24 October 2017 Can nature protection be climate-friendly? Can climate-friendly nature protection create jobs and growth? How can EU countries achieve their commitments to halt climate change? LIFE IP-ZENAPA is a pioneering LIFE Integrated Project that is helping to answer all those vital questions. It is doing so by putting innovation into practice to cut greenhouse gas emissions in nature protection areas across Germany and parts of Luxembourg.
The scope and scale of the project is enabling wind turbines, solar arrays, biogas, district heating, electric vehicles, energy-efficient lighting and other clean technologies to be deployed in nature parks and neighbouring towns and villages as never before. And these investments are expected to have benefits in terms of creating jobs, lowering the cost of lighting, transport and heating and enabling sustainable development of rural communities, as this new video from the LIFE Communications Team shows.
“ZENAPA aims at proving that the protection of our ecosystems, protection of resilience can be done together with climate protection implementation,” explains project leader, Professor Peter Heck. “Wind turbines, solar technologies, biomass technologies like biogas can be introduced into our systems without compromising nature protection issues.
It's actually vice versa, we can help nature by properly introducing those technologies in the system and saving the climate.”
“Meeting the big environment challenges of today is not easy. As part of its climate protection plan Germany has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050.
How do you realise such a strategy? That's where LIFE Integrated Projects can help. They can secure the funds and coordination needed to make this vision a reality,” says Angelo Salsi of EASME.
For more information about Integrated Projects, visit these dedicated pages on the LIFE website.
23 October 2017 LIFE projects are helping bring down the number of premature deaths linked to low air quality. Recent statistics from the European Environment Agency show that nearly 400 000 people died as a result of air pollution in Europe last year. Those numbers remain high, but they are falling.
In its latest report, the European Environmental Agency shows that the EU has reduced its emission of toxic gases and particulate matter. It states that most forms of air pollution have followed a downward trend in Europe for over a decade. This is partly due to the development of more efficient technology that allows cars and factories to run while burning less fuel. Still, not all regions have benefited equally from this technological progress. According to the report, air quality policies have proven instrumental in bringing about improvements.
“We can both tackle pollution and improve our quality of life,” said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx. But doing so, he says, will require investment in cleaner transport, energy and agriculture. Given strains on national treasuries and the urgency of the matter, governments are looking for practical solutions to keep their citizens safe.
Dr Marta Almeida at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal, argues that the most efficient way of solving the problem is to first understand it. Europe has gotten better at reducing overall emissions of gases and small particles in urban areas. But as scientists weed out the most toxic of pollutants, they must now pinpoint which of the remaining suspects harm public health the most.
As part of the LIFE-funded Index-Air project, Dr Almeida is helping policy makers put numbers on the health impact and well-being of the EU population. To do so, the project is combining mathematical models with data on the particles and chemical compounds found in our environment – both indoors and outside.
“Current understanding is that particles smaller than 10 micrometres harm people when inhaled, but we don’t know which of these particles are the most dangerous and what measures can be taken to reduce exposure to them” said Dr Almeida. The tool LIFE Index-Air is developing will look at the full picture, from emissions and the atmosphere to health impacts, exposures and doses. According to Dr Almeida, studying what life-threatening particles are made of, rather than just looking at their size, may reveal which communities face the highest risk and how to protect them.
This knowledge will help policy makers focus their efforts. With one in 20 city dwellers in Europe living in areas with levels of particulate matter above EU limits, and four out of every five exposed to concentrations above the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, plenty more can be done to reduce the impact of EU air pollution. Over the coming 3 years, the LIFE Index-Air project will roll out the monitoring tool across European cities, making it easier to cooperate both internationally and locally towards this objective.
23 October 2017 Civil society is helping climate negotiators thrash out plans to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. From 6-17 November, nearly 200 countries will meet at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn. Together they must figure out how to keep the temperature on Earth within two degrees of what it was before the industrial revolution. The scale of this challenge calls on new planning skills. As part of the LIFE-funded project MaxiMiseR, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is providing countries with tools to craft long-term strategies for reducing their carbon footprint.
The Paris Agreement in 2015 has clarified how little greenhouse gas world leaders, and the public that they represent, are still prepared to emit. But as countries scramble to clean up their act, policy makers must answer thorny questions on who will get to emit it, and who should pay for the damage that climate change is already causing. On 8 November, a side event at COP23 will introduce the insight of the MaxiMiseR project on the matter.
The economical way of dividing these rights and duties is to issue limited numbers of emission permits and share them out on the basis of how much each polluter is prepared to pay for them. Climate laws could then invest the funds collected from permits in technologies needed to phase out greenhouse gases altogether, or in measures to help emerging economies adapt to a climate that others have changed for them. In principle, this market approach should wind down greenhouse gas emissions while also financing the shift towards a fairer, more sustainable way of style.
In practice, markets can also fail. The EU launched the world’s biggest Emissions Trading System in 2005, and its results have so far proven underwhelming. MaxiMiseR calculates that over the 2013‑2015 period, it raised just €12 billion and has yet to dent the region’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, developed nations agreed to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year to fight climate change.
“Stop saying that the EU is implementing the Paris Agreement,” said Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP. “We are not on track. We have to do more.”
Research conducted by MaxiMiseR suggests that adjustments to the Emissions Trading System could go a long way towards meeting these commitments. Project participants argue that the scheme’s effectiveness has historically suffered from a glut in permits issued, and lax rules on how to spend its earnings. At present countries are not required to invest revenues in clean technologies. The project’s report “Smart cash for the climate” advises policy makers to pull more pollution permits off the market, auction permits that are currently handed out for free, and earmark the money collected from them for renewables and energy efficiency.
“A stronger Emissions Trading System would allow EU countries to collect up to €120 billion for climate action,” said Imke Lübbeke, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office.
WWF has uploaded interactive graphs on its website for visitors to share its insight into the Emissions Trading System. The web tool compares how much money EU countries make from auctioning emission permits, and what they spend it on. Its score board shows particularly commendable results for Germany, the UK and Spain, while some other countries have raised close to no revenues from the Emissions Trading System, or spent them elsewhere than on the climate.
“We have already missed ten years of opportunities to curb emissions and invest in a clean, competitive economy,” said Ms Lübbeke. “COP23 provides world leaders with a chance to turn the tide.”
EU progress on this front is all the more urgent as the United States retreats from climate action. “The world is now watching Europe,” said Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, highlighting the vulnerability of her low-lying homeland to sea levels that rise the more the climate changes.
Carbon markets have started emerging in China, South Korea and the US. Ms Lübbeke says that if the EU improves the rules of the Emission Trading System in time, it could provide a blue print for others to follow.
The COP23 offers one of the last chances for policy makers to agree on how to tackle climate change before the Paris Agreement takes effect in 2020. A functioning carbon market could make the long campaign to decarbonise the world economy lighter, by helping countries work together.
20 October 2017 Scrubbing Central Europe’s air clean of soot and preparing Danish utilities for the consequences of climate change are just two examples of LIFE-funded projects showcased in Brussels last week. The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety reviewed the first steps of six so-called Integrated Projects spearheading the programme. These overarching projects are pushing through cross-sectoral reforms to better protect nature, the environment and the climate. Their upstream work is helping implement EU policy, and streamline green-minded initiatives across the EU. Initial results show progress in tackling systemic challenges that smaller projects have lacked the critical mass to address in the past.
“Integrated Projects are able to implement environmental legislation on a wider scale,” said Nicola Caputo, MEP of the S & D Group. This increases the impact of the LIFE programme in more ways than one.
Tomasz Pietrusiak from the Małopolskie province in Poland laid out his project’s strategy to introduce air quality policies across Slovakia, the Czech Republic and southern Poland. This part of the world suffers from some of the worst air pollution in Europe, leading to an unusually high incidence of lung diseases and premature death. The problem has been blamed on coal-burning factories and outdated boilers. But Mr Pietrusiak shed light on underfunded institutions and poorly trained staff that prevent simple solutions from reaching EU citizens. He made clear that piecemeal support and fragmented initiatives cannot solve these institutional issues. Integrated planning can.
Rolf Johnsen, coordinator of the Coast to Coast Climate Challenge, an Integrated Project from Denmark, agreed that tunnel vision is no longer an option. With sea levels rising and rainstorms multiplying, many cities in Europe are learning the hard way how to deal with more frequent floods. A total of 21 municipalities, water utilities and three universities in Central Denmark Region now meet regularly to learn from each other how best to prepare and respond to the threat.
According to Mr Johnsen, the world is already experiencing the consequences of climate change. Cooperation is vital in adapting to them, and the EU’s support is vital in adapting sustainably.
“The passion of these project coordinators is gripping,” said Angelo Salsi, Head of the LIFE unit at the
EU’s Executive Agency for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. “They care about the environment, have spotted ways of protecting it better, and are now fighting to fill in those gaps.”
Four Integrated Projects presented examples of how these broader objectives and thinking outside the box are helping protect the environment while saving taxpayers money. By dealing with practical problems at their root, the projects generate immediate advantages for local populations. They protect people from the externalities of environmental threats, and provide long-lasting benefits. Mr Pietrusiak detailed the reductions in healthcare bills that cleaner air brings with it. Mr Johnsen pointed to savings on flood-damaged infrastructure and business opportunities for companies active in the water sector. More generally, improvements in regional management and better communication between existing institutions remain of value to citizens beyond the lifetime of the Integrated Projects themselves. This eye for transversal, bankable returns is increasingly important as green-minded initiatives aim for greater impact. Given the scale of the tasks that they address, careful planning is needed to fund them sustainably.
The European Commission has invested just over €60 million in the first six Integrated Projects selected in 2014. This sum represents just the tip of an iceberg. Grant recipients have brought a further €40 million to the table, and are expected to leverage more than 10 times the amount of this seed-funding from other EU sources including the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, government agencies and private companies.
“Integrated Projects should facilitate the use of about €3.6 billion in total,” said Jean-Clause Merciol, Head of the LIFE unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment. These sums constitute the first spoils of sound coordination. According to Mr. Merciol, they are making it possible to catalyse environmental and climate action over large territories. He describes sharing responsibility across the EU as a suitable response to the transnational nature of present day environmental challenges.
“We are committed to an ambitious decarbonisation of the economy and to cutting harmful emissions,” said Mr Merciol. To achieve this goal, he stresses the “need for a programme focussing on development and implementation of policy.”
17 October 2017 Conservationists are learning to restore habitats by reintroducing species that once lived in them. These human-moulded environments present challenges to populate, but some interventions are already showing results. At a two-day platform meeting on the “Reintroduction of species: a tool for the restoration of habitats” in Meise, Belgium, scientists and NGOs working on EU-funded restoration projects swapped tips on how to jump-start healthy ecosystems.
“Conservation has shifted its focus from keeping nature wild to keeping it alive,” said Dr. Joachim Mergeay from the Research Institute for Nature and Forest in Brussels, Belgium. He explains that in recent decades, efforts to minimise the intervention of humans on the environment have given way to a more proactive approach, in which scientists focus on boosting biodiversity instead, often by micromanaging natural habitats.
According to Dr. Mergeay, this change of tactics is necessary as merely conserving ecosystems has so far failed to keep them safe. “Many protected species today are still dying out,” he said. “If countries want to meet their conservation commitments, they must step up efforts and restore some of the diversity that is being lost.”
Early attempts at managing habitats are showing promise. Hands-on interventions have notably helped carnivorous plants spread back across temperate peatlands. These encouraging are encouraging first steps, but there is still much to do. Over the past century, industry, urban development and intensive agriculture have shattered natural habitats across the EU. Whether tinkering with them can now recover this historic loss in biodiversity hinges largely on the management skills of modern ecologists.
Meeting in the Botanic Garden Meise, in Belgium, conservationists involved in EU-funded LIFE projects shared their insight into what is needed to breathe life into man-made habitats. “You can’t assume that just because you roll out a green carpet, insects and amphibians will come rushing into your new nature reserve,” said Dr. Mergeay. “Biological systems are complex and small details can make or break them.”
Dr. Sandrine Godefroid, working at Botanic Garden Meise, said that each habitat poses a unique riddle and restoration outcomes remain uncertain until tested. Some species take decades to return to restored sites, others return but do not stay. Speaking at the meeting, Dr. Godefroid showed that plants reintroduced in many projects suffer from surprisingly low survival rates. So far, success stories have provided no fail-proof blueprint for habitat restoration. But they are revealing clues.
One challenge in which restored habitats are making headway is dealing with the record-high concentration of nutrients in modern soils. Industrial fertilisers have saturated top soils with phosphorous and nitrogen across the EU. This is good news for fast-growing vegetation like nettles and brambles, but is proving lethal to more leisurely flowers like orchids. Before many endangered plants have time to germinate and gain a foothold in restored ecosystems, the land is often overrun by weeds.
Among the solutions that LIFE-funded conservation work has explored, the 2008 project Healthy Heath mobilised thousands of construction lorries to remove the top soil from entire nature restoration sites. Dr. Rudy Van Diggelen at the University of Antwerp in Belgium says that this was a good start but success required intervening in the environment further. “If you take away the soil, you remove everything with it,” said Dr. Van Diggelen. “We are still finding out which plants, animals and microbes allow different ecosystems to survive.” Following his work with Healthy Heath, he said that what determines the growth of a heathland, a grassland or a forest are the species that settle there.
Conservationists are managing these vital colonists by picking what biomass to spread over newly cleared restoration sites. Mowed grass and wood chips can foster a range of different species. One LIFE-funded project even dug up and shipped entire plots of land in the Netherlands to keep the same soil microbes. At the end of this preparation, conservationists face the delicate choice of either allowing endangered species to gradually return to restored sites themselves, or to implant them there forcefully.
This final human touch is the most contentious. It captures a visceral aversion to artificially engineering natural environments. Given the stakes, Dr. Mergeay argues in favour of biodiversity. “Humans have been tampering with every environment in Europe since the last ice age,” he said. “Our notions of what is historically natural are arbitrary, but the risk of extinction is not.” Given the limited size of nature reserves, Dr. Mergeay explains that ecosystems today cannot rebound with the same resilience as they did in prehistoric times. He says that fragmented habitats are killing off species and that patience rarely saves them. To a growing community of conservationists, transporting endangered plants and animals inside restored habitats is becoming a mainstream way of managing nature, and an increasingly effective way of protecting it.
11 October 2017 Hungarian authorities have revealed that local households throw away twice as much food as previously estimated. The trend raises environmental concerns when extrapolated to other countries in the region. Far from returning to the ground it comes from, waste food pollutes Europe’s air, rivers and soils. As part of the LIFE-funded FOODWASTEPREV project, teachers and officials are now chalking up lesson plans to keep tomorrow’s food on our plates and out of our bins.
Until recently, international studies have focused on the refuse produced by a handful of particularly wasteful countries. Consumers in Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany notoriously throw away more than their own weight in edible food each year. Based on GDP per capita, experts have long assumed that Central and Eastern European countries such as Hungary squander much less food.
Field measurements are now challenging this wisdom. As part of the LIFE FOODWASTEPREV project, Dr. Gyula Kasza from Hungary’s Food Chain Safety Office has kept records of what is being thrown out by 100 households from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. To boost the accuracy of the study, test subjects have adopted survey techniques optimised by FUSIONS, a Horizon 2020 project that has written up guidelines to calculate food waste across statistically representative samples. Using kitchen scales, measurement glasses and log books, participants tracked their groceries and scraps in fine detail over determined intervals, allowing Hungary’s Food Chain Safety Office to work out how much of it was binned over the year.
“We were shocked when we found out,” said Dr. Kasza. “Hungarians waste on average 70 kilograms of food a year.” He originally found the economic estimate of 39 kilograms per person suspiciously low, but the numbers recorded in FOODWASTEPREV log books proved almost twice as high as values assumed in previous models.
To break these bad habits, Dr. Kasza has called on teachers for help. He expects that schools can influence the one segment of society capable of cutting Hungary’s growing flow of waste. “Most adults already know which actions waste food, but they are stuck in bad routines,” said Dr. Kasza. “That’s not the case for children.” He points out that 8 to 12-year olds understand the concept of food waste, but have not yet translated conscious decisions into behaviour patterns. “Humans develop routines later in life,” said Dr. Kasza. “If we can reach consumers at an early age, LIFE FOODWASTEPREV could transmit good habits to future generations in ways that have struggled to work with their parents.”
Teachers in seven schools across Hungary have already tested lessons and classroom activities designed by the LIFE-funded project to explain the basics of saving food to young audiences. “Pupils were very happy to have this issue put on the table,” said Dr. Kasza. “Sometimes, when we asked a question, the entire class started waving their hand to answer.” Being used to interacting with distracted adults, he finds great joy in working with teachers and children.
The feedback from schools has also helped the government agency write an educational e-book, complete with slides and exercises for the classroom. This learning pack is being reviewed by Hungary’s national teacher organisation and will be released in September 2018.
“To encourage pupils to make the most of the material, we will soon invite them to a nation-wide competition,” said Dr. Kasza. As of next year, FOODWASTEPREV will quiz some 5000 schoolchildren on what they know about saving food. Winning classes will enjoy a summer holiday in a sustainability camp. The competition is open to schools across Hungary, and its educational material will be translated into English and made available to teachers everywhere.
To raise awareness on the scale needed to change public attitudes, Hungary’s Food Chain Safety Office has promised to renew the competition each year. When asked if this campaign will be sufficient to change deeply entrenched routines, Dr. Kasza is optimistic. He points out that modern attitudes are already changing. Attention to food waste has historically followed periods of scarcity and hunger. This is not the case today. A new generation is discovering the quality and origin of the food they buy. The market they represent remains minor, but environmental issues are starting to influence consumer choice.
06 October 2017 Over 180 bears have been run over in Slovenia since 2005. For centuries, hunting and urbanisation have driven the country’s brown bears (Ursus arctos) near to extinction. Now cars and trains kill one in seven of them. In attempts to safeguard Slovenia’s drivers and wildlife alike, LIFE-funded conservationists are fencing off highways and installing ultrasonic noise emitters.
Brown bears are the largest surviving carnivore in Europe. In recent decades, conservation programmes have succeeded in stabilising their numbers. As a flipside to their achievements, they have also unnerved human communities in the process. The recent series of traffic accidents offers a gruesome example of modern challenges in reconciling environmental conservation with urban life.
In practice, Slovenians have a higher chance of drowning in their bathtub than being injured by a wandering bear - whether on the road or in the wild. But prejudices die hard, especially if your unfamiliar neighbours have a cheeky tendency to steal the livelihood of local beekeepers and farmers. Practical and economic tensions of this kind reinforce instinctive fears of sharing living space with large carnivores, leading to popular resentment and sometimes open conflict.
The DINALP BEAR LIFE project is working on solutions to reconcile local communities with their new wildlife. It has helped forest guards in Slovenia install electric fences and warning signs along the deadliest highways and train tracks. Now the project has also deployed a fleet of roadside noise emitters that broadcast frequencies that scare animals off, like a dog whistle. Similar ultrasonic devices have already reduced vehicle collisions with deer, but using them on bears is a novel venture.
Conservationists tend to favour the noise emitters over electric fences as they can be turned off. Emitters can be programmed to respond to headlights, noise or vibrations, coming to life only when a vehicle approaches. When the coast is clear, the fences lie dormant, allowing bears to cross roads from the Dinaric Mountains to the Alps. Expanding the bears’ habitat increases their chances of survival. It is especially important in spring, when the mammals roam to find a mate, and before winter, when they stock up on food to hibernate. Slovenian bear populations have a marked weakness for beech nuts. On years when the nuts don’t mast, some bears turn to roadside refuse as a backup plan.
Many of the brown bears still living in Europe’s temperate climates are in the east and south-east of the EU. As these regions continue to grow economically, new highways and rail lines will fragment habitats even further. Helping the species safely cross these transport routes will broaden their feeding grounds, reducing incidents in which they prey on livestock, beehives or orchards. The benefits extend to EU citizens as well. Safer crossings will reduce traffic accidents and could lead to interesting business opportunities. In other regions, brown bears have attracted visitors and boosted the local tourism industry. To make the most of opportunities, both bears and people still have a lot to learn about living together.
05 October 2017 Recent sightings of the European storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) on a once rat-infested island demonstrate a LIFE project’s success at restoring local habitats.
Since 2014, conservationists have been trying to protect some of Northwest Europe’s most threatened seabirds on the Shiant Isles Natura 2000 network site in northern Scotland. The islands are home to more than 150 000 seabirds that breed there each year.
The LIFE Shiants project aims to provide them with safe sites for breeding, offering relief from the threats of climate change and pollution. But a recent invasion of black rats (Rattus rattus) had been driving bird colonies into decline. The rats, which probably swam to the islands from nearby shipwrecks in the 1900s, have been disrupting breeding cycles by eating bird eggs and young chicks. Under the four-year LIFE-funded Shiants project, baited traps have been installed to safeguard nesting sites on the privately-owned islands. These efforts are now paying off.
Recordings during the summer of 2017 include footage of the European storm petrel burrowing on the islands. This bird does not normally breed where there are rats, so its presence on the Shiant Isles suggests that the rat population is now dwindling. Conservationists hope to declare the islands rat-free next March.
As far as records go back, the European storm petrel has never been sighted on the Shiant Isles. Its recent arrival not only reflects the retreat of the invasive rats. It also implies a shift in the Shiant Isles towards a more welcoming ecosystem. This is good news for local populations of razorbill (Alca torda), Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica), European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), as well as other endemic birds and invertebrates.
02 October 2017 This issue of LIFEnews welcomes new projects joining the LIFE programme for the Environment and Climate Action. Our lead article toasts the 139 projects launched this year, offering a glimpse into their objectives and the €222 million budget that they will share.
Our second article peaks into this month's 629 LIFE project proposals that expert panels will be reviewing until March 2018 to select next year's LIFE grant recipients. We also take a quick trip through Poland's skies, prior to the European Clean Air Forum in November, and a dip in Italy's recently scrubbed seas to prepare for the Our Ocean conference in October.