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News: September 2018

Climate Action project applicants seek nearly €200 million from LIFE

Climate Action projects (Click to view bigger image)

18 September 2018 Applicants have submitted 124 proposals for traditional LIFE projects under the Climate Action sub-programme in the 2018 funding round. The deadline for applications was Wednesday 12 September. Half (62) of the proposals are for Climate Change Mitigation projects, with 51 for Climate Change Adaptation projects and the remaining 11 for the Climate Governance & Information (GIC) strand.

Proposals have been submitted by organisations in 21 EU Member States, with 27 countries potentially benefitting in total (including three non-EU nations).

Where would the money go?

The candidate projects are looking to spend more than €400 million altogether on actions to tackle climate change. This includes planned project budgets of over €230 million for Climate Change Mitigation projects, some €156 million for Climate Change Adaptation and nearly €20 million for Climate Governance & Information. The 124 proposals are requesting close to €200 million in co-funding from the LIFE programme to support much-needed work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build climate change resilience, and raise awareness or improve policy implementation. 

What happens next?

Proposals will now be evaluated and applicants notified of the results by February 2019, with projects starting from July 2019 onwards. The final list of 2018 LIFE Climate Action projects will be announced to the press and public in autumn of next year.

Enabling invertebrates to play an essential role in ecosystems

Photo: Carlina HmouretPhoto: Carlina Hmouret

14 September 2018Bees, beetles, snails and other invertebrates make up 80% of the animal kingdom. Without them – and their crucial services like pollination and pest control - our ecosystems would collapse. This means that conserving bugs is of vital importance to us all – or at least it should be. LIFE is a cornerstone of EU invertebrate conservation work, supporting more than 230 projects to date. And thanks to the programme, experts in this area will be sharing know-how and plotting the way forward at a LIFE platform meeting in Scotland next week. 

Studies show that the populations of many wild pollinating insects are in decline. Their plight has been recognised at European level by the EU Pollinators Initiative, which the Commission has established to address that decline. LIFE funding will play a key role in conserving endangered pollinator species and habitats and in updating European Red Lists

“Bees, for instance, are significant for 80% of crop and plant species,” says Dr Bernard Vaissière, an expert in pollination, based at the French national institute for agricultural research (INRA) in Avignon. Dr Vaissière was involved in a LIFE project that studied wild bees in the city of Lyon and created ‘bee hotels’ both as nesting sites and to present their biology to the public.

“In cities you have more and more urban gardens: if you want to have many cucumbers, large squashes and strawberries that look and taste good, you need wild bees,” he says.

Hotel buzz

Photo: Gerland HmouretPhoto: Gerland Hmouret

Bees vary in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres for bumblebees or carpenter bees. There are around 20 000 bee species globally, including some 2 500 in Europe. For the LIFE project, the URBANBEES team installed bee hotels at 16 sites across the French city. “The goal of those was twofold. Firstly, it was to get urban citizens accustomed to seeing those wild bees. Secondly, it was to determine which species we had in Lyon and how common they were,” explains Dr Vaissière. 

On both fronts, the project, which will be presented in more detail at the invertebrates platform meeting, was a great success.

“As the project went along more and more people came to our open days, and they were very positive about it. Kids were climbing over the bee hotels – fortunately, in five years not a single person was stung by them. At our last open house, the people in the building opposite put up a big banner saying 'keep our bees alive'. We didn't know they were planning to do that, so we were surprised but very happy,” recalls Dr Vaissière.

Another pleasant surprise was just how many types of wild bees were in the city. “We had over 250 species in the Lyon urban area. That’s a quarter of the bee species in France. Nobody thought we would have that many,” he explains.

Lyon's legacy

Most of the bee hotels and other project infrastructure remains and continues to support wild bees and other insects. The URBANBEES team also created a guide to making public green spaces, residents' gardens and farmland more 'bee-friendly' through planting of particular species and so on.

“Lessons from our management guide have been applied by cities such as Metz and Besançon, as well as small towns like Saint-Maurice-sur-Dargoire,” explains the former project manager, Charlotte Visage. “In Belgium, Brussels Region and the Burdinale and Mehaigne Valleys Nature Park are both adapting the guide to their own context. We have also been invited to show our travelling exhibition in seven countries outside France, so there's been a lot of interest,” she says.

“The whole idea of having wild bees in urban areas has really picked up,” adds Dr Vaissière.

Glorious green roofs

Photo: Suzanne BurgessPhoto: Suzanne Burgess

In Scotland, the NGO Buglife has worked with local industries and land owners to create a network of green roofs within the industrial area of Grangemouth. This was part-funded by EcoCo LIFE, the project hosting the invertebrates platform meeting. “Green roofs, when designed well, provide homes for a range of wildlife, especially pollinating insects, and can be used and enjoyed by people too,” explains Suzanne Burgess, Buglife's Scotland manager. One of the roof gardens has been installed at a new secondary school (Carrongrange High School), where pupils have learned how to plant and maintain a diverse mix of native species. They have already observed butterflies, ladybirds, bumblebees and leafhoppers making use of the green roof.

Other ecosystem services

LIFE is also helping other types of invertebrates that provide important ecosystem services, such as recycling of organic material. A project in Italy is helping conserve and connect residual and isolated populations of two kinds of beetle that feed on dead and decaying wood. Both the hermit beetle (Osoderma eremita) and Alpine longhorn beetle (Rosalia alpina) thus help to maintain the health of forest ecosystems in Emilia-Romagna.

In Finland, the LIFE Integrated Project FRESHABIT LIFE IP is captive breeding the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) ahead of planned reintroductions. This 'umbrella' species has a positive impact on entire river ecosystems. “They filtrate water, clean it and indirectly they even provide food for salmonid fish,” explains Professor Jouni Taskinen, who is leading the captive breeding programme.

New app for greener travel by public transport

Photo: Phil Richards/CC BY-SA 2.0Photo: Phil Richards/CC BY-SA 2.0

13 September 2018Public transport use is relatively low in Greece. LIFE GreenYourMove is hoping to change this with its new web platform and smartphone applications, designed to help users make the most environmentally-friendly journeys on public transport, and so cut greenhouse gas emissions. The project's journey planner is already available for a number of cities and intercity routes across Greece and covers all types of public transport, including urban and suburban buses, metro systems, trams, trolley-buses and trains.

"It gives the optimal route, based on arrival time, from points A to B using public transport, while at the same time promoting the greenest method of travel for that route," explains project manager Georgios K D Saharidis. "For example, it may suggest also taking an electric bus, a train or the metro instead of a regular bus." The planner calculates the greenhouse gas emissions for different scenarios to provide the user with the most environmentally friendly option. "This might include more than one mode of transport within the same journey, to achieve the greenest result," he adds.

A world first

LIFE GreenYourMove Image: LIFE GreenYourMove
(Click to view bigger image)

While other route planners exist, the LIFE GreenYourMove one is reckoned to be the first worldwide to have this environmental aspect. It even lets users buy tickets online for the recommended journeys - or for the different legs of a journey - where available. "Users who opt to do this are redirected to the transport operator's website, where the relevant ticket details are already filled in, to simplify the process for them," says Dr Saharidis.

"Today, this option is only available for the national railway, but in a few months we'll add some intercity bus operators." Over time, other transport operators will be added as they develop online ticketing systems, making the planner even more useful for travellers.

Beyond Greece

For LIFE GreenYourMove, the most challenging part of the project so far has been digitising all the data needed for the planner (e.g. timetables, route maps of journeys, locations of stops and stations). More towns and cities - even the public transport networks of whole countries - can be added quite easily, once this information is available. "We've already started digitising the data for Cyprus, which we'll add to the planner soon," Dr Saharidis points out.

Plus, project partners in the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic will capitalise on LIFE GreenYourMove's innovation. "Online journey planners were already developed for these countries several years ago, but without the green aspect," the project manager says. "Now, this will be integrated into their systems by the end of the year."

On the move

Next on the agenda for the project is a roadshow to build up awareness and use of the journey planner. LIFE GreenYourMove team members will visit towns and cities across Greece this month during European Mobility Week to present the planner and demonstrate how it works. "We'll also use the opportunity to get feedback from travellers and see how the planner might help change their behaviour," concludes Dr Saharidis. "Now a journey planner exists for Greece, we hope it will encourage people to use public transport more instead of their cars. Our ultimate objective is to decrease car use by 5% and so reduce emissions in Greece by 2 980 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year following the project."

How LIFE is improving our seas

LIFE and the marine environmentPhoto: LIFE SAMBAH

10 September 2018 “Clean and healthy oceans are crucial to the wellbeing of our planet,” says European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella.

From boosting biodiversity to stopping marine litter, LIFE is making a big contribution to EU efforts to achieve 'good environmental status' for marine waters. Now these success stories have been brought together in one publication: LIFE and the marine environment.


Bringing soils back to life


04 September 2018Toxic pollutants from industrial waste can accumulate in fields and enter food chains, raising serious public health concerns. ECOREMED’s innovation was to grow combinations of pollutant-removing plants and trees to rehabilitate contaminated soils in Campania, southern Italy. “Our focus was the bio-remediation of contaminated land, but with a circular economy perspective,” says Massimo Fagnano of CIRAM-University in Naples, who led the project.  

The goal was to remove toxic substances from soils using non-food plants that could then become biomass for sustainable energy or be turned into biodegradable plastics. This meant setting up four study areas in Italian National Interest Priority Sites to test the effectiveness of different plant combinations.

Unearthing heavy metal

“Once heavy metals such as cadmium or lead in bioavailable form are removed from soils, land can again be used for agriculture,” explains Prof Fagnano. Some 11 ha of land was made safe for agriculture thanks to the project.

“In southern Italy, it is better to use black poplar or eucalyptus because they are more drought resistant. Where toxins have accumulated in the wood, slow pyrolysis to produce biochar was found to be the best technique for reducing environment risk,” he says.

Grass growing under the poplars trapped contaminated soil particles among its roots, thus preventing heavy metals spreading to air and groundwater. In fact, vegetation combinations were a feature at all the study sites.

Plants working together

At two sites, the project used dense plantings of giant reed and common reed to speed up the bio-degradation of organic contaminants, such hydrocarbons derived from petroleum. This biomass was not contaminated and so could be used without limits to make biodiesel or biodegradable materials.

Photo: PVCFreeBloodBagPhoto: ECOREMED

“The final study case was in a landfill, where soil compaction is a major problem. We used giant reed to improve soil porosity and soil fertility,” says Prof Fagnano. “We prefer to use a mix of species, such as pasture grass as winter cover and Bermuda grass as summer cover, to give a complete and continuous vegetation covering.” In addition, a row of trees contributes to bio-accumulation, while reducing ground-level wind speed and soil erosion, to reduce the risk of contaminated soil particles spreading.

“We want to substitute artificial landfill coverings, such as concrete platforms, with an ecological structure to gain the same results at a much lower cost,” he says.

Rehabilitation protocol

ECOREMED developed an integrated method of mapping soil pollutants and produced a protocol for rehabilitating agricultural soils. These are helping policymakers develop remediation strategies for polluted sites, and they are already being used to restore further sites in Campania that are contaminated with industrial wastes.

ECOREMED is a Best of the Best LIFE Environment project 2016-17

Bringing PVC-free blood bags one step closer

Photo: PVCFreeBloodBagPhoto: PVCFreeBloodBag

03 September 2018Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden’s Jamtland region, a partner of the LIFE project PVCFreeBloodBag, is taking the next steps in its mission to create a new, safer blood bag.

“Together with two European companies, the hospital wants to establish contact with a partner who has the ability to launch PVC-free blood bags on the market,” explains Lena Stigh from the Jegrelius Institute of Applied Green Chemistry, who led the project.

Between 2011 and June 2017, the LIFE project sought to pioneer the production of PVC-free blood bags and to investigate the establishment of supply chains. Having achieved its central objectives, the project team is now exploring ways to facilitate mainstream adaptation of the blood bags.

The project was run by Karolinska University Hospital, alongside plastics companies from across Europe, including Denmark’s Melitek A/S, Italy’s Haemotronic, Finland’s Wipak, and Primo Profile from Poland.

The PVC in traditional blood bags damages the environment in both manufacturing and disposal, not least in the release of dioxins and greenhouse gases during combustion. PVC blood bags contain up to 40 percent of the toxic plasticiser DEHP which is known to cause cancer, birth defects and infertility.

Photo: PVCFreeBloodBagPhoto: PVCFreeBloodBag

Speaking at the final project meeting last year, Gustav Eriksson, Head of the Karolinska University Hospital’s Environmental Department, explained how, having been part of the project, the hospital is preparing for a PVC-free future, saying, “we are going to phase out DEHP, we don’t want it anymore. We have a reduction list, and on that list is PVC.”

The project has already stimulated a great deal of interest in the new bags by spreading knowledge and awareness, and the next step is for potential clients to express demand for the product.

“We need to collaborate at a national and international level to gather the strength and make our market so large that a supplier finds it interesting enough to take the development risks,” says Mr Eriksson.

Ms Stigh has gone on to speak around the world to promote the project’s findings and stimulate further interest in its progression. “The market for PVC-free blood bags is global and the awareness and demand for a PVC-free blood bag is increasing,” she says.

A firm intent

The current challenge is to stimulate demand for the safer PVC-free bags and encourage both their production and procurement. The mechanism the team has chosen to demonstrate demand is a letter of intent, already signed by healthcare organisations across Sweden.

Mr Eriksson also suggests how the hospital itself can support buying, with his aim being to give PVC-free blood bags a boost by internally refunding the extra cost, in line with procurement laws. “It’s up to the producers to adapt to the proven possibilities to produce a PVC-free blood bag. They will be given an advantage in our next procurement. But most important is that the supplier believes that the market is consistent in its requirements and there is money available.”


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