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Covid-19, Lockdown and Migratory Birds: International Perspective

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In India, especially in the northern parts, this is a period of spring. A much-favored time for the visit of migratory birds, who migrate every year along global flyways between continents in search for breeding grounds in Europe, to warmer feeding grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. But due to habitat loss, land reclamation, poaching and changes in global agricultural pattern the migratory birds have suffered significantly across the world.

However, due to COVID-19 threat humans are forced to stay inside their houses and as a result nature is reviving. Two major contributors to this revival are: lowering of pollution level, and limited human interference. Migratory birds can fly freely without human interference or threat. This article explores the protection to their life and existence was acknowledged under various international documents.

International protection for flyways

Billions of birds of the avian world migrate vast distances across the globe twice a year. Avian species migrate along mainly similar and well-established routes known as fly­ways. The idea of a structured instrument for the flyway was first suggested in the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) document of 1983. A flyway is broadly defined as the migration route of a population, species or group of species of birds, between a breeding area, through a series of staging sites (passage) and non- breeding area (wintering area).The Ramsar Convention, 1971 (Ramsar Convention) provides for the protection of many important areas for migratory waterfowl, especially in the Western Palearctic region and in North and West Africa. Most of the States falling in these regions are parties to Ramsar Convention.

The Agreement of African–Eurasian Flyway(AEWA) stretches from Canada and the Russian Federation to the southernmost tip of Africa, covering 119 range-States covering Europe, parts of Asia and Canada, the Middle East and Africa. Currently, 77 countries and the European Union are contracting party to AEWA.

The Central Asian Flyway(CAF) covers migration routes of waterbirds from the northernmost breeding grounds in the Siberia to wintering grounds in West and South Asia, the Maldives and the Indian Ocean territory. Geographically this flyway region covers thirty countries of North, Central and South Asia and Trans-Caucasus. CAF, is entirely within the Northern Hemisphere, and is the shortest flyway in the world.

The overlap between AEWA and CAF

The overlap between the area of CAF and AEWA was concluded in 1995 at The Hague. It was agreed amongst the governing bodies of these agreements that they will work together to enable the parties in taking informed decision on the implementation or extension of safeguards agreed amongst them. Sixteen out of the thirty countries encompassed by the CAF are located in the AEWA Agreement Area. For instance, during the seasonal movements within the Indian subcon­tinent, more than 300 species travel along the CAF including bar-headed goose (Anserindicus), the world’s highest altitude migrant. India’s nearly 175 spe­cies of migratory birds are using the CAF areas including Siberia, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan and Gulf countries.

Wholesome international convention on protection for migratory birds

In international law, birds are protected within the four broader framework, namelyRamsar Convention, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), 1973, Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), 1979 and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) , 1992.The CITES, multilateral treaty, with twenty-five articles which are treated as ‘Magna Carta’ for wild animals and birds by most of conservationists in the world. It accords varying degrees of protection to more than 33,000 species but only a relatively small number of migratory bird species as Appendix I contains certain birds of prey and cranes and Appendix II includes all birds of prey. The CMS, adopted in Bonn, is an intergovernmental treaty concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habi­tats under the aegis of the UNEP.The Convention is therefore applicable to almost 2,000 species of birds, nearly a quarter of all existing species. CMS a powerful instrument aims to conserve not only migratory birds but also migratory terrestrial and marine animals of wide range including fish, reptiles and even insects.CBD was adopted at the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro where 189 countries were the parties. It primarily focus on habitat protection and the term ‘wildlife’ is absent from the treaty whereas CITES regulates commercial trade of wildlife if a particular species is at risk of extinction. Though CMS, 1979 covers maximum number of migratory species but CBD, 1992 is successful one which attracts maximum countries as members. Ramsar Convention is specifically to provide the protection of habitats, more particularly wetlands of international importance as waterfowl habitats.

The Bonn Convention refers to the global conservation of migratory species as far as Appendix I are concerned, and migratory species listed in Appendix II are usually of a regional scope.So far,two regional agreements are formed for conserving Asian-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds(Hague, 1995), and Albatrosses and Petrels (Canberra, 2001).There are seven non-binding memorandum of understandings (MoUs)for Conservation of Siberian Crane (1993),Slender-Billed Curlew (1994), Great Bustard (2001),Aquatic Warbler (2003), Ruddy-Headed Goose (2006),Migratory Grassland Bird (2007), High Andean Flamingos (2008) and Migratory Birds of Prey (2008) have been concluded between states parties.

Early bilateral treaties for migratory birds

Although the first treaty on the protection of birds was signed as early as 1902 in Convention for the Protection of Birds Useful to Agriculture at Paris, migra­tory species were not specifically until the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds was concluded in 1916 between the United Kingdom (acting for Canada) and the United States. They concluded other treaties with Japan, Australia, China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR now Russia). India has a sole bilateral treaty with USSR on Protection of Migratory Birds (1984) where both parties agreed that special protection measures are desirable to preserve endan­gered species and subspecies, promote joint research programs and establish bird sanctuaries and endeavor to preserve and improve the natural environment of migratory birds.

From the perusal of above-mentioned international instruments, it is explanatory that migratory birds are subject of international protection. Meanwhile in the light of forthcoming World Migratory Bird Day it is important to realize their rights. For environmentalists these are good times, as their voices are heard, for all the efforts they made to the world to realize the importance of living in harmony with nature, is finally understood. However, humans have short memory and there is a good possibility that the lesson could very well be unlearned soon.

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Climate Change Problem: an Emerging Threat to Global Security

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Climate Change is one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity. The Greenhouse–gas emissions and over-exploitation of natural resources result in a rise in temperature which brings floods, droughts, a rise in sea level, and other destructive events. The problem is that climate change is a global bad, and it requires collective efforts and cooperation to limit its effects. One state cannot control Climate change alone because it does not take it into borders. Formally, the climate change issue was a matter of low politics, but the inception of the 21st century brought an understanding that it poses greater threats than traditional ones. The Covid-19 plays a major role in the realization of steps taken towards climate cooperation. States often make climate promises but cannot fulfill these promises because of the fascination with development and ignore climate change. But now world leaders have realized that the lessons of COVID-19 can tackle global climate change problems otherwise it will make this world difficult to live in.

 The newly elected President of the United States (US) Joe Biden inaugurated a virtual climate change summit with 42 world leaders. It includes leaders from Russia, China, Turkey, Israel, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Setting aside all the differences, he invited leaders from those countries that are a major contributor to Greenhouse gas emission and those who are most vulnerable to climate change risk. In this summit, the Biden administration asked the world leaders to take actions to combat climate change collectively as the climate is a global good and requires collective efforts to tackle climate change. Biden has announced an aggressive new goal policy for greenhouse gas emissions. 2030 committed the US administration to reduce its greenhouse gas emission to 50-53%. The National Intelligence Director of President Avril Haines told world leaders that the climate change issue is no longer remains a peripheral issue but at the center of foreign policy. Other states such as France and Russia also promised to limit their greenhouse gas emission to 42-46% by 2030. It also committed China to play its role in the summit by announcing its willingness towards coal reduction. India reiterated its target of 450 GW of non-renewable energy by 2030 and announced to launch the “US-India 2030 Climate and Clean energy Agenda 2030 Partnership”. The Brazilian Environment Minister argued they need funds to enforce their plan to eliminate deforestation and carbon emission from their country. Vice president Harris argued that climate actions are necessary to tackle climate crises and to promote job opportunities. . Now, the US has put climate change at the center of its security and foreign policy because climate change is not only changing the pattern of the environment but it speeds up the geopolitical competition, undermine security and provoking ethnic conflicts. The climate change results in cyclones, floods, the rising temperature that disrupts social and economic conditions that threaten food security and human security.

By exploring the climate solution, the virtual summit announced the need to increase the public finance for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Biden emphasized the importance of investment in the public and private sectors to achieve the collective goal of net zero-emission. Further, climate actions require cooperation at the national and sub-national governments to speed up efforts to transform communities in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Another change that needs to be highlighted at the national level is that the government must not subsidize renewable energy industries and keep their prices high to contain their over-exploitation.  It is easy to make promises as states do, but the problems emerge in its implementation. For decades, climate change has raised concern but states often prioritize development over the environment. This is real-time for states to limit their emission and comply with the promises they have made in the summit otherwise it will lead to never-ended consequences.

COVID-19, a super-fast placed event that emerged from one part of the world and quickly spread throughout the entire world. By its speed of diffusion, it reduced all the emissions at an expensive cost, thus halting the global economy. So still we have time to think about other efficient means of emission reductions to prevent countries from the intolerable burden of Climate Change. But the challenge is how to keep that emission reduction after the pandemic. Second, just an as sharp and instant change of behavior is possible with COVID-19 so to deal with climate change a behavior change is also possible, thus shifting to the low carbon emission all depends on seriousness and credibility to the mortal threat. Third, a key implication of COVID-19 to climate change is that how to reorganize the economy so, in the post-pandemic world, it is the human interaction that would determine the organization of the economy. Thus future will determine whether a low contact economy with a clean environment would be a lower carbon emission economy or not. Further, states must focus on how to open up the economy in the Green Revolution. Another major issue which the world leaders failed to address is the global problem of Covid-19. Despite the technological advancement and huge development, zoom diplomacy began with a distorted voice from the most advanced countries of the world. There is a need to cooperate on a matter of Covid-19 so that states think on the wider notion of climate actions. Thus we have to use all these lessons in the context of climate change to make this world a better place to live in.

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Rails, Roads And Emissions

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It is common knowledge that emissions affecting climate are least for rail travel in comparison with airplanes or road vehicles.  Consequently the $80 billion allocated to rail in an otherwise laudable budget appears paltry. 

Why is the US not investing in rail?  The usual reason given is that distances are so vast that it’s a no-brainer for business travellers to rely on commercial airlines.  But the way the technology is advancing, and as Europeans (and the Chinese) have demonstrated, a network of high-speed rail can offer a greener alternative. 

Trains are getting faster and new innovations like tilting trains lower the cost of replacement tracks.  If 200 mph is being breached more often, then 250 mph should be in our sights.  And Elon Musk has proposed vacuum tubes to remove wind resistance and reach even higher speeds. 

Yet a 250 mph rail network with average speeds in excess of 200 mph would revolutionize the concept of travel.  New York to Chicago in five hours and east to west coast overnight with the possibility of visiting neglected areas out of reach with expressways and airplanes would bring new growth and dynamism where it is needed. 

A point to note is prevailing interest rates.  They are so low historically that railroad bonds at a competitive interest rate would be snapped up  especially if they were guaranteed by the government. 

While one can agree with the aims and compassion clearly evident in the president’s proposals, the process to achieve them is less clear.  In particular on climate change the goal of net zero emissions within a decade is laudable.  But a speedy switchover to electric vehicles raises questions: Simply, how?

The system is geared to internal combustion engines.  Mechanics train for years to become proficient.  Aside from that, has anyone wondered what happens to all those large electric car batteries when they have to be replaced?  Since lithium used in them is a finite resource, it would have to be recovered or the 80 million tons estimated to be the world’s store would eventually be depleted.  

Another issue is the electricity used to charge the batteries.  If it comes from a coal-fired plant, are we back to square one?  Currently about a quarter of the electricity generated in the US comes from coal. Of course dealing with pollution at the source (like a coal plant) is easier. 

The number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck (roughly half) is just one more reason the changeover to electric vehicles might take a while; they just don’t have the funds.  Add to these numbers the elderly living on fixed incomes or the ranks of the unemployed and one can understand the scale of the problem.  

One can laud the US president’s goals but we need to see some action (even proposals) to facilitate them. 

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Global Environmental Governance and Biden’s Administration

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Being the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, it is the responsibility of U.S to contribute expeditiously to manage the environmental issues at domestic and international level but the previous government, under the leadership of Trump, took back seat and reversed all the decisions of Ex-president Barack Obama to combat the climate change. Unlike this, New Elected President, Joe Biden, who is very enthusiastic and firm to fulfill all the promises regarding climate change which were done during the general election’s campaign. Moreover, he views climate change a thwart to national security. One of the biggest achievements associated with Biden’ administration regarding environmental issues is to bring U.S back into Paris Climate Accord and brought executive order’’ Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring science to tackle the climate crisis’’ on the surface.

A flurry of changes to U.S environment policy is going to play a constructive role in global environmental governance under Biden administration. Even before elections, climate change was one of the top priorities and aimed to put the U.S on a path which leads towards ‘’ Zero Net’’ greenhouse gas emission. In the very early of His office days, He is very committed to deal with the climate change as they hosted ‘’ Climate Day’’ to introduce government climate centric approach to emphasize on the climate change.  Biden administration also ordered to revoke a permanent issued for Keystone XL oil pipeline which trump issued for extraction of oil and energy which is dangerous to national ecosystem. In addition to this, they are also very active to promote US role to tackle the climate change at domestic and abroad. At domestic level, Biden’s actions are speaking louder than the words as he has ascribed the climate crisis with a national emergency. At the time of his inauguration, Biden said: ‘’ A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any clearer’’. He also directed his cabinet to work on the policy of ‘’ social carbon cost’’ to measure the cost of actions and how costs will impact the climate change. He endeavors to control the climate change by keeping a strict eye on the big project’s reviewing process before working under the National Environmental Policy Act which calculates the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

On international level, Biden has been striving to improve the spoil image shaped by the previous government regarding global environmental governance as he has declared to rejoin the Paris Climate accord which would help to reduce the greenhouse gas emission. In the result of this action, Biden was welcomed by the General Secretary of the United Nations and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron by saying ‘’ Welcome Back to the Paris Agreement’’. Moreover, Biden Administration is very determined to convene a global climate summit on the earth day to encourage leaders to align themselves with scientist to alleviate the impacts of climate change. On international forums, US need to cooperate and compel the economic trade partner to take actions to combat with climate crisis. One of the essential steps taken by the Biden administration is to manage the climate refugees which aim to make strategies to compensate the climate affected migrants.

The thin majority of democratic in the senate does not only limit the possibility for Biden to achieve climate change reforms along strong anti-climate lobbyist business group who are inimical to the reforms particularly relevant to vehicle, power plants and oil and gas drilling industries. Without new climate legislation from congress, it would be not an easy task to implement the climate agenda across the borders. The vocal resistance comes from the coal production sectors which result in burning of fossil fuels and caused of greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas, few sectors are opposing the agenda there are also companies specially electrical vehicles are exclusively offering assistance to Biden for the sustainable development. Undoubtedly, environmental organizations and scientists community applauded the Biden decisions but few business groups have also filed a lawsuit against Biden to not stop the new permit for oil and gas drilling. There are also concerned raised by the community that climate actions will delete many jobs and cause of upsurge in unemployment percentage across the federation.

It is very evident from the ambitions of Biden’s action regarding climate crisis that he is very interesting to mitigate and curb the climate change but it will require highly comprehensive strategy aims to manage the reforms in laws while taking congressmen in confidence because most of them are not in favor of climate actions due to clash of interests. On the other hand, there is need to work on renewable energy resources at domestic and international level and for this US should compensate the companies to compete with the old capitalized firms which do not want safe and peaceful planet. Moreover, there is need to bring reforms in existing environmental treaties and their compliance process which should be strictly followed by the harsh actions against the violators. The process of financing the agendas which are very environment friendly and transforming the resources to the periphery states should be done swiftly to improve the environment across the globe. The aims of achieving sustainable development should be promoted and supported by the US across the world.

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