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Environment

Rarely spotted Mandarin Duck and Black-necked Crane stop by in Assam==========“I couldn’t believe it,” says Madhab Gogoi excitedly over the phone from Assam, about his surprise date with the spectacular-looking bird in the early weeks of February. He was at Maguri-Motapung beel (wetland) in Tinsukia district, Assam, birdwatching in the wetlands when he noticed a colourful bird floating on the surface of the lake. Curious, he zoomed in with his binoculars and realised that it was the Mandarin duck, a rare bird that was last seen in Assam in the 1900s.

Unforgettable
“It was a historic moment, as the bird has shown up after 120 years at the same location. It was last spotted at Dibru river in Tinsukia in 1902. The streak of colours on the plumage, especially the male during the breeding season is a mind-boggling mix of white, green, golden orange and blue. You can call it the ‘queen’ among water birds,” says Gogoi.

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The eBird website, a platform that documents birds the world over, calls it a ‘small-exotic looking bird’ native to East Asia, and describes the male as ‘very ornate with big orangey ‘sail fins’ on the back, streaked orangey cheeks, and a small red bill with a whitish tip.’

According to birders like Jaydev Mandal, the duck “seems to have strayed from its regular migratory path”. He says over call from Assam, “They breed in Russia, Korea, Japan and the northeastern parts of China — as the name Mandarin also suggests. The species is also found in western Europe and the US. The bird rarely visits India as the wintering grounds of the birds are Mongolia and China.”

Spotted
After Assam, a lone Mandarin duck was spotted last week in Arunachal Pradesh at Siikhe lake, Ziro, a first spotting of this small and exotic species in the State.
It is suspected that it is the same duck from Assam’s Maguri Motapung wetland spotted earlier this month that has made a 300-kilometre journey to get there.
Jaydev spearheaded the second edition of Bihu Bird Count that covered 27 districts and recorded 400 species of birds. “ We can call it a vagrant that briefly stopped by at the same location where it was last seen in the 20th Century, making it a record sighting.”

“Maybe it’s a casual sighting” says Nilutpal Mahanta, a PhD scholar at Gauhati University and an avid birder. “If one studies the migratory pathways listed on ebird, we learn that this bird is not a winter visitor to India. The birds that flock wintering grounds in India take the Central Asian Flyway, and Mandarin ducks don’t take that route.

It could even be a species that escaped from an illegal wildlife trader. The ducks is often captured and traded because of its beauty. Illegal trading of exotic species is rampant along China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar border,” he adds.

Rare sightings
Naturalists suspect that climate changes and habitat destruction have triggered a spate of rare sightings in Assam. A pair of black-necked cranes were also sighted in the countryside of the outskirts of the Panbari range of Manas National Park, a first-ever record in Assam.

Black-necked crane sighted at Manas National Park, Assam.
Black-necked crane sighted at Manas National Park, Assam. | Photo Credit: Nilutpal Mahanta

Explains Nilutpal, “It is a medium-sized crane that breeds on the Tibetan Plateau and remote parts of India and Bhutan. They have been mostly recorded in high altitudes of Jimithang and Sangti valley in western parts of Arunachal Pradesh in India. Locals of Panbari have named bird deu korchon (Deu means related to God and mythology, and Korchon means crane) as it has mythological importance in Buddhist culture.”

Though the environment became stable in the last year with less pollution, habitat destruction is a cause of worry, says Nilutpal. “In January, we also spotted the rarely seen Indian golden oriole in Assam. Such rare sightings make us happy but also leave us confused,” he explains.

Gogoi is happy; the appearance of Mandarin duck has kick-started a discussion on conservation. “Of the 1,200 birds that can be seen in India, over 900 species are found in the Northeast part of India, including Assam and Mizoram. Birders throng to Assam to see resident beauties like grey peacock pheasant and white winged wood duck,” he says. Then adds, “But the beauty of Mandarin has left not just the naturalists, but also the general public speechless. It has inspired them to give a serious thought about conservation. It is heartening.”

Disaster, Environment

5 Bodies Recovered, Over 150 Missing in Flash Flood Triggered by Nandadevi Glacier Break in Chamoli; Uttarakhand -=====5 Bodies Recovered , 100 feared to death as Nanda Devi glacier broke and crashed into the dam in Chamoli district :——————A part of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off at Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on Sunday, leading to a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river and causing large-scale devastation in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalaya. Over 150 labourers working at a power project in Tapovan-Reni are feared dead, an Indo Tibetan Border Police spokesperson said while quoting the project-in charge. Five bodies were recovered. The power project was swept away completely, added state Director General of Police Ashok Kumar while describing the situation as under control. Homes along the way were also swept away as the waters rushed down the mountainsides in a raging torrent. There were fears of damage in human settlements downstream, including in heavily populated areas. Many villages were evacuated and people taken to safer areas. Connectivity with some border posts was “totally restricted” due to a bridge collapsing near Reni village, an ITBP spokesperson said.

Several districts, including Pauri, Tehri, Rudraprayag, Haridwar and Dehradun, that were likely to be affected were put on high alert and forces of the ITBP and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rushed in to help with the rescue and relief effort. I am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand. India stands with Uttarakhand, prays for everyone’s safety, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. News that the 150 labourers at the project on Rishi Ganga were affected had come in the early in the day. Representatives of the power project have told me that they are not being able to contact around 150 of their workmen at the project site,” said State Disaster Response Force DIG Ridhim Aggarwal. The waters in the Dhauli Ganga, a tributary of the Ganga, was flowing two to three metres above normal, the official added. Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and assured him of all possible support to deal with the situation arising from the glacier burst and the resulting floods. In a series of tweets in Hindi, Shah also said teams of the NDRF were deployed for rescue and relief operations of the affected people while additional troops of the force were being airlifted from Delhi

Environment

Dzukou to open for tourists from February 1
By Medolenuo Ambrocia

Kohima: Dzukou valley will re-open for tourists from February 1, even as the process for ascertaining the damage incurred during the wildfire continues.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Kohima, Rajkumar M, IFS, told EastMojo that Dzukou fire assessment is still awaited from the Forest Survey of India (FSI). The FSI will be providing an assessment of satellite imagery estimation for the damages.

President of the Southern Angami Youth Organization (SAYO) Zakieleto Tsukhru told EastMojo that the valley would be open for tourists on February 1. He said that the SAYO volunteers are still monitoring the activities at Dzukou even after the fire was doused.

Tsukhru said that once the valley is open for tourists, all visitors will be required to produce identification proofs at the two entry points—Viswema and Jakhama. This he said will help to maintain a record of all individuals visiting the valley.

While Dzukou valley shares border with Nagaland and Manipur, he said that as per an agreement made, visitors entering the valley beside the two designated entry points would be considered as trespassers.

He said that the Youth body also plans to exercise its own survey of the damage caused during the recent fire. The fire at Dzukou broke out on December 29 and was completely doused on January 11, after which fire-fighting personnel were gradually demobilised.

Keneingutuo Richard from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) who was part of the fire-fighting team that camped at Dzukou valley to douse the fire said that even as the valley opens up for tourists and visitors, more precautionary measures should be ensured, especially during the dry season. Urging the need to practice responsible tourism, he said that an irresponsible act by one single trekker could lead to a major loss.

Adviser to the chief minister of Nagaland also took to Twitter saying “The amazingly beautiful #DzukouValley has been reopened for tourists & adventure lovers. Responsible tourism must be followed by one and all. Please #LeaveNoTrace.”

Environment

India to establish regional climate centre for Himalayas, to benefit country, neighbours: IMD chief

India is planning to establish a regional climate centre for the Himalayan mountain region which will not only provide weather-related advices within the country but also to its neighbours, India Meteorological Department (IMD) Director General Mrutunjay Mohapatra said on Monday. Mohapatra said the work for establishing such a centre has already begun and talks are also on with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

China is also building a similar regional climate centre on its side of the Himalayas, he said. Addressing a webinar on ‘Weather and Climate Services over Mountains Region’, Mohapatra said India has the eastern ghats, western ghats along the east and the west coast and the Myanmar hills in the northeast. Considering the size of Himalayas and its role in India’s hydrology, meteorology, disaster management, ecosystem and many other activities, the world has correctly recognised it as the ‘third pole of the world’, he noted.

As a part of the ecosystem, as a part of the land, ocean, atmosphere system, the mountains, including the Himalayas and all other hill ranges play a significant role, Mohapatra stressed. Being a data sparse region, the relative observational network is limited as compared to the plain ranges of the country, Mohapatra observed. He said there is a scope to improve further the physical understanding of various processes occurring in these mountains regions, their modelling and hence the forecasting and warning services.

“At the same time, we have to develop the climate applications scenarios, especially with respect to water sector, industries, tourism, agriculture, specifically in these mountains regions.

“We are planning to establish a regional climate centre for the mountains region and it will be providing advices not only to India but also to the entire region in the Himalayas,” he said.

The RCC is likely to come up in Delhi, Mohapatra later told the PTI. The RCC will provide weather-related services specially for the farmers and tribes residing there. He added that Himansh, the country’s remote and high altitude research centre, established in 2016, will also undertake weather research activities in the Himalayas. Mohapatra said a lot of initiatives have been taken by the Ministry of Earth Sciences and IMD for augmentation of observational network with deployment of doppler radars and automated weather stations and with the development of region specific numerical models and application activities with improvement in forecast activities and warning services. He said the disasters in the mountainous regions play a dominant role in deciding socio-economic activities.

Mohapatra said natural calamities in Himalayas like the earthquakes are well-recognised — the heavy rainfall leading to cloud bursts and also many other phenomena that affect the local agriculture, local industry, local bio-system, local lives. “We also have various types of disaster phenomenon in other hill ranges like western and eastern ghats. In the recent times, we all have witnessed that because of the monsoon rains, how the landslides, which have generally realised in the Himalayan ranges or the northeast states… how disastrous landslides have been realised in Karnataka and Kerala states,” Mohapatra said.

He added that similar landslides have taken place when cyclones have crossed Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

Environment, Nature

Bird Watching, Cherry Blossoms: PM Modi On Connect With Nature

PM Modi advised everyone to connect with bird watching as well and added that he also recently spent time with birds in Gujarat’s Kevadia.
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 71st radio programme Mann ki Baat today spoke about how our lives have taken a drastic turn due to the coronavirus pandemic but has brought us closer to nature. He said the pandemic has given us an opportunity to experience nature in a “new manner”.
PM Modi spoke about cherry blossoms first. As we step into winter, the prime minister said, the internet is abound with photos of beautiful cherry blossoms, found distinctly in Japan. However, the photos that have caught the attention of many are not from Japan, the PM adds.

“These are pictures of Shillong of our Meghalaya. These cherry blossoms have further enhanced the beauty of Meghalaya,” PM Modi said.

PM Modi said that our perspective in observing nature has also undergone a change.

November 12 marked the 125th birth anniversary of renowned ornithologist Dr Salim Ali also known as the “Birdman of India”. Praising Dr Ali highly for his illustrious life and career, PM Modi said his work attracted a large number of bird watchers to India.

“I have always been an ardent admirer of people who are fond of bird watching. With utmost patience, for hours together from morn to dusk, they can do bird watching, enjoying the scenic beauty of nature; they also keep passing on the knowledge gained to us,” PM Modi said.

He advised everyone to connect with bird watching as well and added that he also recently spent time with birds in Gujarat’s Kevadia.

The Prime Minister had visited Geodesic Aviary Dome in Kevadia late in October and shared a number of photos from the visit.

He added that time spent among birds will bring people closer to nature.

“It will also inspire you towards the environment,” PM Modi added.(NDTV)

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,

Environment

Draft EIA 2020: How it may impact North East The region, with eight per cent of India’s total geographical area, has 25 per cent of India’s forest cover

By Sayan Banerjee:

The north-eastern region continues to face a violent extractive regime by the Indian state. Photo: RK Srinivasan
India’s northeastern region — comprising Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura — is a unique biodiversity hotspot. The region, however, faces many environmental problems.

Successive Indian forest surveys in 2015, 2017 and 2019 reported net deforestation of 628, 630 and 765 square kilometres in the region respectively.

This gradual decline in general and decrease of very dense forests — with canopy cover greater than 70 per cent — is particularly alarming. During 2001-2018, 75 per cent of the total tree cover loss outside the recorded forest area in India occurred in this region.

The region is prone to multiple cycles of heavy floods, grade-V earthquakes and landslides due to hydrological and seismic fragility.

In 2020, almost 28 of 33 districts at the Barak and Brahmaputra valleys in Assam reeled under floods, 23 small-scale earthquakes hit Mizoram within five weeks and multiple causalities due to landslides occurred in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and other hilly areas.

A recent government report presented in the climate summit at Katowice, Poland found the north-eastern states to be highly vulnerable to climate change due to low adaptive potential of demographic and livelihood factors.

The development of this region, thus, requires sound socio-ecological planning with proactive mitigation strategies to control the damage to the region’s ecology and society.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA), in this regard, becomes a mandatory exercise for ecologically sound development projects envisaged for the region.

Draft EIA notification 2020

In order to ensure ‘ease of doing business’, the draft EIA notification 2020 weakens the basic vision of EIA, that is, a proactive analysis of impacts on the environment by development projects and providing risk-mitigation strategies.

The proposed changes grant post-facto environmental clearance to industries that operate and pollute without consent from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

The participation of affected communities and the public in general was further limited by reducing the notice period for public hearing to 20 days from 30 days.

Several large-scale projects were re-categorised as B2 (projects that do not require EIA) and thus exempted from it. Given the environmental fragility of the North East, these changes can usher irreversible damage to the region.

Development outlook at north-eastern states

The northeastern region continues to face a violent extractive regime by the Indian state. Following Dolly Kikon’s work on extractive regimes at the Assam-Nagaland border, the entire northeastern region can be described as a “militarised hydro / carbon frontier”.

Successive governments visualised Arunachal Pradesh as the cradle of India’s hydropower, with there being a plan to develop almost 170 hydro-electric projects that provide around 70,000 megawatts (MW) of power, more than a third of India’s total hydro potential.

Only five per cent of the proposed hydropower projects were established till now, with the ecological future of this state bleak if the remaining hydro-potential is realised. A recent campaign against the proposed 3,097 MW Etalin hydropower project showed such projects were cleared with a limited understanding of socio-ecological impacts.

Assam, Meghalaya and parts of other states have experienced extraction of coal, allied minerals and oil and gas since the occupation of the British. The current extraction by Coal India Ltd in Assam is at 465 million tonnes (MT), out of the total coal prospect of 525 MT.

A devastating blowout and fire at one of the gas wells owned by Oil India Ltd occurred at Baghjan, within the eco-sensitive zone of Dibru-Saikhowa. Photo: Vivek Menon / Twitter

The coal bearing region of Assam overlaps with the areas adjoining the Dihing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and elephant reserve that harbour dense evergreen forests. Clearance for coal mining at the Saleki proposed reserve forest situated at the vicinity of the sanctuary recently caused a huge uproar from the state’s youth-led environmental groups.

Data from the Union Ministry of Coal suggested only 15 per cent and two per cent of the total coal prospect was established in Meghalaya and Nagaland respectively, with scope for further expansion. The total potential hydrocarbon reserve in the region was estimated to be around 5,040 MT, of which only 44 per cent was established, according to the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

This left considerable scope for further extraction, with the Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for the northeastern region aiming to double the production of oil and natural gas.

The present extraction is concentrated in the Upper Assam Shelf Basin. This basin is adjacent to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Dihing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

A devastating blowout and fire at one of the gas wells owned by Oil India Ltd occurred at Baghjan, within the eco-sensitive zone of Dibru-Saikhowa. Future oil and gas exploration in the region aims to exploit the Assam-Arakan Basin that comprises of the hilly areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, according to the Hydrocarbon Vision.

Bleak socio-ecological future of the North East

The recent Baghjan blowout and fire incident provides the greatest example to show how poor or no EIA of extractive development projects can impact the local ecology and society in future.

OIL was extracting oil and gas without proper environmental clearances and biodiversity impact assessment. It violated all environment-related acts and rules of the country during its operation.

The draft EIA 2020 aims to legalise such environmental violations through post-facto clearance without punitive action. Article 371 and the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution provides community ownership over resources in these states.

Each community has their own unique socio-political history, language, social structure and cultural belief system.

The draft EIA 2020 is subverting the Constitution by limiting the inclusion of local decision-making bodies and public participation in the region. The draft also takes away power from affected communities to report environmental violations.

These changes foreground an attitude of profit over people and wildlife, which treats the region only as an extraction frontier that will feed the ‘national interest’.

The draft aims to set up industries within 100 km of the international borders without public consultation. This would affect large sections of all the north-eastern states.

The massive land requirement will lead to large scale displacement and disruption of livelihood of already marginalised communities. Indigenous cultures that evolved by living in the local ecology will likely be lost with the displacement and destruction of the local environment.

The Hydrocarbon Vision from the region will lead to huge land conversion, especially forested areas, increasing the deforestation rate and carbon footprint of the national economy.

This region, with eight per cent of India’s total geographical area, has 25 per cent of India’s forest cover.

If the staggering number of mining and dam building projects get a nod, the resulting deforestation and earth removal may lead to increased hydro-seismic fragility of the region, causing more intense floods, earthquakes and landslides.

Oil and gas exploration and highway expansion was exempted from the purview of EIA. Without proper environment impact assessments, such developments will increase the vulnerability of the region to climatic shifts.

Land-levelling or securing land through erection of walls or fences and land conversion in general will destroy terrestrial and aquatic habitats that fall under the Himalaya and India-Burma biodiversity hotspots and Central Asian and East Asia-Australian Flyway.

It will exacerbate the survival of various endemic species and impede movement of long-ranging animals like Asian elephants and tigers.

Given the fragile ecology of the northeastern region, there is a massive gap between the requirement of ecologically sound development policy and the actual development outlook of the region.

A strong EIA can bridge this gap with mandatory identification of sustainable development initiatives.

The draft EIA 2020, however, brought forward changes that are both anti-environment and anti-people. It should, thus, be rejected to secure the socio-ecological future of the north-eastern states.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.