The Environment Chronicle Notable environmental events between 2015 and 2015 Deselect
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The European Commission has officially established the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS ERIC), a new pan-European environmental research infrastructure which aims to provide long-term carbon and greenhouse gas observations across the Europe. The ICOS European Research Infrastructure Consortium has been established with eight founding members: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Finland, which is the ICOS ERIC hosting country, as well as Switzerland which currently has an observer country status. The ICOS has successfully completed almost a decade long process from entering the European Commission ESFRI Roadmap to establishment of the ICOS ERIC. The ICOS ERIC inauguration has been held in Brussels on 24t November 2015 when Robert-Jan Smits has handed out the official plate to the Finnish Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen and ICOS Director General Werner Kutsch in the presence of the hosting country delegation.
On 21 December 2015, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave the go-ahead to the expansion of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal near Bowen in north Queensland, making it one of the world's largest coal ports. The controversial project involves dredging 1.1 million cubic metres of spoil near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which will then be disposed of on land.
On 16 December 2015 Environment Ministers of the EU stood up to defend nature, calling for more money for protected areas and opposing a re-opening of the Birds and Habitats Directives. Ariel Brunner, BirdLife Europe Senior Head of Policy, said: “Today’s council conclusions give the European Commission a clear mandate; to not waste time and energy with a destructive reopening of the Birds and Habitats Directives, but to focus on what really matters: proper enforcement and implementation, the dramatic shortfall in funding for conservation and addressing the negative impacts of agriculture.”
Climate change is rapidly warming lakes across the globe. This is the result of a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and presented on 16 December 2015 during the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). In this first worldwide synthesis of in situ and satellite-derived lake data, the scientists find that lake summer surface water temperatures rose rapidly (global mean = 0.34°C decade−1) between 1985 and 2009. Their analyses show that surface water warming rates are dependent on combinations of climate and local characteristics, rather than just lake location, leading to the counterintuitive result that regional consistency in lake warming is the exception, rather than the rule. The most rapidly warming lakes are widely geographically distributed, and their warming is associated with interactions among different climatic factors—from seasonally ice-covered lakes in areas where temperature and solar radiation are increasing while cloud cover is diminishing (0.72°C decade−1) to ice-free lakes experiencing increases in air temperature and solar radiation (0.53°C decade−1). The pervasive and rapid warming observed here signals the urgent need to incorporate climate impacts into vulnerability assessments and adaptation efforts for lakes.
A draft decision to raise diesel car emission limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx) by up to 110%, along with the introduction of the long-awaited Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test procedure, is neither explained nor justified, and would undermine the enforcement of existing EU standards, said Environment Committee MEPs, in a resolution, voted on 14 December 2015, which objects to the draft. Parliament has a right to veto the proposal.
On 12 December 2015 the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris adopted the first climate agreement which commits all countries. With this agreement the international community sets itself the internationally binding target of limiting global warming to below 2 degree Celsius. It also lays down that the world must become greenhouse gas-neutral by the second half of the century. The Paris Agreement maps out quite specifically how this target is to be achieved. As of 2020, every five years the countries shall update their nationally determined contributions, which must be as ambitious as possible. That is to say they must be more, not less ambitious than the preceding ones. In addition, every country has to report its GHG emissions to ensure that progress is not only made on paper but in reality. The agreement contains the firm commitment to support developing countries with regard to climate action and mitigation measures. The international community must also support the poorest and most vulnerable countries in coping with damage and loss due to climate change, e.g. via climate risk insurances and better damage prevention. The Paris Agreement overcomes the outdated division between developed and developing countries. Instead of the old division between developed and developing countries a fair differentiation will ensure that contributions are determined by the respective capabilities.
The European Commission has decided to refer Germany to the Court of Justice of the EU over the failure to apply Directive 2006/40/EC (Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) Directive) on mobile air-conditioning systems which prescribes the use of motor vehicles' refrigerants with less global warming potential and the phasing out of certain fluorinated greenhouse gases. The Commission alleges that Germany has infringed EU law by allowing the car manufacturer Daimler AG to place automobile vehicles on the EU market that were not in conformity with the MAC Directive, and failing to take remedial action. Daimler AG invoked safety concerns regarding the use of refrigerants prescribed by the MAC Directive. These concerns were not shared by any other car manufacturer and were rejected by Germany's Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, KBA) and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC), which undertook an additional risk analysis in 2014. Despite contacts between the Commission and the German authorities in the context of the infringement procedure, Germany has not taken any further steps against the issuing of the type-approval of non-compliant motor vehicles and has not taken appropriate remedial action on the manufacturer. In referring Germany to the Court of Justice, the Commission aims to ensure that the climate objectives of the MAC Directive are fulfilled and that EU law is uniformly applied throughout the EU so as to ensure fair competitive conditions for all economic operators.
On 8 December 2015 the Supreme Court of the Philippines ordered a permanent ban on field trials of genetically engineered (GE) eggplant and a temporary halt on approving applications for the “contained use, import, commercialisation and propagation” of GE crops, including the import of GE products. The court ruled in favour of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, as well as several Filipino activists, academics and politicians. The Supreme Court affirmed the May 2013 Court of Appeals order for the government to prepare an immediate plan of action to rehabilitate field trial sites and protect, preserve, and conserve the environment, and recommend policies and measures to reform the present regulatory process. The temporary ban is in place until a new ‘administrative order’ takes effect, and includes the highly controversial ‘Golden’ rice, an experimental project by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that is currently back at the laboratory stage due to poor performance
The Philippines Commission on Human Rights (CHR) announced that it will launch an investigation on 10 December 2015 (International Human Rights Day), which could hold fossil fuel companies responsible for the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events. This will be the world's first national human rights investigation into big polluters. The 50 companies that will be investigated include Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips. They are part of the 90 legal entities that are responsible for the majority of global carbon and methane emissions in the earth’s atmosphere, as identified by peer-reviewed research into so-called ‘Carbon Majors’ published in 2014.
The Guardian reports the Botswana government has sold the rights to frack for shale gas in the Kgalagadi transfrontier park, one of the largest conservation areas in Africa. The park is home to gemsbok desert antelope, black-maned Kalahari lions and pygmy falcons, the paper says. But conservationists and top park officials – who were not informed of the fracking rights sale – are now worried about the impact of drilling on wildlife. Prospecting licences for more than half of the park were granted to a UK-listed company called Karoo Energy in September 2014, although the sale has not been reported previously, the papers says.
How can development banks and other investors decide whether an investment is climate-friendly or not? A new study produced in the context of the German G7 presidency provides answers to this question. The paper was presented on the sidelines of the Climate Change Conference in Paris. It specifically deals with criteria that both public and private investors can use as a guide to ensure that their investments contribute to limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius. The researchers derive categorisation of possible investments from various 2ºC scenarios. On a positive list there are investments in renewable energies, energy storage and low-carbon transport routes and means, which are important elements in limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius. On the negative list, however, are investments in construction of new conventional coal power plants, which in principle are not compatible with the 2°C limit according to scientific scenarios.
On 1 December 2015, Japan’s whaling fleet set sail for the Antarctic despite international pressure to end its annual hunts. A mother ship and three other vessels, along with 160 crew, plan to kill 333 minke whales in the Antarctic. The Japanese fisheries agency said the fleet would conduct research, despite the International Court of Justice in den Haag, ruling last year that the hunts were a cover for commercial whaling and have no proven scientific merit.
The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 was held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 12 December 2015. It was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. On 12 December an historic agreement to combat climate change and unleash actions and investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future was agreed by 195 nations. The Paris Agreement for the first time brings all nations into a common cause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities. The universal agreement’s main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
On 30 Novemver 2015, Beijing suffered its worst air pollution of the year. The city said the levels of hazardous tiny PM2.5 particles in the air exceeded 600 micrograms per cubic meter at several monitoring sites late Monday afternoon. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported 666 micrograms per cubic metre at 8 p.m.
Founding Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Maurice Strong passed away at age 86. Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, issued the following statement: "Today the world mourns one of its greats. Maurice Strong was a visionary and a pioneer of global sustainable development. His courageous leadership allowed the Stockholm Conference of 1972 to make history by launching a new era of international environmental diplomacy which saw the birth of UNEP, the first UN agency to be headquartered in a developing country. Not a believer in summits as an end in themselves, he accepted the appointment to become UNEP's first Executive Director and moved to Kenya to establish UNEP's iconic global headquarters on what was then a coffee farm on the outskirts of Nairobi. Strong will forever be remembered for placing the environment on the international agenda and at the heart of development. He shepherd global environmental governance processes - from the original Rio Earth Summit, Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration to the launch of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity."
On 12 November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued an opinion that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer. That clashed with a view from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, stoking outrage among environmental campaigners and divided the scientific community. The IARC said in March 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Ninety-six academics from universities around the world signed an open letter to European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, dated 27 November 2016 and written by Christopher Portier from the US-based non-governmental organisation the Environmental Defense Fund. Portier was also a specialist consulted for the IARC’s research on glyphosate. “We urge you and the European Commission to disregard the flawed EFSA finding on glyphosate in your formulation of glyphosate health and environmental policy for Europe,” the letter said.
On 27 November 2015 the Japanese Fisheries Agency notified the International Whaling Commission that it will resume whaling in the 2015-16 season under a revised plan. The plan, which calls for cutting annual minke whale catches by two-thirds to 333, is scientifically reasonable, Japan says in a document filed with the IWC.
New rules on export credits to coal-fired power plants, developed within an OECD framework, have been endorsed by the EU. The participants to an arrangement on officially supported export credits agreed a sector understanding on coal-fired electricity generation projects on 17 November 2015. The Council endorsed the EU's position on 26 November 2015, thus allowing the EU formally to join the consensus on the new rules. t sets out financial terms and conditions that will apply to export credits for coal-fired electricity generation projects from 1 January 2017. Official support for coal-fired power plants will thus be banned or phased down, with a view to significantly reducing the use of less efficient coal-fired power plants. Current participants to the arrangement are Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. Other OECD members and non-members may be invited to participate.
On 24 November 2015 the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) authorized the Belo Monte Dam’s operating license, which allows the dam's reservoirs to be filled.
For the first time, a person affected by the hazards of climate change is suing a company in Europe: On 24 November 2015, Saúl Luciano Lliuya filed a lawsuit against the energy company RWE at the Regional Court in Essen (Germany) with his lawyer. Saul Luciano fears for his home city of Huaraz which is threatened by a possible flood wave. The lawsuit argues that the Essen-based company is partly responsible for glacial melting in the Andes and thus also for the danger to his house which lies at the foot of the mountains. It requests that RWE contribute financially to safety measures at the lake above the city, which has grown immensely as a result of glacial melting. The payment requested is proportional to the company’s contribution to climate change. “We support Saúl Luciano Lliuya’s claim“, says Klaus Milke, Chairman of the Board of Germanwatch. “Only a few days before the Paris Climate Summit, this lawsuit against RWE sends an important message to the energy sector and to policy-makers: emissions must drop to prevent more people from being threatened by climate change. And those responsible for the risks must take on the costs to protect the people who are affected."
On 24 November 2015, the World Bank Group unveiled a new plan that calls for $16 billion in funding to help African people and countries adapt to climate change and build up the continent’s resilience to climate shocks. Titled Accelerating Climate-Resilient and Low-Carbon Development, the Africa Climate Business Plan will be presented at COP21, the global climate talks in Paris, on November 30. It lays out measures to boost the resilience of the continent’s assets – its people, land, water, and cities - as well as other moves including boosting renewable energy and strengthening early warning systems. The World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme estimate that the cost of managing climate resilience will continue to rise to $20-50 billion by mid-century, and closer to $100 billion in the event of a 4°C warming.
A new report issued on 23 November 2015 by the UN, “The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters” in Geneva, shows that over the last twenty years, 90% of major disasters have been caused by 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events. The five countries hit by the highest number of disasters are the United States (472), China (441), India (288), Philippines (274), and Indonesia, (163). The report and analysis compiled by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Belgian-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) demonstrates that since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, 606,000 lives have been lost and 4.1 billion people have been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters.
A total of eight products and concepts were granted the 2015 German Federal Ecodesign Award. The ceremony took place on 23 Nvember 2015 November at the Federal Environment Ministry in Berlin. Alongside President of the Federal Environment Agency, Maria Krautzberger, Federal Minister Barbara Hendricks gave an opening speech and presented the awards to the winners.
Aware of the two-degree-target of the Paris climate negotiations as well as the economic risks involved, CEO Oliver Bäte announced that Allianz will stop financing coal-based business models. It will no longer invest in companies that derive more than 30 percent of revenue from coal mining or generate over 30 percent of their energy from coal.
The EU limit values for nitrogen dioxide are still exceeded in many German cities. The Environmental Action Germany (DUH), supported by British NGO ClientEarth has therefore filed a lawsuit today (19 November 2015) against several German Federal States who need to do more in the area of clean air planning. The affected cities are Cologne, Bonn, Aachen, Dusseldorf, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Frankfurt/Main and Stuttgart. With this measure, the DUH intends to commit the Federal States in question to change their clean air plans. The aim is to include all appropriate measures in the plans so that the limit values, which have been valid for many years, are complied with as soon as possible. The DUH has also applied for compulsory enforcement measures to be taken against the Bavarian and the Hessian Ministries of the Environment due to limit exceedances in Munich, Darmstadt and Wiesbaden. Final judgements have already been issued there, but they have not been complied with. The DUH is now requesting that penalty payments be paid by the two competent federal state ministries for failing to implement the judgements. The law provides for a maximum penalty of 10,000 euros; this penalty can be repeated and also fixed on a per day basis.
The French government has canceled several public demonstrations that were planned on the sidelines of the COP21 climate talks in Paris. On 18 November 2015 Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on France Inter radio that the climate talks will go ahead, but that the country’s forces couldn’t guarantee the security of public demonstration after the terror attacks on 13 November in the French Capital.
The UK will close all coal-fired power plants by 2025. The announcement came in a speech by the energy secretary, Amber Rudd, which she described as a “reset” of Britain’s energy policy on 18 November 2015.
EFSA and the EU Member States have finalised the re-assessment of glyphosate. The report concludes that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and proposes a new safety measure that will tighten the control of glyphosate residues in food. The conclusion will be used by the European Commission in deciding whether or not to keep glyphosate on the EU list of approved active substances, and by EU Member States to re-assess the safety of pesticide products containing glyphosate that are used in their territories.
On 12 November 2015 the Sustainable Ports Development Bill 2015 was passed by the Queensland Parliament. The Bill was assented to on 20 November 2015. The Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 will: - restrict new port development in and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) to within current port limits and outside Commonwealth and state marine parks - prohibit major capital redging for the development of new or expansion of existing port facilities in the GBRWHA outside the priority ports of Gladstone, Abbot Point, Townsville and Hay Point/Mackay - prohibit the sea-based disposal of port-related capital dredge material within the GBRWHA. WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said that, for more than a century, dumping huge amounts of dredge spoil in reef waters was the norm. But the continuing decline of Australia’s national icon sparked an international campaign to end this outdated practice. “For everyone around the world who cares about the reef this is a moment to savour,” said O’Gorman. “We’ve stopped up to 46 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from being dumped in reef waters in coming years. That’s enough dredge spoil to fill 4.6 million dump trucks."
On 6 November 2015, US President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Nebraska. " Several years ago, the State Department began a review process for the proposed construction of a pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through our heartland to ports in the Gulf of Mexico and out into the world market. This morning, Secretary Kerry informed me that, after extensive public outreach and consultation with other Cabinet agencies, the State Department has decided that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States. I agree with that decision."
Brazil’s worst environmental disaster occurred 5 November 2015, when a tailings dam at a iron ore mine burst, unleashing a flood of mud on the community of Bento Rodrigues in the state of Minas Gerais. The dam breach killed 17 people, left hundreds homeless and polluted the Rio Doce, the region's most main water source. Innumerable fish were killed and the river ecosystem devastated before the sludge spilled into the Atlantic Ocean. The tailings dam was owned and operated by Samarco, a joint venture between Brazil's mining giant Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton.
On 4 November 2015 the City of Münster became the first German city to ban its pension fund from investing in coal, oil, and gas companies, in the latest victory for the growing global divestment campaign.
The New York attorney general has begun an investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business. On 4 November 2015, Exxon Mobil received a subpoena from the office of the attorney general of New York, Eric Schneiderman, seeking financial records, emails and other documents. The goal is to examine whether back in the 1970s, Exxon Mobil funded groups to undermine scientific studies involving climate change. Also, the attorney general is investigating whether the oil giant properly informed its investors of the profit risks that might arise as countries cut back on fossil fuels.
On 3 November 2015, the New York Times reported that,"China has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. Even for a country of China’s size, the scale of the correction is immense. The sharp upward revision in official figures means that China has released much more carbon dioxide — almost a billion more tons a year according to initial calculations — than previously estimated. The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels. The new data, which appeared recently in an energy statistics yearbook published by China’s statistical agency, show that coal consumption has been underestimated since 2000, and particularly in recent years. The revisions were based on a census of the economy in 2013 that exposed gaps in data collection, especially from small companies and factories.
On 3 November 2015, the government of the Russian Federation signed decree 'On the creation of Bikin National Park”. More than 1,16 million hectares of forests in the Bikin River in Primorsky province will be protected. The newly created Park is the traditional land of Udege people and home for the Amur tiger. “The forests of the Bikin River, often referred to as “the Russian Amazon' constitute the biggest area of intact mixed forests in the Northern Hemisphere. These forests are home for 10% of the Amur tiger population. The creation of the Bikin National Park practically marks the completion of establishing the protected areas network necessary for the adequate protection of Amur tigers. The newly designated park also takes in the account the interests of the Indigenous people living in the region, - said Yury Darman, PhD., director of the Amur Branch, WWF-Russia, the distinguished ecologist of the Russian Federation. - It is a very vast forested territory, located in the Western slope of the Sihote-Alin Mountain Range, the only big basin with intact forests where no logging was ever done. Therefore, these forests look exactly like the Ussury taiga prior to the mid of 19th century.” Leading international experts confirmed an outstanding global value of the Bikin River Basin. In 2010, this forest massif was included into the UNESCO World Natural Heritage List.
On 30 October 2015, German State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth (German Environment Ministry) and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres presented the synthesis report on the aggregate effect of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). INDCs are national climate action plans which have been submitted by governments ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (30 November to 11 December). As at 1 October 2015, 119 INDCs had been received, covering 147 Parties to the Convention, and representing 75 per cent of Parties and 86 per cent of global emissions in 2010. A total of 100 Parties included an adaptation component in their INDCs. According to the report, the mitigation measures being taken are almost four times the level of those taken under Kyoto Protocol in 1997. However, these commitments are still not enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees until the end of this century.
EU Commission plans for more ambitious national caps on emissions of six key pollutants, including NOx, particulates and sulphur dioxide, were endorsed by Parliament on 28 October 2015. Air pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths in the EU yearly, and the plans could save up to €40bn in air pollution costs by 2030. MEPs approved the proposed caps for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), methane (CH4) ammonia (NH3), and fine particulates (PM, less than 2.5 micrometers), to be achieved by 2020 and 2030, as proposed by the Commission. MEPs want the future national emission ceiling (NEC) directive to contribute to the reduction of mercury emissions in the Union, but an impact assessment should be carried out before national emission reduction commitments are determined.
Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21), Cardinal Marx, the President of COMECE, has signed the following appeal issued by Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops from across the globe representing the continental groupings of national episcopal conferences. This appeal calls on the negotiators of the COP21 in Paris to work toward the approval of a fair, binding and truly transformational climate agreement.
On 26 October 2015, an alliance of nine European environment ministers of Germany, Croatia, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain wrote to EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella to warn him not to dismantle nature protection laws.
On 23 October 2015, at the climate negotiations in Bonn, countries agreed on the negotiating text for the climate summit in Paris (30 November to 11 December 2015). The draft text of the agreement enjoys full ownership by the governments of the world and represents a balanced text that will constitute the starting point for the final round of negotiations. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said that the draft text includes additional options that reflect the concerns of all countries. “We now have a Party-owned text that is balanced and complete. The challenge for governments is to bring it down to a much more concise and coherent form for adoption in Paris.”