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Human Rights, Rights

With new NGO curbs, government signals it won’t let anyone demand that it protect rights of Indians

These moves will have a chilling effect on the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly.
By Prerna Dhoop & Vandana Dhoop

Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing protest against Amnesty in Bangalore in August, 2016. | Sajjad Hussain/AFP
On September 29, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press release stating in uncertain terms how it viewed the operations of the human rights advocacy group Amnesty India.

“All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws,” the release alleged. “…India has a rich and pluralistic democratic culture with a free press, independent judiciary and tradition of vibrant domestic debate. The people of India have placed unprecedented trust in the current government. Amnesty’s failure to comply with local regulations does not entitle them to make comments on the democratic and plural character of India.”

Earlier in the day, Amnesty India, the local arm of the international rights organisation Amnesty International, said it had been forced to halt its operations because of a “witch-hunt” by the Indian government over “unfounded and motivated allegations” that resulted in its ban accounts being frozen.

Days before, on September 21, the Lok Sabha amended the act regulating how non-governmental organisations can receive foreign funds, ostensibly with the aim of “strengthening the compliance mechanism, enhancing transparency and accountability in the receipt and utilisation of foreign contribution”.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2020 and the freezing of Amnesty’s accounts are not unrelated.

Chilling effect
To begin with, by creating overbroad, vague restrictions for NGO funding and operations, these moves will have a chilling effect on the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly.

With the amendments, the government has expanded governmental discretion, bureaucratic control and oversight with respect to the day-to-day functioning of NGOs in India. For instance, it has reduced the cap on administrative expenses from the previous 50% of the funds received to 20%. It has also made it mandatory for organisations across India to receive all FCRA money only through an account in a Delhi branch of the State Bank of India, Delhi. It has also mandated the submission of a statement of expenses four times a year.

Under the garb of ensuring transparency and accountability, the government is seeking to choke NGOs with red tape so that they are unable to do their humanitarian work.

The FCRA amendment disallows Amnesty and other civil society organisations that receive foreign contributions from supporting the work of other NGOs. This makes it more difficult for grassroots NGOs that are independent of government, business, religion and political groups to operate in India.

With this, the government’s move has choked Covid-19 aid from flowing to the remotest corners of the country.

Amnesty’s office in Bengaluru.
But most of all, the government has made it clear that it will view with suspicion any organisations that seek to uphold the fundamental values of dignity, freedom, justice and equality for all. It will not allow any organisation to hold it to account and to demand that it protect and respect the rights of Indians.

That is evident from the manner in which it has choked the operations of Amnesty, an organisation that has used the international human rights principle of “naming and shaming” to compel states to comply with their obligations under human rights treaties.

In recent months, Amnesty India has issued reports that question the government about rights violations during the Delhi riots in February and about the situation in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. In addition, it has engaged in advocacy, lobbying and campaigning; written letters, petitioned and protested against human rights abuses in India.

Repressing freedom
The passage of the FCRA Amendment Bill, 2020 and the actions against Amnesty place India next to only Russia, where the government has used the Foreign Agents Law, 2012 and Undesirable Organisations Law, 2015 as a weapon to repress freedom of association and expression. These laws have been used to pursue a systematic campaign against human rights organisations and NGOs in the country. In 2016, Amnesty was forced to suspend its operations in Russia.

Russia’s actions run contrary to the advice that was offered by Rabindranath Tagore during a visit to the Soviet Union. The Indian said that the Soviets should construct a social and political system that permits disagreement because, it would not only be an uninteresting but a sterile world of mechanical regularity if all our opinions were forcibly made alike”.

As Tagore also noted, “Opinions are constantly changed and rechanged only through the free circulation of intellectual forces and moral persuasion…Freedom of mind is needed for the reception of truth; terror hopelessly kills it.”

I would serve Prime Minister Narendra Modi well to pay heed to Tagore too and acknowledge the existence of differences of opinion.

Prerna Dhoop is a human rights lawyer based in Kolkata.
Vandana Dhoop is an independent researcher

Health

Four Exotic Items From the India-China Border in Arunachal Pradesh

Herbs, fungi, musk deer and bears attract local risk-takers looking to make a living.

By Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Five men who went missing in India’s border state of Arunachal Pradesh last month were handed over by China after 10 days’ detention.

Different versions have been articulated as to the reasons that led the youths to visit the hilly border which is a bone of contention between the two neighbors.

The Indian Army’s account that the five residents were on a hunting trip does not tally with the account of their families who said they were porters for the army.

The controversy notwithstanding, what is certain is that the local residents of the border state are employed as porters and guides by both the army and Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) during long range patrols to the border that sometimes take weeks to complete.

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Many porters engage in hunting and gathering of items during the itinerary that sell at exorbitant rates in the international market. There are also separate expeditions mounted every year by squads of locals to certain zones along the border.

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This is not the first time that residents of Arunachal Pradesh were whisked away by Chinese troops and released after days of detention. A similar incident happened last March when three men were apprehended after they had gone to collect herbs along the border.

A significant stretch of the 1126-kilometres of the border in Arunachal Pradesh is inaccessible but also a treasure-trove of exotic items that prompt a large section of people to embark upon hunting assignments every year.

These commodities are sold to agents in some district headquarters who are part of a network that connect the state capital of Itanagar and Dibrugarh in Assam. The items are believed to be smuggled out of the country through multiple routes in Myanmar and Nepal.

Four items, in particular, scattered along the entire border in Arunachal Pradesh are sought after by the hunters. Occasionally, tales are heard in the border hamlets about hazardous missions when hunters meet with accidents never to return home.

Paris Polyphylla: The Marvelous Herb

Paris polyphylla is the most easily available among the four items which has been listed as a vulnerable medicinal plant by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Termed locally as “Rinke” and “Kola Kochu,” it grows mainly in moist and shady areas of forests, thickets, bamboo forests, grassy or rocky slopes and nearby water channel in rich humus soil.

An official said that Paris polyphylla is found in almost all districts of Arunachal Pradesh but more in Upper Subansiri, Upper Siang and Dibang Valley. A study carried out by the Rajiv Gandhi University found the existence of four varieties of the herb in the hill state that grows at an altitude of 1000-3500 meters.

A kilogram of Paris polyphylla fetches 4,000-5,000 Indian rupees either in Arunachal Pradesh or Assam. Concerned over the rampant smuggling of the plant, environment and forest minister of the state Nabam Rebia said two years ago that efforts were being made to formulate guidelines and modalities for cultivation, harvesting and commercialization of important medicinal plants including Paris polyphylla.

Yarsagumba: The Miracle Fungi

The trade in yarsagumba is a multibillion dollar industry spanning the U.S., China, and Singapore. It is a caterpillar-fungus fusion that occurs when a mushroom infects and embalms a ghost moth larva living in the soil. A wobbly fungus later sprouts from the dead caterpillar which is 2-6 centimeters long above the soil.

Used in traditional Chinese medicine, yarsagumba is believed to treat cancer, asthma and cure impotence. It is found in altitudes between 3,000 and 5,000 meters in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and India. It grows only for four months between May and August.

In Arunachal Pradesh, it is more available in the eastern districts of Tawang, East and West Kameng where the border is at a higher elevation than in the west. A kilogram of the item may be sold at a price as high as 400,000-500,000 Indian rupees.

Musk Deer and Asiatic Bear: Gems in the Hills

As rare as yarsagumba are the musk deer or Kasturi and the Asiatic bear which are among the most prized animals for the hunters of Arunachal Pradesh. IUCN has listed the musk deer as an endangered species and the Asiatic bear as vulnerable.

Like the other items, both animals are also used for the manufacture of traditional medicines in China and South East Asia. The adult male musk deer secretes musk used in a range of medicines and other products. Likewise, the bile of the bear is also used to manufacture medicines, and the Chinese government had recently recommended its use in the treatment of critical COVID-19 cases.

A local resident and hunter at Yinkiong was of the view that the population of both the animals has drastically reduced in Arunachal Pradesh. He pointed that about 10 grams of the navel of the musk deer could be sold for 35,000-40,000 to agents at certain locations in the state.

Notices by the government urging the local residents to abstain from hunting Musk Deer can be spotted in many villages near the border in Arunachal Pradesh.

Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Assam, India

Diplomacy

Modi visited 58 countries since the year 2015 costs Rs 517.82 crore

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited 58 countries since the year 2015. These foreign trips of PM Narendra Modi cost Rs 517.82 crore, the external affairs ministry said in a written reply to Rajya Sabha.

The ministry also said that during PM Narendra Modi’s visits to the foreign countries, some major Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) on trade, investment, techonology and defense field were signed. The PM visited 58 countries since 2015 which cost Rs 517.82 crore. During this visit, major MoUs were signed, the MEA said.

The external affairs ministry also said the team of United States President Donald Trump was not tested for coronavirus when it arrived in India in February.

The ministry explained that Donald Trump’s team was not tested for the coronavirus as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease a pandemic only on March 11, while the United States’ President had visited India on February 24-25th.

“The Trump team was not required a coronavirus test during its visit to India because the WHO declared this [Covid-19] a pandemic on March 11, while they visited India on 24-25th February,” the MEA said, replying to a question by MP Binoy Viswam in the Rajya Sabha.

The ministry also said that the screening of international passengers began from March 4. “Standards, protocols were followed during Donald Trump’s visit,” MEA said.

“India supported 150 countries in their fight against coronavirus by providing medicines and medical devices. India grant Rs 80 crore to 80 countries including China. We received support from Japan, US, France, Germany and Israel,” the ministry said.

Aggression

‘Back off China’ protests echo in Nepal as Beijing scales new peaks of intrusion in Himalayan nation

MurukeshUpdated : People, armed with ‘Back off, China’ banners, have taken to the streets in protest against the Chinese intrusion in the northern Humla district of Nepal, which Beijing now claims as its own.
People carry the Nepal national flag during a protest in Kathmandu. | File image
People carry the Nepal national flag during a protest in Kathmandu. | File imageKey HighlightsProtesters have flocked the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu over the encroachment of Nepal territories in the northern Humla districtPeople in Lapcha, where the buildings have been constructed, brought it to the notice of the Humla administration; the district falls near the Nepal-Tibet borderThe area is remote from the district headquarters, difficult to reach, barren, unused and a treacherous stretch but China can easily cross over due to its proximity and access to road
Kathmandu: The misadventures of China continue to smother peace in the Indian subcontinent and Beijing has reached new lows of bullying Nepal after they unilaterally constructed 11 buildings inside Nepalese territory.

People, armed with ‘Back off, China’ banners, have taken to the streets in protest against the Chinese intrusion in the northern Humla district of Nepal, which Beijing now claims it its own.

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Protesters even flocked the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu over the encroachment of Nepal territories in the northern Humla district.

People in Lapcha, where the buildings have been constructed, brought it to the notice of the Humla administration; the district falls near the Nepal-Tibet border.

The area is remote from the district headquarters, difficult to reach, barren, unused and a treacherous stretch but China can easily cross over due to its proximity and access to road.

After the locals in Lapcha raised the issue about the buildings, they also claimed that the Chinese have threatened them from even visiting the bordering areas. Following this, the Home Ministry of Nepal sent senior officials to the disputed land to take stock of the actual extent of encroachment by the Chinese.

Though the Nepal home ministry officials are yet to submit their report, Bishnu Bahadur Lama, the chairman of the Namkha Rural Municipality who was the first to bring the matter to the notice of the administration, said that they have interacted with the locals and also communicated with the Chinese security officials.

“They (Chinese) told us that due to Covid pandemic, it was not possible to sit in a face to face talks urging that those 11 buildings were constructed inside Chinese territory and asked us to leave the place. Then we left. It is happening largely due to one missing pillar,” Lama said.

According to Nepali officials, eight years ago boundary pillar number 11 was damaged during a road construction process and a replacement had not been erected since. Now it seems like the Chinese side caught Nepal napping and took advantage of the critical point along the border.

Locals claim that the territory that the Chinese claim is theirs.

“It belongs to us which has been used by the Nepalese for several purposes in the past. It was basically used for grazing by both sides,” Lama said, according to news agency IANS.

Check the latest facts on Covid-19 here. Times Fact ‘India Outbreak Report’ by TIMES NETWORK and Protiviti is a comprehensive analysis that highlights the impact of the pandemic in India and projects the possible number of active cases in the weeks ahead.

Diplomacy

PM Has Visited 58 Nations Since 2015 At Cost Of Rs 517 Crore: Centre

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited 58 countries since 2015 at a total cost of Rs 517 crore, the government said Tuesday in a written response to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha.
Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said the Prime Minister had visited the United States and Russia the most – five visits each. PM Modi has also visited China – with whom India is engaged in a prolonged and serious border stand-off in eastern Ladakh – five times, he added.

Among other countries visited by the Prime Minister are Singapore, Germany, France, the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, Mr Muraleedharan said.

“The total expenditure on these visits was Rs 517.82 crore,” he said, in a report by news agency PTI, noting that while some of the visits were part of multi-nation trips, others were standalone bilateral visits.

The Prime Minister’s last trip abroad was to Brazil (in November last year) to attend a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit. He also visited Thailand earlier that month.

PM Modi has made no visits in 2020 because of the global lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Muraleedharan told the parliament the visits had enhanced other countries’ understanding of India’s perspectives on bilateral, regional and global issues.

The visits also helped strengthen economic relations across a wide range of sectors, including trade and investment, technology, defence collaboration and people-to-people contact, the minister said.

However, in December 2018 the government said over Rs 2,000 crore had been spent on the PM’s foreign visits since June 2014 – these, it said, included expenses on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities.

According to the data (shared by then Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh), a total of Rs 1,583.18 crore was spent on maintenance of the Prime Minister’s aircraft and Rs 429.25 crore on chartered flights during the period between June 15, 2014 and December 3, 2018. The total expenditure on hotline was Rs 9.11 crore.

While the Prime Minister’s visits have been widely praised by many for boosting India’s profile abroad and helping generate FDI (foreign direct investment), the opposition has sometimes criticised the costs involved and questioned the timing.

Before the national election in April and May last year, Rahul Gandhi targeted PM Modi for travelling abroad while there was a crisis in the farm sector. PM Modi’s BJP eventually swept the national election, cementing his term for another five years.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Butterflies are migrating early in southern India this year

In a departure from the past, the annual migration of butterflies from the hill ranges of the Eastern Ghats towards the Western Ghats is an early phenomenon this year.

Usually, butterfly migration in south India begins in October-November, with the onset of the northeast monsoon, from the plains to the Ghats, and in April-June, just before the advent of the southwest monsoon, from the Ghats to the plains.

The southwest monsoon is the season for the breeding of butterflies, especially milkweed butterflies, in plains of south India, after which they migrate.

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Migratory paths of butterflies in South India
Migratory paths of butterflies in South India

But this year, the first migratory sighting was recorded in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Palakkad district by forest watchers on July 14. Later, butterfly enthusiasts in Salem, Erode, Tiruppur, Coimbatore and the Nilgiris observed their movement in large numbers from August 21, which is still continuing. Butterfly migration has also been recorded in Mysuru, Bengaluru, Kolar and Coorg districts in Karnataka.

“The migration started early after a gap of eight years. The Eastern Ghats complex of the Yercaud hills (Shevaroy hills), Pachamalai, Kolli hills, Kalvarayan hills are the major originating places for the migrating species. The movement was observed towards the Nilgiris, the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and Palani hills also, apart from the Western Ghats hill ranges in the Coimbatore district,” said A. Pavendhan of The Nature and Butterfly Society (TNBS).

A recent study revealed that four species of milkweed butterflies belonging to the Danainae subfamily are mainly involved in the migration — the Dark Blue Tiger, Blue Tiger, Common Crow and the Double-branded (commonly known as tigers and crows). Species like Lime Swallowtail, Lemon Pansy, Common Leopard, Blue Pansy, Common Emigrant and Lemon Emigrants are also involved in the migration but their numbers are very low. However, the number of Lime Swallowtail butterflies had increased considerably this year, P.A.Vinayan, president, Ferns Nature Conservation Society (FNCS), Wayanad, told The Hindu.

Observers noted that Blue Tiger and Dark Blue Tiger accounted for 90% of the butterflies involved in migration. Lime Butterfly and Common Emigrant were higher in numbers than the crows.

“The change in rainfall pattern and a considerable increase in the number of sunny days may be the major reasons for the earlier migration,” Mr. Vinayan added.

Mr. Pavendhan said peak migration was observed over Coimbatore district on August 25. The starting rate of movement was 180 individuals per hour, when the counting was done over a band of about 10 metres in the morning, and the movement reached a peak of 1,060 individuals per hour around noon.

A congregation of butterflies sighted at Appapara in North Wayanad forest division

Environment

Humans pushing 1 in 3 freshwater species to extinction

At least 85% of the earth’s wetlands are already lost and freshwater species are at highest risk compared to forest or marine species, the report released on Thursday has underlined. The population of freshwater species including fish, birds, amphibians and mammals have declined by 84% globally since 1970, threatening one in three freshwater or riverine species with extinction, the Living Planet Report 2020 has said.

At least 85% of the earth’s wetlands are already lost and freshwater species are at highest risk compared to forest or marine species, the report released on Thursday has underlined.

The Living Planet Report which is released biannually by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London shows an average 68% decline in population of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970. The report tracks the abundance of 20,811 populations representing 4,392 species based on a number of data sets available globally.

These population trends are brought together in what is called the Living Planet Index (LPI), which calculates the average percentage change in population sizes since 1970.

There is a 94% decline in the LPI in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is also facing massive losses in freshwater species due to fragmentation by hydropower projects and abstraction of water and a 45% decline in LPI in Asia and Australia.

Riverine ecosystems in India are also under threat. The size of wetlands in India has shrunk — to only 0.03% area of the total geographic area. In 2018, there were 351 polluted stretches of rivers , according to the Central Pollution Control Board, up from 302 in 2016. And there has been a reduction in the population of endangered species such as the rare Gangetic Dolphin.

Experts said that such degradation imbalances ecosystems, which can in turn lead to bigger problems. “Intact ecosystems with diverse assemblages of species can buffer the emergence of disease causing pathogens. When populations decline or transmission dynamics are altered, it increases the chance of spillover of pathogens to humans and associated domestic animals. Given the rates of change in natural ecosystems due to globalised economic activities, it is inevitable that new pathogens with the pandemic potential will emerge,” said Abi Tamim Vanak, Fellow, Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance Program (Intermediate Clinical and Public Health Fellowship) and Senior Fellow (Associate Prof) and Convenor, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.

Globally, habitat degradation through pollution or flow modification, overexploitation, invasive species and sand mining in rivers are among the biggest threats facing freshwater species. Freshwater megafauna—those that are large and grow to over 30 kg such as river dolphins, otters, beavers, hippos, the Chinese sturgeon and the Mekong giant catfish have recorded strong population declines. Large fish are also heavily impacted by dam construction, which blocks their migratory routes to spawning and feeding grounds.

Sand mining is a huge problem in Indian rivers. It is illegal to mine for sand from rivers in many states, but it goes on unabated, even in river stretches within protected areas.

“Free flowing stretches of rivers in India are the last bastions of aquatic biodiversity including fish, turtles, crocodilians, waterfowl and river dolphins. Unfortunately, we are still in denial about the irreplaceable ecosystem services of these rivers,” said Jagdish Krishnaswamy, a senior fellow at the Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. “We need to revisit the plans for large dams in the Himalayas and inter-linking of rivers which may destroy the last remaining free-flowing stretches of rivers and their aquatic biodiversity. The Gangetic river dolphin, for example, is threatened by both reduced flows, barriers and dams as well as the under-water noise from increased vessel traffic in inland waterways,” he added.

The 164-page report drafted by 134 authors from 25 countries has also tracked how the global landscape has transformed over the years with satellite data which shows that only Russia, Canada, Brazil and Australia contain most of the places without a human footprint while all of India’s geographical area is highly modified by humans. About 58% of the earth’s land surface is under immense human pressure and only 25% can be considered wilderness, according to the report. The map in the report indicates there is no wilderness left in India, but it doesn’t say so explicitly.

The global land-use projections in the report show that without changes in diet — food production (including food loss and waste) is a major driver — the issue of land-use cannot be addressed. Food production causes 70% of terrestrial biodiversity loss and 50% of freshwater biodiversity loss. This is critical for India because it is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and jute, and ranks as the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane and groundnut, WWF’s India factsheet said.

Overall the biggest threats to biodiversity according to the report is land use change followed by overexploitation of species; invasive species; pollution and climate change. “Covid 19 is nature sending us a message. In fact, it reads like an SOS signal for the human enterprise, bringing into sharp focus the need to live within the planet’s ‘safe operating space’. The environmental, health and economic consequences of failing to do so are disastrous,” the report warns.

HIGHLIGHTS
• 68% fall in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016
• More than 85% of area under wetlands is lost
• The Living Planet Index (LPI) tracks the abundance of 21,000 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians around the world
• There is a 94% decline in the LPI for the tropical subregions of the Americas
• There is a 65% decline in LPI for Africa and 45% for Asia and Australia
• 3,741 monitored populations – representing 944 freshwater species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes have recorded an 84% decline since 1970
India’s rivers on the edge:

• There are 351 polluted river stretches in India as per Central Pollution Control Board’s 2018 assessment, up from 302 in 2016

• 45 out of the 351 polluted stretches are critically polluted

• Yamuna in Delhi; Damanganaga in Silvassa and Daman; Mithi in Mumbai; Ghaggar in Haryana; many stretches of Ganga are among critically polluted

• There are at least 1000 dams on the Ganga river basin obstructing the flow of various tributaries, according to a recent assessment by INTACH

• India ranks third in the list of countries with the largest number of threatened turtle and tortoise species in the world after China and Vietnam according to Turtle Conservation Coalition.

• Indian wetlands have altogether only 0.03% area of the total geographic area

• Only 1272 Gangetic dolphins were recorded in 3350 km of riverine stretch surveyed by WWF India in Uttar Pradesh, covering Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Ken, Betwa, Son, Sharda, Geruwa, Gahagra, Gandak and Rapti.

• Environment ministry estimates there are only 2500 endagered Gangetic dolphins left in India’s river systems. —–By Jayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times

Environment

Wildlife in ‘catastrophic decline’ due to human destruction, scientists warn

By Helen Briggs
Wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a major report by the conservation group WWF.

The report says this “catastrophic decline” shows no sign of slowing.

And it warns that nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before.

Wildlife is “in freefall” as we burn forests, over-fish our seas and destroy wild areas, says Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF.

“We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth. Now nature is sending us a desperate SOS and time is running out.”

What do the numbers mean?
The report looked at thousands of different wildlife species monitored by conservation scientists in habitats across the world.

They recorded an average 68% fall in more than 20,000 populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970.

BBC graphic
Presentational white space
The decline was clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world, said Dr Andrew Terry, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which provides the data.

“If nothing changes, populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we depend,” he added.

The report says the Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how nature and humans are intertwined.

Factors believed to lead to the emergence of pandemics – including habitat loss and the use and trade of wildlife – are also some of the drivers behind the decline in wildlife.

BBC graphic
Presentational white space
New modelling evidence suggests we can halt and even reverse habitat loss and deforestation if we take urgent conservation action and change the way we produce and consume food.

The British TV presenter and naturalist Sir David Attenborough said the Anthropocene, the geological age during which human activity has come to the fore, could be the moment we achieve a balance with the natural world and become stewards of our planet.

“Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials,” he said.

“But above all it will require a change in perspective. A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world.”

Sir David presents a new documentary on extinction to be aired on BBC One in the UK on Sunday 13 September at 20:00 BST.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Eastern lowland gorilla
Image caption Gorillas in the mountains of DRC face threats from illegal hunting
How do we measure the loss of nature?
Measuring the variety of all life on Earth is complex, with a number of different measures.

Taken together, they provide evidence that biodiversity is being destroyed at a rate unprecedented in human history.

This particular report uses an index of whether populations of wildlife are going up or down. It does not tell us the number of species lost, or extinctions.

The largest declines are in tropical areas. The drop of 94% for Latin America and the Caribbean is the largest anywhere in the world, driven by a cocktail of threats to reptiles, amphibians and birds.

“This report is looking at the global picture and the need to act soon in order to start reversing these trends,” said Louise McRae of ZSL.

The data has been used for modelling work to look at what might be needed to reverse the decline.

Research published in the journal Naturesuggests that to turn the tide we must transform the way we produce and consume food, including reducing food waste and eating food with a lower environmental impact.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES The African grey parrot is endangered due to habitat loss and wildlife trade
Image caption The African grey parrot is endangered due to habitat loss and wildlife trade
Prof Dame Georgina Mace of UCL said conservation actions alone wouldn’t be sufficient to “bend the curve on biodiversity loss”.

“It will require actions from other sectors, and here we show that the food system will be particularly important, both from the agricultural sector on the supply side, and consumers on the demand side,” she said.

What do other measures tell us about the loss of nature?
Extinction data is compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has evaluated more than 100,000 species of plants and animals, with more than 32,000 species threatened with extinction.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Forest elephants
Image caption Elephants are under threat from poaching and habitat loss
In 2019, an intergovernmental panel of scientists concluded that one million species (500,000 animals and plants, and 500,000 insects) are threatened with extinction, some within decades.

Humans ‘threaten 1m species with extinction’
The WWF report is one of many assessments of the state of nature being published in the coming weeks and months in the build-up to a major summit next year.

The UN will reveal next Tuesday its latest assessment of the state of nature worldwide

Climate Change, Environment

Three climate threats that can become opportunities for Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan has a strong approach towards environmental sustainability, but its fast growth is making this increasingly demanding.
Here are three climate risks for Bhutan that also offer opportunities for a green reset.
In many ways, Bhutan’s unique development approach and institutional structures support the country’s ambitious climate policy. Today, Bhutan claims to not only be carbon neutral, but carbon negative.

It has achieved these aims while adhering to its development policy of Gross National Happiness, which asserts that economic growth must be equitable and inclusive, that good governance is essential to make this a reality, and – most radically – that economic growth must be coupled with conservation of the environment.

Pro-climate policies are embedded even in Bhutan’s constitution, which mandates that 60% of its land must be under forest cover.

However, as one of the fastest-growing economies in South Asia and one set to become a middle-income country by 2023, Bhutan has also experienced amplified urbanization and consumption, along with growing alienation from nature.

This year, keeping the climate crisis on top of the country’s agenda has become even more demanding, as the COVID-19 pandemic challenges the country’s economic resilience.

In this article, we speak to three climate risks that are also green reset opportunities for Bhutan as it sets out on a path towards a sustainable economic recovery.

Of the approximately 3,000 lakes that exist in Bhutan, 24 may burst their banks sooner than expected due to the accelerated rate of melting glaciers causing glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF).

In a country in which the entire river system is fed by glaciers and where around 60% of the population rely on agriculture and more than 80% live along the river valleys, GLOFs can have devastating impact. Furthermore, GLOFs also put the country’s largest source of income – hydropower – at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled the conversation about data analytics to the top of the global agenda, which may be an impetus for countries to strengthen their technology and data policies and investments. For Bhutan, it may mean developing resources to enable the production of high-quality historical, as well as real time, climate data. This is vital because a lack of historical data on flood frequencies, for instance, has hindered the construction of cost-effective flood protection. The upfront investments required to modernize the country’s hydro-meteorological sector will be worthwhile, as the cost-benefit ratio in the long-term is favourable both monetarily and socio-economically.

Apart from the hydropower sector, which is directly vulnerable to GLOFs, every other top-earning sector in Bhutan, including agriculture and tourism, stands to benefit from high-quality data on climate conditions for planning and mitigation. Investment in capabilities to produce sophisticated climate data is an opportunity for Bhutan to supply a professional cadre of climate data service providers – including data scientists, AI experts, ICT technicians, early warning systems operators and policy specialists – who can monitor, assess, predict and communicate critical climate data not only in Bhutan, but in other countries where GLOFs are a threat. Furthermore, businesses, such as insurance companies, have expressed willingness to pay for such data to develop financial products to mitigate the damages caused by floods.

Healthy, energy-efficient housing must become the norm
With 50% of its population projected to live in urban areas by 2030, the built environment in Bhutan is growing proportionately. However, Bhutan’s modern construction norms are largely ill-suited for the local environment. Accounting for 42%, Bhutan’s built environment is the largest national consumer of energy. The lack of a market ecosystem for green construction, and a perception that green buildings are expensive, are stifling the credibility and growth of a green construction sector in the country.

The building sector presents a high-impact opportunity for climate change adaption, if done right. Energy-efficient buildings could save an estimated annual 300 million kWh in energy consumption every year. The construction sector is also beginning to converge on the agreement and alignment of the need to green the building sector. Consequently, there is a small but growing ecosystem of energy-efficient designers, contractors, vendors and maintenance businesses. This growth could be exponential if coupled with the right kind of incentives and enforcements; for example, the Government could invest in building energy-efficient public housing.

Increasing vehicle ownership equals higher emissions
The transport sector is a major consumer of fossil fuel in Bhutan, and accounts for 34.1% of the total energy consumed in the country. It is projected that if the status quo remains, vehicular greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could triple by 2030. This is directly correlated to the annual 15% rise in vehicle ownership in Bhutan. In growing urban areas, particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pose a major public health concern. Since 2009, PM levels in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, have consistently been higher than the standards set by the World Health Organization. For Bhutan to remain carbon negative or neutral for years to come, immediate measures must be taken to reset the current vehicular fossil fuel consumption and GHG emission levels.

It starts with improving the standards for fuel imported into the country from India,. Fortunately, it is projected that by 2021, India will reduce the amount of sulphur – a major pollutant – in its fuels, a move that could effectively reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 95%.

Currently, the uptake of electric vehicles also remains low in Bhutan, despite having abundant hydroelectricity; price and a lack of infrastructure, such as charging stations and maintenance facilities, are both major factors here. Bhutan needs a concerted, low-carbon transportation strategy with a focus on accessible electric mobility of taxis, public buses, and urban freight vehicles.————–by Thinley Choden
Founding Curator and Curator, Thimphu Hub,
Namgay Choden
Impact Officer, Thimphu Hub,