Global Eco Watch: ‘Strongest storm on Earth’ in 2020, slams into the Philippines

Down To Earth brings you the top happenings in the world of global ecology
A high-resolution picture of the eye and core structure of Super Typhoon Goni. Photo: @AlexLubbers2 / Twitter
A high-resolution picture of the eye and core structure of Super Typhoon Goni. Photo: @AlexLubbers2 / Twitter

Typhoon Goni, which is expected to be the ‘strongest storm on Earth’ this year, made landfall in Catanduanes, an island province in the Philippines, at 4:50 am local time November 1, 2020, the New York Times reported.

The storm has been categorised as a ‘Super Typhoon’ and hit Catanduanes at a wind speed of 165 miles per hour.

The eye of the storm will pass near Metro Manila, the capital region of the Philippines on the northern island of Luzon. The area is home to more than 24 million people.

Goni is the 18th storm of 2020 for the Philippines. It comes days after Typhoon Molave passed over the country, killing 22 people and forcing tens of thousands to evacuate before moving on to Vietnam, where it caused deadly landslides.

People in areas that are in the path of the storm were evacuated beginning October 30. Nearly a million people had been evacuated in southern Luzon October 31.

Number of leopards rises on China’s Loess Plateau

The number of leopards has risen on the Loess Plateau in northern China, according to a recently published study by the University of Copenhagen and Chinese researchers.

The study found that the numbers of the North Chinese Leopard increased to 110 in 2017, from 88 in 2016, an increase of 25 per cent, according to a statement by the university.

The researchers think that the numbers have continued to rise in the years since. The scientists covered 800 square kilometres of the Loess Plateau for the study.

The rise in leopard numbers is being attributed to the reforestation of the plateau and restocking it with the natural prey of the leopard such as wild boar and deer 20 years by the Chinese government.

As the landscape has recovered, the leopard population has bounced back.

Trump Administration ends federal protection for the gray wolf

The Donald Trump administration announced October 29, 2020, that it was removing the gray wolf from under the Endangered Species Act and removing all protections that the category carried.

The administration had first mooted the delisting last year, which was met with a storm of protests from conservationists, members of Congress and citizens.

The recent decision too was decried by conservationists who said the gray wolf had rebounded in only 15 per cent of its former range and needed federal protection if its numbers were to rise further.

The gray wolf was first put in the ‘Endangered’ category in 1974. Having been removed from it now means the species can become a target of hunters and trappers all over the United States.

This would especially be the case in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, which are also key battleground states in the 2020 US Presidential election. The decision may have been a sop by Trump to rural populations, especially livestock owners and hunters, according to a report by news agency AFP.

Sri Lanka starts sending back bio-medical waste to UK

Sri Lanka October 31, 2020, started shipping 242 containers of hazardous bio-medical waste back to Britain after a two-year-long battle by an environmental organisation.

20 containers containing the waste, including rags, bandages and body parts from mortuaries, were loaded into the MV Texas Triump October 30. Another 65 containers will be sent in a week’s time, according to science website

The waste had come to Sri Lanka between September 2017 and January 2018. The Centre for Environmental Justice, a non-profit, had petitioned courts to get it rejected.

Two weeks ago, Sri Lanka’s court of appeal ordered the waste to be sent back, stating it had been brought to the country in violation of local and international shipping norms.

Project Lion could displace Maldharis within Gir to create ‘inviolate space’

Maldharis, a traditional pastoral people found in and around the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, might end up being uprooted from their homes, if the Project Lion proposal takes shape, a Down To Earth (DTE) investigation has shown.

The proposal, created by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Gujarat forest department, talks of creating ‘an inviolate space of 1,000 square kilometres’ (sq km).  

Inviolate spaces are areas free from anthropomorphic pressures. Resource extraction of forest produce like fuel wood, fodder and minor forest produce as well as human habitation are not allowed in such places.

Project Lion was launched by Narendra Modi August 15, 2020. DTE has accessed the proposal document.

Lions are found in Gujarat across an area of 30,000 sq km called the Asiatic Lion Landscape (ALL). But only 250 sq km of the Gir National Park is the exclusive space for lions while the rest is shared with people, according to the Project Lion proposal.

These people are the Maldharis, who have resided in the area for several generations. They live in settlements called ness and make their living by selling milk from their water buffaloes.

The proposal reads: It is important that Project Lion restores sufficient exclusive lion habitat of about 1,000 sq km through incentivised voluntary relocation of forest villages and Maldhari (local pastoral communities) settlements from within the Gir Conservation Areas so that the only surviving Asiatic lion population gets the space it requires for performing its ecological role.

The proposal draws from the practices adopted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the national body in charge for steering the government’s flagship tiger conservation programme, Project Tiger.

An inviolate space of 800-1,000 sq km is required as ‘core area’ for a tiger reserve and with a buffer of another 800-1,000 sq km, according to the NTCA’s rules for tiger conservation.

The Project Lion proposal acknowledges that the Maldharis who stay within the Gir protected area, make a 75 per cent higher profit compared to those living outside it due to free access to grazing, sale of manure with topsoil and compensation for predated livestock.

“Therefore, an appropriately lucrative rehabilitation package for incentivised relocation would need to be worked out and offered to all forest dwellers within the core zone to relocate outside with hand holding and additional perks which may be available from the Gujarat State Government,” the proposal says.

The budgetary outlay proposed for the relocation of 2,500 Maldhari families has been kept at Rs 500 crore over the next 10 years, with each family eligible for a compensatory sum of Rs 20 lakh.

0.85 million viruses in birds and mammals can infect people: IPBES paper

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), in an extraordinary research paper, has warned that pandemics like novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) would hit us more frequently and also kill more than the current one.

The IPBES report has been authored by 22 experts from across the world. The report has analysed the contribution of human-induced environmental damages in the emergence of new diseases.

“Land use change is a globally significant driver of pandemics and caused the emergence of more than 30 per cent of new diseases reported since 1960,” says the report released October 29, 2020.

“Although COVID-19 has its origins in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics, its emergence has been entirely driven by human activities,” says the report.

We are yet to identify some 1.7 million viruses that exist in mammals and birds. Out of these, 50 per cent have the potential or ability to infect humans.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics,” says Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and Chair of the IPBES workshop that released the report.

Farms, cities eat up 148 million hectares of biodiversity hotspots in 24 years: Study

Top biodiversity hotspots of the world lost 148 million hectares (mha) of land to agriculture and urbanisation between 1992 and 2015, a global analysis released October 30, 2020, by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said.

Most of the land lost — nearly 40 per cent, or 54 mha — was in the form of forests. The three largest losses in forest area occurred in the biodiversity hotspots of Sundaland (Indonesia), Indo-Burma (mainland southeast Asia) and Mesoamerica.

The three hotspots accounted for forest losses of 11 mha, 6 mha, and 5 mha respectively. This corresponds to a relative loss of 13 per cent, six per cent and seven per cent, respectively, of the forest area originally present in 1992, the study showed.

A ‘biodiversity hotspot’ was defined as an area that contained “exceptional concentrations of endemic species that were undergoing exceptional loss of habitat”, according to the team that conducted the study.

These areas compose 2.3 per cent of the Earth’s surface but have more than half of the world’s endemic plant species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Thirty-four biodiversity hotspots were covered under the study.

Sundaland, Indo-Burma and Mesoamerica are all in the tropics. They lost forests due to three major reasons, according to the study:

  • To grow food and feed a growing population as well as the need to increase income
  • The high fertility of soil in these areas
  • Weak environmental protection laws and regulations

Not even protected areas inside the hotspots were spared from deforestation, according to the study.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

La Nina is back; what does that mean for Africa, Asia

The La Niña weather phenomenon is back in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean after nearly a decade’s absence, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its latest Global Seasonal update released October 29, 2020.

La Niña will result in sea surface temperatures between two and three degrees Celsius cooler than average, Maxx Dilley, deputy director in charge of Climate Services Department at WMO, was quoted as saying in a press statement.

However, 2020 is on track to be one of the warmest years on record and 2016-2020 is expected to be the warmest five-year period on record, Dilley said.

La Niña could last into 2021, affecting temperatures, precipitation and storm patterns in many parts of the world, according to WMO.

There is a high possibility (90 per cent) of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures remaining at La Niña levels through the end of 2020 and maybe through the first quarter of 2021 (55 per cent).

The La Niña of 2020 is expected to be moderate to strong. The last time there was a a strong La Niña event, was in 2010-2011, followed by a moderate event in 2011-2012.

There were a series of floods in Pakistan and Northwest India in 2010 that were attributed to the weather phenomenon.

La Niña means the large-scale cooling of ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, together with changes in the tropical atmospheric circulation, namely winds, pressure and rainfall.

It has the opposite impacts on weather and climate as El Niño, which is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

The Horn of Africa and central Asia will see below average rainfall due to La Niña, WMO said.

East Africa is forecast to see drier-than-usual conditions, which together with the existing impacts of the desert locust invasion, may add to regional food insecurity, WMO warned.

La Niña could also lead to increased rainfall in southern Africa, WMO said. This was indicated by some recent seasonal forecast models, it added.

La Niña could also affect the South West Indian Ocean Tropical Cyclone season, reducing the intensity.

Southeast Asia, some Pacific Islands and the northern region of South America are expected to receive above-average rainfall.

In India, La Niña means the country will receive more rainfall than normal, leading to floods.

Healthy diet means a healthy planet? Not always, says study

Adoption of a healthy diet has long been associated with making the planet healthier. But a new study has challenged the link between healthy eating and environment sustainability, saying these diets can have a negative influence on the environment.

The study, published in Nutrition Journal 27 October, 2020evaluated the relationship between observed diet quality and environment using a nationally representative data on food intake. Higher diet quality was associated with greater per capita total food demand, as well as greater retail loss, inedible portions, consumer waste, and consumed food, according to the study.

The data, acquired from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2005–2016), examined the diets of 50,014 individuals in the United States as well as the amount of agricultural land, fertiliser nutrients, pesticides and irrigation water used to produce food.

The researchers calculated the resource use of food consumed as well as the food that was wasted at the grocery store and at homes.

Consumed food accounted for 56-74 per cent of agricultural resource use (land, fertiliser nutrients, pesticides, and irrigation water); retail loss accounted for 4-6 per cent; inedible portions 2-15 per cent; and consumer waste 20-23 per cent, according to the study.

The study focused primarily on the United States. Poor diet quality is the leading risk factor for premature death there, accounting for over 11 million deaths worldwide. Shifts in diet quality among Americans, therefore, would have meaningful implications for environmental sustainability within the US borders and beyond, the study stated.

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