News Digest

September 23, 2022

UNGA 2022 begins in the backdrop of heightened climate crisis

After two years of in-person restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaders from across the world convened in New York for the 77th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The theme for this session is “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges,” which emerges from the recognition that the world is at a critical moment due to “complex and interconnected crises”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarked that, “Our world is blighted by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hate, and shamed by poverty, hunger, and inequality.” The Assembly meetings are also taking place after a heightened climate crisis has led to deadly floods in Pakistan, leaving thousands dead and millions more displaced, while severe droughts affect parts of Europe and China. India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is the country’s official representative at the event. The key issues that India focused on during the high-level UN General Assembly session are counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, reformed multilaterism, climate action and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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US libraries turn into early childhood spaces

In the United States – the only rich country without paid parental leave – babies, toddlers and their caretakers are routinely neglected by both policy and city planning. It’s rare to find even a step stool in a public restroom, said Kristy Spreng, a child-care program director and former librarian who co-created a baby play area with a workstation for Ohio’s Loudonville Public Library. Public libraries – those perpetually underfunded beacons of inclusiveness – are picking up some of the slack, distinguishing themselves in recent years as one of the only American public institutions actively planning for very young kids. A public library literally crawling with babies is a relatively recent phenomenon, but getting children to love books has long been a goal of the American institution, which was built on the notion that “good books will create good citizens who will then create a good society,” as one library expert put it. Early childhood organisations turned to public libraries as the natural venue for connecting with hard-to-reach babies, including those living in shelters or whose parents are undocumented.

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Chicago’s decaying icon to get a makeover

Google is set to give Thompson Center a corporate makeover. The Sbarro Urbanists, as they dubbed themselves, are an informal troupe of Midwest transit nerds, historic preservationists and devotees of the late architect Helmut Jahn, whose most famous building, the James R. Thompson Center, stands in Chicago’s Loop. Its soaring atrium, encircled by baby-blue and salmon-coloured glass, is also home to a vintage 1980s food court, whose fast-food offerings perfume the Illinois state offices that occupy the 17-story structure. The Sbarro Urbanists first gathered to share their affection for the polarising landmark in December 2021, and returned this summer after reports of the troubled building’s impending transformation into offices for Google. For them, excitement over the prospect of a second chance for the Thompson Center, which has been threatened with demolition, was laced with concern over what might happen to the building once Google takes over. They are less convinced that the search giant can restore the feeling of civic pride that many Chicagoans felt when they stepped into the Thompson Center’s psychedelic atrium.

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56 percent people from 34 nations say Climate Change severely affected them

There has been an increased amount of extreme weather events seen globally, especially in the past few months. Countries have been ravaged by floods, droughts, and heatwaves. The World Economic Forum conducted a survey to understand how people perceive Climate Change and how they think it is impacting their lives. According to the survey, more than half the adults around the world claim that they have been directly impacted by Climate Change. More than one third of them fear that the effects of climate change may force them out of their homes. Approximately 56 per cent of people from over 34 nations believe that Climate Change is having a severe impact on their lives. What was especially alarming in the survey was that over a third of people globally, around 35 per cent, expected that they may have to migrate from their places of residence within the next 25 years. Gender was also an attribute the survey considered – 54 percent  men reported concern about Climate Change as compared to 59 per cent women.

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One of Vietnam’s tourist hotspots shut over safety fears

Authorities in Vietnam’s capital have ordered the temporary closure of one of the city’s most popular attractions, a 300-metre stretch of railway narrowly bordered by cafes, restaurants and shops. Officials in Hanoi’s downtown Hoan Kiem district blamed safety violations raised by the national railway, and said all shops in the area have to close in the next three days. It wasn’t  clear how long the shutdown would last. The Hanoi Train Street, as it’s popularly known, is a tourist hotspot for taking selfies or seeking to catch a glimpse of a train passing just in front of them. The controversy is the latest twist in the uncertain life of a landmark that has faced repeated threats due to clashes between small businesses and the local government. It’s also a sign of the Southeast Asian nation’s cautious embrace of foreign visitors as regional neighbours rush to rebuild tourism industries decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic. District authorities are working on their own plan to develop the area as a tourist attraction to meet locals’ and visitors’ needs and comply with safety regulations.

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Prince William likely to focus on Climate Change, green energy

Green energy, Climate Change, and mental health are likely to be key policy areas Prince William will continue to speak out on as he steps into his father’s footsteps as a campaigning heir to the throne. King Charles III hinted he will no longer be lobbying on matters close to his heart now he is head of state. The King’s charities will face change, with their patron no longer able to spend as much time working with them, or appearing at fundraisers. In contrast Prince William, now officially the Prince of Wales, and his wife have used their Royal Foundation to focus on specific aims – and will continue to do so. Their projects revolve around conservation, the early years, mental health, and the emergency services. The couple’s work on Climate Change will continue with their Royal Foundation stating that “it’s clear that the time to act is now” and that nations must work together not only to overcome climate change, but also to combat the illegal wildlife trade, unsustainable development, and use of resources.

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Shanghai’s Silicon Valley remains empty of residents

Chinese President Xi Jinping has a goal of turning a quiet Shanghai suburb into the country’s next Silicon Valley, but more than three years into its making, that vision is facing mounting challenges. Lingang, a 120 square kilometres (46 square miles) patch of land southeast of Shanghai, roughly a sixth the size of Singapore, was designated by Xi in 2018 as the country’s top free-trade area, to be modelled after Singapore and Dubai. It was also to be a new centre for high-end technological industries that would drive indigenous innovation and wean China off its reliance on foreign technology. Yet Lingang’s future as China’s new Silicon Valley remains far from certain, despite the Communist Party’s experience in building tech parks and special trade zones to attract investment, and drive China’s opening up. As the domestic economy slows and the geopolitical tensions that have hammered China’s tech sector worsen, Lingang is likely to find it harder to attract private capital and talent.

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No shelter for Los Angeles bus riders as mercury rises

Of the 12,200 bus stops served by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, only a quarter have some kind of shade or rain shelter, and only half have a seat for those waiting. And waiting is what most bus riders do. While the average trip on a Metro bus is less than five miles, about half the time of that journey is spent looking down the road for signs of a bus. Now with Climate Change threatening ever more heat waves and wetter storms in California, riders and transit advocates are demanding that officials do something to provide cover from the elements. On hot days in the valleys, the nearby asphalt can approach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, making conditions dangerous. The searing weather is yet another setback for largely low-income bus riders who often face long, difficult commutes. While more public transportation is a crucial step in California’s push to lessen Climate Change by reducing greenhouse gases, the system in Los Angeles County is largely one of last resort. The majority of riders are Latino and among the region’s poorest. The median household income for 62 per cent of Metro riders is under $20,000.

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September 9, 2022

Flooded Bengaluru a wake-up call

Bengaluru continues to be devastated by torrential rain and waterlogging, turning the city into Venice. Harini Nagendra writes that such unusual weather conditions will become more frequent, perhaps even more intense in the future. But it’s not just the rains and just the local flooding that we need to worry about. The floods in Pakistan are exacerbated by the melting of the glaciers above. For some years, scientists warn, the rivers in Pakistan will be over-full; after the glaciers melt, the rivers will run dry. A disaster beyond imagination. Six of the world’s major rivers have run dry this summer, in areas as far flung as Europe, China and the US. Earlier this week, a group of scientists from Europe and the US found the Greenland ice sheet to be on an irreversible path towards melting, making sea levels rise by at least 10 inches. The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, calls this an ominous prognosis – in layman’s terms, this is the scary-as-hell future we have to deal with.

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Devastating floods in Pakistan more than a natural disaster

Monsoon rains and melting glaciers have combined to displace at least 35 million people from their homes in Pakistan while over a thousand people are already reported dead. Agriculture and livestock have been destroyed on a massive scale, triggering fears of severe food shortages in the coming months. While political commentators in Islamabad and abroad were busy reporting every detail of the political gossip generated in the centre, faint cries of help began circulating on social media from people affected on the peripheries of Pakistan. Soon, floods began overwhelming areas in Sindh and south Punjab. The first time floods became the main headline on a Pakistani channel was August 23. By this time, more than 20 million people had already been affected, making it the worst natural disaster in the country’s recent history. Pakistan was already dealing with a dire economic crisis when the floods hit the country. Even before the floods, it was clear that Pakistan’s economy could no longer sustain the exorbitant taxes demanded by the IMF, particularly without touching the privileges of the elites.

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Berlin’s e-buses aim to meet climate goals

Berlin rolls out new electric buses, heralding the biggest overhaul to Germany’s largest city bus system since it adopted the internal combustion engine in 1906. This is significant for Berlin and the country as a whole as searing summer temperatures linked to climate change coupled with an energy supply crisis in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine have made it more urgent for countries across Europe to overhaul how they power everything from homes and factories to the daily commute. And Berlin, the capital of the continent’s largest economy, is on the front line. The overall goal is to make the city’s buses emission-free by 2030, replacing 1,600 diesel vehicles with 1,700 electric ones at an estimated cost of 2 billion euros ($2 billion) when you include the new infrastructure needed. It’s part of a wider plan to have 50% of Germany’s public buses climate neutral by that year. Germany wants to become carbon neutral by 2045. But the energy shortage caused by Russia’s reduction of natural gas flows to Europe threaten to derail that target.

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India’s e-vehicle push a template for developing nations

Electric mopeds and three-wheeled rickshaw taxis that sell for as little as $1,000 are zipping along India’s congested urban thoroughfares, cheered on by environmentalists and the government as a way to clear some of the oppressive smog. India’s success with low-cost vehicles is also providing a template for how developing countries could ditch combustion engines and combat climate change without pricey electric cars. Indian automakers sold 4,30,000 electric vehicles in the 12 months that ended in March, more than three times as many as a year earlier. Most were two- and three-wheeled vehicles, with cars accounting for just 18,000, according to industry data. Americans bought about 4,87,000 new electric cars in 2021, a 90 percent increase from 2020, according to Kelley Blue Book. Now, the Indian government and auto industry are betting heavily on affordable electric vehicles. Competition and subsidies have made electric mopeds and rickshaws as cheap as or cheaper than internal-combustion-engine models. The recent surge in oil and natural gas prices has made it much more expensive to operate combustion-engine vehicles.

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Tokyo plans hi-tech city on reclaimed land

Japan’s capital Tokyo is embarking on an ambitious project to build a futuristic city by creating more land where there’s currently water. Called the Tokyo Bay eSG Project, the goal is to boost international competitiveness by creating a sustainable city and embracing cutting-edge digital technologies. There are plans to extend an unused parcel of land in the middle of the bay to 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) eventually, with about one-fifth of the development completed so far. The unpopulated area hosted canoe and rowing competitions during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and is now being used for storing containers and garbage processing. Tokyo is seeking to attract about nine companies to focus on new technologies such as reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse emissions or generating clean energy by mid-October, with as much as 30 million yen ($7.3 million) in funding per project for the first year. “The challenge is to build a city that will be strong against the crises we face,” said Manabu Miyasaka, a deputy governor for Japan’s capital, “whether it’s infectious diseases, climate change or energy supply.”

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As Africa’s climate warms, rich countries pledge more funds

The amount promised by the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program — a joint initiative between various nations and organizations — is billed as the largest ever adaptation effort globally. Half of the amount is pledged by the African Development Bank with representatives from Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, the International Monetary Fund and others also offering their support for the initiative. The continent emits just 3% to 4% of emissions despite being home to nearly 17% of the world’s population but experts say it is particularly vulnerable to climate change as it less able to adapt. African nations hope to use the funds to improve their resilience to extreme weather events, such as droughts or floods, increase tree cover and protect biodiversity, as well as expand their renewable energy capacity. After decades of developed countries falling short on their funding promises, many African nations remain skeptical that the funds will ever reach the continent. The U.N. Climate Change High-Level Champion for Egypt, Mahmoud Mohieldin, said the existing global climate financing structure is “insufficient and ineffective,” especially for Africa.

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Typhoon Hinnamnor leaves South Korea with floods and outages

Hinnamnor hit near the southern cities of South Korea Geoje and Ulsan at 4:50 a.m. and 7:10 a.m. respectively said the Korea Meteorological Administration. About 3,500 people were evacuated and 20,000 homes along South Korea’s southern coast line suffered power outages, Yonhap reported. Posco said a minor fire broke out at two of its plants in the coastal city of Pohang and the company was checking for damages. The meteorological agency had warned of potential casualties from what was expected to be the most powerful storm ever to hit the country. At least one person was reported missing. The nation suffered the second major storm in a matter of weeks after Seoul was hit by the heaviest rains in a century in early August, killing at least 11 people. President Yoon Suk Yeol faced criticism for his response to the floods and apologized to the nation for “inconveniences” caused by the storm. While the typhoon is moving away from land, the impact of the massive storm is still being felt across South Korea and even parts of Japan.

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California calls grid emergency amid heatwave

With millions of homes and businesses cranking air conditioners to cope with temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius), electricity use in the largest US state is forecast to hit 48.9 gigawatts Monday, the most since 2017. The state’s grid operator is forecasting an energy deficiency between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. local time. The prospect of blackouts underscores how grids have become vulnerable in the face of extreme weather as they transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Much of California is under an excessive heat warning for the next four days. Sacramento could reach 113 on Monday and 115 on Tuesday shattering records for those days, Oravec said. Downtown Los Angeles reached 103 on Sunday, which was the first time the temperature broke 100 this year. The heat wave, which began the last week of August, is remarkable for both its ferocity and duration, officials said. Each day the heat drags on, the risk of power failures rise. California Governor Gavin Newsom has issued an emergency proclamation to free up extra power supplies.

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August 26, 2022

Scientists welcome US climate bill, urge stronger action

On August 16, US President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 into law. Several US agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), will see a significant influx of cash from a massive climate and tax bill. Scientists around the world welcome the legislation which pledges US$369 billion in climate investments over the next decade — while acknowledging that more work is needed to counter global warming. The legislation would cut US greenhouse-gas emissions by about 30–40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, scientists estimate. More than $60 billion is slated to go to US manufacturing of clean-energy technologies, such as solar panels and electric vehicles, and billions more are included in tax credits for decarbonization, clean-vehicle purchases and household-level efficiency improvements — making this the largest climate investment in US history. Even if all nations hit their climate targets, the global temperature will rise above the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark, says Roxy Matthew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.

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Thane creek granted Ramsar status

The Thane creek was granted Ramsar status on August 14. It is also the largest wetland area to be declared a Ramsar site in Maharashtra. its western bank is in Mumbai and Mumbai suburban districts, the eastern bank is in Thane district and adjoins Thane city and Navi Mumbai. The creek extends 26 kilometres north of Mumbai harbour where it connects with the Ulhas river, one of its primary sources of fresh water, via a narrow channel. It encompasses an area of 6,521.08 hectares of which 1,690.5 hectares were declared the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary and 4,832 hectares were notified as an eco-sensitive zone around the sanctuary in October 2021. In its proposal, the government had observed that several bird species are found in the Thane creek area including flamingos, making the mangrove forest an area of special importance from the global point of view and Ramsar status would help to preserve its biodiversity. The creek is fringed by mangrove forests that protect the land from cyclones, tidal waves, seawater seepage and intrusions.

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Tracking global warming: India ahead of deadline to submit national goals

India will submit its nationally determined contribution (NDC) well before the September 23 deadline of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The NDCs will be analysed for a report to be published by the UNFCCC secretariat later this year. The NDC synthesis report measures the impact of NDCs submitted to understand the current emissions trajectory and assess whether the world is on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The synthesis report released on September 17 last year found, based on NDCs submitted until last year, that greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 would be 59.3 per cent higher than in 1990. The total GHG emission level resulting from implementation of the unconditional elements of the NDCs is projected to be 7.8 per cent higher in 2030 than in 2019. As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings, CO2 emissions need to decline by about 45 per cent from the 2010 levels by 2030 reaching net zero around 2050 in order to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius warming level.

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Hyderabad may build wind garden to cool city

The Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) is exploring the option of a ‘Wind Garden’ on the lines of the one coming up in Madrid in Spain that is designed to significantly lower the temperature and cool the city. After Telangana Municipal Administration and Urban Development Minister K T Rama Rao about exploring the idea of a wind garden, Urban Development Special Chief Secretary Arvind Kumar responded, ‘’We are ascertaining details on wind gardens in Madrid and Bangkok, Thailand and will take it up in Hyderabad, especially in green field projects and open spaces.’’ The garden is likely to be created in Sanjeevaiah Park or any of the urban parks maintained by HMDA. The vast Sanjeevaiah Park has plenty of greenery with the Hussain Sagar lake around it and appears to be suitable for implementing such a model. Madrid is building the ‘wind garden’ that is expected to lower temperatures by around 4 degrees Celsius. It is hoped that the garden will help to cool the surrounding areas and create some much-needed shade for residents.

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Arctic is warming four times faster than rest of the world: Study

A new study shows that the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the world over the past 43 years. This means the Arctic is on average around 3 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in 1980. This is alarming, because the Arctic contains sensitive and delicately balanced climate components that, if pushed too hard, will respond with global consequences. Besides sea ice, the Arctic contains other climate components that are extremely sensitive to warming. If pushed too hard, they will also have global consequences. One of those elements is permafrost, a (now not so) permanently frozen layer of the Earth’s surface. As temperatures rise across the Arctic, the active layer, the topmost layer of soil that thaws each summer, deepens. This, in turn, increases biological activity in the active layer resulting in the release of carbon into the atmosphere. Arctic permafrost contains enough carbon to raise global mean temperatures by more than 3 degrees Celsius. The release of previously stored carbon dioxide and methane will contribute to further Arctic warming, subsequently accelerating future permafrost thaw.

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China’s Yangtze dries up, hydropower affected

A severe heat wave and drought in China has caused some rivers in China – including parts of the Yangtze – to dry up, affecting hydropower, halting shipping, and forcing major companies to suspend operations. The loss of water flow to China’s extensive hydropower system has sparked a “grave situation” in Sichuan, which gets more than 80 per cent of its energy from hydropower. The demand for electricity has increased by 25 per cent this summer. The Yangtze is the world’s third largest river, providing drinking water to more than 400 million Chinese people, and is the most vital waterway to China’s economy. It is also crucial to the global supply chain, but this summer it has reached record-low water levels, with entire sections and dozens of tributaries drying up. Water flow on the Yangtze’s main trunk is more than 50 per cent below the average of the last five years. Shipping routes in the middle and lower sections have also closed. Last week, Sichuan suspended or limited power supply to thousands of factories and rationed public electricity usage due to the shortage.

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Germany’s cheap rail travel reduces car use

Germany’s three-month experiment with nine Euros ($9.20) monthly ticket has proved to be hugely popular, with train journeys longer than 30 kilometres up by 42 per cent compared to 2019. The ticket allows travel anywhere on regional trains, trams and buses, an effort to help with a cost-of-living crisis and reduce car use as energy prices soar. The super-discounted tickets run out at the end of August, and some politicians want it extended in some form. In a Kantar poll last month, almost 80 per cent of respondents supported that idea. But the man in charge of the country’s finances is reluctant. Christian Lindner drew uproar on Twitter last week when he criticised citizens’ “freebie mentality,” and has argued that such a subsidy can’t be sustainably financed in the long term. The three-month offer cost the government about 2.5 billion Euros. A study in Munich found that only 3 per cent of people in the city used their car less after the ticket was introduced, while more than a third said they increased their public transport usage. 

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Brazil to build world’s biggest urban garden by 2024

The city of Rio de Janeiro is working to build the largest urban garden in the world. As part of a government-funded initiative known as “Hortas Cariocas”, the move intends to popularise the consumption of organic produce and provide a source of income to disadvantaged families. The urban garden will span several surrounding favelas connected by a green strip of land alongside the Madureira Mestre Monarco Park, located in the north zone of the city, including the communities of Cajueiro, Palmeirinha, Serrinha, Buriti and Faz-Quem-Quer. The garden will be as large as 15 soccer fields. The objective of building the world’s largest urban garden has strong support from Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who made it a goal of his administration to have the garden fully operational by 2024. The project will expand existing gardens in the ​​communities of Cajueiro and Palmeirinha, creating 11 hectares of green space for the cultivation of organic produce for gardeners to sell and donate across surrounding communities. Up to 1,00,000 families will eventually benefit from the project every month.

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Penn Station’s $6 billion makeover to ease travel woes

New York City’s Pennsylvania Station is set to get a $6 billion makeover. The prospect of a new, more pleasant Penn Station comes as work moves forward on the Gateway Project, which aims to ease the US East Coast’s toughest train bottleneck. That project will double the rail capacity between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan by building a new tunnel under the Hudson River and rehabilitating an existing tube. The Gateway Project plans to ramp up hiring over the next year as part of a requirement to show it has sufficient technical staff and controls in place to be eligible for its next round of federal grants. Built in 1910, Penn Station was regarded as a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts architectural style. It was torn down in 1963 and rebuilt in 1968 to make room for the latest version of Madison Square Garden, sparking international outrage. Ideas for replacing or renovating Penn Station have circulated for decades. The biggest question has been whether to relocate Madison Square Garden to create room for something akin to the original station.

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August 12, 2022

New plan to check air pollution in Delhi-NCR from Oct 1

The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2017, comes into force in Delhi-NCR from October 15 every year when air pollution levels in the region start worsening. This year, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) will implement it from October 1. The revised plan, part of a new policy formulated by the CAQM to check air pollution in Delhi-NCR, focuses on proactive implementation of curbs based on forecasts and restrictions can be imposed up to three days in advance. Earlier, the authorities would implement the measures only after the PM2.5 and PM10 concentration touched a particular threshold. The new plan also entails a ban on BS IV four-wheeler diesel vehicles, barring those engaged in essential services, in Delhi and the bordering districts of NCR if the air quality index (AQI) breaches the 450-mark. The revised GRAP recommends a ban on the use of coal and firewood, including in tandoors in hotels, restaurants, open eateries; and on diesel generator sets, except for emergent and essential services under Stage I.

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Plans to generate electricity from solar windows

The University of Michigan researchers have published the results of their work on a process to manufacture windows that can be large—up to two meters by two meters—and efficient in terms of electricity production. “You see a lot of these glass and steel buildings around which are just walls of windows,” said Stephen Forrest, an electrical engineering professor at Michigan and co-author of the study. “Why not turn that excess energy (from sunlight) into electricity to help power the home or the building?” The Michigan team, whose work appeared this month in the journal Joule, has come up with a process of making solar cells from dye-like materials, which are connected to lines of metal so small they are invisible to the eye. The window has an efficiency of 7 per cent, which is the share of solar radiation that gets converted to electricity. Much of the work on solar windows is to increase efficiency and reduce costs to the point that the product makes sense to a prospective buyer.

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Cameras to make bike lanes safer in New York City

A groundbreaking bill in New York state could enable New York City to deploy its first bike lane cameras, boosting safety among supposedly protected bike lanes where cars remain frequent, unwelcome and dangerous interlopers. The bill would give the city’s transportation department the green light to install up to 50 such bike lane cameras, with violators mailed $50 fines. Cyclists are likely to welcome any measure that reduces lane blockages, a longstanding bugaboo for those on two wheels. One New York rider grew so incensed that he created a computer program in 2018 to quantify vehicular obstructions. In Northern Virginia, entrepreneurs built an app to identify cars blocking bike lanes; 9,500 were spotted in a handful of Arlington bike lanes in a single week. A cyclist has little recourse when facing a car obstructing their lane; confronting drivers can be a risky proposition. The obvious way to protect bike lanes is, literally, to protect them — with hard infrastructure that physically prevents motor vehicles from invading cyclists’ space.

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Nepal villagers term Climate Change ‘divine revenge’

In the Himalayas, climate change is taking place faster than in almost any other region on the planet. This trend is set to continue: even if average global temperature increases are limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Himalayas are predicted to warm at least a further 0.3 degrees Celsius. As highly ecologically sensitive zones, the profound impacts already wrecked across high mountain environments by even small degrees of warming have been no surprise for climate scientists. But for many residents of Walung, a Himalayan village in the Taplejung District of north-eastern Nepal, the cause of these environmental changes is unequivocal: it signifies the arrival of kawa nyampa – the bad times.  “Yak herders are no longer able to depend on their traditional knowledge for forecasting weather,” said Tashi Dorji, who heads the conservation programme the Kanchenjunga Landscape Initiative at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu. “The biophysical and astronomical indicators used for generations to make those predictions have vanished with climate change.” Yet, universally, residents of Walung agree that these environmental changes remain a bad omen.

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Cities encourage healing with ‘trauma-informed placemaking’

In the fall of 2019, Haus of Glitter — a queer BIPOC art collective and performance lab based in Providence, Rhode Island — moved into a nearly three-century-old homestead tucked into an easy-to-miss park tucked between a freeway and an electrical substation in the city’s Oakland Avenue neighborhood. The 1756 Esek Hopkins House had been built by the naval commander commemorated locally for his role in the Revolutionary War, but his less-publicized history was as a key figure in the transatlantic slave trade. Thus would begin a truly unique example in an emerging field referred to as trauma-informed placemaking. Over nearly three years, the members of Haus of Glitter have used the space to sift through layers of trauma — from their own histories and personal experiences, from the legacy of American colonialism and racial violence, and from the pandemic and ongoing political turmoil. Haus of Glitter emphasizes body-based practices in its process of individual and community trauma healing. The site became a safe haven for the surrounding neighborhood and for queer and BIPOC communities throughout Providence during the pandemic.

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Air pollution likely to increase risk of developing dementia: Study

A report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants concludes that air pollution “likely” increases the risk of accelerated “cognitive decline” and of “developing dementia” in older people. It has published its findings after reviewing almost 70 studies which analysed how exposure to emissions affect the brain over time. The three other health conditions with a known link to air pollution are respiratory conditions (such as asthma), heart disease and lung cancer. Dementia has been linked to air pollution previously. There is also more well-established evidence to show that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of heart disease. Breathing in emissions can damage the blood vessels by making them narrower and harder – increasing the likelihood of clots, abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks, according to the British Heart Foundation. The authors of the new report said: “The epidemiological evidence reviewed fairly consistently reports associations between chronic exposure to air pollution and reduced global cognition and impairment in visuospatial abilities as well as cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia.”

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Climate Change: Only female sea turtles hatch in Florida

Scientists studying sea turtle hatchlings and eggs in Florida have found only female sea turtles hatched in the past four years. The trend is just one of many signs that the climate crisis is interfering with the Earth’s natural ecosystems, advancing too rapidly for many species to adapt. When a female turtle digs a nest on a beach, the temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchlings. If a turtle’s eggs incubate below 81.86 Fahrenheit (27.7 Celsius), the turtle hatchlings will be male, whereas if they incubate above 88.8 F (31C), they will be female, according to NOAA’S National Ocean Service website. “The frightening thing is the last four summers in Florida have been the hottest summers on record,” said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, a city in the Florida Keys. “Over the years, you’re going to see a sharp decline in their population because we just don’t have the genetic diversity,” said Melissa Rosales Rodriguez, a sea turtle keeper at the recently opened a turtle hospital at the Miami Zoo.

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Reshaping Battery Park City to protect from floods

The Battery Park City Resiliency Project in New York City is a wholesale reconstruction of the already artificial Battery Park City — 92 acres created from soil and rock dug during the construction of the World Trade Center. The resilience projects around Battery Park City are billed as critical in an era of climate change. They’re also expensive — the first phase is expected to break ground in September, with an estimated price tag of at least $221 million; the second phase is estimated to cost at least $630 million. Advocates insist this investment is necessary to shield Lower Manhattan, a crucial node in the global economy and site of some of the most valuable real estate in the US. The overall objective: protection against so-called 100-year flood events, which are expected to be more frequent and intense. “It’s a good model for climate change resilience, in that they have this more collective organization that can represent the neighborhood,” said Thad Pawlowski, a professor and managing director at Columbia University’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes.

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July 29, 2022

Lack of toilet access a health hazard for Indian women

For millions of low-income residents across India, bathroom schedules are often dictated not by biological need, but by inadequate toilet infrastructure. Surveys show that the situation is especially acute in urban areas like Mumbai. Safety concerns, as well as cultural norms, deter women from practising open defecation as a fallback. (Men are more likely than women to practice open defecation even when public toilets are available.) Physicians and activists say the continued practice of caste- and class-based discrimination compounds the harms, as some women are forbidden from using the toilets in their workplaces. Toilet infrastructure is not just an issue of sanitation, said Deepa Pawar, a social activist focusing on gender and youth issues in marginalized communities. “It is a much larger problem that encompasses health, gender, and social justice issues,” she said. Although the city government ordered toilet fees to be waived for everyone, Pawar and residents of Subhash Nagar say women were still charged. “Essentially women were being penalized for their gender,” Pawar said.

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India gets five more Ramsar sites

Five more Indian wetlands have got Ramsar recognition, bringing the number of such sites to 54. These are the Karikili Bird Sanctuary, Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest and Pichavaram Mangrove in Tamil Nadu, the Sakhya Sagar in Madhya Pradesh and Pala Wetland in Mizoram. Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav tweeted on Tuesday: “Delighted to inform that 5 more Indian wetlands have got Ramsar recognition as wetlands of international importance.” Being designated a Ramsar site does not necessarily invite extra international funds but that states — and the Centre — must ensure that these tracts of land are conserved and spared from man-made encroachment. Acquiring this label also helps with a locale’s tourism potential and its international visibility. Until 1981, India had 41 Ramsar sites though the last decade has seen the sharpest rise —13 — in designating new sites. India’s Ramsar wetlands are spread over 11,000 sq km — around 10% of the total wetland area in the country — across 18 states. No other South Asian country has as many sites.

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Seared by heat waves, Pakistan residents start plantation drives

Many residents in Pakistan, where forest cover lags far behind average levels across South Asia, are planting trees to provide shade to people. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, emissions of which contribute to warming global temperatures. The aim in conducting plantation drives at the Clifton area is to counterbalance rapid urbanisation in Karachi, a sprawling port city of some 17 million people where breakneck expansion of roads and buildings means there is less and less space for trees and parkland. A heatwave in 2015 killed more than 400 people in the city in three days, and temperatures in the surrounding Sindh region reached record highs this year. Overall forest cover in Pakistan, home to more than 220 million people, is around 5.4 per cent, according to Syed Kamran Hussain, manager for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province at the World Wide Fund for Nature’s national branch. That compares with 24 per cent in neighbouring India and 14.5 per cent in Bangladesh. “Pakistan is among the top 10 most vulnerable countries affected by global warming,” Hussain said. 

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TikTok spreads the gospel of urbanisation to Gen Z

TikTok videos breaking down topics such as housing, transportation, architecture and city planning have found a growing audience. In the burgeoning niche that is CitiesTok, dunking on the suburbs does well (800,000 of the 176 million views on the #suburbs hashtag are on a video about the “profoundly sad” homogeneity of modern suburban developments). Self-described “teen architecture enthusiast” Louisa Whitmore, 17, has racked up more than 13 million likes on her @louisatalksbuildings account, with critiques of Watergate’s brutalism and New York’s super-tall skyscrapers. Jonathon Stalls, 39, uses his growing platform as @pedestriandignity to share reflections from his months walking across the US by foot. While their content varies, these creators share a similar goal: to spread the gospel of urbanism to a new generation, and push policies that advance environmental adaptation and housing affordability. TikTok’s short-form video entries tailored to a Gen Z attention span set the platform apart from other cities-centric online communities. 

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Drying Colorado river: First Climate Change disaster in US

The Colorado river water source for 40 million people across seven states and part of Mexico is rapidly drying out, leaving the two biggest reservoirs in the US thirstier and thirstier, and offering up what may be the first Climate Change impact that the country literally cannot ignore. It’s also one of the rare climate disasters that government officials will be legally required to address if current trends continue. In 2000, Lakes Mead and Powell, the two huge reservoirs along the Colorado, were about 95 per cent full. By the end of this year, Lake Mead is projected to be 27 per cent full, with a water level 45 feet lower than it was only two years ago; for Lake Powell, the number is 22 per cent, and its surface is 70 feet below the same time in 2020. The so-called Millennium Drought, now in its 23rd year, has reduced precipitation and snow runoff into the river and lakes so dramatically that a true water catastrophe now looms for an enormous chunk of the country.

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San Francisco lures workers, tourists as tech gloom deepens

San Francisco is embarking on its most ambitious push yet to revive its downtown, with initiatives such as hiring so-called ambassadors to welcome commuters and visitors, along with tapping vacant commercial space and public areas for recurring events, markets and festivals to lure them. The city consistently ranks at or near the bottom of a list of 10 US metro areas for the share of workers back at their offices, data from security company Kastle Systems shows. Every few weeks seem to bring an announcement of a notable firm giving up space, most recently with the city’s biggest private employer, Salesforce Inc., deciding to lease 40% of one of its massive towers. Economists from San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. delivered a particularly dreary message in a report this month, saying the region “appears to be leading the state and nation into recession”. Mayor London Breed has made bringing back workers and tourists one of her key goals, including embarking on a 10-day trip to Europe in March to promote her city.

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Climate Change may limit mangrove seeds dispersal

Mangroves are resilient ecosystems that help build coastlines. Their roots are home for fish nurseries while birds nest in their canopies. But they are threatened by different aspects of climate change ranging from sea level rise, storms, warmer temperatures and drought, said Michael Osland, an ecologist at the United States Geological Survey’s Wetland and Aquatic Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. A recent study published in the journal Nature found that the density of seawater could change as temperatures rise, precipitation increases and the salinity of ocean water drops. An international group of geographers and biologists found that mangrove propagules will sink more quickly in less dense oceans. That could potentially limit their dispersal over long distances. These findings suggest seawater density may deserve some additional research attention as an important effect of climate change, particularly for species like mangroves that depend on an exact ocean chemistry to survive. 

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Australia’s ecosystem severely deteriorating: Govt report

Australia’s coastal shores and waters are said to be in “poor condition”, and the land is even worse off. Of the 18 ecosystems deemed at ‘risk of collapse’, 10 are terrestrial. Today, a third of Australia’s original eucalypt woodlands have been cleared, as have nearly half of the nation’s casuarina forests and woodlands. Between 2000 and 2017, over 7.7 million hectares of potential habitat for threatened species was cleared, most of which without scrutiny under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This is the report by the Australian government on the state of the nation’s environment, put together by a panel of independent scientists. The overall conclusion of the report is that climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and resource extraction have pushed Australia’s environment into a serious and severely deteriorating state. In the past five years, severe coral bleaching events have whitened a third of the Great Barrier Reef, torrential floods have devastated the tropical north, and catastrophic bushfires have collectively burned more than 46 million acres of land (72,000 square miles).

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July 15, 2022

Bengaluru ranked least liveable city in India in global index

The EIU’s Global Liveability Index 2022 analysed living conditions in 173 cities across the world, six of which — New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad were in India. All five Indian cities were ranked between 140 and 146, which means they fell in the bottom quintile on the index. This is the first time that the index has included Chennai, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. Earlier reports only featured Delhi and Mumbai among Indian cities. Bengaluru was claimed to be the least liveable among Indian cities by the index. The cities are ranked on the basis of five broad parameters — stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Though Bengaluru keeps pace with the other Indian cities when it comes to stability, healthcare, culture and environment and education, it is the city’s infrastructure — or the lack thereof — where it lags behind, according to the report. The infrastructure score is based on seven indicators — quality of roads, public transportation system, international links, energy provision, telecommunications, water and availability of good quality housing.

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Delhi’s average air, surface temperature above baseline: Study

A study, ‘Urban Heat Stress in major cities of India: Delhi’ found that the Capital’s average air temperature from March to May (considered the pre-monsoon period) this year was 30.03°C, higher than the 30-year baseline (1981-2010) of 28.25°C, while the average land surface temperature was 1.95°C higher than its baseline. At the same time, Delhi’s heat index (also known as the ‘real feel’ of the weather) was 30.53°C, higher than the baseline figure of 28.89°C. The highest surface temperature this year was 51.8°C on May 14 at outer Delhi’s Narela, Bawana, Fatehpur Jat and south-east Delhi’s Badarpur. It also found that surface temperatures in some parts of the city hit a high of 53.9°C in the past eight years. The study also finds a considerable difference between the heat index and air temperature across the city during the pre-monsoon period this year, finding the gap to be as wide as six degrees between neighbourhoods. Chandni Chowk recorded the highest seasonal air temperature, with an average reading of 34.2°C, Aurobindo Marg at 28.1°C was the city’s coolest spot.

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Rehab eludes evicted "encroachers" at Khori Gaon

A year after the eviction drive at Khori Gaon— a colony of encroached settlements in Aravalli forests across Delhi and Haryana, the people continue to stay put in temporary plastic sheds at the basti. On June 7, 2021, the Supreme Court had directed the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF) to “take all essential measures to remove encroachments on the subject forest land without any exception”, giving the civic body six weeks to complete the task. It had stated that “there could not be compromise or concession on forest land”, and that “land grabbers cannot take refuge in the rule of law” and talk of “fairness”. Demolitions had started at Khori on July 14, 2021, and locals and activists claimed at least 10,000 residential units were razed. The MCF had said those evicted would be rehabilitated as per government policy and given EWS (economically weaker section) flats in Dabua Colony and Bapu Nagar in Faridabad. However, one year on, the civic body has given allotment letters to only 1,009 eligible people and a majority is yet to move into the flats.

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Is Luxembourg’s free public transport a success?

Luxembourg has the highest vehicle density in the European Union, with 696 cars per 1,000 people as of 2020. Almost nine out of 10 households  here have a car; one in 10 families have three or more. Low tariffs and taxes gave Luxembourg the cheapest diesel in the EU and the cheapest gas in Western Europe. Traffic often moves at a crawl, while Luxembourg City, charm aside, is a checkerboard of parking lots. With its population set to surpass 690,000 by 2030, Luxembourg risks choking on its automobiles. To curb its driving addiction, this small country is trying an ambitious idea: On February 29, 2020, it became the first nation in the world to make all public transit entirely free, with the exception of (not especially popular) first-class tickets. But, how far is this successful? Even for those in close proximity to Luxembourg City, public transit coverage isn’t sufficient for many residents’ needs, and getting around exclusively via bus or train is an even bigger challenge outside the city centre.

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How can we reduce over-reliance on fossil fuel-based fertilisers?

The invention of nitrogen fertilisers has been called “the most important invention of the 20th century”. While fertilisers have allowed food production to expand around the globe, the intensification of agriculture has come at a cost – to the environment, climate and health of humans, animals and soil alike, scientists tell Carbon Brief. The global production of fertilisers is responsible for around 1.4% of annual CO2 emissions, and fertiliser use is a major contributor of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists and farmers are faced with a new dilemma: how to feed a still-growing population while reducing agriculture’s impact on climate and the environment. Some are trying to end their fertiliser use altogether, while others are looking at how to reduce the amount of nutrients lost by optimising fertiliser application and management. Others are trying to recover lost nutrients from waste, where they can be recycled back into the farm. This piece explores the history of fertiliser use, the climate costs of agricultural industrialisation, and how the world can reduce its overreliance on synthetic, fossil fuel-based fertilisers.

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Passengers warned of heat after London train track fire

Train tracks on a London line near Battersea burst into flames on July 11 as the United Kingdom continues to face heat waves. The London train service was paused after flames engulfed the wooden beams on a track in South London. Network Rail warned passengers to check before they travel, saying that “very hot weather can cause the overhead wires that power electric trains to sag”. Transport for London (TfL) assured commuters that it was taking steps to ensure the Underground could handle the heat. Mark Evers, TfL’s Chief Customer Officer, said: “We have a comprehensive hot weather plan in place to protect the network’s infrastructure and keep services running. “During this hot weather, we advise customers to ensure they have water with them when they travel.” The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, commented on the Met Office’s extreme weather urging people to be “careful if travelling at the hottest times of day, and to utilise London’s 4,000 free refill locations, more than 100 new water fountains and our Cool Spaces across the capital”.

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Poorer nations deprived of fuel as EU ramps up imports: WSJ

European Union (EU) members are actively buying up liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative to Russian pipeline supplies, depriving poorer countries that cannot compete for the fuel due to high prices, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has claimed. According to the publication, the price of LNG has skyrocketed 1,900% from its low two years ago. Current prices are equivalent to buying oil at $230 a barrel, while LNG normally trades at a discount to oil. Developing countries cannot compete with Europe for the supplies at such prices of about $40 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). According to Wood Mackenzie data, cited by the Journal, European nations have ramped up their LNG imports by almost 50% year-to-date through June 19. At the same time, India’s imports during that period decreased by 16%, China slashed purchases by 21%, and Pakistan by 15%. In some cases, cargoes that were destined for poorer countries are diverted to Europe. Experts note that it’s profitable even if suppliers are forced to pay penalties under contracts with developing countries.

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Vendors in Mexico forced to erase colourful art, citizens upset

Mexico’s iconic central neighbourhoods have been stripped off its colour. In April, the city’s Cuauhtemoc borough ordered the colourful signs taken off of 1,493 street food stands, replacing them all with the same pattern of white paint and a blue-grey stripe, a large sticker or stencil with the local government’s logo, and a new slogan: “Cuauhtemoc Borough is Your Home”. Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, an unofficial presidential candidate for the ruling Morena party, has said that there is no legal basis for forcing vendors to erase their own art and incorporate the Cuauhtemoc logo. “It is part of our culture and it is absolutely authoritarian to want to impose a single message from a borough government amid the city’s historical popular urban culture,” Sheinbaum said at a press conference on May 20. The borough’s mayor, Sandra Cuevas, says she held meetings with owners of street stands before making the decision to paint over their signs. Activists say those meetings fell short of a formal public consultation. A complaint has been filed with the Mexico City Human Rights Commission.

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July 1, 2022

Assam’s drought changed to floods in a week

It took just a week for the situation in Assam to change from drought to deluge, a classic case of how Climate Change is exacerbating extreme weather events. Down To Earth analysed the data compiled by the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar’s drought monitoring service. It found that till June 14, 2022, nine districts — Karbi Anglong, Morigaon, Darrang, Golaghat, Jorhat, Tinsukia, Barpeta, Nalbari and Kamrup — were reeling under drought-like conditions. But, within a week’s time, the situation on the ground took a 360-degree turn. By June 21, Assam had recorded 83 per cent above average rainfall which comes under the large excess category, according to the Indian Meteorological Division. It was this incessant spell of rain in June that triggered the flooding of Brahmaputra and other tributaries. The Union Ministry of Science and Technology has stated that Assam is the most climate-vulnerable state in India, with 11 of the country’s 16 most climate vulnerable districts being located in it. But poor flood management is also responsible for the June flooding that the state is experiencing.

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Five Indian cities most expensive for foreign employees

Mumbai is the most expensive city in India for foreign employees, according to the cost of living ranking by Mercer. The rankings by the international management consultancy are a way for global expats to assess living costs in cities that they may be required to move to, they also help employees and employers around the world with extensive and current data in unpredictable global markets to work out compensation strategies for expats. The rankings measure the comparative cost of living in cities around the world based on 200 items including housing, transport, food, clothing, and entertainment to devise the rankings of cities. In the rankings for 2022, Mumbai is placed at number 127 making it the most expensive city in India and New Delhi is a tad cheaper at number 155. Chennai (177), Bengaluru (178), and Hyderabad (192) bring up the others in India’s five, all considerably cheaper than Mumbai. Pune and Kolkata are the least expensive for global employees. Other Asian cities which are in the ranking include Singapore, Tokyo, and Beijing but the three are expectedly high up in the list taking the 8th, 9th and 10th spots and making them the most expensive cities in Asia to live in. The high rankings for these were driven by inflation and strong currencies, Mercer clarified in the ranking report.

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Climate Migration pushes Dhaka to the brink

Thousands of people from the coastal areas of Bangladesh are pouring into the country’s capital and megacity Dhaka every day to escape harsh weather events such as flooding due to Climate Change. The Dhaka Mayor’s Migration Council estimated that 2,000 people are moving to Dhaka every day but they are hardly safe in the city either. Climate Change has led to mass migration in many parts of the world, but Bangladesh is a unique case. Its low sea level, high population density and inadequate infrastructure make people in the country, and the over-crowded Dhaka, particularly vulnerable. Torrential monsoon rains in the last few weeks killed at least 60 people, submerged many villages and inundated major rivers, according to reports. Bangladesh has a population of 168 million and is beset by over 10 million climate refugees. With a couple of thousands making Dhaka their home every day, infrastructure has been stretched and slums have mushroomed in the city on low-lying areas making the migrants vulnerable all over again.

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Italy’s longest river, Po, dries up

The rising temperatures and heat waves have dried Italy’s longest river, Po.  The river, which crosses the major northern regions and accounts for around a third of the country’s agricultural production, is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years. “A combination of the worst drought in recent years and temperatures … touching 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) at the end of June, are leading Italy towards a dramatic environmental and economic situation,” the ANBI irrigation body said. The Lazio region centred on Rome declared a state of emergency, imposing restrictions in some communities, including bans on hosepipe usage and filling swimming pools. A project funded by the European Space Agency said on Thursday that weeks of hot weather had raised the surface temperature of the Mediterranean by about 4C above the 1985-2005 average. “Understanding what exactly is happening to the current climate is increasingly important because the changes are starting to have a concrete impact on everyday life,” said Gianmaria Sannino, head of the ENEA Climate Modelling which took part in the project.

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Spain’s Seville to name, rank heat waves

Seville in Spain became the first city in the world to introduce a naming and ranking system for periods of high heat. Seville is located in Andalusia, which is already one of the hottest regions in Spain. However, the climate crisis is making heat waves around the globe more frequent and severe “We are the first city in the world to take a step that will help us plan and take measures when this type of meteorological event happens — particularly because heat waves always hit the most vulnerable,” Seville Mayor Antonio Muñoz said in a press release. “The city government ratifies its commitment in the fight against climate change through the reduction of emissions and decarbonization, and second, through adaptation — to make Seville a resilient city with a model that truly tackles the big challenge of rising heat.” Heat waves will be assigned a severity category from one to three — with three being the most severe — based on a combination of temperature, humidity and conditions in the 30 days before the heat wave.

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Singapore’s rents soar, worry expats

Singapore is seeing skyrocketing rents and some of the expats are being asked to pay 40 per cent more. The rising rents are part of a list of concerns for Singapore’s expats, which also include difficulties finding places for their kids in international schools, and rising prices for tuition due to inflation. Packages for expats are getting smaller, and the government has tightened its criteria for worker visas as it seeks to ensure citizens get more higher-paying jobs. The number of expatriate white-collar workers fell to the lowest in more than a decade last year, according to the Ministry of Manpower, partly as a result of travel restrictions from the pandemic. The red-hot market is giving rise to rental scams, where people posing as agents use fake online listings to lure deposits from unsuspecting home hunters. Singapore isn’t unique in seeing rising rents. They’re also surging in London and Dubai. In New York’s Manhattan, median asking prices jumped 36.9% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to property portal StreetEasy.

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June 17, 2022

Heat waves impact Punjab’s wheat yield this year

Punjab registered the lowest wheat harvest this year in two decades at 43 quintals per hectare — due to the prevailing heat wave. Sarup Singh Sidhu, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Bathinda chapter), a farmer’s organisation, told Mongabay-India, that since mid-March this year, nine farmers in Bathinda and seven farmers in Mansa had died by suicide. He attributed these deaths to the stressful situation arising from the low wheat output. Climate Change increases the likelihood and intensity of heatwaves, which in turn impact the agricultural sector as is seen in the case of Punjab. Pavneet Kaur Kingra, head of the Department of Climate Change and Agricultural Meteorology, Punjab Agricultural University, said this has been the hottest March in Punjab since 1970. He attributes it to global warming and climate change impacts. “The heatwaves in March had a considerable impact on wheat yield and growth…,” said Rajesh Kumar Sharma, the senior researcher at the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research.

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India last among 180 countries in environmental report

India has been ranked last in a list of 180 countries that were judged for their environmental performances in the 2022 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). The list is headed by Denmark, the world’s most sustainable country. The EPI 2022 report says: “Based on the latest scientific insights and environmental data, India ranks at the bottom of all countries in the 2022 EPI, with low scores across a range of critical issues.” Over the past 10 years, India has been slipping on many parameters, especially on climate-related ones. At a time when others are backing down from coal use, India has increased the use and dependence on black carbon. India’s response to Climate Change is sluggish. The government, instead of strengthening the existing environmental laws and creating new laws, is bent on erasing the existing ones. Environmental laws such as the Coastal Regulation Zone, the Wildlife Act, and laws pertaining to mining in forests are under threat. The government leans more towards facilitating industry than towards sustaining the environment.

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Extreme weather pushes up dengue cases in Singapore

Singapore recorded more than 11,000 dengue cases in May, a month before the peak dengue season began. Experts warn that Climate Change might lead to the same situation in the rest of the world. Experts say the outbreak in Singapore has been made worse by recent extreme weather that brought prolonged hot weather spells and thundery showers. This weather condition spreads both the mosquitoes and the virus they carry, not only in Singapore but across the world. Ruklanthi de Alwis, a senior research fellow at the Duke-NUS Medical School and an expert in emerging infectious diseases, said that Singapore’s dengue surge is the result of several factors including the recent warm, wet weather as well as a new dominant virus strain. He added that Climate Change will most likely make things worse, referencing predictive modeling studies that show global warming will eventually expand the geographical areas in which mosquitoes thrive due to Climate Change. Winston Chow, a climate scientist from the College of Integrative Studies at Singapore Management University, said that dengue cannot be eradicated because the constant weather extremes create the perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

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Heat waves sear Spain, southern France

Spain and southern France are reeling under the second extreme heat event of the year, with temperatures hitting highs not normally recorded until July or August. Experts said summer heatwaves are happening earlier and more often. The French state forecaster, Météo France, said temperatures had already exceeded 35 degrees Celsius close to the Mediterranean and would rise further from midweek as the hot air mass moved northwards, with parts of the south-west and Rhone valley reaching 39C. Forecaster Patrick Galois said such events “very rarely” occurred in June and then only at the end of the month. Previous extreme temperature episodes in June, such as in 2005 and 2017, had not begun to develop before at least the 18th of the month, he said. A spokesperson for Aemet, the state meteorological office, said that the latest episode was the third-earliest on record and the first to arrive this early since 1981. Almost the whole of Portugal had been classified as being in “severe drought” by the end of May, according to the national weather service IPMA.

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Fish ear bones help understand Climate Change

Fish ear bones (otoliths) are becoming increasingly important in reconstructing the past climate and understanding climate sensitivity to seasonal variations. Researchers in India are tapping into otoliths from live-caught fish and dead fish in fossil records to mine and analyse a wealth of growth data that advances paleoclimate science and can be plugged into climate models. Combined with other sources of data, otolith-based data also informs current practices in fisheries and their management amid human-caused pressures. The isotopes of oxygen in the otoliths depend on the temperature of the water in which the fish grew and record continuous snapshots of past temperatures during the lifetime of the fish for years. In a 2019 paper,  archaeo-zoologist Arati Deshpande Mukherjee and colleagues at IIT Kharagpur and Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, write about climate evidence coming from high-resolution oxygen isotopes in snail shells Terebralia palustris which typically grow in mangroves and were a source of food for the Dholavirans. They linked the decline of Harappan city Dholavira to the disappearance of a Himalayan snow-fed river which once flowed in the Rann of Kutch.

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‘UK govt’s net-zero strategy unlawful’

Three environmental and legal groups took the United Kingdom (UK) government to court on June 8, arguing that its net-zero strategy is “irresponsible” and “unlawful”. Friends of the Earth, environmental law charity ClientEarth, and legal campaign group the Good Law Project all claim that the government’s plans are in breach of climate law as they omit vital details and “completely fail” to show how targets would be met. They said the government was aware the policies did not add up to the reductions necessary to meet one of the key emission targets but did not make this clear. The sixth carbon budget covers the period 2033 to 2037, during which time the UK will be able to emit 965 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. It is the first time the government has faced a legal challenge to its net-zero strategy, which was formally published in October last year. The government has insisted the strategy complies with its legal obligations and has been endorsed by the independent Climate Change Committee.

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Climate Change: US, Europe refuse to pay poorer nations

The United States and the European Union have turned down the demand by developing nations to compensate them to deal with the impacts of Climate Change. The developing nations say they have been suffering the effects more than richer nations and have less financial capacity to cope. Two weeks of climate talks in Germany’s Bonn have ended in acrimony between rich and poor countries over cash for climate damage. Developing countries say they are reeling from Climate Change caused by richer countries’ emissions over hundreds of years. They say that Europe and the US have a responsibility now to compensate them for this. The US and Europe did not agree on the grounds that if they pay for historic emissions, it could put their countries on the hook for billions of dollars for decades or even centuries to come. But despite two weeks of discussions, they have been unable to get the issue of a funding facility on the agenda for the COP27 conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

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June 3, 2022

IMD forecasts normal rainfall over northwest India

The rainfall over northwest India this monsoon season is likely to be ‘normal’, according to the long range forecast issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD). ‘Normal’ rainfall for the northwest region would be 92 per cent to 108 per cent of the long period average (LPA), which is 587.6 mm for the region for the season. For the month of June as well, normal or above normal rainfall is expected over many parts of northwest and central India. “Heat wave conditions are not so likely…only Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and some parts of Uttarakhand may have the probability of above normal (maximum) temperature. The main heat core zone, extending from Gujarat and Rajasthan to Odisha, will have below normal maximum temperature probability,” said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, Director General, IMD. From March 1 to May 30, northwest India as a whole recorded a 64 per cent deficit in rainfall. In May, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh recorded deficit rainfall, Punjab registered normal rainfall, and the Haryana-Chandigarh-Delhi sub-division recorded a large excess rainfall.

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Gender gap worsens in low, middle-income nations

The ninth edition of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Monitor on the ‘World of Work’ found the gender gap in low- and middle- income countries remains larger than the pre-pandemic level despite some progress. India and lower-middle-income countries experienced a deterioration of the gender gap in the second quarter of 2020. “The ILO report suggests that the purchasing capacity of the workers should be improved,” said Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) general secretary Binoy Kumar Sinha in this story. The ILO report says that after significant gains made during the last quarter of 2021, the number of hours worked globally dropped in the first quarter of 2022, to 3.8 per cent below the pre-crisis benchmark (fourth quarter of 2019). This means that about 11.2 crore jobs might have been lost between this period. Multiple economic crises including inflation, especially in energy and food prices, financial turbulence, potential debt distress, and global supply chain disruption, exacerbated by war in Ukraine may further deteriorate the number of hours worked in 2022, the report said.

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BRT system in Peshawar helps women travel safely

The bus rapid transit (BRT), launched in 2020 in Peshawar, has proved hugely popular among women in the ultra-conservative city, where burqas and veils are standard female dress. Ninety per cent of women reported felt unsafe using public transport in a 2016 survey. With frequent buses, dedicated lanes, subway-like stations, and improved connectivity across the city, the BRT has made travel cheap, and quick, as well as safer. A quarter of the seats are reserved for women on the fleet of diesel-electric hybrid buses, which are equipped with CCTV cameras, guards and have well-lit stations, making women passengers feel more at ease. About 15 per cent of the BRT’s 2,000 employees are female, too, said M Umair Khan, spokesman for TransPeshawar, the government-owned company that operates the BRT. He said such changes helped explain why women now account for about 30 per cent of bus travellers in the city, up from just 2 per cent two years ago. The maximum fare is about 30 Pakistani rupees, making the service especially popular among women from low-income households.

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Nepal’s apex court scraps airport plan, saves trees

Nepal’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to not build the $3.45-billion Nijgadh International Airport, reports Mongabay. The project ran into a controversy since it was first planned in the 1990s because it involved the cutting of the last remaining patch of dense forests in Nepal’s eastern plains. A total of 2.4 million trees, both big and small, would have had to be cut to construct the two-runway airport. Campaigner Shristi Singh Shrestha said, “The major concern with the project was not just about the number of trees, but also about the encroachment of key corridors used by wild elephants. The other issue is about the groundwater stresses associated with such massive deforestation.” Nepal has only one airport in its capital, Kathmandu. Although two new regional international airports have been built in Pokhara and Bhairahawa, they cannot accommodate big aircraft or handle heavy traffic. The court annulled the government’s decision to build the international airport in Nijgadh and ordered it to seek an alternative site that meets legal and environmental requirements, said Supreme Court spokesperson Bimal Paudel.

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Shanghai COVID lockdown eases, with conditions

After a two-month lockdown, Shanghai began to come back to life as COVID cases dropped and restrictions were lifted. At least 650,000 residents are still confined to their homes which remain classified as “sealed off” or “closed off” zones but basic public transport service resumed, shops opened with larger ones operating at 75 per cent capacity, and restaurants were permitted to serve but dining in was not allowed. Cinemas, museums and gyms remain closed. And most children will not return to school. Those who wish to move around the city on public transport or go to the bank, a restaurant or a market will be required to show a negative PCR test result, no older than 72 hours. Any resident travelling to another city in China faces quarantine of between 7-14 days on their return. For now, it’s easier to fly out of Shanghai to foreign locations than it is to go an hour down the rails on a high-speed train to Hangzhou. China’s overall policy of “dynamic zero Covid” remains firmly in place.

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Travel seamless in London crossrail

On May 24, London launched the biggest extension of its public transport system, the Elizabeth Line. The £18.9 billion link aims at improving the city’s public transport, cutting down travel time and making the city more accessible, reports Bloomberg CityLab. By extending the transport system to areas that were previously much slower to access and creating new central hubs for transfers to the Tube, the line could also reshape the way people navigate the city. With the Elizabeth Line connecting outer suburbs directly to a string of new stations in central London, many of those commuters should be able to go straight from their home stations to one within easy walking distance of their offices, without needing to transfer to the Tube. The Elizabeth Line by contrast, will provide step-free access that could open up many routes into central London for people with disabilities. The 10 new stations in the central section of the line—as well as Heathrow— will have level access from platform to trains, and step-free access from street to train at nearly all other stations.

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Paris to shut two beltway lanes after 2024 Games

After the 2024 Olympic Games end, Paris plans to close two lanes of the Boulevard Périphérique, a beltway that has long been notorious for its congestion and pollution. It aims to reduce air and noise pollution by transforming the highway from a “grey belt to a green belt”. The highway would shrink to three fully accessible lanes in each direction, from a current norm of four. Ten hectares or 25 acres of the beltway would be planted with trees as part of a process that would ultimately extend the entire beltway’s length. The city has also floated the idea — without fully committing to it — of closing the newly restricted lanes entirely by 2030, to create more space for greenery or bike lanes. These new proposals will add to renovations already underway at nine major junctions connecting the beltway to inner Paris to create a road that is greener, cleaner and easier to cross. The changes are necessary because the current volume of pollution and the number of people exposed to it are unacceptable, said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

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A green example of net zero and energy-sufficient home

Environmental campaigner Donnachadh McCarthy writes in The Independent, on how he managed to make his house a zero-carbon home. “When my original solar panels were installed, I used gas for heating and cooking, and the panels supplied electricity for my lighting, fridge and computer etc. I then sought to reduce gas consumption to zero; I only heat the room I am in to a maximum of 18C, and cook as efficiently as I can. I gradually installed solid wall insulation in my 1840’s London terraced home, stuffed the loft with insulation and put in triple-glazed windows. Then I discovered low wattage kettles and electric hot-plates that can operate on the lower wattage produced by the roof. This enabled me to get to zero gas consumption and so last year I got my gas connection removed. Thus, I do not pay a gas standing charge or for boiler maintenance…About 50 per cent of my carbon reduction comes from being efficient with energy usage. It saves money and costs nothing,” he explains.

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May 20, 2022

India's new normal summer temp may touch 50 degrees C

As many parts of north India reeled under a heat wave with temperatures shooting up to an excess of 49 degrees Celsius on Sunday (May 15), experts believed that it was increasingly possible that mercury may touch 50°C, and that may be the new normal, reports The Federal. On Sunday, maximum temperatures in parts of Delhi rose above 49°C and other parts of northwest India also suffered from scorching temperatures. Banda in Uttar Pradesh recorded 49°C; Gurugram, Hisar and Narnaul in Haryana and Khajuraho and Nowgong in Madhya Pradesh recorded maximum temperatures of over 47°C. One of the root causes of this increase in heat waves is Climate Change, said climate scientists, who advised people to get used to the high temperatures as they may well become the norm. M Rajeevan, former secretary, ministry of earth sciences, said the maximum temperatures during heatwave periods over northwest India have already gone up from 45-46°C to 47-48°C. Due to climate change, we will witness three things with heatwaves: higher intensity; an increase in duration; and a larger impact area.

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Four key climate change indicators highest last year: WMO

Four key climate change indicators – greenhouse gas concentrations, rise in sea level, ocean heat and ocean acidification – set new records in 2021, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) noted in its ‘State of Climate’ report released on March 18. The past seven years, from 2015 to 2021, were globally the warmest years on record, it stated, adding the average global temperature last year was about 1.1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level (1850-1900). The Times of India reports that the global mean sea level reached a new record high in 2021, rising an average of 4.5mm per year over the 2013-2021 period – a clear sign of how global warming is likely to be disastrous for coastal areas as the threshold level of 1.5 degree Celsius rise is not far away. Alarmed with the report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged ending fossil fuel pollution, saying “fossil fuels are a dead end – environmentally and economically”. He highlighted that the war in Ukraine and its effect on energy prices is another wake-up call.

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Nature has legal status on par with humans: Madras High Court

The Madras High Court ruled last month that “Mother Nature” has the same legal status as a human being, which includes “all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person”. The case is the latest in a series of so-called “rights of nature” laws and court rulings that aim to give ecosystems, animals and elements of the natural world legal rights similar to those of humans, corporations and trusts. “The past generations have handed over the “Mother Earth” to us in its pristine glory and we are morally bound to hand over the same to the next generation,” Justice S. Srimathy said in a 23-page judgement. Justice Srimathy invoked “parens patriae jurisdiction” or the power of the government to act as a guardian for those who cannot care for themselves. She entrusted the state and central governments the responsibility to take appropriate steps to “protect Mother Nature” in all possible ways. “If sustainable development finishes off all our biodiversity and resources, then it is not sustainable development, it is sustainable destruction,” Srimathy wrote.

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Earth’s carbon dioxide records highest level ever

Monthly average carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have reached above 420 parts per million (ppm) for the first time on record, reports The Independent. The new data, from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, were released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Atmospheric CO2, driven higher in large part by burning fossil fuels around the world, is one of the major causes of the climate crisis. Emissions from transportation, industry, electricity generation and other sources like deforestation have pushed vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere throughout the year since the mid-19th century – causing atmospheric carbon to increase dramatically over time. NOAA notes that CO2 is currently increasing about 100 times faster than other periods in geological history that have seen more natural increases in carbon dioxide. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel and industry makes up 64 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 11 per cent comes from those emitted by land use and forestry.

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South Africa’s floods more intense due to climate crisis

Massive and deadly floods that struck South Africa in April were made twice as likely and more intense by global heating, according to scientists, reports The Guardian. The research demonstrates that the climate emergency is resulting in devastation. “If we do not reduce emissions and keep global temperatures below 1.5C, many extreme weather events will become increasingly destructive,” said Dr Izidine Pinto, at the University of Cape Town and part of the team that conducted the analysis. The analysis of the role of global heating in the South African floods used weather data and computer simulations to assess how likely the extreme rainfall was to happen in today’s heated climate. India is going through an intense heat wave which is projected to get worse because of global warming. Dr Friederike Otto, at Imperial College London, also part of the team, said, “There is no doubt that climate change is a huge game changer when it comes to extreme heat. Every heatwave in the world is now made stronger and more likely to happen because of human-caused climate change.”

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Recycling garbage may generate Rs 30K crore a year: Indian Govt

A report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has recommended a complete ban on disposal of recyclables at landfills, says The Times of India. Titled ‘Circular Economy in Municipal Solid and Liquid Waste’, the report states, “Disposing of recyclables in landfills/ dump sites not only leads to loss of valued resources but also causes environment pollution.” It has estimated that proper treatment of municipal solid, wet and construction waste can generate nearly Rs 30,000 crore revenue per annum and create employment opportunities for more than one crore people by 2025. It has also recommended that the government reduce GST and other taxes on products made from recycled materials to five per cent to encourage recycling of waste. The report is important as intense urbanisation has led to a manifold increase in garbage generated in cities. Untreated waste, mostly plastic, reaches landfills and also pollutes water bodies. The report says that approximately 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in the country daily and out of this only 15,600 tonnes is recycled.

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