The Environment Chronicle

Notable environmental events between 2009 and 2009 Deselect

  1. About 150,000 litres of diesel poured into the Wei river in Shaanxi province after a construction accident on 30 Dezember 2009. Pollution has been reported up to 33km (21 miles) downstream. Locals have been warned not to use water from the river. The leak occurred on the fuel pipeline operated by the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) that connects Lanzhou in the north-west province of Gansu with Zhengzhou in central Henan province. The diesel first went into the Chishui river, a tributary of the Wei. Around 700 emergency workers are said to be labouring round the clock, using floating dams and solidifying agents to contain the spill. The Yellow River is a source of drinking water for millions of people.

  2. The German environment associations NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) has named Hans-Werner Sinn, a German economist and President of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research, as its “Dinosaur of the Year” in 2009. NABU has presented the award every year to personalities who distinguish themselves with “antiquated ideas about environmental protection” since 1993.

  3. In consequence to recent incident, environmentalists demanded an immediate shutdown of France's oldest nuclear power plant. According to French Safety Authority (ASN), problems appeared in the cooling circuit of Fessenheim's second reactor. The reactor was planned to go on line again on 27 December 2009 after maintenance work but after problems in a cooling circuit the restarting was delayed.

  4. Two decades after the Exxon Valdez disaster, a tugboat working to prevent another oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound ran aground on the same reef and left a three-mile sheen of fuel oil on the water. The 136-foot tug Pathfinder had just finished checking for dangerous ice and was heading back to port in Valdez when it hit Bligh Reef. The boat is part of the Ship Escort Response Vessel System that was created after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989 and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil - the worst ever U.S. spill. The Coast Guard said Thursday that two of its tanks - containing an estimated 33,500 gallons of diesel fuel - were damaged and there was a fuel sheen on the water about 3 miles long and 30 yards wide.

  5. The 2009 Copenhagen Summit was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, between 7 December and 18 December. The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen fell short of expectations. The conference threatened to collapse on several occasions. Towards the end, the Danish presidency called together a small group of 25 states and worked with them to draft a closing statement. The substance of the agreement and the way it came about attracted vehement objections in the Plenary. Several developing countries said they could not approve an agreement that had been reached by a non-representative group. As a result, the COP merely ‘took note’ of the Copenhagen Accord.The closing statement contains a very general reference to the target of keeping global warming to a maximum two degrees Celsius. Industrialised states and emerging economies have until 1 February 2010 to ‘inscribe’ their national reduction targets.

  6. A large number of companies, local authorities and private initiatives throughout Germany have already invested in energy efficiency and reduced their final energy consumption. dena therefore introduced a new Good Practice in Energy Efficiency label in November 2009 to advertise these activities and encourage emulation. The Good Practice label is awarded for successful energy efficiency projects in all sorts of areas, from a reduction in the energy consumption of machines and processes through energy-efficient building refurbishments to measures aimed at changing consumer habits. Companies and public institutions whose efficiency projects have been selected can use the label in their external and internal communications and at events.

  7. Using funds from the Environment Ministry's International Climate Initiative amounting to 2.3 million euros, over the next five years the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) will press ahead with mangrove conservation in Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Tonga. The project will implement initial recommendations of "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" (TEEB) study which was conducted on behalf of the Federal Environment Ministry and the European Commission and which clearly highlights both the ecological and the economic importance of intact natural habitats. For example, the cultivation and conservation of almost 12,000 hectares of mangroves in Vietnam cost 1.1 million US dollars, but at the same time saved 7.3 million US dollars in maintenance costs for dykes. Mangroves also form the basis for nearshore fishery, as they are home to the young of many fish species. But they are under threat from over-use. The project aims to counter this threat with a combination of different steps, including the participation of local people in the management of mangroves, the restoration of degraded mangrove areas, awareness raising and educational measures.

  8. Deforestation in tropical rain forests could have an even greater impact on climate change than has previously been thought. The combined biomass of a large number of small forest fragments left over after habitat fragmentation can be up to 40 per cent less than in a continuous natural forest of the same overall size. This is the conclusion reached by German and Brazilian researchers who used a simulation model on data from the Atlantic Forest, a coastal rain forest in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, around 88 per cent of which has already been cleared. The remaining forest fragments are smaller, so the ratio between area and edge is less favourable. The reason for the reduction in biomass is the higher mortality rate of trees at the edges of forest fragments, according to the results published by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the University of São Paulo in Ecological Modelling. This reduces the number of big old trees, which contain a disproportionately high amount of biomass.

  9. The 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 5th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol took place from 7-18 Dezember 2009 in Copenhagen and was hosted by the Government of Denmark. The goal was to make binding decisions on central elements of a new climate agreement. This was not achieved. In Copenhagen a group of representatively selected heads of state and government only managed to draw up the Copenhagen Accord (CA) during the last two days of negotiations. All countries supporting the Copenhagen Accord committed to the goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to less than two degrees. The industrialised countries pledged up to 30 billion US-Dollars for climate action in developing countries from 2010-2012. Further plans include establishing a Technology Mechanism and a REDD+ Mechanism. These mechanisms are aimed at supporting developing countries in technology programmes and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

  10. On 4 December 2009, Nepalese government held a cabinet meeting at Mount Everest to highlight the threat of climate change to the Himalayas. The Nepalese prime Minister and 22 ministers were examined by doctors before boarding helicopters to Kalapathar ((5,250 meters), a rocky plateau just above Everest base-camp. The Cabinet spent only 20 minutes next to the mountain to prevent any of the ministers, unused to the heights of the Himalayas, from getting altitude sickness. All were provided with oxygen masks.

  11. The first comprehensive review of the state of Antarctica’s climate and its relationship to the global climate system was published on 1 December 2009 by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) in London. The review - Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment – presents the latest evidence from 100 world-leading scientists from 13 countries, the review focuses on the impact and consequences of rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and the Southern Ocean; rapid ice loss in parts of Antarctica and the increase in sea ice around the continent; the impact of climate change on Antarctica’s plants and animals; the unprecedented increase in carbon dioxide levels; the connections between human-induced global change and natural variability; and the extraordinary finding that the ozone hole has shielded most of Antarctica from global warming. Key findings from the review are highlighted in 85 key points.

  12. One of the reactors at the Cruas nuclear power station in Ardèche, southern France was shut down late on 1 December 2009 after a problem with the cooling system. EDF, the French energy company, reported the incident just before midnight local time and shut down the reactor. Water from the Rhone river is used to cool the nuclear plant, and the French Nuclear Safety authority (ASN) said vegetation had blocked the intake. The accident was classified as a level two situation on the seven point scale of international nuclear incidents.

  13. From November 2012 all new tyres on sale in Europe will be classified and labelled for fuel efficiency, wet grip and noise performance. The labelling will be similar to that required for household appliances and potential buyers will be able to compare tyre characteristics before making a purchase. Like the European energy label, the tyre label will use classes ranging from best-performance (green “A” class) to worst (red “G” class). Besides indicating how much the tyre affects the car's fuel efficiency, it will also give information about its performance in wet conditions and its external rolling noise in decibels.

  14. The world's first osmotic power plant prototype was opened on 24 November 2009 at Tofte in Norway. The plant will have a limited production capacity and is intended primarily for testing and development purposes. The aim is to be capable of constructing a commercial osmotic power plant within a few years’ time.

  15. The EU has adopted new legislation on plant protection. Substances with problematic properties will, as a rule, no longer be authorised in plant protection products. This includes substances that are very hazardous to the environment: in addition to the internationally outlawed POPs, this also applies to substances which are very slow to biodegrade, accumulate in living organisms (and thus in the food chain), and are also (eco-) toxic (so-called PBTs – persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic). Substances that are carcinogenic, endocrine disruptors, or mutagenic to man and animals will also be banned in future. Every EC Member State must lay out concrete targets, measures and a timetable for a National Action Plan (NAP) to mitigate the risks and impact of plant protection product use on man and the environment. This may include integrating a protective strip of land along bodies of water so as to limit any input of pesticides. The new regulations on plant protection were published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 24 November 2009.

  16. Levels of most greenhouse gases continue to increase. In 2008, global concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which are the main long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, have reached the highest levels recorded since pre-industrial times. Since 1990, the overall increase in radiative forcing caused by all long-lived greenhouse gases is 26% and the increase was 1.3% from 2007 to 2008. These latest figures, published on 23 November 2009 in the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, confirm the continued trend of rising atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases since 1750.

  17. The world’s diverse regions and ecosystems are close to reaching temperature thresholds – or “tipping points” – that can unleash devastating environmental, social and economic changes, according to a new report by WWF and Allianz. The report ‘Major Tipping Points in the Earth’s Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector’ documents that changes related to global warming are likely to be much more abrupt and unpredictable – and they could create huge social and environmental problems and cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars. The study explores impacts of these "tipping points," including their economic consequences and implications for the insurance sector. It also shows how close the world is to reaching "tipping points" in many regions of the world, or rises in temperature that will tip the scales toward disaster.

  18. Londonderry Township, Pa. (Nov. 21, 2009) About 150 employees working inside the shutdown Three Mile Island Unit 1 containment building were sent home about 4:00 p.m. EST Saturday after an airborne radiological contamination alarm inside the reactor building sounded. The unit has been shut down since Oct. 26 for refueling, maintenance and steam generator replacement. No contamination was found outside of the containment building. Radiological surveys showed that the contamination was confined to surfaces inside the containment building. The event posed no threat to public health and safety.

  19. The European Commission rewarded the Federal Environment Agency for outstanding achievements in environmental management. The award ceremony took place at the National Museum of Sweden in Stockholm on 19 November 2009. Each year the annual EMAS awards focus on a different theme related to eco-management. This year's theme focuses on the supply chain.

  20. The Dutch government approved a pilot project to pump carbon dioxide into depleted gas fields beneath the small town of Barendrecht. Shell will pump about 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the underground chamber more than a mile (2 kilometers) beneath the suburb.

  21. The Leipzig European Energy Exchange (EEX) will in future auction greenhouse gas emission allowances on behalf of the German government. The weekly auctioning will start in 2010

  22. The calculation of variations in the sea level is relatively simple. It is by far more complicated to then determine the change in the water mass. A team of researchers from the University of Bonn, as well as from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Sciences have now, for the first time succeeded in doing this. The researchers were able to observe short-term fluctuations in the spatial distribution of the ocean water masses. In order to determine the ocean volume in a certain region, one only needs to know, in addition to the topography of the seabed, the height of the sea level. For this purpose, researchers have long been resorting to gauging stations and satellite altimetric procedures. The ocean mass depends, however, not only on the volume, but also on the temperature and on the salt content. Water expands when heated. Warm water, thus, weighs less than the same quantity of cold water. For the calculation of the ocean mass it is, therefore, necessary to know the temperature and salt content profiles. However, this is not easy to quantify. For the study different procedures were combined. On the one hand the researchers used data from the German-American satellite mission GRACE where the distances between two satellites are measured exactly to thousandths of millimetres. The larger the ocean mass at a certain point of the Earth, the stronger the gravitational strength. This influences the flight altitude of the satellites and thus the distance from each other. The gravitation and, hence, the mass distribution can be calculated from the change in distance between the two satellites. In addition, the scientists put to use an effect which frequent book readers will have perceived. The ocean floor bends similarly to that of the shelves of an overfilled bookshelf. Thus, stationary GPS-gauging stations on land drop by up to one centimetre and move closer by a few millimetres. The heavier the water, the stronger is this movement. They combined these data with numerical models of the ocean. By comparing the variation in volume and in mass the researchers want to determine changes in the amount of heat stored in the ocean. Therefore, in the near future, the long term changes are to be examined. The results will contribute to improved climatic models.

  23. The first high seas MPA in the Antarctic region has been declared in an area south of the South Orkney Islands. The South Orkneys MPA is situated in the northern Weddell Sea, east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula - a prime area for feeding humpback whales. At just under 94,000 sq kms, the protection of the South Orkneys MPA is of a significant size. The formal protection becomes effective in May 2010. No fishing activities and no discharge or refuse disposal from fishing vessels will be allowed in the area.

  24. With increasing species richness, due to more plant introductions than extinctions, plant communities of many European regions are becoming more homogeneous. The same species are occurring more frequently, whereas rare species are becoming extinct. It is not only the biological communities that are becoming increasingly similar, but also the phylogenetic relations between regions. These processes have led to a loss of uniqueness among European floras, scientists from the DAISIE research project have published their findings in the current online edition of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS).

  25. The Government of Maldives hosted the first Climate Vulnerable Forum to highlight the impact of climate change on vulnerable states from 9-10 November 2009, in Bandos Island Resort, Republic of Maldives. The new 11-nation group (V11) adopted a declaration for a low-carbon future to be presented at the U.N. climate-change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

  26. The European Commission and the European Environment Agency launched a comprehensive new European pollutant release and transfer register – E-PRTR. The register contains information about the emissions of pollutants to air, water and land by industrial facilities throughout Europe. It includes annual data for 91 substances and covers more than 24 000 facilities in 65 economic activities. It also provides additional information, such as the amount and types of waste transferred from facilities to waste handlers both inside and outside each country.

  27. Macquarie Island expeditioners were treated to a rare sight on 6 November 2009 with a huge iceberg floating past the island. The iceberg was about 8 kilometres off the north-west of the island and was estimated to be about 50 metres high and 500 metres long. Australian Antarctic Division Glaciologist, Neal Young, said it's uncommon for icebergs to be so far north."The iceberg is likely to be part of one of the big ones that calved from the Ross Ice Shelf nearly a decade ago," Dr Young said.

  28. On 3 November 2009 at Windsor Castle representatives of nine major religions launched long term plans to protect the environment at a ceremony hosted by HRH The Prince Philip and with HE Mr Ban Ki-moon the UN Secretary-General, the special guest.

  29. The satellite Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) was launched atop a Rockot launch vehicle provided by Eurockot GmbH. Liftoff from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia took place at 01:50 UTC (02:50 CET) on Monday 2 November. SMOS will play a key role in the monitoring of climate change on a global scale. It is the first ever satellite designed both to map sea surface salinity and to monitor soil moisture on a global scale. It features a unique interferometric radiometer that will enable passive surveying of the water cycle between oceans, the atmosphere and land. ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission has been designed to observe soil moisture over the Earth's landmasses and salinity over the oceans. Soil moisture data are urgently required for hydrological studies and data on ocean salinity are vital for improving our understanding of ocean circulation patterns.

  30. The resumed ninth session of the the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and resumed seventh session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) were held from 2-6 November in Barcelona.

  31. Greenpeace activists hang a banner reading 'Save the climate' at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The Barcelona climate talks (November 2-6) were the last set of negotiations before the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

  32. On 30 Oktober 2009 in Munich the articles of association for the DII GmbH were signed by the group of founding members consisting of twelve companies and the DESERTEC Foundation. The DII aims at accelerated implementation of the DESERTEC concept, as proposed by the DESERTEC Foundation. This work of the DII will entail a thorough analysis and the establishment of a framework for investments to supply the MENA region and Europe with power produced using solar and wind energy sources. The long-term goal is to satisfy a substantial part of the energy needs of the MENA countries and meet as much as 15% of Europe’s electricity demand by 2050.

  33. Methane gas emissions could have a larger warming effect on climate than has been previously thought. A recent study has found that the interactions between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and aerosols in the atmosphere can change the impact of various emissions, and that mitigation policies should take these effects into account.

  34. A huge fire raged at an oil depot near the northern India city of Jaipur. The blaze at the state-run Indian Oil Corp depot on the outskirts of Jaipur started on 29 Oktober 2009 and engulfed at least 11 tanks containing 8 million litres of oil.

  35. Germany’s designation of additional bird protection areas has enabled the Commission to close a long-running case against the country for violation of nature protection legislation. In 2001 the Commission sent Germany a first warning letter for failing to designate a sufficient number and size of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. In 2006, a second and final warning letter was sent because the designation was still insufficient in nine Länder. Since 2006, Germany has submitted more than 12,000 km² of additional site designations and enlargements of existing sites. The Commission has therefore decided to close the case.

  36. Headed by Prof. Dr. Peter Lemke from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, eight research centres of the Helmholtz Association have joined together in the network REKLIM. The network is equipped with a budget of 32.2 million Euros during the years 2009 to 2013.

  37. Toxic waste from the Turkish vessel Gulser Ana which went down off the coast in southern Madagascar in August 2009 has had severe impacts on the health of local people and on the rich coastal and marine environment, according to a study supported by WWF.While one to three whales normally beach in the area each year, nine whales beached in September alone, and some beach stretches seem to be real death zones, the report found.

  38. On 27 November 2009 an agreement was reached between regional actors and Greenpeace in a dispute of several years concerning old wilderness-like forests in the wilderness areas of Central Lapland. The agreement covers some 44.200 hectares of forest land. Of them, 6.600 hectares will remain available for normal multiple-use forestry. 2.700 hectares remain in restricted forestry use, and 35.000 hectares are excluded from forestry operations.

  39. At a ceremony in Berlin, German environment organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe e. V. (DUH) awarded the Climate Protection Award 2009 to Dr. Kurt Rohrig from the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES) for his concept of the Combined Renewable Energy Power Plant. The Combined Power Plant optimally combines the advantages of various renewable energy sources. The annual German Climate Protection Award comes with a cash prize of EUR 10,000 and was presented this year for the third time.

  40. The European Environment Agency (EEA) has launched the most comprehensive map of noise exposure to date, revealing the extent to which European citizens are exposed to excessive acoustic pollution. This database contains information reported by EU member states and EEA member countries in accordance with the requirements of Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise. This database covers the data reported by member states and member countries as of 20th February 2009.