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Environment Policy

News Archive » Climate change and energy

Here you will find all Science for Environment Policy publications, organised by topic.

Browse archives by year and theme below.

Wind-farm projects - local government faces dilemmas when resisting plans alongside citizen-action groups

National initiatives for wind-farm expansion can lead to local governments collaborating with civil society to oppose specific projects. This study presents two such cases and assesses some of the key strategic issues facing the local authorities as they contest the proposals. The researchers identify four key dilemmas and argue that a consideration of these can help in understanding how such situations occur.

Using thermal energy storage in buildings to support a renewable energy grid

Energy storage capacity is a key issue for large-scale renewable energy grids. Electric battery storage presents scaling challenges and, in some cases, thermal energy storage (TES) may be a more appropriate technology. This study assessed the potential for TES to meet thermal energy requirements for residential and commercial buildings in the United States. The researchers report that TES can be an effective and competitive system and propose key areas for future research.

Wildfires linked to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in Mediterranean Sea sediments

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are potentially dangerous chemicals that can accumulate in ocean sediments and damage marine ecosystems. This study looks at PAH concentrations in sediment samples taken from across the Mediterranean Sea over a 32-year period. The researchers report medium-to-high levels of PAHs, especially in the western basin, with wildfires as the primary origin.

Adding aviation to the Emissions Trading System limited some of the sector's CO2 emissions growth

Aviation is the most carbon-intensive mode of transport. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from international aviation must fall by 41–96% by 2050 (against 2005 levels) to meet the Paris Agreement 2°C targets. In 2012 the EU included aviation in its Emissions Trading System (ETS) to promote emissions reduction. While absolute emissions continued to rise, this study finds that they fell in flights covered by the ETS – when compared to those not covered – especially for short-haul flights (under 1 000 kilometres) and low-cost airlines.

A 'life zone' model of climate change predicts widespread ecosystem change

Climate models are crucial to understanding likely future conditions under climate change, however, their implications for individual ecosystems are often unclear. This study uses high-resolution data to model areas with similar plant and animal communities – or ‘life zones’ – under historic, current and future scenarios, and to analyse change across these periods. The researchers report that with ‘business as usual’ carbon emissions, over 40% of the earth’s land area could experience a change in life zone by 2080.

More cost-effective conservation policies risk poorer performance under climate change uncertainty

Current conservation policy design needs to account for uncertainty over expected climate change impacts. This study assesses potential conservation policies for grasshoppers in a north German state and evaluates their effectiveness across possible future scenarios. The researchers conclude that a trade-off exists between policies that perform better under the most likely conditions, and those that perform better in worst-case scenarios.

Fertiliser closed periods can mitigate multiple pollution risks

Nitrogen-based agricultural fertilisers can cause water and air pollution. Measures under the EU Nitrates Directive aim to control some of these through specific ‘closed periods’, when fertiliser use is limited. This study assesses how effectively closed fertiliser periods across Europe in 2019–20 mitigated the highest risk periods for pollution from nitrate, organic material, nitrous oxide and ammonia. The researchers conclude that measures to control nitrate pollution can reduce other risks.

Urban flood mitigation - blue-green roofs using forecast-based technology could reduce flooding from extreme rainfall

Green roofs are a promising urban environmental technology; however, they can be vulnerable to dry conditions and have limited ability to store rainwater during extreme weather events. Enhanced ‘blue-green’ roof systems can address these shortcomings. This study assesses the potential of forecast-based valves, which drain the water when high rainfall is expected, to improve blue-green roof performance in flood mitigation, drought tolerance and temperature reduction during heatwaves.

Transition to forest may threaten 20% of European peatlands

Many northern European landscapes, including western Russia, are covered either by carbon-rich wetlands on thick peat soils, or by forests typically on thin organic soils – depending on the climatic and hydrological conditions. This study suggests that climate change and drainage can cause persistent shifts from one ecosystem to the other. Due to climate change, forests could overgrow peatlands on approximately 20% of European raised bogs, leading to the release of around 4% of European soil organic carbon. In addition, water conservation measures to restore degraded raised bogs will only be possible in 10% of Europe – where the climate still allows them to initiate and to outcompete forests.

Coastal ecosystems - carbon stores lost when marshland replaces forest may never be recaptured

As sea levels rise due to global climate change, coastal ecosystems are being transformed. Migrating marshlands were assumed to capture carbon as marshes quickly accumulate carbon in their soils, suggesting a possible increase of carbon storage across the landscape. However, this study finds that where forests turn into marsh, the long-term loss of above-ground carbon (trees and shrubs) can outweigh this effect and may never be recaptured. As marsh soils must survive centuries before they can offset forest carbon loss, marsh migration results in a net loss of carbon that is overlooked in coastal budgets.

Facilitating development of renewable energy communities - recommendations for developing legal frameworks

The 2018 recast of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) includes obligations to facilitate renewable energy communities (RECs). These commitments are currently being transposed into legislation in several Member States (MSs). This study discusses key factors in the implementation of RECs to consider when developing these legislative instruments. Researchers provide recommendations on socio-technical issues relating to complementarity, proximity, incumbents (businesses with central responsibilities in existing energy systems) and inclusivity.

Tracing consumption of wood, food and bio-based material to source countries, Austria

With globalised trade, the environmental impacts of agriculture, logging and manufacturing often occur not in the country of consumption, but outside. Acknowledging the importance of linking products and impacts, researchers in Austria have developed a new method to trace the origins of products based on biomass. The study finds that just over half the country's 'biomass footprint' is domestic, some is imported from other EU countries, and a significant amount (7.6%) originates from outside the EU.

Assessing electric vehicle impacts - the need for up-to-date electricity data

Ratios of fossil, renewable and nuclear energy are rapidly changing in European countries, and the grid mix fluctuates daily. Electricity data is of key importance to life cycle assessments of electric cars – for example, their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be higher when charged from a high- fossil mix. A new analysis suggests that accurate assessments require new, up-to-date electricity emissions data.

Increases in sea surface temperature since the 19th century affect plankton dynamics in western Mediterranean Sea

A study of single-celled marine organisms at two sites in the western Mediterranean indicates decreases in primary productivity at surface level from the mid-20th century. Whilst changes in the relative abundance of these species over the last millennium have responded to climate and water-temperature conditions in the Atlantic, recent changes are strongly influenced by regional sea surface temperature rises due to human-induced climate change.

Electric transport - study suggests that battery-swapping technology may be the best solution

One problem posed by plug-in electric vehicles is that battery charge is often not sufficient for driving long distances. Fast charging and increased range – the distance that the vehicle can run on a single battery charge – have, therefore, been given much attention. However, researchers looking at the future of electric road transport in Portugal suggest that battery swapping provides many advantages, especially in turning all transport energy needs into a flexible demand, without the need for fast charging.

Local low and zero-carbon energy transitions may face obstacles from policy measures at higher governance levels

For energy policy commitments to be successful they must be implemented effectively at the local level. Using two Austrian municipalities as case studies, researchers identified the challenges and enabling factors associated with local implementation of low- and zero-carbon transitions. The findings show that local measures have great potential but may be hindered by regulatory and institutional conditions at the national and state levels.

Green surfacing - an EU-wide assessment of costs and benefits

Green surfacing (the transformation of urban surfaces into green areas) has been associated with water, energy, climate and well-being benefits. This study conducted an EU-wide assessment to quantify the costs and benefits of green surfacing for different climatic scenarios. The findings suggest that it represents a multifunctional, cost-effective solution to the emerging risks posed by climate change and urbanisation.

Using thermal energy storage in buildings to support a renewable energy grid

Energy storage capacity is a key issue for large-scale renewable energy grids. Electric battery storage presents scaling challenges and, in some cases, thermal energy storage (TES) may be a more appropriate technology. This study assessed the potential for TES to meet thermal energy requirements for residential and commercial buildings in the United States. The researchers report that TES can be an effective and competitive system and propose key areas for future research.

Toxic chemical pollutants long-range air transport to remote European mountain ranges

Semi-volatile organic chemical pollutants (SOCs) accumulate and persist in the environment, particularly in cold environments such as polar and alpine regions. These pollutants (SOCs) include previously banned or restricted organochlorine compounds (OCs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are manmade chemicals that have been used widely in electrical equipment such as capacitors, as well as in paint, sealants and flame retardants. The semi-volatile nature of these pollutants mean that they can travel long distances by air. This study examines the processes of transport, deposition and degradation of SOCs in four alpine European sites.

Global biodiversity indices used to inform policy decisions - but are they robust and accurate?

Global biodiversity indices are essential tools for summarising and communicating broad trends in environmental change (such as biodiversity loss), and to support global conservation policy decisions. However, few indices have been evaluated for their capacity to report on biodiversity change, such as declines in threatened species, which could result in misleading information for conservation policy. This study uses decision science to evaluate nine biodiversity indices.

To aid water-management policy, long-term drought risk modelling must couple detail with fast computation

The effects of climate change and other factors such as changes in water use on future droughts are uncertain. However, policymakers must conceive long-term strategies to mitigate the risk of water shortages. Integrated assessment models that simulate possible scenarios can support decision making. Yet, these models suffer a trade-off between timeliness and detailed output. Referring to the Netherlands' National Water Model, researchers have described this dilemma, along with suggestions for solving the problem.

Carbon footprint of cardboard boxes outperforms plastic boxes when moving tomatoes internationally

Agricultural packaging impacts the environmental performance of food. This study compares the carbon footprint (CF), of two commonly used containers for international road transport of fruit and vegetables. The study assesses corrugated cardboard boxes (CCB) and polypropylene foldable boxes (PPB) in two different sizes, for a cradle-to-grave assessment of their environmental performance when used to transport tomatoes from Spain to Germany.

Home is where the heat is - Novel model simulates uptake of renewable heating technologies from behaviour and choice at a household level

Researchers have applied a novel approach to modelling the uptake and replacement of heating technologies. By focusing on the micro-level of households in individual EU Member States, the bottom-up model (a data- first approach) is able to assess how decisions and choices are made in the real world, rather than assuming rationality. On this basis, the study estimates which policy scenarios would be needed to meet targets for renewable heat set by the Renewable Energy Directive.

Climate change may be a significant threat to world’s fresh-water fish

Climate change poses a major threat to global biodiversity, yet fresh-water fish have been largely overlooked in climate-change assessments. This study presents a comprehensive appraisal of the threat from potential climate extremes, covering both water flow and temperature, to the world’s fresh-water fish. The results highlight a need to intensify national and international commitments to limit global warming.

Food waste - new model helps estimate current levels in all EU countries

Food waste has serious economic, environmental, and social impacts. To meet the EU’s commitment to reduce food waste by 2030 — accurate, baseline data are needed for all Member States (MS). This study considers two models for estimating food waste to assist the EU in identifying a consistent methodology for collating food-waste data by 2022 — to help defining mandatory targets outlined in the Farm to Fork Strategy.

A new approach for simulating potential impacts of fungal, insect and mammal pests on European forest ecosystems

Global forest disturbance patterns — or events which disrupt the structure and composition of forests — are altering as a result of climate change. Changes, such as more severe insect outbreaks, can negatively impact forests and the ecosystem services they provide to society. This study presents a new model that simulates the impacts of forest disturbance from biotic agents such as fungi, insects or large mammals.

Measuring biodiversity loss in threatened Mediterranean coastal sand-dune habitats, Italy

Threatened Mediterranean coastal sand-dune habitats have outstanding conservation value — home to rare flora, rich in fauna and offering protection against storms. Yet there is a lack of recent comprehensive studies that survey long-term changes in these habitats. This re-surveying study quantifies functional and taxonomic changes over the last 10–15 years in a 75-kilometre (km) stretch of Italian coastal dunes. The researchers find that approximately 23% of threatened sand-dune habitats have disappeared from the surveyed area.

Policy-induced reductions in methane emissions have permanent impact

Do short-term reductions in methane emissions have a lasting impact on longer-term emission trends? A study seeks to answer this question by analysing emissions in 36 OECD countries from 1750 to 2014. The researchers conclude that actions do lead to permanent change, and that policies to improve emissions from agriculture, energy generation and waste can have long-lasting effects.

What are the short- and long-term impacts of eco-innovation on levels of CO2 emissions?

A new analysis of the relationship between new green technologies and CO2 emissions in 15 EU countries shows that environmental innovations lead to decreased emissions in the long-term. The opposite is true in the short-term, however, due to the ‘rebound effect’ as energy efficiencies are made available, people consume more. To avoid this behavioural response, the study suggests that policy should promote both innovation and energy-efficient lifestyles.

Solar energy expansion may increase carbon emissions due to land-use change — but mitigation is possible

To meet global emissions reductions targets, large-scale solar energy (SE) facilities will increase in number in the next 30 years. However, this could actually cause net emissions of up to 50 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilowatt-hour produced in the EU, due to land-use and cover change, finds a new study — but a net release of carbon could be avoided by managing expanded ‘solarland’ as pasture and regulating its siting.

Trees at the edge - species respond differently to climate changes at hot and cold range edges

As our climate changes, concern is rising over how plant species will adapt in terms of their geographical distribution (or range). Research has identified conflicting patterns in species performance, especially at the outer edges of their ranges, casting doubt on our ability to accurately predict the impacts of climate change. A study assesses 27 European tree species to identify how populations’ performance can change at their range edges, and how this response differs between the ‘hot and dry versus the ‘cold and wet’ edges1 of each species.

Translocation of wild plant species in Europe should consider future climate change

Plant translocation (or ‘assisted migration’) is a nature conservation method used to help species cope with the anthropogenic pressures facing their communities — including the effects of climate change. This study examined plant translocations over the last 20 years in Europe and the Mediterranean basin, examining the distances, directions and climatic conditions of chosen destination, or ‘host’, sites relative to the plant’s initial location. The findings suggest that, so far, little attention has been paid to climate change when choosing host sites for translocated species. Given its rapid advance, climate change should more strongly guide future action to ensure that translocated species can thrive even under host sites’ projected future climate conditions.

Can eco-engineered tiles enhance biodiversity on artificial seawalls?

A global increase in artificial seawalls has led to widespread losses of marine intertidal habitats. This habitat loss has resulted in a decline in marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in these shoreline areas. A study in Hong Kong explores whether eco-engineered tiles on artificial seawalls could enhance biodiversity.

Material efficiency strategies can rapidly reduce emissions by up to 57% over vehicle lifetime

In line with ambitious global climate change goals, a shift to electric vehicles (EV) and renewable energy is underway; however, as the lifetimes of vehicles and power plants are 10+ and 40+ years respectively, there is a lag in uptake. This study examines if material efficiency (ME) strategies for vehicles can offer a rapid interim reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as needed to support EU compliance with the warming limitation goals set out in the Paris Agreement (of 1.5 and 2°C).

Study highlights best EU initiatives for achieving material circularity for three types of plastic

Global annual production of plastic, primarily from fossil fuels, exceeds 300 megatonnes (Mt) a year. A study compares European initiatives to improve recycling of three widely used plastics — polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — to achieve policy targets for reducing virgin plastic production. The material flow of these plastics in Europe — lifetimes, demand growth rates and quality reductions of recycled plastic — are considered over a 50-year timeframe.

Are long-term climate emissions scenarios plausible today? Scientists review using historical emissions data

Long-term emissions scenarios are a vital tool in evaluating future climate-change and response strategies. This study seeks to assess whether Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) emission projections, based on these scenarios, are relevant today — by examining historical trends and projections for key variables during 1990–2017.

Reduced environmental impact, new green jobs - Exploring the outcomes of Italy’s renewable energy plan

Transitioning energy production from a dependence upon fossil fuels to renewable energy sources (RESs) promises to reduce environmental impacts while aiding economic growth. A study explores the benefits of implementing the Italian government’s renewable energy plan, which includes installing photovoltaic (PV), hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal infrastructure from now to 2040.

Nearly 5700 Northern Hemisphere lakes may be ice-free within this century

Frozen freshwater lakes provide ice to support human transportation, refrigeration, food harvest and recreation. This ice also influences key environmental factors; crucially, it minimises lake evaporation rates, moderates summer water temperatures and curtails toxic algal blooms. However, freshwater- lake ice cover is decreasing under climate change. A study estimates how many lakes in the Northern Hemisphere will permanently lose ice cover within this century, and identifies those most at risk of becoming ice-free.

Making Room for the River - which policy interventions bring benefits in river rehabilitation?

The Netherlands’ ‘Room for the River’ programme is recognised worldwide as an example of successful river rehabilitation. With the risk of flooding events rising due to climate change, understanding which interventions can lead to beneficial integrated flood-risk management is vital. This study analyses the mix of interventions (policy instruments) used in Room for the River projects — from contract start to construction finish — to learn from this example.

Monitoring soil functions and their interactions - a new pan-European framework

Sustainable soil is a foundation of environmental health, with soil offering a multitude of ecosystem services including climate mitigation and adaption, biodiversity, agriculture (food security) and nutrient cycling. This study offers a new framework for monitoring synergies and trade-offs of soil functions across Europe.

Heat tolerance found in sweet potato cultivars could protect food security from the effects of climate change

Food security is a growing concern as crop yields are threatened by increasing climatic variability - periods of excessively hot weather, or heatwaves, specifically. This study examines the crop diversity of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) to understand which genetic variants flourish in response to climatic stress and to identify the crop traits that aid this success.

Ecosystem restoration goals - study highlights need for global priority areas and collective effort

Restoring global ecosystems is an urgent priority in efforts to conserve biodiversity and stabilise our planet’s climate. However, the costs and outcomes of ecosystem restoration differ markedly by location and habitat type. A recent study has developed a multi-criteria cost-benefit approach to identify priority areas for optimal restoration of terrestrial cropland and pastureland back to natural ecosystems, considering the outcomes of biodiversity conservation, climate mitigation and cost minimisation.

How is water used within the EU agricultural sector? Study provides new analysis

Increased use of water in the EU (by all users), and climate- related risks associated with water shortage, are rising over time. This study analyses water-use, specifically within the EU agricultural sector, by Member State and crop type — a useful reference source for policymakers and academics.

Mapping Europe’s primary forests — and identifying how to protect and restore them

Forests with minimal history of human interference — ‘primary forests’ — provide vital ecosystem services and have high levels of biodiversity. These forests are being lost worldwide, even in regions where forests are expanding, and are particularly scarce in Europe. This study uses modelling and maps of forest cover in Europe to determine how primary forest is distributed across the region, with the findings highlighting areas of forest that should be prioritised for restoration and protection.

Innovative soundscape technology could enable automated, rapid, global monitoring of ecosystems

Human activity is causing global ecosystems to deteriorate at a rapid rate. Monitoring these changes often requires labour-intensive surveys, which may not identify rapid or unexpected environmental change. This study introduces a novel, faster technique - using automated soundscape (acoustic environment) monitoring - to predict habitat quality and provide real-time detection of noises such as chainsaws.

Impact of batteries on electricity security and renewable energy expansion in Germany

As renewable energies with low marginal generation costs expand in the power mix, they exert a downward pressure on wholesale prices for electricity - displacing conventional and more expensive fossil fuel power generation1 (from coal, natural gas, fuel gas and oil). This increases the risk of experiencing mismatches in electricity supply and demand.2 A key factor for securing electricity supply while enabling renewable energy expansion is, therefore, the development of flexible, sustainable technologies for both short- and long-term electricity storage. This study explores the impact of battery subsidies on renewable energy expansion and supply security in Germany.

Cool pavements can intensify pedestrian heat exposure

Solar reflective pavement - coated with a pale grey asphalt emulsion paint - can lower the surface temperature of urban roads and walkways by reflecting, rather than absorbing, incident heat (from sunlight). This has led cities to pilot this solution to mitigate the urban heat island (UHI) effect. However, a study investigating the impact that reflected heat has in urban neighbourhoods finds that this type of pavement can intensify heat stress for pedestrians during the hottest times of the day by increasing radiant temperatures (heat load on the body).

Waste coffee grounds could provide carbon for use in high-energy storage devices

Demand for portable energy storage is growing with rising demand for products such as electric cars. Supercapacitors supply a higher power density and longer cycle life than a conventional battery but require porous carbon in their manufacture. A new study presents a method to create large amounts of carbon — suitable for supercapacitor manufacture — from an abundant, low-cost source: used coffee grounds.

Short-term reduction in daily global carbon dioxide emissions during Covid-19 lockdown

Government lockdown policies during the Covid-19 pandemic have drastically altered patterns of energy demand. Researchers have estimated the resulting decrease in global daily carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from January to April 2020, indicating that levels dropped by up to 17% in early April, compared to 2019 averages. This indicates the effect of the extreme policies, while highlighting that most changes may be temporary as they do not reflect fundamental changes in global economic, transport or energy systems.

A new approach to marine ecosystem assessment: researchers use EU policy data to rate capacity for ecosystem service supply

Based on information gathered under EU policies such as the Common Fisheries Policy and Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), researchers present a new way to assess the capacity of the marine environment to provide ecosystem services. They apply the methodology to three case studies in the Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas, across cultural, regulating and provisioning services. The assessment can be used to inform management decisions and evaluate the effect of associated policies.

Not in my back yard: exploring general and local acceptance of three emerging renewable technologies, Germany

Germany plans to phase out fossil fuels and nuclear energy by 2022 and further deploy renewable energy technologies. To ensure success, it is important that the German population accepts these alternative technologies both generally and locally. A new study has surveyed the German public and used a model to identify the factors affecting general and local acceptance for three of the proposed cleaner technologies: hydrogen fuel stations, biofuel production plants and stationary battery storage facilities.

Study elucidates why rainfall after drought releases large volumes of potent greenhouse gas

Scientists have performed the first systematic review of the causes of nitrous oxide (N2O) ‘hot moments’ — when large amounts of this greenhouse gas (GHG) are released when soil is ‘rewetted’ after a drought. As climate change drives more frequent and intense weather events on a global scale, greater releases of N2O are becoming increasingly likely. This study sought to understand the causes behind hot-moment emissions to better inform mitigating land management practices.

Stakeholder inclusion aids adaptive management of wildlife populations, finds ptarmigan study in Norway

Sustainable management of wildlife populations must account for natural dynamics and be able to make future predictions on desired temporal or spatial scales. This is increasingly important given the pace of current and future climate change. This study explores the efficacy of involving key stakeholders early in the management process, to define objectives, datasets, models and analyses in a participatory and collaborative way. The researchers use this approach to model and forecast the population density of the willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) in Norway.

Rapid urban expansion is reducing plants’ ability to store carbon

Global urban expansion is accelerating, affecting the amount of carbon held within plant communities on Earth. New high-resolution data on global land use and cover has enabled scientists to track urban expansion and quantify the amount of carbon lost from terrestrial carbon sinks as a result.

How to close the global circularity gap? In 2011, six gigatonnes of potentially recyclable material went to waste

Living sustainably within our planet’s boundaries is a matter of global concern, with some countries now focusing on the development of a circular economy (CE) — where materials are reused as much as possible. Much CE research has focused on the amount of waste being recycled; the focus of this study, however, is on quantifying the amount of material that is not being recycled but could be — a distinction known as the ‘circularity gap’ (CG).

A new tool to identify the most sustainable and cost-effective disaster waste management strategy after a flood

Extreme weather events, such as floods and landslides, are becoming more common in European countries due to climate change. After a flood or landslide, five to 15 times the annual waste generated by a community can be disposed of in an affected urban area. This can lead to environmental and health vulnerability in these areas, with high socio- economic costs. This study aimed to find sustainable and cost-effective disaster waste management (DWM) solutions. The scenarios selected, and associated data used, reflect realistic events in Italy.

No-tillage method of weed management reduces weed density and diversity

A multi-site field study on organic vegetable farms across five European countries assessed the efficacy of a no-till approach to weed management. An in-line tillage/roller crimper machine (ILRC) was used to flatten a non-food crop, known as an agroecological service crop (ASC), and to create a narrow furrow in which to plant organic vegetables. Case studies have shown ILRC methods to reduce weed abundance, and this larger-scale study sought to determine if this is the case for different crops and climates across Europe.

Energy policy must consider water footprint of energy sector, suggests EU study

Energy security in the EU is a priority of the European Commission (EC). However, at present, energy-related policies do not account for the use of water as a resource — and water is becoming increasingly scarce as a result of human activity. This study1 provides a detailed assessment of the water footprint (WF) of the energy sector in the EU and could be valuable in informing future policy to protect against water scarcity, stress and insecurity.

Promoting health with people-centred city design: the ‘Barcelona Superblock’ model

Car-centred urban planning has resulted in high levels of pollution, sedentary lifestyles and increased vulnerability to the effects of climate change. The superblock model is an urban and transport planning strategy that reclaims public space for people, reduces motorised transport, promotes active lifestyles, provides urban greening and mitigates the effects of climate change. A study now estimates the health impacts of applying this model across Barcelona.

Disturbing mountain forests reduces their protective effect against natural hazards

Human settlements exist in many mountainous areas of the world, and related infrastructure is highly exposed to natural hazards such as debris flow and flooding. Mountain forests play a central role in balancing the environment and minimising the risk of such hazards, but this protection is being threatened as canopies are increasingly disturbed (by events both natural, such as beetle outbreaks and trees being uprooted by wind, and anthropogenic, such as forest management). This study sought to quantify the effects of forest cover and disturbance on torrential hazards in the Eastern Alps.

Visualising climate change effects on global cities: by 2050 Madrid’s climate may be like Marrakech's

Tackling climate change requires global behaviour change across all sectors of society. Many people, however, struggle to visualise how climate change will impact daily life — something that is key to motivating them to change their behaviour and demand urgent measures from governments and businesses. This new study illustrates how the climate of iconic cities will change in just 30 years by pairing them with other well-known cities that currently have their future climate.

Sustainable transport policy: taxes have highest impact in lowering carbon emissions, Denmark

In order to meet global emission reduction targets, the transport sector must become more sustainable. To assess the impact and effectiveness of various transport policy measures in reaching emission reduction targets, a quantitative assessment of policy scenarios was conducted for Denmark. The results indicate that market signals, in the form of taxes on CO2 and fossil fuels, retain the highest impact in lowering carbon emissions in the transport sector, while the promotion of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), rather than autonomous transport, is the most cost-effective measure.

Global groundwater pumping lowers the flow of water bodies and threatens freshwater and estuarine ecosystems

Groundwater is the earth’s largest freshwater resource and is vital for irrigation and global food production. In dry periods farmers pump groundwater to water crops, this is already happening at an unsustainable level in many places — exceeding the rate at which rain and rivers can refill the groundwater stores. This study seeks to identify where groundwater pumping is affecting stream flows and estimates where and when environmentally critical stream flows — required to maintain healthy ecosystems — can no longer be sustained.

New research predicts which trees are at greatest risk of beetle outbreak

An early-warning system developed by researchers could help forest managers in Europe predict which trees are at greatest risk of bark- beetle infestation. The study looked at the probability of bark-beetle outbreaks on two important conifer-tree species in Slovenia: the Norway spruce (Picea abies) and silver fir (Abies alba). It found that high temperatures, and extreme weather linked to climate change — including droughts and ice storms — weakened trees, making them more vulnerable to attack by bark beetles.

Food waste: prevention in the service sector would have major environmental benefits

Approximately 88 megatonnes (Mt) of food are wasted every year in the European Union, causing 186 metric tons (Mt) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) — a universal measure for all greenhouse gases. The impact of food waste on the climate, acidification and eutrophication is around 15–16% of the environmental impact of the entire food chain. In developed countries, food waste is high at the point of consumption— so significantly reducing food losses would require a food-waste reduction in households and the food-services sector.

Sustainable urban mobility: a new urban grouping framework can help inform city planners

While cities worldwide are expanding so is the significant carbon dioxide footprint of urban transport. Consequently, there is an urgent need for sustainable urban mobility solutions. A thorough analysis of the variables and dynamics of urban mobility in cities can aid in planning sustainable mobility policy. This study used a new system of classification by type (typologisation) relevant to urban mobility in global cities, with data from 331 cities in 124 countries covering 40% of the global urban population (as of 2016).

Exploring the secrets to success in sustainable-technology demonstration projects

Demonstration projects can represent a critical intermediate step between research and development (R&D) and large-scale commercialisation; yet many involving new sustainable technologies fail. In order to map the internal and external factors that enable or prohibit demonstration projects from reaching their goals, a case study of 21 projects was conducted. Qualitative data collected from funding applications and interviews were analysed to identify key themes. Based on these findings, the study proposes a process model outlining the key activities for setting up a new demonstration project.

Can 3D printing reduce environmental impacts in the automotive industry?

As 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), begins to replace conventional manufacturing, the environmental impacts of its implementation must be assessed. This study conducted a life cycle assessment (LCA) to investigate the environmental and resource implications of using AM to manufacture the metal parts of an engine in a light distribution truck. In the LCA, the impacts of both present and possible future states of AM technology were compared with current conventional manufacturing. The results suggest that there are potential environmental and resource benefits1 to AM technologies, but that these benefits rely on the achievement of a clean energy source and further technological development.

World’s glaciers melting fast: 9.6 trillion tonnes of ice lost in last 50 years

The most comprehensive glacier assessment yet reveals that glacier melt was responsible for 27mm of sea level rise between 1961 and 2016. Ice loss from glaciers is now the second biggest contributor to rising sea levels after warming water. If glaciers continue to melt at current rates, most — including many in central Asia, central Europe, western Canada and the USA — will vanish during the second half of this century.

What helps SMEs to eco-innovate?

How is it possible to become eco-innovative as a small-to-medium enterprise (SME)? What benefits could eco-innovations bring to your company? Together SMEs make up over 99% of all enterprises in the EU, accounting for two-thirds of total employment. Though the environmental footprints of individual firms may be relatively small, their collective impact is much more significant.

This Future Brief presents some of the latest research, evidence and trends, seeking to understand which particular measures can best help SMEs to act on their key drivers, overcome their key barriers, and innovate towards more sustainable, resource-efficient, eco-friendly business.

New insights into multi-century phytoplankton decline in North Atlantic predict further decline under climate change

Phytoplankton are essential to marine food webs and fisheries. However, a new study indicates that their levels have declined in the North Atlantic since the beginning of the 19th century. This coincides with weakening ocean-circulation patterns, partly caused by melting ice caps. If the melting continues, the study warns of a dramatic fall in North Atlantic plankton levels that could have cascading effects across marine food webs, reducing the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon and threatening the supply of seafood for humans.

Low oxygen levels affect reproductive function in female fish – across multiple generations

Low oxygen levels (‘hypoxia’) are a pressing concern for marine and freshwater ecosystems worldwide, and this may deteriorate as ocean temperatures rise. Hypoxia causes stress in organisms, which can cause reproductive impairments that persist across generations — even the offspring that have never been exposed to hypoxia. Previous studies discovered that hypoxia can disrupt sex hormones, resulting in birth defects and affecting reproduction of male fish over several generations. This study shows how hypoxia can also affect female marine medaka (Oryzias melastigma) over multiple generations — and thus may pose a significant threat to the sustainability of natural fish populations worldwide.

PAH levels in Arctic air remain steady despite decreasing global emissions

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) enter the environment in large quantities via the combustion of fossil fuels and organic matter. They are a cause for concern given their known toxicity, potential to cause cancer and ability to move large distances in the atmosphere — meaning that they are found in remote or protected areas, such as the Arctic, even if not emitted there. This study explores how PAH levels in the Arctic atmosphere have changed over the past 20 years at three sites in Canada, Norway and Finland. The results show that, despite a global decrease in PAH emissions in the same timeframe, the air concentrations in the Arctic are not significantly declining — possibly partly as a result of local warming causing more volatile PAHs to move from the surface to the air.

Wave farms could help prevent coastal erosion under future sea-level rise

As well as providing renewable energy, wave farms can help protect coasts against erosion by reducing the force of waves. However, it remains unknown whether they can provide this complementary service under future climate change when sea levels will be higher. A new study, based upon computer simulations, concludes that a wave farm off the south coast of Spain could indeed protect the coastline under higher sea levels, and cause the local beach to grow in size after storms.

Changes in soil carbon, biodiversity and ecotoxicity should be considered when assessing environmental impact of dairy products

Considering the impact on soil carbon, biodiversity and ecotoxicity is important when assessing the environmental footprint of dairy products, suggests a new study, which explored the impacts of organic and conventional milk production in three types of system established in Western Europe. The study found that organic milk production had a significantly lower impact on ecotoxicity and biodiversity than conventional milk production, and suggests that including soil carbon changes in the assessment would result in greater reductions in the carbon footprint of organic, rather than conventional, milk — in some cases by up to 18%.

New global information system to map the extent and fragmentation of free-flowing rivers

Free-flowing rivers (FFRs) support a complex, dynamic and diverse range of global ecosystems, and provide important economic and societal services. However, infrastructure built to use these services — most notably 2.8 million dams worldwide — has caused many rivers to become fragmented and disconnected, affecting river biodiversity and ecosystem services. This study constructed a global information system with which to map the fine-scale dynamics and fragmentation of FFRs and to determine how human pressures affect the world’s river systems.

Soil quality to decline as climate change hinders litter decomposition by soil fauna

The warmer, drier conditions expected under on-going climate change will reduce the rates at which soil fauna and microbes decompose plant litter, suggests new research from Germany. This may have important implications for agriculture and natural ecosystems worldwide, as litter decomposition is a key process in cycling and distributing nutrients throughout ecosystems.

Tree rings help reveal how humans are affecting drought patterns

A recent analysis of tree-ring data spanning the past millennium reveals drought patterns that largely align with climate model projections for the same period. This adds credibility to climate models, which project that human influences on drought patterns will become stronger over the next century.

Copper and dysprosium are critical metals in growth of the German wind energy sector

The German Renewable Energy Sources Act was introduced in 2001 to encourage an increase in renewable energy supply. Since then, supply has increased from 7% (in 2001) to 37% (in 2017. Wind energy is an important part of Germany’s renewable energy production — but deploying sufficient turbines to achieve the climate goals requires a large amount of raw materials, many of which are metals in limited supply. This study found copper and dysprosium to be the most critical of these metals, as they could face future bottlenecks and are essential elements in present and future turbine design.

First assessment of global cropland footprint of EU’s non-food sector

To better understand the social and ecological implications of the non- food sector of the EU’s expanding bioeconomy, an economy which is based on the production and conversion of renewable biological resources into products and energy, a study has assessed the global cropland footprint of the region’s non-food products. The results show that the EU was the world’s biggest consumer and importer of these products from 1995 to 2010: two-thirds of the cropland required to satisfy the EU’s non-food consumption is located elsewhere in regions including China, the USA and Indonesia, bringing potential impacts for distant ecosystems. These findings can inform EU policymaking and support the EU Bioeconomy Strategy.

Cantabrian brown-bear population: how climate change may endanger its long-term conservation, Spain

The impacts of climate changes can force animal- and, over a longer time period, plant species to shift their range. Forests in temperate regions, such as north-western Spain, will be increasingly exposed to drought over the next few decades, which is likely to cause geographical changes in their distribution and make-up1. New patterns of plant occupancy or plant extinction have a bottom-up effect on animal species dependent on them, which can significantly impact on isolated or endangered populations of animals. This study sought to assess the potential impact of climate change on the brown-bear (Ursus arctos) population in the Cantabrian Mountains.

Unmanaged expansion of woody plant cover may threaten alpine flora, fauna and farmers, Spanish Pyrenees

Increases in woody plant and shrub cover render alpine livestock less efficient at using their landscape, finds a new study of the eastern Spanish Pyrenees. Changes in land use and climate will affect not only flora and fauna but also the futures of alpine farmers, says the study, placing them at a growing economic risk both throughout Europe and worldwide.

Air quality co-benefits for health and agriculture outweigh costs of meeting Paris Agreement pledges

Ahead of the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change, various climate and energy policy actions were proposed to target pledged 'nationally determined contributions' (NDCs). Now, researchers have quantified the global impact of implementing these actions on air quality, and determined that they have the potential to substantially reduce air pollution worldwide, with significant co-benefits for human health and agriculture — including the prevention of up to 99 000 premature deaths annually by 2030. These co-benefits could offset the global costs of climate policy; this study thus calls for an integrated policy perspective that aims to maximise the benefits of NDCs for climate and health.

To meet increasing energy demands, by 2050 the UK and Turkey will need to import metals from other countries

Energy demand is on the rise globally, and this is predicted to continue in coming decades. Increasing energy production to meet this demand requires materials — both metals and non-metal minerals — from a number of countries. As some materials are in short supply, it is important to consider material dependency and availability when developing national energy plans for the future. This study is the first to address material dependency effects on a nation’s energy development plans, with the UK and Turkey as case studies.

Swiss environmental impact exceeds its share of planetary boundaries

In order to manage its environmental footprint, Switzerland should act on a number of key issues identified by the ‘planetary boundaries’ framework, says a Swiss study, with priority given to the areas of climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and nitrogen loss. This quantitative framework identifies nine bio-physical limits of the Earth system that, if exceeded, may lead to societal and ecological changes unfavourable to human development and stability. These are upper thresholds rather than targets. The researchers suggest that the concept and their methodology could be used together to think differently about environmental issues, and change the way related assessments and policies are implemented at both global and national levels.

Innovative batteries struggle to move from research to application, finds study into start-up companies

Innovatively designed batteries offer a way for vehicles to move away from their dependence on fossil fuels. There has been little mass-market uptake of new battery design, however. In the last century, only four types of battery have been used: manganese oxide; lead acid; nickel; and lithium ion, which is a relative newcomer, introduced in 1991. To understand how innovation moves from research and development (R&D) to application and the mass market, scientists perform technology lifecycle (TLC) analyses, often focusing on R&D and basic research. This study adds an additional indicator — start-up companies — to explore the early phases of how batteries transition from science into industry.

Soil NOx emissions can now be tracked with chemical-signature method

A recent study demonstrates, for the first time, a method for tracking nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and applies it specifically to soils. The ‘chemical fingerprinting’ method allows soil NOx to be distinguished from other sources of NOx, such as vehicles and power plants. It, therefore, paves the way for a more precise understanding of agriculture’s contribution particularly to air pollution, climate change, ecosystems and environmental damage.

Urban self-sufficiency: how rooftops could contribute to cities’ energy, food and water demands, Spain

A recent study helps city planners find the greenest and most effective way of producing renewable energy, crops and water on rooftops. The researchers developed a method for analysing the performance and environmental impacts of different combinations of rooftop rainwater-harvesting-, energy- and food systems. It could aid efforts to promote urban self-sufficiency and a sustainable circular economy, they suggest.

Management strategies for EU water bodies should consider sustainability of ecosystem services, Italy

Considering the sustainability of the services provided by an ecosystem could help to overcome management challenges and hit water quality targets defined by the EU, says a new study. By exploring 13 of the ecosystem services (ES) provided by the Venice Lagoon, Italy, the researchers identify factors affecting sustainable and unsustainable patterns of ES provision, and suggest that confined and more open water bodies could benefit from different management strategies.

Future emissions from metal production can only be cut by circular economy

The most effective way to lower the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with metal production is to pursue a circular economy for the material in the long term, says a recent study. This century will see a high demand for seven major metals; the resultant overall environmental impact is expected to outweigh any environmental savings that may result from greener production processes or an increased use of renewable energy.

Nocturnal use of LEDs negatively affects freshwater microorganisms, Germany

Almost a quarter of the world’s non-polar land surface experiences light pollution, and there is concern that this adversely affects illuminated ecosystems. Currently there is a global move from yellow sodium lighting to white LED lighting, which emits different wavelengths of light. A recent study found that LED artificial light at night (ALAN) reduced the biomass of periphyton by 62% in a freshwater drainage ditch in Westhavelland Nature Park, Brandenburg, Germany.

Combining behavioural change and game-like incentive models encourages consumers to save water

Domestic water saving is important — not only to address water scarcity and drought, but also to save energy and tackle climate change. Water-management strategies are needed to prevent these shortages, and include incentives to change consumers’ behaviour concerning water use. This study examines the design of a behaviour-change system and a linked incentive model to stimulate a sustainable change in water-consumption behaviour.

No-tillage systems linked to reduced soil N2O emissions in Mediterranean agroecosystems

Most emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) are linked to the use of nitrogen (N) fertiliser in agriculture, highlighting a need for agricultural management practices that reduce emissions while maintaining agronomic productivity. A new study has assessed the long-term impact of conventional tillage (CT — where soil is prepared for agriculture via mechanical agitation) and no-tillage (NT) systems on soil N2O emissions and crop productivity in rain-fed Mediterranean conditions. The findings show that, over a period of 18 years, mean yield-scaled (i.e. per unit grain yield) soil N2O emissions (YSNE) were 2.8 to 3.3 times lower under NT than CT. The researchers therefore recommend NT as a suitable strategy by which to balance agricultural productivity with lower soil N2O emissions in rain-fed Mediterranean agroecosystems.

Soil moisture stress on plants leads to uncertainty in carbon cycle estimates

This study paves the way for better projections of the impact of climate change on plants, including agricultural crops and carbon drawdown. The research shows how an equation used in climate models to represent soil moisture levels is responsible for major variations in estimates of the carbon cycle.

Closing the loop on critical materials for renewable energy tech: 10 key factors

A new study lists 10 factors to help create a closed-loop supply chain for critical materials. However, interviews with key actors in supply chains for photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines suggest that manufacturers and recyclers hold different perspectives on these factors. The research highlights the importance of cooperation between supply-chain actors, as well as investment in technologies and infrastructure for closed-loop supply chains.

Increasing ocean acidification affects larval barramundi’s response to underwater sound cues so they are potentially attracted to the wrong type of habitat

Since the industrial revolution, the ocean has absorbed increased levels of carbon dioxide, leading to the ocean’s pH becoming more acidic. Effects of these pH changes on marine and estuarine biota is the focus of much research effort worldwide and the authors of this study focus on the larval habitat-choice process of a commercially important tropical marine fish species, Lates calcarifer, barramundi.

Groundwater use and irrigation can negatively affect the net atmospheric moisture and amplify water scarcity problems

Groundwater pumping and irrigation can disrupt natural atmospheric processes, affect the whole water cycle, and potentially worsen water shortages during heatwaves, a new study suggests. The findings contribute to our understanding of how to manage water resources under future climate change conditions. The study shows how some of the most intensively water managed areas of Europe — such as the Iberian Peninsula — could be affected by extraction of groundwater during years when conditions are especially hot and dry, potentially amplifying water scarcity in already-stressed regions.

What encourages farmers to participate in collective biogas investment?

Biogas production from waste and manure has the potential to make a contribution to environmental, energy and climate policy objectives. However, farmer engagement has remained persistently low. A new study, involving 461 Danish farmers, has investigated their willingness to participate in collective biogas investment (where two or more farmers collectively own a biogas plant). The study suggests that the majority of farmers are willing to participate in partnership-based biogas investment (PBI) and identifies the main factors driving willingness to participate and the intensity of participation. These findings are relevant to policymaking aimed at increasing biogas production and stakeholder engagement.

Increased fire frequency may cause long-term changes to soil carbon and nitrogen

Fire frequency is changing globally, yet it is unclear how such changes affect soil carbon and nitrogen storage, and, in turn, impact on ecosystem productivity. A study was conducted to evaluate how increased fire frequency drives changes in soil carbon and nitrogen over multiple decades. Data from 48 sites that have experienced altered fire frequency were analysed, spanning up to 65 years. The meta-analysis found that frequently burned sites experienced a significant decline in surface soil carbon and nitrogen over time — on average having 36% less carbon and 38% less nitrogen, after 64 years, than sites that were protected from fire. The researchers also observed comparable changes in an independent field dataset and in dynamic model simulations of global vegetation. The results indicate that future changes in fire frequency may lead to long-term changes in the amount of carbon and nitrogen stored in soils, especially in savanna grasslands and broadleaf forests. This has implications for the global carbon cycle and for ecosystem productivity and should, therefore, be considered in the design and implementation of relevant policy instruments.

Knowledge alone is ‘not enough’ to prepare for future climate risks: the case of Swedish forestry

Understanding the social context of Swedish forestry is key to understanding how the sector could be persuaded to move beyond ‘business-as-usual’ practices, to prepare for future climate risks, argues a new study. Using an approach that provides insights for future behavioural change more widely, the researchers explore the influences on forest managers’ behaviour, and highlight certification schemes as one important driver of actions which make forests better adapted to climate change. Knowledge on climate change risks and actions in itself is not enough to change behaviour, the study finds. For many environmentalists it may seem ‘logical’ for forestry to adapt now to future climate change: it epitomises an industry where actions taken today will determine long-term development, given that trees will not be harvested until 70–90 years after planting. However, the sector has taken limited actions to adapt, despite an abundance of available information on the impacts of climate change — such as storms, drought and changes in insect population.

Towards the Battery of the Future

High-quality and innovative batteries are imperative for the EU in the context of its move towards a low-carbon, climate-friendly and more circular economy. However, manufacturing and using batteries, as well as the way they are treated at the end of their life, also has environmental impacts. This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy provides an overview of technical aspects of battery design and production which enable the environmental footprint of batteries to be lowered. It also highlights how battery technologies are evolving to deliver better performance.

Scientists calculate risks of further earthquakes from gas drilling in Groningen, the Netherlands

A recent overview and analysis shows that increasing amounts of gas drilling at Groningen, the largest gas field in Europe, led to a dramatic rise in regional earthquakes between 2001 and 2013. After a reduction in extraction was introduced by the Dutch Government, earthquake numbers started to fall. Statistical analysis reveals that if high extraction rates were resumed, about 35 earthquakes, with a magnitude (M) of over 1.5 on the Richter scale, might occur annually from the year 2021 onwards, including four with a damaging magnitude of over 2.5.

New energy-positive waste-water treatment process uses just 15% of the energy required for current alternative

Conventional municipal waste-water treatment processes are based on aeration, which is energy intensive. Now, researchers have developed an alternative waste-water treatment process. In addition to avoiding the use of aeration in favour of filtration/biofiltration and encapsulated denitrification (the application of capsules containing nitrifiers, which convert ammonium into nitrate), the process also uses waste biosolids to generate electrical energy. The process has been tested in a pilot facility and found to require just 15% of the energy required for conventional approaches. Moreover, the process is energy positive, as the biosolids are able to generate more than enough energy to power the treatment plant. If this technology could be scaled up to the municipal level, it could significantly reduce the energy use and environmental impacts of waste-water treatment.

More plants and less snow at high elevation in the French Alps

Satellite images taken over a 30-year period have shown that a French national park in the Alps has become greener with more vegetation, as snow cover disappears under a changing climate. These landscape changes have important implications for alpine biodiversity and ecosystem services, warn the scientists behind the study.

Sewage treatment plants can do better to close the circular economy loop: resources recovered by only 40% of Italian plants

Scientists have published findings from the largest and broadest survey on sewage resource recovery conducted in Europe to date. Researchers surveyed more than 600 waste-water treatment plants (WWTPs) in Italy, which represent approximately 25% of the country’s total load of treated sewage. The findings provide a comprehensive picture of the current state of sewage resource recovery in WWTPs, revealing that just 40% of plants perform some form of material or energy recovery, and identifying several of the important driving forces behind implementation. This research provides valuable information and insights for policymakers and WWTP managers aiming to improve WWTP sustainability and close the sewage resource-recovery loop.

‘Carbon law’ could lead to zero global emissions by 2050

Researchers have proposed a global roadmap for decarbonisation over the coming decades. The roadmap is based on the idea of a simple heuristic, described by the researchers as ‘carbon law’, of halving carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions every decade from 2020 to 2050. The researchers say that, if combined with the development of new technologies and efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from land use, this target could lead to a carbon-neutral global economy by 2050.

New soil-sensing method enables more detailed, rapid and efficient environmental monitoring of soil carbon stocks and condition

In-depth soil information is increasingly required to achieve an array of environmental and economic goals. In particular, accurate estimates of soil carbon stocks are necessary to guide land-management practices and climate- related policymaking. To help meet this need, Australian scientists have developed a new sensing method to analyse cylindrical soil samples (soil cores), known as the Soil Condition ANalysis System (SCANS). By integrating a novel automated soil- core sensing system (CSS) with advanced statistical analytics and modelling, the SCANS provides a level of detail that is difficult to achieve with existing alternatives. SCANS is not only rapid, accurate and inexpensive1, but is likely to be a useful tool for farmers, land managers and policymakers, as the improved assessment of soil functions, structures and carbon stocks will facilitate more informed, sustainable decision-making.

Household energy policies promote energy-efficient innovation in industry

In addition to reducing carbon emissions, policies promoting efficient energy use can encourage innovation in the manufacturing sector. This study evaluated the innovation effect of household energy policies using a comprehensive dataset of 21 European countries. The results show that policies such as financial subsidies and product labels can promote the development of sustainable-energy technologies.

How eco-innovations improve environmental performance within and across sectors

A team of Italian scientists has published a study highlighting the important role of intersectoral linkages and eco-innovations in shaping industry’s environmental performance (a measure of its ability to meet environmental targets and objectives) across Europe. The research indicates that eco-innovation can produce positive effects, both directly (in the sector where it is developed) and indirectly (in linked sectors at home and abroad). These insights are relevant to corporate and policy governance strategies aimed at maximising the environmental and economic potential of novel green technologies.

Mapping the vulnerability of European cities to climate change

A new study has assessed the vulnerability of 571 European cities to heatwaves, droughts and flooding caused by climate change. The causes of vulnerability differ across Europe and the researchers say the results could be used to design policies to mitigate the impacts.

‘Cooling-off effect’ causes public perception of novel environmental technology to improve over time

Researchers have published a paper providing evidence that a ‘cooling-off effect’ can lead to increased public acceptance of new environmental technologies over time. The scientists analysed survey results from over 1 000 respondents in Germany, using solar radiation management (SRM), a controversial climate-engineering technique, as a test case. They found that, following a cooling-off period of either one month, 12 months, or 18 months, acceptance of SRM increased significantly — and that the longer the cooling-off period, the larger the increase. These findings have far-reaching implications, both for the deployment of SRM and for climate policymakers seeking to more accurately measure the public acceptability of novel interventions.

Processing London’s local food waste in an anaerobic digester avoids 3.9 tonnes of GHG emissions

Analysis of the operation of a novel, micro-scale anaerobic digester has shown that this technology could provide a useful means of processing food waste in urban areas. The study found that the digester, located in London and fed mainly with local food waste, avoided 3.9 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, while providing biogas for cooking, heat and power. Anaerobic digestion on this scale could play a part in reducing the amount of food waste that goes to landfill1 and contribute to the circular economy.

Greenhouse gas emissions from household consumption mapped across the EU

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.

Taking stock: progress in natural capital accounting – November 2017

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.

Visual soil evaluation — a key tool for better management of risks to soils

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.

Warming in the Channel leads to a decline in cold-water fish

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.

Tackling mercury pollution in the EU and worldwide – November 2017

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.

Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: nature conservation and climate policy are mutually beneficial (Germany)

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.

Precautionary Principle: decision-making under uncertainty – September 2017

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.

Assessing the environmental safety of manufactured nanomaterials – August 2017

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.

Nordic countries demonstrate the potential of low-carbon energy policies

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 smart-grid solution for the UK

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.

Renewable-energy technologies can help meet the increased cooling demand in cities due to climate change

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.

Renewable energy’s role in national energy security rated by new index

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.

Screening tool developed to assess seismic risks from geothermal energy projects

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.

Managing water resources for an uncertain future: new method of robust planning

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.

Decentralised supply of recycled water may save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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.

A carbon-free future for the Canary Islands possible by 2050

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.

Environmental hazards due to climate change set to increase in Europe — with regional differences

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.

The economic impact of climate change on European agriculture

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.

Which new low-carbon technologies can be developed and commercialised quickly? New research offers analysis

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.

Responding to floods in Europe: new framework assesses effectiveness of Flood Emergency Management Systems

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.

Ocean acidification puts Norwegian fishing industry at risk

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.

Rapid and significant sea-level rise expected if global warming exceeds 2°C, with global variation

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.

Waste materials are an underused resource in the construction of Europe’s roads

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.

High soil carbon in Natura 2000 sites brings potential for climate-smart conservation

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.

Drivers of renewable energy innovation in 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.

Review confirms climate change is threatening many ecosystem services

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.

Europe could suffer major shellfish production losses due to ocean acidification

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.

Understanding uncertainty in air-quality modelling with new framework

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.

Species diversity throughout the food chain maintains multiple ecosystem services more effectively

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.

Solar park impacts on microclimate, plants and greenhouse gas emissions

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.

Green buildings: researchers call for fuller environmental assessment

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.

New system to convert food waste into fertiliser for greenhouse use gives potential 95% reduction in CO2 emissions

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.

Environmental impact investment

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.

Better predictions of climate change impact on wildlife thanks to genetically informed modelling

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 — climate change mitigation tool recommended by the IPCC – may be less effective than previously thought

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 could be removed from the atmosphere with simultaneous generation of renewable energy

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.

New tool could help optimise governance of flood risk

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.

Carbon dioxide successfully stored in volcanic rock — could help mitigate climate change

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.

Wave and tidal energy plants are ‘green’ technologies

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.

How does climate change affect birds? New tool provides accurate measurements to support biodiversity targets

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.

Energy-consumption feedback cut electricity use by up to 27% in low-income Mediterranean households

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.

Flooding had major impacts on business and mental health in Germany 2013

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.

Environmental impacts of ocean-energy systems: a life-cycle assessment

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.

Seals avoid wind farms during the noisiest phase of construction

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.

Demand for copper could increase by 213–341% by 2050, and account for up to 2.4% of global energy demand

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.

Socioeconomic status and noise and air pollution - September 2016

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.

Diverse fish communities have greater resistance to climate change

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.

Fuel produced from sunlight, CO2 and water: an alternative for jet fuel?

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 and biodiversity

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 global map of drought risk aids future local assessments

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.

Community perceptions towards a wind farm improve after installation

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.

How will climate change and other environmental changes affect vegetation?

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.

Crop wild relatives ‘critically under-represented’ in gene banks

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.

Aerosol pollutants can have long-range effects on ocean oxygen levels

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.

Coordinated policies can benefit both air quality and climate change

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.

New trait-based method predicts whether mammals can keep up with climate change

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.

Ignoring flood risks leads to increasing losses: assessment should include climate change, land use and economic development

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.

Rising sea levels will cause irreversible changes to plant communities in a Welsh wetland

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.

Intensive grassland farming could have deep effects: sequestering significantly less soil carbon

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 should focus on land use as well as climate change

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.

Climate change threatens early-flowering plants due to lack of snow

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.

Atlantic beaches of Europe reshaped in stormy winter of 2013–2014

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.

How policies could help winegrowers adapt to climate change

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.

Increasing impact of oestrogen pollution through climate change and population growth

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 increase methane release from northern European peat bogs

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.

No Net Land Take by 2050? – April 2016

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.

What are the most effective ways of promoting electric cars?

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.

Management of rice paddy fields affects greenhouse gas emissions

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.

Twelve principles for introducing sustainable energy storage to the electrical grid

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.

Identifying emerging risks for environmental policies

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.

Simple steps to increase the uptake of sustainable service-based business models

‘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 agri-technology innovations: how to increase uptake

‘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.

Very high CO2 levels decrease yield and antioxidant content of some green vegetables

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.

Framing issues locally can be persuasive in climate change communication

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.

Internet tools for research dissemination: a climate-change case study

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.

Research for environmental policymaking: how to prioritise, communicate and measure impact - March 2016

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 and transport: effects of sea-level rise on an English railway line

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.

Potential for more efficient energy, land and phosphorus use by 2050

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%).

Petroleum industry’s freshwater use puts pressure on areas with water scarcity issues

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.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock: what are the costs?

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.

Greenhouse gas emissions and rural development in the EU

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.

Desertification study proposes new decision-making method for complex environmental problems

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.

Localised adaptation makes some oysters more resilient to climate change than others

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.

Implications of extreme floods for river ecosystems

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.

Health impacts of climate change in the indoor environment: a UK review

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.

Revealing damages from droughts across Europe

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.

How can social scientists engage with environmental policy?

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.

Biorenewable chemicals: a review of technologies and feedstocks

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.

Methane emissions from LNG-powered ships higher than current marine fuel oils

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.

How best to address aviation's full climate impact?

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.

Re-using resources in cities: a Dutch case-study

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.

What are the barriers to solar energy adoption?

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.

Environmental performance of construction and demolition waste management

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.

Black carbon emissions of individual cars measured under real conditions

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.

Greenhouse gas emissions associated with long-distance travel

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.

Household food waste: an individual and national issue

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.

From the ground up: local knowledge informing agri-environmental policy

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.

Realistic renewable energy exceeds 2070 electricity needs in most countries

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.

Risk of steep glacier collapse in the Alps will considerably increase due to climate warming

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.

Shorter shipping routes not necessarily more climate friendly

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.

Green innovations could cut carbon emissions from road projects by a third

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.

Review of damage-reducing measures for floods

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.

Methods to increase indium supplies for the manufacture of thin-film solar cells

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.

Travelling slower reduces fuel consumption and nitrogen oxides emissions of ships

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 in the Mediterranean may be triggering large weather shifts

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.

Soil and Water: a larger perspective - November 2015

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.

Reducing the environmental impact of construction tunnelling

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.

Mobile carbon capture technology removes 1000 kg CO2/day from Polish coal power plant

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.

District level heating could help achieve EU 2020 energy efficiency goals

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.

Complying with emissions regulations: calculating the acid plume from ships’ desulphurisation equipment

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.

Titanium dioxide-water nanofluids enhance the performance of solar collectors

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.

Measuring emotional response and acceptance of wind turbines

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.

How effectively does the Birds Directive protect birds?

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.

Loss of soil carbon linked to climate change in England and Wales

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.

Shore side electricity: key policy recommendations for uptake

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.

Effects of extreme weather, climate and pesticides on farmland invertebrates

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.

Screening soil moisture conditions reveals an increased risk of drought in a Swedish drainage basin

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.

Climate-friendly meal options positively received by restaurant customers

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.

EU migration under environmental change: impact depends on current infrastructure

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.

Time to act on climate change induced migration

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.

Migration: an opportunity to integrate human mobility and climate change adaptation policies

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: how should governments respond?

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.

Extreme environmental events and human migration: no simple link

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.

Exploring interlinked drivers of human migration in the context of environmental change

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.

Migration in response to environmental change - September 2015

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.

The global spread of alien plants

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.

Vegetation of coast dunes not changing due to climate change

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.

Risk perceptions are essential in communicating about climate change

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.

Reducing avian collisions with wind turbines

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.

Personal experience with global warming drives mitigation behaviour

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.

Increasing energy efficiency in the home may boost life expectancy and health

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.

Compost and climate change: a novel mitigation strategy?

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.

The economic benefits of carbon storage in the Mediterranean Sea

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.

Internationally coordinated use of satellites needed for managing floods

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.

Methods to resolve conflicts between energy production and nature conservation

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.

Understanding the ‘why’ is key to effective energy-saving behaviour

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.

The social value of flood alleviation

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.

Public perceptions of environmental risk: the role of journalists

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.

Overcoming the tendency of those living in energy efficient buildings to use more energy

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.

Household energy efficiency could help boost the economy

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.

Energy efficiency in low-income households: study explores the role of feedback in reducing energy consumption

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.

Energy efficiency policies for home renovations and retrofitting should consider the social factors

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.

Energy efficiency measures in some EU countries could be backfiring

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.

Resource-efficient Portuguese packaging waste management system brings multiple benefits

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.

Exploring the Links Between Energy Efficiency and Resource Efficiency - June 2015

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 that purify groundwater show resilience to drought

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.

Severity of wheat diseases likely to increase as CO2 rises

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.

Four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’ exceeded

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.

East Asian air pollution to have bigger global impact under climate change

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.

The impacts of large-scale Concentrated Solar Power on the local environment

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.

El Niño Southern Oscillation can be used to predict global flood risk anomalies

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 for electric vehicle fleets are important for adoption

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.

Marine ecosystems at risk from multiple, interacting pressures

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.

Pomegranate-inspired battery design doubles stored energy

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.

Solar cell efficiency boosted with pine tree-like nanotube needle

‘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.

Nanotechnology cuts costs and improves efficiency of photovoltaic cells

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.

New energy-efficient manufacture of perovskite solar cells that rivals silicon solar cells

‘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.

Climate change to shift global spread and quality of agricultural land

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.

Chemical composition of fracking wastewater

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.

Fracking: leaking wells cause gas-contaminated groundwater

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.

Carbon footprint of food waste not necessarily related to its weight

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.

Methane: satellite data may improve emissions estimates

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.

Solar panel silicon recovery methods tested

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.

Peak warming effects of today’s CO2 emissions may be as soon as 10 years from now

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.

Radioactive iodine in Arctic sea ice may have European origin

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.

New beach database could help protect Black Sea shorelines

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.

Environmental Scenario Planning: what if marine conservation hotspots in NE Atlantic increase under climate change?

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.

Two for the price of one: climate change mitigation measures also reduce air pollution

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.

Unconventional shale gas and oil: overview of ecological impacts

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.

Alder tree decline in Europe: how does climate affect the spread of damaging pathogen?

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.

Decommissioning is a significant part of nuclear power’s GHG impact

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.

Citizen engagement with national policy: energy project shares its experiences

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.

Semiconductor and aluminium industries underestimate greenhouse gas emissions

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.

Hydraulic fracturing consumes the largest share of water in shale gas production

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

Rising temperatures and acidification in the oceans spell danger for shark populations

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.

Wind turbine risks to seabirds: new tool maps birds’ sensitivity to offshore farms

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.

Buildings’ future heating and cooling needs are predicted with new method

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.

Wind turbines have minor impact on small-bird populations

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 energy security strategy

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.

Mountain grasslands and shrublands store significant amounts of carbon

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.

Water demand for crops may rise in northern Germany under warmer climate

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.

Herring organs damaged by acidified seawater

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 and climate policies not in conflict

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.

Mediterranean land degradation threatens food security

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.

Changes in European sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and CO2 emissions since 1960

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.

Shark feeding may be affected by ocean acidification

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.

Higher rates of damage reported in US shale gas and oil wells than in conventional wells

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.

3D printing could help bring ‘hydrogen economy’ a step closer

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.

Sustainable coastal adaptation planning links ecosystem services with social needs

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 for wind farms increases with community participation

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.

Individual power stations' emissions can be identified from a distance

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 in Europe will increase under climate change

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 remove over a million tonnes of CO2 in Irish-UK waters 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.

Shale gas: independent planning is key to reducing environmental impacts of fracking

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.

How vulnerable to climate change is agriculture in the Black Sea region?

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.

Rural inhabitants suffer mental distress under extended droughts

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.

Greater risk of heart defects for babies born near unconventional gas wells in Colorado

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.

New tool to assess the ecological impacts of offshore wind turbines

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.

Loss of cooling effect of aerosols can be offset by greenhouse gas reductions

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.

Fishing ban enforcement is key factor in restocking fish in marine protected areas

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.

What drives general acceptance of offshore wind farms?

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.

Sense of community aids establishment of renewable energy cooperatives

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.

Low-carbon technology policy success factors assessed

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.

Refurbishment of Italian homes could provide energy savings of 85%

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.

Finding space for wind power in the North Sea

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.

Low-carbon technologies key to meeting EU emissions targets

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.

Airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon levels falling faster in cities than rural areas

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.

Green and cool roofs could eliminate the Urban Heat Island effect

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.

Largest Antarctic ice sheet more sensitive to ocean warming than previously thought

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.

Warming boosts plant growth, but reduces species diversity

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.

Longer droughts and more water shortages in Europe forecast under climate change

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 provide new habitat for marine species

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.

Equality is key to effective climate change adaptation

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.

Stepping stone patches of habitat help reduce effects of fragmentation

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.

Urban planning could change driving behaviour

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.

The effects of climate change on seafloor ecosystems

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 help safeguard vulnerable seabird

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 green credentials could be improved through changes to production

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.

Fire patterns in Spain under a changing climate

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.

Social marketing to improve community-level green behaviour

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.

Effective climate change mitigation in the form of seagrass restoration projects

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.

Underground wastewater disposal in the US linked to increase in earthquakes

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.

Increasing aridity will disrupt soil nutrient cycles in global drylands

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 slow economic growth

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.

Batteries in Germany exceed new EU toxic metal limits

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.

The value of acknowledging societal costs of N2O emissions

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.

Rising CO2's impacts on marine ecosystems and the people that rely on them

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.

Adaptation is a cost-effective way to protect against river flooding caused by climate change

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 pollutant melted European glaciers

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.

Fracking research needs to consider the bigger picture

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.