Down To Earth(March 16-31 2022)

Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC

1. Climate Justice, now

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
  • GS-3: Disaster and disaster management.


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): It is a body of United Nations which looks at the impact of climate change on the global community.

  • It was established in 1988 with its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Initially, it was formed by United Nations Environment Programme and World Meteorological Organisation. However, it was later endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Assessment Reports: IPCC has released six assessment reports in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2014 and 2022. The sixth report is being released in stages.

Context: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the second installment of its Sixth Assessment Report titled ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’.

IPCC’s Climate Assessment Reports

  • Preparation of Assessment Reports: IPCC assessment reports are prepared from the information available in the published sources. IPCC does not have any mechanism to collect or assess the data on its own. The only authentication of these sources is done in the form of peer review by the world-wide scientific community.
  • Sixth Assessment Report (AR6): AR6 is being released in stages. The first installment was released in 2021 titled ‘The Physical Science Basis’, followed by the second report titled ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’, which was released recently. The second report has been prepared by 270 authors from 67 countries. It incorporates the data from over 34,000 scientific papers.

Observations of the Second Report

  • The Second Report: The second report points out the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized and vulnerable communities in certain countries. It says that almost half of the global population is living in areas which are “highly vulnerable to climate change”. In fact, almost 3.3 billion people live in ‘very highly’ or ‘highly vulnerable’ countries. It also identifies 127 climatic risks to natural and human systems.
  • Increase in Inequality: The Report points out that some of the communities in the disadvantaged south are facing the brunt of climate change more than the other communities. This pushes them further towards extreme poverty conditions. This has exacerbated inequality in the global community and has the potential to disrupt the global march to sustainable development. The report estimates that, globally, 12.2 crore people may be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030.
  • Carbon Footprint: The report observes that though the harmful effects of climate change on the poor are disproportionately higher, their contribution to climate change is minimal in comparison to the richer class. The lifestyle of rich has inherent contradictions with the efforts to reduce climate change. For e.g., they have bigger glass homes, requiring more lighting and cooling, as well as bigger cars, consuming more fuel.
  • Climate Adaptation: At the same time, the poor are unable to withstand and recover from the climate related disasters due to insufficient savings and backup. They lack access to in-demand skillsets for continued earnings as well as face a lack of social security measures like pension and insurance, thus, depriving them of sustainable aid in the face of a disaster. In fact, the observed mortality in case of storms, floods and drought is 15 times higher for vulnerable regions.
  • Repeated and Successive Climatic Events: At the same time, it is true that vulnerable regions face repeated events further exacerbating the poverty. For e.g., mountainous regions face glacial recession, as well as landslides, in the event of heavy rainfall. Similarly, the hotter areas face heatwaves as well as droughts, due to water scarcity.
  • Climate Justice: The report calls for making climate justice a global requirement for the collective decision making. It identifies the regions of Global South – South Asia, Micronesia, Central America and East, Central & West Africa, as the most vulnerable regions. Their vulnerability to climate related disasters is compounded due to lack of access to basic services, like drinking water, sanitation, as well as a general lack of good governance.
  • Tensions between Communities and Countries: Rise in inequality has the potential to aggravate the differences between the haves and have-nots. This requires early intervention and careful planning as such events may have the potential to spread rapidly across the globe and may be a lot to difficult to control than political violence.

Impact on Agriculture

  • Decrease in Yield: Climate change has led to a decrease in the level of production in climate change affected areas. We have already seen a rise of 1.1 °C in temperature from pre-industrial levels. If this rise is not curtailed below 1.5 °C, about 8% of the world’s farmland would become unsuitable for agriculture. A temperature rise of 2 °C would be catastrophic for agriculture.
  • Food Shortage: A decrease in yield would lead to a worldwide shortage of food grains. However, it will affect the vulnerable regions of South Asia, Central America and Africa, more than the richer first world, due to a higher population and lack of good governance. At the same time, food shortage has the potential to reverse the gains achieved in eradication of malnutrition across the world.
  • Exacerbation of Poverty: The Report points out that across 92 developing countries, the poorest 40% lost 70% more wealth than the people with average wealth. This reinforces the fact that poor face the impact of climate change more than the rich. Moreover, the rising costs of food, housing and healthcare may increase household expenditure, leading to lesser disposable incomes.
  • Humanitarian Crises: Due to the decrease in agricultural yield, Agriculture sector may become lesser remunerative than it already is. This would require shift of labour to other sectors, thereby, putting pressure on available employment and erosion of livelihood security. This will further exacerbate migration and poverty, and may ultimately result in violent conflict and social disorder.

Way Forward

  • Adaptation Measures: To reverse the decrease in agricultural yield, the global agricultural community would need to shift towards better practices like more efficient irrigation systems, as well as drought-resilient crops. Otherwise, we run the risk of insufficient food production as per the needs of the growing population.
  • Climate Justice: There is a need to prevent the poor from the disastrous effects of climate change as they have relatively lower contribution to the human-induced climate change. However, their lack of empowerment and lack of participation in the decision-making process leads to their marginalization, thereby inducing hardships for them.
  • Legal, Institutional and Governance Frameworks: Climate change is a phenomenon requiring comprehensive efforts by the global community. Being one of the global commons, it is outside the capability of a single country to induce any effect on climate change. Therefore, global institutions working in the field need a concerted effort to stem the rise of global warming and climate change.


  • IPCC’s 2nd Report has pinpointed an open secret that the effects of climate change are felt disproportionately more by the Poor. Therefore, there is a need to effect policy changes so that the global poor are safeguarded from the climate related disasters and are provided means of sustainable livelihood to withstand the effects of the same.

Practice Question

  • What is the role of IPCC and its Assessment Reports in the efforts to stem the global rise in temperature? Discuss, highlighting the impact of climate change on the Agriculture sector.



  • ‘Climate Change’ is a global problem. How India will be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change? (GS3 - 2017)
  • Should the pursuit of carbon credit and clean development mechanism set up under UNFCCC be maintained even through there has been a massive slide in the value of carbon credit? Discuss with respect to India’s energy needs for economic growth. (GS3 - 2014)

2. Good While it Lasted

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
  • GS-3: Disaster and disaster management.


Table: The 6 Mass Extinctions:


Era/ Age/ Period

Time (Years Ago)

Extinct Species


1st Extinction

Ordovician Era

443 Million Years


Ice Age followed by Rapid Warming

2nd Extinction

Devonian Age

374 Million Years


Fluctuating Sea levels and drop in CO2 concentration

3rd Extinction

Permian Age

250 Million Years


Asteroid hit the Earth

4th Extinction

Late Triassic Age

200 Million Years


High CO2, global warming and acidified oceans

5th Extinction

Cretaceous Period

65 Million Years


Meteor Crash in Mexico (Yucatan peninsula)

6th Extinction

Holocene Epoch



Climate Change and Invasive Plant Species


Context: Earth is currently in the Anthropocene Era, which denotes that the current period is being influenced primarily by Humans. One of the major impacts of the human intervention is the rapid loss of species, which is being called the 6th Mass Extinction.

Sixth Mass Extinction

  • Report by IUCN: A report by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on dragonflies and damselflies has assessed that, globally, “16% of the 6016 species are at the risk of extinction”. The situation is worse in South Asia (including India) and South-East Asia, as almost a quarter of the species are at the risk of extinction.
  • Red List: As per IUCN Red List, almost all of the planet’s 8.1 million species are facing existential threat. The number of species at the risk of extinction in the IUCN Red List is now 40,084 out of the total 142,577 species on the list. The number of species at the risk of extinction has exceeded 40,000 for the first time since the list is being compiled.
  • IPBES Report: Similarly, a report titled ‘The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ was released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was released in 2019. The Report had estimated that 1 million plant and animal species face extinction, out of which thousands will go extinct in the coming decades.
  • Other Estimates: A scientist at University of Hawaii has estimated that since the year 1500, Earth could have already lost between 1.5 lakh to 2.6 lakh of the 20 lakh known species. This amounts to a loss of between 7.5% to 13% of the known species.
  • Living Planet Report 2020: As per the biennial Report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Zoological Society of London, 68% of the vertebrate population has been lost in the last 45 years globally. This loss is 45% for the Asia Pacific Region.
  • Changes in Remotest Habitats: As per a Researcher in UK, even the deep seafloors are experiencing extinction of species. For e.g., out of 184 species of Molluscs assessed, 39 are critically endangered, 32 are endangered and 43 are Vulnerable.
  • Loss of Freshwater Species: Freshwater bodies like lakes and rivers host 25% of all vertebrate species, despite occupying hardly 1% of the planet’s surface space. Also, freshwater fishes constitute one-half of total fish species in the world. One-third species of fishes in these bodies are facing the possibility of extinction.
  • Condition in India: As per the Zoological Survey of India, India has lost 12% of its wild mammals, 19% of its amphibians and 3% of its birds over the past 50 years. At the same time, 550 of the 6800 vertebrates fall in the Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable categories. Also, in the Indian Ocean vents (deep sea floors), all the listed molluscs species are Critically Endangered.
  • Role of Humans: As per 2018 census of the Biomass on Earth, out of the total 550 gigatonnes of biomass on the earth, humans account for hardly 0.01%. Bacteria account for 13%, plants for 82% and the rest of the species for around 82%. However, humans have led to the loss of almost 83% of the wild animals and half of the plants.
  • Domination of Humans: In fact, it is not just their own survival, but even the survival of other species depends upon the will of humans. For e.g., 70% of all birds in the world are poultry chickens and other farmed birds. Similarly, of all the mammals on the Earth, 60% are livestock (cattle and pigs), 36% are humans and mere 4% are wild.

Reasons for the Decline

  • Decline in Breeding Grounds: Due to Rapid Urbanization, vast areas which were wasteland or were earlier considered unproductive have been used for residential or construction purposes. This has led to a decrease in the number of freshwater breeding grounds, thereby, leading to interference in the capability of small organisms to reproduce.
  • Ecosystem Services: The expansion has also led to a decline in the marshes and other wastelands. These areas are considered inhospitable for humans, but provide essential ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, protection from floods, giving us clean water and air, besides offering habitat for one-tenth of the world’s known species.
  • Expansion of Agricultural Areas: Similarly, due to the rapid increase in human population, there is a need to increase food grain production. This has led to an expansion of area under agriculture, thus leading to a further decline in the availability of habitat for the species. In fact, IUCN says that, globally, wetlands and rainforests are disappearing three times faster than the forests.
  • Overexploitation of Species: In 2021, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a London based charity published a Report titled ‘State of the World’s Trees’. The report found that out of the 60,000 Tree species it assessed, 30% were at the risk of extinction. Similarly, it is estimated that global forest area has shrunk by 40% in the last 300 years, with 10 crore trees being cut every year for the global timber needs.
  • Invasive species and diseases: According to the estimates, in 21 countries under study, the number of invasive species has risen by almost 70% since 1970. Invasive species are harmful to the growth of endemic species as they take over their habitat and are responsible for biotic homogenisation i.e., a convergence of biological communities blurring the rich diversity of a particular region.
  • Pollution and Climate Change: As per the IPCC report, 3 to 14% of the assessed species will face the risk of extinction if the global temperature rise is not controlled below 1.5 °C, increasing to 3 to 18% and 3 to 29%, in case of temperature rise by 2 °C and 3 °C respectively. The current temperature rise is too fast for the species to evolve and adapt to the new conditions.
  • Deep Sea Mining: Yet another reason for the onset of extinction is Deep Sea Mining. Despite listing of many Mollusc Species as Critically Endangered or Endangered, International Seabed Authority has not stopped awarding contracts for Deep Sea Mining, which is leading to a deterioration in the quality of marine life.
  • Triggers in India: As per the Living Planet Report 2020, Habitat degradation is the biggest trigger of the extinction of species in the Asia Pacific Region (including India), followed by overexploitation of species and invasive species and diseases.

Effects of Mass Extinction

  • Loss of Biodiversity: In the World Conservation Congress 2021 at Marseille, France, it was revealed that over 70% of the wild relatives of important crops are threatened with extinction. These relatives are important for genetic mixing of the crops so that they are able to develop qualities like disease resilience and better nutritional content. In their absence, evolution of such crops would be affected.
  • Loss of Livelihood: Species loss in many places like freshwater bodies might lead to a loss of employment opportunities for the already vulnerable fishermen community, as almost 60 million are dependent on the harvest of freshwater species for livelihood. Therefore, loss of many commercial species might lead to an increase in the levels of poverty in the country.
  • Malnutrition: At the same time, loss of many species would also decrease the availability of nutrition for the poor communities. This would lead to declining health levels as freshwater species provide proteins for 20 crore people across Asia, Africa and South America.
  • Loss of Trees and Forest Area: Trees constitute an important part of life for humans. In fact, over 20% of the total tree species are used by us for food, fuel and medicines. Despite that, more than 440 species of trees are facing extinction, with less than 50 individuals of their population remaining.
  • Climate disasters: Trees protect us against climate change by sequestrating carbon and reducing the impact of global warming. On the other hand, they also protect the coastal areas against tsunami by forming a barrier on the shoreline. They also protect the people from various other disasters like hurricanes, apart from holding soil and controlling soil erosion.
  • Mass Migration: With a fast rise in temperatures, many species have started a spontaneous migration towards poles or higher elevations in search of favourable conditions. The IPCC report states that in the coming 50 years, 1 to 3 billion people will be faced with climatic conditions which are outside their comfort zone.


  • As per the estimates, 99% of the species have been lost in a series of extinctions in the last 3.5 billion years. However, the 6th mass extinction is different from the previous mass extinctions as the latest one is being caused by just one species i.e. us.
  • There is a need to understand that the bionic changes brought about by the humans are leading to a deteriorating quality of life for humans and might lead to inhospitable conditions in the not-so-distant future. Therefore, there is a need to correct the chosen path for the benefit of humanity as well as the wildlife across the world.

Practice Question

  • Enumerate the different mass extinctions with a special emphasis on the 6th mass extinction. Discuss the reasons and effects of current mass extinction going on in the world.


  • Define the concept of carrying capacity of an ecosystem as relevant to an environment. Explain how understanding this concept is vital while planning for sustainable development of a region. (GS3 - 2019).
  • How does biodiversity vary in India? How is the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 helpful in conservation of flora and fauna? (GS3 - 2018).