Walking the talk: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is pushing for environmental sustainability to be at the core of the COVID-19 economic recovery plan | Photo: Deccan Herald

Phase out coal, end fossil fuels, UN secy general tells India

United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres told India this past fortnight that the country must be ‘at the helm’ of leading efforts to combat climate change. Guterres, who was delivering the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), pushed for environmental sustainability to be at the core of economic recovery from the current global recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Guterres urged the Indian government to move away from coal and other fossil fuels, and further accelerate the clean energy transition in the country. 

500 scientists, academics urge govt to withdraw draft EIA 2020  

Scientists and researchers from leading institutions such the Indian Institute of Technology (the IITs) have urged the Union environment ministry to withdraw the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, saying it is likely to “seriously threaten our country’s ecological and environmental security.”

The open letter by five hundred scientists and academics says the Draft Notification neither adheres to the fundamental objectives of its parent legislation, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1983, nor does it align with India’s commitments under various international agreements and conventions.  The government has received around 1.7 million letters and emails with objections to the draft. 

The draft, released on March 23, has become contentious as it seeks to rewrite environmental regulations for infrastructure projects. The clauses include the regularisation of projects by allowing constructions or expansions before environmental clearance. Other concerns include proposals to shorten the time for public hearings to get consent of people affected by projects.

Union ministry exempts firms from making upfront NPV payments

In yet another example of how the COVID-19 pandemic is being used as an excuse to shirk off responsibility, the Union Ministry exempted firms from upfront payment of net present value (NPV) of the forests diverted for mining until March 31 next year, or up to two months after the Covid-19 pandemic ends, whichever is earlier. The mining firms had initially asked for the annualisation of NPV payments citing the economic downturn because of the pandemic. The ministry found this to be unfeasible, but instead allowed the firms some more time to make the payments. The exemption was given on the condition that an interest of 12% p.a. would be paid till then and thereafter. 

Uttarakhand draft ecotourism policy a threat to biodiversity?

The Uttarakhand government has come up with a draft policy that envisages using vast stretches of forests (which make up 65% of the state) for ecotourism activities. On paper, the draft policy is pushing for this to ensure livelihood for the locals, but environmentalists are concerned that the move could disrupt wildlife in the area, especially endangered species. 

‘70% data on afforestation incorrect or incomplete’

In a country where forests are already rapidly declining, does compensatory afforestation really add any value? Seems not according to a letter by Inspector General of Forest, AK Mohanty, which states that about 70% data on compensatory afforestation was “incorrect or incomplete”. The letter was sent to principal secretaries for forests of all states and Union territories. The letter highlighted discrepancies such as ‘improper digitisation of polygons resulting into mismatch with topographic features’, ‘uploading of polygons with digitisation errors’ and ‘incomplete quantitative and qualitative detail of plantations furnished in the attribute table’.

UN considers hosting extra meeting in 2021 ahead of COP26

In a bid to make up for lost time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN is considering hosting an extra meeting in 2021 to help countries prepare ahead of the crucial COP26 summit, which will be held in November next year. The summit was to be held this year and had to be pushed along with a preparatory meeting to be held in Bonn, Germany. 

Forest clearances spiked in Indonesia during COVID-19 lockdown

Forest clearances spiked in Indonesia while the country was in lockdown this year mainly because travel restrictions crippled environmental law enforcement. According to data from the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) laboratory at the University of Maryland, forest loss in Indonesia rose 50% in the first 20 weeks of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

UK won’t accept sponsorship from fossil fuel firms to host COP26

In a bold move, the UK government said it would not accept sponsorship from fossil fuel companies to host the UN climate summit in Glasgow next year. The country has been looking for sponsors to fund the event that will cost an estimated £250 million. This is a huge change from previous years where polluting behemoths sponsored the event in order to appear ‘green-friendly’. For COP26, however, the UN expects sponsors to have a detailed plan on cutting emissions to net zero by 2050.

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