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[op-ed snap] Can we still avoid the climate tipping point?


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Carbon profile, Paris agreement, World Meteorological Organization, etc.

Mains level: The article discusses serious upcoming challenges on climate front. It also discusses some possible solutions to minimize the effects of climate change.


The risks of climate change are greater than currently feared

  1. According to a British journal ‘Nature’, the rise in average global temperature by the end of the century is likely to be about 5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels
  2. This is off by a huge margin from 2 degrees Celsius scenario which has been considered by the global scientific community as the upper threshold that the Earth’s environment can withstand
  3. Beyond which irreversible changes in the global climate are likely to occur
  4. The World Meteorological Organization says that global emissions reached a record high of 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016
  5. This level of pollution is highest in 800,000 years, and presents a scary picture of irreversible changes already happening in the global climate system

What can be done?

  1. While the 2 degrees Celsius threshold looks unlikely now, we, however, can still minimize its impact while simultaneously developing infrastructure to face the worst scenario
  2. Suggestions by the writer:

First: Model of development

  1. We need to fundamentally change our northern model of development which is based on the excessive resource consumption
  2. If the same model of development were to continue, it is going to be ecologically unsustainable for the planet

Second: Natural environment as a fundamental right

  1. We ought to treat the natural environment as a fundamental right and ask politicians to ensure it
  2. Political will flows from the people—when citizens care, politicians too act
  3. We as citizens have not demanded a measured action from our public representatives

Third: Regional, national and local strategies

  1. As the US has pulled out of the Paris agreement, it seems unlikely that there will be a global agreement now or in the near future
  2. Hence rather than a grand national or global strategy, we need to focus on regional, national and local strategies, e.g., cities
  3. The global urban population is likely to go up from 54% (3.9 billion) in 2014 to 66% (6.4 billion) in 2050
  4. Investing in energy-efficient appliances, powering homes with renewable energy, reducing water waste, using public transport and other measures can help in lowering the national, and ultimately the global, carbon profile

Fourth: Fossil-free energy future 

  1. The sharp fall in renewable energy cost had led to a record renewable capacity addition of 161 gigawatt (GW) in 2016, a 10% rise over 2015
  2. The falling price of renewable energy has made its cost comparable to fossil fuel in many parts of the world
  3. This is likely to accelerate the transition towards a fossil-free future

Finally: Developing countries need to focus more on adaptation than mitigation

  1. As the impact of climate change becomes increasingly visible, developing countries like India, need to focus more on adaptation than mitigation
  2. They need to develop infrastructure to rehabilitate people in their coastal areas, meet food demand with changing rain patterns and manage immigration caused by climate change


Carbon profiling

  1. Carbon profiling is a mathematical process that calculates how much carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere per m2 of space in a building over one year
  2. The analysis is in two parts which are then added together to produce an overall figure which is termed the ‘Carbon Profile’: operational carbon emissions and embodied carbon emissions
  3. Embodied carbon emissions relate to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from creating and maintaining the materials that form the building e.g. the carbon dioxide released from the baking of bricks or smelting or iron
  4. In the Carbon Profiling Model these emissions are measured as Embodied Carbon Efficiency (ECE), measured as kg of CO2/m2/year
  5. Occupational Carbon Emissions relate to the amount of Carbon Dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from the direct use of energy to run the building e.g. the heating or electricity used by the building over the year
  6. In the Carbon Profiling Model these emissions are measured in BER’s (Building Emission Rate) in kg of CO2/m2/year
  7. The BER is a United Kingdom government accepted unit of measurement that comes from an approved calculation process called sBEM (Simplified Building Emission Model)
  8. The purpose of Carbon Profiling is to provide a method of analyzing and comparing both operational and embodied carbon emissions at the same time
  9. With this information it is then possible to allocate a projects resources in such a way to minimize the total amount of Carbon Dioxide emitted into the atmosphere through the use of a given piece of space
  10. A secondary benefit is that having quantified the Carbon Profiling of different buildings it is then possible to make comparisons and rank buildings in term of their performance
  11. This allows investors and occupiers to identify which building are good and bad carbon investments
  12. Simon Sturgis and Gareth Roberts of Sturgis Associates in the United Kingdom originally developed ‘Carbon Profiling’ in December 2007

Chemical ban helping ozone hole recover: Nasa


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics of Ozone Depletion

Mains level: One of the few positive outcomes of the efforts done against environmental pollution and degradation


NASA’s report on ozone depletion

  1. An international ban on chlorine-containing man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), has resulted in about 20% less ozone depletion
  2. Chlorine from CFCs is going down in the ozone hole, and that less ozone depletion is occurring because of it

What are CFCs?

  1. CFCs are long-lived chemical compounds that eventually rise into the stratosphere, where they are broken apart by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, releasing chlorine atoms that go on to destroy ozone molecules
  2. CFCs have lifetimes from 50 to 100 years, so they linger in the atmosphere for a very long time
  3. Stratospheric ozone protects life on the planet by absorbing potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer and cataracts, suppress immune systems and damage plant life

Antarctic ozone hole

  1. The Antarctic ozone hole forms during September in the southern hemisphere’s winter as the returning sun’s rays catalyse ozone destruction cycles involving chlorine and bromine that come primarily from CFCs


Ozone Depeletion

  1. Ozone depletion describes two related phenomena observed since the late 1970s: a steady decline of about four percent in the total amount of ozone in Earth’s stratosphere (the ozone layer), and a much larger springtime decrease in stratospheric ozone around Earth’s polar regions
  2. The latter phenomenon is referred to as the ozone hole. There are also springtime polar tropospheric ozone depletion events in addition to these stratospheric phenomena
  3. The main cause of ozone depletion and the ozone hole is man-made chemicals, especially man-made halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants, and foam-blowing agents (chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs), HCFCs, halons), referred to as ozone-depleting substances (ODS)
  4. These compounds are transported into the stratosphere by the winds after being emitted at the surface
  5. Once in the stratosphere, they release halogen atoms through photodissociation, which catalyze the breakdown of ozone (O3) into oxygen (O2). Both types of ozone depletion were observed to increase as emissions of halocarbons increased
  6. Ozone depletion and the ozone hole generated worldwide concern over increased cancer risks and other negative effects
  7. The ozone layer prevents most harmful UVB wavelengths of ultraviolet light (UV light) from passing through the Earth’s atmosphere
  8. These wavelengths cause skin cancer, sunburn, and cataracts, which were projected to increase dramatically as a result of thinning ozone, as well as harming plants and animals
  9. These concerns led to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which bans the production of CFCs, halons, and other ozone-depleting chemicals

Oceans losing oxygen, can damage marine life: study


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the study and importance of oxygen in the sea

Mains level: Ocean is an important part of earth’s ecosystems. Any damage to it will directly affect human beings.


A latest study published in journal ‘Science’

  1. The study said that in the past 50 years, the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold and in coastal water bodies, including estuaries and seas
  2. And low-oxygen sites have increased more than 10-fold since 1950
  3. Scientists expect oxygen to continue dropping even outside these zones as Earth warms up

It can directly affect humans

  1. According to the study, the situation can cause serious damage to marine life, affect livelihoods of millions of people and trigger the release of dangerous greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide
  2. The danger due to low oxygen in oceans is manifold
  3. As per the study, even small oxygen declines can stunt growth in animals, hinder reproduction and lead to disease or even death

What should be done?

  1. To keep low oxygen in check, the scientists said the world needs to take on the issue from three angles—address the causes, nutrient pollution and climate change

Ancient jumping genes may control coral bleaching in warming oceans


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Coral Bleaching, Symbiodinium, etc.

Mains level: Importance of the newly found gene


Why is the research in news?

  1. Scientists have identified a gene that improves the heat tolerance of the algae that live symbiotically with coral species, and could potentially help the corals adapt to some warming
  2. Name of the special gene: Retrotransposons

Importance of the Algae for Corals

  1. Algae: Symbiodinium is a unicellular alga that provides its coral host with photosynthetic products in return for nutrients and shelter
  2. However, high sea temperatures can cause the breakdown of this symbiotic relationship and lead to the widespread expulsion of Symbiodinium from host tissues, an event known as coral bleaching
  3. If bleached corals do not recover, they starve to death, leaving only their white, calcium-carbonate exoskeleton


It’s all about corals

‘2017 may be among top 3 hottest years’


Mains Paper 1: Geography | changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies & ice-caps) & in flora & fauna & the effects of such changes

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Meteorological Organization, El Nino

Mains level: Global warming and its impacts

First 11 months of 2017 third warmest on record

  1. The year 2017 will likely be among the three warmest years on global record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
  2. The first 11 months of 2017 were the third warmest on record, behind 2016 and 2015
  3. Much-warmer-than-average conditions engulfed much of the world’s land and ocean surfaces

Geographical impacts

  1. Arctic and Antarctic sea ice coverage remain at near record lows
  2. 2017 may also be the warmest year without an El Nino — a climate phenomenon that causes global temperatures to shoot up
  3. There is an overall, long-term trend of warming since the late 1970s, and especially this century


World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

  1. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is an intergovernmental organization with a membership of 191 Member States and Territories
  2. It originated from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), which was founded in 1873
  3. Established by the ratification of the WMO Convention on 23 March 1950, WMO became the specialised agency of the United Nations for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences
  4. Its supreme body is the World Meteorological Congress

El Nino

  1. El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather around the globe
  2. El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (between approximately the International Date Line and 120°W), including off the Pacific coast of South America
  3. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific
  4. The cool phase of ENSO is called “La Niña” with SST in the eastern Pacific below average and air pressures high in the eastern and low in western Pacific

No lake formation near Gaumukh or along the course of river Bhagirathi: reports


Mains Paper 1: Geography | changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies & ice-caps) & in flora & fauna & the effects of such changes

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Gangotri glacier, Gaumukh, Bhagirathi river, landslide

Mains level: Early detection of disasters and prevention


No lake formation at Gaumukh

  1. A team of scientists and government officials who did an aerial survey of the Gangotri glacier dismissed claims of any lake formation at Gaumukh which could hinder the course of the Bhagirathi river
  2. This was done day after the Uttarakhand high court ordered the state government to clear the lake that had formed near Gaumukh
  3. The high court had instructed the state government to clear the lake near Gaumukh to prevent any future disasters like the one at Kedarnath in June 2013
  4. Gaumukh is the snout of the Gangotri glacier from where the Bhagirathi river originates

Reason behind “lake” formation

  1. The satellite data available with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) from November 2011 to October 2017 was analyzed by the expert agencies
  2. It was observed that in July 2017 a landslide had occurred due to which debris had been deposited “slightly away” from Gaumukh
  3. It showed “minor pondage” near the snout of the Gangotri glacier, but “no blockage” was observed in the Bhagirathi river

Is this anything to worry about?

  1. There was no imminent danger from the landslide that had occurred during the rainy season of 2017
  2. At present, there exists no lake along the course of the river and there isn’t any obstruction in the path of the river

Winter may be warmer than 40-year normal


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Global warming, cold waves

Mains level: Effects of climate change in India as well as across the globe


Forecast by the India Meteorological Department

  1. Winter temperatures across the country are, are on the whole, expected to be cooler than last year
  2. In keeping with the trend in recent years, they are likely to be warmer than the 40-year ‘normal’ winter temperatures
  3. In general, maximum and minimum temperatures across most States are likely to elevated

Global warming showing effect

  1. The warming trends are part of a larger pattern stoked by global warming
  2. Last winter was, on an average, about a degree warmer than the historical normal
  3. Between March and May this year, mean temperature was also warmer than normal with an anomaly of +0.77C,
  4. This along with 2010 was the sixth warmest ever spring season since 1901

Cold waves

  1. Cold waves — a characteristic mark of winters in north India — too may see a dip
  2. There is a 40% chance that minimum temperatures will be above normal in the so-called “core cold wave zone” of North and middle India

Other reasons behind variability in cold waves

  1. Other than global warming, ocean conditions over the equatorial Indian and Pacific oceans also contribute to the year-to-year variability of cold waves over the country

World likely to cross 1.2°C global warming level this year

  1. Source: A preliminary assessment provided by the World Meteorological Organisation in its Status of the Global Climate in 2016 report
  2. Finding: The world is likely to cross 1.2° C of global warming above pre-industrial levels in 2016
  3. This is dangerously close to breaching the 1.5° C warming levels advised as an ambitious target to stay safe from the worst impacts of climate change
  4. Impact of warming: There were a number of major heat waves and droughts experienced during 2015-2016
  5. The year started with an extreme heat wave in southern Africa, exacerbated by the ongoing drought
  6. The report also mentions Phalodi in Rajasthan, India which set a new record for heat in India recording 51.0°C on May 19
  7. The Paris Agreement last year had adopted 2°C as the absolute threshold for staying within safe global warming levels
  8. However, 1.5°C was advised as an ambitious target, especially bearing in mind the fate of small island countries such as Haiti or Maldives
  9. These islands are threatened with submergence due to sea-level rise and extreme weather events
  10. In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average

A background to Arctic ice sheet melting

  1. In April, the seasonal melting of Greenland’s vast ice sheet had reached record levels, prompting it to check that its models were still working properly
  2. Around 12% of the ice sheet was found to be melting almost one month earlier than the previous top three dates for when more than 10% of the ice had begun to melt
  3. The Greenland ice sheet, a potentially massive contributor to rising sea levels, lost mass twice as fast between 2003 and 2010 as during the entire 20th century

Greenland sets record temperatures, ice melts early

  1. News: Temperature records are broken in Greenland this year after parts of the territory’s vast ice sheet began melting unusually early
  2. These new results give the new and robust evidence of the tendency of warmer temperatures in the Arctic continuing
  3. Record temperatures: The average summer temperature was 8.2 degrees Celsius (46.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in Tasiilaq on Greenland’s southeast coast
  4. This is the highest since records began in 1895 and 2.3 degrees Celsius above the average between 1981 and 2010

Gangotri glacier retreated by 3 km in two centuries

  1. Retreat: The rate of retreating Gangotri glacier has increased sharply since 1971
  2. It is 22 metres per year
  3. Reasons: Lesser ice formation each year than its current rate of melting of ice
  4. Climate change and global warming are the main reasons
  5. Dwindling snowfall affects volume of water fed to the Bhagirathi, the main source of the Ganga
  6. Concern: Due to melting of ice, small lakes are forming on the top of glacier
  7. Earlier: The blast of one such glacial lake in Chorabari that led to the June 2013 flood disaster in Kedarnath
  8. Also the shape of the Gangotri glacier is changing from convex to concave

What is Landsat?

  1. Landsat is a programme that provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land vegetation in existence
  2. Like other satellite missions, it can use the amount of visible and near-infrared light reflected by the green, leafy vegetation of grasses, shrubs and trees to characterise the vegetation
  3. Then, with computer programmes that track each individual pixel of data over time, researchers can see if an area is greening
  4. High resolution: It can also see if more vegetation is growing, or if individual plants are getting larger and leafier

Arctic regions getting greener due to climate change: NASA

  1. Context: A new NASA study on Arctic region
  2. Finding: Due to changing climate, Arctic regions of North America are getting greener, with almost a third of the land cover looking more like landscapes found in warmer ecosystems
  3. Temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than elsewhere, which has led to longer seasons for plants to grow in and changes to the soils
  4. Observation: Grassy tundras changing to shrublands, and shrubs growing bigger and denser — changes that could have impacts on regional water, energy and carbon cycles
  5. The study was done using Landsat

Role of tropical forests in reducing global warming

Tropical forests can achieve a below 2 C rise in global warming by 2050.

  1. As the transition from total reliance on fossil fuels to that on renewable sources of energy is expected to take place over the next 35 years.
  2. Enhancing carbon uptake and reducing emissions could account for as much as 50 per cent of total carbon emissions.
  3. To achieve a 75 per cent likelihood of avoiding warming in excess of 2 degrees C through changes in fossil fuel emissions alone.
  4. The landscape with shifting cultivation has 10 per cent of the land in crops, say, and 90 per cent of the land in fallows.

2015 set to be ‘hottest year on record’, says UN

This is due to a combination of a strong El Niũo and human-induced global warming.

  1. This year is set to be the hottest on record and 2016 could be even hotter due to the current El Niũo weather pattern.
  2. The global average surface temperatures in 2015 were likely to reach what it called the “symbolic and significant milestone” of 1° Celsius above the pre-industrial era.
  3. The El Nino weather pattern, marked by warming sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, causes extremes such as scorching weather and flooding.

1 in 6 species can face extinction by end of century due to global warming

  1. 16 % of species in the world would face the risk of extinction because of climatic factors.
  2. The endemic plants and animals of Australia, South America and New Zealand are at risk as for they would not be able to go to other place when their only homeland becomes uninhabitable.
  3. While, the species in North American and European regions have the lowest extinction risk due to climate change.

Mangroves extending polewards

Mangroves are tropical forests and cannot tolerate extreme cold events but due to the global warming, there has been a reduction in the frequency of frosts in Florida and hence they are extending polewards.

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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