·         Sri Lanka wants an end to bottom trawling


Sri Lanka on Sunday urged India to “expeditiously” end unsustainable industrial-scale fishing in the coastal waters between the two countries.

Addressing presspersons here a day after both sides agreed to set up a Joint Working Group on the fishermen issue, a member of the Sri Lankan Parliament, M.A. Sumanthiran, said Indian trawlers were using heavy-duty fishing techniques in the coastal waters that must be ended at the “earliest”.

“Both sides made significant progress in the talks [held on November 5] that were led by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera. We agreed that the Joint Working Group would have three tasks — of expeditiously working to end bottom trawling, facilitating joint patrolling of the coastal waters, and working towards release of arrested fishermen who strayed into each other’s waters,” Mr. Sumanthiran said.

Three-point agenda

Mr. Sumanthiran, who represents the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated northern province of Jaffna, said the agreement on the three-point agenda of the JWG would help end the long-standing issue of fishing in the coastal waters between the two countries. Apart from Mr. Sumanthiran and the two Foreign Ministers, the meeting on Saturday was attended by Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries Mahinda Amaraweera and Union Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh.

Meeting schedule

Following the meeting, both sides agreed that the JWG would meet every three months and a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries would be held every six months. Both sides also agreed that there should be no military attacks by the Navies and the coast guards of the two countries in dealing with the fishermen.

The agreement to end “bottom trawling” through the JWG came at the end of a long series of discussions. Earlier, Sri Lanka had rejected the suggestion that India would phase out industrial-scale trawlers over a three-year period, arguing that such a policy would damage the marine ecosystem. “We refused the three-year timeline as it is not practical. At the end of that period, there would be no fish left due to bottom trawling,” Mr. Sumanthiran said.

  • Getting real on climate

The UN conference on climate change held in Marrakech, with an emphasis on raising the commitment of all countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, is particularly significant as it provided an opportunity to communicate concerns about the future climate policy of the U.S. It would be untenable for the U.S., with a quarter of all cumulative fossil fuel emissions, to renege on its promise to assist vulnerable and developing nations with climate funding, technology transfer and capacity-building under Donald Trump’s presidency. As the Marrakech Action Proclamation issued at the close of the conference emphasises, the world needs all countries to work together to close the gap between their intended reduction of carbon emissions and what needs to be done to keep the rise of the global average temperature well below 2°C in this century. The Paris Agreement on climate change was forged on the consensus that man-made climate change does have a scientific basis, that the developed countries are responsible for accumulated emissions, and that future action should focus on shifting all nations to a clean energy path. Not much progress was made at Marrakech on raising the $100 billion a year that is intended to help the poorer nations. Political commitment and resource mobilisation will be crucial to meet targets for mitigation of emissions and adaptation.

India is in a particularly difficult situation as it has the twin challenges of growing its economy to meet the development aspirations of a large population, and cutting emissions. National GHG levels are small per capita, but when added up they put India in the third place, going by data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center in the U.S. As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which has provisions to monitor emissions and raise targets based on a review, pressure on India to effect big cuts is bound to increase. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will hear from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 on what impact an additional warming of 1.5°C could have on the planet and what can be done to ensure it is pegged at this level. The pledges made so far are well short of this target, and even if they are all implemented, a minimum rise of 2.9°C is forecast by the UN Environment Programme. India has no historical responsibility for accumulated GHGs, but smaller, more vulnerable countries such as island states and Bangladesh are demanding action to cut emissions. A strategy that involves all State governments will strengthen the case for international funding, and spur domestic action.

  • Two-thirds of wild animals may go extinct by 2020, warns report

Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58 per cent since 1970, a report says.

The Living Planet assessment by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggests that if the trend continues that decline could reach two-thirds among vertebrates by 2020.

The figures suggest that animals living in lakes, rivers and wetlands are suffering the biggest losses.

Human activity, including habitat loss, wildlife trade, pollution and climate change contributed to the declines.

Dr. Mike Barrett. head of science and policy at WWF, said: “It’s pretty clear under ‘business as usual’ we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we’ve reached a point where there isn’t really any excuse to let this carry on.” However, the methodology of the report has been criticised.

The Living Planet Report is published every two years and aims to provide an assessment of the state of the world’s wildlife.

This analysis looked at 3,700 different species of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles — about 6 per cent of the total number of vertebrate species in the world.

The team collected data from peer-reviewed studies, government statistics and surveys collated by conservation groups and NGOs. Any species with population data going back to 1970, with two or more time points (to show trends) was included in the study. The researchers then analysed how the population sizes had changed over time.

Some of this information was weighted to take into account the groups of animals that had a great deal of data (there are many records on Arctic and near Arctic birds, for example) or very little data (tropical amphibians, for example). The report authors said this was to make sure a surplus of information about declines in some animals did not skew the overall picture.

The last report, published in 2014, estimated that the world’s wildlife populations had halved over the last 40 years.


  • Lifelines that can sound death knells

Thin lines criss-crossing and connecting the country, like arteries and veins connecting different organs of the human body, drive the economy. Rail lines, roadways, canals and electricity cable networks occupy pride of place in India’s rapidly growing infrastructure. Investments in them have been huge and their expansion immense. It is a win-win situation, it is argued, and that benefits all.

At first sight, these seem rather harmless: the widest highways are less than 30 metres wide and a double line on a broad gauge railway is 10 metres wide at most. What impact can these have? But look closely, and these seemingly innocuous lines, together called linear intrusions, are cutting up wildlife habitats and affecting wildlife conservation in a way that we have never seen before.

Recent proposals

Even a casual look at what the media has reported in the past year gives us a glimpse of what is happening. There are proposals for a railway line and for the widening of NH-44, both within the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, and for a 65km road connecting Chikkamagaluru and Dakshina Kannada that will require 30,000 trees to be felled. Fifteen animal deaths were reported in two months earlier this year on a highway near Haridwar in Uttarakhand. There is a proposal to reopen the 60km-long stretch of road for regular traffic within the Kawal Tiger Reserve in Telangana. Flamingos and bustards have been electrocuted by high tension power lines in Gujarat, highways have destroyed some of the most important wildlife corridors in eastern Maharashtra, and elephant deaths occur in railway accidents across the country.

It is no coincidence that an increasingly large number of forest and wildlife-related proposals coming up for approval are for such intrusions. Of the 266 projects approved under the Forest Conservation Act in the last three years, more than half (125 road projects, 20 transmission lines and two for railways) were for linear projects. Of another 174 granted in-principle approval within the same period, more than 50 per cent were again for linear projects: 78 for roads and 12 for transmission lines respectively. In the first six months of 2016, the Regional Empowered Committee, Nagpur, of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) sanctioned the diversion of 263 hectares of land for linear projects. This is nearly 75 per cent of the total 351 hectares for which the committee granted approval. And as was reported in The Hindu (“The long road to growth”, March 19, 2015), the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF considered diversion of over 3,300 hectares of forests for 28 linear projects in just four meetings between September and December 2014. All this is in addition to the larger legal and policy framework that is making the process for granting these approvals simpler and faster.

Each linear intrusion project has a significant ecological impact. For instance, studies in the field of road ecology suggest that ‘edge effects’ impact a much larger area than what is actually set aside for the project itself. Animal behaviour is affected, plant diversity is reduced, wildlife habitat is fragmented and eventually lost, and all this is in addition to the hundreds of animals killed every day in road and train accidents, or by electrocution.

And when hundreds of these linear intrusions are implanted on the landscape simultaneously, the severity of the consequences can only be imagined. A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on road infrastructure underlines the collective impact. It notes, for instance, that the infrastructure boom being seen currently in Asia is likely to lead to the construction of nearly 11,000km of new transport projects, carving up the habitats of flagship species such as the tiger and preventing them from moving across the large ranges that they require. Dealing with this infrastructure boom, the report suggests, will be a bigger challenge than looking after protected areas or dealing with the poaching threat. There cannot be a more urgent wake-up call in the matter.

Working together

What is unfolding before us is nothing short of a nightmare for India’s wildlife and this issue needs urgent attention. The first step would be to recognise and accept the huge impact of linear infrastructure on wildlife and wildlife habitat. It follows that civil engineers, spatial planners, conservationists and ecologists should work together with policymakers, bureaucrats and politicians to develop the common framework needed to negotiate this challenge. Where possible, planning processes should avoid placing linear infrastructure in forests and other wilderness areas. Only when this is impossible should minimisation and mitigation be considered, and when all else fails, attempts should be made to compensate for the loss to the nation by offsetting.

These lifelines of the economy are the death lines for the natural infrastructure on which everything depends. India’s long-term ecological sustainability is being ruthlessly sacrificed for short-term economic gain, and these are damages that can scarcely be undone. The faster we recognise this and initiate course correction, the better it will be for all of us and for the future.

Pankaj Sekhsaria is a member of Kalpavriksh and editor, Protected Area Update. Shashank Srinivasan is a conservation scientist currently with WWF-India as Coordinator for Spatial Analysis. Views are personal.