Environmental Tipping Points

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What are ‘Tipping points’?

‘Tipping points’, are essentially the  thresholds beyond which the earth’s systems are no longer able to stabilise.  

The danger in crossing tipping points becomes higher with more warming.

Such tipping points include: 

  1. melting of Greenland ice, 
  2. collapse of Antarctic glaciers (which would lead to several metres of sea level rise),
  3. destruction of Amazon forests, 
  4. melting of all the permafrost and so on.

Living Planet Report (LPR) 2018

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About Report:

  • Published by World Wide Fund for Nature(WWF)
  • It is published every 2 years

 

Highlights of report

  • Soil Biodiversity: 
    • It encompasses presence of micro-organisms, micro-fauna (nematodes and tardigrades for example), and macro-fauna (ants, termites and earthworms).
    • Millions of microbial and animal species live and make up soils, from bacteria and fungi to mites, beetles and earthworms. Soil biodiversity, thus is total community from genes to species, and varies depending on environment.
    • The immense diversity in soil allows for great variety of ecosystem services that benefit species that inhabit it, the species that use it and its surrounding environment.
  • WWF’s ‘risk index’ for globe:
    • It indicated threats from loss of above-ground diversity, pollution and nutrient over-loading, over-grazing, intensive agriculture, fire, soil erosion, desertification and climate change.
    • India was coloured red on atlas and is among countries whose soil biodiversity faces the highest level of risk. Other countries in this category include Pakistan, China, several countries in Africa and Europe, and most of North America.
  • India’s per capita ecological footprint: It was less than 1.75 hectares/person (it is in lowest band among countries surveyed). India’s high population made it vulnerable to ecological crisis, even if per-capita consumption remained at current levels.
  • Pollinators: 150 million bee colonies were needed to meet the pollination requirements of about 50 million hectares of agricultural land in India, only 1.2 million colonies were present.
  • Ecological loss: Population of fish, mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles has dwindled by average of 60% from 1970 to 2014 and fresh-water species have declined by 83% in same period. Globally, extent of wetlands os estimated to have declined by 87% since 1970.

Biodiversity-loss

Mammals of India Project (MaOI)

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Mammals of India Project (MaOI)

  • Mammals of India (MaOI) is a new model of repository on Indian mammals by the Scientists and Researchers from the National Centers for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore.
  • It is a citizen-scientific repository initiated in September 2018.
  • It is a first such repository of Mammals in India.

 

Special Features Of MaOI

  • It is an online, freely accessible portal whose aim is to develop individual pages for all Indian mammals covering all related information about their distribution, breeding, variation, identification and conservation.
  • The website mammalsofindia.org provides a facility to the citizen to upload photographic observations about mammals.
  • The photographs of rare species such as Red Serow from Manipur, Lynx a species of wild cat from Jammu and Kashmir, Asian Golden Cat from West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh and Binturong, also known as bear cat, from East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh have been uploaded on this portal.
  • This is an exclusive portal for mammals in India which will help in having a good distribution map of mammals all around the country.
  • MaOI is an initiative under Biodiversity Atlas project. The Biodiversity Atlas is a species-based bioinformatics platform.

IPCC Special Report on Climate Change

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United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released special report on global warming in Incheon, South Korea.

Key Points from report

  • It clearly shows how half degree of warming makes big difference, adversely impacting global population and overall ecosystem through intense heat waves, melting of Arctic, sea level rise, erratic rainfall, reduction of farm yield and vanishing of living species.
  • It is possible to meet new warming target, provided nations together take rapid and far reaching transitions over next 10 to 20 years in energy, industry, land use, buildings, transport and cities to cut emissions and reach net zero around 2050 — 25 years earlier than planned under earlier 2-degree goal.
  • It lists four pathways to curb global warming and through which the 1.5 degree target can be achieved. In each of pathways, global average temperature is projected to overshoot 1.5 degrees Celsius target by some amount before returning to that level before the end of this century.
  • Each of these pathways is also dependent on some amount of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), a reference to physical removal of stock of CO2 from atmosphere to reduce its concentrations. Varying amounts between 100 to 1000 gigatons (billion tonnes) of CO2 needs to be removed from atmosphere in these four pathways.
  • It refers to climate models that project robust differences in regional climate characteristics between present-day and global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.
  • These differences include increase in mean temperatures in both land ocean regions, hot extremes in most inhabited regions, heavy precipitation in several regions and probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions.

Advantages of keeping global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius

  • It also lists several specific advantages of keeping the global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
  • By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5 degrees compared with 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5 degrees, compared with at least once per decade with 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Coral reefs will decline by 70-90% with global warming of 1.5 degrees, whereas virtually all (over 99%) would be lost with 2 degrees Celsius.
  • It also points out that climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and increase further with 2 degrees Celsius.

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Asiatic lions

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  • Asiatic lions are cousins of the African lion.
  • They are believed to have split away 100,000 years ago.
  • They are slightly smaller and have distinctive fold of skin along their bellies.
  • Gir sanctuary is the only wild population of Asiatic lions in the world.
  • With serious conservation efforts of the State and the Union Government, the population of Asiatic lions have increased to over 500 which used to be around 50 by late 1890s.
  • According to the last census conducted in 2015, the number of lions in Gir sanctuary stood at 523.
  • It is listed in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, has been categories as Endangered on IUCN Red List and is listed Appendix I of CITES.
  • The Gir Protected Area Network of Gujarat includes Gir National Park, Gir Sanctuary, Pania Sanctuary, Mitiyala Sanctuary and adjoining forests. It has an area of 1648.79 sq. km.

Canine distemper virus (CDV)

  • CDV is highly contagious disease that attacks gastrointestinal, respiratory, central nervous systems, immune system and other vital organs in animals.
  • In most of the cases, the infection is fatal.
  • It is mainly found in wild dogs, jackals and wolves.
  • The disease can be contracted by lions if they eat any animal infected by it.
  • CDV is considered dangerous virus and is blamed for wiping out 30% population of African lions in East African forests.
  • The virus is blamed for the death of as many as 23 lions in Gujarat’s Gir sanctuary in less than month.

 

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Neelakurinji plant

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  • Neelakurinji is a tropical plant species.
  • It is native to Shola forests in Western Ghats.
  • It is also seen in Shevroys Hills in Eastern Ghats, Anamalai hills and Agali hills in Kerala and Sanduru hills in Karnataka.
  • It grows at height of 30 to 60 cm on hills slopes at an altitude of 1300 to 2400 meters where there is no tree forest.
  • The flowers of Neelakurinji are purple-blue in colour and blooms once in 12 years. 
  • The flower has no smell or any medicinal value. 
  • It is because of these flowers, Nilgiri hills in southern tip of Western Ghats are called blue mountains.
  • It is rarest of rare plant species that grows in Western Ghats and does not grow in any other part of the world.
  • It has been categorized as endangered species.
  • In ancient Tamil literature, kurinji flowers symbolize love.
  • Paliyan tribal people living in Tamil Nadu use this flower bloom as reference to calculate their age.

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India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)

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India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)

  • ICAP addresses cooling requirement across sectors and lists out actions which can help reduce cooling demand.
  • Its thrust is to look for synergies in actions for securing both environmental and socio-economic benefits.
  • ICAP’s overarching goal is to provide sustainable cooling and thermal comfort for all while securing environmental and socio-economic benefits for the society.
  • India is the first country in world to develop such document.
  • It provides a 20-year perspective, with projections for cooling needs in 2037-38.

 

Goals suggested in ICAP are

  • Reduce refrigerant demand by 25% to 30% by year 2037-38.
  • Reduce cooling demand across sectors by 20% to 25 % by year 2037-38.
  • Reduce cooling energy requirements by 25% to 40% by year 2037-38.
  • Train and certify 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23, in synergy with Skill India Mission.
  • Recognize cooling and related areas as thrust area of research under national science and technology programme to support development of technological solutions and encourage innovation challenges.

 

Broad objectives of ICAO include

  • Assessment of cooling requirements across sectors in next 20 years and the associated refrigerant demand and energy use.
  • Map the technologies available to cater the cooling requirement including passive interventions, refrigerant-based technologies and alternative technologies such as not-in-kind technologies.
  • Suggest interventions in each sector to provide for sustainable cooling and thermal comfort for all.
  • Focus on skilling of refrigeration and air-conditioning (RAC) service technicians.
  • Develop R&D innovation ecosystem for indigenous development of alternative technologies.

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Pollution : Impact on Monsoon

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Finding 1:

  • Pollution in Northern and Western Indian may slow down the monsoon.
  • How?
    • The Indian summer monsoon season begins when the land surface becomes hot enough to drive a powerful rising motion of air in the atmosphere, producing heavy precipitation.
    • Cooler, humid air over the Arabian Sea flows inland to compensate for the rising air.
    • Air in this compensating circulation encounters the surface heating and also rises, perpetuating the cycle.
    • At the smallest scales, an increase in tiny particles in the atmosphere can shade the land surface while absorbing sunlight aloft, causing a reduction in the heat that reaches the surface.
    • Clouds that do form in these polluted environments are less likely to rain and more likely to persist because the droplets are smaller. These longer-lived clouds further cool the surface and weaken the circulation.
    • In this way more air pollution can mean weakening of monsoonal systems.

 

Finding 2:

  • Erratic behaviour of monsoon rainfall, including phenomenon of concentrated heavy rainfall on small number of days in localized area can be attributed to the rising air pollution, especially the increase in suspended particles in the atmosphere. 
  • How?
    • Excess aerosols, suspended solid particles like dust, smoke and industrial effluents in atmosphere is changing cloud patterns, its shape, size and other properties like temperature, which in turn is resulting in variability in rainfall over Indian sub-continent during monsoon season.
    • Aerosols are extremely important for cloud formation.
    • In absence of aerosols, no clouds can be formed and consequently no rainfall will take place.
    • But due to increase in aerosol content in atmosphere, there is direct consequence of rising air pollution interfering with stable cloud formation system and influencing rainfall patterns.
    • In short term, these changes in cloud structure and cloud dynamics lead to sharp variability in rainfall, which is similar to rainfall patterns witnessed very often in India in last few years.
    • In the long term, it is likely to lead to overall suppression of rainfall during the monsoon season.

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Lippa-Asra wildlife sanctuary

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  • The sanctuary is part of district Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and also is part of Moorang town.
  • It was established in 1974 and is spread over an area of 3089 hectares.
  • It hosts wide range of flora and fauna due to varied elevation, different climatic situation and topographical type of weather found in its vicinity
  • This type of weather conditions thus helps in the survival of different type of species that are housed in the sanctuary.  
  • The sanctuary has diversified wildlife that forms part of it.
  • It houses wild species of animal like Yak, Ibex, Blue Sheep, Himalayan Musk Deer, Goral, Brown Bear and Himalayan Black Bear.
  • The dry alpine scrub and dry coniferous type of forest are main type of flora found in this sanctuary. 
  • Besides, dwarf juniper scrub, coniferous forest and temperate type of forest of Himalayan region is also found in this sanctuary.

 

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Paris Agreement : Reluctance of developed world

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Paris Agreement:

  • Paris Agreement is an international agreement to combat climate change. It charts a new course in the global climate effort.
  • Paris Agreement comes under the broad umbrella of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). UNFCCC is a convention held in 1992 to combat climate change.
  • The Paris Agreement’s long-term goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels; and to limit the increase to 1.5 °C, since this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.
  • Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. No mechanism forces a country to set a specific target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets.
  • In June 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw his country from the agreement.

 

Reluctance of Developed World:

  • Some developed countries led by the U.S. — which, under the Trump administration, has rejected the Paris agreement — are unwilling to commit to sound rules on raising climate finance.
  • Under the pact concluded in Paris, rich countries pledged to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and aid populations to cope with extreme events such as floods, droughts and storms.
  • The Green House Gas emissions in the developed countries raised living standards for their citizens but contributed heavily to the accumulated carbon dioxide burden, now measured at about 410 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 280 ppm before the industrial revolution.

 

China and India’s role in dealing with Climate change:

  • There is international pressure on China and India to cut GHG emissions. Both countries have committed themselves to a cleaner growth path.
  • India, which reported an annual CO2 equivalent emissions of 2.136 billion tonnes in 2010 to the UNFCCC two years ago, estimates that the GHG emissions intensity of its GDP has declined by 12% for the 2005-2010 period.
  • As members committed to the Paris Agreement, China and India have the responsibility of climate leadership in the developing world, and have to green their growth.
  • What developing countries need is a supportive framework in the form of a rulebook that binds the developed countries to their funding pledges, provides support for capacity building and transfer of green technologies on liberal terms.
  • Failed agriculture in populous countries will drive more mass migrations of people, creating conflict.

 

Way forward:

  • By trying to stall climate justice to millions of poor people in vulnerable countries, the developed nations are refusing to accept their responsibility for historical emissions of GHGs.
  • Developed nations must take the responsibility of Climate change due to high level of industrialisation as compared to the developing and the under-developed countries. Developed countries, especially the U.S., need to commit funds to limit climate change
  • Obstructing the transition to a carbon-neutral pathway and preserving the status quo is short-sighted, because the losses caused by weather events are proving severely detrimental to all economies.
  • This is the time for the world’s leaders to demonstrate that they are ready to go beyond expediency and take the actions needed to avert long-term catastrophe.