IT and housing boom choke Chennai’s last marshland

Only a tenth of the original area of Pallikarani marsh is now left after Chennai's industry and housing boom

Only a tenth of the original area of Pallikarani marsh is now left after Chennai’s industry and housing boom


By L Ajith

CHENNAI: As construction and industry boom destroy a rare marshland that feeds groundwater sources and drains floodwaters in this sprawling south Indian commercial hub, conservationists are trying to save a tenth of its original area that is still left.

Located about 20 km south of Chennai city centre, Pallikkaranai marsh is the metro’s last remaining natural wetland, one of the rare ecosystems that India’s National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) is trying to save.

After reclamation for housing, infotech industries and roads, the marshland has now shrunk to 6.9 square km from its 60 square km recorded in the 1960s.

As a result, now it is impossible to stream and drain flood waters into the marsh during heavy monsoon rains. Buildings, tarmacs and concrete spaces have not only replaced what once used to be wetland, but also flank its edges, preventing natural drainage. So the excess storm water inundates these spaces without seeping into the ground or draining into the wetland and then to the Bay of Bengal that lies adjacent to it. At the same time, without recharge of groundwater aquifers, Chennai and suburbs face severe drinking water shortage.

During the 2015 monsoon season, parts of Chennai were flooded and remained inundated for upto a month after and extreme rainfall events. Experts blamed the disaster on rampant, illegal and poorly designed construction.

Pallikkaranai marsh absorbs its share of water, but it is choked now. Due to dumping of waste and sewage, Pallikkaranai marsh is undergoing a character change besides shrinking to a tenth of its original size, as Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan of the Care Earth Trust explains. To prevent such ecosystem losses, conservation of forests, inland wetlands, and coastal and marine ecosystems need to be integrated into policy and planning, recommend Ritesh Sharma and Shantanu of Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity- India Initiative.

“The consequences of loss of Ecosystem and Biodiversity causes natural disasters like floods and droughts and shortage of crops, fish, and vegetables,” says Ravindra Singh of the German international development agency GIZ.

Wetlands not only prevents floods, but also protect the shoreline, and suck up and store carbon dioxide, thereby reducing greenhouse effect that leads to global warming. Pallikaranai marsh is special, as it hosts several rare, endangered or threatened species. It is home to over 100 species of fish and 136 species of birds, including migratory birds, as Singh notes.

A recent workshop of the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme in Chennai, Ashok Lavasa, IAS, Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change that sponsored the event said economic growth and conservation of natural capital should go hand in hand. Both are essential to protect ecosystem services that support human well-being and prosperity.

“India is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries in the world…With only 2.4% of the world’s geographical area, her 1.2 billion people co-exist with over 47,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals. Several among them are keystone and charismatic species,” as Lavasa points out. At the same time, the country supports one sixth of the world’s livestock population. In such a context, balancing the needs for now and for future is often a balancing act indeed.

Still, considering the seriousness of ecosystem losses and the hazard exposure, especially with uncertain and changing weather patterns, conservation needs to gain an upper hand in many cases. As Prof Saudamini Das of the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, points out, coastal cities such as Kochi in Kerala or Kolkata and Mumbai that are built on reclaimed water bodies and mangroves are also possibly exposed to a future flash floods. These lessons and warnings should serve as wake up calls.



Lima calls for climate action, and more

By Ramesh Jalan

In its decision, the Lima Call for Climate Action,  the Conference of Parties (CoP):

•         reiterates that the work of the ADP shall be under the Convention and guided by its principles;

•         recalls the objective of the Convention;

•         recalls all the relevant decisions of the COP, particularly Decisions 1/CP.17, 2/CP.18 and 1/CP.19;

•         affirms its determination to strengthen adaptation action through the protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention to be adopted at COP 21;

•         recalls Decisions 2/CP.19 and X/CP.20 and welcomes the progress made in Lima, Peru, towards the implementation of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage; and

•         notes with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of GHGs by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

•         In paragraphs on advancing the work of the ADP and elaborating a negotiating text for the 2015 agreement, the COP:

•         confirms that the ADP shall complete the work referred to in Decision 1/CP.17, paragraph 2, as early as possible in order for COP 21 to adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties;

•         decides that the protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties shall address in a balanced manner, inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, MOI and transparency of action and support;

•         underscores its commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of CBDRRC, in light of different national circumstances;

•         urges developed country parties to provide and mobilize enhanced financial support to developing country parties for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions, especially to parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, and recognizes complementary support by other parties;

•         acknowledges the progress made in Lima in elaborating the elements for a draft negotiating text as contained in the annex to the decision, including a footnote that states: “These elements for a draft negotiating text reflect work in progress. They neither indicate convergence on the proposals presented nor do they preclude new proposals from emerging in the course of the negotiations in 2015;”

•         decides that the ADP will intensify its work, with a view to making available a negotiating text for a protocol, other legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties before May 2015; and

•         requests the Secretariat to communicate the negotiating text, referred to above, to parties in accordance with provisions of the Convention and the applied rules of procedure, while noting that such communication will not prejudice whether the outcome will be a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.

•         In paragraphs on INDCs and their communication, the COP:

•         notes that the arrangements specified in this decision in relation to INDCs are without prejudice to the legal nature and content of the INDCs of parties or to the content of the protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties;

•         reiterates its invitation to each party to communicate to the Secretariat its INDC towards achieving the objective of the Convention;

•         agrees that each party’s INDC towards achieving the objective of the Convention will represent a progression beyond the current undertaking of that party;

•         also agrees that the LDCs and SIDS may communicate information on strategies, plans and actions for low GHG emission development reflecting their special circumstances in the context of INDCs;

•         invites all parties to consider communicating their undertakings in adaptation planning or consider including an adaptation component in their INDCs;

•         reiterates its invitation to all parties to communicate their INDCs well in advance of COP 21 (by the first quarter of 2015 by those parties ready to do so) in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the INDCs;

•         agrees that the information to be provided by parties communicating their INDCs, may include, as appropriate, inter alia, quantifiable information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year), time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic GHG emissions and, as appropriate, removals, and how the party considers that its INDC is fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objective of the Convention;

•         reiterates its call to developed country parties, the operating entities of the financial mechanism and any other organizations in a position to do so to provide support for the preparation and communication of the INDCs of parties that may need such support; and

•         requests the Secretariat to publish the INDCs as communicated on the UNFCCC website and prepare by 1 November 2015 a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the INDCs communicated by parties by 1 October 2015.

•         The COP also decides to continue the technical examination of opportunities with high mitigation potential, including those with adaptation, health and sustainable development co-benefits, in the period 2015-2020, by requesting the Secretariat to organize a series of in-session TEMs that:

•         facilitate parties in the identification of policy options, practices and technologies and in planning for their implementation in accordance with nationally-defined development priorities;

•         build on and utilize the related activities of, and further enhance collaboration and synergies among, the TEC, the CTCN, the Durban Forum on capacity-building, the CDM EB and the operating entities of the financial mechanism;

•         build on previous TEMs in order to hone and focus on actionable policy options;

•         provide meaningful and regular opportunities for the effective engagement of experts from parties, relevant international organizations, civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions, the private sector, and subnational authorities nominated by their respective countries;

•         support the accelerated implementation of policy options and enhanced mitigation action, including through international cooperation; and

•         facilitate the enhanced engagement of all parties through the announcement of topics to be addressed, agendas and related materials at least two months in advance of TEMs.

•         The COP also requests the Secretariat to update, following the TEMs, the technical paper on the mitigation benefits of actions, and on initiatives and options to enhance mitigation ambition, compiling information provided in submissions from parties and observer organizations and the discussions held at the TEMs and drawing on other relevant information on the implementation of policy options at all levels, including through multilateral cooperation, and to disseminate the information, including by publishing a summary for policy makers.

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(Dr Ramesh Kumar Jalan is the Resource Person and Moderator of the Climate Change Community of Practice, Solution Exchange, UNDP, New Delhi)