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An inventory of carbon footprints has been developed for 177 regions across 27 EU Member States. The map is the first to quantify greenhouse gas emissions associated with household consumption across the EU. It reveals significant regional differences based on income, household size and urban versus rural living.
The growing human population and a shift to more resource-intensive habits and behaviours are increasing the demands on global ecosystems. Natural capital is a way to describe Earth’s natural assets, including soil, air, water, and living things, existing as complex ecosystems, which provide a range of services to humans. Depleting and degrading these reserves may irreversibly reduce the availability of benefits to future generations. This In-Depth Report presents an overview of ideas, debates and progress so far in natural capital accounting, in particular in accounting for ecosystems and their services.
A new review of the potential uses of visual soil evaluation (VSE) shows how this tool can be used to indicate risks of erosion, compaction, greenhouse gas emission or storage and surface-water run-off. Assessing soils in this way is not only useful for agriculture, but has implications for the wider environment, due to the vital role that soil plays in the provision of ecosystem services, for example as a habitat for biodiversity and as a carbon sink.
Results from a long-term study of fish communities in the Bay of Somme in the English Channel show that numbers of cold-water fish, such as dab and plaice, have been dropping since 1998, as sea temperatures have risen. The researchers say this is evidence of ‘tropicalisation’ in an English-Channel ecosystem. The findings may have implications for conservation policies in the Bay, which is a Marine Protected Area1 designated under the Natura 2000 programme, as well as other marine sites affected by warming.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is well known for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and normal pressure. It is also a potent neurotoxin with severe global human health impacts. It can be converted from one form to another by natural processes, and, once released, actively cycles in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years before being buried in sediment. This In-Depth Report from Science for Environment Policy summarises the latest scientific studies and research results on mercury pollution in the global environment.
A new study has assessed the value of ecosystem-based approaches to mitigating climate changes and conserving biodiversity in Germany. The researchers highlight the trade-offs and synergies between climate adaptation and nature conservation and suggest that effective ecosystem-based climate policy requires improved coordination between different sectors, such as agriculture, forestry and energy.
One of the greatest challenges facing today’s environmental policymakers is how to deal with complex risks, such as those associated with climate change. These risks are difficult to deal with because they are not precisely calculable in advance. Where there is scientific uncertainty about the full extent of possible harms but ‘doing nothing’ is also risky, decision-makers may use the precautionary principle. This Future Brief explores the role of the precautionary principle in EU law and policy, and examines key points of discussion drawn from the evidence.
Engineering at the nanoscale brings the promise of radical technological development — clean energy, highly effective medicines and space travel. But technology at this scale also brings safety challenges. Nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles, but the effects are complex and vary based on particle properties as well as chemical toxicity. This Report brings together the latest science on environmental safety considerations specific to manufactured nanoscale materials, and some possible implications for policy and research.
How are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden moving towards renewable and lower-carbon energy use? A recent study suggests the key areas for progress, to ensure Nordic countries meet low carbon goals, include more renewable and decentralised electricity supply, the development of low-carbon transport systems, improved energy efficiency in building design and industrial use of carbon capture and storage.
A 50% renewable-energy supply, which is both profitable and secure, is possible for the UK’s electricity grid by just 2030 according to a new study. The researchers developed a plan for adapting and operating the UK’s electricity grid, designed to be flexibly controlled through smart-grid technology and to overcome uncertainties in renewable-energy supply and demand.
The available and emerging renewable technologies suitable for urban environments have been assessed in a recent study. Wind and solar technology can now be integrated into building design, and smart grids and metering can more efficiently manage energy production and demand at a local level. Investing in community-level renewable-energy projects can, therefore, help meet the future energy needs of towns and cities.
Researchers have developed a new indicator for policymakers, which shows the strength of renewable-energy technologies for electricity production in a country’s energy security. They compare their Renewable Energy Security Index (RESI) to the carbon footprint, in that it is easy to report and practical to use in energy policy.
A new screening tool to assess the potential seismic risks (earthquake activity) from deep geothermal energy projects has been outlined in a recent study. The tool provides categories of seismicity risk for projects, which are dependent on factors including geological aspects, as well as social concern and location in relation to urban areas.
Water-supply planning that considers the preferences of multiple stakeholders under uncertain and variable future conditions are more robust than planning decisions based on historical conditions, a recent study has stated. Using the Thames river basin in the UK as an example, the researchers present a new computer-modelling approach to assess which combinations of water-management measures best secure future water supply under a wide range of possible future conditions.
Reusing waste water for non-drinking uses in decentralised plumbing networks may improve the efficiency of water supply in urban areas, a new study has found. Modelling this approach in San Francisco, researchers found that, depending on the local geography, a decentralised water supply could lead to energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from water treatment of around 30%. Improvements in emerging water-treatment technologies are likely to lead to further savings, which could help increase the efficiency of urban water supply.
The Canary Islands have the potential to become carbon neutral by 2050, a new study indicates. This could be achieved by shifting to a 100% renewable energy supply, improving energy efficiency and building new grid connections between islands. Energy solutions for small island regions, such as the Canaries, could act as role models for larger systems, as well as similar islands, the researchers suggest.
Researchers have modelled the exposure to multiple hazards across different regions of Europe in relation to heat, cold, drought, wildfire, flooding and wind. The study indicated that, over the next century, environmental hazards are likely to increase, particularly along coastlines and on floodplains, and that south-western Europe is likely to be the worst-hit region.
A new study has estimated how changes to climate might affect the value of European farmland. Based on data for over 41 000 farms, the results suggest that their economic value could drop by up to 32%, depending on the climate scenario considered. Farms in southern Europe are particularly sensitive to climate change and could suffer value losses of up to 9% per 1 °C rise. The researchers say policy, on water and land use, for example, will be crucial to help farmers adapt to climate change and mitigate economic losses.
A new study provides clues as to which innovative low-carbon technologies will successfully get onto the market quickly. The historical analysis of 16 energy technologies — from steam engines to wind power — found that the average length of a product’s ‘formative phase’ is 22 years. This important period of innovation in a technology’s development is shorter for products which do not need extensive new infrastructure or changes to user behaviour. The findings could help policymakers identify new technologies that can be deployed more rapidly to meet short-term environmental targets.
A new framework has been developed to assess how effective Flood Emergency Management Systems (FEMS) are in Europe. Examining FEMS in five European countries, this study highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing systems and makes recommendations for improving their effectiveness, particularly in relation to institutional learning, community preparedness and recovery.
Fishing in most of Norway’s counties is at ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ risk from ocean acidification, concludes a new study. The researchers reached this conclusion with the use of an integrated risk-assessment method that accounts for environmental, economic and social factors within the 19 counties. They call for immediate action to protect the fishing industry against the effects of ocean acidification.
The world could experience the highest ever global sea-level rise in the history of human civilisation if global temperature rises exceed 2 °C, predicts a new study. Under current carbon-emission rates, this temperature rise will occur around the middle of this century, with damaging effects on coastal businesses and ecosystems, while also triggering major human migration from low-lying areas. Global sea-level rise will not be uniform, and will differ for different points of the globe.
Recycled waste material could play a major role in the construction of roads in Europe, bringing both environmental and economic benefits. A new study proposes a scenario where 50% of the asphalt for Europe’s roads consists of recycled materials, leading to significant reductions in costs, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Natura 2000 sites have, on average, 10% more carbon in their topsoil than non-protected areas, according to new research. They also generally have lower economic value for agriculture. The results suggest that there is significant potential to develop win-win biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation efforts within the EU.
The effects of market regulation and environmental policy on eight types of renewable energy in the EU are identified in a study which examines nearly three decades’ worth of data. The researchers found that reducing entry barriers is a major driver of renewable energy innovation and that the ability of environmental policy to promote renewable energy innovation depends on the technology; for example, quota systems appear to work better with older technologies.
Climate change is having mixed — but mostly negative — impacts on ecosystem services, suggest data analysed by a new study. The research, which brings together the findings of over 100 other studies, found that 59% of reported impacts of climate change on ecosystem services are negative, while just 13% are positive. However, the method of research was shown to strongly influence whether impacts are reported as positive or negative, with expert opinion studies far more negative than other types of study.
Ocean acidification threatens marine ecosystems worldwide, but economic assessments of its impact are lacking. A recent study has predicted the future cost of ocean acidification on mollusc production in Europe and showed that the highest economic impacts would be in France, Italy and Spain. For Europe overall, the annual damage could be in the region of €0.9 billion by 2100.
A recent study develops a framework for implementing IAMs using the Lombardy region of Italy as a case study. Researchers have run an uncertainty and sensitivity analysis with an environmental model, specifically with an Integrated Assessment Model (IAM) for air quality, demonstrating how model components are sources of uncertainty in the output of an integrated assessment. Policy responses should therefore consider uncertainty and sensitivity when developing measures to improve air quality.
Biodiversity’s contribution to ecosystem services in grasslands — at different levels of the food chain (known as trophic levels1) — has been assessed in a new study. Higher species diversity across trophic levels — particularly for plants, insects and soil microbial decomposers — is important for the provision of multiple ecosystem services related to food production, recreational benefits, or climate regulation. Species diversity across different trophic groups was also found to be just as important in controlling ecosystem functioning as the management intensity of grasslands and environmental factors, such as climate or soil type.
A UK solar park has been found to change the local microclimate, reports recently published research. Moreover, the microclimate coupled with management activities had an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and plant-community diversity and productivity under the solar panels. The study’s authors say their research provides a starting point for considering how to improve solar-park design in order to deliver co-benefits for biodiversity and farming, and minimise any negative environmental effects.
Over half of a low-energy building’s environmental impact occurred before it was even occupied, a new case study from Italy calculates. The researchers recommend expanding the environmental assessment of buildings from just the operational stage of a building’s life, when it is in use, to include production and transport of materials, construction activities and building maintenance. A wide range of environmental impacts should also be considered, they argue, and not just energy use.
A new method of processing food waste into fertiliser has been outlined in a recent study. The process uses a digester system with microorganisms to break down organic waste into fertiliser. The resultant fertiliser was used in a low-energy greenhouse to produce a range of food crops. The method is a potential way to utilise food waste and reduce the energy consumption of food production as part of a circular economy.
Impact investing refers to investments that intend to generate measurable social and/or environmental impacts, as well as a financial return. Often described as ‘doing good while doing well’ it is part of a wider strategy to shift finance towards more sustainable projects. This Future Brief explores research into impact investment, with an emphasis on environmental impact investing in Europe.
The effects of climate change on the distribution of species can be predicted more accurately by considering the genetic differences between different groups of the same species, a new study suggests. The researchers found that a computer model which incorporated genetic information on different groups of a US tree species was up to 12 times more accurate in predicting tree locations than a non-genetically informed model.
Nitrification inhibitors are thought to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions of nitrous oxide — a potent greenhouse gas — from land. However, they may not be as effective as once thought, a new study suggests. The researchers found that, while inhibitors decrease emissions of nitrous oxide, they can increase emissions of ammonia — which is later converted to nitrous oxide. They recommend these effects are considered when evaluating inhibitors as a mitigation technology.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas and atmospheric pollutant. A new study proposes tackling both problems by removing N2O from the atmosphere using a combination of two innovative technologies — photocatalytic breakdown of the N2O to nitrogen and oxygen, and this within a solar chimney power plant that generates renewable electricity. Although some way off from commercial development, the researchers say this approach is feasible, and they outline how these two technologies can be integrated to reduce the climate impact and polluting effects of N2O emissions.
As the climate becomes more volatile, managing the risk of flooding has never been more important. This study proposes a new framework for evaluating how flood risk is managed by governments, which is applied to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the system in England. The researchers say their approach can help to improve flood-risk governance and could be applied to other countries as well as other types of hazard.
Storing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has the potential to mitigate the impacts of changes in climate. Researchers have now developed a way to inject CO2 into volcanic rock, and tested it in Iceland. Over 95% of the injected CO2 was mineralised (converted into a solid) within two years, instead of taking centuries or millennia as previously anticipated. The technique demonstrates potential for the permanent and safe storage of CO2 within basaltic rocks.
Environmental impacts for a wave energy device, tidal stream and tidal range plants are potentially eight, 20 and 115 times lower respectively than for coal-generated power, averaged over five impact categories. An assessment of the amount of metal used by these technologies, however, shows an impact respectively 11 and 17 times higher than for coal- and gas-based power generators. These are the findings of a recent study, which compared the life-cycle environmental impacts of various wave and tidal energy devices with other forms of energy generation. The researchers conclude that wave and tidal energy plants qualify as ‘green’ technologies according to their definition, but that their impacts on marine ecosystems need further research.
A new long-term monitoring study is the first to demonstrate that climate changes are having divergent effects on populations of bird species across Europe and the United States. The study identifies broad-scale impacts on the abundance of common bird species over a 30-year period, to show that, overall, populations of bird species across both continents are being affected by changes in climate. The research adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is affecting biodiversity either positively or adversely, depending on species’ climate preferences.
Electricity consumption fell by 22–27% in low-income households participating in an energy-efficiency programme in Cyprus, France, Malta and Spain, reports a new study. Participants were provided with a range of tools and information to help them curb their energy use, including smart meters and customised reports. The results confirm the value of tailoring information to specific demographic groups.
Mental health and supply problems, such as loss of electricity, were perceived by residents as the most serious impacts of 2013 flooding in Germany, according to new research. The most frequent effect of the flooding on companies was interruption to their business. The researchers say that focusing on impacts that can be measured in financial terms does not fully describe the effects of flooding, and make recommendations for improving flood data collection.
Ocean-energy technologies — which harvest renewable energy from the sea — will have a significant role to play in a future low-carbon society. A recent life-cycle analysis of different ocean-energy devices has found that life-cycle environmental impacts are caused mainly by the materials used in the mooring, foundations and structures. Improving the efficiency and lifespan of the devices, as well as improving mooring and foundations and deploying devices further out at sea, will help to further reduce the life-cycle environmental impact of ocean-energy systems, according to the study.
Wind farms are an important component of Europe’s shift towards a greener energy supply, but they could potentially have an impact on marine ecosystems. This study provides the first measurements of the distribution of harbour seals in relation to the construction and operation of wind farms, and makes recommendations to minimise any potential harm, including breaks in the pile-driving phase of construction.
Global demand for copper could increase by up to 341% by 2050, and energy use is likely to increase with it — rising to a possible 2.4% of global energy demand in 2050, according to new research. Policy actions to avoid such drastic changes could include improving copper recycling and using renewable technologies.
Lower socioeconomic status is generally associated with poorer health, and both air and noise pollution contribute to a wide range of other factors influencing human health. But do these health inequalities arise because of increased exposure to pollution, increased sensitivity to exposure, increased vulnerabilities, or some combination? This In-depth Report presents evidence on whether people in deprived areas are more affected by air and noise pollution — and suffer greater consequences — than wealthier populations.
Marine fisheries play a key role in feeding human populations, but are faced with the twin threats of overexploitation and climate change. Using a comprehensive database of global reef-fish communities, a team of researchers has found that the greater the diversity of fish in an assemblage, the less vulnerable that assemblage is to climate change. The researchers suggest climate change mitigation efforts should include a focus on maintaining a wide range of species in at-risk communities.
Water and carbon dioxide (CO2) can be converted into ‘solar thermochemical fuel’ using energy from the sun and very high temperatures. A new study has analysed the production of this fuel and found that, under favourable future conditions, costs could be as little as €1.28 per litre, with close to zero life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although suitable as a substitute for any hydrocarbon fuel, it could be particularly useful as a much-needed alternative for energy-dense jet fuel.
Synthetic biology is an emerging field and industry, with a growing number of applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical, agricultural and energy sectors. While it may propose solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the environment, such as climate change and scarcity of clean water, the introduction of novel, synthetic organisms may also pose a high risk for natural ecosystems. This future brief outlines the benefits, risks and techniques of these new technologies, and examines some of the ethical and safety issues.
A new methodology for mapping the global distribution of drought risk has been proposed, which should provide guidance on which locations should be further assessed to improve drought preparedness and management policies.
A new study has assessed community perceptions towards a controversial wind-farm development in Cornwall, UK, following installation. The results indicate that a range of social, economic and environmental factors influence residents’ perceptions of wind farms. Although negative opinions of the wind farm were found both before and after construction, overall, community attitudes towards them became more favourable after construction, adding to evidence that fear of living near wind farms can reduce over time.
Climate change and other environmental changes can have major impacts on plant communities. Researchers have assessed current methods of understanding the impact of these global changes on vegetation and outlined the implications for future research. Vegetation is highly dynamic and likely to respond in complex ways to environmental changes. Researchers should, therefore, use a variety of methods to predict vegetation change in order for findings to be useful for policymaking.
Wild plants closely related to crops, or ‘crop wild relatives’, contain genes that could be useful for developing resilient crop varieties and are, therefore, important for food security. This global study quantified their conservation status and availability for breeding. The researchers found major gaps in gene-bank stocks, with over 70% of crop wild relative species identified as ‘high priority’ for conservation action. The researchers say systematic efforts are needed to protect crop wild relatives for future plant breeding, including both protection in gene banks and local conservation.
Oxygen decline is occurring in many of the world’s oceans and has important consequences for marine ecosystems, but the causes are not fully understood. Aerosol pollutants may be partly responsible, according to a new study which modelled the effects of atmospheric pollution over the Pacific Ocean. The findings suggest that air pollution can exacerbate climate impacts on the ocean, even when the source is far away.
Pollutants emitted by human activities have caused declines in air quality and drastic changes to climate. Despite being inextricably linked, these two major environmental issues tend to be viewed separately by policy. However, in certain instances, considering these issues together could lead to strategies that benefit both, according to a newly published review.
A new approach to modelling the spread of mammal populations under climate change has been developed. The method overcomes the problem of missing ecological data for most species by using information on species characteristics, or ‘traits’, associated with population demographic rates and individual movements to deduce which species move too slowly to escape climate change’s effects on their habitat. The model’s results suggest that around 30% of mammal species may not be able to disperse quickly enough to survive.
Floods are devastating natural hazards, which can cause loss of life and substantial damage to buildings and other infrastructure. Assessing future flood risk is complicated by the influence of climate change, land-use change and economic development in an area. A study on an Alpine valley suggests that land- use change and urbanisation will affect future flood risk by 2030 more than climate change, but risks can be reduced by adopting low-cost adaptation strategies, such as building restrictions in flood-prone areas and residents taking their own precautions against flooding.
As global temperatures continue to warm, sea-levels are expected to rise, increasing the risk of saltwater inundating wetlands in low-lying coastal areas. A study in Wales, UK, describes how rising sea levels will result in a shift from a wetland rich in plant diversity to one dominated by saltwater and mud in 200 years’ time.
Huge amounts of soil carbon have been discovered up to 1 metre below grassland in a recent UK study. Yet most carbon inventories do not assess soil deeper than 30cm. Furthermore, this research suggests that intensive management of grassland, involving high rates of fertiliser use and livestock grazing, may deplete carbon at these depths.
Biodiversity scenarios are a useful tool to help policymakers predict how flora and fauna will likely respond to future environmental conditions. Although changes to land use are a major driver of biodiversity loss, scenarios focus overwhelmingly on climate change, a new study shows. The researchers say this imbalance makes scenarios less credible, and make recommendations for developing more plausible projections.
Among the ecological effects of climate change are changes to the timing of natural events, such as flowering. To understand why these phenological changes affect reproduction, this study manipulated conditions in a spring herb to prompt premature flowering. This exposed the flowers to frost, and resulting damage caused dramatic reductions in plant reproduction, suggesting that climate change may threaten plant survival.
Waves hitting Europe’s Atlantic coast during the winter of 2013–2014 were the most powerful in nearly 70 years, reports a new study. They caused significant coastal erosion and the study found examples of beaches which are now several metres lower. The study’s authors say that coastal planners should consider increasingly stormy conditions in the north-east Atlantic, as predicted by some climate change models.
Grapes are sensitive to small changes in temperature, rain and sunlight, meaning climate change will have implications for wine producers worldwide. This study assessed local vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies in two wine-producing areas in France. The findings may help growers to develop suitable methods of adapting to long-term climate change.
Oestrogens are ‘female’ hormones that can enter the aquatic environment after excretion by humans and animals, causing ‘feminisation’ of male fish. This study carried out a risk assessment for oestrogen-like endocrine disruption in the UK in the 2050s, based on likely changes to the human population, river flows and temperature. The authors found that risk is likely to increase under future conditions and recommend further research to assess whether improving sewage treatment could reduce oestrogen pollution.
Higher temperatures being brought about by global warming are increasing methane emissions from the extensive northern European peatlands, a recent study has found. The researchers also say that future estimations of greenhouse gas emissions can be improved via better land-cover classification — i.e. determining how much peatland is fenland or bogland.
Land and soil are limited natural resources essential to all human life. One of the major environmental challenges facing Europe is an increasing demand for development, which threatens ecosystem services. This Future Brief focuses on how land and soil could be used efficiently to continue to provide these functions and services for generations to come.
Norway has the highest battery-electric vehicle market share of any country worldwide. A new study investigated the incentives that have persuaded consumers to purchase electric vehicles in Norway, revealing that up-front price reductions (such as exemptions from purchase tax) are the most powerful incentives.
How rice paddy fields are managed significantly influences the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs), a recent study concludes. Permanently flooded soils release more methane than soils that are flooded and then dried between production periods, for example. In general, the researchers recommend growing other crops in dried soil between production cycles, as well as limiting nitrogen fertilisers, to minimise the release of methane and nitrous oxide.
Researchers have provided a set of guidelines to help policymakers, designers and operators develop sustainable solutions for energy-storage systems for electricity grids. The guidelines cover a range of energy-storage technologies and grid-integration options.
How can we better anticipate environmental changes? In our rapidly changing world, risks occur from ongoing changes (such as those occurring in the climate), to more sudden-onset risks, such as mutating microbial pathogens. This Future Brief explores some of the tools and approaches that can be used to identify emerging risk, including strategic foresight tools, citizen science and state-of-the-art monitoring technologies.
‘Product-service systems’ are innovative business models designed to satisfy societal needs in an environmentally sustainable manner. This study explores how government policies could increase the uptake of these systems, outlining five key recommendations to achieve this, including schemes to raise awareness and involve local authorities.
‘Climate-smart agriculture’ aims to sustainably increase agricultural production and increase resilience to climate change. One aspect focuses on climate-smart technologies. This study interviewed users and producers of these technologies, highlighting barriers to adoption and possible means of overcoming them, including increasing awareness, user-focused design and changes to policy.
Increases in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can be beneficial to crops, by providing a source of carbon for growth. However, very high levels of CO2 have the reverse effect, decreasing the yield and quality of vegetable crops, a new study has shown. The researchers say atmospheric CO2 concentration should be kept below 5 000 ppm to enhance the yield of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce.
Messages that focus on the local impacts of climate change are among the most effective at reaching people who are generally dismissive of climate science, according a recent survey of Australian residents. The questionnaire asked participants about their attitudes and beliefs about climate change. Participants were shown a range of messages related to climate change adaptation, and then asked how much each message motivated them to take action. Presentations that contained local impacts, specific advice and negative emotive content were found to be the most effective.
Modern technologies have provided new ways for communities to engage with climate change. This study investigated the role of Internet-based tools in disseminating the findings of a climate change research project in Canada and provides insights on how best to use the Internet to communicate the outcomes of scientific research.
Up-to date scientific and technological research is vital to allow humans to adapt appropriately to our changing global environment, and current rates of environmental degradation and resource depletion. Effective research policies are essential to maintain or improve the standard of life for future populations – in Europe and globally.
Climate change will have major consequences for transport networks, especially those located on coastlines. This study assessed the impact of projected sea-level rise on a vulnerable stretch of railway line on the coast of South West England. The authors say their semi-empirical modelling method could provide guidance to policymakers worldwide.
There is a large potential to improve the global efficiency of energy, land and phosphorus use, finds new research which modelled the effects of four worldwide scenarios between 2010 and 2050. An ‘ambitious resource strategy’ could moderate the increases in energy use (+25% globally instead of +80% in the baseline scenario), phosphorus use (+9% instead of +40%) and arable land (-9% globally, instead of + 4%).
The impact that national energy sectors have on international freshwater resources has been demonstrated in the first global study of its kind. The analysis of 129 countries showed differences between countries and sectors in their reliance on international freshwater resources. For example, although the petroleum industries of North America and China are similar in magnitude, the North American industry consumes three times as much international freshwater. Demands from economically developed countries on less economically developed countries, which may have pre-existing water-scarcity issues, compound these problems and complicate the creation of policies that ensure both water and energy security.
The livestock sector is estimated to contribute 14.5% of all global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This study estimated the costs of reducing emissions from ruminant livestock using five different practices. The findings will help policymakers to understand the cost effectiveness of different interventions in the sector, and the contribution that different policies could make to addressing climate change.
Climate change objectives are now featured in a wide range of policies, including the European Rural Development Programme, which promotes sustainable agricultural interventions. This study describes the net greenhouse gas emissions for these interventions across Europe. The findings could help policymakers to better meet multiple social, economic and environmental objectives, although the authors say a broader perspective may be needed to determine the overall benefit of interventions.
Decision-making about complex environmental problems like desertification, which also have important social and economic implications, could be improved by employing methods outlined in a new study. The study outlines the steps taken by researchers on behalf of the Canary Islands government in devising a policy strategy for tackling desertification and describes a three-step methodology and participatory decision-making process.
Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) have been shown to adapt to local environments that are as little as 20 km apart, and these adaptations can be passed on to offspring. In this study, oysters that originated from less saline areas tended to be more resilient to extremely low saline conditions than oysters from more saline areas. Since episodes of reduced salinity are a predicted effect of climate change in the San Francisco Bay area under study, the authors say their findings could be useful for future conservation and restoration efforts.
The frequency and severity of flooding is expected to increase in the future. This study explored how these changes will affect rivers, in terms of structure as well as animal and plant life. The authors discuss the management implications of their findings and highlight areas for future research, including developing early warning systems for threats to ecosystems.
The health risks associated with climate-induced changes to indoor environments are explored in a new study. UK-based researchers synthesised findings of how climate change — and mitigation and adaptation measures — might affect the inside of buildings, through overheating, air quality, allergies and infections, flood risk and other exposure risks.
Researchers have developed a new tool for assessing and predicting the damage caused by droughts to crop yields and hydroelectric energy production. The tool could provide useful information to policymakers, helping them develop drought management practices to improve food and energy security and adapt to climate change.
Social scientists have been advising on environmental issues for decades, but their contributions to policy remain unclear. This study analysed how social scientists interact with policymakers and provides recommendations for future engagement.
Growing demand for biorenewable chemicals could lead to conflicts with food production and unwanted environmental impacts. Against this context, this study investigated different types of feedstock and conversion technologies. The authors recommend use of only non-edible feedstock alongside green and carbon neutral conversion technologies, such as algal fermentation.
Due to regulation on sulphur emissions, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has increased in use as a maritime fuel. This study measured exhaust gases from a ship with dual-fuel engines running on LNG and marine gas oil (MGO). Although NOX and CO2 emissions were lower for LNG compared to MGO, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions were higher. The authors say future work should reconsider the climate impact of LNG.
International regulation does not address non-CO2 emissions from aviation, despite their climate-warming effects. This study reports the findings of the AviClim research project, which investigated the feasibility of including CO2 and non-CO2 species in international protocols. Of several trading scenarios assessed, the authors found that a global emissions trading scheme for both kinds of emissions would be desirable in both environmental and economic terms.
Dense urban environments have significant resource-saving potential and serve as good platforms for climate change mitigation. This study reviewed an initiative to improve use of energy and water in Rotterdam, highlighting factors important for success including exchanges in close geographic proximity and private-sector participation.
The solar energy market is hampered by multiple barriers to adoption in the EU and worldwide, according to a new review. Researchers from Sweden and Spain found that lack of government commitment as well as various sociotechnical, management and economic barriers prevent photovoltaic technologies from being more readily adopted.
The EU Waste Framework Directive aims to recycle or recover materially 70% of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste by 2020. This study evaluated the performance of the Finnish waste management system against this target. The results showed that the system generates environmental benefits and is profitable, but has not reached the 70% target. The researchers suggest ways the target could be met and recommend region-specific recycling objectives in the EU.
Measurements of individual vehicle emissions are usually made in laboratory tests. In this study, researchers followed cars driving in real conditions to measure emissions of air pollutants, including black carbon and nitrogen oxides. The study shows that diesel cars contribute disproportionately to air pollution, and highlights the value of on-road measurements.
Long-distance travelling accounts for a significant number of miles travelled per person, but estimates of its greenhouse gas emissions are lacking. Using data from Belgium and the Netherlands, this study estimates that long-distance journeys account for 40–50% of total mileage and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions of all people transport in Western Europe.
The main factors affecting household food waste in the EU have been identified by an analysis of the 2013 Flash Eurobarometer survey (n.388). On an individual level, the main factors include age, gender, income and environmental attitudes. On the national level, the most significant factor is median disposable income. The authors suggest their results could help develop campaigns targeted at groups that generate the most household waste.
Agricultural land use presents a number of environmental challenges, which the European Commission is committed to addressing through a range of agri-environmental policies. A new study points to the importance of aligning agri-environmental policies with farmers’ needs and operations. Using the case of land clearing in Finland, the research underlines the importance of incorporating input from grassroots stakeholders into policy design.
Wind and solar energy are effectively limitless resources, but construction of renewable power must compete for a finite amount of land. This study uses a constrained assessment of available land to see whether global energy demand could be fully met by renewable sources. The analysis predicts that by 2070, the world could produce between 730 and 3700 exajoules of electricity per year (EJ/a1) from renewable power, which, even at lowest available land estimates, could meet 2070 electricity needs in most countries.
Glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change. This study focused on hanging glaciers in the French Alps, where warming is increasing the risk of glaciers collapsing. The authors applied a state-of-the-art numerical model to a particularly hazardous glacier in Mont Blanc to simulate how it will respond to climate change. The results suggest the glacier may become unstable in the current century, posing a risk to the inhabitants of the valley below.
For economic and political reasons, freight shipping has begun to utilise shorter routes across Arctic waters. This study assessed the costs, emissions and climate impact of trade using the Northern Sea Route between the Northern Pacific and Europe. It concludes that there are no overall climate benefits to using this route, even though it reduces voyage distance, due to the additional impact of emissions in the Arctic region.
Carbon emissions from Dutch road networks could be reduced by almost a third if more innovative materials and processes were used, a new study suggests. Researchers assessed the potential benefits associated with 10 innovations in road construction and maintenance, and compared them to conventional materials and processes.
Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of flooding. This study reviewed damage mitigating measures at local, regional and national scales, and suggests that approaches including both spatial planning and private precautionary measures (such as building adaptations) are important for integrated risk management.
Shortages of indium, a key metal found in thin-film solar cells, could limit their large-scale deployment in the future. A new study has outlined four ways that indium supplies could be increased to meet future demand. For example, indium could be extracted more efficiently from zinc ores, or historic wastes containing indium could be processed to extract the element.
Ships that reduce their speed use less fuel, which lowers costs for shipping companies. The slow steaming practice also cuts nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions. A study found that ships travelling on four European routes lowered their NOx emissions by 12% during the economic crisis of 2008/2009. Shipping continues to be a major way of transporting goods, however, and as the global economy recovers the researchers and civil society call for additional measures to reduce NOx emissions from shipping and improve air quality in Europe.
Land use changes over the last century in the Mediterranean area may be sparking shifts in weather patterns locally, across Europe, and around the globe, suggests a new study. The findings bring to light new complexities that can be integrated into climate models and predictions.
Thematic Issue 52
Land use changes over time have altered relations between soils and water cycles throughout the world. Soils have been lost and degraded, and the closely interlinked processes of soils and water have become an urgent issue for European policymakers. This Thematic Issue aims to provide a review of new research into the links between soil and water issues in Europe, including a message that the soil-water links must be considered at their proper spatial scales.
The construction industry is among the top three drivers of resource use in the EU. This study investigated the environmental impacts of a common construction method, drill and blast tunnelling, using life cycle assessment. The researchers assessed 20 years of data on tunnelling in Norway to identify areas that could be targeted to reduce its environmental impact. They recommend reduced consumption of explosives and increased use of renewable energy.
Power plants are a major source of CO2 emissions and contributor to global warming. This study reports on a portable technology to remove CO2 from their combustion exhaust gases. Pilot testing on a coal burning plant in Poland captured thousands of kilograms of CO2 per day. This could be a viable future means of mitigating CO2 emissions from the power generation sector.
Recycling of excess heat, via ‘district heating’, has the potential to improve energy efficiency in Europe. This study mapped excess heat and demands for heat in EU27 Member States to identify regions suitable for the large-scale implementation of district heating. The authors identified 63 ‘heat synergy regions’, generally large urban zones, which generated almost half of all excess heat generated in the EU27.
Marine diesel contains sulphur compounds, which generate sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution and acid rain. Ships can use mitigating technologies to reduce their SOx emissions, but these can also have a negative environmental impact. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced stringent legislation to control these, aspects of which are incorporated into EU policy. This study examined the implications of the IMO’s policy and recommends a number of design solutions to help ships comply.
Adding nanoparticles to water in solar collectors, which are used to capture the sun’s energy, can considerably improve their performance, a recent study on nanofluids has found. The energy efficiency of the collector can be increased by up to 76.6% when using water containing 0.1% by volume of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, compared with water alone.
Wind energy will likely continue to play a leading role in reaching the EU’s renewable energy targets. However, in some areas wind turbines face social opposition based in large part on the visual impact of wind turbines in the landscape. A new study outlines a novel methodology to measure emotional response to wind turbine visuals, which may assist wind farm planners in gauging public acceptance.
Special conservation measures for bird species are required in EU Member States under Annex I of the Birds Directive. This study measured the efficacy of the Directive by comparing the population trends of these species to those of non-Annex I species. Annex I species had more positive trends in population from 1980–2012, despite extensive climate changes.
Soil and plants store around 5% of the world’s carbon, but carbon storage in some soils is in decline. Recent research has found that climate change accounted for 9–22% of carbon declines in organic soils in semi-natural habitats throughout England and Wales from 1978–2003. The researchers say monitoring soils rich in carbon should be a priority to ensure that more carbon is not released to reinforce climate change.
A new study quantifies the economic and environmental potential of powering docked ships in European ports using local electricity networks. The authors give key recommendations on policy actions to enable implementation in European harbours.
Cereal fields provide a staple food, but are also home to a wide array of invertebrates. This study analysed over 40 years of data to investigate the effects of extreme weather, climate and pesticide use on invertebrates in cereal fields in southern England. As pesticide use had a greater effect on abundance than temperature or rainfall, the authors also recommend reducing pesticide use.
The risk of drought in the Norrström drainage basin, Sweden, increased during the 20th century, a new study has found. As the frequency of the dry periods increased, less water was available in the landscape for agriculture and for the resupply of groundwater — despite an increase in precipitation in the area over the same period. The researchers reached this conclusion after screening soil moisture conditions in the basin over the course of the century.
Restaurants can influence consumer food choices by offering climate-friendly meals on their menus, a recent study concludes. In a trial at Finnish restaurants, customers and staff were receptive to selecting meals based on the carbon footprints of their ingredients. Appearance, taste and healthiness were priority factors in consumers’ choices. The research highlights the importance of planning communication strategies and the need for a carbon footprint food database.
Environmental changes in the future, such as an increase in floods, land degradation and drought could result in changes in migration patterns in Europe, researchers write in a recent analysis. It is difficult to predict these exact migration patterns, however, as they are determined by a complex interplay of economic, political and social factors with environmental change, as well as adaptive capacity.
A recent report presents a series of recommendations for how the EU could address the complex issue of climate change induced migration. There is now sufficient evidence to show that environment-related migration is occurring, and the time is right to put recommendations into practice, the report’s authors argue.
The migration, displacement and relocation of people needs to be properly addressed in climate change adaptation plans, says a UN report. Among the report’s recommendations, National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) should ensure that communities affected by climate change-induced hazards, such as flooding and drought, become more resilient. Migration can also be seen as an adaptation strategy in itself.
Human migration as a result of climate change is now a reality. People across Africa, Asia and Latin America are moving in response to unpredictable rainfall patterns. The governments of Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and small island states, such as the Solomon Islands, have already had to resettle people because of rising seas. A recent policy brief, published by the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University, examines this issue and makes recommendations for policy.
While extreme environmental events — such as floods and tsunamis — may trigger migrations, the underlying drivers of migration are far more complex and diverse, says new research. The research reviewed the available evidence on population movements associated with extreme weather events and found that people could find themselves ‘trapped’ and vulnerable, whether they stayed at their homes or moved to new locations.
A framework on the effects of environmental change on human migration has been developed by researchers. It makes clear that environmental change can influence migration directly but also indirectly through impacts on economic, social and political factors. The framework can be used to guide further research, evaluate policy options, or develop predictions for migration under global change, say the researchers.
Links between environmental changes and migration are extremely complex. This Thematic Issue presents key pieces of research examining the causes of environmental migration and identifying policy options for Europe in dealing with forced and voluntary relocations. The sources also examine the current state of human rights for environmental migrants and how much evidence currently exists for action at local and regional levels.
Driven by trade, the spread of alien species is increasing worldwide. This study combined 60 years of trade data with that on biodiversity and climate to model the spread of plant species across 147 countries. The model predicts significant increases in plant invasions in the next 20 years, especially for emerging economies. The authors say trade legislation must consider biological invasion and focus on regions at high risk.
Scientists did not observe changes in plant communities in the coastal dunes of Scotland due to climate change in the past several decades. The region’s proximity to the ocean and its patchy make-up may prevent it from experiencing rapid changes in species distribution.
Experts and members of coastal communities possess both differences and similarities in how they perceive the risks associated with changes in sea level. A new study, based on interviews with both, has found that future communication about the risks should focus on specific adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Wind is an important renewable energy source for Europe. The wind power capacity installed in 2014 could produce enough electricity to meet over 10% of the EU’s electricity consumption. However, wind power structures can also be harmful to birds, which can collide with turbines. This study assessed methods of reducing avian collisions with wind turbines and makes several practical recommendations.
A number of studies have shown that the public misunderstand global warming. Taking a fresh approach, this study investigated the willingness of the public to take part in activities that mitigate climate change. An international survey of 24 countries revealed that this is strongly related to personal experiences with global warming. The authors say linking actions to benefits could encourage climate change mitigation behaviour.
Changes in the home that increase energy efficiency, such as improved insulation and ventilation control, have the potential to reduce indoor air pollution. This study assessed the health impact of interventions in the UK arising from changes to indoor concentrations of fine particulate matter and found that such changes could improve health and increase life expectancy for men and women by three and two months, respectively.
Native soils are thought to take up more of the greenhouse gas methane than land used for farming. This study shows that, while agriculture can exert an adverse impact on soil methane uptake, the application of soil conditioners like compost may compensate for loss of the methane sink function. The researchers propose new land management strategies based on this finding.
Carbon storage in the Mediterranean Sea could be worth up to €1722 million a year, a new study has found. The researchers performed a combined ecological-economic assessment, finding that the sea takes up an estimated 17.8 million tonnes of CO2 every year, providing important climate change mitigation.
Loss of satellites providing rainfall data could have a negative effect on global flood management, according to new research. However, this could be mitigated by improved international co-operation and the use of more modern satellite technology, the authors say. The study examined the consequences for flood management of the loss of four of the existing 10 dedicated rainfall measuring satellites.
The drive to increase renewable energy production can sometimes be at loggerheads with the desire to preserve natural landscapes. In this study, researchers from across Europe assessed the environmental impacts of renewable energies in the Alps, making key recommendations to resolve conflicts between different users of habitats.
To increase energy efficiency, many countries are encouraging their citizens to make individual energy-saving changes, such as changing the type of light bulbs they use. This study investigated the relationship between understanding of environmental issues and effective energy-saving behaviour and shows that informed citizens are key to successful policy.
Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of flooding in coming years. For more effective flood alleviation, this study recommends schemes that consider the social impact of floods as well as the economic damages.
Science not communicated is said to be science not done, but journalists’ portrayal of scientific findings can sometimes have a negative impact on public perceptions of science and even create false controversy. This study examined how presenting opposing scientific viewpoints affects public perceptions of environmental risk.
Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) are a viable means to reduce global energy demand, a new study suggests. However, in response to the drop in energy costs for the household due to better energy efficiency, people may begin to consume more energy than they otherwise would. These so-called ‘rebound effects’ can undermine emissions reductions, the study says, and it proposes approaches that could lessen these impacts.
Improving the energy efficiency of homes could have positive economy-wide impacts, recent UK research suggests. It would allow householders to spend the money they save on energy on other products and services. Although this additional demand and the associated production in non-energy sectors would partly offset the energy saved in the home, this ‘rebound effect’ does not completely outweigh the household energy savings.
Although low-income households consume less energy than wealthier households, they are still keen to learn how to save energy, for both economic and environmental reasons. This is the conclusion of a recent Swedish study which explored the energy-related behaviour of residents on low incomes. It provides insights which could help inform energy-awareness campaigns targeted at this section of the population.
Policies and programmes providing technological solutions to improve household energy efficiency alone may be insufficient to actually reduce overall household energy consumption, finds new research. The research examined home renovators’ motivations, behaviours and use of green technologies. Overall, reduced energy consumption was often undermined by other considerations, such as installation and maintenance costs, aesthetic considerations and daily routines or social concerns.
Policy efforts to decrease energy consumption by improving efficiency may be lessened by rebound effects. New research on household energy consumption indicates just under half EU countries (plus Norway) have rebound effects above 50%, and six are over 100% which means the efforts to increase efficiency backfire, i.e. they increase, rather than reduce, overall household energy consumption. There is a need to think critically about a policy response to the rebound effect and gain a better understanding of why it occurs.
A Portuguese waste management system for packaging has brought a range of environmental, economic and social benefits, according to a recent study. One of the scheme’s main achievements was that it avoided around 116 kilotons (kt) of CO2 equivalent emissions in a single year, equal to the emissions associated with the electricity use of 124 000 households. These emissions were largely circumvented because the system recovers large amounts of energy and materials from the waste packaging.
Energy efficiency is at the centre of EU policy for achieving a fundamental transformation of Europe’s energy systems by 2030. This Thematic Issue reveals the complexity of the issue of energy efficiency, its links with resource efficiency and the wide range of factors influencing it, from technology to social practices.
Microbes found in groundwater may be resilient to periods of drought. A new study measured the enzyme activity of microbes, which shows whether they are alive and active, in a groundwater well. No significant difference in enzyme activity was found between those microbes that had experienced drought for four months and those that had not.
Rising levels of atmospheric CO2 will increase the severity of wheat diseases, reducing yields and threatening food security, a new study suggests. Researchers found that levels of two common wheat diseases increased significantly when plants were grown with elevated CO2. Furthermore, disease levels were even worse when the plants and pathogens had been acclimatised to the higher concentrations of CO2 beforehand.
Civilisation has crossed four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’, increasing the risk of irreversibly driving the Earth in to a less hospitable state, concludes new research. These are: extinction rate, deforestation, atmospheric CO2 and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus.
Greater amounts of air pollutants emitted in East Asia will move around the globe under climate change, a recent study predicts. Changes to wind speeds and air pressure will mean that movement of pollution from this region is enhanced under a changing climate. These results highlight the need for globally coordinated efforts to tackle air pollution and climate change.
Construction of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants – electricity generation which concentrates sunlight to generate heat – can have a range of negative effects on wildlife, but these effects are short lived, new research has found. Once in use, CSP plants can even have some positive effects, reducing soil erosion, for instance.
Unusually warm or cool Pacific sea surface temperatures, known as El Niño and La Niña, can be used to reliably predict anomalies in flood risk for river basins that cover 44% of the Earth’s land surface, a new study has shown. The researchers also quantified overall flood damage by combining information on flood risk with estimates of damage to economies and numbers of people at risk. This could help improve flood disaster planning, they say.
Public subsidies are important in encouraging organisations to trial and expand electric vehicle fleets, according to new research. The study, based on interviews and reports from 17 organisations, found that the opportunity to test new technology was the most important factor in deciding to trial electric vehicles. However, some smaller independent companies chose not to expand their fleet because of the expense.
The combined effects of pollution and rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including CO2, may have effects on marine ecosystems that are more damaging than expected, warns new research. The study found that bacteria capable of breaking down oil pollution were far less abundant in sediment in acidified waters. Although increased ultraviolet-B (UV-B) light reduced these negative impacts, the researchers caution that deeper waters or other waters with less UV-B, may still suffer.
A new pomegranate-inspired design is the basis of a longer-lasting lithium-ion battery created by US researchers. They designed a battery with an anode made from ‘silicon pomegranates’, which doubles the amount of energy that can be stored compared to a standard carbon anode.
‘Dye-sensitised solar cells’ (DSSCs) are an alternative to traditional silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells. They have a number of advantages over traditional PV solar cells, including greater flexibility and lower manufacturing cost, but they are less efficient at turning sunlight into electricity. Taking inspiration from nature, new research has doubled their efficiency using pine tree-shaped nanotubes.
Researchers have summarised the most effective ways that nanostructures can improve the efficiency and lower costs of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells in a recent analysis. Sculpting ultra-thin solar cell surfaces at the nano-scale has been found to effectively boost their efficiency.
‘Perovskite solar cells’ (PSCs) are less costly than conventional silicon solar cells, but one of their key components is energy-intensive to manufacture as high temperatures are needed. Now researchers have identified new alternative materials for this component which cut energy demands as they can be produced at low temperatures.
New areas of land suitable for agriculture will open up under climate change’s effects, new research predicts, particularly in far northern regions of the world. However, the overall quality of land for farming will decline and many regions, including Europe, could lose large areas of suitable land.
Wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, has been chemically analysed in the most comprehensive study of its kind to date. The researchers found that produced water from three US fracking sites contained a diverse array of chemicals including toxic metals such as mercury and the carcinogens toluene and ethylbenzene. However, a group of harmful chemicals, ‘polyaromatic hydrocarbons’ commonly found in mining and coal extraction wastewater, were absent.
Contamination of drinking water in areas close to several fracking sites in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales, USA, is caused by structural problems leading to wells leaking natural gas into aquifers, a new study suggests. The researchers measured trace amounts of chemicals, called noble gases, which formed signatures of the sources of gas contamination in over 130 samples. These findings suggest that, rather than coming from natural sources, such contamination in the area of the investigation is an engineering problem to do with the wells themselves, the researchers say. They stress the importance of ensuring the structural integrity of the wells, which can be done in an affordable manner.
The carbon footprint of food waste should be taken into account alongside the the weight of food wasted, says a new study. The research examined three years of food waste data from six branches of a Swedish supermarket and calculated the waste’s carbon footprint. On the basis of their footprint, key products that could be targeted for waste reduction include beef mince, meatballs and cream, the results suggest.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories are significantly underestimating methane emissions from a region in the southwest of the United States, and potentially elsewhere, a new study has found. The authors of the study suggest that satellite data could be used to identify and quantify new sources of methane, such as fracking.
A three-step chemical process could successfully recover high-purity silicon from recycled photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, new tests show. The scientists behind the research say that recycling not only helps the PV industry meet regulatory requirements, but also reduces pressure on demand for raw materials.
The benefits of CO2 cuts made now, such as avoided floods and droughts, will be felt within the lifetimes of most people alive today, new research indicates. The study’s authors say their work dispels myths that the main effects of CO2 emissions will not be felt for many decades. They estimate that it could take 10 years for the maximum warming effects of a one-off CO2 emission to occur.
Ninety-eight per cent of radioactive iodine in Arctic sea ice may come from Europe, new research suggests. The study concludes that atmospheric transport of Iodine-129 from European nuclear fuel reprocessing plants is the most likely source.
The damaging effects of sea-level rise on Black Sea beaches have been estimated in a new study. Diminishing river sediment supply caused by river dams is also an erosion threat. These new results suggest that erosion could cause over 90% of these beaches to retreat by at least 20% of their width. A publicly available database created by the researchers could be useful for developing coastal protection schemes.
Marine biodiversity conservation in the north-east Atlantic needs a combination of more adaptable management strategies and international co-operation, a new study says. This is required to deal with a potential increase in marine conservation hotspots under climate change.
Effective greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation measures to stabilise global temperature change to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures would also substantially reduce air pollutant emissions, recent research predicts. A variety of mitigation options are available, including switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. To achieve the necessary GHG emission reductions, one key option is to impose carbon taxes. However, these would need to be high to help achieve this target, according to the study’s authors.
Research findings on the wildlife and habitat impacts of unconventional shale gas and oil developments in the US have been collated in a new review. Its authors stress the importance of collecting data on local ecosystems before such developments begin, to allow changes in nature be tracked and aid on-going improvements to management.
Milder winters under climate change could increase the extent of alder tree (Alnus glutinosa) decline in Europe due to the increased spread of the pathogen Phytophthora alni, a recent study has found. However, this may be offset by hotter summers, which reduce the severity of the disease.
The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced during the decommissioning phase of nuclear power plants may have been underestimated in previous assessments, new research suggests. The study estimated that the decommissioning process for a German plant resulted in 1 651 265 tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent) emissions, or 0.825 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of waste. While the researchers acknowledge that impact is highly dependent on the unique characteristics of each decommissioning project, these results raise questions as to whether this phase has been accurately assessed in earlier research.
Ensuring successful public engagement in policy can be difficult. Four key challenges – communicating complexity, providing balanced information, creating space for deliberation and accessing broader values – are highlighted by a new study. Its authors show how they dealt with these challenges in a UK programme, designed to gather public views on the future of national energy policy.
Emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) tetrafluoromethane (TFM) and hexafluoroethane (HFE) reported by industry accounted for only around half actual levels measured in the atmosphere between 2002 and 2010, new research reveals. The semiconductor and aluminium production industries, the two main sources of these gases, have reported success in their voluntary efforts to control these emissions. However, this does not match ‘top-down’ atmospheric monitoring, the researchers say.
An average shale gas well in the Marcellus formation will use around 20 000 m3 of freshwater over its life cycle, new research suggests. In total, 65% of this is directly consumed at the well site and 35% is consumed further along the supply chain
Increasing temperatures and rising ocean acidification could reduce the health and survival of young sharks, new research has shown. Bamboo shark embryos incubated under ocean temperatures and acidity predicted for 2100 showed survival rates of 80% compared to 100% survival under present-day conditions. Once hatched, survival measured at 30 days was only 44% for those under predicted climate change conditions, again compared to 100% for those experiencing current temperature and acidity.
A new tool has been developed to map the sensitivity of seabirds to offshore wind farm development. The Seabird Mapping and Sensitivity Tool (SeaMaST), currently for use in English waters, combines information on the sensitivity of seabird species to wind turbines with data on the birds’ distribution. It provides maps that can be used for both the offshore wind farm industry and marine spatial planning.
Which types of buildings will require the least energy for heating and cooling under climate change? A study in Vienna, Austria, looked at the balance between heating and cooling demand in four different types of buildings. The research provides a method that could be useful for other European cities trying to adapt to climate change.
Only about two or three small birds are killed by wind turbines each year for every 225-300 houses supplied with renewable energy, new research suggests. The study collated data from 116 US and Canadian studies on 156 species of passerines (small birds). The study suggests some species are affected more than others, but that wind turbines generally have only a minor impact on these small-bird populations.
China's strategy for securing its energy supply has been analysed in a new study. The author highlights key aspects of the country's energy security strategy, focusing on overseas investment in oil and development of petroleum reserves and unconventional gas, including fracking.
Despite their general absence from climate policy discussions, the world’s mountain grasslands and shrublands (MGSs) store between 60.5 and 82.8 billion metric tonnes of carbon, a new study estimates - more than three times that of ocean and coastal ecosystems. This research, which is the first to provide a global inventory of carbon stored in MGSs, argues that these ecosystems should be accounted for in climate policy.
By 2070, there may be insufficient water for irrigation to ensure yields and profitability for some crops currently grown in northern Germany - if the IPCC´s worst case climate change scenario becomes a reality - new research warns. To reduce future demand for water under a changing climate, the study suggests that farmers grow different crops and change their management practices.
Ocean acidification could damage the organs of Atlantic herring, as well as slow their growth and development, recent experiments show. It adds to the list of pressures currently threatening this commercially important species, including over-fishing and marine pollution.
Air pollution policy does not undermine the long-term goals of climate change policy, a new study concludes. Although reductions in the pollutant sulphur dioxide could have some warming effects on the Earth’s temperature, the impacts are only short term and will never outweigh climate policy’s cooling effects.
Climate change, tourism and population growth are all accelerating land degradation in the Mediterranean region, according to recent research. This can have severe impacts: the amount of available agricultural land per capita in the region could have dropped by half by 2020, compared with 1961, the study estimates.
This article was updated 6.11.14 to correct an error in the valuation of ecosystem services provided by Mediterranean coastal wetlands.
Emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) have fallen significantly across Europe since 1960. According to recent research, this is caused by a combination of factors including improved energy efficiency, a changing fuel mix and specific emission control measures. At the same time CO2 emissions have only increased moderately, mainly due to improvements in energy efficiency.
Ocean acidification may affect sharks’ sense of smell, causing them to avoid food, reports new research. In lab tests, the study found that sharks exhibited less feeding behaviour when they were kept in tanks of acidified seawater. These changes could pose a risk to the health of sharks, with knock-on effects for whole marine ecosystems.
Over 75 000 regulatory inspection reports for over 32 000 oil and gas production wells drilled in Pennsylvania, US between 2000 and 2012, have been analysed in a recent study. In these reports, the inspectors logged six times as many incidents of damage to the walls of shale gas and oil wells than in wells for conventional oil and gas.
Better hydrogen production could be on the horizon thanks to a cheap new way of making a key component of electrolysers with a 3D printer, a new study suggests. This achievement could speed-up the development of electrolysis, a method of extracting hydrogen from water.
From rising seas to fiercer and more frequent storms, climate change effects are putting increasing pressure on coastal populations and ecosystems throughout Europe. Human activities, such as farming and land-use changes, are already in conflict with ecosystems. However, linking ecosystem services with social preferences in coastal land-use management can lead to more sustainable resource planning, finds a new study. The researchers developed guidelines for a participatory climate change adaptation process, which integrates the social effects of adaptation measures with the ecosystem services that they affect.
Public support grows for wind farms if they are located away from recreational areas and if they are either fully or partly owned by organisations within the local community. In addition, Swedish consumers would accept bigger bills for electricity generated by wind power if the local population were heavily involved in wind farm planning, a recent survey suggests.
This article was updated 30.09.14 to correct an error in the cost of the REC scheme.
Air pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHGs) from a coal-fired power station have been correctly identified 12 km away, researchers report in a new US study. Their monitoring method paves the way for a space-based satellite system which can check emissions reported by individual power stations against actual emissions.
Harmful algal blooms may become more common in north western European waters as a result of climate change, according to a new study. The researchers predicted that by the end of this century blooms of two groups of algal species will occur over larger areas and for longer periods every year.
Deep-water fish living along the Irish-UK continental slope remove more than a million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, according to a recent study. Continental slope ecosystems play an important role in carbon sequestration, which should be considered before exploiting deep-water resources, say the researchers.
Funding for scientists, planners and inspectors should be available before any shale gas development begins, a new review recommends. As revenue for such staff is often provided by the development itself, planning, which is vital to provide immediate environmental protection as well as monitoring long-term impacts, is neglected. The researchers also advocate the use of 'adaptive management' as a decision-making framework for this complex issue.
The impacts of climate change in the Black Sea region are likely to affect agriculture in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, new research suggests. The number of days of plant growth was reduced in these countries as a result of reduced precipitation, increased temperatures and low capacity for irrigation to supplement water needs. A strong legal framework is necessary to deal with conflicting future demands for water, say the researchers.
Long, unbroken periods of drought can be damaging to the mental health of people living in rural areas, new research suggests. An Australian study found that rural inhabitants who had experienced extensive drought periods over a seven-year period, combined with an unbroken spell for the year before they completed the survey had substantially higher distress scores than other participants.
Pregnant women living within 16 km of unconventional gas wells in Colorado, US, are up to 30% more likely to give birth to a baby with a heart defect, new research has found. These findings suggest that more research is needed to understand the potential health impact of natural gas developments, say the researchers.
How do offshore wind farms affect marine wildlife? A new study outlines a systematic approach developed for Swedish waters that could also be useful for assessing wind energy impacts on the marine environment more widely.
The net cooling effect that aerosols have on the climate will be lost as emissions drop in the future, new research suggests. However, the consequent warming will ultimately be counter balanced if policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are put in place.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) in which fishing is prohibited contain substantially more fish, including commercially valuable species, than either partially protected or unenforced MPAs, according to a recent survey of rocky reef fish in the Mediterranean Sea. This suggests that MPAs need to be highly protected to offer the best chance of recovery for fish stocks, say the researchers.
General acceptance of offshore wind farms is most positively influenced by reductions in fossil fuel imports and contributions to global warming mitigation, and most negatively by concerns about increases in electricity price and impacts on scenic views, US research suggests. Other factors, such as reductions in air pollution, were not closely related to general acceptance even though on average the public rated them as important.
Establishment of cooperative biogas projects is aided by strong community spirit, regional traditions and farmers' sense of responsibility for their local area, finds a new Italian study. The findings suggest that renewable energy policy could benefit from taking account of community aspects at the local and regional levels.
Policies to promote low-carbon technologies are more likely to be successful if they are flexible, have clear timeframes, and are mandatory, a recent study suggests. The researchers reached their conclusions by studying cases of low-carbon policies from around the world.
Simple measures to upgrade buildings by improvements to insulation or heating systems could result in energy savings of up to 85% in Italian homes, according to recent research. Across Europe, such measures could potentially provide energy savings of more than 40% on average, say the researchers.
A new tool for minimising offshore wind energy's impacts on other activities in the North Sea has been developed. The tool identifies space for wind farms based on their priority compared to other marine activities, such as sand extraction or fishing.
While energy-efficiency gains are needed to lower Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, low-carbon technologies are also crucial if we are to meet ambitious EU emissions targets in the long term, new comparative research concludes.
Levels of airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are falling at urban and rural sites in Europe and North America, according to recent research. These results contribute to growing evidence demonstrating that the legislation to reduce these harmful emissions has been successful. Concentrations of PAHs in urban areas were highest, the researchers found, but they were also declining at the fastest rate.
The urban heat island (UHI) effect can be completely offset by using 'cool' and 'green' roofs, finds new research from the US. However, the study also found that different roofs may affect rainfall and energy demand, and that their efficiency varies with location.
The largest ice sheet in the world, the east Antarctic ice sheet, may succumb to climate change faster than thought, according to recent research. Warming ocean currents, triggered by shifting wind patterns, could accelerate melting of the ice sheet, leading to a rise in sea levels, say the researchers.
Wetland biodiversity may fall under climate change, a new study suggests. The researchers' experiments indicated that, overall, plant growth in wetlands will be boosted, but a small number of plant species well suited to the warmer conditions will out compete other species. However, climate change's effects on biodiversity may be less severe if plants are able to move to cooler locations, towards the poles.
Climate change will substantially increase the severity and length of droughts in Europe by the end of the century, according to new research. The study showed that some European countries could experience a reduction in river flow of up to 80% by the 2080s.
Offshore renewable energy sites may provide new 'stepping stone' habitats for marine species, a recent study suggests. They could allow some species to spread beyond their present range and help vulnerable creatures survive in the face of climate change. However, they may also allow harmful invasive species to spread, the researchers warn, and the effects of such projects must be assessed by examining their impacts on the ecosystem as a whole.
Climate change adaptation measures could improve the security of some groups of society at the expense of others, a new study concludes. Climate change adaptation policies should be based on genuine democracy and investment must be fairly distributed, to ensure that all at-risk groups benefit equally, its authors recommend.
The importance of 'stepping stone' patches of habitat for biodiversity has been underestimated, a new study suggests. The researchers developed a new connectivity model, which better captures the effects of stepping stones on species movement.
Car use could be reduced through careful urban planning, according to the results of a new German study. By combining data on driving behaviour and high-resolution satellite imagery, the researchers show how patterns of land and car use are connected.
Ocean warming driven by climate change will reduce the amount of food reaching marine life on the seafloor, a recent study suggests. This would result in a 5.2% global reduction in seafloor biomass by the end of the 21st century and biodiversity hotspots, such as cold-water coral reefs, will be particularly badly affected, say the researchers.
Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) provide important habitats for the yelkouan shearwater, a species of conservation concern, new research concludes. The study examined the behaviour of the birds at sea and found that they used MPAs extensively as foraging grounds.
Concrete and asphalt's environmental impact could be reduced by over a third through changes to manufacturing processes and the use of alternative raw materials, according to research. A scenario study based on life cycle analysis has indicated that using alternative types of cement in concrete and producing asphalt at lower temperatures could substantially improve the green credentials of these two common building materials.
A recent study has found that fire regimes have changed in Spain over the past 42 years. The pattern of changes has affected the number of fires and burned area, reflecting a changing climate and environmental conditions, such as land use changes caused by a population shift from rural to urban areas, and modern fire suppression activities.
A community-level initiative in the UK has successfully used social marketing techniques to encourage participants to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. On average, participants reduced their emissions footprint by 2 tonnes every year. Based on the initiative, the authors of this study propose a framework to guide future community engagement.
Seagrass restoration projects could effectively mitigate climate change, capturing up to 1337 tons of CO2 per hectare after 50 years, new research suggests. If a carbon tax system was in place, the researchers add, these schemes would likely provide returns at least equal to the initial investment needed, assuming the tax was set at an appropriate level.
The number of earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater in the central and eastern US has increased significantly in recent years, from about 21 a year between 1967 and 2000, to over 300 between 2010 and 2012. Most of this increase seems to be linked to the deep injection of wastewater in underground wells, according to a recent review of seismic activity.
The drying of soils under global warming could disrupt the balance of nutrients in large areas of the Earth’s land surface, according to new research. The study focused on ‘drylands’ – arid areas with low levels of rainfall – which support over 38%% of the world’s population. Such nutrient imbalances could diminish the provision of ecosystem services, such as food production and carbon storage, the researchers say.
Droughts and floods can significantly damage economic growth, recent research has found. A 1% increase in the area affected by drought can slow a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 2.7% per year and a 1% increase in the area experiencing extreme rainfall can reduce GDP growth by 1.8%, according to the study. Investments in water security could help reduce this negative economic impact, say the researchers.
Levels of toxic metals in batteries were not immediately reduced in line with new limits imposed by EU regulations, according to a survey from Germany. The study focuses on concentrations of toxic metals contained in batteries sold in Germany in 2010 and 2011, but its authors say the results are relevant to other EU countries.
Calculating the costs of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions to society as well as business is vital to understand the true economic gains of reducing N2O emissions, new research suggests. Increasing nitrogen use efficiency by 20% by 2020 could bring global annual benefits to the climate, health and environment worth US $160 (€118) billion, the researchers conclude.
The world's ocean ecosystems will suffer warming, increased acidity, low oxygen and reduced primary food supply as a result of rising CO2 and this is likely to have dramatic environmental and social impacts, a new study concludes. It predicts that the most vulnerable low-income countries, where 870 million people are dependent on marine ecosystems, would be affected if CO2 emissions are not tackled.
The socio-economic costs and benefits of adaptation to river flooding caused by climate change have been assessed in a new study. According to the study, adaptation measures could save €53.1 billion every year in flood-related losses across Europe by 2080.
Industrial emissions of black carbon were responsible for the retreat of the glaciers in the European Alps that marked the end of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’, according to a new study. The researchers explain how black carbon deposits could have caused glaciers to melt more rapidly from the mid-19th century and suggest that human activities were already having a visible influence on the climate before the effects of carbon dioxide were evident.
Studies on fracking too often focus on its technical aspects, and not the wider environmental, economic and regulatory context needed for political decision-making, according to a review of existing research by a US researcher. The review provides a framework for understanding these complex issues that could benefit the fracking debate and decision-making about fracking more widely.