The Environment Chronicle

Notable environmental events

  1. On 2 June 2017, the Norwegian city of Oslo has won the European Green Capital Award for 2019. These prestigious titles was awarded by the EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, at an awards ceremony in Essen, Germany,

  2. The European Green Capital Award 2018 has gone to the Dutch city of Nijmegen. The award, which recognise the efforts and commitments made by municipal authorities to improving the urban environment, was presented by Joanna Drake, Deputy Director-General of DG Environment at the European Commission, on 22 June 2016 at a ceremony in Ljubljana.

  3. On 14 November 2017, the UN Climate Change Secretariat honoured two international climate projects that are supported by the Federal Environment Ministry. Both projects received the ‘Momentum for Change’ Climate Solutions Award. One award recognises the work of the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (MCII), which helps people prepare for the consequences of climate change. The second award-winning project is Rewetting the peat bogs of Russia, PeatRus for short, which offers great potential for affordable and natural solutions for climate action. The 'Momentum for Change' Award is an initiative of the UN Climate Change Secretariat. It honours especially innovative lighthouse projects that make a contribution to climate action and also address major economic, social and ecologic challenges.

  4. At 11:27 CEST on 13 October 2017, the most recent satellite to join Europe's Copernicus Earth observation programme, Sentinel-5P took off on board a Rockot launch vehicle from the Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russia.Weighing in at around 820 kilograms, the Sentinel-5P satellite will observe trace gases in Earth’s atmosphere from an altitude of 824 kilometres. The TROPOMI (Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument) spectrometer will deliver important information on air pollution, the condition of the atmosphere and climatic changes on a daily basis. With a swath width of 2600 kilometres, almost 1000 high-resolution spectral channels and high spatial resolution, Sentinel-5P will define new technical standards in the continuous mapping of our entire planet: TROPOMI measures in the ultraviolet, visible, near and short infrared wavelength ranges and is able to monitor a wide variety of air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur oxides, methane and carbon monoxide. The trace gas data will be used in the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service to provide information on regional air pollution as well. The mission is also intended to provide other information, for instance by monitoring volcanic ash as part of flight safety or by issuing warnings of excessive UV radiation. Another significant feature of the Sentinel-5P mission is that it will continue the time series initiated by the GOME, SCIAMACHY, GOME-2 and MIPAS measuring instruments, updating the existing long-term climate datasets for incorporation into the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

  5. The Federal Cabinet adopted a Copernicus strategy for Germany on 13 September 2017.

  6. On 8 September 2017, the Republic of Kazakhstan announced plans to bring wild tigers back to their historical range in the Ili-Balkhash region and signed a memorandum with WWF to implement a joint tiger reintroduction plan. Kazakhstan will be the first country in Central Asia to implement such a paramount and large-scale program. In the last 100 years, global wild tiger populations have declined by 96%, from 100,000 to as few as 3,890 in 2016. Kazakhstan’s program will require the restoration of an immense riparian forest that is part of the wild tiger’s historical range. The government of Kazakhstan will designate a new nature reserve in southwestern Ili-Balkhash, which will restore the riparian forest habitat bordering Lake Balkhash. This reserve will protect existing wildlife, reintroduce tiger prey species, and safeguard this vital ecosystem.

  7. The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) will enter into force on 8 September 2017, marking a landmark step towards halting the spread of invasive aquatic species, which can cause havoc for local ecosystems, affect biodiversity and lead to substantial economic loss. Under the Convention’s terms, ships will be required to manage their ballast water to remove, render harmless, or avoid the uptake or discharge of aquatic organisms and pathogens within ballast water and sediments. Her Excellency Mrs. Päivi Luostarinen Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of Finland to IMO, handed over the country’s instrument of acceptance to the Ballast Water Management Convention to IMO Secretary-General Lim on 8 September 2016. The accession brings the combined tonnage of contracting States to the treaty to 35.1441%, with 52 contracting Parties. The convention stipulates that it will enter into force 12 months after ratification by a minimum of 30 States, representing 35% of world merchant shipping tonnage.

  8. On 28 August 2017 a ban on plastic carrier bags came into force in Kenya, which means that anyone found selling, manufacturing or carrying them could face fines of up to 32,000 Euro or prison sentences of up to four years.

  9. On 23 August 2017, Brazilian President Michel Temer signed a decree allowing a nature reserve in the Amazon rainforest to open for mining. The area, covering 46,000 sq km, on the border area between Pará and Amapá, known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) and is thought to be rich in gold, and other minerals. The decree cancels the park’s status as a national reserve.

  10. The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has launched THETIS-MRV, a monitoring, reporting and verification system aimed at reducing carbon emissions from ships calling at European ports. On 7 August 2017 THETIS-MRV went live. The system will enable companies responsible for the operation of large ships using EU ports to report their CO2 emissions, as required by law from 1 January 2018 under the EU’s Monitoring, Reporting and Verification Regulation. The move is expected to encourage the uptake of greenhouse gas emission-reduction measures within the maritime sector, as the emissions data will be made public and updated yearly. In order to maximise the impact of the regulation and minimise the administrative burden on shipping companies and operators, the rules apply only to ships above 5000 GT which account for around 55% of ships calling at EU ports and yet represent around 90% of the total share of related emissions.

  11. On 4 August 2017 United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres received a notification from the delegation of the United States expressing the country's intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change as soon as it is eligible to do so, his spokesman has confirmed.

  12. On 14 June 2017, the European Parliament narrowly endorsed a ban on the use of pesticides on “ecological focus areas“. This was proposed by the European Commission to protect biodiversity on farmlands. Under the approved legislation, farmers who receive subsidies from the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for improving biodiversity on land set aside for nature conservation will no longer be allowed to spray pesticides there.

  13. On 13 July 2017 the European Commission decided to refer Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU for increased logging in the Białowieża Forest, which is a protected Natura 2000 site. As logging operations have started on a significant scale, the Commission is also requesting the Court for interim measures compelling Poland to suspend the works immediately.

  14. On 7 July 2017, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs published initial results of a consumer survey conducted in preparation of the review of the EU Energy Labelling Regulation on washing machines. The study aimed at gaining better insights into consumers' behaviour, for instance when selecting washing cycles. The results were also passed on to the European Commission by the ministry, so as to encourage the Commission to adjust the EU Energy Label to make it more relevant by improving the criteria and requirements under the relevant energy efficiency tests. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has worked with the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control in commissioning a study that seeks to identify better requirements to be imposed on efficiency testing procedures for washing machines. The study, which was conducted by Ökoinstitut and the University of Bonn, serves the purpose of developing testing procedures that better replicate actual consumer behaviour. It found that, whilst the label refers to the appliances' energy-saving cycles, consumers tend to use the shorter standard cycles for cotton materials much more often than the energy-saving programmes; that they are willing to opt for more energy-efficient cycles provided that these last no longer than three hours; that they are using the new energy saving cycles “Eco 30-60°C” for laundry that requires only a light wash and “Eco 40-60°C” for laundry that requires a normal wash, and that they are mixing loads more; and that these new combined programmes use up to 8% less water and up to 15% less energy.

  15. On March 28, 2017, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) posted a Notice on its website that glyphosate (CAS No. 1071-83-6) would be added to the list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer for purposes of Proposition 65[2] with a delayed effective date due to the pending case Monsanto v OEHHA. Monsanto’s challenge was unsuccessful in the trial court. Although the case has been appealed, no stay of the listing has been granted. Therefore, glyphosate is being added to the Proposition 65 list on July 7, 2017. The move makes California the first state to take a step toward requiring Roundup to come with a warning label.

  16. On 4 July 2017, the World Heritage Committee meeting in Karakow decided to take Comoé National Park, the Ivorian World Heritage site, and Simien National Park, the Ethiopian World Heritage site, off the List of World Heritage in Danger. In its decision, the World Heritage Committee congratulated Côte d’Ivoire for its work to fight poaching. It noted that populations of iconic species such as elephants and chimpanzees that were thought to have disappeared from the site are reproducing again and that the state of conservation of habitats is now very positive. Targets for fauna conservation have in fact been met and even surpassed. The World Heritage Committee welcomed Ethiopia’s commitment in building an alternative road to alleviate the disturbance of traffic on the main road that crosses the property, reduce cattle overgrazing and visitor impact. The Committee furthermore welcomed the stabilization of the site’s endemic animal populations of, notably, Walia ibex and Gelada baboons.

  17. On Monday, 3 July 2017, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Transport Research signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Berlin that aims to promote cooperation between the two institutions in the field of sustainable urban mobility. The MoU provides a framework for cooperation within which the organisations will work together on issues related to sustainable urban mobility. They will also further discuss transport solutions and technologies aimed at improving urban mobility under the scope of the New Urban Agenda adopted adopted during Habitat III in Quito in October 2016. The collaboration will focus particularly on developing mobility concepts in the fields of the digital economy, accessibility and inclusive mobility, climate change, electro-mobility and non-motorised transport. UN-Habitat and DLR will deliver their complementary expertise in these fields. Due to its multi-disciplinary approach, DLR's Institute of Transport Research has extensive expertise in addressing a broad spectrum of research topics in the field of mobility utilising both quantitative and qualitative methods. UN-Habitat is in a position to advocate more sustainable approaches for improved mobility in cities. Both institutions aim to deliver applied and feasible solutions for the mobility challenges cities face in the 21st century. They also want to coordinate in tracking progress towards the transport related targets of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – particularly the transport target SDG 11.2 – 'Access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all'.

  18. On a proposal of the European Patent Office its Administrative Council took a decision to amend the relevant Regulations in order to exclude from patentability plants and animals exclusively obtained by an essentially biological breeding process. The new provisions will apply with immediate effect starting on 1 July 2017.

  19. The economic analysis firm Deloitte Access Economics has valued the Great Barrier Reef, a vast system of coral reefs located off the coast of Queensland, at 56 billion Australian dollars (37.9 billion euros, $42.4 billion). Its report, which was commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, said the Great Barrier Reef is worth 29 billion Australian dollars in tourism. It also assigned a further value of 24 billion more in "indirect or non-use value" – people who know about the reef but have not visited it yet. Another 3 million dollars came from recreational use, like beach visits or diving, Deloitte found. The assayers said that the Reef had contributed 6.4 billion dollars to the Australian economy in 2015 and 2016 combined, supporting 64,000 jobs including 33,000 in the state of Queensland.

  20. On 19 June 2017, EU Member states approved the inclusion of 12 new species to the EU’s “List of Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern”.

  21. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has classified bisphenol A as an endocrine disruptor and a ‘substance of very high concern’. Bisphenol A is already listed in the Candidate List due to its toxic for reproduction properties. The new European classification for BPA follows a proposal by the French food security agency from February 2017. ECHA’s member state committee, made up of representatives from all 28 EU countries, agreed the change unanimously on 16 June 2017.

  22. The world's most important award for pioneers in sustainability research will be given to the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. This has been announced 14 June 2017 in Tokyo by the Asahi Glass Foundation. The Blue Planet Prize of 50 million Yen honours thinkers and doers for major contributions to solving global environmental problems. Schellnhuber receives the award for establishing the 2 degrees Celsius guardrail of global warming agreed by the governments of all countries at the UN climate summit in Paris. Furthermore, the physicist Schellnhuber shaped the science of Earth System Analysis and developed the most influential concept of tipping elements.

  23. TOn 14 June 2017 ECHA published a new website that gives citizens, workers and professionals access to information on nanomaterials on the EU market in 23 languages. It is the first phase of the European Union Observatory for Nanomaterials (EUON). The EUON offers a unique web-based information point with factual and neutral content about nanomaterials on the EU market.

  24. On 6 June 2017, European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis officially inaugurates the kick-off meeting of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare. The Platform will gather 75 representatives from stakeholders, NGOs, scientists, Member States, EEA (European Economic Area) countries, international organisations and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). This is the 1st time that all key EU players will gather to exchange experiences and contribute to improving the welfare of animals. The Platform aims to promote dialogue among competent authorities, businesses, civil society and scientists on animal welfare issues that are relevant for EU citizens. The Platform will assist the Commission with the development and exchange of coordinated actions on animal welfare with focus on: 1. better application of EU rules on animal welfare, through exchanges of information, best practices and the direct involvement of stakeholders, 2. the development and use of voluntary commitments by businesses, 3. the promotion of EU animal welfare standards at the global level. The Platform will meet twice a year.

  25. “The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States and its businesses, workers and taxpayers,” Trump said during a press conference in the White House rose garden on 1 June 2017. “This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.” The president added that “as of today,” the United States would stop implementing its Paris pledges, including contributions to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate change. But Trump also pledged to “ensure that the United States remains the world leader on environmental issues”.

  26. On 31 May 2017, Climeworks launched the world’s first commercial plant that captures atmospheric CO2 for supply and sale to a customer. The Swiss direct air capture company launched the commercial-scale Direct Air Capture (DAC) plant, featuring its patented technology that filters carbon dioxide from ambient air. The plant is now supplying 900 tonnes of CO2 annually to a nearby greenhouse to help grow vegetables. The plant is a historic step for negative emissions technology – earmarked by the Paris climate agreement as being vital in the quest to limit a global temperature rise of 2 °C.

  27. On 24 July 2017, Greenpeace Italy and Greenpeace Germany activists sent a message to US President Trump ahead of his meeting with Pope Francis, projecting the message of ‘Planet Earth First’ onto the dome of St Peter's Basilica in Rome. The message, a parody of Trump’s America First government policy, calls on the US administration to commit to global climate action and the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

  28. Investments in climate action promote economic growth, while neglecting to do so will lead to a decline in growth rates. This is the main conclusion reached by a study carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which was presentedon 23 May 2017 at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin. The study "Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth" was supported by the Federal Environment Ministry and prepared in the context of the German Presidency of the G20. It shows that adopting a climate policy that is supported structurally and fiscally will have a positive impact on the economic output of all G20 countries. According to the OECD study, we can only avoid declines in economic growth by taking immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases. The next 10 to 15 years will be the crucial as this is when we will be laying the foundation for constructing or upgrading public and private infrastructures. Even without climate action, around 95 trillion US dollars will be needed between now and 2030 to do this - which equates to 6.3 trillion US dollars per year. Adjusting plans to be in line with the Paris Agreement would require an additional 0.6 trillion US dollars more per year in investments. However, according to OECD calculations these additional investments would be compensated for by the resulting fuel savings of approximately 1.7 trillion US dollars a year. The OECD study also highlights the importance of long-term climate action plans. As the German Climate Action Plan 2050 already outlines, the interaction between different policy areas is crucial for driving ambitious climate action forward, promoting economic growth and making the transformation towards sustainable economic systems socially compatible.

  29. On 17 May 2017, more than 30 foundation from eight countries announced a unique alliance for climate change and a global energy transition. The so called “Foundations Platform” (F20) aims at bridging the gap between the 20 most important industrial countries and emerging economies (G20), the private and financial sector as well as civil society. The Foundations Platform objective is to support the implementation of the Agenda 2030, climate projects, and the deployment of renewable energies. Further they aim at highlighting the strong role civil society plays in the transformation. In total, the foundations represent a capital in the double-digit billion range (US dollars).

  30. On 17 May 2017 in Berlin, the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency launched the new International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre (ISC3) located in the UN-city of Bonn. 200 experts came together to discuss sustainable and innovative chemicals policy at the opening of the international conference Mainstreaming Sustainable Chemistry - Launch of ISC3. Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks presented the foundation charter. The ISC3 will be the driving force enabling emerging economies and developing countries to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The 20 employees of the ISC3 will also cooperate closely with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The aim of the ISC3 is to help make sustainable development a fundamental strategy of policies and in industry. The federal budget has earmarked 1.7 million euros in 2017 and from 2018 onwards 2.4 million euros annually for the support of the Collaborative Centre.

  31. On 15 May 2017, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) officially announced the start of the international research initiative Year of Polar Prediction. The goal of the two-year project, which involves partners from more than 20 countries, is to comprehensively improve weather, ice and climate predictions for the Arctic and Antarctic, so as to achieve two major milestones: more reliable risk assessments for shipping and other human activities, which will help to avoid accidents; and arriving at a better understanding of how climate changes at the Earth's poles shape the weather in the middle latitudes.

  32. On 10 May 2017, Bonn Challenge crossed the 150 million hectare milestone with pledges form four countries. They have made restoration pledges to the Bonn Challenge – totaling 1.65 million hectares – at the first Asia Bonn Challenge High-level Roundtable in in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia. The new pledges include 0.75 million hectares by Bangladesh, 0.6 million hectares by Mongolia, 0.1 million hectares by Pakistan, and 0.2 million hectares by Sri Lanka. The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030, and was launched at an event hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Germany in 2011.

  33. Eight sites demonstrating the great diversity of our planet’s geology have received the UNESCO Global Geopark label on 5 May 2017, when UNESCO’s Executive Board endorsed the decisions made by the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council during its first session in Torquay, UK, September 2016. With this year’s eight additions, the world network now numbers 127 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 35 countries. They celebrate the 4.6-billion-year history of our planet and the geodiversity that has shaped every aspect of our lives and societies. The eight newly designated sites are: Arxan (China), Keketouhai (China), Cheongsong (Republic of Korea), Qeshm Island (Iran), Causses du Quercy (France), Comarca Minera, Las Loras (Spain), Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca (Mexico) and Hidalgo (Mexico)

  34. On 27 April 2017, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, a wide-reaching six-point framework aimed at halting deforestation and forest degradation.

  35. On 27 April 2017 the European Commission adopted a new action plan to improve the protection of nature and biodiversity in the European Union (EU). The Plan consists of 15 actions to be carried out by 2019 to rapidly improve the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, which are the EU's flagship nature policies. The 15 actions focus on 4 priority areas: Improving guidance and knowledge and ensuring better coherence with broader socio-economic objectives; Building political ownership and strengthening compliance; Strengthening investment in Natura 2000 and improving use of EU funding; Better communication and outreach, engaging citizens, stakeholders and communities.

  36. The European Commission is requesting Poland to refrain from large scale logging in the Białowieża Forest, one of the last remaining primeval forest complex in Europe and an environmentally protected site, as part of the Natura 2000 network. On 25 March 2016, the Polish authorities adopted a decision approving a modification to the forest management plan for the Białowieża Forest District. The decision allows for a three-fold increase in timber harvesting as well as for active forest management measures in areas which were so far excluded from any intervention. The Polish authorities justify the increased logging by the need to combat the infestation of the bark beetle and to ensure public safety, but the available evidence shows that these measures are not compatible with the conservation objectives of the site and exceed those necessary for ensuring the safe use of the forest. The logging is likely to adversely affect the conservation of the Natura 2000 site's habitats and species as well as cause irreparable biodiversity loss. In June 2016, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the Polish authorities urging them to make sure that the conservation and protection requirements of the EU's rules on Birds (Directive 2009/147/EC) and Habitats (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) are complied with on this site. As the logging is already being carried out in the forest, including the removal of 100-year and older trees and operations in the habitats which according to the Natura 2000 management plan should be strictly protected, the Commission is now sending a final warning. Due to the threat of a serious irreparable damage to the site the Commission is urging the Polish authorities to reply within one month instead of a customary two-month deadline. If Poland fails to address this breach of EU law within given time, the case may be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.

  37. On 18 April 2017 the five international judges of the Monsanto Tribunal presented their legal opinion. They have come to important conclusions, both on the conduct of Monsanto and on necessary developments in international law. The judges conclude that Monsanto has engaged in practices which have negatively impacted the right to a healthy environment, the right to food and the right to health. On top of that Monsanto's conduct is negatively affecting the right to freedom indispensable for scientific research. The judges also conclude that despite the development of many instruments to protect the environment, a gap remains between commitments and the reality of environmental protection. International law should be improved for better protection of the environment and include the crime of ecocide. The Tribunal concludes that if such a crime of Ecocide were recognized in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide. In the third part of the advisory opinion, the Tribunal focusses on the widening gap between international human rights law and corporate accountability. It calls for the need to assert the primacy of international human and environmental rights law. A set of legal rules is in place to protect investors rights in the frame of the World Trade Organization and in bilateral investment treaties and in clauses in free-trade agreements. These provisions tend to undermine the capacity of nations to maintain policies, laws and practices protecting human and environmental rights. UN bodies urgently need to take action; otherwise key questions will be resolved by private tribunals operating entirely outside the UN framework.

  38. On 5 April 2017 South Africa's constitutional court rejected an attempt by the government to keep a ban on the domestic trade in rhino horns. The ruling that the application be dismissed means that rhino horns can effectively be traded in the country.

  39. Christophe de Margerie, the world’s first ice-breaking liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker, became the first ship to dock at the Yamal LNG terminal at Russia’s port of Sabetta on March 30 2017 after completing its ice trials. The ARC-7 class ice-breaking vessel, which has a capacity to carry 173,600 cubic meters of LNG, was designed specifically to serve the country’s Yamal LNG project and transport LNG in the Ob Bay and Kara Sea. Capable of sailing through ice up to 2.1 meter thick, Christophe de Margerie is able to sail along the Northern Sea Route westward from Sabetta all year round and eastward for six months of the year, from July to December.

  40. On 30 March 2017, following months of negotiations, the European Commission secured a 10-year pledge to save the Mediterranean fish stocks and protect the region's ecological and economic wealth. The Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration sets out a detailed work programme for the next 10 years, based on ambitious but realistic targets. It is the result of a European Commission-led process that started in Catania, Sicily in February 2016. Important milestones include a first ministerial conference of Mediterranean fisheries ministers in April 2016, the GFCM annual session in June 2016, and the GFCM inter-sessional meeting in September 2016. The following parties were represented at the Malta MedFish4Ever Ministerial Conference: European Commission, 8 Member States (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus), 7 third countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro), FAO, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, the European Parliament, the EU Mediterranean Advisory Council.