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NEWS UPDATE #166


CEOs whose businesses commit environmental crimes can now be tried in the International Criminal Court. The ICC is looking to clamp down on land grabbing, where multinationals take over large areas of foreign land to exploit its natural resources without benefiting the local inhabitants. The move could reshape how business is done in developing countries.

INDIA

Cyclone Ockhi tragedy: Angered by Kerala’s inaction, fisherpeople launch their own search squads
Scroll
The dispute about the number of missing people is only one of several bones of contention between the fisherpeople and the government about how the authorities responded to the threat of the cyclone and reacted to the destruction it left in its wake. Of special concern is the perceived delay in retrieving the bodies of fishermen who have drowned at sea. Many believe that the Coast Guard and the government did not act swiftly to search for missing people even six days after the cyclone had hit the state. This prompted fishermen in Vizhinjam and Poonthura to launch their own rescue operations, with the support of their parish heads. (Related: Malayalam Media Comes Under Fire for Misleading Reports on Cyclone Ockhi)

Over 300 coal-based power plants continue to emit more as deadline to comply with strict emission norms ends
The Times of India
Polluting coal-based power plants across the country were supposed to comply with strict emission norms by Thursday – a deadline set by the environment ministry two years ago. But, over 300 of them did not do so by taking refuge in a relaxed approach of the ministry towards them at the behest of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) which sought more time for these plants to install required instruments for meeting those standards. Though the ministry has not come out with a fresh deadline, its approach towards the polluting power plants prompted Greenpeace India activists and volunteers of many other civil society groups to gather outside the ministry to remind it of the expiring deadline.

India allows 16 new thermal power plants that violate stricter air pollution standards to come up
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, Scroll.in
Sixteen new thermal power plants that started operations in India between January and June violate the mandatory new air pollution regulations that the environment ministry put in place two years ago. None of them abide by the regulations under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, which require them to cap the emission of pollutants – hazardous oxides of nitrogen and sulphur – below strict prescribed limits. The new rules, notified in December 2015, imposed limits on emissions of poisonous oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, and mercury for the first time. They also tightened the norms for water consumption while putting a tighter cap on permissible levels of emission of particulate matters – tiny particles in the atmosphere that can easily enter one’s lungs. (Related: Choking Delhi has not registered a single case against air polluters in the last three years)

Soon, Policy To Restrict Pet Coke Imports: Oil Minister
Bloomberg/Quint
Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan today said the government is planning to curb the import of petroleum coke (pet coke) which is said to be a major polluter. “At present, ministry of petroleum along with ministries of environment, commerce and some other ministries are framing a policy to increase restrictions on imports of pet coke,” Pradhan told reporters at a media conference. “We are planning to implement a system to stop imports and use home-produced pet coke for non-polluting sectors, such as cement production,” he said. The statement follows reports that U.S.-based oil refineries are exporting pet coke — a carbon-rich solid material derived from oil refining — to India as there aren’t many takers for it in their country.(Related: Delhi air pollution: Centre to set up pollution task force)

Maharashtra tops list in environmental violations: National Crime Records Bureau
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra recorded most violations under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986 and air pollution control rules in all states in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2016 report. With 170 cases, environment-related offences, too, showed a 25% rise in Maharashtra compared to previous years, the data showed. According to the NCRB, 97 of 120 EPA violation cases in India in 2016 and 21 of 25 air pollution rule violation cases in India last year were from Maharashtra. In 2015, the state had recorded second highest violations under EPA with 46 offences.

Krishnagiri Dam Breach Is Wake Call For Dam Safety In Tamil Nadu And Elsewhere
SANDRP
On the evening of November 29, 2017, a shutter of Krishnagiri Reservoir Project[I] (KRP) dam in Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu has breached sounding flash flood alarm in downstream areas. The Collector C. Kathiravan has also put five districts of Krishnagiri, Tiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri, Vellore, and Villupuram on high alert following the sudden breach. The disaster management and rescue department have been called in to assess the situation. Leading a high level expert team Murugu Subramaniam Chief Engineer (CE) Public Works Department (PWD) responsible for operation and maintenance of the dam has also inspected the site which was followed by M Thambidurai. Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Uttarakhand dams: Protests force Govt of India to agree to “review” its stance
Counterview
Following protests in Uttarakhand, especially in Pithoragar and Almora, against the proposed Pancheshwar and Rupaligad dams, and in Delhi in front of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Government of India is learnt to agreed to have a re-look into all the documents received by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEFCC for the clearance of the two dams. If in protests in Delhi were led by National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG) and Mahakali Lok Sangathan (MLS), elsewhere they were led by Uttarakhand Parivartan Party, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and Uttarakhand Ekta Manch, supported by MLS activists. (Related: 1) Uttarakhand seeks Centre help to get 33 hydel power projects going in Ganga basin) 2) New Grounds Why Pancheshwar Dam Is Unviable Project)

Underground power station plans in Western Ghats raise concern
The Hindu
An underground pipeline connecting two major reservoirs, and power stations situated underneath a pristine reserve forest are part of an ambitious Rs. 5,000-crore project that environmentalists say will leave an indelible mark on the flora and fauna of the Western Ghats. The Sharavati Pumped Storage project, envisioned to generate 2,000 MW of electricity, is situated just 3.5 km from the Sharavati Wildlife Sanctuary and is expected to consume nearly 150 hectares or 371 acres of Jog Reserve Forest. The forests come between the sanctuary, Aghanashini Lion-tailed Macaque Conservation Reserve, and is part of the key, contiguous forest corridor of the Western Ghats.

Nitin Gadkari talks about river interlinking in the south
Business Standard
Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Shipping, Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari said the ministry had decided to transfer surplus water from the Godavari River to Krishna, to Pennar river (Karnataka) and finally to Cauvery to solve the water scarcity in the south. “My ministry has decided to transfer excess water from Godavari River to Krishna, to Pennar river (Karnataka) and finally to Cauvery and at the end of Cauvery it will go to Tamil Nadu,” he said. (Related: River connectivity needed similar to power grids: Gadkari)

Conservation efforts: Operation Save Kurma gets international recognition
The Week
India has got a feather on its green cap with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) awarding India with the Certificate of Commendation for its “exemplary enforcement action in its regional and global effort to combat illegal wildlife trade.” CITES, which is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is an international agreement between signatory countries to work towards combating trade in endangered species. Born from an initiative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in 1963, it is one of the largest international efforts in conservation with 183 member nations at present.

Norway’s wealth fund blacklists Vedanta, other Indian firms over rights violations, climate impact
The Wire
Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) – the world’s largest sovereign wealth or state-owned investment fund – continued to put a series of companies with Indian operations on its exclusion lists, citing human rights, environmental and climate change impacts. These include companies with substantial investments in metals, coal and thermal power. In April 2016, it divested from 13 Indian coal companies, including Coal India Ltd., NTPC, Reliance Power, Reliance Infrastructure Ltd., Tata Power, Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation and CESC, besides others. UK-based Vedanta Resources Plc., first excluded in 2007, once again made its way to the GPFG’s exclusion list.

Unchecked mining spells doom for Saranda forest in Jharkhand
Down to Earth
The saranda forests, spread over an area of over 82,000 hectares (ha) in the hilly regions of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, were once one of the most pristine regions in India and home to the largest sal forests in the country. The fundamental threat to the forests is uncontrolled mining for iron ore, both legal and illegal, which is destroying not just the wildlife but also the forests. According to the forest department, close to 1,200 ha of land within the Saranda forests were given to 85 iron ore mining companies till 2016. But the forest department’s own survey reports indicate that over 11,100 ha of forests have been lost between 1997 and 2003 in the Singhbhum region.

Pesticide, not in recommended list, a hit among farmers
The Times of india
Monocrotophos, one of the pesticides used by majority of the victims, was removed from the list of recommended chemicals by Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) much before spraying claimed over 40 lives in the region. The premier research agency of the central government issues advisories related to use of pesticide combinations on the cotton crop. Considering its hazardous nature, monocrotophos-based chemicals were removed from the list. It is already banned for use on vegetable plants.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Clear toxic waste from Union Carbide under ‘Swachh Bharat’, groups tell PM Modi
The New Indian Express
Two organisations working for survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to get the toxic waste lying in the defunct Union Carbide factory here removed under the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (SBA). Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) and Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) have made the request in a letter sent to Modi on November 30.

Saffron production to drop over 90% as Kashmir sees lowest rainfall in 35 years
Down to Earth
Kashmir’s prolonged dry spell has left saffron farmers worried yet again. Due to insufficient rainfall, the state has seen the lowest saffron productivity in the past 50 years. Farmers are considering shifting to cultivating high-density crops such as apple, walnuts and garlic. “We don’t have figures (for saffron yield) for this year. It was nothing,” Firdous Ahmad Nehvi told The New Indian Express. Nehvi is the supervising scientist at the National Saffron Mission, set up in 2010 to rejuvenate saffron cultivation in Jammu & Kashmir. The project, which aimed to raise yield from 3 kg to 5 kg per hectare, will be extended for another five years beyond 2017.

PSU banks write off Rs 55,356 crore in six months
Indian Express
India’s state-owned banks have written off loans worth Rs 55,356 crore in the first six months of fiscal 2017-18, according to data compiled by credit rating agency ICRA, as banks attempt to clean up their balance sheets after a string of defaults by firms and promoters in the wake of the economic slowdown. The write-off in the last six months — 54 per cent higher than the Rs 35,985 crore written off in the same period last year — comes at a time when banks are struggling to resolve many cases of repayment of loans and recover money stuck with corporate defaulters through insolvency proceedings.

WORLD

Red list: thousands of species at risk of extinction due to human activity
The Guardian
Thousands of animal species are at critical risk of going extinct due to unsustainable farming and fishing methods and climate change, a conservation group has warned as it released the latest red list of endangered species. In a rare piece of good news, the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] praised New Zealand for its success in turning around the fortunes of two species of kiwi, prompting it to upgrade them from endangered to vulnerable. The struggle for survival among at-risk animals – and now crops – has intensified as a result of rising human populations, economic development and drastic changes in the natural environment caused by global warming, the IUCN said. (Related: Climate change is radically reshuffling UK bird species, report finds)

Air pollution harm to unborn babies may be global health catastrophe, warn doctors
The Guardian
Air pollution significantly increases the risk of low birth weight in babies, leading to lifelong damage to health, according to a large new study. The research was conducted in London, UK, but its implications for many millions of women in cities around the world with far worse air pollution are “something approaching a public health catastrophe”, the doctors involved said. Globally, two billion children – 90% of all children – are exposed to air pollution above World Health Organization guidelines.

Ocean plastic a ‘planetary crisis’ – UN
BBC
Life in the seas risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste, the UN oceans chief has warned. Lisa Svensson said governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution. “This is a planetary crisis,” she said. “In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics, we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.” She was speaking to BBC News ahead of a UN environment summit in Nairobi. Delegates at the meeting want tougher action against plastic litter.

Daily Record Highs are Dramatically Outpacing Daily Record Lows
Climate Central
According to the 2017 U.S. Climate Science Special Report, after a rigorous reanalysis of GHCN stations back to 1930, 15 of the last 20 years had more daily record highs than daily record lows. The number of daily record highs outpaced daily record lows more than 4 to 1 in 1998, 2012, and 2016. A first look at the data from NOAA/NCEI indicates that 2017 continues the warming trend, as daily record highs are beating daily record lows by a 3.5-to-1 margin so far.

Malawi suffers blackouts as drought exposes 98% reliance on hydro power
The Guardian
Large parts of Malawi have been plunged into darkness as water levels at the country’s main hydro power plant fell to critical levels due to a severe drought, according to its electricity company. The impoverished southern African country which relies on hydroelectricity has been hit by intermitted blackouts since last year, but the outages have recently worsened, lasting up to 25 hours. The state-owned Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) said on Thursday that power output had been halved as water levels in the Shire river dropped to critical levels.

California’s Winds and Wildfires Have Pushed the Alert System Into Uncharted Territory: Purple
Time
The color-coded system showing the expected strength of the winds driving the region’s fierce wildfires has reached uncharted territory, pushing past red, which means “high” into the color that means “extreme.” “The forecast for tomorrow is purple,” said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’ve never used purple before.” Southern California has already been hit hard by three major fires that have put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed at nearly 200 homes and buildings, a figure that is almost certain to grow. (Related: 1) Why are ferocious wildfires plaguing southern California? 2) California’s Wildfire season ‘elongated by upwards of 40-50 days’)

Conservation groups file lawsuit after US President Trump illegally axed majestic Bears Ears National Monument
Earth Justice
Three days after President Donald Trump issued a proclamation taking an axe to Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, conservation organizations filed a lawsuit attacking the order as an abuse of the president’s power. Following in the footsteps of the Native American Tribes who have already sued the President, Earthjustice is representing nine conservation organizations in a suit charging that the president violated the 1906 Antiquities Act and the U.S. Constitution by eviscerating the monument. Map comparing original and shrunk boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. The unprecedented act leaves rare archaeological sites and stunning wildlands without protection from looting, prospecting, oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, or off-road vehicle damage.

CEOs can now be tried under international law at The Hague for environmental crimes
Independent
CEOs whose businesses commit environmental crimes can now be tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The ICC is looking to clamp down on land grabbing, a practise that has seen multinationals take over large areas of foreign land to exploit its natural resources without benefiting the local inhabitants. The move could reshape how business is done in developing countries says Global Witness, an NGO that has been urging the ICC to investigate the issue. (Also read:Senior Volkswagen executive jailed for seven years for Volkswagen emissions scam)

Poor bear brunt of Beijing coal cleanup with no heating at -6C
The Guardian
While middle class Beijingers breathe the cleanest air in recent winters, in Zhuozhou, a small city 20 minutes by train from Beijing’s downtown, residents are shivering through cold nights without heating. The reason: a five-year anti-pollution drive has forced rural areas in northern China to switch from dirty coal to the cleaner alternative. The massive retrofitting campaign has sent gas prices soaring while many are left without heating systems at all. Their old-fashioned coal stoves were all demolished as the government intensified efforts to phase out coal use in rural homes. As temperatures drop to about -6C, they say nights are “increasingly unbearable”, especially for seniors and toddlers. (Related: In just one year, China will add more solar PV capacity than any other country has — ever)

Conservation Goal for the Amazon Exceeded: More Than 60 Million Hectares Protected
EcoWatch
The World Wildlife Fund announced Friday that the Program for Protected Areas of the Amazon (ARPA), a joint venture with the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, has reached the goal of protecting a network of conservation units of at least 60 million hectares in the Amazon. This effort represents the conservation of 15 percent of the biome’s territory in Brazil. The largest strategy on the planet for conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests, the ARPA program is now present in 117 conservation units, including the categories of national park, state park, ecological station, biological reserve, extractive reserve and sustainable development reserve in the states of Amapá, Amazonas, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins.

Citizen journalist jailed 7 years for reporting environmental disaster in Vietnam
Mongabay
A Vietnamese court has sentenced 22-year-old Nguyen Van Hoa, an independent journalist and blogger, to seven years in prison on November 27. His imprisonment will be followed by three years of house arrest for his coverage of a major environmental disaster last year. The sentence is the latest in an ongoing crackdown on alleged dissent following the notorious 2016 Formosa chemical spill, which devastated several of Vietnam’s north-central coastal provinces in the spring of that year. Formosa Plastics Group, a massive Taiwanese conglomerate, illegally discharged huge amounts of chemical waste into the sea from a multi-billion dollar steel plant it is building in Ha Tinh Province.

Is this the end of the road for Adani’s Australian megamine?
Michael Slezak, The Guardian
Adani’s operations in Australia appear to be hanging on by a thread, as activists prove effective at undermining the company’s chances of getting the finance it needs. China seems to have ruled out funding for the mine, which means it’s not just Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine that is under threat, but also its existing Abbot Point coal terminal, which sits near Bowen, behind the Great Barrier Reef. The news that Beijing has left Adani out to dry comes as on-the-ground protests against construction of the mine pick up. Two Greens MPs, Jeremy Buckingham and Dawn Walker, have been arrested in Queensland for disrupting the company’s activities. (Also read: Australia just plugged the world’s biggest battery into its grid)

Evidence Strong Enough to Sue Fossil Fuel Companies for Climate Impacts, Study Says
Climate Liability news
Research has boosted the concepts of climate liability and corporate accountability in recent years from pie-in-the-sky theories to plausible underpinnings for litigation. Now, a new report synthesizing this research concludes there is solid evidentiary basis for holding fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change. “The knowledge these companies had about the nature of their product and what it would do to the climate is important for different concepts of legal responsibility,” said CIEL staff attorney Steven Feit, a co-author of the report.

US military agency invests $100m in genetic extinction technologies
The Guardian
A US military agency is investing $100m in genetic extinction technologies that could wipe out malarial mosquitoes, invasive rodents or other species, emails released under freedom of information rules show. The documents suggest that the US’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has become the world’s largest funder of “gene drive” research. Technology could be used to wipe out malaria carrying mosquitos or other pests but UN experts say fears over possible military uses and unintended consequences strengthen case for a ban. (Related: Genetically mutated rats to be released in London to solve pest epidemic)

A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Counterpunch
The presence of the man-made radioactive isotope, ruthenium 106, was detected in the atmosphere in early October by a French nuclear safety institute and by a Danish monitoring station, but only recently confirmed by Russia’s meteorological agency. However, the Russian authorities continue to deny that the releases came from one of their nuclear facilities and the source of the release is yet to be identified. And the release of ruthenium 106 is a massive one, indicating a major accident, not a minor leak. The French radiological institute for nuclear safety IRSN) calculated the release at 300 Terrabequerels. To put this in perspective, it is an amount equivalent to 375,000 times the annual release of ruthenium 106 authorized for a French nuclear power plant.

 

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