Will the new EU Commission assure Europe’s leadership on sustainable development?

The re-shuffling of responsibilities among the European Commission’s directorates for the environment, climate change and energy are likely to fundamentally alter the landscape of EU environment policy over the next five years, writes Luc Bas.

Luc Bas is Director of the EU Representative Office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposed team of Commissioners and their portfolios hold two changes that are particularly noteworthy from the perspective of an international environment organisation such as IUCN: the merger of responsibilities over the directorates on energy and climate change, and the merger of maritime affairs and environment.

While the European Parliament still needs to conclude hearings and vote on the proposed Commission, both of these changes are likely to fundamentally alter the landscape of EU environment policy over the next five years.

Critics have voiced concerns over the absence of a Commissioner dedicated specifically to environment and another to climate change. The fear is the real risk that the focus on these crucial and challenging policy areas could be marginalized by industry, agriculture, fisheries and energy interests.

On the other hand, one can also argue that in an ideal world closer cooperation between these intertwined portfolios could, if well managed, lead to beneficial synergies, which would overcome the current compartmentalization of EU environment policy-making that has in the past often resulted in contradicting decisions.

Furthermore, it will be crucial to ensure that environmental protection and nature conservation become further ingrained as key guiding principles in other policy areas, and to stress the importance of decisive action on climate change through adequate EU energy, transport and agriculture policy.  After all, a recent Eurobarometer poll of 28,000 EU citizens clearly stated that 95% of respondents view environmental protection as important, and call on policy makers to do more to ensure its protection. It does, however, remain difficult to see how the new constellation of the European Commission will be able to ensure that this happens.

In an ideal world, climate change and environment should be a combined and direct responsibility at the Vice-President level. Not only would such a Commissioner have the necessary power to truly prioritise sustainable development and resource efficiency, but this step would also boost Europe’s competiveness and innovation capacity in the global green economy race. Unfortunately, Europe does not seem ready for that paradigm shift quite yet. At the same time, a Vice-President for the Energy Union is a promising step for enhancing Europe’s energy independence, but this does not automatically guarantee that environment and climate change are adequately addressed.

The mission letter for the new Commissioner for Environment, Marine Affairs and Fisheries, which lists its primary focus as reviewing nature legislation, reinforces fears that environmental concerns will be sidelined. Our nature legislation, i.e. the Birds and Habitats Directives, forms the backbone of the EU’s strong environmental framework. An assessment of these Directives can be useful for fine-tuning and improving their effectiveness, but a review that aims to make them ‘fit for purpose’ and turn them into a ‘modern piece of legislation’ leaves dangerous room for interpretation in a context of deregulation.

There is a clear risk that this overhaul could weaken Europe’s nature legislation and with it our role as international leaders in promoting nature as a solution for both environmental and societal challenges – the basis for transitioning to a genuine green economy.

As IUCN, and in close cooperation with our partners and members both in national governments and environmental organisations, we will keep a close eye on the direction this review will take, and ensure that the EU does not lose sight of its biodiversity and nature conservation targets.

After all, the Commissioner-designate’s mission letter also stresses that “ensuring the sustainability of our environment, the preservation of our natural resources and the conservation of our maritime biological resources are key policy objectives requiring action at all levels.”

IUCN is ready to work with its members, partners and the new European Commission to hold the EU to this promise!

Article source: http://www.euractiv.com/sections/sustainable-dev/will-new-eu-commission-assure-europes-leadership-sustainable-development

Antarctic Sea Ice Soars, But Arctic Ice Still Shrinking

For the third year in a row, Antarctica’s sea ice is set to smash a new record this month. But while Antarctica’s sea ice soars, the Arctic ice cap is still shrinking, making scientists ponder over the effects of global warming, a new report released Tuesday imparts.

September is the month that usually sees the highest extent of Antarctic sea ice as the Southern Hemisphere winter ends, and Arctic ice reaches its all-time low as it says goodbye to the dog days of summer.

The Southern Hemisphere’s unrelenting winds and frigid air froze ocean water into 7.6 million square miles (19.7 million square kilometers) of Antarctic sea ice this winter, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

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At this rate, Antarctica could soar well above the records set in 2012 and 2013. For now, only 88,800 square miles (230,000 square kilometers) separate the 2013 and 2014 high marks.

But while Antarctica boasts record-breaking ice growth, the picture in the Arctic looks a bit different. In fact, Arctic ice shrank to its sixth-lowest level on record since satellite tracking started in 1979, NSIDC scientists report.

“In the short term, it seems like there hasn’t been much ice loss in the past couple of years, but I think it’s still very much within the long-term trend of declining sea ice,” Axel Schweiger, chairman of the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center in Seattle, told Live Science. “One shouldn’t necessarily expect every year to be a record low.”

This week, Arctic sea ice extent – that is, the total ocean area in which the ice concentration is at least 15 percent – was at 1.96 million square miles. The average minimum is usually about 2.37 million square miles.

At both poles, sea ice ebbs and flows with the summer heat and winter cold, though in the Arctic, more ice usually sticks around than these reports indicate.

With the Arctic warming twice as fast compared to the rest of the world, the region’s summer sea ice has declined by about 30 percent since 1979.

Scientists naturally suspect global warming is responsible for both Antarctica’s surprising increase and the Arctic’s long-term dwindling of sea ice. However, the link between climate change and melting ice is clearer in the Arctic than in Antarctica.

Article source: http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/9091/20140918/antarctic-sea-ice-soars-but-arctic-ice-still-shrinking.htm

Finalists Announced for First-Ever Nature Inspiration Awards from Canadian Museum of Nature: Ceremony on November 5 …

OTTAWA, ONTARIO–(Marketwired – Sep 17, 2014) – The Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada’s national museum of natural history and natural sciences, is pleased to announce the finalists for the first annual Nature Inspiration Awards. These awards recognize individuals, groups and organizations whose leadership, innovation and creativity connect Canadians with nature and the natural world.

The finalists in each category, and the announcement of winners, will be celebrated at a gala to take place November 5, 2014 at the historic museum in downtown Ottawa. Some of the finalists use art, blogs, films and presentations to tell stories and engage others. Some deliver ecological and educational programs. Others administer projects that empower urban youth, schoolchildren, families, and adults to learn more about biodiversity, nature and the environment.

“It was truly inspiring to see the scope of projects from across Canada that was submitted for this first-ever edition of the awards,” says Meg Beckel, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature and Chair of the selection jury. “The finalists represent an amazing cross-section of people and organizations that are committed to encouraging a healthy and creative engagement with the natural world. We are grateful for the opportunity to recognize their achievements.”

A call for submissions in spring 2014 resulted in 34 nominations/applications, which the selection jury whittled down to the shortlist. In addition to Meg Beckel, the jury included Shelley Ambrose, Executive Director/Co-Publisher, The Walrus; Jack Cockwell, Chairman/CEO, Partners Limited; Philip Crawley, Publisher, Globe and Mail; Kathleen Edwards, musician/songwriter; John Geiger, CEO, Royal Canadian Geographic Society; Geoff Green, Executive Director, Students on Ice; Mary Simon, Chairperson of the National Committee on Inuit Education; and Kristine Webber, Vice-Chair, Bateman Foundation.

The categories for the the 2014 awards are: Youth (aged 17 and younger), Individuals (aged 18 and up), Not-for-Profits (small to medium), and Not-for-Profits (large). A Corporate category recognizes Cascades Inc. for 50 years as a leader for the recycling of paper products in Canada. Winners for each category receive $5,000 that they can designate to a program of their choice.

The Nature Inspiration Awards are produced by the Canadian Museum of Nature. The museum thanks media sponsors The Walrus and the Globe and Mail for their support.

Here is the complete list of finalists:

Youth category (aged 17 and under)

  • Hannah Alper, eco-blogger, Richmond Hill, Ontario
  • Miranda Andersen, environmental filmmaker, Belcarra, British Columbia
  • Olivia Clement, polar bear advocate, Ottawa
  • Alana Krug-Macleod, environmental advocate, Saskatoon

Individual category (aged 18 and up)

  • Christian Artuso, Manitoba Program Manager for Bird Studies Canada, Winnipeg
  • David Katz, CEO of PlasticBank, Vancouver
  • Charmaine Lurch, artist/arts educator, Toronto
  • Mylène Paquette, rower/ocean adventurer, Montreal

Not-For-Profit category (small/medium organization)

  • Environnement Jeunesse, Montreal
  • Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto
  • Power To Be, Victoria/Vancouver
  • Tree Canada, Ottawa

Not-For-Profit category (large organization)

  • Calgary Zoo, Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary
  • Earth Rangers, Markham, Ontario
  • Royal Ontario Museum Bioblitz, Toronto
  • Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver

Corporation

  • Cascades Inc., Kingsley Falls, Quebec

About the Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada’s national museum of natural history and natural sciences. The museum provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature’s past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a 10.5 million specimen collection, education programs, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, nature.ca.

Article source: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/finalists-announced-first-ever-nature-165854933.html

Cheap Green Energy Possible with Hydrogen Breakthrough

It’s no secret that the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and other types of finite energy are increasingly devastating our planet and speeding up climate change. But new research may offer a glimmer of hope, as a new hydrogen breakthrough could usher in a generation of cheap, green energy.

Scientists from the University of Glasgow have come up with a new form of hydrogen production that is 30 times faster than the current state-of-the-art method. What’s more, the breakthrough also offers a solution to some common problems associated with generating electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind or wave energy.

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“Around 95 percent of the world’s hydrogen supply is currently obtained from fossil fuels, a finite resource which we know harms the environment and speeds climate change,” lead researcher Lee Cronin from the university’s School of Chemistry, said in a statement.

“The potential for reliable hydrogen production from renewable sources is huge.”

Hydrogen is produced relatively easily using a process called electrolysis, which involves using electricity to break the bonds between water’s hydrogen and oxygen components and releasing them as gas. Unlike fossil fuels, this hydrogen gas can then be burned without any subsequent harmful effects on the environment.

While the process itself is eco-friendly, the means of powering electrolysis is not. Currently, industrial production of hydrogen relies overwhelmingly on fossil fuels.

But there is also a more advanced method of generating hydrogen using renewable power called proton exchange membrane electrolysers (PEMEs). However, PEMEs can be unreliable since they require precious metal catalysts to be held in high-pressure containers and subjected to high densities of electric current, which can be difficult to achieve from fluctuating renewable sources.

The new method can produce vast amounts of hydrogen at atmospheric pressure using lower power loads, typical of those generated by renewable power sources.

“The process uses a liquid that allows the hydrogen to be locked up in a liquid-based inorganic fuel. By using a liquid sponge known as a redox mediator that can soak up electrons and acid we’ve been able to create a system where hydrogen can be produced in a separate chamber without any additional energy input after the electrolysis of water takes place,” Cronin explained.

This allows “hydrogen to be released from the water 30 times faster than the leading PEME process on a per-milligram-of-catalyst basis,” he added.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Article source: http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/9051/20140916/cheap-green-energy-possible-with-hydrogen-breakthrough.htm

Plans to help Welsh nature thrive

Forest visitor centre enjoys rebirth

14 Jul 2014 — An award-winning forest visitor centre has enjoyed a rebirth since being devastated by the spread of a disease which affects larch trees. Some 12,000 native trees including sessile oak, rowan, birch, field maple, wild…

Article source: http://www.newswales.co.uk/index.cfm?section=Environment&F=1&id=27764

The flawed nature of the International Whaling Commission’s science

As a body established to look at a scientific approach to whaling, the International Whaling Commission’s scientific credibility is sorely lacking.

WHAT A MERRY DAY it was for Australia. Back in March, I stayed up late, watching on the Internet as an angular Slovakian judge in dark robes read out the International Court of Justice’s finding that Japan’s whaling program was not ‘scientific’, as they had always claimed.

Australians were jubilant. Japan has described Australians as regarding whales as “sacred”; by the reaction, it seemed they were right. Australians celebrated as they thought the annual Japanese whale hunt in Antarctic waters was finally over. Australia had taken Japan to court and won.

As Professor Steven Freeland noted at the time, options remained for Japan should they choose to go back to Antarctica. As we head into this week’s International Whaling Commission meeting, it seems they are going ahead with the option to revise their scientific program of whaling to make it more genuinely scientific.

The International Whaling Commission has always been a controversial organisation. It came into being in the 1940s when it was recognised that whales were becoming increasingly scarce. The idea was that international agreement would be reached on catch limits in order to allow whale numbers to recover. Then whaling could be conducted into the future on a sustainable basis.

Science has therefore always been integral to the Commission.

But as with any international organisation, so is politics.

In 1982 the IWC voted for a moratorium on whaling. Despite the objections of some IWC members, it came into force in 1986. In 1979 and 1994, the IWC nations voted to establish whale sanctuaries near Antarctica.

Gradually, as anti-whaling nations joined the IWC and started voting, it has come to be seen as a whale protection organisation, rather than a whaling regulation organisation.

But it’s worth remembering that this was not the IWC’s original purpose.

It’s also worth remembering that the IWC is a voluntary organisation. Japan got around the moratorium on whaling in Antarctica by simply registering a formal objection to the sanctuary, and describing its whaling as ‘scientific’.

In the past, nations have withdrawn from the IWC. Some even started their own rival whaling organisations.

This weakness of the IWC’s constitution has always made for controversy. And there have been many calls over the years for the IWC’s powers to be strengthened.

Nick Gales and colleagues’ recent paper in Science is no exception (pdf). Reflecting on the International Court of Justice ruling, Dr Gales from the Australian Antarctic Division, argues that the IWC’s scientific committee needs overhauling.

At the moment, the IWC doesn’t approve a ‘scientific’ program of whaling, whether from Japan or anyone else. The scientific committee simply reviews the proposal and makes recommendations. The whaling country can choose to ignore them, as Japan did in the case of its JARPA II whaling program.

Gales argues that the scientific review committee should have the power to make changes to a whaling proposal, and it should be independent of the country proposing to hunt whales.

“The burden of proof on the validity of a scientific proposal properly resides with the proponent, who should sit outside the review process,” they write.

The scientific goals of the whaling proposal should be crystal clear, they say.

Japan dismissed criticism of its JARPA II whaling program as being politically motivated by the anti-whaling members of the IWC. While that might be true, the ruling of the International Court of Justice is makes a mockery of the credibility of the International Whaling Commission review process. Why review something that they have no power to change?

Japan’s motivations for whaling remain political. It keeps whaling not for reasons of tradition, or food, or science, or even national pride. It hunts whales because it is an island nation with limited natural resources of its own.

To back down to international pressure on whaling would be a slippery slope for a nation that needs the ocean. Japan is simply playing an international strategic game so that it can have access to the high seas when it needs to.

But unless the IWC’s scientific credibility is strengthened, it remains at the mercy of the political whims of the day.

As an organisation that was established to install a scientific approach to whaling, the IWC risks increasing irrelevance if it misses this opportunity to bolster its scientific credentials in the light of the ICJ ruling.

Article source: http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2014/09/16/4088124.htm

Environment versus development: the problem with eco-tourism

If only there was perfect equilibrium between profit, people and the environment. But there isn’t – and protecting the environment counts on eco-tourism embracing community participation.

If you’ve ever looked at a pristine piece of land in full bloom in spring and yearned to return to it year after year, you know how deep the nature bug can bite. But chances are some developer will come along and build something on the land, erasing forever the pleasures it once held. The dream scenario would be if there were a perfect equilibrium between the environment, people and profit. But life’s not like that and South Africa faces tough choices ahead.

Land reform and eco-tourism

It’s now accepted that land reform in this country hasn’t worked well and communities remain impoverished despite the potential of their assets. What makes the issue even more urgent is perhaps best highlighted by land claims at iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. Claimants have identified over 70 percent of the park as belonging to them, indicating the scope of the problem. Many of those claiming ownership no longer live on the land – they had to make way for developments, including commercial and conservation ones. Even as this iconic piece of land continues to embody many of the contesting uses for land, the issue of those living within the Dukuduku Forest has been well documented.

It’s one of the longest-running land claims sagas. The ‘squatters’ have fought against efforts to evict them, saying the land belongs to their ancestors and insisting on their rights to live off the forest as hunters and gatherers. The declaration of this area as a World Heritage Site has merely served to reinforce the need to resolve the matter of how best to use the land.

It’s clear that no other industry highlights the environment versus development tension quite like eco-tourism. This is especially true because nature was very generous when endowing South Africa with such a richly diverse natural habitat and resource base. And at a time when it’s clear that mineral resources are finite, it becomes even more apparent why eco-tourism holds the key to South Africa’s future. But it’s also abundantly obvious why it can’t be business as usual: conservation cannot succeed if it doesn’t benefit those who live next to resources. When community members turn to poaching or pillaging prized timber for firewood so that they can eke out a living, it shows a failed model for sustainable development. It makes no sense for any entrepreneur to develop world-class facilities that attract rich tourists if neighbouring communities don’t have a stake in the success of the enterprise. Sadly, many entrepreneurs regard this as a kind of grudge purchase and don’t embrace it.

 
(Read: Hunting and eco-tourism in the Pafuri/Makuleke concession)
 

Local communities should be seen as an essential part of any truly sustainable nature-based business, rather than as a problem. South Africans are well known for working things out, so it’s a little surprising for many to see how much still has to be done to find what could be considered a win-win between the environment and development lobbies. One doesn’t need to be a cynic to see that where profit is involved, it becomes tricky to simply talk of meaningful community participation as the magic wand to solve the tensions between the two sides.

Then there’s another issue: in practice, there is nothing like a homogenous community. Often community members have their own interests and objectives, and smart entrepreneurs use these to neutralise the community and increase their own advantage. There are many stories where development agencies funded what on paper looked like solid community projects, only for these to fail or even be vandalised by the very community that was meant to own the assets. Dinokeng Big Five Game Reserve, for example, faced the threat of vandalism when it opened; fences were broken down and police were called in to protect the reserve.

The truth is that entrepreneurs want to make a profit, and they typically have the know-how and the resources to obtain returns on their investments. It takes exceptional negotiation skills to persuade them to share these returns with anyone else. As for communities, even when they own the land or have lodged a land claim, they’re often poorly organised and not able to participate as equal commercial partners. This means that when they strike deals, they often do so from a position of weakness.

There have been success stories (see below on how Namibia’s getting it right), especially when the partnerships between entrepreneurs and local communities are based on independent but mutually reinforcing interests. They ensure that each of the parties is invested in the relationship. One question that always needs answering is who benefits from any development – the answer gives a clue as to who suffers, as very few developments have no unintended victims.

Dr Ian Player is a great example of motivating opposing sides to buy into a single cause. He convinced the State to bring the private sector into conservation efforts at a time when the rhino population had fallen catastrophically low with the hope that private game reserves would breed rhinos and so grow the population. Looking back, it was a stroke of genius.

It’s time for our generation to create win-win scenarios like this. Those who advocate environmental protection policies that only make people poorer should ask themselves how sustainable their approach is – the challenge of our day is to engage millions of community members who currently don’t stand to benefit significantly from protecting the environment.

The tension between development and protecting the environment is only going to worsen. Poverty and a poorly protected environment go hand in hand. Whether it’s in urban shanties or rural communities, sustainable development can succeed only if the ordinary people believe their lives will be improved by caring for the environment.

 

Success story by Scott Ramsay

In the early 1990s, after the SA army had decimated much of the wildlife, the Namibian government granted communities legal rights to their traditional land, giving ownership of the remaining wildlife to people who were once poachers. The Ovambo, Kavango, Herero, Himba and Damara people could choose how best to make a sustainable living. Almost every community chose to conserve their wild animals.

In 1998, the first formal conservancy was registered. Today there are more than 79, covering about 20 percent of the country and creating more than 1000 permanent jobs. As John Kasaona, a community leader in conservation, said: ‘This is our new economy, an economy based on the respect for our natural resources.’

Conservancies and national parks now formally conserve almost half of Namibia, one of the highest figures in the world. Wildlife numbers have responded dramatically. After almost becoming extinct, the free-roaming black rhino population is the largest in Africa and Namibia has the only expanding population of wild lions, while numbers of the famous desert-adapted elephants have at least tripled.

 
This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Getaway Magazine.

This article, Environment versus development: the problem with eco-tourism, was originally posted on the Getaway Blog by Victor Dlamini.

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Article source: http://za.news.yahoo.com/environment-versus-development-problem-eco-tourism-085924480.html