The Environment Chronicle

Notable environmental events between 2016 and 2016 Deselect

  1. On 20 December 2016, President Obama announced that he will use his executive authority to permanently ban new offshore drilling in parts of federally owned waters off the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic Ocean.

  2. On 19 December 2016, the Member State Committee unanimously agreed on the identification of four substances of very high concern (SVHCs): bisphenol A, PFDA, PTAP and 4-HPbl. This will bring the total number of substances on the list to 173.

  3. On 14 December 2016, the European Parliament and the Council signed into law the new National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive, based on a Commission proposal that sets stricter limits on the five main pollutants in Europe. It will enter into force on 31 December 2016. When fully implemented, the Directive will reduce by almost 50% the negative health impacts of air pollution, such as respiratory diseases and premature death, by 2030. The Directive is the central element of the Commission's more comprehensive Clean Air Programme for Europe. The role of the Member States in coordinating and implementing the Directive at national level is very important. Member States must transpose the Directive into national legislation by 30 June 2018 and produce a National Air Pollution Control Programme by 2019 setting out measures to ensure that emissions of the five main air pollutants are reduced by the percentages agreed by 2020 and 2030.  They must also coordinate with plans in fields such as transport, agriculture, energy and climate.

  4. A ban on fishing below a depth of 800 meters in the North-East Atlantic was backed by Parliament on 13 December 2016. This ban will apply to bottom trawling, which often wrecks sea bed habitats, and also restrict deep-sea fishing to the area where it took place between 2009 and 2011. Tougher checks at sea and transparent data collection rules will also apply.

  5. The iconic giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), one of the world's most recognisable animals and the tallest land mammal, is now threatened with extinction. The species, which is widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated subpopulations in west and central Africa, has moved from Least Concern to Vulnerable due to a dramatic 36-40% decline from approximately 151,702-163,452 individuals in 1985 to 97,562 in 2015. The growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations. Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction. Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, three have increasing populations, whilst five have decreasing populations and one is stable. The update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species was released on 8 December 2016 at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13) in Cancun, Mexico.

  6. On 7 December 2016 the EU Commission confirmed European conservation legislation as fit for purpose and effective during their meeting. The Commission underscored the role of the Habitats and Birds Directives as key tools for conserving biological diversity. The European Commission announced the creation of an action plan for the targeted improvement of the implementation of nature conservation legislation in the coming years.

  7. On 29 November 2016 a new radiation cover for the Chernobyl reactor ruin was officially put into service, after six years of construction.

  8. Plans for more ambitious national caps on emissions of key pollutants by 2030 won the support of MEPs on 23 November 2016. They had already been informally agreed with the Dutch Presidency of the Council. The new legislation sets out national emission reduction commitments for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia (NH3), and fine particulates (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter).

  9. On 19 November 2016, GOES-R, the first of NOAA’s highly advanced geostationary weather satellites, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. GOES-R will scan the skies five times faster than today’s GOES spacecraft, with four times greater image resolution and three times the spectral channels. It will provide high-resolution, rapid-refresh satellite imagery as often as every 30 seconds, allowing for a more detailed look at a storm to determine whether it is growing or decaying. GOES-R data will help improve hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts, the prediction and warnings of severe weather, including tornadoes and thunderstorms. Additionally, GOES-R’s improved rainfall estimates will lead to more timely and accurate flood warnings.

  10. On 15 November 2016, the NDC Partnership, a coalition supporting implementation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was launched at the Marrakech Climate Change Conference. The Partnership is co-chaired by Morocco and Germany and hosted by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

  11. On 14 November 2016 , the German federal cabinet finally approved the government’s Climate Action Plan 2050 as the basic framework on how Germany is to become largely greenhouse gas neutral in 2050. In a press release, environment minister Barbara Hendricks pointed out that this was the first time Germany set specific emission reduction targets for individual economic sectors.

  12. A 15-year recovery plan to improve the state of the highly valuable but at-risk Mediterranean swordfish stock was adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) at its 20th Special Meeting, which was held in Vilamoura, Portugal, on 14 to 21 November 2016. Following a proposal tabled by the European Commission (EC) amid concerns about the species’ current rate of depletion, ICCAT contracting parties agreed on a catch limit of 10,500 metric tons (MT) next year and a gradual reduction of 15 percent over the subsequent five years – from 10,185 MT in 2018 to 8,925 MT in 2022.

  13. On 9 November 2016, Germany earned itself the prize of “Fossil of the Day” by the Climate Action Network-International at COP22 in Marrakesh. The Fossil of the Day awards were first presented at the climate talks in 1999, in Bonn, initiated by the German NGO Forum. During United Nations climate change negotiations, members of the Climate Action Network (CAN), vote for countries judged to have done their 'best' to block progress in the negotiations in the last days of talks. On 8 November 2016, the German government wasn’t able to pass its Climate Protection Plan 2050.

  14. Africa is the continent that was hit hardest by extreme weather events in 2015. According to the 12th edition of the Global Climate Risk Index, four out of the ten most impacted countries globally are African: Mozambique (Rank 1), Malawi (Rank 3), Ghana and Madagascar (both Rank 8. Heat waves claimed most lives last year. More than 4,300 deaths in India and more than 3,300 deaths in France show that both developing and developed countries are impacted by extraordinary temperatures. People are suffering from lack of protection and insufficient disaster management especially in poor countries. In the 20 year analysis of weather extremes nine out of the ten most affected countries are developing countries in the 'low' or 'lower-middle' income category. These are mostly countries with very low emissions, which are least responsible for climate change. The hardest hit countries in the period 1996-2015 were Honduras, Myanmar and Haiti. From 1996 to 2015, there were more than 530,000 deaths caused by more than 11,000 extreme weather events, as well as nearly 3.3 trillion US-Dollars (in Purchasing Power Parities, PPP) in damages. The Global Climate Risk Index 2017 was published on 8 November 2016 at the outset of the climate summit in Marrakech, Morocco.

  15. On 8 November 2016 voters in Washington state chose to reject an initiative that would have been the nation’s first tax on carbon pollution from fossil fuels. Initiative 732 managed to draw just 42 percent of the vote in a state largely lauded for its progressive approach to environmental policy.

  16. On 10 November 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union finded that Greece has failed to fulfil its obligation to protect the sea turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Bay of Kyparissia. An EU Directive requires the Member States to contribute to ensuring biodiversity through the conservation of wild fauna. In this context the Member States must take all the measures necessary to establish a system of strict protection for certain animal species.

  17. The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015, officially enters into force on 4 November 2016 - four years earlier than originally expected. 94 Parties have ratified of 197 Parties to the Convention (3 November 2016). As of 3 November 2016, the Paris Agreement has been ratified by 94 countries representing 66 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. For the agreement to enter into force it needed to be ratified by 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions.

  18. At the launch of the UN Biodiversity Conference in Cancún, Mexico, ministers from all over the world committed to mainstreaming biological diversity into other policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism. This is laid down in the Cancún Declaration adopted on 3 December 2016 at the conclusion of the high-level segment. In the declaration, ministers reaffirm the 2010 decision by the CBD parties to phase out incentives and subsidies that are harmful to biodiversity. Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks participated in the high-level segment for Germany.

  19. To send a clear signal regarding the protection and sustainable use of natural raw materials, so that the basis of life on the planet Earth is preserved, for future generations as well as our own: this is one of the major goals which the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, DBU) aims to achieve with the presentation of its 2016 German Environmental Prize. The Environmental Prize recipients are such pioneers: on 30 October 2016 in Würzburg, German President Joachim Gauck personally handed to the entrepreneur Bas van Abel, the scientist Prof. Dr.-Ing. Angelika Mettke, and the entrepreneur Walter Feeß the largest independent environmental prize in Europe. Van Abels company “fairphone” has as its goal the production of an ethically viable smartphone which causes the least possible damage to the environment and does not exploit humans in its manufacture. We are delighted to honor, in Bas van Abel, a pioneer for more resource efficiency in the smartphone industry. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Angelika Mettke and Walter Feeß receive this year’s German Environmental Prize for their leading roles in bringing the circular recycling economy to the construction industry. We are delighted to recognize Mettke and Feeß for their work to encourage the use of recycled concrete elements and the concrete recycling process. With their commitment, both prize recipients have broken through entrenched structures in the raw materials economy.

  20. The world's experts on Antarctic marine conservation have agreed to establish a marine protected area (MPA) in Antarctica's Ross Sea. This week at the Meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, Australia, all Member countries have agreed to a joint USA/New Zealand proposal to establish a 1.55 million km2 area of the Ross Sea with special protection from human activities. This new MPA, to come into force in December 2017, will limit, or entirely prohibit, certain activities in order to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring and fisheries management objectives. Seventy-two percent of the MPA will be a 'no-take' zone, which forbids all fishing, while other sections will permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research.

  21. In a landmark decision for both the environment and human health, 1 January 2020 has been set as the implementation date for a significant reduction in the sulphur content of the fuel oil used by ships. The decision to implement a global sulphur cap of 0.50% m/m (mass/mass) in 2020 was taken by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the regulatory authority for international shipping, during its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), meeting for its 70th session in London. It represents a significant cut from the 3.5% m/m global limit currently in place and demonstrates a clear commitment by IMO to ensuring shipping meets its environmental obligations.

  22. The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016 shows how people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth’s history and highlights the changes needed in the way society is fed and fuelled. According to the report, global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year with available data. The WWF report uses the Living Planet Index, provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), to monitor trends in wildlife abundance. This index reports how wildlife populations have changed in size, rather than the specific number of animals that have been lost or gained. The top threats to species identified in the report are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss, degradation and overexploitation of wildlife.

  23. The proposal for a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, which was presented at the 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Slovenia, has failed to reach the required support. Consensus was not reached on a proposal for the establishment of a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic and therefore a vote was required. As a potential amendment to the IWC Schedule (the document which sets out specific IWC regulations) this vote required a three quarters majority in order to succeed. 64 governments were present with 38 voting yes, 24 voting no, and 2 abstentions. The three quarters majority was not met and the proposal was not passed.

  24. At its meeting in Oviedo, the Jury for the 2016 Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation, has decided to bestow the 2016 Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement for more than two decades of work aimed at reducing the role of human activity on global warming. The Jury has highlighted the importance of this Agreement in the context of international cooperation, as a project that looks to the future to help all countries move together toward a cleaner and more sustainable model.

  25. The international community has agreed for the very first time on common, political guiding principles for urban development in the decades ahead. The New Urban Agenda was adopted on 20 October 2016 at the end of the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in the Ecuadorian capital Quito. With the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, the UN member states have committed to involving cities to a greater extent in their policies and measures and improving the framework for achieving sustainable and integrated urban development. This will enhance local capacity to act, financial options and participation. The overarching goal is implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement at local level.

  26. The European Union has submitted a proposal, prepared by Germany, to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for a marine protected area (MPA) in the Antarctic Weddell Sea. AWI scientists have compiled and analysed the scientific data on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Christian Schmidt, German Minister for Food and Agriculture, explains: "The marine protection area should be reserved for scientific research and strengthen international cooperation in this area. Both form the pillars of the Antarctic Treaty. It is our historic task to protect unique ecosystems like Antarctica."

  27. On 15 October 2016 representatives from nearly 200 member countries of the Montreal Protocol agreed on a deal to reduce emissions of powerful greenhouse gases at a summit in Kigali, Rwanda. The landmark deal will reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the world's fastest-growing greenhouse gases, the UN Environment Program said in a statement.

  28. On 13 October 2016 seventy-five diverse civil society organisations joined forces to formally launch SDG Watch Europe. This broad coalition will work to ensure that the European Union and its Member States live up to their commitments, made when signing the Agenda 2030 agreement in New York September 2015, to enable a sustainable future at home and abroad. A year ago, governments across the world agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that calls for a bold transformation in policy and practice. Its 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are aimed at ensuring that decisions by governments contribute to a more sustainable, inclusive and equal future for all by 2030.

  29. Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has welcomed the agreement reached by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to limit greenhouse gas emissions caused by aviation. Following on from the Paris Agreement, this agreement represents the first sector-specific mechanism for combating climate change. The global market-based measure (GMBM) will offset greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. Moreover, countries can implement their own additional climate measures for aviation. The ICAO aims to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020. To this end, a global Market-based measure (GMBM) was agreed, to be implemented in phases, which envisages a gradual offsetting of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. It will be launched in 2021 and participation will initially be voluntary.

  30. Germany is officially a Party to the Paris Agreement. On 5 October at the United Nations in New York, the German Government deposited its instrument of ratification along with the European Commission and other EU Member States.

  31. On 4 October 2016, in the presence of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the United Nation's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the President of COP 21 Ségolène Royal, the European Parliament approved the ratification of the Paris Agreement by the European Union.

  32. India, one of the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters, will ratify the Paris global climate agreement pact on 2 October, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on 26 September 2016. "Ratification is yet to be done and India too is yet to do it. I announce that India will ratify the decision on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi," Mr Modi said in a speech at a national meeting of his ruling party in the southern state of Kerala.

  33. On 30 September 2016, EU ministers approved the ratification of the Paris Agreement by the European Union. The decision was reached at an extraordinary meeting of the Environment Council in Brussels.

  34. The Parties of CITES had weighed four proposals to protect four Asian and four African species of pangolins, and chose to give them the strongest possible global protections from trade. Pangolins are the most illegally traded mammal in the world. The decisions were reached at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and as a result, the international commercial trade of all eight species of pangolin and pangolin parts is officially prohibited.

  35. The Dutch parliament has voted for a 55% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030, which would require the closure of all the country’s coal-fired power plants. The unexpected vote on 21 Setember 2016 by 77 to 72 would bring the Netherlands clearly into line with the Paris climate agreement, with some of the most ambitious climate policies in Europe. It is not binding on the government. A court in the Netherlands last year ordered prime minister Mark Rutte’s government to cut its emissions by a quarter by 2020, citing the severity of the global warming threat which the Netherlands has recognised in international treaties.

  36. On 13 September 2016 Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, officially unveiled the MeyGen Project, the world’s largest free stream tidal power project, at a ceremony held at the Nigg Energy Park (“Nigg”) in Scotland. After the ceremony the turbine, measuring about 15 metres tall, with blades 16 metres in diameter, and weighing in at almost 200 tonnes, will begin its journey to the project’s site in the waters off the north coast of Scotland between Caithness and Orkney. The turbine will be the first of four to be installed underwater, each with a capacity of 1.5 megawatts, in the initial phase of the project.

  37. On 7 September 2016 Ecuador began pumping its first crude oil from the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) block in Yasuní National Park.

  38. The Eastern Gorilla – the largest living primate – has been listed as Critically Endangered due to illegal hunting, according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ released on 4 September 2016 at the IUCN World Conservation Congress taking place in Hawaiʻi. IUCN Red List update also reports the decline of the Plains Zebra due to illegal hunting, and the growing extinction threat to Hawaiian plants posed by invasive species. Thirty eight of the 415 endemic Hawaiian plant species assessed for this update are listed as Extinct and four other species have been listed as Extinct in the Wild, meaning they only occur in cultivation. The IUCN Red List now includes 82,954 species of which 23,928 are threatened with extinction. This update of The IUCN Red List also brings some good news and shows that conservation action is delivering positive results. Previously listed as Endangered, The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is now listed as Vulnerable, as its population has grown due to effective forest protection and reforestation.

  39. On 3 September 2016 Presidents of China and the United States handed over their countries' instruments of joining the Paris Agreement separately to Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon in Hangzhou.

  40. On 10 September 2016 the IUCN Congress closed with the presentation of the Hawai'i Commitments. This document, titled “Navigating Island Earth”, was shaped by debates and deliberations over 10 days, and opened for comment to some 10,000 participants from 192 countries. More than 100 resolutions and recommendations have been adopted by IUCN Members – a unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs – calling on third parties to take action on a wide range of urgent conservation issues. Key decisions included closure of domestic markets for elephant ivory, the urgency of protecting the high seas, the need to protect primary forests, no-go areas for industrial activities within protected areas and an official IUCN policy on biodiversity offsets.