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The German city of Essen has won the European Green Capital Award for 2017. The award was presented by Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, at a ceremony on 17 June 2015 in Bristol, UK, which currently holds the title. Essen was singled out for its exemplary practices in protecting and enhancing nature and biodiversity and efforts to reduce water consumption. Essen participates in a variety of networks and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve the city’s resilience in the face of climate change.
Just 20 years ago, the rusty patched bumble bee was a common sight, so ordinary that it went almost unnoticed as it moved from flower to flower, collecting nectar and pollen. But the species, now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction, has become the first-ever bumble bee in the United States -- and the first bee of any kind in the contiguous 48 states -- to be declared endangered. The endangered designation is made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for species that are in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a portion of their range. Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius said, “Our top priority is to act quickly to prevent extinction of the rusty patched bumble bee. Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline.” Once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces, the rusty patched bumble bee has experienced a swift and dramatic decline since the late 1990s. Abundance of the rusty patched bumble bee has plummeted by 87 percent, leaving small, scattered populations in 13 states and one province. Causes of the decline in rusty patched bumble bee populations are believed to be loss of habitat; disease and parasites; use of pesticides that directly or indirectly kill the bees; climate change, which can affect the availability of the flowers they depend on; and extremely small population size. Most likely, a combination of these factors has caused the decline in rusty patched bumble bees.
For the first time, a total of 490 habitats across 35 countries in Europe have been assessed to determine their risk of collapse. The European Red List of Habitats, initiated by the European Commission, benefited from the knowledge and expertise of over 300 experts who reviewed the current status of all European natural and semi-natural terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats. The assessment reveals that over a third of all land habitats are currently under threat, including more than three-quarters of bogs, over half of grasslands, and almost half of Europe's lakes, rivers and coasts. Forests, heaths and rocky habitats are overall less threatened, but remain of great concern. In Europe's neighbouring seas, mussels and seagrass beds and estuaries are threatened. Nearly a third of marine habitats in the Mediterranean Sea are at risk of collapse, as well as almost a quarter in the North-East Atlantic. Some habitats, particularly in the Black Sea, remain poorly studied and their status could not be determined. The methodology used by the European Red List of Habitats is based on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria, a unified global standard for assessing ecosystem risk.
On 21 January 2017 , the town of Essen in Germany officially became the European Green Capital for 2017. In a ceremony, Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, handed over the title for 2017 from Ljubljana to Essen. Commissioner Vella said: “I congratulate Essen on becoming European Green Capital 2017 and making the city a healthier place to live in. The impressive transformation from coal and steel industry to the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia is proof of Essen's successful structural change. Great progress in environmental sustainability required vision, good governance, strong leadership and citizens' involvement.”
On 24 January 2017, US President Donald Trump signed two executive memorandums to revive the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline.
On 26 January 2017 a majority vote was passed in the Irish Parliament on fossil fuel divestment legislation. Lawmakers split 90 to 53 in favour of ditching coal, oil and gas holdings from the €8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The bill, brought by independent representative Thomas Pringle, is expected to pass into law in the next few months after consideration by the finance committee.
Greenpeace Brazil has captured the first underwater images of the Amazon Reef, a 9500 km2 system of corals, sponges and rhodoliths located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean – an area that the Brazilian government has opened for oil exploration. A team of experts, including several oceanographers who announced the discovery of the reef last year, have joined the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on an expedition to document this new biome, which runs from French Guyana to the Brazilian state of Maranhão, an area larger than the cities of São Paulo or London.
BP and Total are planning to drill for oil near a recently discovered coral reef off the coast of Brazil, Greenpeace Energydesk revealed on 30 January 2017. Together the oil majors own five deepwater exploration licences in the Foz do Amazonas (Mouth of the Amazon River) basin and are expected to be granted permits to begin exploratory drilling early 2017 – once their environmental impact assessments are approved by the Brazilian government. The nearest of these blocks is just 8 km from the reef, which was was described by National Geographic as “one of the most surprising finds in modern sea research” when it was announced in 2016. The scientists who discovered it are worried that an oil spill could dramatically affect the coral reef.
On 8 February 2017, campaigners and activists met in Brussels and other European cities to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ban glyphosate, reform the EU pesticide approval process, and set mandatory targets to reduce pesticide use in the EU. The goal is to collect at least one million signatures from Europeans and submit the petition before the Commission’s next move to renew, withdraw or extend the EU licence of glyphosate.
The German government has laid the foundations for more comprehensive nature conservation in the North and Baltic Seas, and for the accelerated establishment of a network of terrestrial biotopes. On 8 February 2017, the Cabinet adopted a corresponding amendment to the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG), as proposed by Federal Environment Ministry. This amendment establishes a basis for authorisation in the Federal Nature Conservation Act for conserving threatened species in marine areas in the German Exclusive Economic Zone by means of legal ordinances. A second focal area is the establishment of a nationwide network of terrestrial biotopes covering ten percent of each Federal State (Land). The draft act requires the Länder to set up this biotope network by 2027. A third focal area is the inclusion of caves and semi-natural tunnels in former mines in the list of protected biotopes, for example to preserve the habitats of bats, spiders, butterflies and other insects. Regarding species protection law, the draft act prescribes the adaptation of provisions on authorising road construction projects and planning construction areas and installations in the energy sector to rulings by the supreme courts.
On 15 February 2017, the European Commission sent a final warning to Germany for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The European Commission urges Germany to take action to ensure good air quality and safeguard public health in 28 air quality zones, including Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne.
On 17 February 2017, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt; DLR) Space Administration and Airbus Defence and Space GmbH signed a contract for the design and construction phases of the German-French climate satellite MERLIN (Methane Remote Sensing LIDAR Mission). From 2021, this small satellite mission will measure the methane concentration in Earth's atmosphere to an unprecedented level of accuracy and thus contribute to research into the causes of climate change. The contract was signed at the Airbus site in Ottobrunn and includes the German contribution to the mission – namely, the development and construction of the methane LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), the measuring instrument on board the MERLIN satellite. The core part of the instrument is a laser, which can send out light pulses on two different wavelengths and thus measure the methane concentration at all latitudes with great precision regardless of sunlight. The LIDAR instrument is being developed and constructed in Germany on behalf of the DLR Space Administration, funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy .
On 20 February 2017, Singapore revealed plans to put in place a carbon tax on the emission of greenhouse gases from 2019. The government is considering a carbon tax between $10 and $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. The tax will apply to power stations and other large emitters producing over 25,000 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent per year. The government estimates that some 30 to 40 companies fall in this category.
On 27 February 2017, activists from Greenpeace protested at a Statoil oil rig in a fjord in northern Norway. The activists peacefully protested against Statoil and the Norwegian government for opening up a new oil frontier in the Arctic. The rig Songa Enabler is planned to drill further north in the Norwegian Arctic than ever before. For the first time in 20 years the Norwegian government is opening up a new oil frontier in the Arctic, allowing state-owned Statoil and 12 other oil companies to start a exploration the Barents Sea.
A nine-year-old girl has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government for failing to take action on climate change, warning that young people will pay the price for the country’s inaction. In the petition filed with the National Green Tribunal, a special court for environment-related cases, Ridhima Pandey said the government had failed to implement its environment laws.
Poachers have broken into a French zoo, killing a white rhinoceros and sawing off its horn. Keepers found the dead animal in the African enclosure of the zoo at Thoiry, west of Paris, on 7 March 2017. It had been shot in the head and its large horn removed with a chainsaw. The poachers fled before they could remove the animal’s second horn, either because they were disturbed or because their equipment failed, police said. A rhinoceros horn has an estimated value of between €30,000 and €40,000. Authorities described the incident as the first of its kind in Europe.
Just two years after its 'twin satellite' was launched on 7 March 2017 at 02:49, the European Earth observation satellite Sentinel-2B set off on its mission on board a Vega rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The approximately 1.1-ton satellite will monitor Earth from an altitude of 786 kilometres in a sun-synchronous orbit. Its most important task is to document changes to land surface and vegetation between 84 degrees North and 56 degrees South latitude. The Sentinel satellites are part of the European Commission's Copernicus programme. Its purpose is to collect and evaluate remote sensing data of Earth. The data has been provided free of charge to authorities, companies, science and every interested citizen since the start of the programme in 2014. In all, four optical Sentinel-2 satellites will be part of the Copernicus satellite family, which will comprise a total of 20 satellites. Sentinel-2A has been in orbit since 23 June 2015, Sentinel-2C and Sentinel-2D should follow from 2022 onwards. Together with Sentinel-2A, Sentinel-2B doubles the recording frequency – every point on Earth will now be recorded every five days – and halves the failure probability, which are both central requirements for users of Copernicus data.
ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) agrees to maintain the current harmonised classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. RAC concluded that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.
On 21 March 2017, negotiators of the European Parliament and the Council agreed on a revised energy efficiency label and the relevant regulatory framework. The current A+++ to G labels for products will be replaced by a clear and easier to use A to G labels. This will make energy labels more understandable for consumers and help them make better informed purchasing choices. The measure will be accompanied by the introduction of a public database making it easier for citizens to compare the energy efficiency of household appliances.
On the occasion of the International Day of Forests 2017, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the Bundesland Nordrhein-Westfalen, and the City of Bonn have officially welcomed European Forest Institute (EFI) in Bonn. The EFI premises will be situated on the UN-campus, with 19 other international organizations. The German hosts are especially happy that EFI Bonn is the seat of EFI's Resilience Programme, as sustainability is high on the country’s policy agenda. As an independent scientific organization with an international focus, the European Forest Institute is uniquely positioned to offer relevant knowledge for decision makers in Germany and elsewhere. EFI’s Resilience Programme in Bonn will concentrate on generating and communicating knowledge on how global change affects the socio-ecological resilience of Europe’s forest systems. Together with EFI’s member organisations and partners, it will conduct interdisciplinary research that connects forest science to other land-use disciplines and urban studies. New knowledge will create a basis for effective, integrated policies and forest and land-use management strategies facing global change. The EFI Bonn office receives core funding through the German Government (BMEL). Setting up the Bonn office is also supported through the government of Nordrhein-Westfalen.
The world's largest artificial Sun started shining in Jülich on 23 March 2017. The North Rhine-Westphalia Ministery for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs (BMWI) joined the Energy and German Aerospace Center to inaugurate the new research facility Synlight. Among other things, the facility is intended to develop production processes for solar fuels, including hydrogen. Hydrogen is considered to be the fuel of the future because it burns without producing carbon dioxide. But the production of hydrogen – by splitting water into its constituents of hydrogen and oxygen – needs significant amounts of energy. In future, this will be obtained from the Sun. Sunlight in central Europe is unreliable and irregular, so an artificial Sun is the preferred choice for developing production processes for solar fuels. Periods of unfavourable weather and fluctuating sunlight hours might otherwise negatively impact tests. Scientists at the DLR Institute of Solar Research already managed to produce hydrogen using solar radiation several years ago, albeit on a laboratory scale. The size of these processes needs to be enlarged significantly to make them interesting for industrial applications. This is the objective of Synlight. The state of North-Rhine Westphalia supported the project with 2.4 million euro, approximately 70 percent of the total sum of 3.5 million euro. The difference of 1.1 million euro was provided by the BMWi.
On 24 March 2017, President Trump announced, that his administration has approved the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the Obama administration's decision to block the controversial oil project.
On 28 March 2017, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order to undo Obama-era climate change regulations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
“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”.
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.