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November 2018: Monthly Environmental News Roundup

  1. Hopes pinned on IVF to save Northern White Rhinos

Once common Northern white Rhino in Northern Africa, victim of poaching is now left with only two females both of which are unable to reproduce. Scientists through extensive DNA research have found a close relationship between the northern and southern rhinos. Though the survival of the northern white rhinos looks bleak, IVF, cloning seem to be viable options say scientists in case the other approaches like use of frozen tissues for stem cells generation which could develop into eggs and sperm fail.

  1. Large hydropower projects disastrous for environment reveals study

A study published in journal of proceedings of National Academy of sciences says hydropower projects are disastrous and many dams are being removed every year in developed nations. According to study these projects are costlier than expected and do not yield the desired results besides causing irreparable damage to the river ecology and displacing millions of people. The developing nations lured by the benefits, unaware of the unsustainable nature are however moving towards hydropower although the electricity generated seldom used for the expected rural electrification gets utilized elsewhere. Hydropower combined with other renewable sources would be beneficial when all the costs and benefits are transparent says this study.

  1. Seed banks – insurance policy for the plants against extinction

With many plants becoming extinct, as a back-up mechanism new efforts are in progress to preserve the seeds of these plants. By 2020, minimum 75% of threatened species are expected to be stored. However since many plants can’t be banked like this, researchers are looking at cryopreservation techniques where the plant embryo is removed from the seed and frozen in liquid nitrogen. Further investments are needed to improve the techniques and build cryopreservation facilities along with the conventional seed banks.

  1. Ozone healing slowing – China causing it?

Several nations have signed a global agreement to stop CFC-11, and protect the ozone layer, however an environmental group seems to have evidence to show that Chinese factories are still releasing this gas slowing down the ozone healing process. Chinese officials countered this saying that they have inspected and found evidence of CFC-11 in just 10 places and feel that this could not cause the mentioned impact and feel there could be other reasons. A new report on health of ozone layer is expected in the delegates meeting in Ecuador. Scientists say that they would need more time to track down the exact source of pollution.

  1. California’s kelp threatened

The underwater forests absorb carbon emissions and provide habitat to a wide range of species. These Kelp forests are threatened by the rising ocean temperature and the purple urchins in Northern California. The disappearance of Kelp is closely linked to the breakdown of the food system and people’s livelihood. The death of starfish owing to warm waters caused by global warming and hunting down of sea otters, the predators of the urchins has further helped in increase in urchin population. Individual divers are raising funds and organizing events to bring back the Kelp and all other things disappearing with it.

  1. Pollution in air increases autism risk

A study of 1240 healthy and 124 ASD Shanghai children in different stages over a nine year period revealed exposure to pollution like vehicle exhausts, industrial emission increases up to 78% risk of developing autism in children. Studies show that toxic exposure affect brain functioning and the immune system. Health affects of PM1, PM2.5, PM10 particulate matter were examined and found that with smaller airborne particles the health problems are more serious as they penetrate the lungs and bloodstream easily. There are only a few studies on the smallest PM1 for which safety standards are yet to be set.

  1. Angry villagers kill tigress

A villager of the Chaitua village of UP, was attacked by a tigress and he died while undergoing treatment in the district hospital. Angered by this, the villagers ran a tractor over the tigress in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve area and killed it. Confirming the killing, the Field Directors of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve have said that appropriate legal action will be taken against the errant villagers.

  1. Avni Man-eater tigress killed

Tigress Avni allegedly responsible for 14 people’s death was killed in Yavatmal on Nov.2nd night. A shoot at sight order was issued earlier by the Maharashtra Forest Department. On October 16, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High court had sought a reply about the sequence of step changes for this issue as against the Chief Conservator of Forests orders.

  1. Ozone layer healing – says report

Thanks to the joint efforts of the global community to stop the use of ozone depleting substances, the ozone layer is expected to heal completely over the northern hemisphere by 2030 and over southern hemisphere by 2050 and polar by 2060 reveals a new assessment report on Montreal Protocol. This protocol implemented over 30 years is a testimony of success and is expected to prepare the nations for Kigali Amendment to deal with substances with high global warming potential, damaging the climate. While the world is trying to limit global warming to 1.5C, with this Kigali Amendment 0.4C is expected to be avoided.

  1. Delhi hospitals having more patients with respiratory problems

Hospitals in Delhi are having very busy time with many complaints of asthmatic attacks and respiratory infections as the air quality in the capital worsened.  Government and private hospitals witnessed around 20% rise in patients. The medicines seem to have stopped working and there are shortage of nebulizers and inhalers in the market.  Many cases of viral fever and cardiac issues have also come up. The smog is highly hazardous for those with respiratory problems and doctors have advised children and heart patients to take special care.

  1. Law suit filed for exempting dams from environmental rules

British Columbia government has been sued by a conservation group for having exempted 2 dams from environmental rules. The lawsuit filed years after the dams were built has asked for the exemptions to be revoked. Both these dams were way above the 15 m benchmark set by the law. According to the lawsuit, this decision was made with limited information by the government and none of this was informed to the public. Many unlicensed dams seem to be operating in the province and the intention of this lawsuit is to also discourage such situations from happening again.

  1. Oxford-Cambridge road through rich habitats breaks EU laws

According to a cross party group of MEPs, the Oxford-Cambridge motorway planned by the government across UK’s richest habitats Bernwood forest and Otmoor Basin breaks EU laws. The consent of the local people has not been taken in this case, which is actually needed under the EU law. UK would have to follow EU rules over the transition period and it is to remain bound by the international treaties after Brexit. It is expected that there would be provisions in the treaty for EU/UK relations for the protection of environment to make sure that trade can be possible without any hindrance.

  1. UK’s renewable energy capacity reaches new milestone

Capacity of wind, solar, biomass and hydel power at 41.9 GW surpassed 41.2GW of capacity of coal, oil and gas in UK between July and September reaching a new milestone. While the fossil fuels fell by one-third, the renewable capacity tripled in the last five years. Figures from Imperial College London revealed that more renewable were being built with Britain moving away from fossil fuels. Coal capacity has dropped with only six coal fired power plant left in UK. The research also identified the cost of balancing energy since to have reached a 10 year high between July and September at £3.8m per day.

  1. Poor nations will struggle with China’s plan to lift trade ban on animal parts

China has decided to introduce quotas for trade of body parts of animals like rhino horn, tiger bones to meet traditional medicine demands. Experts feel this loosening of 25 year ban on trade of animal parts will put pressure on the poor developing nations besides further endangering the wildlife. This is already evident in the case of once abundant pangolin anteaters whose scales are traded for medicinal purposes and these are now critically endangered. China is using its influence to promote traditional medicine which diplomats are trying to loosen the trade controls on species used for such medicines.

  1. $2.7 billion deal signed allowing Chinese fishing vessels in Madagascar

A private Malagasy association has signed a $2.7 billion fishing deal for ten years allowing Chinese company to send 330 fishing vessels to Madagascar. The deal however is opposed as this may further affect the local fisheries which are already impacted by the presence of small number of Chinese vessels in the Madagascar waters. Critics say that neither public consent nor environment impact assessment has been conducted. The AMDP on the Madagascar side explained that deal is expected to create 10,000 jobs over 3 years promoting blue economy. Fisheries experts have already criticized past EU deals for lacking transparency and not prioritizing the interests of the Malagasy people.

  1. 80% Amazon deforestation linked to Brazilian beef

With over 200 million cattle Brazil has the world’s second largest herd and their ranches contribute US$123 billion to their economy each year. 80% of the deforestations are caused by conversion of the forest areas into cattle pastures. Steps to decouple markets from deforestation which are cattle-driven have not been fruitful due to lack of transparency and traceability of cattle supply chain. Ranchers causing illegal deforestation simply sell the cattle to ones who don’t. Experts feel a policy similar to Uruguay’s where cattle are traced along the entire supply chain from birth is needed, however they feel with no political will it may be difficult in Brazil.

  1. Human stools contain microplastics

Researchers from Medical University of Vienna and Environmental Agency Austria monitored 8 people across the globe and each of their stool samples tested positive for presence of microplastics. Microplastics are plastic fragments lesser than 0.2 inches sourced from cosmetics, clothing, fragments of plastic bottles, etc. Microplastics could also enter human body through processed food, plastic food packages and through marine animals we consume. Previous studies have found these plastics to cause growth, reproduction issues in animals besides damages to their digestive tracts. Studies on how these microplastics affect humans are needed to determine their actual impact on humans.

  1. World Heritage sites at risk reveals study

A new research by team led by Germany’s Kiel University revealed that of the 49 cultural World Heritage sites in the Mediterranean region studied, 47 were threatened by coastal erosion and storm surges. It showed that 93% of the sites were at risk from 100-year flood and 91% from coastal erosion.  Though the chances of high seal level rise may be low, it cannot be ruled out. Countries managing the sites rarely include adaptation strategies for impacts of sea-level rise.  This study provides information about areas where adaptation is needed on urgent basis, so that policymakers could now make adaptation strategies accordingly.

  1. Decline of Indian leopards

The Supreme Court has issued notice and sought direction from the Environment ministry to ensure a system is set up to save the dwindling leopard population. It has recommended under Project Leopard to set up a task force similar to the tiger conservation project. It has acknowledged the fact that leopard population has declined from 45000 to less than 7900 in 2005 mainly due to poaching activities and man-animal conflicts. Based on recent petition raised the plea is seeking viable options such as deploying special task forces with right to kill poachers, educating farmers rearing livestock to minimize leopard conflicts and taking efforts to imprison people involved in self-proclaimed animal killing.

  1. Flamingos return after a long hiatus

Coringa wildlife sanctuary spread over 235 sq. km is home to around 35 mangrove plant species and 120 bird species. 236 species of migratory birds amounting to over 60,000 water birds visit the sanctuary every year. It was observed that a certain group of greater flamingos characterized with their long legs and necks last seen in year 1993 have returned to the sanctuary after a gap of more than two and half decades. Researchers consider this an important development and indication for a healthy coastal habitat. They also believe that the birds’ movement should be tracked as they generally look for mudflats for nesting activities.

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