Category Archives: Ecology and Wildlife

Saare jahaan se achcha, Hindustan hamaara…

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Here’s looking at you, India

Source : Arunabha Ghosh ; http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/paris-climate-agreement-heres-looking-at-you-india-4686501/

As US withdraws from the Paris pact, it’s time the world recognised the real climate leaders

Who is a climate leader? The Paris Agreement on climate change happened, in part, because of the bold political will of several world leaders, and in part for the United States, taking a legal form which would not require Congressional approval. Now that President Donald Trump has finally taken a decision for the US to exit the Agreement, it is time for the world to recognise the real climate leaders. India is one of them. But it needs to speak up.

In anticipation of the US withdrawal, at the G7 summit in Sicily, the six other members (and the European Union) reaffirmed their commitment to the Agreement. This week, China and the EU will announce that they are forging an alliance to deliver a “decisive response” against climate change and “lead the energy transition” to a low-carbon economy.

In November 2014, a similar statement issued by China and the US had also created the impression that they were the true climate leaders. Reality is less black and white. With a target of 2 degree Celsius, between 2011 and 2030, China, the EU and the US would together corner at least 38 per cent of the world’s total permissible emissions up to 2100. If the world targeted only 1.5 degree Celsius, then, by 2030, these three regions would consume 95 per cent of the entire world’s nearly century-long carbon budget.

With the US withdrawal, that carbon space would shrink even more and faster. Latest evidence shows the EU’s emissions increased in 2015. Renewables supply 30 per cent of Germany’s electricity (a huge share) but coal and lignite account for 40 per cent. China proposed in January that coal consumption would rise to 4.1 billion tonnes in 2020, even as it stakes its claim to being a global renewable energy leader. None of this is unvarnished climate leadership.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated India’s commitment to the Paris Agreement this week. Yet, there is still limited recognition of what India is already doing on the ground. It is an irony that China (the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter) becomes the climate leader, by default. Climate leadership is not a crown to be worn by only one country. Countries will be judged by actions, not words, just as Trump said. India must emphasise (loudly) the five pillars of its climate leadership in action.

One, policy. In 2010 India’s National Solar Mission commenced with a target of installing 22,000 megawatts (MW). At the time, India’s total installed capacity was 17.8 MW. The world’s leading solar countries were Germany, Spain, Japan, US and Italy. India was at 10th place. In 2014, India asked itself a simple question: How big can we get on renewables? And by early 2015, India announced that by 2022, it would install 1,00,000 MW of solar, 60,000 MW of wind, 10,000 MW of small hydropower and 5,000 MW of biomass-based electricity capacity.

There are sceptics, at home and abroad, who question whether the targets are too ambitious or whether India is capable of meeting them so soon. They might be right. After all, India is trying to do in less than a decade what took Germany more than two decades to achieve. But the targets have set a direction of travel, creating an attractive market, giving confidence to investors, even nudging policy planners to design an electricity system which could accommodate renewable energy, even if thermal power were squeezed out.

Two, programmes. In addition to policies, India has demonstrated its willingness and ability to scale programmes nationwide and rapidly, which serve to drive a shift towards cleaner fuels while also increasing energy access.

According to government data, 238 million LED lightbulbs have been distributed through an innovative programme of advanced market commitments, driving prices down from above INR 300 in 2014 to under INR 50 now. Another example: The Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme for LPG has become the world’s largest cash transfer programme, drawing in 176.3 million households, triggering both subsidy reform and access to cleaner cooking fuels.

Three, prices. Whereas many European countries pushed renewable energy through consumer subsidies, India adopted a reverse auction-based competitive bidding process for solar. That has meant that the lowest tariffs have dropped from INR 10.95 (USD 0.17) in December 2010 to INR 2.44 (USD 0.038) in May 2017. Competitive bidding in wind, introduced in February 2017, resulted in bids falling to INR 3.46. Can renewable energy prices fall any further? CEEW analysis shows that the cost of finance, rather than the cost of technology, accounts for the largest share of the tariffs — a challenge even greater in several developing countries. If India can find ways to reduce investor risks, and lower the cost of finance, it would hold lessons for others on how a combination of transparent bidding and publicly funded risk guarantees could drive a clean energy transition.

Four, productivity. Climate change is already impacting India, with increasing water stress and billions of dollars of lost agricultural output during this century. Could India increase agricultural production, while reducing water and energy intensity? Converting 15 per cent of India’s irrigation pumpsets to solar would create 20,000 MW of solar capacity. If various factors (cropping patterns, bank credit, etc.) align, CEEW’s analysis finds that 39 per cent of India’s districts would have a moderate to high potential of deploying solar pumps. Again, this has lessons for many other developing countries.

Five, partnerships. In November 2015, India and France launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The ISA plans to aggregate demand to drive prices down, scale up technologies currently available, and pool resources to invest in solar R&D. Thirty one countries have signed its Framework Agreement already. Among other initiatives, the ISA is seeking common risk mitigation instruments, to hedge risks across its membership and beyond in order to leverage limited public funds and crowd in large flows of private investment. We must acknowledge two realities. First, the rest of the world will have to continue to act on climate change, regardless of what the US does. Secondly, the mantle of climate leadership cannot be held by just one country.

For its level of income and per capita emissions, India is doing disproportionately more than many of the larger polluters. It must speak confidently about its actions and its leadership for other countries.

The writer (Arunabha Ghosh) is CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and co-author of ‘Climate Change: A Risk Assessment’ (2015) and ‘Energising India’ (2016)  

Why cows for Hindus are holy? -by Karolina Goswami

Rhino Poaching in India : Causes, Measures initiated & other Solutions

The Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar initiated a welcome step this month on his “Mission Rhino” visit to Assam. He announced that there would be zero tolerance towards rhino poaching and the Central Government’s efforts would be to bring down the number of rhino poaching incidents to zero. He also announced that a Special Rhino Protection Force of local youth would be raised to check poaching in the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) and other rhino-populated areas in Assam.  The poaching must be stopped at the earliest to save nature’s most priceless and precious endangered species.

This comes close on the heels of the alert that poachers have killed 22 rhinos since the beginning of this year.

It is an appreciable move by the Central Government as since the last few years it is the Assam Government which has been working strenuously to stop poaching which is done by poachers to supplement the evil trade of rhino horns.

Rhino horns are smuggled to China and are sold to traditional therapists who believe rhino horn to be a cure for many health illnesses. Historical mention of other uses for the rhino horn dates back thousands of years. In Greek mythology, it was said to have the properties to purify water. The ancient Persians of the Fifth Century B.C. thought that vessels made from the horn could detect poison in liquids. Now, science is stepping in to dispel some of the mystery and fiction. Rhino horn is not, as once believed, made simply from a clump of compressed or modified hair. Research by the Ohio University using computerised tomography shows that the horn is in fact, similar in structure to hooves, beaks and bills. The centre has dense mineral deposits of calcium and melanin — a finding that may explain the curve and the sharp tip of the horn. The calcium strengthens the horn while the melanin protects the core from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. As the softer outer portion gets worn out over time, the inner core is sharpened into a point, much like a wooden pencil. Overall there isn’t much evidence to support the plethora of claims about the healing properties of the horn.

Capture

Assam became the first state in India to issue ‘shoot at sight’ orders for poachers in Kaziranga National Park, boosting the rhino population. Poachers are known to carry sophisticated weapons like AK-47s, and are ruthless. It is the sheer hard work of Assamese forest guards and their commitment towards natural justice that has seen numerous poachers being killed in recent years and some guards being martyred. All Indians are indebted to these brave and daring fighters who are on the alert 24X7 to save one of Mother Nature’s wonders. We must show our gratitude towards these men and women of Assam forest department who have given their all to save our country’s ecology and tourism industry (as hundreds of foreign tourists throng to Assam to witness the majestic creature). The poaching must be stopped to save nature’s most priceless and precious endangered species.

But lately, the Assam Government has started showing signs of defeat and exhaustion as is evident from the move of the Assam Government to constitute an expert committee to consider the ‘feasibility and necessity’ of de-horning rhinos, in a move to ‘save’ them. The Central Government has stepped in at the right moment to strengthen the Assam Government in the fight against rhino poaching and has revealed its resolve to address this issue on a war footing.

The reasons why dehorning our rhinos would be a bad move are:-

(Source: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/on-the-dilemma-over-the-rhino-horn/article5840477.ece)

  1. Unlike the African rhino, the Indian rhino has a single horn. This horn is made of keratin and if cut in a way that includes the skull, it will not grow back. If cut in a manner which excludes the skull it is likely to regrow.
  2. The rhino is considered the most coveted animal in the illegal trade. By removing its horn, we assume that there is perfect complicity between demand and supply of this product, the horn. But this is not the case. Evidence suggests that poachers kill anyway out of vengeance. For example: in African countries, where de-horning has been tried as a measure to protect rhinos, poachers have killed dehorned rhinos out of vengeance. In India, poachers have killed female rhinos for their horns, even though they have horns significantly smaller than those of males. In a nutshell then, poachers trap, shoot or kill opportunistically, and the size of the horn (or even its presence) may not be a deciding factor.
  3. If the audience for the dehorning exercise is the poacher, then we cannot assume he will leave poaching altogether because stray rhinos (which are technically easier to poach) don’t have horns. In fact, this may victimise regular rhinos more, and it is most likely that rhinos with horns inside protected areas like Kaziranga, Pobitora and Manas may be attacked with greater gusto.
  4. The role of the rhino horn has been poorly understood. Field observations confirm that successful males are also those who have large horns, and the horn has been seen as used in foraging for food. We need to ask ourselves the question: can the rhino lead a normal life without the horn?
  5. Intervening to remove a rhino’s horn, in response to a patently illegal activity, may set a dangerous precedent. There are several species which are highly prized in the poaching trade, and these include tigers, lions, tokay geckos, and elephants. Tigers and lions are killed for their skins, nails and bones, tokay geckos for their body parts, and till recently, elephants were slaughtered in India for their ivory. Dehorning rhinos may or may not stem poaching of rhinos. But it may set a precedent for similar such exercises, which are seen as a management tool, but have unknown impacts on the actual life and ecology of the animal. If we dehorn rhinos, we may at some time also consider de-tusking elephants. Finally, the impact intended on the ‘audience’ of poachers itself is unknown. In the absence of rhinos, will poachers pack their bags, or will they move towards capture of other species? And is it ethical to dehorn a rhino?
  6. While proposals for dehorning the rhino demonstrate intent to solve the rhino poaching problem, it is also a complete admission of defeat, and that too, to unregulated forces. These are forces which we should not buckle to, for reasons both logical and ethical. The answers will lie in demonstrating seriousness in solving the actual problem: through higher conviction rates for poaching cases, enforcement, vigilance and carrying forward the commitment the Assam government has already shown. There is no other means of saving the unfortunate rhino.

Solutions

  1. Setting up of fast track courts to ensure that arrested poachers were brought to justice through speedy trial.
  2. According to Aaranyak, a society for biodiversity conservation: “Dehorning is not the ultimate solution to check poaching; it is only a strategy to buy time used by African countries.”
  3. The government should take proactive measures, including intelligence gathering and combat training for forest guards and range officers manning Kaziranga and other rhino-bearing national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
  4. Instead of making the harmless beast its target, the government should focus on fighting poachers and directing funds to train and equip guards with state-of-the-art weaponry and other gadgets and all-weather clothing and footwear.
  5. The Government must explore the use of an indelible dye, a technique used in the Rhino Rescue Project, South Africa. Here, the dye is introduced which turns the inside of the horn bright pink. It is similar to products used in the banking industry to permanently stain stolen bank notes. It is visible on an X-ray scanner even when the horn is ground to a fine powder. Thus, airport security checkpoints can pick the presence of this dye in a treated horn. The dye could also discourage the use of horns for ornamental purposes. This will reduce smuggling of rhino horn which costs $60-$140 a gm in the international market. We need to explore all possible options to disincentivise and stop the evil of poaching.

In the words of Rudyard Kipling:

“Wearing a suit of armour, a great beast which survived the Pleistocene Mass Extinction of animals, and whose single, mounted horn is both a mystery and a product of exceptional evolution.”

Capture

Jai Hind.

-Ribhu V.

The El Nino & its Impact

Indians have become familiar with the “El Nino” term as it was all over the news in recent months leading up to the monsoon. I have tried to explain this phenomenon so that everyone can understand what it really is and what are its effects on the Indian subcontinent:-

Term

The term “El Nino” is Spanish in origin which refers to the Christ child or also “the boy”. This is due to the fact that this phenomenon is noticed in the Pacific near South America usually around Christmas. The counterpart of El Nino which occurs after this phenomenon is called “La Nina”, Spanish for “the girl”.

Background

 

Uptil now, there has been no definite scientific understanding on why this phenomenon occurs. Only the geographic events that occur during the phenomenon have been explained by scientists. Also, although the phenomenon is periodic in nature occurring once in 2-3 years, nothing can be predicted definitely on when it will happen next. It has been known to occur even after a gap of 5-6 years and as short as a gap of 1 year.

This effect was first discovered by Peruvian fishermen who found that after every 3-7 years a sudden change in weather conditions occurred and there would be an abnormal scarcity of fish in the Peruvian coastal waters in the year which El Nino occurred. 

Explanation

To explain El Nino, we will first have to learn what are the normal prevalent conditions in the Pacific Ocean most of the time.

The warmest part of the Pacific Ocean is the region near the equator. Due to the spinning of the earth (Coriolis Force), the prevailing winds flow from east to west. This pushes the warm waters westwards, towards Southeast Asia. This typical east-west circulation of zonal winds which push the Pacific waters towards the western Pacific i.e. eastern coast of Southeast Asia  and results in the upwelling of cold water near the eastern Pacific i.e. western coast of South America is known as “Walker Circulation”. In fact, Walker circulation is a convective cell of air circulation., which is formed due to the development of pressure gradient from from east to west in the equatorial Pacific ocean.

After an interval of 2-3 years, this circulation is reversed i.e. pressure gradient becomes west to east. Thus, there are oscillations in the pressure gradient and air circulation after every 2-3 years. Walker called such oscillation as “Southern Oscillation”.

In normal conditions, high pressure develops on the sea surface the equatorial eastern Pacific oceanand the western coasts of South America due to subsidence of air from above and upwelling of cold ocean water. On the other hand, low pressure is formed in the equatorial western Pacific ocean due to rise of air from the warm sea surface, This pressure gradient from east to west generates east-west circulation of trade winds on the surface while there is reverse upper air circulation i.e. from west to east which completes the convective cell. This east-west air circulation drives the ocean water mass from the western coast of South America towards the west. This phenomenon facilitates further upwelling of cold sea water near the coasts of Peru and Ecuador resulting in further cooling of air, high air pressure, atmospheric stability and dry weather conditions. 

Contrary to this, this normal east-west circulation becomes warm north-east trades in the equatorial west PAcific ocean where it, after being heated, rises upward, becomes unstable and causes precipitation. After rising to a certain height it turns eastward and descends in the equatorial eastern PAcific to complete the convective cell.

Therefore, tropical eastern and western Pacific is characterized by dry and wet weather conditions respectively.

During the El Nino phenomenon, all the above conditions are reversed for the eastern and western Pacific ocean waters. Phe reversal in pressure conditions facilitates the return of warm sea water which was driven from the coasts of South America westward, towards the tropical east Pacific. Consequently, low air pressure is formed in the south-east  Pacific i.e. coasts of Peru and Ecuador, upwelling of cold sea water is stopped, warm air rises upward, becomes unstable and yields rainfall. It is evident that the general  normal condition has got reversed. This event is called the El Nino phenomenon. The convective cell fromed during the El Nino is called the El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). 

When the Hadley circulation is activated after the weakening of the normal Walker circulation during El Nino, the phenomenon is again reversed leading to the occurrence of normal conditions. This accompanying normal event is known as “La Nina”.

El Nino

Impact of El Nino

1. Due to El Nino, the waters near the coast of South America are warmer than usual resulting in large scale fish kill as the upwelling cold water only contains the nutrients for the fish.

2. There is widespread precipitation in the western coasts of the Americas. Sometimes, floods also occur.

3. As there are dry conditions in Asia during El Nino, the intensity of monsoon is reduced resulting in food security problem in India.

-Ribhu V.