2020: An Environmental Summary

2020 has been quite a bad year for most of the people in the world. However, did it have a positive or negative impact on the environment? Some people like to believe that it was a great year for nature, and that ‘nature had unleashed its fury’ or ‘mother earth is taking revenge.’ Others think that the reckless destruction of biodiverse areas by corporates and the government had ravaged the earth more than many other years. On the right is a summary of all the events of the year:

  • The Australian Bushfires, as can be seen in the article on the left, killed over 1 billion animals.
  • So intense were the fires that the smoke from them clouded the skies of New Zealand and turned them an ominous orange for several days.
  •  These bushfires brought koalas to a status of ‘functionally extinct.’ This meant that though there were koalas, the number of breeding pairs had decreased to a state where there was almost no hope for recovery
Coronavirus announcement tweet by WHO

The WHO (World Health Organisation) revealed information about coronavirus on their twitter account @WHO
The thread breaks down in simple terms the following information: What the disease is, symptoms, and precautions to take to prevent the spread of the disease.

The link to the thread can be found here

  • Lockdowns across the world hindered conservation efforts, as forest guards, conservationists, and activists could no longer monitor forests.
  • Poaching increase manifold times in Africa, and animals were freely smuggles without any checks.
  • Many governments used this as an opportunity to sell or auction many forests for mining, building dams, etc, as no activists could protest against these decisions anymore.

The Timeline

  • October-March: Australian bushfires ravage most of Australian forests, killing more than a billion of animals, and driving koalas to a status of ‘functionally extinct’. Read a timeline of the bushfires here 
  • December 31, 2019: China reveals to the world that over 40 people in Wuhan had been diagnosed with an unidentified pneumonial disease, supposedly after they went shopping to a wet-market in the city. This was pinpointed onto a bat and armadillo shop in the market.
  • January 13, 2020: The first case of the disease was reported outside of China in Thailand. This is also the same day the WHO gave more insights on precautions to take, symptoms, and other such information of the virus.
  • January 27th, 2020: Jharkhand saves an important elephant corridor by putting of a project for the extension of an airport. 
  • February 11, 2020: The disease receives the name SARS-COVID-19, standing for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome related Coronavirus Disease 2019, as it is a form of the SARS Virus which was discovered in 2019. It became more popularly known as COVID-19 or Coronavirus.
  • Feb-March: Worldwide, countries establish lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Lockdowns played a major role in the condition of the environment during the pandemic, leading to less vehicular and garbage pollution, but also leaving animals vulnerable with no forest guards to protect them.
  • March 11, 2020: WHO declares COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, alarmed by the severity of the symptoms and the rapid spreading.
  • March 23rd, 2020: The MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change) drafts a new version of the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment. 
  • March-June: 
    • President of the USA, Donald Trump, dilutes several environmental regulations to ‘ease the process of doing business.’ 
    • The MoEFCC gives clearance to over 100 projects seeking clearance, thus destroying many forests. Since lockdown was going on, protesters couldn’t stop the reckless mining of Indian biodiversity hotspots. 
  • May 2020: Assam receives lots of rain, which culminates in the four month-long Assam Floods, killing lots of people as well as wildlife. It saw several deaths of the Indian Rhino.
  • May 27th, 2020: A pregnant elephant was offered a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers. The firecrackers burst inside her head, causing her to rush and stand inside a lake, dying soon after. The elephant had not harmed any human even after the crackers burst, and she became a symbol of helplessness and innocence of animals for several months.

The Locust Attack, explained by Amit Schandillia on Twitter 

The weather of the Indian Ocean depends on a simple phenomenon- the Indian Ocean Dipole. The dipole is calculated as the difference between the two sides of the ocean, so it is Temperature of West Indian Ocean – Temperature of East Indian Ocean. If the temperature is uniform, then the dipole is neutral and thus equal to 0. If the west is warmer than the east the value is positive and vice-versa. The warmer side gets plenty or rains and the other side gets droughts (as seen in the Australian Bushfires). The dipole shifts due to winds. The south easterlies push the colder pacific waters into the corridor of the Indian ocean. Historically, the dipole has stayed within safe limits, but it is expected to get worse due to Climate Change. In 2018, a strong dipole caused torrential rains in Africa. Locusts laid their eggs in the lakes that were formed in the middle of deserts, and locust eggs which had sat dormant for 20 years came to life. These swarms were in billions, since locust swarms grow by 20-100 times every three months. This swarm of billions followed the winds and into the Indian subcontinent, resulting in thousands of tonnes of crops being devastated. All this, because of a change in a dipole caused by climate change. Climate Change is serious.
His thread can be found here: https://twitter.com/Schandillia/status/1265536026510012418

The Draft EIA

  • The EIA is the law which ensures land is first inspected for environmental value. If biodiversity levels are high, or if it is of importance, then clearance is not given
  • The EIA was first implemented after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, when a factory and Bhopal leaked, leading to one of India’s biggest environmental disasters.
  • After that incident, the government decided it would be important to have a check which ensures industries cannot be built without permission. 
  • After being diluted several times, a new draft came out in 2006. Now, the draft 2020 poses a serious threat to the environment, as it systematically deletes environmental regulations, allowing industries to set up shop without a proper inspection of the area.

The EIA was opposed by thousands of environmentalists across India. To help more and more people understand the EIA, the Supreme Court of India gave an order to the MoEFCC to publish in multiple regional languages. This was not done. The Supreme Court ordered the MoEFCC to take feedback from the people. A deadline was given, which was later extended. This is concerning as Prakash Javadekar, the HMoEFCC is also the minister of coal and heavy industries, leading to the latter often being prioritised at the cost of the environment.
The MoEFCC later banned three environmental websites run by youth raising awareness of the EIA. These websites were Let India Breathe, FridaysForFuture and There Is No Earth B.

Columbia’s Reserve Land Suffers from Intensifying Deforestation
Mongabay, a conservation news website, uncovers that Columbia’s protected areas are being subjected to increasing levels of deforestation. The trend began with the demobilisation of the FARC in 2016, but increased a lot this year due to slowing of conservation operations and less security because of the spread of COVID-19

In December 2020, satellite imagery uncovered that the deforestation rate had hit a 12-year high in Brazil, under the rule of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. He is often blamed for encouraging deforestation and networks which are expelling natives from their forest land. Scientists have also said that deforestation rates have accelerated in his term. Most of the cleared land is either being given to agricultural purposes and mining or for plantations of Palm Oil. 

The Impacts of the Intense Deforestation and Flouting of Environmental Regulations in 2020

Click on the Tabs to Read: How Deforestation affected different communities in 2020.

A satellite image of the deforestation in the Amazons. Since the deforested areas cut through the middle of the forest, animals can no longer freely move throughout the forest and are restricted to smaller areas.

  • June 25th-35th, 2020: Thousands of locusts invaded north-western India and ravaged crops. These locusts threatened to reach Delhi, the capital, but narrowly missed it.
  • July-September 2020: Poachers, Loggers, and Industrialists benefit from the post-COVID scenario where there are few forest guards on duty, fewer activists, fewer people to check for flouting of environmental regulations, etc.
  • August 2020: The Assam Floods finally cease to be, after wreaking havoc, killing animals, and destroying many livelihoods.
  • August 20th-30th, 2020: Trump repeals law which prohibits hunters from using bait to hunt bears, wolves, and other game animals in Alaskan reserves.
  • September 5th, 2020: Marks the beginning of a series of fires that consume large swathes of forests in California. The cause of the fires has been pinpointed to these three factors.
    • Bad management by the fire department and low reporting of fires by ordinary people.
    • Climate Change has been a major cause of the excessive heat which caused the fires.
    • A gender-reveal party which used a smoke machine near a forest, which led to the El Dorado Fires.
  • September 10th, 2020: WWF publishes its Living Planet Report 2020, which reveals that over 68% of all wildlife has been lost in the last 50 years. This sparks lots of concern from environmentalists across the globe.
  • September 13th, 2020: The MoEFCC issues a notification which suggested that over 40% of Indian forests were to be sold or leased to be managed by the Private sector. 
  • October 2020: The Burmese Roofed Turtle’s population increases to almost 1,000 individuals, coming a long way since it was declared extinct in the wild just 20 years ago.
  • October 3rd, 2020: The Gujarat Forest Department commits 26 million hectares of ‘degraded’ land for forest planting. Since ‘degraded’ land also includes grasslands (they are the most neglected and misunderstood habitat, with almost 0 conservation regulations), bustards, such as the lesser florican, wolves, hares, deer, etc may lose large parts of their habitats.
  • October 4th, 2020: The Gujarat Forest Department makes efforts to tag the endangered bird, the Lesser Florican, with solar transmitters to make conservation easier. 
  • December 1st, 2020: Satellite Imagery shows that Brazil’s deforestation rate has reached a 12-year high.
  • December 15th, 2020: The Maharashtra Forest Government sets up four sub-panels to identify critical wildlife habitats. One of these panels includes Sanctuary Asia’s editor in Chief, Bittu Sehgal and many other famous conservationists and experts.
  • December 16th, 2020: The Maharashtra Forest Department becomes the first state in India to get a dedicated action plan to save Pangolins (a scaly armadillo like creature)
  • December 2020: The MoEFCC plans to sell large swathes of Goa’s forests for mining, without any environmental impact assessment. The fact that no regulations and checks will me done draws in everybody’s attention to the Mollem Forests in Goa.
  • Dec 31st-Jan 1st, 2021: Thousands of birds fall dead in the streets of Rome, alarmed by the sound and sight of the firecrackers which were burst as celebration for the New Year.

Image Credits

  • Header Image (Coronavirus): By NIAID – https://www.flickr.com/photos/niaid/49534865371/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92612457
  • Prakash Javadekar, HMoEFCC: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (GODL-India), GODL-India <https://data.gov.in/sites/default/files/Gazette_Notification_OGDL.pdf>, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Locust: By Adam Matan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25396142
  •  Deforestation of the Amazons: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1193410


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