The Environment Chronicle

Notable environmental events between 2012 and 2012 Deselect

  1. On 31 December 2012, the Euro VI norm entered in force. Thanks to new European legislation nitrogen oxides and dust emitted from new types of trucks and buses will be lowered. It means a reduction of 80% in emissions of nitrogen oxides and 66% in particulate matters.

  2. Stricter regulations have come into effect on a number of chemicals, in accordance with the European REACH Regulation. The chemicals concerned include water- and oil-repellent substances as well as four perfluorinated carboxylic acids (PFCA). The ECHA commission has identified 54 additional chemicals as Substances of Very High Concern.

  3. On 19 December 2012, Federal Minister of Economics Rösler and Federal Environment Minister Altmaier presented the first monitoring report “Energy of the Future” for the reporting year 2011.

  4. 2012 the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association (AWI) celebrates the 30th anniversary of the commissioning of Polarstern, the ice-breaking research and supply ship of the German polar research.

  5. On 27 November 2012 for the first time the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a Report on the status of the global permafrost regions. In it an international team of experts clearly explains how climate change is impacting the permanently frozen soils in the Arctic, Siberia and in the high mountain regions, which potential hazards emanate from the thawing ground and the far-reaching consequences countries with permafrost must consider. The researchers also call upon politicians and climate scientists to include the knowledge about the change in the permafrost regions to a greater extent in the international climate debate.

  6. The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 8th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol opened on Monday, 26 November and continued until Saturday, 8 December 2012 at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar. Following difficult negotiations, the international Climate Change Conference in Doha agreed on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. A work programme for the comprehensive climate agreement to be negotiated by 2015 was also adopted.

  7. The Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency presented the Federal Ecodesign Awards for the first time on 22 November 2012. A total of fourteen prize winners were recognized in the three award categories: Product, Concept and Young Talent. Projects ranged from a neighbour-to-neighbour carsharing scheme and innovative hybrid technology to carbon-neutral housing and junk data reduction on the Internet.

  8. Members of the European Parliament voted on 22 November 2012 to close a loophole in the current ban on shark finning, which will make it easier to catch out perpetrators of this cruel practice. "1a. Without prejudice to paragraph 1, and in order to facilitate on board storage, shark fins may be partially sliced through and folded against the carcass, but shall not be removed from the carcass before landing."

  9. Nearly 25 000 km2 of invaluable natural expanse have been added to the Natura 2000 network. This network of protected sites is the EU's primary tool in the fight to conserve Europe’s rich biodiversity. The Commission has now formally approved the inclusion in the network of a further 235 sites, proposed by Member States for recognition as "Sites of Community Importance". Member States will have six years to put the necessary measures in place to protect these sites. The latest update concerns 20 Member States and covers all nine of the network's bio-geographical regions – the Alpine, Atlantic, Black Sea, Boreal, Continental, Macaronesian, Mediterranean, Pannonian and Steppic regions. Natura 2000 now covers 768 000 km2 (17.9 %) of the EU landmass and more than 217 000 km2 (approx. 4 %) of its seas.

  10. The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover in the last 27 years. The loss was due to storm damage (48%), crown of thorns starfish (42%), and bleaching (10%) according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 2 October 2012, by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville and the University of Wollongong.

  11. The first-ever Global Frackdown Day was on 22 September 2012.

  12. Measurements of the ESA ice thickness satellite CryoSat-2 have shown that the total mass of the Arctic sea ice was 36 per cent smaller autumn 2012 than during the same period in the years 2003 to 2008. Five years ago the autumn ice volumes averaged 11900 km3. But in the second quarter of 2012 they had declined to 7600 km3. This conclusion is reached by an international research team after comparing the CryoSat data of the past two years with measurements of a former NASA satellite and with the results of sea ice investigations of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. The study is published in the online issue of the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters on 28 January 2013 and for the first time shows how precisely scientists can observe the development of the Arctic sea ice using CryoSat-2.

  13. Arctic sea ice cover melted to its lowest extent in the satellite record on August 26, 2012, breaking the previous record low observed in 2007. Sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles. This was 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) below the September 18, 2007 daily extent of 4.17 million square kilometers (1.61 million square miles).

  14. On 14 August 2012 a Brazilian court ordered an immediate halt to construction of a controversial hydroelectric dam project in the Amazon. The court says local indigenous people have not been properly consulted.

  15. New rules that entered into force on 13 August 2012, will see EU citizens better informed about major threats posed by industrial plants in their immediate vicinity. The rules are part of an otherwise technical update of the Seveso Directive. The Directive obliges Member States to draw up emergency plans for areas surrounding industrial installations where very large quantities of dangerous substances are to be found.

  16. On 13 August 2012, the improved rules on the collection and treatment of e-waste entered into force introduces a collection target of 45 % of electronic equipment sold that will apply from 2016 and, as a second step from 2019, a target of 65 % of equipment sold, or 85 % of electronic waste generated. Member States will be able to choose which one of these two equivalent ways to measure the target they wish to report. From 2018, the Directive will be extended from its current restricted scope to all categories of electronic waste, subject to an impact assessment beforehand.

  17. On 12 August 2012, the first World-Elephant-Day was launched.

  18. On 12 August 2012, the European Commission announced deductions from 2012 fishing quotas of those Member States that had exceeded their quotas in 2011. This year, for the first time, deductions were increased by 50% for Member States that had repeatedly (in 2009, 2010 and 2011) overfished the same stock.

  19. Authorities in eastern China dropped plans for a waste water discharge project on 28 July 2012, after thousands of protesters angry about pollution took to the streets. The planned pipeline would have emptied waste water from a Japanese-owned paper factory into the sea near Qidong.

  20. In a statement on the chances and limits of using bioenergy, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina has come to the conclusion that in quantitative terms, bioenergy plays a minor role in the transition to renewable, sustainable energy sources in Germany at the present time and probably in the future. Bioenergy requires more surface area, is associated with higher greenhouse gas emissions and is more harmful to the environment than other renewable sources such as photovoltaic, solar thermal energy and wind energy. In addition, energy crops potentially compete with food crops. The report recommends finding strategies for saving energy and increasing energy efficiency.

  21. A team of scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association (AWI) and the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences has just completed an airborne measurement campaign that allowed for the first time to measure large-scale methane emissions from the extensive Arctic permafrost landscapes. The study area extended from Barrow, the northernmost settlement on the American mainland, across the entire North Slope of Alaska, to the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The airborne measurements (Airborne Measurement of Methane -- AIRMETH) at a flight level of only 30 to 50 meters above ground addresses two major questions: How much methane is emitted from permafrost areas into the atmosphere? Do well known geological point sources, i.e. the leakage of gas along geologic faults, contribute significantly to the total amount or does the microbially produced methane from the upper soil layers dominate?

  22. On 23 July 2012, the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company published its final report. This Investigation Committee was established on May 24, 2011 by a cabinet decision.

  23. The European Commission has approved funding for 202 new projects under the LIFE+ programme, the European Union's environment fund. The projects cover actions in the fields of nature conservation, environmental policy, climate change and information and communication on environmental issues. They represent a total investment of some €516.5 million, of which the EU will provide €268.4 million. LIFE+ is the European financial instrument for the environment and has a total budget of €2.143 billion for the period 2007-2013. The Commission launches one call for LIFE+ project proposals per year.

  24. On 19 July 2012, the European Commission proposed new measures to regulate fishing for deep sea species in the North-East Atlantic. The new regulation would result in a ban of deep-water trawling and gill netting below 1000m depth in the entire North-East Atlantic and for certain fisheries below 500m. It will apply to EU waters and vessels flying EU Member States' flags in NEAFC (North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission) high seas waters.

  25. Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main cause of global warming –increased by 3%, reaching an all-time high of 34 billion tonnes in 2011. In China, the world’s most populous country, average emissions of CO2 increased by 9% to 7.2 tonnes per capita. China is now within the range of 6 to 19 tonnes per capita emissions of the major industrialised countries. In the European Union, CO2 emissions dropped by 3% to 7.5 tonnes per capita. The United States remain one of the largest emitters of CO2, with 17.3 tonnes per capita, despite a decline due to the recession in 2008-2009, high oil prices and an increased share of natural gas. These are the main findings of the annual report ‘Trends in global CO2 emissions’, released on 18 July 2012 by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).

  26. On 17 July 2012 new rules on biocides entered into force. The new regulation offers more efficient provisions for the authorisation of products, the requirements and sharing of product-related data. It will save industry an estimated 2.7 billion euros over a period of 10 years. The new provisions also reduce animal testing by making data sharing compulsory and encouraging a more flexible and integrated approach to testing. A dedicated IT platform (the Register for Biocidal Products) will be used for submitting applications as well as recording decisions and disseminating information to the public. Protection will also be extended as the new legislation will now include goods and materials which are treated with biocidal products, such as furniture and food packaging. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will be given a key role in the administration of this regulation.

  27. On 16 July 2012, the largest anti-nuclear protest in Tokyo to date was held. Organizers put the number of attendees at 170,000-200,000; this makes the demonstration the largest in 50 years. Over 7.8 million signatures have been collected for a petition demanding a phase-out for nuclear power.

  28. From 16 to 17 July 2012, ministers and delegations from 31 states, together with the Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, met in Berlin for the third Petersberg Climate Dialogue. At the conference, hosted by Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and the president of the climate change conference 2012, Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, participants discussed how to swiftly take further climate action, and what can be accomplished in Doha.

  29. On 16 July 2012 Petermann Glacier calved another large ice island, about half the size of the calving of two years ago, which amounts to about two Manhattans.

  30. The scientific data brought together by BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council show that common farmland birds continue to decline in the EU: 300 million farmland birds have been lost since 1980. The news was released, on the eve of a major civil society debate organised by the European Commission and the new Cypriot Presidency of the EU on 13 July 2012. The Farmland Bird Indicator (FBI) combines the aggregate population trends of 37 species classified as farmland birds. 22 of these species are decreasing and only 6 are increasing, with a further 6 being stable and 3 having uncertain trends. Overall, the indicator shows a decline of 52% since 1980. This equates to a loss of more than 300 million birds breeding in farmland over the last three decades- despite the efforts of many nature-friendly farmers and conservation organisations.

  31. On 12 July 2012, the European Commission put forward proposals to implement targets that will further considerably reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new cars and light commercial vehicles (vans) by 2020. The proposals will cut average emissions from new cars to 95 grams of CO2 per km (g CO2/km) in 2020 from 135.7g in 2011 and a mandatory target of 130g in 2015. Emissions from vans will be reduced to 147g CO2/km in 2020 from 181.4g in 2010 (the latest year for which figures are available) and a mandatory target of 175g in 2017.

  32. For several days in July 2012, Greenland's surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations. Nearly the entire ice cover of Greenland, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some degree of melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists. On average in the summer, about half of the surface of Greenland's ice sheet naturally melts. At high elevations, most of that melt water quickly refreezes in place. Near the coast, some of the melt water is retained by the ice sheet and the rest is lost to the ocean. Measurements from three satellites showed that on 8 July 2012, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by 12 July 2012.

  33. On 3 July the European Commission outlined the way forward for the EU's constructive engagement in the Arctic. The Communication contains a series of measures to support the effective stewardship of the Arctic. They include: Support of Arctic research under the Commission’s proposed 80 billion EUR Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme); Stepping up of actions to combat climate change; Use of EU’s funding opportunities to maximise sustainable development in the Arctic for the benefit of local and indigenous communities; Promotion and development of environmentally friendly technologies that could be used by extractive industries in the Arctic. In total, the Communication contains 28 action points.

  34. Federal Ministery of Economics and Technology Federal Ministery for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear have agreed on key elements of legislation to accelerate offshore wind energy expansion. Major aspects of their agreement include a liability regime and a system change towards a separate offshore grid development plan governing the connection of offshore wind farms to the grid. Based on the proposals developed by the working group on the acceleration of offshore grid connection, both ministries agreed on introducing a multiannual offshore grid development plan. This plan will officially stipulate the time of completion, the location and capacity of future grid connection points to allow for better coordination with the onshore grid expansion process. It is envisaged to link the offshore grid development plan with a liability regime for delays during construction and disruptions in the operation of offshore grid connection lines.

  35. As from 1 July 2012, the EU organic logo will be obligatory on all pre-packaged organic food products produced in EU Member States which meet the necessary standards. The logo will stay optional for non-packed and imported organic products. Other private, regional or national logos will continue to be allowed to appear alongside the EU label.

  36. From 1 July 2012, French shops and offices will have to switch off their lights at 1am to save electricity. The government hopes to save 170 million euros per year by introducing a new set of eco-friendly measures to cut energy consumption. Shops in city centers in France will be required to switch off their lights from 1am to 6am.

  37. A carbon tax in Australia was introduced on 1 July 2012.

  38. On 29 June 2012, the Bay South Garden, a section of the waterfront gardens in the new Downtown Marina Bay official opened. It is the largest of the three gardens that make up Gardens By The Bay, Singapore's new green oasis in the city.

  39. On 29 June 2012 the 15 coastal states around the North-East Atlantic and the European Union agreed to establish the Charlie-Gibbs North High Seas Marine Protected Area on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores, at a size of 180,000km².

  40. On 28 June 2012, the Mediation Committee of the German Bundestag and the Bundesrat reached an agreement on a highly controversial bill on carbon capture and storage.