Thursday, October 23, 2014

My latest article: 'Arrest Mangrove Destruction or Prepare for Disaster' published in Odishasuntimes.Com


By Ranjan Panda*
Although mangroves make up less than one percent of all tropical forests worldwide, their contribution to mitigation of climate change is huge. Unfortunately, however, they are facing the fastest ever rate of destruction. Any further delay in corrective action to protect and conserve mangrove ecosystems would not only mean huge loss of livelihood of a large number of coastal communities in the developing world, but also make us more vulnerable to devastations caused by the increasing number of cyclones.
Mangrove- asource of livelihood in Bhitarkanika ( Pic-Ranjan Panda)
Mangrove- asource of livelihood in Bhitarkanika
( Pic-Ranjan Panda)
A just published report on mangroves by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) titled, “The important of mangroves to people: A call to Action” reinforces this point.
Several research studies have now conclusively established that mangroves act as significant carbon storage systems, sequestering vast amounts of carbon – about 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare – over thousands of years. With continuing deforestation, this coastal “blue carbon” is at risk of being released back into the atmosphere when mangroves are cut down and converted into shrimp ponds or replaced by hotels, ports or used as landfill, says this report.
More importantly, emissions from deforestation of the same mangroves that act as one of the best carbon sinks make up nearly one-fifth of all global emissions due to deforestation. In fact, mangroves continue to be lost at a rate 3-5 times faster than global deforestation rates. The report estimates economic damages on account of mangrove destruction at about US$ 6-42 billion annually.
Actually, the losses to the communities dependent on mangrove ecosystems are much more than anyone can estimate. Tropical mangroves around the world connect our land and its people with the sea, providing millions with food, clean water, raw materials and resilience against future climate change impact, including increasing storm intensity and sea level rise.
Together with coral reefs, seagrass meadows and intertidal mudflats and marshes, these complex interconnected ecosystems are home to a spectacular range of visiting and resident species of birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish, all of which help maintain the ecological functioning of mangroves. In turn, this rich mosaic of biodiversity supports people through fisheries, tourism and cultural heritage, the report points out in its introduction.
Gone in 100 years?
It is estimated that people dependent on mangrove ecosystems may be deprived of the services in just about 100 years making life of these dependent communities miserable. This means the world may lose all its vital mangrove ecosystems in just a century’s time, if the current rate of degradation continues.
MangroveIt could actually be faster than that. This loss would result in serious consequences for the local people in the form of degraded economies, impoverished livelihoods, declining human security and therefore poor quality of life for the already vulnerable coastal communities in developing countries.
While a prosperous coastal community is directly dependent on a healthy mangrove ecosystem, loss of mangroves would mean disastrous consequences to the nation and the globe as a whole. The UNEP reports that over 100 million people around the world live within 10 kilometres of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events. These ecosystem services are worth an estimated US$ 33-57,000 per hectare per year to the economies of developing countries with mangroves.
However, mangroves are one of the most undervalued ecosystems in the world. There are very few studies available on the small systems and hence it is virtually impossible to quantify the value of ecosystem services of all the mangrove forests. My own view is that it is not necessary to quantify each and every ecosystem service. The fact that millions of people and other species depend on mangroves calls for our urgent attention. As humans, even if we want to become selfish and count only our own benefits, the experience of recent cyclones must stir our minds further to know the important role mangroves play in managing cyclones, sea surges and related disasters. To understand this, we need to know the basic composition of mangrove forests.
Mangroves, our wall against disasters
Uniquely positioned at the dynamic interface of land and sea, mangroves form the foundation of a highly productive and biologically rich ecosystem which provides a home and feeding ground for a wide range of species, many of which are endangered. The complex network of mangrove roots can help reduce wave energy, thus limiting erosion and shielding coastal communities from the destructive forces of tropical storms.
Mangrove cleared for prawn farming
Mangrove cleared for prawn farming
Mangroves offer natural and low-cost risk reduction mechanisms against rising sea levels and changes in the frequency and intensity of storms.
The UNEP report, citing studies already done on this, says that mangroves can rapidly reduce wave energy as they pass through the trees. The extent of reduction in the height of relatively small waves due to this natural barrier has been found to be anywhere in the range of 13% to 66% over a 100 m wide mangrove belt. The effectiveness is largely dependent on the density of the mangrove vegetation. Waves passing through dense aerial roots and tree canopies will be reduced most effectively. The provision of shelter by mangroves is not only important for people on land, but also for those operating at sea.
In case of storm surges, the report suggests – again citing studies – that mangroves can reduce storm surge levels by up to 50 cm per km width of mangroves. While large areas of mangroves are needed to significantly reduce peak water levels, even relatively small changes in water depth may result in large areas being saved from flooding, particularly in areas of low relief that are typical for mangroves.
The report further finds out that coastal forests such as mangroves cannot completely stop a tsunami, but they can absorb some of the energy of the flowing water and thus reduce the force of the impact, saving lives and reducing damage to property. Mangrove trees can also disrupt the huge flows of water as the wave recedes and block property and people from being swept back to the sea.
The Odisha Case
The UNEP report has a case study on the Bhitarkanika forests and mentions that this protected mangrove area provides important ecosystem services to dependent communities, and is also home to 300 plant species and 263 species of birds, including five different species of kingfishers of which two (Brown-winged and Ruddy Kingfisher) are globally threatened. In addition, it provides a home for the globally threatened Olive Ridley Turtles, the Saltwater Crocodiles and the Irrawaddy Dolphins.
Ranjan Panda
Studies on the role of Bhitarkanika Mangrove Ecosystem in protecting villagers against the 1999 super cyclone have found out that villages which were protected by mangrove forests suffered less than the ones which had no protection from these unique forests. In fact, the report comes out with a very interesting finding that compares the loss suffered by villages with embankments with villages having mangrove forests.
A study that was referred to by the report has found out the following: The loss incurred per household was greatest (US$ 154) in the village, which was surrounded by the embankment (as a result of the embankment breaching and the flood water being slow to recede, increasing damage to crops), followed by the village that had neither mangrove nor an embankment (US$ 44).
The village which was protected by mangrove forests incurred the lowest loss per household (US$ 33). Embankments near mangrove forests were not breached while those further away were breached at a number of places, implying that mangroves may have helped to protect these defences. The local people were aware of and appreciated the functions performed by the mangrove forests in protecting their lives and property from cyclones and were willing to cooperate with the forest department in mangrove restoration.
In fact, the Odisha coast has lost a huge chunk of its mangrove forests. Since the Bay of Bengal is increasingly vulnerable to cyclones and storms, future disasters will be much more fatal and devastating unless we take prompt and massive measures to restore, plant and conserve mangrove forests.
Call for Action
Philippines, which was hit by one of the worst typhoons – the Yolanda – in November 2013, has now started a massive effort to revive mangrove forests. It is reported that this country has lost over 50 per cent of its mangroves since 1918. It has now taken up a programme with an investment of over twenty million US Dollars under which it is promoting mangrove replanting, developing greenbelts of mangrove and beach forests as natural protection against storms. India too has been investing in mangrove restoration.
Mangroves 1However, the effort seems to be lacking the required urgency.
To restore Mangrove Ecosystems, one needs to understand the real causes of their destruction. In 2010, a report of the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) revealed that the shrimp industry accounted for almost 38 per cent of the destruction of mangrove forests globally. It reported that at least 26 per cent of global mangrove forests have been cleared for fuel wood and timber production.
In India, as per this report, 40% of the country’s mangroves have already been converted to agricultural land or lost to urban sprawl. In fact, this report apprehended a faster rate of destruction of the mangroves in the coming days and said that at the current rate, mangroves may vanish by the end of this century as against the 100 years estimated in the UNEP report.
The loss rate of mangroves has accelerated since the 1980s and the future looks really grim. Roads, infrastructure, tourism industry, ports and embankment walls have come up at a massive rate in the last few decades. The pace of such ‘mangrove destructive development’ is going to be faster in coming years leading thereby causing direct destruction through deforestation as well as indirect destruction of mangroves through pollution.
The UNEP report suggest some measures for restoration of mangroves and their protection – both through direct field action and policy intervention and is hopeful that time is still there to turn the tide and avert the considerable ecological, social and economic costs now, and in the future. I would say, we need to act now or perish as cyclones and storms increase in their frequency and intensity.

*The author is a Sambalpur based water rights activist and Convenor of Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO)

Good Morning Thought - 24th October 2014!

We are always concerned with who or what drives our life at a particular time rather than who brought us to what we are...

Good Morning!

Happy Diwali Wishes - 23rd October 2014!

Let's celebrate the festival of lights to spread love, peace, friendship & joy; not pollution...

Wish you, family and friends a Happy Diwali!!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Good Morning Thought - 18th October 2014!

Putting a price on everything, including relationships, is reducing the society to a market place. As value erodes, the decay is visible in increasingly impatient and abusive greedy characters...

Good Morning!

Have a nice Weekend!!

Good Morning Thought - 17th October 2014!

If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you... (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Good Morning!

Good Morning Thought - 16th October 2014!

Time tells you what your most trusted well wishers don't dare to...

Good Morning!

At COP 12 Governments commit additional resources to biodiversity conservation

In the just concluded 12th meeting of the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity at Pyeongchang in Korea, governments committed to step up actions to achieve, by the end of the decade, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets agreed four years ago, and contribute to the sustainable development agenda.

A release from the Montreal based Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity said that “A key outcome was the agreement by Governments on the financial resources to support achievement of the Strategic Plan”.

“Responding to the call initiated at COP-10 in Nagoya, governments today reaffirmed their agreement made at COP-11 in Hyderabad to double total biodiversity-related international financial resource flows to developing countries, in particular least developed countries and small island developing States, as well as countries with economies in transition by 2015, and at least maintain this level until 2020”, it was informed.

The basis for calculating this is to use average annual biodiversity funding for the years 2006-2010 as a baseline.

Domestic Finance to Increase:

Governments are said to have agreed to increase domestic financing for biodiversity and have identified a set of actions to allow the increased mobilizations of financial resources from all sources.  The decisions incorporate actions that demonstrate a re-commitment to implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and achieve its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed by the international community in 2010.

Key decisions, including those on resource mobilization, capacity building, scientific and technical cooperation linking biodiversity and poverty eradication, and on monitoring of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, form the “Pyeongchang roadmap for the enhanced implementation of the strategic plan and achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.” These actions will strengthen capacity and increase support for countries and stakeholders to implement their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, it has been said.

The decisions were bolstered by the call in the Gangwon ministerial declaration, the result of two days of high level talks, to link the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda to other relevant processes such as the UN Development Assistance Framework process and the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans. The declaration emphasized the relevance and key contribution of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets and Vision for 2050 to the post-2015 development agenda at all levels, and invite the United Nations General Assembly to integrate them effectively in the post-2015 development agenda.

“Parties have listened to the evidence, and have responded by committing themselves to redoubling their efforts in support of the vision of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the financial resources needed to make this a reality” said United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias.
“Their commitments show the world that biodiversity is a solution to the challenges of sustainable development and will be a central part of any discussions for the post-2015 development agenda and its sustainable development goals” he said further.

Inaction to hat biodiversity loss to cost huge economic loss to tune of US $14 trillion by 2050:
UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Achim Steiner, said, "From food and water security to livelihoods and disasters risk reduction, biodiversity is a powerful engine that underpins the delivery of current and future sustainable development objectives. The cost of inaction to halt biodiversity decline would give rise to increasing and cumulative economic annual losses to the value of around US $14 trillion by 2050."

"The decisions made at COP 12 here in Pyeongchang will leapfrog efforts to achieve the Aichi targets and put biodiversity on a stronger footing for decades to come. The outcome of this meeting shows that plausible pathways exist to realize a reduction in biodiversity loss and in turn address broader global priorities in the context of the Post-2015 development agenda," he added.

Mr. Yoon Seong-kyu, the Minister of Environment for the Republic of Korea, which holds the presidency of the COP for the next two years, said “The Gangwon Declaration has just been adopted during the High-Level Segment, reflecting a strong message from the Parties that the importance of biodiversity should be highlighted in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We are planning to report and submit it to the UN General Assembly.”

Further, the Minister pledged that the Republic of Korea will fully assume its responsibility to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries by tapping into the creative economy approach in the field of biodiversity.

The Republic of Korea announced four new initiatives in support of the Pyeongchang roadmap and Parties’ efforts to implement these and other decisions of the Conference of the Parties: the Biobridge initiative in support of technical and scientific cooperation, the Forest Ecosystem Restoration Initiative (FERI), and the peace and biodiversity initiative in support of transboundary cooperation, as well as further support for the Sustainable Ocean Initiative.

Post 2015 engagements discussed:

The outcomes of the meeting build on growing recognition of the critical role of biodiversity in the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs). Governments were encouraged to fully engage in discussions on the post-2015 United Nations development agenda and SDGs, with the goal of integrating and mainstreaming the objectives of the Convention and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 into relevant goals, targets and indicators.

Other decisions taken during the COP reinforced the contribution of biodiversity conservation to social and economic goals of the post-2015 development. A decision on health and biodiversity which will see increased collaboration between the CBD and the World Health Organization. Decisions related to disaster risk reduction and ecosystem restoration, will not only contribute to the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity but also goals related to sustainable development.

The meeting also adopted milestones for the full implementation of Aichi Biodiversity Target 3 on incentives. The decision includes a timetable and concrete activities for the elimination, phasing out or reform of incentive policies that are harmful to biodiversity, as well as the promotion of positive incentive policies.

Governments devoted considerable efforts towards the marine agenda, including: The COP reviewed the results of seven regional workshops for describing ecologically or biologically significant marine areas (EBSAs) and encouraged efforts and collaboration to address knowledge gaps and lack of scientific information regarding areas meeting the EBSA criteria. Together with the results of COP-11, nearly some 75% of the world’s oceans have now been assessed scientifically analysed through technical workshops to describe address the worlds’ most special ocean areas.

Concerns over threats to marine diversity:

COP also took a decision addressing key threats to marine biodiversity, namely anthropogenic underwater noise and ocean acidification, and encouraged action to enhance knowledge regarding these threats and to mitigate their impacts on marine and coastal biodiversity. COP invited relevant organizations to advance their work on enhancing methods and tools for marine spatial planning. COP also requested additional capacity building workshops and partnership activities within the framework of the Sustainable Ocean Initiative to address priority issues identified for respective regions concerning the achievement of Aichi Biodiversity Targets in marine and coastal areas.

This decision also adopted priority actions to achieve Aichi Biodiversity Target 10 for coral reefs and closely associated ecosystems, focused on enhancing the resilience of these important ecosystems and facilitating the achievement of Target 10. Some of the actions include reducing land based pollution, promoting sustainable fisheries and improving the design of marine protected area networks for coral reefs, implementing poverty reduction programmes for reef-dependent coastal communities, and developing socioeconomic incentives for coral reef conservation.

Parties also adopted decisions to strengthen the role of business, subnational and local governments, and stakeholders, as well as how to more effectively consider gender in implementation of the Convention.

The meeting also agreed on ways to integrate the work under the Convention and the Protocols, including holding concurrent meetings of the Convention and its protocols, and established a subsidiary body on implementation, replacing the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Review of Implementation of the Convention, to serve all three instruments under the Convention.

Traditional knowledge and role of indigenous and local communities:

The issue of traditional knowledge and the role of Indigenous and local communities under the CBD was also discussed extensively. The programme of work on this issue was endorsed, as was the plan of action on customary sustainable use of biological diversity. Parties also decided to use the terminology “indigenous peoples and local communities” in future decisions and documents under the Convention.

The Conference of the Parties addressed the issues of synthetic biology, urging Parties to have in place risk assessment procedures and regulatory systems to regulate environmental release of organisms, components or products resulting from synthetic biology techniques. It also urged Parties to approve organisms resulting from synthetic biology techniques for field trials only after appropriate risk assessments have been carried out.

In addition, it set out a comprehensive plan for further work on this matter under the Convention.

The meeting also adopted decisions that related to the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing from the Utilization of Genetic Resources. With the entry into force of the Nagoya Protocol, the third objective of the Convention has now been fulfilled.


Aichi Biodiversity Targets: In decision X/2, the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held from 18 to 29 October 2010, in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, adopted a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, for the 2011-2020 period. Parties agreed on implementation of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan, and progress achieved towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and entering into force in December 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty for the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. With 194 Parties up to now, the Convention has near universal participation among countries. The Convention seeks to address all threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including threats from climate change, through scientific assessments, the development of tools, incentives and processes, the transfer of technologies and good practices and the full and active involvement of relevant stakeholders including indigenous peoples and local communities, youth, NGOs, women and the business community. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing are supplementary agreements to the Convention. The Cartagena Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. To date, 167 countries plus the European Union have ratified the Cartagena Protocol. The Nagoya Protocol aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies. It entered into force on 12 October 2014 and to date has been ratified by 53 countries plus the European Union.