsen coronavirus, say UK government advisors 

Experts claimed that further analysis of the link between contaminated air and coronavirus pandemic was “urgent” and may be important to how the pandemic is handled. The report also found that levels of nitrogen oxides, produced primarily by diesel vehicles, dropped 30-40 percent during the lockdown in urban areas, although they are likely to rise again as the restrictions are eased. There is growing evidence from around the world that correlates exposure to polluted air with increased infections and deaths from coronavirus, with some indicating that it plays a significant role. Yet it’s difficult and time-consuming to rule out all potential causes, which means a conclusive conclusion has yet to be made.

5. US demand for renewable energy destroys the environment in Canada, indigenous peoples claim

Indigenous leaders in Canada say an ongoing U.S. drive for renewable energy unintentionally causes long-term environmental harm to the traditional hunting grounds on their public lands. Nalcor, the state-owned firm that completed last year’s Muskrat Falls, is already designing Gull Island, another Churchill dam will generate three times as much energy, mainly for export to the US. The Nunatsiavut government, which governs 2,700 Inuit in the region, says the dams would interrupt the ecosystem’s hydrological cycle and increase exposure to a dam reservoir-associated toxin. Nalcor and other dam-builders have actively courted support from local Aboriginal peoples in recent years – in addition to staffing internal indigenous affairs teams, their projects often usually include arrangements to finance local community programs and, in some cases, complete alliances that have resulted in lucrative payouts to affected communities.

6.SUEZ Recycling fined $15,000 for keeping content ‘unsafe’ outdoors at Sydney site

SUEZ Recycling and Recovery today earned the fine for allegedly storing the recyclable materials outdoors at its Spring Farm site in the south-west of Sydney in a manner that posed a threat of fire and contamination. During a February site inspection, EPA officers uncovered the way the firm was handling the bales. EPA Regional Enforcement and Investigations Officer Greg Sheehy said today that the finding was a serious violation of SUEZ’s licensing conditions.

Storing baled paper outside the building poses a significant risk of burning, wind-blown litter, and water contamination Paper is combustible and has the ability to flame and burn, with a significant possibility of machine-created fire igniting from the sparks.

7. Arctic Circle sees recorded temperatures ‘highest-ever’

Hot summer weather is not rare in the Arctic Circle but abnormally high temperatures have been seen in recent months. It is estimated that the Arctic warms up twice as quickly as the global average. Verkhoyansk, home to approximately 1,300 people, is situated in remote Siberia, just inside the Arctic Circle. It has an extreme climate with temperatures plummeting to a daily average of -42C in January and then rising to 20C in June. Sections of Siberia reported 30C earlier in June, while Khatanga in Russia-situated 72 degrees north in the Arctic Circle-set a new May temperature high of 25.4C in May. A wide region of high pressure has been active in eastern Russia in the last few months. That has caused southern winds to bring warmer air from near the tropics, resulting in temperatures higher than normal.

8. Power firms discharged wastewater 200,000 times into England’s waterways in 2019

The report shows that in 2019 untreated human sewage was released into streams and rivers for over 1.5 m hours. Among the many affected are popular English rivers including the Thames, the Windrush that runs through the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire, the River Chess, the Buckinghamshire chalk stream, the Bristol Avon, the Severn, and the Ilkley River Wharfe. The data emerges as increasing numbers of people use England’s rivers for swimming, kayaking, and paddling. Recent scientific work has also raised questions about the risk of Covid-19 being transported by sewage discharges into rivers. The government has been asking water companies to install tracking of most of their combined sewage overflows by March 2020. Yet by June, data from the Guardian shows that 3,400 out of around 10,000 inland outflows operated by the nine water companies still had no monitoring set up.

9. Britain goes free from coal, as renewables edge fossil fuels

When Britain entered the lockdown, demand for electricity plummeted; the National Grid responded by withdrawing power plants from the grid. For the first to be shut down, the remaining four coal-fired plants were. At midnight April 9th, the last coal generator came off the network. After then no coal was burned for electricity. The latest carbon-free period is breaking the previous record of 18 days, 6 hours, and 10 minutes set in June of last year. The statistics are only applicable to Britain, as Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid. Yet it shows just how drastic our energy system’s change over the last decade has been. It is thanks to a huge investment in renewable energy over the last decade that the country does not need to use the fuel which used to be the backbone of the grid. Only 3 percent of the power in the country came from wind and solar a decade ago, which many people saw as an expensive diversion.

10. Florida plans to unleash genetically engineered mosquitoes 

It was announced that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services gave the green light to a proposal to release millions of mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, the string of picturesque islands that stretch from the southern tip of the state, starting this summer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also approved the Florida program and next year’s additional trial to be held in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston. Proponents of the trial argue that there will be no risk to the public because only modified male mosquitoes, which do not attack people, will be published. In the marsh-rich surroundings of Florida, mosquitoes have long plagued people. Native Americans used to smoke away from the biters or literally cover themselves in the sand to prevent them, while early white settlers slathered in bear fat or burned oily rags.

11. Major British businesses commit to electrify their fleets on world environment day

British companies are leading the transition to electric transport on World Environment Day. Five major corporations are joining the global EV100 campaign for electric vehicles through The Climate Group. In making this promise, they will be switching their fleets to electricity by 2030, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport, the fastest-growing contributor to climate change, and curb harmful air pollution.

12. China improves pangolin defense by eliminating scales from the medicine list

According to the conservation group WildAid, as many as 200,000 pangolins are consumed annually in Asia for their scales and meat and more than 130 tons of scales, were seized in cross-border trafficking busts last year. Trade-in all eight species of the pangolin is covered under international law and three of the four species native to Asia are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list as critically endangered species, including the functionally extinct Chinese pangolin. The SFGA currently provides TCM pharmaceutical companies with licenses to use parts from previous stockpiles or poorly controlled “farmed” wildlife, but the practice is commonly known to be a trap for smuggling and the illegal trade of both parts and live animals. Chinese elite eats Pangolin meat in the hope of health or sexual benefits, while TCM texts from ancient times caution against consuming the animals.

13. Emissions from 13 dairy firms equal those from the whole of the UK 

The analysis shows the impact of the 13 firms on the climate crisis is growing, with an increase in emissions of 11 percent in the two years following the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, largely due to sector consolidation.

The study, released by the U.S. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), also says the growth of giant dairy firms has helped push milk prices below production costs over the past decade, creating a crisis in rural livelihoods and requiring government subsidies to keep farmers afloat. A 2019 joint UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Global Dairy Platform study stated: “The dairy sector must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and work towards a low-carbon future in order to limit the temperature increase. Over 90 percent of the emissions from corporate dairy industries are produced by the cows themselves, mostly in the form of methane. Research shows that all plant-based milk, such as soy and oat, contain much fewer emissions than milk.

14. Italian team covers glacier with giant white sheets to slow melting

When the ski season is over and cable cars are lying down, conservationists fight to try to avoid it from melting by using white tarps to shield the rays of the sun. This area is constantly shrinking so we cover as much of it as possible, “explains 34-year-old Davide Panizza, who heads the Carosello-Tonale company doing the job. His team is now putting 100,000 sq. meters under wraps from covering about 30,000 sq. meters when the project began in 2008. Staff unrolls the sheets in long rows, covering an area at an altitude of 2700-3000 m, at the boundary between the Lombardy and Trentino Alto Adige regions. Under the clear blue sky, they travel methodically down the mountain to taut the coverings and tie them together to ensure warm drafts do not escape underneath. Bags of sand then work against the wind as anchors.

15. The environment biz of IL&FS likely to be sold to Ever Source Capital, debt could be reduced by Rs 1,500

It is known that the creditors’ committee of these companies of the IL&FS Group held their first meeting last week with Ever Source Capital and that a vote on the plan will take place over the next few weeks. A source said lenders will have to take over 50 percent haircut while the deal is largely acceptable to them.  A spokesperson for IL&FS declined to comment on the matter. When completed the agreement would result in the IL&FS Group’s incremental debt reduction of approximately Rs 1,500 crore. IL&FS Group has already reduced its debt by nearly Rs 6,000 crore due to asset sales including its interest in GIFT City and its wind power company. IL&FS is IEISL’s principal shareholder and owns 97.54 percent of IEISL’s shareholdings. IL&FS Employee Benefits Trust holds 2.46 percent of the balance. The deal would also include shareholding of IEISL within its subsidiaries and joint ventures.

16. Unique Urban Forest opened at the Indian Inspectorate and Auditor General’s Office in New Delhi

Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) has become a rising cause of concern over the years. Furthermore, the New Delhi ITO crossing has reported especially high levels of air pollution. Taking into account the limited area, local material has been adapted to allow for intensive forestation. Inaugurating the Urban Forest, Union Environment Minister, Shri Prakash Javadekar expressed happiness and said that in another year or so, this will be a dense urban forest with multiple tree layers including 12,000 saplings of 59 native species. The urban forest will be self-sustainable by October 2021 with limited maintenance including irrigation and de-weeding. The Urban Forest has an ecosystem capable of restoring habitat to birds, bees, butterflies, and micro fauna. A dense forest ecosystem was developed in an area slightly greater than 1 acre in size. In the next five years, the Government announced the introduction of the Nagar van scheme to establish 200 Urban Forests across the country, with a renewed emphasis on people’s involvement and cooperation between the Forest Department, civic bodies, NGOs, companies, and local citizens.

17.Delhi government to launch the 17 day planting campaign from July 10

Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said Thursday the city government will launch a 17-day plantation campaign to reduce pollution in the national capital from July 10. Thirty-one lakh plants, trees, and shrubs will be planted under the “Plant Plants, Save Land” campaign to be launched near ITO from National Highway 20. It is expected that the plantation drive will increase the green cover of the city from 325 square kilometers to 350 square kilometers by 2021, which will help reduce air pollution, Rai said during a virtual press conference. In 2019, as many as 29.37 lakh seeds, trees, and shrubs were planted against a goal of 24.18 lakh in Delhi. Rai said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia would take part in the ITO Nursery campaign on 13 July. The Delhi Forest Department had earlier received an audit for the plantation drive undertaken by the Agricultural Finance Corporation during the period 2013 to 2015.

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