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News Archive » Sustainable development and policy assessment

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

Browse archives by year and theme below.

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.

Has public sector spending on organic food changed farming methods in Sweden?

To mitigate the biodiversity loss driven by conventional intensive agriculture, EU policymakers are increasingly encouraging Member States to incentivise farmers to go organic. In 2006, the Swedish government introduced a Green Public Procurement (GPP) policy to encourage farmers to convert to organic practices. This study analyses the performance of the GPP and, according to the researchers, is the first to examine if its application has succeeded in increasing the amount of organic farmland in Sweden.

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.

Defining the sensitivity of Cyprus’ natural environment to development: mapping the Akamas Peninsula

Cyprus is a biodiversity hotspot, with landscapes containing areas of high ecological, aesthetic and cultural significance. The Akamas Peninsula, on the western tip of the island, typifies this diversity, but is under great pressure for development and is already showing the impacts of urbanisation, population movement, overexploitation and more. This study takes a hierarchical approach to mapping the landscapes of Cyprus to aid policy and planning, using the Akamas Peninsula as a case study.

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.

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.

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).

Shifts in cropland and trade patterns could feed the world in 2050 — but no easy solution to future food and water security

How can we grow more crops without taking too much water away from freshwater ecosystems for irrigation? A new study indicates that it is possible to double crop production by 2050 without exceeding set limits for water extraction if more crops are grown in regions with higher rainfall and with corresponding shifts in international trade and agricultural management. However, without appropriate safeguards, and if we follow the current business-as-usual scenario, this could come at the ecological cost of converting natural land and forest into cropland. This research provides a ‘first-step’ in analysing potential trade-offs in the global food-trade-water nexus.

Circular economy could boost employment and cut raw material extraction by 2030

A more circular economy could reduce global levels of raw material extraction by 10% by 2030, a new study suggests. It could also drive a slight increase in overall employment levels, but the types of jobs available would change significantly, moving away from low- and medium-skilled work in the manufacturing and mining sectors and opening up more opportunities for medium- and high-skilled jobs in the service sector.

Importing goods from sustainable production countries could lower EU’s environmental footprint

A new study has analysed how to reduce the environmental footprint of EU trade by preferentially importing goods from countries that have greener production processes. The study concludes that the environmental impacts of 200 product groups imported into the EU could be considerably reduced in this way. For example, water consumption caused by these imports could be cut by 72%, and land use by 65%.

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.

Surge in fishing activity detected ahead of new marine reserve

The announcement of a new no-take fishing zone in the Pacific led to a 130% increase in fishing activity ahead of its implementation, satellite data reveal. Although fishing activity dropped to zero once the marine protected area (MPA) came into effect just over a year later, the study warns that the pre-emptive short-term surge in fishing could have caused long-term ecological damage.

The path to a sustainable future will be charted somewhere between wild and urban

Reconciling human development with conservation requires a comprehensive understanding of the current ecological condition and spatial distribution of land. Using recent and spatially explicit global datasets, this study quantifies the degree of human modification across all terrestrial lands, ecoregions, and biomes1. The results suggest that fewer unmodified lands remain than previously reported and that the majority of the world is in a state of intermediate modification, with 52% of ecoregions classified as ‘moderately modified’. The researchers state that these regions are highly fragmented due to human activities and fall within critical land-use thresholds2 — they require urgent attention. These regions, therefore, require proactive spatial planning to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem function before vital environmental resources are lost.

Demand is key to efficiently conserving ecosystems and their services

Ecosystems provide myriad services upon which human societies and economies depend. However, most efforts to quantify and conserve these ecosystem services (ES) focus more on service ‘supply’ (functions which potentially benefit humans) than on ‘demand’ (human desire for that supply). This study maps supply and benefit for three ES — flood mitigation, crop pollination, and nature-based recreation — in the state of Vermont, northeast USA, and finds that efforts to conserve ES could be more efficient if policymakers consider ‘demand’, whilst also decreasing trade-offs with biodiversity protection and conservation.

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.

Balancing research, policy and practice could help agriculture meet Sustainable Development Goals

A study into how agriculture can help humanity meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals finds that research in Europe on agricultural land systems largely omits key priorities from policy and practice. The researchers identify 32 variables that researchers, policymakers and practitioners collectively prioritise when it comes to European agricultural systems, and suggest that future research includes these in order to more comprehensively analyse trade-offs and identify opportunities for sustainable progress.

Stabilising soil sustainably: could biopolymers be used instead of cement?

Soil stabilisation and the process of strengthening the physical properties of soil is fundamental to the construction process of infrastructure such as roads, runways and earth dams. Many chemical additives currently used in soil stabilisation are associated with adverse environmental effects and this study examines the use of biopolymers, such as xanthan gum and guar gum, as more sustainable alternatives. The researchers have run a series of laboratory experiments to evaluate the viability of these two types of biopolymers for use as additives for collapsible soil stabilisation, and found that both could be used in place of conventional additives to improve soil strength, permeability and collapse potential.

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.

What affects household waste separation rates? Regional, cultural, institutional and economic influences examined

Insights from a recent Italian study could help local authorities across Europe improve their rates of separate waste collection for recycling. The researchers found higher rates of separate waste collection in municipalities with high-quality governmental institutions for waste collection, non-mountainous terrain and higher income levels. Separating household waste into streams, such as glass or food, for re-use and recycling helps free up resources for a circular economy. Good-quality institutions are the main driver of separate waste collection and can overcome barriers such as low economic prosperity.

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.

What affects battery recycling rates? Political, social and cultural factors examined

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) and other regulatory influences are essential to battery recycling in Finland, a new study finds. The researchers compare this with the situation in Chile, where a lack of appropriate legislation prevents recycling companies from overcoming the technical and financial challenges of battery recycling. The study helps policymakers understand how political, social, and cultural factors can support companies in their move towards circular-economy business models.

How to build a sharing city: the approaches of Milan and Seoul

Milan and Seoul are considered by many as pioneering examples of cities in promoting a sharing economy. A new study has analysed governance in these two cities, and concludes that they have both laid the right foundations for a sharing economy to develop. The researchers propose that while such economies carry risks, they are also able to benefit the economy, environment, and society.

How to build a sharing city: the approaches of Milan and Seoul

Milan and Seoul are considered by many as pioneering examples of cities in promoting a sharing economy. A new study has analysed governance in these two cities, and concludes that they have both laid the right foundations for a sharing economy to develop. The researchers propose that while such economies carry risks, they are also able to benefit the economy, environment, and society.

Evaluating the sublethal effects of insecticides for effective integrated pest management

Parasitoid wasps (Trichogramma pretiosum) are increasingly being used as a biological control agent in agriculture. Since insecticides are often applied to the same crops, it is necessary to assess the effects of different insecticides on this insect. However, the majority of studies have focused on evaluating the lethal, but not sublethal, effects of insecticides. A new study has evaluated the sublethal effects on T. pretiosum of nine insecticides commonly used in soybean production in Brazil. Overall, just three of the nine insecticides tested did not appear to have any harmful sublethal effects on T. pretiosum. This study highlights the importance of considering sublethal, as well as lethal, effects when assessing insecticide selectivity.

Limited resource efficiency achievements for international trade, with concerns over material use

International trade has increasingly relied on material resources since the 1990s, according to a new study. The research used the most detailed global computer model available for capturing the effects of international trade on the environment and on the efficiency of resource use between 1995–2011. Sharp increases in the trade of cheap ‘fast fashion’ and mass market electronics are highlighted as two of the fastest growing drivers of this change in material inefficiency.

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.

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.

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.

Getting value for money in agri-environment schemes: recommendations from the UK

Many would agree that the efficiency of agri-environment schemes (AES) could be improved, but how? A new study considers how AES could deliver ecosystem services better, using peatlands in the UK as a case study. The researchers suggest a number of approaches to improving the link between the payments given to farmers and the environmental benefits they deliver; these include methods of targeting payments to particular areas.

How best to implement agri-environment schemes? Spanish olive growers’ preferences revealed

Agri-environment schemes (AES) are widely researched; some important issues, however, remain unstudied. Researchers have investigated some of these issues using a sample of olive growers in southern Spain. Their study reveals the level of monetary incentive needed for farmers to accept an ‘ecological focus area’, and a general unwillingness to participate collectively. These results could help policymakers design more cost-effective AES.

Grassy field margins provide additional biodiversity benefits by connecting habitats

Habitat fragmentation is a threat to biodiversity, especially in agricultural land where there are also many endangered species. Corridors between habitats are one way to counteract its effects. A study suggests that grassy field margins — established throughout Europe to improve water quality — could act as corridors. The study, which measured the effects of field margins on butterflies, concludes that agricultural schemes should include this corridor function.

Agri-environment schemes: impacts on the agricultural environment June 2017

What has been the impact of Agricultural Environment Schemes (AES) on European farming? These schemes provide payments to farmers in return for the implementation of agri-environmental measures to encourage positive environmental outcomes and as a counterbalance to the profit incentive. The schemes might concentrate on low-intensity production, organic or integrated management or enhancement of biodiversity on farmland. This Thematic Issue presents recent peer-reviewed research examining the impacts AES have had on European farm ecosystems, biodiversity and farmers – and to what extent AES have benefited a range of animals and plants by increasing the number of individuals and species.

Noise abatement approaches

As the sources and severity of noise pollution continue to grow, there is a need for new approaches to reduce exposure. This Future Brief looks at the complex and pervasive problem of noise pollution: a problem with no single solution, requiring a combination of short-, medium- and long-term approaches and careful consideration of the nature of the noise source.

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.

QUICKScan: a quick, participatory method for exploring environmental policy problems

Policymakers often have to make decisions under great complexity, uncertainty and time pressure. A new study presents a support tool for the first stage of policymaking: identifying and exploring alternatives to solve problems. The software tool, called QUICKScan, increases the speed of this process and combines the input of many stakeholders in participatory workshops. It has been applied 70 times in 20 different countries, for a wide range of environmental policy issues.

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.

Legal analysis finds REACH authorisation rules on imported substances of ‘very high concern’ would not violate WTO law

The EU would not be breaking World Trade Organization (WTO) rules if it chose to extend REACH’s authorisation scheme on substances of very high concern (SVHC) to products imported to Europe, a recent legal analysis concludes. At present, the scheme — which is effectively a ban on SVHC, with some exceptions — applies only to products made within the European Economic Area (EEA).

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.

Pollutants from the EU Watch List: a review of their occurrence and water-treatment options

Micropollutants — small, persistent and biologically active substances — are found in aquatic environments all over the world and can have negative effects on plants, animals and humans. The EU recently adopted a ‘watch list’ of potential priority substances, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products that need to be monitored to determine their environmental risk. A new study reviews data on their worldwide occurrence and options for their removal from wastewater, and from surface and groundwater used to produce drinking water.

Invasive-species import risk is higher from countries with poor regulation and political instability

The risk of alien species introduction via trade in plants is higher if the plants are from poorly regulated countries with high forest cover, calculates a recent study. For introductions via the vehicle and timber trades, the risk is higher if the exporting country is politically unstable. These findings could help border controls focus their surveillance efforts on imports from countries with risky socioeconomic profiles.

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.

Flood risk management has improved in Germany

After the 2002 floods in Germany — the country’s most economically damaging natural hazard — efforts were made to develop a more integrated system of flood management. A recent study has reviewed how those measures helped Germany to cope with the more recent floods of 2013, highlighting developments in early-warning systems and consideration of hazards in urban planning. The researchers also discuss areas for improvement, including citizen engagement and cross-border collaboration.

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.

Natura 2000 conservation: how can social-science research enhance conservation outcomes?

Governance of biodiversity is closely linked to social and economic processes and human behaviour, appreciation of which can enhance conservation outcomes. This study reviewed findings on the social aspects of Natura 2000, identifying research gaps and recommendations for improving the network’s implementation across the EU. The researchers say limited stakeholder participation, negative perceptions of the network and a lack of consideration of the local context hinder the network’s effectiveness. They recommend increasing public awareness and compensating private landowners.

Economic downturn affects businesses’ renewal of environmental certification schemes in Spain

The uncertain economic climate has severely affected companies’ decisions on whether to renew Eco Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) certification in Spain, a recent survey indicates. The study suggests that a company is less likely to renew if initial certification was mainly motivated by government subsidies and grants than if certification is believed to improve business performance.

Implementing the EU Water Framework Directive — lack of evidence for Eastern European countries

A recent study has analysed research on implementing the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in Europe and identified a number of research gaps that could be filled. For example, some countries, such as Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, have not been well studied and more research on the experiences of such countries would build up knowledge on the implementation of the WFD across Europe.

Wildlife law enforcement: the vital role of NGOs

Wildlife laws are important to protect animals from harmful human activity, and are largely enforced by state authorities, but occasionally by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). By reviewing academic literature and government legislation, this study explored the different perspectives and ideologies of NGOs and how they enforce wildlife law in practice, focusing on the UK and the US. The study concludes that environmental NGOs are vital for the effective policing of wildlife legislation.

Environmental criminal enforcement: most effective when combined with administrative sanctions

Administrative sanctions against environmental crime, such as fines, are generally easier and cheaper to implement than criminal punishment methods, such as prison sentences. This study explored enforcement methods for environmental crime in four Western European areas: Flanders (Belgium), Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Based on their findings, the authors say it is most cost-effective — and may increase deterrence — to use both forms of enforcement.

Is prison a real threat for environmental offenders?

Alongside fines, prison sentences are important punishments for environmental crime, but there is uncertainty about how often they are used. This study summarises evidence from several countries, showing that prison is indeed a genuine threat for environmental criminals, but that more needs to be done to improve its credibility.

Punishments for breaking environmental law: lawyer calls for integrated sanction system

Enforcement of environmental law needs an integrated administrative and criminal sanction system, according to a UK lawyer and researcher. Writing in a recent paper, he argues that an integrated system allows the most appropriate response to each individual case of the law being broken

Satellite images as evidence in court: legal obstacles to their use in environmental investigations

Satellite images could be used as evidence in environmental crime cases in the future, a Belgian judge and researcher predicts. However, there are several obstacles to their use at present. Notably, they do not provide sufficiently detailed evidence for the courtroom.

Efforts to fight environmental crime in the EU evaluated

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of efforts to combat environmental crime in the EU has been recently conducted. It highlights a number of opportunities for improvement, including better crime data gathering across the EU and enhanced cooperation between Member States.

Network for Ireland’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (NIECE): a story of successful implementation

Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Network for Ireland’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (NIECE) over 10 years ago to ensure an effective, integrated, national approach to the enforcement of environmental legislation, as presented in a recent conference paper and a report from the EPA.

Tailored enforcement strategies may improve environmental outcomes

Regardless of how well-designed environmental legislation is, for it to be effective it must be properly enforced. This study explored the enforcement practices of several environmental agencies, recommending that strategies are chosen based on regulatory context and environmental risk.

Environmental compliance assurance systems compared in OECD study

Systems for ensuring industry compliance with pollution regulations in eight countries have been assessed by an OECD study. OECD countries have been making good progress in designing and introducing new environmental policies. However, they are generally not on track to meet the policies’ goals. A major reason for this ‘implementation gap’ is low compliance with respective regulatory requirements, for instance, emission limit values.

Environmental compliance assurance and combatting environmental crime July 2016

How does the law protect the environment? The responsibility for the legal protection of the environment rests largely with public authorities such as the police, local authorities or specialised regulatory agencies. However, more recently, attention has been focused on the enforcement of environmental law — how it should most effectively be implemented, how best to ensure compliance, and how best to deal with breaches of environmental law where they occur. This Thematic Issue presents recent research into the value of emerging networks of enforcement bodies, the need to exploit new technologies and strategies, the use of appropriate sanctions and the added value of a compliance assurance conceptual framework.

Drought management in Europe: researchers present new evaluation method

Droughts can have far-reaching environmental, social and economic impacts. A new study has assessed how drought is managed in six areas of Europe using a new evaluation framework. Their evaluation identified policy gaps and makes recommendations for risk management. A key recommendation is to evaluate responses and management after each drought to identify good practices and strengthen drought management in the future.

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.

Urban agriculture: why ‘one size fits all’ approaches don't work

Global interest in urban agriculture is growing. However, the importance of local context is not reflected in current governance approaches, argues a new study which evaluated urban agriculture in Belgium and Poland. The authors say that considering city-specific factors can help urban agriculture achieve its full potential, and recommend a broader policymaking strategy that considers the benefits beyond food production.

Enhanced waste-management practices reduce carbon emissions and support lower landfill taxes

Landfill taxes and ‘enhanced waste management’ practices have been introduced to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill and to convert waste into useful products. This study investigated the interplay of these two policy options in Belgium, generating findings that could help Europe move towards a resource-efficient, circular economy.

Perspectives on shipbreaking: economic, social and environmental impacts at Alang-Sosiya

The Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yards in India highlight the inequalities and opportunities of global waste management. The yards, which recycle retired ships from more economically developed countries, have dramatically altered the ecosystems and social structures of the local area. A study looking at stakeholder perceptions analyses different positions on the social and environmental impacts of the yards.

Ship manufacturers encouraged to keep track of materials

An inventory of materials used in ship construction could minimise waste and increase ships’ recycling rates and resale value, according to the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI). Although extra data management would be required on the part of suppliers, manufacturers and owners, it would help make the industry more efficient and future-proof with regard to developments in international legislation on ship building.

Constituent materials more important than weight or class for environmental impact of shipbreaking, but valuation methods differ greatly

When broken down, ships can release hazardous substances into the environment. This study investigated the environmental impact of shipbreaking in one of Europe’s few ship recycling yards, based in Portugal. The results reveal large differences between assessment methods and show that environmental impact depends on composition rather than size or class.

The future for Bangladeshi ship recycling: a critical scenario analysis

A large proportion of ships are recycled on the beaches of developing countries in Asia. This study considered shipbreaking in Bangladesh, using critical scenario analysis to explore different futures for the industry and its workers. The paper suggests that a radical shift in socioeconomic and political structures is needed to enable environmentally sound practices while retaining employment opportunities for local people.

Small plastic fragments found in intertidal sediment from world’s largest shipbreaking zone: over 80 mg/kg of sediment

Plastic pollution is a threat to marine ecosystems, as plastics are persistent, toxic and can accumulate up the food chain. This study assessed the abundance of small pieces of plastic in Alang, India. The authors found, on average, 81 mg of small plastic fragments per kg of sediment, which they say is the direct result of shipbreaking.

Ship recycling: reducing human and environmental impacts – June 2016

The ship-recycling industry — which dismantles old and decommissioned ships, enabling the re-use of valuable materials — is a major supplier of steel and an important part of the economy in many countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Turkey. However, mounting evidence of negative impacts undermines the industry’s contribution to sustainable development. This Thematic Issue presents a selection of recent research on the environmental and human impacts of shipbreaking.

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.

Nudging may be better than shoving: voluntary non-monetary approaches to conservation

Voluntary non-monetary conservation — where citizens implement actions without a financial incentive — is an emerging approach to biodiversity protection that could be applied in many countries and environments, a new study shows. This study makes recommendations for actions, such as being simple and affordable, and calls for conservation scientists to recognise their value as a complementary tool alongside traditional market-based and coercive approaches, such as payment for ecosystem services and national parks.

Air quality assessment in the EU: room for improvement?

Different modelling approaches are used to design and assess air quality plans across Europe. This study assessed the strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches. The researchers conclude that a large variety of models is in use, without a preferred or standard model having emerged yet. They identify integrating local-scale and large-scale models and verifying models with measurements as the most important challenges.

How to choose the most cost-effective methods for improving water quality

Agricultural run-off can contain pesticides, sediment particles and nitrates and is a major threat to the health of the sea. Although there are policy frameworks to reduce run-off water, they often don’t clearly explain how to maximise benefits. A new study provides an economic framework that prioritises methods based on their cost-effectiveness, which could help policymakers to reduce the pollution of marine ecosystems.

Water management: five policy conditions to help overcome the challenges of an uncertain future

‘Adaptive co-management’ could help water managers cope with future shocks and unpredictability brought by climate change, according to a recent study. They identify five conditions for policies that would create an enabling environment for this management approach, which include the need to account for water’s ecological functions, and for stakeholders to learn from each other.

Top 10 environmental issues for EU inland ports

The top 10 environmental priorities for EU inland ports have been identified in a recent survey. A port’s relationship with the local community was the top environmental issue, followed by concerns over air and water quality. The survey provides the first benchmark of the environmental performance of inland ports, against which progress in their environmental management can be measured in the future.

Why protect nature? Relational values: the missing link in policies for the natural environment

The concepts of instrumental value (protecting nature for humans’ sake) and intrinsic value (protecting nature for nature’s sake) are fundamental to environmental policy. This paper — based on a literature review and critical analysis — argues that using these concepts alone overlooks important concerns for the environment. The authors recommend also considering relational values, which derive from the relationships between people and nature.

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.

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.

Changing research assessments could encourage knowledge dissemination

Research assessments should focus more on engagement processes and less on impacts and outcomes, a new study suggests. The authors examined researchers’ intended impacts and motivational factors, and stated that a change in research evaluation methods, together with better direction from university managers, could help incentivise knowledge exchange and engagement between departments and non-academic entities.

Broader impacts are important when measuring the utility of science

Governments and funding bodies are increasingly evaluating the ‘impact’ of academic research. There are growing discussions about impact – what it means, and how it can be demonstrated – and it is a challenge to evaluate impact on society. This study investigated the broader benefits of scientific research, beyond technology development, to support more comprehensive evaluations of science.

Evaluating expert involvement in policymaking

Expert advice can be crucial for good decision making. This study reviewed how experts are involved in policy, and the results of their involvement, finding that certain involvement processes are more suited to specific types of policy questions, and that more robust evaluative and documenting processes are needed. The researchers propose a framework to identify appropriate consultation methods for specific policy questions.

Conversations for conservation: the importance of interactive dialogue

Although knowledge of biodiversity is increasing, it often receives less attention than other, more anthropocentric policy challenges. To ensure research is better used, scientists and policymakers need to interact more effectively. Through a literature review, interviews and a workshop with key stakeholders, this study provides recommendations for achieving a better dialogue.

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.

Green public procurement: a method to implement environmental policy

Green public procurement (GPP) – authorities considering environmental criteria when allocating contracts to private suppliers – is becoming increasingly popular as an environmental policy instrument. This study analysed data from Swedish cleaning service procurements, finding a ‘weak’ effect on supplier behaviour in this situation. The researchers say that, for GPP to be an effective policy instrument, it is important to consider suppliers’ decisions to participate in procurement and to screen them against mandatory green criteria.

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.

Factors for success in ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ schemes

New research aimed to identify the factors that lead to the success of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes. The study analysed 40 different schemes in Latin America to identify factors related to success. The researchers identified four such factors, which could inform policy and aid decision makers in designing PES initiatives with increased chances of success.

Soil management in China and the EU

Following rapid urbanisation, management of contaminated soil has become a political priority in China. In this study, researchers reviewed the current system in China as compared to Europe and provide recommendations for the sustainable management of soil.

German greenbelt policies successfully protect valuable areas from urbanisation

Greenbelt policies in Germany, used to curb urban sprawl, are effective in protecting open spaces and the valuable natural resources they cover, a new study has found. Nevertheless, urban development can ‘leapfrog’ greenbelts, hopping over them into areas with less restrictive planning policies. Researchers recommend that such areas are also included in urban development control plans.

German soil monitoring programme could assess impacts of GM crops

Effective regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) calls for monitoring of the potential environmental risks. This study explored whether the German permanent soil monitoring programme could be a useful tool for this purpose. The researchers say the programme has potential to monitor the effects of GMOs on local soil communities, but that adaptations would be necessary.

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.

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.

Governance of new technologies: recommendations for responsible innovation in nanotechnology

Effective risk governance is important when developing new technologies. This study assessed the approaches to governance of nanotechnology in Europe, based on a comprehensive review of literature and practices, complemented by discussions with key stakeholders. The study provides a new analytical framework for exploring the strengths and weaknesses of governance strategies and makes recommendations specific to nanotechnology.

‘Bridging’ organisations increase farmer commitment to Common Agricultural Policy

‘Network bridging organisations’, such as farmer unions, Regional Nature Parks and Local Action Groups, promote cooperation between farmers, non-state collective actors and state actors under the Common Agricultural Policy. This study finds that farmers who have regular contact with these organisations show a higher commitment to long-term practice change. This could represent an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of payments for environmental services in Europe.

Golden jackal should not be treated as an alien species in Europe

Expansion of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) across Europe has led to its designation as an alien species in some Member States. In the first continent-wide study of the species, researchers characterise the genetic structure of the European population and attempt to identify its origin. The results suggest the golden jackal was not introduced to European countries by humans and therefore should not be treated as alien.

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.

Environmental taxation in the right place can increase business productivity

Industry has traditionally claimed that strict environmental regulation has a negative effect on its competitiveness. However, a recent theory proposes it may actually increase productivity and innovation. This study used a large database of inter-sectoral transactions to investigate the effect of environmental taxation on manufacturing businesses across Europe. The findings show that environmental regulation can increase innovation and productivity.

Public participation in land use planning in Romania

Approximately 1000 km2 of agricultural or natural land is lost every year in the EU due to land-use change. When this occurs close to residential areas, it can lead to conflict with local people. This study explored the views of local people in Romania, and compared them to experts. The authors discuss similarities and differences, and say that participation, where both locals and experts communicate, is key to developing effective land use policies.

Geodiversity should be better integrated into ecosystem assessments

Information about geodiversity — i.e. the variety of the material, non-biological parts of the natural world — could be better used and more integrated in environmental management in the UK, finds new research. The authors examined the inclusion of geodiversity information in UK assessments and identified a number of areas where geoscience knowledge is vital for informing ecosystem management.

Integrating Environmental Risk Assessment – December 2015

Environmental risk assessment is challenging because of the complexity of the physical and ecological systems around us. Natural disasters, the spread of dangerous substances, ecosystem changes leading to food and health security issues, and the emergence of new materials, new events and new knowledge make it essential to update our understanding continually, to be able to identify threats and opportunities for timely action. This Thematic Issue presents some collaborative and integrated paths towards forward-thinking assessment and management of environmental risks.

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.

The German environmental specimen bank – a blueprint for EU chemicals management?

Environmental specimen banks (ESBs) first emerged in the 1960s and are now essential to environmental management across the globe. ESBs sample and archive environmental specimens and can be used to identify the distributions of chemicals within ecosystems and trace their exposure over time. This study uses the German ESB to illustrate their potential for chemicals monitoring in the EU.

IMPASEA: a new framework to assess marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have well-reported ecological benefits, but may also have important socioeconomic effects on local communities. Existing methods to assess these effects have been hampered by a number of limitations. This paper describes a new framework to monitor and assess the socioeconomic effects of MPAs, which overcomes many of these limitations to provide greater value for decision makers.

Indicators for Sustainable Cities - November 2015

Urban sustainability indicators are tools that allow planners, managers and policymakers to gauge the socio-economic and environmental impact of existing urban designs, infrastructures, policies, waste disposal systems, pollution and citizens’ access to services. They allow cities to monitor the success of sustainability interventions. This In-depth Report aims to provide local government actors and stakeholders with a concise guide to the best indicator tools currently available.

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.

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.

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.

Some plants are more sensitive to herbicides during reproductive stages of life cycle

This study assessed the effects of herbicides on non-target plants in Denmark and Canada. The findings showed that some plants are more sensitive to herbicides in the reproductive stages of their life cycle and can experience delays in flowering and reduced seed production. The authors say future ecological assessments should consider reproductive outcomes.

Presence of invasive American mink shifts the sex-ratio of the European polecat across Europe

The invasion of the American mink (Neovison vison) is linked to a shift in the adult sex ratio of the native European polecat (Mustela putorius) across its entire range, a new study has discovered. Through aggressive competition, the American mink has decreased the number of reproductive female European polecats. This is the first study to identify such an effect upon a native species across its entire range in Europe.

Quantifying the ecosystem services provided by urban green spaces

Urban green spaces provide important ecosystem services in cities, from recreation to the mitigation of noise and air pollution. This study quantified the ecosystem services (ES) provided by green spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using new methods to evaluate high-resolution land-cover data. The findings show that different types of green space provide different ES, highlighting the importance of careful design during city planning. The authors say their method to map ES supply will aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.

Marine protected areas increase survival of Atlantic cod

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are widely used to safeguard marine ecosystems across Europe. This study investigated the effect of a partially protected area (PPA) off the coast of Norway on a population of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). The PPA reduced the number of deaths due to fishing, increased survival and stimulated movement to surrounding areas. The authors say that preventing fishing altogether would increase survival even further and recommend no-take zones in areas where populations are severely reduced.

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.

Environmental migrants need better human rights protection

A human rights ‘protection gap’ exists for people forced to migrate by environmental stress and climate change, according to researchers. The lack of a legal framework and practices to protect ‘environmental refugees’ stems from the historic and political context of migration issues — and land access rights more broadly — the researchers say in a recently published paper.

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.

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.

Reducing global particulate matter pollution could save millions of lives

Globally, more than 3.2 million premature deaths per year are attributed to exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5). A new study estimates that 2.1 million premature deaths could be avoided if countries achieved the WHO guideline for PM2.5. Even meeting their closest WHO interim concentration targets could avoid 750 000 (23%) deaths attributed to PM2.5 per year.

Approaches to park management influence attitudes towards nature

Green spaces like urban parks can counteract the loss of plant and animal species caused by urbanisation. For many city dwellers, parks provide most of their experiences of natural spaces. Researchers have compared different methods of park management in Paris and Berlin, and assessed how they influence citizens' attitudes towards nature.

Recognising synergies and trade-offs could slow world’s biodiversity loss

Amid efforts to reduce the loss of global biodiversity, a new study discusses how synergies and trade-offs between different conservation objectives should be researched and recognised in policy making. For example, by increasing protected areas, habitat loss and species decline could also be prevented.

Noise from human activity can impair foraging in bats

Human-generated noise can reduce the foraging activity of wildlife and should be taken into account during conservation planning, a new study suggests. The test showed that traffic noise decreased the foraging activity of Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii) by inducing an avoidance response. The new experimental approach could be used to identify how noise disturbs any species capable of detecting noise.

Decline in bees and wasps linked to land-use changes

The declining number of bee and wasp species in England has been linked to historic changes in land-use in a recent study. Researchers say that policies which promote diverse landscapes offer more opportunities for bees and wasps to nest and forage and are best for conserving these insect pollinators.

Marine governance across the English Channel lacks integration

The English Channel (La Manche) is one of the world’s busiest sea areas, and management of it is a challenging task. This study reviews governance across the Channel, finding poor integration between countries, sectors, policies and research. The study also considers management in terms of the ecosystem approach and suggests that linking research between the UK and France could be key to improving marine governance.

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.

Minamata Convention will help China and India avoid mercury emissions in 2050

Under the United Nations Minamata Convention on mercury, China and India could avoid a combined 242 tonnes of mercury emissions in 2050 from coal-fired power plants, a new study predicts. This amount is equal to approximately 12% of total emissions in 2010. While the benefits will be mostly regional, lower mercury deposition in surrounding oceans is good news for Europeans who eat fish sourced from those waters.

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.

Improving resource efficiency: new method identifies key areas of product improvement

A new five-step method has been developed for assessing the resource efficiency of products and improving the reuse, recycling and recovery of material at a product’s end of life. The Resource Efficiency Assessment of Products (REAPro) method allows the identification and testing of practical measures to improve resource efficiency at both the product and policy level.

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.

Tools to reduce resource consumption identified by analysis of historical resource efficiency

Improving the efficiency of industries and products has not led to overall reductions in the consumption of goods and services, a new study has found. The research looked at the historical relationship between efficiency improvements and resource consumption across 10 different activities, including electricity generation and passenger air travel. However, shorter decade-long periods, where efficiency improvements outpaced resource consumption, suggested that legislation and price pressures could be effective at reducing resource consumption.

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.

Post-communist countries may struggle more with Natura 2000 implementation

Natura 2000 sites may not be adequately protected in Eastern Europe, according to a recent publication. Researchers in the Czech Republic found that, despite being designated as a Natura 2000 site, environmentally damaging activities continued in the Šumava National Park. They recommend that good environmental education is needed to help post-communist countries implement Natura 2000 and better recognise its value and importance.

Monitoring Nature: Research Developments - June 2015

This Thematic Issue provides a flavour of recent work by scientists in the area of biodiversity monitoring to highlight both up-to-date approaches to conservation and evaluation, and how long-term monitoring data could be used more effectively in management and policy decisions.

Evaluating conservation programmes: what are the best methods?

Monitoring and evaluation of conservation projects is vital to ensuring their success. However, there is currently a lack of clarity about the different methods available and the ways in which they can complement each other. For this study the researchers explore the characteristics of five approaches — ambient monitoring, management assessment, performance measurement, impact evaluation, and systematic review — and examine their strengths and weaknesses.

Biodiversity offset policy: dangers that must be avoided

Biodiversity offset policies may inadvertently incentivise behaviours which actually accelerate biodiversity loss, new research has found. The study’s authors identify four ways this can occur and make recommendations for prevention.

Latest emission control technology could eradicate harmful air pollution hotspots

Switching to the best available emission control technologies could eliminate 99% of particulate matter pollution 'hotspots', a new study suggests. The researchers reached this conclusion by expanding the local-scale capabilities of an existing computer model that estimates the effects of air pollution policies and control measures.

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.

Water management planning approach deals with deep uncertainties

More adaptive approaches to planning could help policymakers deal with deep uncertainties about the future of our planet. Researchers have developed a method for adaptive planning which they suggest could protect against failure when future predictions turn out to be inaccurate. They illustrate their approach using the case of water management in the Rhine Delta region of the Netherlands.

More needs to be done to halt global biodiversity loss and meet Aichi targets

The Aichi biodiversity targets, set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, are unlikely to be achieved by 2020, a new study suggests — despite some progress towards halting the global loss of biodiversity. The authors of the study call for policy responses to be strengthened if the ongoing loss of nature is to be stopped.

Nutrient pollution in Dutch streams is falling, but further reductions needed

Nutrient pollution in The Netherlands is falling as a result of national and EU policies, new research has shown. However, many waters still routinely fail to meet environmental quality standards. The study, which focused on the headwaters of 167 rivers where agricultural fertilisers are the main cause of pollution, showed that up to 76% of these did not meet water quality standards.

Environmental sustainability in urban planning: a Finnish case study

The complexity of environmental issues and a lack of co-operation or shared objectives between parties involved in urban planning are preventing promotion of environmental sustainability, a new study suggests. The Finnish research, based on focus groups with 32 professionals in urban planning and environmental sustainability, suggests that the short-term economic goals of local authorities, the complexity of environmental sustainability, and a lack of co-operation between different decision-making groups in urban planning were creating barriers to achieving sustainability.

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.

Marine environment adequately covered despite complex legislation

More than 200 pieces of English and EU-wide marine environmental legislation have been analysed in a recent review. While complex, the legislation adequately covered all areas of the marine environment, the authors conclude. However, there is opportunity to remove overlap and conflicts between different legislation and improve cross-border co-operation.

How to communicate the risks of population growth?

We need a better understanding of how the public perceive the risks of population growth, a new discussion paper argues. Research into public perceptions of the environmental and social challenges of population growth could guide behavioural-change communications to help limit growth and manage the difficulties. Specific communication issues include how to convey statistical information and the complex impacts of population growth.

Cost-benefit-analysis use limited by lack of belief and fears of loss of influence

Reluctance to use cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in environmental decision making in Germany stems from a preference for traditional approaches and a fear that it leads to loss of influence. This is suggested by new research based on interviews with those responsible for water policy management.

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.

When can science help conflicting stakeholders reach agreement?

Does scientific evidence always help conflicting stakeholders to reach agreement on how to deal with environmental risks? Scientists have now developed a mathematical framework to help answer this question. They show that stakeholder perceptions of the costs and benefits of regulations, as well as their perceptions of the quality of new research, will determine whether they change their standpoint.

MSFD implementation: strengths and barriers assessed across European marine regions

There are adequate resources to implement the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) in Europe, a recent study concludes. However, more clarity is needed on the roles of different institutions at EU, regional and national levels in implementing the Directive.

Users value Marine Spatial Planning in pilot project

A pilot Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) project in the UK has found MSP to be a useful approach in managing marine waters sustainably. Sharing the knowledge and experiences gained in developing the Shetland Islands’ Marine Spatial Plan (SMSP) can help other authorities in the process of developing similar plans, says the project team.

Mutual trust between coastal stakeholders key to successful climate change adaptation

A lack of trust between stakeholders, planners and decision makers in coastal Portugal is obstructing adaptation to climate change plans, finds a new study. The researchers suggest that building trust between stakeholders and coastal managers could lead to improved participation and dialogue for future planning, financing and implementation of coastal adaptation.

The Irish marine environment: high public awareness, but low trust in management

The Irish public are sceptical of government and industry’s ability to manage the marine economy, finds a survey. However, they place a large amount of trust in scientists. The research also indicates that people living in Ireland have a reasonable level of knowledge of the importance of different marine ecosystem services.

Marine Protected Areas: how to improve community support?

Plans for new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) need to consider social impacts alongside economic and environmental impacts, according to a recent study, which found that an MPA in the UK has increased some tensions within its local community. The researchers suggest that collaborative management could also help increase support for MPAs and reduce stakeholder conflict.

Balanced Scorecard tool could support Integrated Coastal Zone Management

A strategic management tool used to monitor progress towards organisational goals can be adapted to Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), according to a new study. The researchers adapted the Balanced Scorecard for the Mediterranean region, and suggest that such an approach could be applied to other marine regions.

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.

Coastal ecosystem services’ valuation by stakeholders improves planning decisions

A framework to value marine and coastal zone ecosystem services, which acknowledges but transcends monetary value, has been proposed by researchers. Using this approach, coastal managers can integrate the different values placed on ecosystem goods and services by various stakeholders to assess how these values affect planning decisions.

Public participation in flood risk management: the case of Germany

How can stakeholders best be involved in the implementation of the EU Floods Directive? According to recent research examining Germany as a case study, three types of strategy are being pursued across the country’s 16 federal states: the first draws on Water Framework Directive (WFD) procedures, the second meets only minimum requirements for participation and the third involves stakeholders more intensively.

Congestion schemes have positive spillover effect on green behaviour

Congestion schemes can encourage people to adopt environmentally friendly behaviours more generally, a new study suggests. Researchers who surveyed car owners after the introduction of a congestion scheme in Stockholm found that after its introduction nearly half of people surveyed adopted greener behaviours such as conserving energy and water.

Target the crop not the soil - to reduce fertiliser use

'Feed the crop not the soil' is the message of a new review into sustainable phosphorus use. Currently, phosphorus fertiliser is applied to the soil, and plants then take it up through the roots. However, more precise nutrient management is needed on farms, the researchers say, so that the phosphorus is targeted at the crop just as it needs it.

Industry may not be paying its way in packaging waste management

Many EU businesses are failing to cover the net cost of recycling packaging waste, new research suggests. Industry is required to take responsibility for treating and recycling waste packaging in the EU; however, this study shows that producers in France, Portugal and Romania do not fully cover waste management costs.

Coordination across Member States benefits Eurasian otter conservation assessments

Species surveys should be standardised across Member State borders to assess conservation status accurately, a new study concludes. The researchers assessed the conservation status of the Eurasian otter across the Republic of Ireland–UK border, finding that it was favourable for the whole island of Ireland. This provides a case study of surveys designed to provide data that is comparable across borders, say the researchers.

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.

Small mammals flourish under UK agri-environment scheme

Small mammals clearly benefit from a UK agri-environment scheme (AES), a recent study concludes. Numbers and diversity of voles, shrews and mice were found to increase on and around farmland with 6 m wide field margins and patches of semi-natural habitat - features encouraged under the government-led AES.

New tool to identify best management plans for Natura 2000 sites

A new decision-making aid to identify the best type of management plan for Natura 2000 sites has been developed by researchers. Using extensive data on different facets of biodiversity and human impacts, the researchers created two indices to show where conservation measures need to be integrated with socio-economic development. This study used sites in Italy as a case study but the method is widely applicable to all Natura 2000 sites, the researchers stress.

Improved population trends for Eastern European birds protected by recent legislation

National bird conservation policies implemented in Eastern Europe in the 1990s have substantially benefited bird populations across the region, a new study has shown. Compared with the period 1970-1990, the population trends of species protected by national legislation improved during 1990-2000, particularly for those species receiving focused attention. Across the 306 species studied, the average rate of decline was much lower after protection than before. This suggests that modern conservation policies in the region were already taking effect.

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.

Cycling infrastructure: financial returns can be over 20 times the initial investment

Transport policies that produce physically segregated cycle lanes on main roads, combined with low-speed local streets, will boost numbers of cyclists and provide the best financial return on investment, new research suggests. Using Auckland, New Zealand as a case study the researchers showed that the economic benefits of this policy can outweigh the costs by more than 20 times.

Influencing environmental behaviour through nudging and information

One of the greatest challenges facing environmental policymakers is encouraging people to behave more sustainably. A recent study explores how 'nudging' people to make environmentally friendly choices, together with providing information, can be a successful combination for achieving behavioural change.

Support for 'pay-as-you-throw' waste schemes increases once experienced

Public support for pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) waste schemes is significantly higher among those who have actually experienced them, finds new research. The study indicates that there is less resistance to such schemes, which charge householders a fee that varies with the amount of waste collected, once they have been introduced.

Public acceptance of restrictive policies influenced by their location

Local context may have more influence over public acceptance of restrictive policies, such as road tolls and parking fees, than factors such as age, gender or education, a new study suggests. The researchers analysed public reaction to Norwegian policies used to reduce car use and found that there were three aspects of local context that were particularly important: local urban development policies, sense of local identity, and public understanding of the problems.

Large-scale conservation partnerships: challenges and successes identified

Conservation partnerships that span geographic, biological and administrative boundaries are needed to deal with many global environmental problems. However, there are challenges to managing these complex, large-scale programmes that involve many partners and stakeholders. A new study examines the nature of these challenges and identifies the factors that lead to partnership success.

Green taxes can boost the economy

Green taxes could boost economic growth and reduce the 'cash-in-hand' untaxed shadow economy, according to new research. The study modelled green taxes' effects on Spain's economy and suggests the revenue from these taxes would increase economic activity and employment if it was used to reduce income tax.

Green technology transfer promoted by emissions standards - even in absence of trade

China does not export cars to Europe, yet it has adopted the Euro emissions standard for vehicles. A recent study argues this is because international standards can encourage foreign investors to share advanced technical knowledge with companies in developing and emerging economies – thus bringing a package of environmental and economic benefits. In China’s case, its car industry is now better prepared for future trade in a global market, thanks to this strategy.

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.

New tool to aid decision-making in sustainable consumption

Researchers have developed a new tool to help policymakers access and use data regarding the environmental impacts of consumption and production. Using the EUREAPA tool, decision makers can analyse data from a range of perspectives and create scenarios to understand the implications of changes in consumption and production.

Social Innovation and the Environment

In-depth Report Issue 10

Social innovation is a powerful and valuable tool in the environmental sector. It involves social groups and communities creating, developing and diffusing ideas and solutions to address pressing social needs. More recently, social innovation has been gaining policy attention, providing a means to stimulate new ideas that address complex issues alongside ensuring citizen participation. Due to its participatory and creative nature, it is well positioned to address environmental challenges, which are multifaceted and often require societal or behavioural shifts towards more sustainable options.

Mediterranean ozone levels fall in rural areas, but rise in cities

Air pollution legislation has led to reduced ozone pollution in rural areas in western Mediterranean countries; however, levels in urban and suburban areas are still increasing, new research concludes. This suggests that ground-level ozone, linked to human health issues as well as environmental damage, has the potential to become a more significant air quality issue than previously believed, the researchers say.