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Glo-cal Climate News and Opinion Pieces

presented by young Crusaders


Updated: Mar 16, 2021

2 February is marked as World Wetlands Day to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and our planet. Wetlands are land areas that are saturated or flooded with water either permanently or seasonally. Inland wetlands include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps. Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and even coral reefs. Fishponds, rice paddies, and saltpans are human-made wetlands. Wetlands are indispensable for the countless benefits or “ecosystem services” that they provide humanity, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation. Wetlands are vital for human survival. They are among the world’s most productive environments; cradles of biological diversity that provide the water and productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. Wetlands can be thought of as "biological supermarkets." They provide great volumes of food that attract many animal species. These animals use wetlands for part of or all of their life-cycle. Dead plant leaves and stems break down in the water to form small particles of organic material called "detritus." This enriched material feeds many small aquatic insects, shellfish and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Wetlands are the world’s water filters. They trap pollutants such as phosphorus and heavy metals in their soils, transform dissolved nitrogen into nitrogen gas, and break down suspended solids to neutralize harmful bacteria.

It is speculated that upwards of half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900, despite their value to the human population. In some places the pace of wetlands destruction occurs at incredible speeds. In the Philippines, 80% of coastal wetlands have been degraded, drained or destroyed in the last 30 years. Without wetlands, human communities lose many of the vital services that they provide, including water purification, flood control, and food supply. Wetlands are often underappreciated because they are viewed as being more valuable for their water and undeveloped land than the ecosystem services they provide. They are often drained to make room for agriculture or human settlements. And any wetlands nearby left untouched may lose their own water to this development. Human activity is probably the most prevalent cause of wetland destruction or degradation. Development -- whether it's drainage, damming to form lakes or ponds, adding pavement, or diverting water flow -- affects the soil's hydrologic condition, or the presence of water in the soil. If there's no water, there's no wetland. Overgrazing by animals can cut down on the area's vegetation, leaving wetlands susceptible to erosion. Natural disasters like hurricanes or flooding can greatly erode a wetland area. While wetlands act as a buffer against these weather occurrences, they also pay the price with diminished vegetation and pollution from runoff. Pollution als­o degrades wetlands and water quality. Again, wetlands act as a natural filter for polluted water, but they can only absorb so much. Pollution enters the water table through pesticides, sediment, sewage, fertilizers and many other forms. Once a wetland is polluted, it's difficult to clean it up. The best way to keep wetlands clean is to protect them from pollution in the first place, by ensuring a contaminant-free water supply.

Spreading awareness by initiating educational programs about the importance of wetlands in local schools, colleges and among the general public in the vicinity of the water bodies, besides constant monitoring of wetlands for their water quality, would provide vital inputs to safeguard the wetlands from further deterioration. Healthy vegetation is crucial for sustaining life in the wetlands. This includes upland vegetation, fringing vegetation and aquatic plant-life. Wetland vegetation is highly specialized, in that it has evolved to thrive in varying conditions of dampness and salinity.

Within the wetland catchments, ecosystems flourish based on an energy exchange between living organisms and the non-living environment. Leaves or branches from overhanging trees and shrubs, fall and are broken down by microbes, bacteria and fungi. These, in turn, become food for larger animals within the food web. We can help in the conservation and rehabilitation efforts – by planting native flora, creating habitats for wildlife and participating in citizen science projects and initiatives.

Image credit: Wetlands International

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The first 100 days of the highest executive authority of any nation is vehemently scrutinized immediately after they are elected. The first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration is being looked at with a lot of anticipation and hope. Biden’s reiteration of his campaign pledge which stated that his administration would set a target of cutting US emissions to net zero no later than 2050, has raised the aspirations of climate activists and leaders of other nations world-wide.

Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S from the Paris agreement took place right after the day of the US elections. This decision had shocked the entire world and had shunned the Climate Ambition Summit. Quite contrary to his predecessor, Joe Biden announced that his country would hold a climate summit of the world’s major economies early next year, within 100 days of Joe Biden taking office, and seek to rejoin the Paris agreement on the first day of his presidency, in an attempt to bolster international climate action. Biden’s assertion on working with other counterparts of major economies of the world has instilled the power in many countries to tackle the menace of climate change with renewed fervor. Biden had stated that he was looking forward to elevate the work that has already been done to reduce emissions and continue to work towards a cleaner and greener future. Biden’s promise to listen to climate change activists and youngsters who have continued to draw attention to the grotesque situation that has engulfed our environment, has signaled a positive change, a change which perhaps includes a lot more dialogue and a lot less clampdown.

Biden’s pledge has been welcomed by António Guterres, the UN secretary general, who has stated that active US participation in the fight against climate change is absolutely necessary to reach the goals.

As required for participation, nations which had signed onto the Paris Agreement have come up with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which signify their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2030. Although representatives from 70 signatory nations met virtually at the Climate Ambition Summit, there were no significant advancements. Participants are hopeful that the presence of the United States of America would be enough to act as an effective antidote in CoP26 and beyond. More than empty words, the world needs concrete actions to fall back on. It is time to see how many of their campaign pledges the Biden-Harris administration care to deliver on.

Vice-President Biden speaks at the 2015 US-China Climate Leaders Summit, Los Angeles. © Image credit: The White House, creator: David Lienemann

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Updated: Feb 26, 2021

While the controversial issue of immigration continues to plague the entire world, when we look closer at the phenomenon we will eventually realise that in a world beyond anthropocentric considerations, our winged friends undertake a similar journey, seasonally, cutting across boundaries and nationalities, flying thousands of miles to meet their basic need - survival.

Birds migrate for a variety of reasons ranging from food availability, habitat, weather and furthering progeny. It is usually seen that the regular seasonal movement of birds takes place in a North-South direction in the Northern Hemisphere since sub-zero temperatures are recorded in the extreme latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and the birds seek warmer places to breed and survive these winter months. The Southern Hemisphere too witnesses a similar movement in the opposite direction, but owing to lack of sufficient land, long-distance migration is minimally recorded here. However, as the winter slowly recedes from these tropical areas and gradual warmth sets in, the birds again take a recourse to return to their original habitats. We can therefore safely claim that these birds prioritise comfort and survival, seeking to get the best of both sides.

Historically, migration of Storks, Turtle Doves and Swallows have been noticed by ancient Greek authors like Homer and Aristotle. In contemporary times, the Arctic Tern holds the record for the longest migration covering approximately 71,000 kilometres! Similarly various beautiful migratory birds flock the Indian subcontinent including Siberian Cranes, Amur Falcon, Greater Flamingo, Bluethroat etc and add to the rich biological diversity that our country possesses. However, the sailing is not always smooth for these birds as they encounter a lot of problems en route to their winter destinations. They face immense amounts of exhaustion having to travel for long hours without rest (with rising sea level and more land getting submerged, it will become increasingly difficult for these birds to take adequate rest and recuperate) and many of them falter in flight. Moreover, they even face acute shortage of food due to worldwide habitat destruction by humans. Brazen and uncontrolled deforestation have robbed such birds of stopover shelters and nutrition. Also, with the recent construction of high-rises, turbines, high-electric poles and flyovers their natural pathways are often blocked and tens of thousands of birds collide against these structures at high speed, resulting in serious permanent damage to their body. We must also not rule out poaching of rare birds that are hunted down for their body parts which are sold in the black market against very profitable bargains.

Most importantly, climate change has had the ultimate influence on such migrations. When the sole purpose of migration was to escape sub-zero temperatures and settle for something moderately cooler, habitats like the Chilika Lake along with other coastal wetlands of India have become significantly warmer (than normal) resulting in fewer birds stopping over. S. Balachandran, Deputy Director of Bombay Natural History Society observes that the ideal habitat for these birds is also being destroyed due to change in rainfall pattern. Emphasizing the importance of stopover sites utilised by birds to build energy reserves before a long migratory sojourn, Balachandran said that some sites are conventionally and conveniently used by the birds to build body mass to endure the journey. Pollution in the NCR region has severely affected the migration of these birds as is evident from the low and unseasonal turnout in the Sultanpur National Park where a record spotting of 18 species (a decade back) has dropped to a few cormorants and varieties of wagtails only.

With increasing urbanisation, deforestation, pollution, decreasing groundwater levels and shrinking habitats, there is a crisis of bird migration worldwide. It is interesting to note that in the initial days of the nationwide lockdown, lakhs of flamingos flocked Mumbai, undisturbed by the usual hubbub of city-life. Several protective measures including preservation of natural habitats, minimising use of pesticides, encouraging 'lights out' campaigns, controlling air pollution and stringent penalties on illegal poaching have already been suggested. Green Crusaders hopes that these are urgently implemented or else we stand to lose another wing of our rich biodiversity. Their freedom lies in our hands!

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