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News Archive » 2013

Here you will find all articles that have been published in the weekly Science for Environment Policy News Alert.

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A happy neighbourhood depends on interplay of local environmental features

A new German study suggests that residents’ level of satisfaction with their urban neighbourhood can be predicted from their perceptions of multiple and co-occurring burdens, such as poor air quality, lack of green space, noise and low cleanliness.

Call for efforts to improve metal recycling

Vast resources are required to extract speciality and difficult-to-recycle metals that are often only used once before disposal. Researchers argue in a new analysis that more must be done to improve metal recycling rates in order to secure our material needs for the future.

New generation diesel cars are likely to exceed emissions standards on the road

More Europeans are driving diesel cars, with important implications for vehicle emissions. A new study suggests that diesel cars may emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) at levels far higher than emissions standards, even when considering the newest generation of diesel cars. Part of the problem is that tests of vehicle emissions in the laboratory do not accurately reflect on-road emissions.

Quantification of the interactive effects of ozone pollution on health and ecosystems

For the first time, researchers have quantified the link between heat waves, the removal of ozone from the atmosphere by vegetation, ground-level ozone concentrations and its impact on human health and ecosystems. They found that high ozone levels, enhanced by effectively 'turning-off' the loss of ozone to the vegetated surface, could have caused around 460 extra deaths during a UK heat wave in 2006. In contrast, the heat wave protected ecosystems from ozone damage as plants absorbed less ozone from the atmosphere.

New technology offers low cost noise monitoring

Networks of wireless sensors could be used to monitor traffic noise. A new study shows that the wifi sensor systems, although slightly less accurate than precision noise monitoring systems, can provide detailed information, with dense coverage, about traffic noise over a longer period. Their low cost and low energy requirements make them particularly suitable and attractive for use by local authorities or even community groups.

Relationships between energy consumption and economic growth investigated

Renewable energy plays an important role in economic development, according to a recent study which investigated the relationship between economic growth and energy consumption in Europe.

Rivers can help reduce the Urban Heat Island effect

Heat waves are predicted to become more frequent under climate change, and are likely to be particularly severe in cities and towns due to the Urban Heat Island effect (UHI). A recent UK study of UHI mitigation strategies has demonstrated that even a small urban river can result in a cooling effect of 1°C during temperatures higher than 20°C, and that these cooling effects can be improved by careful urban design of the surrounding areas.

Rising levels of plastic waste on Arctic seafloor a cause for concern

Recent research reveals that even remote areas of the oceans are affected by increasing levels of plastic waste on the seafloor. The study found that quantities of litter from human activities, mostly plastic, on the seabed of an isolated Arctic site, doubled from 2002 to 2011.

A global risk assessment of river and coastal flooding

A new study provides the first global estimates of river and coastal flooding, highlighting past and future trends, and indicates that Asia and Europe are two of the regions that are worst affected. The researchers suggest that their methods could be useful in developing a global framework for flood risk assessment.

Insect diversity improves crop pollination

The decline in numbers of wild bees has caused concern regarding falling levels of pollination for important agricultural crops. Researchers have now demonstrated that the diversity of the pollinator community can significantly affect pollination.

Tree breeding programme to fight ash dieback recommended by study

A recent study confirms that some European ash trees are more genetically-resistant to the devastating ash dieback disease. These individuals could therefore be selected for gene conservation and/or start a breeding programme to save the European ash.

Closing the water cycle: new wastewater treatments are tested

Industries, such as paper production, require large amounts of water which can drain vital supplies of fresh drinking water. Researchers working towards the ultimate goal of 'closing the cycle' by re-using industrial water onsite have now identified innovative new treatments for wastewater from a paper mill.

Nature provides treasure trove of medical inspiration

A recent analysis highlights the potential of natural products as an indispensable source for drug discovery. Natural compounds can be used directly as potential medicines or can provide templates for the design of synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs. Furthermore, because of their ability to interact selectively with biological macromolecules, they also provide a tool to better understand biochemical processes and thus identify new potential targets for the treatment of human diseases.

From sweeteners to cancer treatments: nature points to new products

Throughout history people have turned to nature for relief from illnesses and this remains true today. With new technologies, researchers have an even greater ability to identify natural products that may lead to treatment or prevention of a wide range of health problems.

Species extinction is a disaster for human health

A species faced with extinction is more than a potential tragedy for the species concerned. Human wellbeing and economy depend on the world’s biodiversity and ecosystem services, but human actions are damaging the environment and threatening the existence of countless organisms that have, or could provide, humankind with valuable medicines, according to a recent publication.

What is the medical value of marine biodiversity?

Undiscovered cancer treatments from marine organisms could be worth between US $563 billion (€428.5 billion) and US $5.69 trillion (€4.33 trillion), according to a recent study. The researchers estimate that there may be as many as 594,232 novel compounds waiting to be discovered in unstudied marine species, and that these could lead to between 55 and 214 new anti-cancer drugs. The study only accounted for anti-cancer drug revenues. In reality, these chemicals from the sea can have numerous other biomedical applications including antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory uses.

Link between biodiversity and human disease

Preserving biodiversity seems to reduce the emergence and spread of human diseases in many cases, according to an investigation into the links between biodiversity and human health. It concludes that there is mounting evidence indicating that preserving ecosystems in their natural state generally decreases the occurrence of infectious diseases.

Changes in biodiversity can increase risk of infectious human disease

It is increasingly evident that human health is closely linked to the environment, and to biodiversity. A study commissioned by the European Commission summarises the many and varied ways in which disturbances to biodiversity affect the spread of human diseases.

‘Alternative agriculture’: key to preserving food security and biodiversity?

The goals of providing sufficient quantities of food to support the world’s growing population, whilst simultaneously protecting its biodiversity, may seem incompatible. However, a recent review of the literature has highlighted how ‘alternative’ agricultural practices can offer a realistic solution to the problems of achieving both food security and biodiversity conservation.

Pollinator-dependence an underestimated risk?

Researchers have found that crops which rely heavily on pollinators have lower yields compared to less pollinator-dependent crops. They also have slower growth in yields and less stable yields from year to year. The results highlight the importance of managing biodiversity to support ecosystem services, such as pollination, on which much modern agriculture depends.

Air traffic management to balance CO2 emissions and noise pollution

Speed constraints for aircraft are put in place, at some airports, to minimise noise pollution in local areas, however, such practices can be very fuel-inefficient. New research has now shown that relaxing departure speed limits could substantially reduce CO2 emissions, while maintaining acceptable noise levels.

Dangerously high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals found in marine sediments

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can interfere with the hormonal systems of both humans and wildlife. New research quantifying EDCs in marine environments in Greece found concentrations which present significant risks to sediment-dwelling organisms.

Policies to protect natural areas from roads assessed in France

New research in France has analysed the effectiveness of legal instruments and environmental assessments to protect natural areas against the impacts of roads. The Natura 2000 network appears to be the most effective, but the study calls for environmental assessments to take place earlier on in decision-making process for road projects to better protect natural areas.

Energy efficiency of local food distribution can match globalised systems

Some scientists have suggested that, when all potential inefficiencies are accounted for, local food distribution systems may be less sustainable than globalised systems. However, new research examining the behaviour of participants in local food networks in France suggests that they can be as energy efficient as globalised systems.

Ozone and NOx air pollution predicted to fall in Europe

A new study has estimated that nitrogen oxide (NOx) and harmful ozone levels will fall significantly in Europe, by 2030, if all current and planned air quality legislation is implemented. The co-beneficial effects of climate change policies could also reduce levels of these air pollutants by a further 40%.

Changes in species interaction provide clues to climate change extinctions

How does climate change cause extinction? An extensive analysis of the available evidence has explored this question and concluded that climate change’s effects on the interactions between species is likely to be the main reason for local extinctions. For example, climate change may lead to the loss of prey for predators.

Choice of tree species and site can increase plant diversity in plantation forest

Careful choice of tree species and sites could transform plantations into refuges for woodland plant diversity, new research from Ireland suggests. Plantations of native species on or near historic woodland and those with adequate light levels below the tree canopy were found to support more plant species.

How corporate governance influences environmental performance

A recent study has investigated how the relationships between a company's owners, managers and boards of directors may influence its environmental performance. The findings indicate that environmental performance is higher in companies with powerful CEOs, who are also chairpersons on their board of directors.

Guidelines for combating soil erosion and desertification with plants

A set of guidelines has been developed to reduce soil erosion by planting vegetation in desertification hotspots.Farmers and policymakers can use the guidelines to identify the most suitable places to plant vegetation in the channels where water and sediment move through the landscape.

Up to 30% of aluminium and steel could be reused

Globally, up to 27% of all steel and 33% of all aluminium could potentially be reused, according to research. Significant barriers to reuse, such as component incompatibility between products and metal corrosion, must first be addressed if these reuse figures are to be achieved.

Interactions between species affect their response to climate change

Shifts in species' ranges are expected under climate change, as organisms move to find suitable conditions. New research in the Mediterranean Sea has found that the way species interact could also have a significant effect on their resilience in a changing climate.