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Daily Category  (Environment)

Project Snow Leopard (PSL)

Context:

On the International Snow Leopard Day 2020, the Minister of State for Environment has mentioned that the government is committed to landscape restoration for snow leopard habitat conservation.

Project Snow Leopard (PSL):

  • The project was launched in 2009
  • Objective: To protect the snow leopard and its habitat ensures protection of the major Himalayan rivers that support the teeming millions downstream. 
    • It also ensures that the ecological balance is maintained in these fragile ecosystems.
  • Under the project, the First National Protocol was launched on Snow Leopard Population Assessment which has been very useful for monitoring populations.
  • In 2009 the government hosted the 4th Steering Committee of the GSLEP program in New Delhi. 
  • This meeting resulted in the “New Delhi Statement” of strengthening the resolve of the snow leopard range countries towards conservation of the mountain ecosystems of Central and South Asia.

Initiatives:

  • Flagship Species: The Government of India has identified the snow leopard as a flagship species for the high-altitude Himalayas.
  • SECURE Himalaya: Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded the project on conservation of high altitude biodiversity and reducing the dependency of local communities on the natural ecosystem. 

Snow Leopard:

  • The snow leopard is found in 12 countries India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • The snow leopard is found along the upper reaches of the Himalayan range and, in India, it is found in Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.

Conservation status:

  • In IUCN red list it is under the Vulnerable category.
  • Schedule I in the Wild Life Protection Act 1972.
  • It is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

Source: The Hindu

Radhanagri Wildlife Sanctuary (RWS)

Context:

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has notified 250.66 sq km around Maharashtra’s Radhanagri Wildlife Sanctuary (RWS).

Background:

  • In October 2018, the Supreme Court ordered a mining company to stop operations at Durgmanwadi (within 10 km of RWS) as it was allegedly operating within the ESZ limits of the sanctuary without a wildlife clearance. 
  • In December 2018, the SC directed the MoEFCC to declare ESZs around 21 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries without buffer zones. In 2019, areas around Tungareshwar and Tansa wildlife sanctuaries in the state were also notified as ESZ.

Details:

  • The notified area is home to elephants and tigers, as an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). The zone is meant to act as a buffer and a “shock absorber” for protected areas.
    • The ESZ is supposed to act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to less protection.
    • The National Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016 had identified them as “vital ecological corridor links” and stressed that they must be protected to prevent isolation of fragments of biodiversity.
  • Areas around Radhanagri Wildlife Sanctuary located towards the southern hills of the Sahyadri range of Western Ghats were being considered by the mining lobby.
  • New mining projects, stone quarrying, major hydroelectric projects, setting up of brick kilns, and other red industries are prohibited in the ESZ.
  • Organic farming, agriculture, small-scale industries, and minor infrastructure work are permitted.

Radhanagri Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • It is a wildlife sanctuary and natural World Heritage Site, located in Kolhapur district, Maharashtra.
  • The sanctuary is spread across 351.16 sq km known to serve as a corridor for tigers and elephants moving between three states — Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
  • It lies at the southern end of the Sahyadri hills in the Western Ghats.
  • It is notable as the first declared wildlife sanctuary in Maharashtra, notified in 1958, as Dajipur Wildlife Sanctuary and is popularly known as the Bison Sanctuary.
  • RWS is home to 264 bird species (migratory and resident), 47 species of mammals, 59 species of reptiles, 20 species of amphibians, and 66 species of butterflies.
  • The Krishna River tributaries i.e. Bhogavati River, Dudhganga River, Tulshi River, Kallamma River and Dirba River flow through the sanctuary area.

Source: Indian Express

Migration of Butterflies 

Context:

In August 2020, an unusual phenomenon took place when thousands of butterflies were seen traveling from the Eastern Ghats to the Western Ghats.

Details:

  • The two seasonal butterfly migrations is an annual event that occurs between the Western and Eastern Ghats of the Indian peninsula in search of food and survival.
  • The Nilgiris are one hub for the migratory butterflies. Lakhs and lakhs of butterflies fly through the Nilgiri hills from the Kallaru corridor and Thengumorahada.
  • Dark blue tiger, blue tiger, common crow, and double branded crow are the common migratory butterflies between the Ghats

Reasons for migration:

  • Intense rain: The intense rain in the Western Ghats complex during the southwest monsoon makes it difficult for the butterflies to survive.
    • Before the onset of the southwest monsoon, butterflies start their first migration from the Western Ghats to the plains and to the Eastern Ghats in order to avoid the inclement weather.
    • In the Western and Eastern Ghats, it is clear that altered rain patterns have affected the migration patterns of butterflies.
  • Ideal climate: The Eastern Ghats provide the ideal climate for the butterflies to survive during the southwest monsoon.
    • The migratory adults become reproductive, breed, lay eggs, and die the successive generation starts to migrate back from the Eastern Ghats.
    • The second migration took place early in 2020 due to heavy rainfall in the Eastern Ghats during the southwest monsoon.
    • The butterfly offspring population would not have been able to survive in the Eastern Ghats with unviable weather conditions and a lack of food, forcing an early migration.

Butterflies: Indicators of Climate Change:

  • The Butterflies are bioindicators and the early migration means an early arrival of monsoon.
  • With climate change altering weather phenomena across the world, tracking and studying seasonal butterfly migrations have assumed greater significance.
  • The butterflies originate from Western Ghats ranges, such as Kodagu, Wayanad, Nilgiris, Siruvani, and Anamalai, and move toward the Eastern Ghats consisting of Yercaud, Pachamalai, Kolli, and Kalvarayan hills during the first migration.
  • The migration between the Ghats is a form of local migration but other types of migration are also prevalent among butterfly species in the hills of peninsular India.

Source: Indian Express

New Species of Sub-Aerial Diatoms

Context:

The seven new species of sub-aerial diatoms have been discovered from some areas of Western Ghats by city-based scientists from the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI).

Diatoms:

  • Diatoms are single-celled algae which generate nearly 25 % of global oxygen.
  • They are the only organism on the planet with cell walls composed of transparent, opaline silica.
  • They are commonly found in streams, rivers, lakes, and seas.

Significance:

  • Diatoms have light-absorbing molecules (chlorophylls a and c) that collect energy from the sun and turn it into chemical energy through photosynthesis.
  • The diatoms remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through carbon fixation.
  • The CO2 is converted to organic carbon in the form of sugar, and oxygen (O2) is released.
  • Diatoms produce long-chain fatty acids.
  • Diatoms are an important source of energy-rich molecules that are food for the entire food web, from zooplankton to aquatic insects to fish to whales.
  • Zooplanktons depend on phytoplankton for their food and other matter found in the sea (heterotrophs).
    • Phytoplankton and zooplankton: ‘Phyto‘ is used for small plants like diatoms and algae and ‘zoo‘ is used for small animals like tiny fish, crustaceans, which are weak swimmers and just move along the currents.
    • Plankton refers to the smallest aquatic plants or animals that float and drift in the limnetic zone of water bodies.

Carbon fixation:

  • It is also called ?arbon assimilation.
  • It is the process by which inorganic carbon (particularly in the form of carbon dioxide) is converted to organic compounds by living organisms.
  • The organic compounds are then used to store energy and as building blocks for other important biomolecules.
  • Photosynthesis is the most prominent example of carbon fixation. Chemosynthesis can take place in the absence of sunlight.
  • Organisms that grow by fixing carbon are called autotrophs, which include photoautotrophs (which use sunlight), and lithoautotrophs (which use inorganic oxidation).
    • Heterotrophs are not themselves capable of carbon fixation but are able to grow by consuming the carbon fixed by autotrophs.

Source: Indian Express

Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility

Context:

The CSIR-Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute developed the Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility.

Features of Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility:

  • Bio-methanation Plant: CSIR-CMERI have started an innovative technology of producing the Biogas from grass and weeds and Vermi-composting of Slurry of the plant process. 
    • The Bio-Digestion process adopted has a minimum pollution factor. 
    • The MSW facility has special disinfection capabilities to help Break the COVID Chain through UV-C Lights and Hot-Air Convection methods. 
    • The Smokeless Stove has also been developed to utilize these briquettes. 
    • Such stoves have the benefits of Reduction in the import of LPG and reduction in pollution.
  • Targeting a Zero landfill:  The latest technology being used by Institute is the Pyrolysis process wherein the conversion of plastics into gas and fuel is done. 
    • Heavy oil, gas being used in pyrolysis helps in obtaining self-sustainability.  
    • Through Plasma Gasification Process also eco-friendly disposal of solid wastes is processed without the formation and reformation of toxic dioxins and furans.
    • Solid Waste Disposal using Plasma Arc converts wastes into a plasma state for proper disposal. 
  • Wealth out of waste: The residues generated having good carbon content are used in agriculture as fertilizer and non-usable are utilized to make bricks for construction purposes. 
    • Solar energy technology, which can also feed the surplus Energy Supply onto a Mini-Grid.
    • It can result in a drastic reduction of expenditure related to Transportation Logistics and can help reductions in CO2 emissions, by reducing fossil fuel usage. 

Significance:

  • The processing facility has not only helped to achieve the Decentralised Decimation of Solid Wastes but has also helped create value-added end-products from waste.
  • The changing ecological scenarios require special attention to address the issue of ‘Sustainable Processing of Municipal Solid Waste’.
  • This CSIR-CMERI MSW Technology envisions a Zero-Landfill and a Zero Waste City in addition to developing Job-Creation opportunities. 

Pyrolysis:

  • The word pyrolysis is coined from the Greek words "pyro" which means fire and "lysis" which means separating.
  • It is a process of chemically decomposing organic materials at elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen.
  • The process occurs at temperatures above 430 °C and under pressure.
  • It simultaneously involves the change of physical phase and chemical composition and is an irreversible process.

Source: PIB

The Geneva Conventions

Context:

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) requested to Indian and Chinese governments that they observe the Geneva Conventions to which both countries are signatories.

  • The committee has requested after the Galwan clash in Ladakh in June 2020.

The Geneva Conventions (1949):

  • It is an international treaty that contains the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war.
  • It protects people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).

Features:

  • The first Geneva Convention: It protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during the war.
  • The second Geneva Convention: It protects wounded, sick, and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during the war.
  • The third Geneva Convention: It applies to prisoners of war.
  • The fourth Geneva Convention: It affords protection to civilians, including in occupied territory.

Article 3 of Geneva Conventions:

  • This article is common to the four Geneva Conventions.
  • It covers situations of non-international armed conflicts.
    • They include traditional civil wars, internal armed conflicts that spill over into other States, or internal conflicts in which a third State or a multinational force intervenes alongside the government.

Protocols of 1977:

  • Additional to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions were adopted in 1977. They strengthen the protection of victims of international (Protocol I) and non-international (Protocol II) armed conflicts and place limits on the way wars are fought.
  • In 2005, a third Additional Protocol was adopted creating an additional emblem, the Red Crystal, which has the same international status as the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems.

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC):

  • It is an international humanitarian organization established in 1863.
  • It has the mandate to monitor that signatories follow the rules in situations of conflict.
  • The ICRC operates worldwide, helping people affected by conflict and armed violence and promoting the laws that protect victims of war.
  • Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The ICRC is funded mainly by voluntary donations from governments and from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Source: Indian Express

Third Assembly of International Solar Alliance (ISA)

Context:

India and France re-elected as the President and Co-President of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) for a term of two years at the Third Assembly held on 14 October.

Vice-Presidents:

  • Four new Vice-Presidents also have chosen to represent the four regions of ISA.
    • The representatives of Fiji & Nauru for Asia Pacific Region; Mauritius & Niger for Africa Region; UK & Netherlands for Europe and others Region, and Cuba and Guyana for Latin America and Caribbean Region assumed the vice presidency.

Initiatives:

  • The Assembly also approved the initiatives of the ISA Secretariat in institutionalizing ISA’s engagement with the private and public corporate sector through the Coalition for Sustainable Climate Action (CSCA).
  • The Assembly has presented the report prepared by the World Resources Institute (WRI) which identifies the sources of funds, opportunities, and constraints, in scaling up solar investments and the contribution of ISA in assisting Member countries.
  • The ISA will work with WRI to develop a roadmap for mobilization of USD 1 trillion by 2030.
  • In the wake of the global pandemic, ISA responded by setting up ISA CARES (like PM-CARES in India), an initiative dedicated to the deployment of solar energy in the healthcare sector.
    • Objective: To solarize one primary health sector in each district of the target member countries.

International Solar Alliance (ISA):

  • It is an initiative launched by the Prime Minister of India and the President of France in 2015 at Paris on the side-lines of the COP-21.
    • Objective: To collectively address key common challenges to the scaling up of solar energy in ISA member countries.
    • It also aims to undertake joint efforts required to reduce the cost of finance and the cost of technology, mobilize investments needed for massive deployment of solar energy,
  • Members: Till now, 87 countries have signed the Framework Agreement of the ISA, and of these 67 have deposited their instruments of ratification.
    • Nicaragua, a Central American country is the 87th and the latest country to sign the agreement.
  • The Government of India has allotted land to the ISA in the National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE) campus, Gurugram.
  • The government has also released a sum of Rs. 160 crore for building infrastructure and meeting day to day recurring expenditure of the ISA up to the year 2021-22.

Source: PIB

Indian tag for ‘Pak’ butterfly, ‘Chinese’ dragonfly

Context:

A ‘Pakistani’ with wings has become the 1,328th Indian of its kind around the same time as another winged creature from China earned a similar status, recently.

Key points:

  • The sighting of the two insects was published in the latest issue of Bionotes, a quarterly newsletter for research on life forms.
  • The finding of the Pakistani butterfly and Chinese dragonfly marks the first time in India.
  • These two new species have been included in lists of indigenous species. The species will add to the species richness in India.
  • The zebra skipper or Spialia zebra has added to the richness of Rajasthan’s orchid belt comprising PhulwarikiNal Wildlife Sanctuary and Sita Mata Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • India now has 1,328 species of butterflies.

Butterfly Spialia Zebra:

  • The butterfly Spialia zebra was found in Dungarpur district of Rajasthan miles south of its known home comprising Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab province of Pakistan.
  • In Pakistan, the butterfly has been recorded from areas where plants need very little water, and from cultivated areas in lowlands or arid foothills.
  • The species was first seen in [what is now] Pakistan in 1888.
  • The zebra skipper is difficult to observe because it is quite small and flies rapidly low over the ground.
  • The new finding marks the first-ever recording of this species far south of its known habitat.

Dragonfly Atratothemis Reelsi:

  • Atratothemis is a monotypic genus of dragonflies in the family Libellulidae.
  • It contains the single species Atratothemisreelsi, which is recently described and has been observed in China and Laos.
  • Little is known about the species so far, but it has been noted in lowland and submontane forest habitat near pools of water.
  • The dragonfly Atratothemisreelsi was recorded in southern Arunachal Pradesh’s Namdapha Tiger Reserve, about 1,170 km west of its previously known nearest locality of Xiaoqikong Park in China’s Guizhou Province.
  • The Atratothemisreelsi was found to resemble other blackish dragonflies, one of them confined to Australia. Its genital section distinguished it from the others.
  • It is listed as ‘’Data Deficient’’ under the IUCN list of Threatened Species.

Namdapha Tiger Reserve:

  • Namdapha, named after a river meandering through it, was declared as India’s 15th Tiger Reserve in 1983.
  • Declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1972, it was elevated to a national park in 1983 (the same year as it was made a tiger reserve).
  • It is located in the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh near the international border with Myanmar.
  • It is the fourth largest national park in India.
  • The tiger is one of 96 species of mammals found in Namdapha and others include the endemic red giant flying squirrel, clouded leopard, snow leopard, Malayan sun bear, Asiatic black bear, hoolock gibbon, and capped langur.
  • It is India’s easternmost tiger reserve.
  • It is located between the Dapha bum range of the Mishmi Hills and the Patkai range.
  • It is crossed from east to west by the Noa Dihing River that originates at the Chaukan Pass, located on the Indo-Myanmar border.

Source: The Hindu

Blue Flag certification

Context:

India becomes first nation to be awarded Blue Flag certification for 8 beaches in a single attempt.

Key Points:

  • India is the first nation to have been awarded Blue Flag certification for all the 8 recommended beaches in a single attempt.
  • Blue Flag certification has been awarded to eight beaches spread across five states and two union territories by an international jury comprising of eminent members of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Denmark-based NGO Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • Eight of India’s beaches got the eco-label of Blue Flag in a row are:
    • Shivrajpur (Dwarka-Gujarat)
    • Ghoghla (Diu)
    • Kasarkod and Padubidri (Karnataka)
    • Kappad (Kerala)
    • Rushikonda (AP)
    • Golden Beach (Odisha)
    • Radhanagar (A&N Islands)
  • India has also been awarded the third prize by the International Jury for pollution control in coastal regions under the “International Best Practices."
  • While Japan, South Korea and UAE have been conferred with a couple of Blue Flag beaches in a time frame of about 5 to 6 years, India is the first country in “Asia-Pacific” region which has achieved this feat in just about 2 years’ time.
  • With the Blue Flag Certification, India has now entered the league of 50 "BLUE FLAG” countries.

Blue Flag Certification:

  • The Blue Flag concept was first adopted as a pilot scheme in France in 1985 when French coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag based on criteria of covering sewage treatment and bathing water quality.
  • Operated by Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), Denmark, Blue Flag is an iconic voluntary award for beaches, marinas and sustainable boating tourism operators which is awarded to those that meet and maintain the criterias of a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility.FEE comprises 65 organisations in 60 member countries.

Criteria:

  • The Blue Flag beaches are considered the cleanest beaches of the world.
    The Blue Flag certification is a globally recognised eco-label accorded by "Foundation for Environment Education, Denmark" based on 33 stringent criteria under four major heads:
    • Environmental education and information,
    • Bathing water quality,
    • Environment management and conservation
    • Safety and services at the beaches.

Country with highest number of Blue Flag Beaches:

  • Over 4600 beaches, marinas and boats from around 50 countries have, so far, got the Blue Flag certification.
  • Spain with 578 Blue Flag Beaches has the highest number of Blue Flag beaches in the world, followed by Turkey that has 436 Blue Flag Beaches.
  • Greece stands third with 395 Blue Flag Beaches, closely followed by France that has 394 Blue Flag beaches and then Italy that has 342 Blue Flag Beaches.

Background:

  • In order to achieve this goal, the Environment Ministry had last month launched India’s own eco-label ‘BEAMS’ (Beach Environment & Aesthetics Management Services) under its Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) project.
  • As part of its pilot projects to embark on Blue Flag certification programme, India had initially identified 13 beaches which include Bhogave (Maharashtra), Kovalam (TamilNadu), Eden (Puducherry), Miramar (Goa) and Bangaram (Lakshadweep). But names of these five were subsequently dropped at the recommendation stage as Indian experts found one or the other relevant qualifying parameters missing at these beaches.

BEAMS:

  • India has launched its own eco-label BEAMS (Beach Environment & Aesthetics Management Services) under ICZM (Integrated Coastal Zone Management) project.
  • This program promotes beach recreation in absolute harmony with nature.
  • Objectives:
    • To Abate pollution in coastal waters
    • To promote sustainable development of beach facilities
    • To Protect & conserve coastal ecosystems & natural resources
    • To Strive and maintain high standards of cleanliness
    • To Hygiene & safety for beachgoers in accordance with coastal environment & regulations

Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) project:

  • The concept of ICZM was introduced in 1992 during the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro and most of the coastal countries in the world have been adopting ICZM principles for managing their coastal zones.
  • It is a process for the management of the coast using an integrated approach, regarding all aspects of the coastal zone, including geographical and political boundaries, in an attempt to achieve sustainability.

Source: PIB

Toxic ultrafine particles in air

Context:

IIT-D flags toxic ultrafine particles in air, need to study impact on body.

Key finding of the study:

  • ULTRAFINE PARTICLES suspended in the air constitute more than 50% of the total particulate matter of 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) size around the year in Delhi, and are associated with higher cytotoxicity in human lung cells, a new study from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi shows.
  • Data from the study sheds light on the necessity of routine monitoring of ultrafine particles that are below PM2.5 micrometres in size, and particularly PM size lower than 0.25, which is linked with more cytotoxicity — the quality of being toxic to the body’s cells.
  • The study, published in Elsevier’s peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution in September, also found that PM2.5 levels have no relation to PM<0.25 levels. “In other words, a decrease in total PM2.5 levels may not be associated with a decrease in PM<0.25 level.
  • These findings unequivocally suggest that total PM2.5 levels are not good indicators of PM<0.25 levels,” the paper states.
  • Authored by experts from IIT Delhi’s Civil Engineering and Biological Sciences department, the study is titled ‘Insights on the biological role of ultrafine particles of size PM<0.25: a prospective study from New Delhi’.
  • While the adverse impact on health from chronic exposure to PM2.5 is well established— including stroke, lung cancer, and other heart and lung related problems — different size fractions within PM2.5 have not been well studied, the study states.
  • It adds that the National Ambient Air Quality Standard has fixed a threshold for PM2.5 at 60 µg/m3 for 24 hours and 40 µg/m3 annually, but it does not have specific policies for ultrafine particles.
  • High levels of PM2.5 are recorded in Delhi every year during post-monsoon and winter months, which in the past have led authorities to declare a public health emergency on some days and close schools.
  • “Considering that PM2.5 levels in some developing countries, such as India, reach to over 15- fold higher than the recommended limit, the absolute concentration of different sizes of particles within PM2.5 may be very high and is worthy of further investigation,” the IIT study states.
  • Data for the study was collected six times every month between January and December 2017, through a cascade impact or measurement device installed at the main gate of IIT Delhi, at the height of human breathing zone— 1 to 1.5 metre.
  • Air borne particles in five sizes— 2.5, 1, 0.5, 0.25 and below 0.25 micrometres — were collected through the filters. Human lung carcinoma epithelial cells were used for cytotoxicity assessment.
  • “For PM particles of size up to 2.5 µm, 1.0 µm, 0.5 µm and <0.25 µm, the cumulative average mass concentration values were found to be highest for the post-monsoon season (October- December), followed by winter (January-February)”.
  • The observed high levels of PM in the post-monsoon and winter months may be partially explained by celebration of Diwali, agricultural residue burning in neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana, and secondary formation of particles due to favourable meteorological conditions.
  • The low temperature and high humidity during winter nights enhance the fog-smog-fog cycle and result in 2-3-fold increase in PM concentration compared to pre-monsoon and South- West monsoon season.

PM<0.25 particles:

  • Findings also show particulate matter of below 0.25 micrometres constituted the highest share in the composition of PM2.5 around the year as compared to particles of other sizes.
  • The PM<0.25 particles constituted over 40% of PM2.5 levels during post-monsoon season, and over 30% during winters and pre-monsoon period between March and May.
  • Their concentration was highest during the monsoon between June and September, constituting over 50% of PM2.5 levels.
  • Further investigation is needed to find the reason behind the spike in particles of this size during these months, the study states.
  • Exposure to ultrafine particles of below 0.25 micrometres was also associated with over two- fold higher cytotoxicity, as compared to exposure to other sizes.
  • “The highest toxicity was seen for the months of January 2017 and February 2017,”.

Source: The Indian Express

Reforms in the Exploration and Licensing Sector

Context:

The Union Cabinet has approved the Policy framework on reforms in the exploration and licensing sector for enhancing domestic exploration and production of oil and gas.

  • Objective: To attract new investment in the Exploration and Production (E&P) Sector, intensification of exploration activities in hitherto unexplored areas, and liberalizing the policy in producing basins. 

Background:

  • In 2016 the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy was approved. It replaced the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP), 1997.
  • The policy aimed at increasing transparency and decreasing the administrative discretion in granting hydrocarbon licenses. 
  • Domestic production of oil and gas was declining, import dependence was rising and investment in E&P activities was reducing. Thus, policy reform in this sector was needed.

The New policy reforms focus on four major areas:

Increasing exploration activities in unexpected areas:

  • In basins where no commercial production is there, exploration blocks would be bid out exclusively on the basis of exploration work program without any revenue or production share to Government. Royalty and statutory levies, however, will be paid by the Contractor.
    • For unallocated/unexplored areas of producing basins, the bidding will continue to be based on a revenue-sharing basis but more weightage to work program. 
    • An upper ceiling on biddable revenue share has also been prescribed to prevent unviable bids. 
    • The policy also provides for a shorter exploration period and financial incentive for the commencement of early production. 
  • The contractor will have a full marketing and pricing freedom for crude oil and natural gas to be sold at arm's length basis through a transparent and competitive bidding process.

Incentivize enhanced gas production, marketing, and pricing freedom:

  • These have been granted for those new gas discoveries whose Field Development Plan (FDP) is yet to be approved.
  • The fiscal incentive is also provided on additional gas production from domestic fields over and above normal production 

Enhanced production profile:

  • To enhance production from existing nomination fields of ONGC and OIL, an enhanced production profile will be prepared by both PSUs. 
  • For production enhancement, bringing new technology, and capital, NOCs will be allowed to induct private sector partners.

Promoting ease of doing business:

  • Measures will be initiated for promoting ease of doing business through setting up coordination mechanisms and simplification of approval of DGH, alternate dispute resolution mechanism, etc.

Significance of policy:

  • Through this policy, a transparent, investor-friendly, and competitive policy framework is envisaged to accelerate exploration activities and provide impetus to expeditious production of oil and gas. 
  • The production enhancement scheme for the nomination field of NOCs is likely to augment production by leveraging new technology, capital, and management practices through private sector participation. 
  • With enhanced E&P activities, there would be a macro-economic benefit in terms of the development of support services, employment generation, transfer of advanced technology, etc.
  • The enhanced production would help in reducing import dependence, improve the energy security of the country, and save precious foreign exchange on import bills.

Natural Gas:

  • It is found with petroleum deposits and is released when crude oil is brought to the surface.
  • Russia, Norway, the UK, and the Netherlands are the major producers of natural gas.
  • In India, Jaisalmer, Krishna Godavari delta, Tripura and some areas offshore in Mumbai have natural gas resources.
  • In 1984 the Gas Authority of India Limited was set up as a public sector undertaking to transport and market natural gas.

Source: PIB

Ratification of the Stockholm Convention

Context:

The Union Cabinet has approved the ratification of the Stockholm Convention by banning seven hazardous chemicals that are harmful to health and the environment.

  • The seven banned chemicals are listed as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) under the Stockholm Convention.
    • These are: (i) Chlordecone, (ii) Hexabromobiphenyl, (iii) Hexabromodiphenyl ether and Heptabromodiphenylether, (iv) Tetrabromodiphenyl ether and Pentabromodiphenyl ether, (v) Pentachlorobenzene, (vi) Hexabromocyclododecane, and (vii) Hexachlorobutadiene.

Details:

  • The Cabinet has delegated its powers to ratify chemicals under the Stockholm Convention to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MOEFCC) in respect of POPs already regulated under the domestic regulations thereby streamlining the procedure.

Impact:

  • Exposure to POPs can lead to cancer, damage to central and peripheral nervous systems, diseases of the immune system, reproductive disorders, and child development. 
  • The regulation prohibited the manufacture, trade, use, import, and export of these chemicals.
  • The ratification process would enable India to access the Global Environment Facility (GEF) financial resources in updating the National Implementation Plan (NIP).
  • The Cabinet further delegated its powers to ratify chemicals under the Stockholm Convention to Union Ministers of External Affairs and Environment with regard to POPs already regulated under the domestic regulations thereby streamlining the procedure.

The Stockholm Convention:

  • It is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from POPs, which are identified as chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulate in living organisms, adversely affect human health/environment, and have the property of long-range environmental transport.
  • India had ratified the Stockholm Convention in 2006. The Ministry of Environment had notified the 'Regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants Rules in 2018 under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • India had ratified as per Article 25 (4), which enabled it to keep itself in a default "opt-out" position such that amendments in various Annexes of the convention cannot be enforced on it unless an instrument of ratification/acceptance/approval or accession is explicitly deposited with the UN depositary.
  • POPs are listed in various Annexes to the Stockholm Convention after thorough scientific research, deliberations, and negotiations among member countries.

The Global Environment Facility:

  • It was established in 1991 as a pilot program with the World Bank.
  • Objective: To assist in the protection of the global environment and to promote environmental sustainability development.
  • It was restructured and become a permanent, separate institution in 1992 during the Rio Earth Summit with objectives to help tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems.

Source: All India Radio

Dust Responsible for Snowmelt in Western Himalayan Region

Context:

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that the dust is responsible for snow-melt in the Western Himalayan Region.

Details:

  • The dust particles transported from Saudi Arabia that get deposited in the Western Himalayan Region i.e. Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and western Himalaya ranges have a large role to play in the melting of snow.
  • It is the first time the role of long-distance transported dust in elevational heterogeneity of snow melting in the Himalayas has been made.
  • The dust transported as elevated aerosol layers get deposited at 1-5 km elevation and the black carbon emission is mostly a surface phenomenon and influences the melting of snow from the surface to about 3 km elevation.

Key findings:

  • The authors of the study show that the relative impacts of dust and black carbon vary with a surface elevation of the snowpack.
  • The black carbon has a larger snow albedo darkening effect than dust due to larger mass absorption efficiency.
    • Albedo is the measurement of the reflectivity of an object. It is the measure of the diffuse reflection of solar radiation out of the total solar radiation received by an astronomical body. Every object has a different albedo.
  • The study found that the radiative effects of dust deposited on snow are comparable to black carbon in the Western Himalayan Region at higher elevations.
    • It is mainly because the deposition of dust by mass is 100-1,000 times more than black carbon.
  • As the elevation increases, the influence of dust becomes greater than black carbon and the phenomenon coincides with the maximum intensity of snowmelt reduction seen at 3-5 km elevation.

Black Carbon:

  • The study found out that black carbon mainly contributes to snowmelt at lower elevation while dust is the major contributor for snowmelt at a higher elevation.
  • The Westerlies transport dust particles as elevated aerosol layers at maximum intensities mostly during the pre-monsoon period  and it gets deposited at higher elevations in the western Himalayan region.
  • The annual contribution of dust to snowmelt is likely to increase in the future as the black carbon effect at lower elevation weakens with dwindling snowpack due to the effect of global warming.

Source: The Hindu

India Celebrating Wildlife Week

Context:

India is celebrating Wildlife week from 2nd to 8th October.

  • Wildlife Week is celebrated every year in India between October 1 and 8. The annual theme of the campaign is to promote the preservation of fauna.

Background:

  • Wildlife Week was conceptualized in 1952 with the overall goal of raising awareness to serve the long-term goal of safeguarding the lives of wildlife through critical action. 
  • Indian Board of Wildlife was constituted in 1952; the wildlife day celebration started in 1955 and later upgraded to the wildlife week celebration in 1957. 
  • Indian Board of Wild Life works to improve awareness of the preservation of wildlife. 

Objectives:

  • To make people more aware of the conservation and protection of wildlife.
  • Throughout Wildlife Week, experts conduct hands-on workshops to bring the more complex aspects of wildlife conservation within the reach and understanding of all age groups. 

Theme: 

  • This year the 66th Wildlife Week was celebrated with the theme RoaR (Roar and Revive) - Exploring Human-Animal Relationships.
    • The theme aims at providing a platform to celebrate the special place of wild plants and animals in their many varied and beautiful forms.

Biodiversity in India:

  • India is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries in the world. With only 2.4% of the world’s land area, it contributes about 8% of the known global biodiversity.
  • The rich biodiversity is due to diverse ecological habitats namely Forest, Grassland, Wetland, Coastal, and Marine and Desert ecosystem.

Initiatives:

  • Central Zoo Authority has instituted the Prani Mitra awards to encourage the zoo officers and staff working towards captive animal management. 
  • A report titled “Economic valuation of ecosystem services, National Zoological Park” was also released during this occasion. This study, one of the first of its kind in India and perhaps the entire world.
  • Central Zoo Authority recognizes around 160 zoo and rescue centers that enforce global standards in animal housing and welfare. Over 567 captive animal species (with 114 species under the endangered category) with overall 56481 individual animals are currently housed in Indian zoos. 
  • The Government of India has initiated focused conservation of flagship species on Project Modes. The Project Tiger, Project Elephant, Project Snow Leopard are glimpses of this initiative. 

National Board for Wildlife (NBWL):

  • It is a statutory Board constituted officially in 2003 under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • It is chaired by the Prime Minister and is responsible for the promotion of conservation and development of wildlife and forests.
  • The board is ‘advisory’ in nature and can only advise the Government on policymaking for the conservation of wildlife.
  • The standing committee of NBWL is chaired by the Minister of Environment Forest and Climate Change.
  • The standing committee approves all the projects falling within protected wildlife areas or within 10 km of them.

Source: DD News

Strobilanthes Kunthiana

Context:

Recently, the experts have warned that the iconic flora native to the Nilgiris, including more than 30 species of Strobilanthes, could be under threat of being displaced with the continuing advance of invasive flora such as Cestrum aurantiacum and Lantana Camara.

Strobilanthes Kunthiana:

  • It is a rare plant that grows mainly in the shola grasslands of the Western Ghats in India.
  • The mass blooming of the Strobilanthes kunthiana, known commonly as the neelakurinji, gave the Nilgiris (the Blue Mountains) its iconic name.
  • Neelakurinji plant was first seen in the vicinity of the Kunthi River.
  • The Kurinjimala Sanctuary was made in Munnar exclusively to protect the Neelakurinji plants.
  • The habitat of the Strobilanthes plants in the upper Nilgiris is being eroded by the Cestrum aurantiacum and they are also threatened by other invasive species like Lantana Camara in the lower slopes.

The Kunthi River:

  • It is located in Kerala and flows through the Silent Valley National Park.
  • It is a tributary of the river Thuthapuzha, which is in turn one of the main tributaries of the Bharathapuzha River, the second-longest river in Kerala.
  • This river is mainly used by the people of Mannarkkad taluk of Palakkad district.
  • This river is known for the story of the bathing of Kunthi Devi, the mother of Pandavas. 

Lantana Camara:

  • It is a small perennial shrub, which forms extensive, dense, and impenetrable thickets.
  • It is a highly variable ornamental shrub, a native of the neotropics.
  • It is native to Central and South America but its original distribution is unclear due to the introduction of a number of ornamental varieties.
  • It is an invasive species that was introduced in tropical regions as an ornamental plant (introduced in India in 1807).
  • It is generally deleterious to biodiversity and has been reported as an agricultural weed resulting in large economic losses.

Cestrum Aurantiacum:

  • It is also known as Orange Cestrum.
  • It is native to North and South America.
  • It is an evergreen, half-climbing shrub reaching 10 ft tall.

Source: The Hindu

Suchindram Theroor Bird Sanctuary

Context:

The Suchindram Theroor Bird Sanctuary has come under threat with real estate sharks in the process of converting some wetlands into housing plots.

Suchindram Theroor Bird Sanctuary:

  • It is a protected area comprising the Suchindram Kulam wetlands and the Theroor Kulam wetlands in Tamil Nadu.
  • It is located between Nagercoil and Kanyakumari.
  • Being at the extreme southern tip of India, this area underlies the southernmost continental range of the Central Asian Flyway.
  • It is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) of India.
  • In 2015, the southernmost wintering ground of the migratory birds in the country comprising a host of wetlands in Suchindram, Theroor, and Manakudi estuary in Kanyakumari district has been declared as a conservation reserve.

Flora:

  • Suchindram pond has a large variety of aquatic vegetation including water Lilly, lotus, floating hearts, pistia, and other water plants. 

Fauna:

  • Suchindram is noted for the wide variety of migratory waterbirds that winter there, including near-threatened painted stork and spot-billed pelicans, cattle egrets, great cormorants, darters, purple swamphen, and Bronze-winged jacanas. 

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs):

  • IBAs concept is the brainchild of BirldLife International, a global partnership of conservation organization (NGOS) that strives to conserve birds, their habitats, and global biodiversity working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.
  • Initially, IBAs were identified only for terrestrial and freshwater environments but over the past decade, the IBA has been adapted and applied in the marine realm also.

Features:

  • These are places of international significance for the conservation of birds and another biodiversity.
  • Recognized world-wide as practical tools for conservation.
  • Distinct areas are amenable to practical conservation action.
  • Identified using robust, standardized criteria.
  • Sites that together form part of a wider integrated approach to the conservation and sustainable use of the natural environment.

Criteria:

  • IBA was developed and sites are identified by BirdLife International. Currently, there are over 12,000 IBAs worldwide.
  • To be listed as an IBA, a site must satisfy at least one of the following rating criteria:
    • Globally threatened species
    • Biome-restricted species
    • Restricted-range species
    • Congregations

Source: The Hindu

‘Daring Cities 2020’ Conference

Context:

Chief Minister of Delhi will be among the five urban leaders from around the world to speak at the prestigious ‘Daring Cities 2020’ conference on October 7.

  • The conference is being hosted by the ICLEI and the City of Bonn, Germany, with the support of the German government.

Daring Cities:

  • It is a global forum on climate change for urban leaders tackling climate emergencies, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • It showcases and catalyzes exemplary local climate action to tackle the climate emergency, including ambitious resilience-building and climate mitigation efforts.
  • It was created by ICLEI and the Federal City of Bonn (Germany).
  • It builds upon the experience and network established during the Resilient Cities Congresses convened annually from 2010 to 2019 by ICLEI and the Federal City of Bonn.

Daring Cities 2020:

  • It will be a three-week event comprising high level and visionary speakers, a series of informative workshops, and personal networking opportunities in a variety of virtual formats to accommodate different topics, time zones, internet bandwidth limits, and languages.
  • The event will help to set the course to COP26, Daring Cities 2021, and beyond.
  • The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in 2021 in Glasgow, UK.

Details:

  • Delhi CM has been invited alongside urban leaders and decision-makers from Bogota (Colombia), Sao Paolo [Brazil], Los Angles, and Entebbe (Uganda) to discuss multilevel action to tackle the climate emergency and environmental sustainability.
  • The event recognizes these five as daring urban leaders who are going beyond the limits imposed by their respective local contexts to take bold climate action.
  • Delhi CM will speak on how Delhi has responded to the existing climate emergency, air pollution crisis, including recent innovative solutions such as the Pusa decomposer and the first-of-its-kind EV policy in India to tackle air pollution in the Capital.
  • The distinguished leaders from Latin America, Africa, North America, and Asia will also present their thoughts on the most essential changes that should be achieved in their respective city/region in the next five years so that their plans to tackle climate emergencies are accelerated.

Source: The Hindu

New Species of Pipeworts

Context:

Scientists from the Agharkar Research Institute have discovered two new species of pipeworts in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Pipeworts (Eriocaulon):

  • It is a plant group that completes its life cycle within a small period during monsoon. It exhibits great diversity in the Western Ghats.