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WASHINGTON – A soccer field every 6 seconds. That’s the rate at which the world lost mature tropical forests last year, according to new data from the Global Forest Watch monitoring program. Satellite data shows nearly 4 million hectares of tree cover disappeared, an increase from last year and the third-largest loss this century. Some experts find hopeful notes among the bad news, however. While Brazil’s forest losses have increased under right-wing President Jair Bolosonaro, policies to curb deforestation appear to be working in Indonesia, Colombia and West Africa.
The destruction of mature tropical forests is a massive hit to biodiversity and is responsible for about 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Resources Institute, the research and advocacy group that oversees Global Forest Watch. Since forests are massive sponges of carbon dioxide, reversing their loss would play an outsize role in fighting climate change. The United Nations set a goal of ending deforestation by 2020, “but we seem to be going in the wrong direction,” WRI Distinguished Senior Fellow Frances Seymour said.
According to satellite imagery analyzed by the University of Maryland and WRI, Brazil alone lost 1.4 million hectares of mature forest in 2019, more than one-third of the world total and nearly three times more than the country with the next-largest loss, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not counting record-breaking forest fires in 2016 and 2017, it’s the largest loss since 2006.
Brazil had been a source of optimism until recently. Conservation policies under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva curbed deforestation rates from 2004 to 2015. It was “one of the great conservation successes of this millennium,” said Robert Heilmayr, a University of California, Santa Barbara environmental economics assistant professor, who was not involved with the WRI research.
“I think that gave rise to this hope that if we can harness the policies that worked in one place and just deploy them around the world, we’re going to see an end to deforestation globally,” Heilmayr said. But the latest data shows “we still have a long ways to go,” he said. President Bolsonaro has encouraged development in the Amazon rainforest and loosened enforcement of environmental laws. His administration is backing a law that would increase access to protected indigenous lands for mining and supports legislation that environmental groups say would legalize land grabs.
“You’re starting to see the enforcement of the laws that are on the books back off,” Heilmayr said, “and I think that’s creating an opening for more aggressive deforestation.”
On the other hand, the loss of mature forests in Indonesia declined in 2019 for the third straight year. “I’m continuing to be pleasantly surprised that there’s a decrease” in Indonesia, said Greg Asner, director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science at Arizona State University, who was not involved with the research.
While Indonesia lost the third-largest area of mature forest after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s the smallest loss since the early 2000s. The country has made permanent a 2011 moratorium on logging and land-clearing for oil palm plantations, which had been a major driver of deforestation. The government has stepped up fire prevention and enforcement of existing forest laws.
Colombia also saw a steep drop in the loss of primary forest last year, after two years of increases. Deforestation had spiked after a peace agreement ended decades of civil war and freed up land previously occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The country has set deforestation and reforestation goals and has sent the police and military to fight deforestation in its national parks. It’s not clear if the trend will hold. Global Forest Watch’s early-warning system has logged an increase in alerts this year.
Chocolate cuts its losses
More tentative good news comes from West Africa. Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, the two countries with the largest increase in mature forest loss in 2018, both cut those losses in half last year. The chocolate industry has pledged to reduce deforestation for cocoa cultivation, a major crop in West Africa, and the governments have signed forest carbon deals with the World Bank.
These programs may be responsible, but WRI says it’s too soon to tell if the impact will last. The cooperation of palm oil companies has been a big part of Indonesia’s decline in deforestation, UCSB’s Heilmayr said.
“When we see those two components, government and the international markets that provide the strongest incentive for deforestation, working together and in harmony with each other to disincentivize further deforestation, that’s where we generally see the biggest success,” he noted.
“The 2019 data corroborates what we already know,” WRI’s Seymour added. “If governments put into place good policies and enforce the law, forest loss goes down. But if governments relax restrictions … forest loss goes up.” Seymour is concerned that fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could push global forest losses up this year.
“We do have historical precedents,” WRI’s Seymour said. Poverty and a lack of enforcement drove up deforestation after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, she noted. And with attention turned elsewhere, Heilmayr said, “I worry that this is a moment where the governments that want to enable additional land grabbing, that want to enable agricultural expansion, may turn away from enforcing the laws that already exist.” (VOA)
Japan has successfully launched a new navigation satellite into orbit that will replace its decade-old navigation satellite.
The satellite, QZS-1R, was launched onboard an H-2A rocket that lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 10.19 p.m. on Monday night, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement.
The company builds and operates H-2A rockets the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
QZS-1R is a replacement for Quasi-Zenith Satellite System 1 satellite first launched in 2010. “It was a really beautiful launch," the company said in a tweet after a successful lift-off.
"H-IIA F44 flight proceeded nominally. Approximately 28 minutes 6 seconds after launch, as planned, the payload separated from the launch vehicle," the statement said.
The official QZSS website lists four satellites in the constellation: QZS-1, QZS-2, QZS-3 and QZS-4, Space.com reported.
The QZSS constellation will eventually consist of a total of seven satellites that fly in an orbit passing through a near-zenith (or directly overhead) above Japan, and QZS-R1 is meant to share nearly the same transmission signals as recent GPS satellites, according to JAXA.
It is specially optimised for mountainous and urban regions in Japan, JAXA said.
Mitsubishi's H-2A 202 rocket launch system has been operational since 2003 and has sent satellites to locations such as Venus (Akatsuki) and Mars (Emirates Mars Mission).
The latest H2-A rocket launch is the first since November 29, 2020, when Japan launched an advanced relay satellite with laser communications tech into orbit, the report said. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: Science, Space Satellite, Communications, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, satellite QZS-1R
Everyone loves firecrackers, even the most environment-friendly advocates cannot hide their joy when they see these delightful lights colour the skies. India celebrates Diwali in the true spirit of her culture and heritage by spraying the navy-blue skies with sparkling hues of gold, silver, red, and green. Firecrackers are not just a tradition in this country, they are a legacy.
The original connotation one makes with fireworks in China. The elaborate Chinese celebrations with dragons and zapping firecrackers have left their mark in human memory, but the use of fireworks is not limited to heralding the Chinese New Year. All over the world, fireworks have come to symbolise the ultimate celebration. During Diwali in India, this spirit is re-ignited every year.
Indians have known the use of gunpowder for many centuries now. Sanskrit texts name a substance called 'agnichura' which is described as a 'powder that creates fire'. This is believed to be saltpetre.
A single firecracker ablaze Photo by Unsplash
Sometime during the rule of the Vijayanagar Empire, and the Adil Shah Dynasty in South India, the use of the Chinese pyrotechnic formulae became extensively common in entertaining the royals. Weddings, Festivals, and other special celebrations in the palace were marked with a spectacular display of fireworks.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, the dynamics of fireworks changed in India. Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, from Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi who migrated to Kolkata, set up a fireworks factory there. It began as a match factory, but after receiving the required permission, it was converted into a fireworks unit. Within a few years, another factory was set up in Sivakasi. Before long, multiple units were set up there, and today, it is India's fireworks hub. Most of the crackers that are used during Diwali come from Sivakasi.
Recently, environmental concerns have caused the ban of fireworks as it causes air pollution. The sale of crackers has reduced drastically after this new law. During the lockdown, the factory labourers underwent great losses, especially in Sivakasi. But keeping the spirit of Diwali in mind. crackers cannot be entirely done away with, and continue to light up the skies at least for a few hours every year.
Keywords: Diwali festival, Fireworks, Sivakasi, the Vijayanagar Empire, culture and heritage in India.
PARIS — In a decision with potential ramifications across European museums, France is displaying 26 looted colonial-era artifacts for one last time before returning them home to Benin.
The wooden anthropomorphic statues, royal thrones and sacred altars were pilfered by the French army in the 19th century from Western Africa.
President Emmanuel Macron suggested that France now needed to right the wrongs of the past, making a landmark speech in 2017 in which he said he can no longer accept "that a large part of many African countries' cultural heritage lies in France." It laid down a roadmap for the controversial return of the royal treasures taken during the era of empire and colony. The French will have a final glimpse of the objects in the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac from 26-31 October.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot tried to assuage jitters among European museums, emphasizing that this initiative "will not create a legal precedent."
A royal seat of the 'Royal treasures of Abomey kingdom' (Œuvres des tresors royaux d'Abomey) on display at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Sept. 10, 2021. Photo Credit: VOA
A French law was passed last year to allow the restitution of the statues to the Republic of Benin, as well as a storied sword to the Army Museum in Senegal.
But she said that the French government's law was intentionally specific in applying solely to the 27 artifacts. "[It] does not establish any general right to restitution" and "in no way calls into question" the right of French museums to hold on to their heritage.
Yet critics of such moves — including London's British Museum that is in a decades-long tug-of-war with the Greek government over a restitution of the Elgin Marbles — argue that it will open the floodgates to emptying Western museums of their collections. Many are made up of objects acquired, or stolen, during colonial times. French museums alone hold at least 90,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa.
A woman looks at the Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures. Photo Credit: VOA
The story of the "Abomey Treasures" is as dramatic as their sculpted forms. In November 1892, Colonel Alfred Dodds led a pilfering French expeditionary force into the Kingdom of Danhomè located in the south of present-day Benin. The colonizing troops broke into the Abomey Palace, home of King Behanzin, seizing as they did many royal objects including the 26 artifacts that Dodds donated to the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris in the 1890s. Since 2003, the objects have been housed at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac.
One hundred and twenty-nine years later, their far-flung journey abroad will finally end.
Benin's Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola called the return of the works, a "historic milestone," and the beginning of further cooperation between the two countries, during a news conference last week. The country is founding a museum in Abomey to house the treasures that will be partly funded by the French government. The French Development Agency will give some 35 million euros toward the "Museum of the Saga of the Amazonians and the Dan home Kings" under a pledge signed this year.
The official transfer of the 26 pieces is expected to be signed in Paris on Nov. 9 in the presence of Macron and the art is expected to be in Benin a few days later, Abimbola said.
While locals say the decision is overdue, what's important is that the art will be returned.
"It was a vacuum created among Benin's historical treasures, which is gradually being reconstituted," said Fortune Sossa, President of the African Cultural Journalists Network. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Benin art, Emmanuel Macron, European museums, Abomey Treasures, anthropomorphic statues