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Highlights of the Report: Noise, Blazes and Mismatches EMERGING ISSUES OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN


The UNEP Frontiers report identifies and explores areas of emerging or ongoing environmental concern. The 2022 edition delves into three issues:

  1. Listening to cities: From noisy environments to positive soundscapes.
  2. Wildfires under climate change: A burning issue
  3. Phenology: Climate change is shifting the rhythm of nature
  1. As cities grow, noise pollution is identified as a top environmental risk. High levels of noise impair human health and well-being – by disrupting sleep or drowning out the beneficial and positive acoustic communications of many animal species that live in these areas. But solutions are at hand, from electrified transport to green spaces – which must all be included in city planning with a view to reducing noise pollution.
  2. Meanwhile, recent years have seen devastating wildfires across the world,from Australia to Peru. The trends towards more dangerous fire-weather conditions are likely to increase, due to rising concentrations ofatmospheric greenhouse gases and the attendant escalation of wildfire risk factors. The next decade will be critical in building greater resilience and adaptive capacity to wildfires – including on the wildland-urban interface. In particular, further research should address vulnerable groups’ exposure to hazards before, during and after extreme wildfires and action taken to increase efforts to prevent and prepare for wildfires.
  3. Although wildfires are a striking impact of climate change, phenological shifts are equally worrying. Plants and animals often use temperature, the arrival of rains and daylength as cues for the next stage in a seasonal cycle. Yet climate change is accelerating too quickly for many plant and animal species to adapt, causing disruption to the functioning of ecosystems. Rehabilitating habitats, building wildlife corridors to enhance habitat connectivity, shifting boundaries of protected areas and conserving biodiversity in productive landscapes can help as immediate interventions. However, without strong efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these conservation measures will only delay the collapse of essential ecosystem services.

Listening to cities: From noisy environments to positive soundscapes.

Today, noise pollution is a major environmental problem, cited as a top environmental risk to health across all age and social groups and an addition to the public health burden.

How is noise measured ?

Health effects of noise

There is increasing evidence that traffic noise exposure is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders such as elevated blood pressure, arterial hypertension, coronary heart disease and diabetes.

The health outcomes include annoyance; cardiovascular and metabolic effects; cognitive impairment; effects on sleep; hearing impairment and tinnitus; adverse birth outcomes; and quality of life, mental health and well-being. The noise sources considered in these reviews include road traffic, railways, aircraft, wind turbines, and leisure activities such as attending sporting or concert events, listening to music through personal devices, and other recreational pastimes.

Central Pollution Control Board stipulates the permissible noise levels in India for different areas. The noise pollution in India is regulated by THE NOISE POLLUTION (REGULATION AND CONTROL) RULES, 2000.

In industrial areas, the permissible limit is 75 dB for daytime and 70 dB at night.In commercial areas, it is 65 dB and 55 dB, while in residential areas it is 55 dB and 45 dB during daytime and night respectively.

The WHO recommends certain exposure thresholds to avoid adverse health effects

How to reduce noise pollution?

Green solutions: Vegetation in urban environments can absorb acoustic energy, diffuse noise and reduce street amplification. Tree belts, shrubs, green walls and green roofs have positive visual effects in addition to helping amplify naturalsounds by attracting urban wildlife.

Vegetated roofs attenuate sound by absorbing propagation over rooftops from street to quiet sides.

Electric vehicles Even electric vehicles emit noise when driven at speeds above 50 km/hr from tyre contact with the road. Solutions such as porous asphalt surfaces can lower noise emission at higher speeds.

Wildfires under climate change

Waves of extreme wildfires

From 2002 to 2016, approximately 423 million hectares of the Earth’s land surface burned annually, the majority (67%) on the African continent.

30% of Angola’s land surface burns every year, with the largest impacts in areas with a high proportion of forest and a small fraction of natural shrubland and grassland.

Human influences on wildfires

Humans directly and indirectly alter fire regimes by modifying landscapes and their vegetation, by starting fires as a land management practice where natural fires rarely occur, by suppressing and preventing fires to protect human communities, and by changing the climate.

A wildfire is a free-burning vegetation fire, including fires that can pose significant risk to social, economic, or environmental values. It may be started maliciously, accidentally, or through natural means.

Land-use changes associated with agriculture, deforestation and urban development are driving substantial changes to fire patterns in a wide range of ecosystems

Changing climate,changing fire weather

Climate change is increasing the risk of large and more intense fires. Climate directly affects the production and condition of biomass, and weather that supports fire ignition and propagation.

Large fires in woody ecosystems occur during prolonged drought events, such as in regions affected by El Niño variability.

Impacts of extreme wildfires on the Earth’s system

  1. Atmospheric pollution
  2. Changed Albedo Albedo is a non-dimensional, unitless quantity that indicates how well a surface reflects solar energy
  3. Carbon sink turns into carbon source
  4. Water pollution
  5. Erosion
  6. Biodiversity loss

Phenology Climate change is shifting the rhythm of nature

Phenology is defined as the study of the timing of recurring biological events, the causes of their timing with regard to biotic and abiotic forces, and the interrelation among phases of the same or different species (Leith 1974).

Phenology is the study of relationships between environmental conditions and biological processes such as insect development.

Plants and animals often use temperature, daylength, the arrival of rains, or other physical changes as cues for the next stage in their seasonal cycle.

Timing is everything for ecosystem harmony

Timing is critical in the natural world. Birds’ chicks must be hatched when there is food to nourish them, pollinators must be active when their host plants flower, and snow hares must change their colour from white to brown as the snow disappears

Detailed studies on various life-cycle stages across a wide range of plant and animal species have detected significant phenological mismatches.

These mismatches between predator and food source within a food web will affect individuals’ growth, reproduction and survival rates, with eventual repercussions for whole populations and ecosystems

Disruption in ecosystem harmony

Shifts in phenology due to climate change have been detected at a variety of stages: reproduction, flowering, leaf-out, onset of larval development, moult, hibernation, migration, and others. Supporting data come from studies comparing phenological shifts among large sets of species – plants, insects, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals, for which phenological events have been recorded over the long term through observations in both hemispheres

Phenological shifts and mismatches, attributed to climate change, have been affecting agricultural ecosystem services for decades. To ameliorate problems of advanced growing seasons, growing stages
curtailed by heat or drought, and other climate-change repercussions, farmers have been selecting more climate-resilient cultivars. Adopting new techniques, trying new seeds, sharing seed banks, and exploiting
extension services are all aspects of climate-smart agriculture, promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, many NGOs, and national and sub-national agencies.

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