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Monday, May 5, 2008

Ecology and some more

What's new?
  • EU revamps fisheries department in sustainability drive
  • Car software to spot green traffic lights and cut CO2
  • EU moves to combat illegal logging
  • Researchers identify new 'biodiversity threats'
  • World Water Day focuses on sanitation

EU revamps fisheries department in sustainability drive

28 March 2008

The European Commission will restructure its fisheries and maritime affairs department along geographic lines as part of a "far-reaching" reorganisation which includes its re-branding as 'DG MARE', it announced yesterday (27 March).

The new set-up, which comes into effect tomorrow (29 March), also sees the establishment of a new directorate specifically responsible for the co-ordination and development of policy.

The department has been renamed the 'Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries', shortened to 'DG MARE', while previously it had been the other way round under the acronym 'DG FISH'.

The EU executive hopes the reforms will reinforce its "capacity to develop and implement policy for maritime affairs and fisheries alike" while encouraging "the co-ordinated use of all resources and policy tools" for each region. Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg said the new set-up would "boost the implementation of the new EU integrated maritime policy".

Welcoming the move, Caroline Alibert of the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) EU office expressed hope that the restructuring would "lead to the better implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy". Environmental NGOs have previously questioned the sustainability of European fisheries, with Oceana Europe expressing concern over "badly depleted fish stocks" and "the huge overcapacity of the European fleet".

Three new geographic departments will manage both the Common Fisheries Policy and the new EU maritime policy (EurActiv 11/10/07) in their respective regions. These comprise of the 'Arctic, Atlantic and outermost regions', the 'Mediterranean and Black Sea' and the 'North Sea, Baltic Sea and landlocked countries', putting "greater focus on Mediterranean fisheries and on control in international waters," the Commission states. source

My comment: I'm still not sure why this will be more effective than the last try. But, oh well...

Car software to spot green traffic lights and cut CO2

27 March 2008

Driving through a city in the same manner as through the countryside, avoiding acceleration and thus cutting CO2 emissions: this may be possible thanks to car-embedded software allowing drivers to skip red traffic lights in congested cities, according to a study discussed at the 'Internet of Things' conference in Zurich.

The studyPdf external , developed by a team of experts of the Technical University of Berlin (TUBexternal ), is based on the concept of the automatic green light. Cars are driven on the right roads at the correct speed, avoiding pointless stops and acceleration mainly caused by red traffic lights. This results in unchanged or sometimes even earlier arrival times as well as lower fuel consumption, and therefore less CO2 emissions, the researchers say.

Several studies have shown that fuel consumption can be significantly reduced through different driving behaviour. In some cases the potential emission cut has been estimated to be as high as 50%.

The TUB study shows that cars equipped with a simple satellite navigation system, such as GPS or the projected EU-sponsored Galileo, can easily be directed to less congested roads - and not just via the shortest routes, which satellite navigation already allows.

The difference is the new car-embedded software, which collects data on traffic during the journey. The device calculates the timing of traffic lights and identifies the programmed 'green-waves' in order to advise to drivers of the speed at which they should drive to avoid red lights.

Nevertheless, at the moment even the researchers themselves concede there are the limits to the new approach, in particular due to the limited data available. The simulations have so far only been carried out in Berlin during a very limited number of trips. Moreover, the software is not yet able to distinguish stops caused by traffic lights from other delays.

The project is being discussed at the 'Internet of Things'external conference in Zurich (26-28 March), which brings together academic and industrial experts on new technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFID), short-range wireless communications, real-time localisation and sensor networks.

The mass deployment of these devices will allow new communication not only between humans and things but also among things, therefore creating a new and well developed concept of the Internet, the so-called 'Internet of Things'.

The conference also presents other relevant projects that offer new uses of ICT to fight environment pollution and climate change, in line with the recently-developed EU approaches (see EurActiv 22/02/08 and our Links Dossier on climate change).

Some of the projects selectedPdf external at EU level for environmentally friendly applications of new technologies are also being debated in Zurich. Among these are the use of RFID tags to track products throughout their entire life-cycle and systems to attribute carbon credits or debits to individuals according to their environmental behaviour. source

My comment: That's so cool! I hope this soon pass the development stage and get into the engineering part.

EU moves to combat illegal logging

26 March 2008

The Commission will propose new measures to tackle illegal logging in May amid fears that the current EU legislation is not effective enough, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas announced last week.

The announcement came after the commissioner was presented with a reportPdf external by Friends of the Earth which asserts that "half of the timber imported by the EU from high-risk areas [including Central Africa, the Amazon, Russia and Indonesia] has been logged illegally".

Commissioner Dimas said the illegal timber issue is "very important because it contributes to deforestation, which is detrimental for both climate change and biodiversity", issues which the EU executive is "determined to fight". He said the EU executive had concluded voluntary agreements with Malaysia, Indonesia, Cameroon and Ghana, adding that discussions were underway to conclude similar accords with other countries.

The report also alleges that illegally logged timber was used in a number of EU-funded construction projects. Questioning the effectiveness of EU legislation, Anne van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Netherlands claimed the Commission was "not even able to keep illegal and destructively logged timber out of its own construction projects".

But spokesperson for the EU executive Valérie Rampi stressed that the incident in question, relating to the Berlaymont building in Brussels, was an isolated case and that the company involved had been fined for not respecting the "very strict conditions that we have".

A voluntary licensing scheme for timber imports into the EU designed to combat illegal timber felling was first introduced in 2005, inviting timber exporting countries to produce export licences stating that their products were legally harvested (see EurActiv 26/10/05). The measures were introduced plan for forest law enforcement, governance and trade (the so-called 'FLEGT' planexternal ).

Nevertheless, a public consultationPdf external published by the Commission in 2007 revealed that many stakeholders believe additional legislation is required to combat illegal logging more effectively, possibly including import bans.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently strongly criticised EU member states for their failure to curb illegal logging. A study published last year accused the majority of EU countries of failing to take "any real action" to implement the FLEGT plan (see EurActiv 03/05/07). source

My comment: Well, I have a lot to tell on this. First of all, EU can't even handle the illegal logging on our territory! I'm talking about Bulgaria and our mountain that have been slaughtered and sold to Turkey and who knows who else. And what the EU is doing- nothing. Taking care of Russian trees. I'm not saying Russian trees are worst than Bulgarian, I'm just saying that if the EU can't enforce the sustainability requirement, here, where it has all the power it needs, what's left for Russia or China or some 3-d world jungle.

Researchers identify new 'biodiversity threats'

21 March 2008

In an attempt to spot the next GMO-like controversy before it happens, environmental scientists, policymakers and environmental NGOs have, in a joint 'horizon scanning' exercise, drawn up a list of 25 novel threats and opportunities likely to affect biodiversity in the UK between now and 2050.

Sutherland is the lead author of an articleexternal presenting a list of the 25 most urgent issues expected to affect biodiversity in the future. The list was drawn up on the basis of a joint effort of 35 environmental scientists, policymakers, environmental NGOs and representatives of academia and scientific journalism, who consulted some 452 persons.

For each topic identified, the article outlines the associated threats, opportunities and research needs.

The list, published last week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, identifies, among others, the following as the most pressing challenges for biodiversity: nanotechnology, artificial life and biomimetic robots, the impact of geo-engineering the planet to mitigate climate change and the effect of rising demand for biofuels. Other issues include change in demand for food, dramatic changes in freshwater flows, new illnesses and an increase in non-native invasive species due to climate change.

The aim of the exercise was to identify the 25 topics of highest relevance, but not to rank them. However, with the methodology used by the horizon scanning team, nanotechnology scored highest "because of the uncertainties involved in both the way the technology would come to be used and the environmental impacts".

The authors of the article argue that horizon scanning - incorporating wide consultation with providers and users of environmental science - should be used by policymakers and researchers to identify knowledge gaps and help set policy and research agendas. source

My comment: I'm kind of surprised about the nanotechnology, although I must admit, I don't know that much about it and what they are doing with it recently, so maybe they are right. But what I like is that they are trying to think in the long run and to find out possible problems and challenges.

World Water Day focuses on sanitation

20 March 2008

With World Water Day being celebrated on 20 March, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) urged governments, businesses and NGOs alike to step up efforts to reduce uncontrolled dumping of waste in rivers - in both poor and rich nations.

This year's World Water Dayexternal focuses on sanitation in accordance with the International Year of Sanitation 2008external . The goal is to speed up progress towards the UN's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve, by 2015, the share of the 2.6 billion people around the world with no access to basic sanitation. Other objectives of the year are to increase awareness on hygiene promotion, water quality and wastewater treatment.

"Sanitation, human health and the environment are inextricably linked. Adequate water supply and sanitation means a clean environment and healthy people," said Ger Bergkamp, head of IUCN's Water Programme.

The union underlines that the lack of effective water treatment continues to contaminate rivers around the world, with serious efefcts on people's health. "Many rivers in developing countries and emerging economies are now polluted to the brink of their collapse," it said describing the Chinese Yangtze as 'cancerous' due to pollution from untreated agricultural and industrial waste.

The problem is, however, not confined to developing countries. According to a UN studyexternal released on 14 March, the lack of safe drinking water affects some 100 million Europeans as well. In Eastern Europe, some 16% of the population does not have access to drinking water in their homes, while over 50% of people living in rural areas do not have access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Furthermore, almost 40 children, mostly in Eastern Europe, die every day due to a water-related disease, diarrhoea.

Therefore, the IUCN urges the need to "seriously increase efforts to reduce the uncontrolled dumping of solid and liquid waste in rivers, and treat effluents efficiently" to stop and reverse the contamination of surface and groundwater resources. source

My comment: I wish I knew it's the worlds day of Water.

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