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A new German study suggests that residents’ level of satisfaction with their urban neighbourhood can be predicted from their perceptions of multiple and co-occurring burdens, such as poor air quality, lack of green space, noise and low cleanliness.
Vast resources are required to extract speciality and difficult-to-recycle metals that are often only used once before disposal. Researchers argue in a new analysis that more must be done to improve metal recycling rates in order to secure our material needs for the future.
More Europeans are driving diesel cars, with important implications for vehicle emissions. A new study suggests that diesel cars may emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) at levels far higher than emissions standards, even when considering the newest generation of diesel cars. Part of the problem is that tests of vehicle emissions in the laboratory do not accurately reflect on-road emissions.
For the first time, researchers have quantified the link between heat waves, the removal of ozone from the atmosphere by vegetation, ground-level ozone concentrations and its impact on human health and ecosystems. They found that high ozone levels, enhanced by effectively 'turning-off' the loss of ozone to the vegetated surface, could have caused around 460 extra deaths during a UK heat wave in 2006. In contrast, the heat wave protected ecosystems from ozone damage as plants absorbed less ozone from the atmosphere.
Networks of wireless sensors could be used to monitor traffic noise. A new study shows that the wifi sensor systems, although slightly less accurate than precision noise monitoring systems, can provide detailed information, with dense coverage, about traffic noise over a longer period. Their low cost and low energy requirements make them particularly suitable and attractive for use by local authorities or even community groups.
Renewable energy plays an important role in economic development, according to a recent study which investigated the relationship between economic growth and energy consumption in Europe.
Heat waves are predicted to become more frequent under climate change, and are likely to be particularly severe in cities and towns due to the Urban Heat Island effect (UHI). A recent UK study of UHI mitigation strategies has demonstrated that even a small urban river can result in a cooling effect of 1°C during temperatures higher than 20°C, and that these cooling effects can be improved by careful urban design of the surrounding areas.
Recent research reveals that even remote areas of the oceans are affected by increasing levels of plastic waste on the seafloor. The study found that quantities of litter from human activities, mostly plastic, on the seabed of an isolated Arctic site, doubled from 2002 to 2011.
A new study provides the first global estimates of river and coastal flooding, highlighting past and future trends, and indicates that Asia and Europe are two of the regions that are worst affected. The researchers suggest that their methods could be useful in developing a global framework for flood risk assessment.
The decline in numbers of wild bees has caused concern regarding falling levels of pollination for important agricultural crops. Researchers have now demonstrated that the diversity of the pollinator community can significantly affect pollination.
A recent study confirms that some European ash trees are more genetically-resistant to the devastating ash dieback disease. These individuals could therefore be selected for gene conservation and/or start a breeding programme to save the European ash.
Industries, such as paper production, require large amounts of water which can drain vital supplies of fresh drinking water. Researchers working towards the ultimate goal of 'closing the cycle' by re-using industrial water onsite have now identified innovative new treatments for wastewater from a paper mill.
A recent analysis highlights the potential of natural products as an indispensable source for drug discovery. Natural compounds can be used directly as potential medicines or can provide templates for the design of synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs. Furthermore, because of their ability to interact selectively with biological macromolecules, they also provide a tool to better understand biochemical processes and thus identify new potential targets for the treatment of human diseases.
Throughout history people have turned to nature for relief from illnesses and this remains true today. With new technologies, researchers have an even greater ability to identify natural products that may lead to treatment or prevention of a wide range of health problems.
A species faced with extinction is more than a potential tragedy for the species concerned. Human wellbeing and economy depend on the world’s biodiversity and ecosystem services, but human actions are damaging the environment and threatening the existence of countless organisms that have, or could provide, humankind with valuable medicines, according to a recent publication.
Undiscovered cancer treatments from marine organisms could be worth between US $563 billion (€428.5 billion) and US $5.69 trillion (€4.33 trillion), according to a recent study. The researchers estimate that there may be as many as 594,232 novel compounds waiting to be discovered in unstudied marine species, and that these could lead to between 55 and 214 new anti-cancer drugs. The study only accounted for anti-cancer drug revenues. In reality, these chemicals from the sea can have numerous other biomedical applications including antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory uses.
Preserving biodiversity seems to reduce the emergence and spread of human diseases in many cases, according to an investigation into the links between biodiversity and human health. It concludes that there is mounting evidence indicating that preserving ecosystems in their natural state generally decreases the occurrence of infectious diseases.
It is increasingly evident that human health is closely linked to the environment, and to biodiversity. A study commissioned by the European Commission summarises the many and varied ways in which disturbances to biodiversity affect the spread of human diseases.
The goals of providing sufficient quantities of food to support the world’s growing population, whilst simultaneously protecting its biodiversity, may seem incompatible. However, a recent review of the literature has highlighted how ‘alternative’ agricultural practices can offer a realistic solution to the problems of achieving both food security and biodiversity conservation.
Researchers have found that crops which rely heavily on pollinators have lower yields compared to less pollinator-dependent crops. They also have slower growth in yields and less stable yields from year to year. The results highlight the importance of managing biodiversity to support ecosystem services, such as pollination, on which much modern agriculture depends.
Speed constraints for aircraft are put in place, at some airports, to minimise noise pollution in local areas, however, such practices can be very fuel-inefficient. New research has now shown that relaxing departure speed limits could substantially reduce CO2 emissions, while maintaining acceptable noise levels.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can interfere with the hormonal systems of both humans and wildlife. New research quantifying EDCs in marine environments in Greece found concentrations which present significant risks to sediment-dwelling organisms.
New research in France has analysed the effectiveness of legal instruments and environmental assessments to protect natural areas against the impacts of roads. The Natura 2000 network appears to be the most effective, but the study calls for environmental assessments to take place earlier on in decision-making process for road projects to better protect natural areas.
Some scientists have suggested that, when all potential inefficiencies are accounted for, local food distribution systems may be less sustainable than globalised systems. However, new research examining the behaviour of participants in local food networks in France suggests that they can be as energy efficient as globalised systems.
A new study has estimated that nitrogen oxide (NOx) and harmful ozone levels will fall significantly in Europe, by 2030, if all current and planned air quality legislation is implemented. The co-beneficial effects of climate change policies could also reduce levels of these air pollutants by a further 40%.
How does climate change cause extinction? An extensive analysis of the available evidence has explored this question and concluded that climate change’s effects on the interactions between species is likely to be the main reason for local extinctions. For example, climate change may lead to the loss of prey for predators.
Careful choice of tree species and sites could transform plantations into refuges for woodland plant diversity, new research from Ireland suggests. Plantations of native species on or near historic woodland and those with adequate light levels below the tree canopy were found to support more plant species.
A recent study has investigated how the relationships between a company's owners, managers and boards of directors may influence its environmental performance. The findings indicate that environmental performance is higher in companies with powerful CEOs, who are also chairpersons on their board of directors.
A set of guidelines has been developed to reduce soil erosion by planting vegetation in desertification hotspots.Farmers and policymakers can use the guidelines to identify the most suitable places to plant vegetation in the channels where water and sediment move through the landscape.
Globally, up to 27% of all steel and 33% of all aluminium could potentially be reused, according to research. Significant barriers to reuse, such as component incompatibility between products and metal corrosion, must first be addressed if these reuse figures are to be achieved.
Shifts in species' ranges are expected under climate change, as organisms move to find suitable conditions. New research in the Mediterranean Sea has found that the way species interact could also have a significant effect on their resilience in a changing climate.
Shifts in species' ranges are expected under climate change, as organisms move to find suitable conditions. New research in the Mediterranean Sea has found that the way species interact could also have a significant effect on their resilience in a changing climate.
A recent international study has compared different Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) methods and suggests that improved enforcement and compliance would increase implementation of key strategies. It also highlights the potential for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to develop science and policy integration.
Falling levels of insect pollination are causing declining yields of important agricultural crops. However, new research from South Africa now indicates that planting small patches of native flowers in agricultural fields can be a profitable and sustainable method of increasing pollination and yield.
The last two decades have seen a series of new construction waste policies management in Hong Kong. One of the most significant is an offsite construction waste sorting (CWS) programme which, since its implementation in 2006, has separated 5.11 million tonnes of construction waste into different materials. The researchers suggest that the study provides an important reference for other countries working to minimise construction waste.
Citizen science is not only a tool for collecting valuable scientific data, it can also enable participants to reconnect with nature and encourage pro-conservation behaviour, new research has shown. Participants in a French butterfly monitoring programme reported making wildlife-friendly changes to their gardens as a result of taking part in the initiative.
In a recent experiment in Norway, electrical appliance stores increased their sales of energy-efficient tumble driers when consumers were made aware of their cheaper lifetime operating costs by shop staff and a new product labelling system.
To date, it has been difficult to collect data that are robust enough to demonstrate specific effects of chemical pollution in rivers on aquatic wildlife. However, a recent study combining detailed chemical, toxicological and ecological data in three European river basins now provides evidence linking cause and effect by revealing significant differences in the effects of differently polluted sediments on the organisms living in the river basins and the riverbed biodiversity.
Future decades could see shifts in phytoplankton populations, leading to less diversity among phytoplankton strains in increasingly warm tropical oceans, researchers predict. These microorganisms play an important role in regulating the Earth’s climate.
The risk of small or medium oil spills from ships, pipelines, storage facilities and refineries is higher than from oil exploration and production. However, the risk of severe oil spills is highest from exploration and production, according to a recent study. Furthermore, the study suggests that the Deepwater Horizon accident, the largest recorded oil spill, cannot be considered as a particularly rare event.
Increasing energy efficiency in Europe is vital to achieving a sustainable economy and tackling climate change. However, new research has shown that lack of capital and concerns about costs of disruption are major barriers to implementing energy efficiency measures in the foundry industry.
Danish researchers have recently revealed that crop harvesting can release high levels of Alternaria fungal spores, affecting air quality locally and, occasionally, over long distances. The fungus is known to trigger human allergic reactions, and the study calls for improved monitoring and forecasting of airborne fungal spores.
A new study assesses the potential impacts of climate change on human health in the Netherlands. The researchers conducted a survey, which asked health experts to rate the level of uncertainty attached to different health impacts of climate change, which highlighted heat-related deaths and vector-borne diseases as particularly relevant to climate change adaptation.
A new study has shown that agricultural products make the largest contribution to the water footprint of the EU and recommends reducing food waste, changes in diet and increased agricultural efficiencies. On average, each EU citizen consumes 4,815 litres of water per day, when the water used to produce all goods and services, including those imported into the EU, is accounted for.
A standardised method to help choose the most cost-effective measures to remediate contaminated sites has been developed by Austrian researchers. The method takes into account a wide range of factors, including the principles of sustainability.
As bee populations decline, exposure of pollinators to pesticides is of increasing concern. Italian research has now demonstrated that an index of exposure which accounts for insect behaviour, as well as pesticide application, provides a valuable tool for assessing the realistic risk of pesticides to pollinators.
A new report indicates that some progress has been made towards meeting key sustainable transport targets, but challenges remain. Improvements in passenger vehicle efficiency have led to reductions in emissions, however, reductions in oil consumption are not sufficient to meet targets, with more policy initiatives and continued monitoring needed to ensure that sustainability goals are achieved.
Under pressure from rising food prices, many nations have begun to acquire large tracts of agricultural land in foreign countries, a practice known as 'land grabbing'. New research has now quantified current levels of land grabbing and demonstrated that it is accompanied by concerning levels of 'water grabbing' which could affect water supply in the 'grabbed' countries.
Valuations of water quality as an ecosystem service often fail to include related services like recreation or human health, and do not consider the effects of water quality changes due to management. Researchers have now developed a template for valuation that considers multiple services and links management actions to changes in water quality and ultimate economic value.
The impact of climate change on the distribution of tree species is likely to have economic implications for the timber industry. A new study has estimated that climate-induced shifts in range could reduce the value of European forest land for the timber industry by between 14 and 50% by 2100. At the higher end of this estimate, this could equate to a potential loss of several hundred billions of euros.
Researchers have presented their proposal for a global monitoring method to quickly detect small changes in bee populations, which could pre-warn of large-scale drops in pollination activity. Implementing the method could be a cost-effective way to ensure a sustainable food supply, according to the authors of the new study.
Even small areas of semi-natural vegetation, farmlands and abandoned farmlands provide important ecosystem services in urban environments. However, there is widespread loss of these non-urbanised areas (NUAs) owing to poor planning and urban sprawl. A new five-step process has now been developed that can inform effective planning to protect and enhance the value of urban green spaces.
Sustainable management of phosphorus requires better information on how it flows through the environment via consumption and waste. New research from Sweden has found that 40% of phosphorus released by Gothenburg to the environment is in sewage sludge and a further 40% is in incineration ash. This suggests that phosphorus could be recycled from solid waste as well as from wastewater.
Improved public communications and standardised collection systems can greatly increase uptake of safe and sustainable waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) disposal and recycling. This is according to new insights from Italy and Romania, where WEEE collection rates have risen in response to these measures.
A free online system for assessing the sustainability of buildings is due to be launched across Europe in July this year. The tool captures scientific complexity whilst being accessible and easy-to-use, its developers say.
There may be no greater strategic investment in health than in the protection of biodiversity, or the variety of life on earth. This Thematic Issue addresses issues concerning the relationship between health, biodiversity and agriculture.
New research suggests that Natura 2000 sites are highly effective in minimising the number of endangered species of concern to European conservation. The findings may reduce concerns that poor coordination between Member States in setting up the European network of protected areas has led to inadequate protection of vulnerable species.
Re-routing flights to avoid the Arctic Circle may help reduce global temperatures and increase sea ice, a recent study concludes. The accompanying reduction in damages from global warming could outweigh the costs of increased fuel usage and operational changes for airlines by 47-55 times.
Researchers have found that ocean acidification leads to changes in the ways that clownfish normally respond to sound. As many species rely on hearing for orientation, habitat selection, avoiding predators and communication, ocean acidification could compromise auditory behaviour crucial for survival.
Researchers in Berlin have demonstrated that urban wasteland areas can be used as suitable habitats for a range of grassland species. Using simple and cost-effective measures to sow grassland seed mixtures, they found that such areas flourished despite poor soil conditions and high levels of impact from people.
A new study indicates that 'commitment' interventions are effective in encouraging environmentally-friendly behaviour, both in the short- and long-term. However, to increase the effectiveness of such interventions, whereby people promise or pledge to perform certain behaviours, more research is needed on the psychological processes behind their effects.
A recent pan-European study has reviewed the factors which influence how annoyed a person feels about road traffic and aircraft noise. Among its findings, residents in terraced housing or apartments were less annoyed by road traffic noise than residents in semi-detached or detached housing.
A recent study suggests that mercury deposited from the atmosphere is the main source of mercury pollution in the open oceans. Curbing mercury emissions will slowly lead to a decrease in contaminated fish, as eaten by humans, within a few years to decades after the cuts have been made, the researchers suggest.
The social, political, technological and geophysical factors that affect the control of climate change have been assessed in a recent study. The results suggest that political factors, in terms of delaying the implementation of mitigation strategies, have the biggest effect on limiting global warming to below 2°C.
A recent study suggests that a shift to more sustainable development, based on ecosystem services, is needed to support human health and wellbeing. Focusing on ecosystem services provided by river catchments, this study recommends that more needs to be done on a practical level to support decision-makers, in a way that recognises the relationships between different types of ecosystem services.
Predicting the effects of changing levels of atmospheric gases on agricultural crops is vital to ensuring food security under global environmental change. As well as yield, impacts on the nutritional value of crops must be considered. A new study has now shown that increased ozone decreases yields and increases the proportion of protein in the grain. Conversly, elevated levels of CO2 boosts wheat yields, but it also reduces protein proportion in two different ways.
Cutting mercury pollution could save Europe €8-9 billion per year by protecting children's brain development, suggests a recent study. A third of babies in Europe are estimated to be exposed to unsafe levels of mercury before they are born, when in the womb, which may reduce their IQ and, in turn, restrict their educational and working achievements over their lifetime. This has long-term implications for society and the economy.
The impact of polluted urban soil on trees is highlighted in a recent study from Latvia. The researchers found that high salt levels from de-icing chemicals and nutrient imbalance in soil damaged lime trees growing in the city of Riga.
The latest research on Ecosystem-based Adaptation is brought together in this Thematic Issue, providing evidence for the effectiveness of this approach to combatting the impacts of climate change with the help of nature.
Conserving salt marshes helps protect our coasts, according to research which shows that they stabilise shorelines and protect them from damage by incoming waves. Their benefits are particularly significant in light of the destruction caused by storms and flooding, which are likely to increase under climate change.
Coastal wetlands can substantially reduce erosion, property damage and human deaths in the face of rising sea levels and severe storms, recent research concludes. Understanding whether wetlands can provide effective coastal protection is essential to developing effective climate change adaptation strategies.
New ecosystem-based solutions which provide flexible resilience to coastal flooding, rather than rigid defences, are needed in the face of global environmental change. A recent study examines a new coastal protection scheme in the Netherlands which reduces ecosystem damage whilst offering resilient defence against flooding. Using this case study, the researchers present a framework for evaluating climate change adaptation measures called 'Building with Nature'.
Climate change is a particular threat to island nations and effective adaptation is vital. A new analysis examines current adaptation measures in tropical Oceania and identifies guidelines for implementing resilient, ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). Among its recommendations, local communities should be fully involved in planning adaptation measures.
Protecting ecosystems and the services they provide is increasingly thought to be a sustainable and effective approach to help society adapt to climate change. Islands states, at risk from a variety of different threats, including sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns and ocean acidification, have been among the first to trial this approach. A new study examines measures taken in the Caribbean and highlights the importance of integrating local and external knowledge.
Green spaces in cities can have a cooling influence which helps reduce the 'urban heat island effect'. New research from Portugal has demonstrated that even a small community garden can provide a significant cooling impact that can help efforts to adapt to climate change.
Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change relies on the services provided by nature; new research has now demonstrated the wide potential of urban ecosystem services to aid local adaptation efforts. This study developed and trialled a streamlined method for assessing ecosystem services, such as temperature reduction and carbon sequestration, in four European cities, providing a valuable tool to help city planners enhance ecosystem services.
New research has shown that supplies of fresh water provided by rivers depend not only on rainfall, but also on the land use within the river catchment. In the Spanish Basque Country, grasslands were found to supply the greatest amount of river water, followed by native woodlands, with exotic woodland plantations providing the least. Researchers also call for more comprehensive analyses of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration and biodiversity, to inform land-use policy.
Forest management could help adaptation to climate change through its effects on water supply. A long-term US-based study has analysed the impact of forested land use changes on water flow into streams and rivers. It indicated that converting forests from deciduous to pine trees could help water storage in extreme wet conditions, but may be unsuitable in droughts. As such, it recommends tailoring management decisions to the context.
The advantages of soft ecosystem-based climate change adaptation over hard infrastructure-based approaches are becoming increasingly recognised. A new analysis highlights these advantages and calls for more effort to improve our understanding of ecosystem-based adaptation's (EbA) effectiveness.
A new review of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation has described the multi-functional benefits of integrating such measures into policy. It concludes that there is good evidence for the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), and that its adoption by policymakers and stakeholders should be encouraged.
Improving local water quality could mitigate the damaging effects of rising CO2 on marine ecosystems, new research suggests. Scientists in Australia found that nitrogen pollution in seawater, when acting in combination with heightened CO2 concentrations, had a significant effect on the growth of turfing algae, which displace kelp forest ecosystems.
The growing use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services is producing an increasing amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. New research has proposed a network model spanning Europe, USA and Canada that uses 'cloud computing' to supply renewable energy to IT data centres.
Applying a low voltage to polluted river sediment can boost microbes' natural ability to degrade harmful polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminants, according to a new study. The approach could be a cost-effective, sustainable strategy to bioremediate polluted sites.
Levels of air pollution significantly increase on the island of Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic when tourist cruise ships are present, according to a recent study. With shipping levels rising in the region, the researchers recommend that stricter emissions regulations are introduced in order to limit the impact of pollution on the Arctic environment.
Large-scale cultivation of bioenergy crops on marginal land is unfeasible, according to a recent study. While limiting bioenergy crops to less productive land could cut the sector's impact on food prices, the financial incentive to grow crops on more productive land may be too strong for landowners to ignore, the researchers suggest.
Using data gathered by satellites, scientists have monitored changes in fishing activity around Italy in the Mediterranean Sea for the period 2007-2010. From this, they developed new ecological indicators that gave a more detailed pattern of fishing activity in the Italian seas. In addition, the new indicators suggest that fish stocks on the seabed around Italy are continuing to decline.
Current knowledge on the availability of mineral resources is explored in a recent study, which focuses on phosphorus as a key example. Static measures of availability, such as the consumption-to-production ratio, are useful as early warning signals, the researchers suggest, but more dynamic indicators that consider technological development and population change are needed to better inform policy.
New research has investigated the many ways in which technological transfer occurs for wind power projects in developing countries. These range from trading with developed countries, to local innovation. In India and China, successful transfer was found to depend more on existing capabilities in these countries than international projects, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
A recent study compared the decentralised treatment of pharmaceutical contaminants in wastewater at hospitals with centralised treatment at conventional and upgraded wastewater plants. The results suggest that additional (post) treatments may not always provide significant benefits.
Increasing noise levels are a global environmental concern, and have been linked to important health issues, such as heart disease and cognitive development. New Danish research has now shown that it is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes.
Blue-green algae, or 'aquatic cyanobacteria', can produce harmful toxins and present a serious health hazard when they bloom in large numbers. Researchers from Germany have now identified plant species that could be used to sustainably treat water by removing such cyanobacterial toxins.
A recent study has described a simple method to screen the toxicity of materials used in consumer products. Using utility meter products as examples, the study found, for example, that stainless steel and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) had high toxicity potentials and suggests less toxic, but equally effective and priced, alternatives that could be used instead.
Researchers have discovered high levels of plastic particles and fibres, as well as black carbon (BC), which is formed by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, in the waters of the Jade Bay, an inshore basin off the coast of Germany in the Southern North Sea. The concentration of suspended particles are of concern because they have the potential to be ingested by fish and other marine life, and enter the food chain.
The presence of wild bees alongside honeybees was found to increase almond orchard production in a recent study. The findings demonstrate how increased biodiversity enhances ecosystem services, such as pollination, and provide an opportunity to increase agricultural yields whilst also benefitting wildlife.
A new tool to improve the measurement of waste management performance has been presented by a recent study. The researchers applied it to three high consuming cities aspiring to 'zero waste', finding San Francisco to be closer to achieving zero waste than Stockholm and Adelaide, due to its emphasis on reusing solid waste.
The amount of land and ocean that a country uses in order to produce food and other commodities, or its land or ocean 'footprint', increases by over a third for each doubling of income, new research shows. Thus, as nations become richer, and lifestyles become more affluent, pressure on natural resources increases.
Relatively simple, low-cost measures, such as insulating walls and installing solar collectors and efficient heaters for hot water can significantly reduce energy consumption in housing developments, according to a recent study from Portugal. Energy-efficient homes not only benefit the environment, but were found to potentially reduce residents' energy bills by over half in an apartment block studied by the researchers.
A recent study has revealed how water use has changed across the world over the last 60 years. Growing populations and economic development, particularly in newly-emerging countries, has increased water demand, but technological developments have led to water efficiencies and savings, which moderate these demands.
This Thematic Issue on Green construction provides evidence on how environmental improvements would make the construction industry more competitive, while contributing to a more resource efficient society
Researchers in Lithuania have assessed and ranked the sustainability of buildings on a wide range of criteria, from pollution caused by the building materials to the running costs of the building. An overall sustainability index based on these criteria allows the comparison of different buildings and, using this index, the study estimated that a wood-based building is 7.5% more sustainable than a house made of bricks.
There is a wide range of systems for assessing and communicating the sustainability of buildings, but the variation can be confusing. Recent research has analysed the elements needed for effective assessment and examined the needs of stakeholders to inform the presentation and communication of assessment results.
There is growing demand for sound evidence-based indicators to evaluate the sustainability of buildings. In a recent study, researchers have presented a new sustainability assessment that considers carbon emissions from site development, construction and operation of a building and compares this to the original or 'native' level of carbon storage before the building project commenced.
Denmark aims to develop an energy system based only on renewable energy sources by 2050. Energy saving buildings are an essential part of this plan, according to new research, which investigates how excess heat production from net zero energy buildings (NZEBs) can benefit district heating systems and reduce reliance on combustible fuels.
Implementing energy efficiency measures in existing housing stock could save 10% of current heating consumption by 2020 and 20% by 2030, according to a recent study of nine European countries. Planning authorities can play a major role by providing support and unbiased information to all stakeholders involved in the renovations.
Motivating homeowners to carry out energy-efficient refurbishments remains a significant challenge for policymakers. New research from Germany has called for more government incentives and better communication strategies to ensure homeowners are aware of the advantages of making energy saving changes to their homes.
A UK Government scheme, designed to help finance energy efficiency improvements in the home, has been assessed in a recent study. The researchers advise that better information for homeowners is needed to encourage uptake of the 'Green Deal' initiative, and point to Germany's Passivhaus standard as an aspirational model for green retrofitting.
Several barriers to upgrading existing social housing with innovative energy systems (IES) have been identified by a study of eight large-scale renovation projects in the Netherlands. These include a lack of trust between stakeholders, opposition from tenants on grounds of increased costs or delays, or poor experience with previous energy projects.
Although most energy in homes is used for heating and hot water, significant amounts of energy are also used when a house is built. A lifecycle assessment of a low-energy, affordable timber house indicates that large energy and carbon savings can be made when alternatives to traditional methods of construction are used.
When assessing the environmental impacts of new 'green' concretes, care should be taken to ensure that a range of impacts are considered, such as ecosystem damage and water depletion, rather than a sole focus on CO2 emissions, a recent study concludes. It demonstrates that cement incorporating industrial by-products performs substantially better than Portland cement when rated across several classifications of environmental impact.
As buildings become increasingly energy-efficient in terms of heating and operation, researchers are highlighting the importance of reducing the energy needed to construct the buildings. However, there is a lack of accurate, consistent data, or a standard methodology to properly assess energy requirements at this stage, a new study has found.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) can enhance the design of a building, reduce costs and save energy. However, little research has been carried out on its impact on sustainable practices. A US survey illustrates that many practitioners do not see sustainability as a primary application, suggesting that more effort is needed to encourage the integration of 'green' design and construction into BIM.
Research into mercury has identified two genes in bacteria that appear to be required for turning the metal into its most toxic form, methylmercury. The study adds to a growing body of research that helps us to understand the transformations that mercury undergoes in the environment and the microbes involved in these transformations.
Assessing the potential of new environmental management tools often brings an 'innovation dilemma': is it better to stick with what is known to work, or to implement new measures that are potentially more effective, but also more uncertain? Researchers have proposed an approach to deal with these dilemmas, and applied it to the case study of an invasive species programme in the US.
A recent study has investigated how waste disposal sites in southern Italy have affected residents living nearby. Villagers reported being annoyed by odours, but the perceptions of residents living in the village closest to the facilities were possibly influenced by receiving financial compensation for the presence of the facilities.
The ecological impacts of micro wind turbines (up to 50 kW) are treated in a diverse way by different local authorities in the UK during the planning approval process, research suggests. The study calls for ecologists, policymakers, planners and industry representatives to improve the integration of ecological information within planning, and for greater guidance for local authorities on the ecological considerations of micro-turbines.
Illegal timber imports into the EU were between 8 and 18 million m³ in 2009, representing 6-13% of total imports, new research suggests. Although figures for illegal logging are associated with high uncertainties, the authors claim that these figures provide the best available estimates for policy and decision makers.
Human activities can have a multitude of different effects on rivers and streams, and it is difficult identify those that have the biggest impact on aquatic populations. A newly developed method for assessing ecological degradation in waterways helps deal with this problem and could provide crucial information for water managers charged with tackling the root causes of degradation.
Residents living near a busy railway line in Strasbourg were found by researchers to have reduced cognitive function compared to residents in quieter areas, which may be the result of long-term exposure to night-time noise. Psychological tests suggested that they had not adapted to the noise over the years, and they did not become less affected with time.
Over 20% more carbon could be being released by tropical peatlands than previously estimated, a new study suggests. The research highlights the large quantities of carbon lost to rivers from deforested and degraded peatlands in Indonesia, in addition to carbon released as CO2 gas.
Mediterranean red coral (Corallium rubrum), already endangered due to over-harvesting, is likely to suffer still further under increasing ocean acidification as a result of rising CO2 emissions. Research has shown that under more acidic conditions the structural development of red coral skeletons is abnormal and growth rate is reduced.
An overview of ‘material efficiency’ is provided in a recent study, which assesses a range of technical and sociological approaches to material efficiency. The need for drastic efficiency improvements is highlighted by the researchers, as well as cuts in the total amount of materials used.
Plastic debris is a serious environmental concern, as a physical pollutant as well as a chemical pollutant when it breaks down in the marine environment. A new study has now shown that plastics can also concentrate other pollutants, with significantly higher concentrations of toxic pollutants adhering to soft, rubbery plastics, rather than hard, glassy plastics.
The damaging health impacts of some key air pollutants can occur at lower atmospheric concentrations than indicated by the most recent World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality guidelines, set in 2005 and currently used in Europe. This is according to a new WHO report, which assesses scientific evidence to help inform European air pollution policies.
Decreasing biodiversity in an ecosystem can increase the spread of disease, research suggests. Researchers studying amphibian communities in natural wetland ecosystems as well as controlled experiments have shown that as diversity increased, infection rates dropped.
Tiny pieces of plastic are being taken up by a range of different fish species with unknown effects on their health, according to a new study. Researchers examined the gut contents of ten different species of fish found in UK waters and showed that so-called 'microplastics' were found in all species.
'Payment for ecosystem services' (PES) has become a commonly used term in recent years, yet the concept is not well defined. A new study reviewing PES theory, concepts and practice from around the world provides a valuable overview, concluding that more can be done to share learning.
Population growth of any country is ultimately dependent on that country's access to freshwater resources, which also determines its capacity to produce food. A new study shows that population growth is expected to decline in countries with low water resources, as water-rich countries reduce food exports in order to feed their own growing populations.
Brownfield regeneration and land use planning are complex issues which encompass many different environmental, economic and social dimensions. This Thematic Issue brings together quality research into brownfield regeneration, which highlights insights and successful strategies from across Europe and beyond.
Researchers have proposed a new indexing scheme to help decision-makers prioritise brownfield sites for redevelopment. The scheme scores potential sites according to socio-economic, smart growth and environmental dimensions. By giving users the flexibility to emphasise some aspects of development as more important than others, it can be adapted for use in different contexts.
Researchers have proposed a new framework to assess the potential for redeveloping large contaminated brownfield sites. The framework applies a range of spatial assessment methods to analyse remediation costs, economic value and the sustainability of different land-use types, and to recommend suitably mixed land-use options for redevelopment.
There is a growing demand for new settlements in and around urban areas due to social, economic and population factors. However, this can lead to the loss of agricultural land and green spaces that provide essential ecosystem services and contribute to the wellbeing of local people. Several countries, such as the UK and Germany, have attempted to limit the growth of urban areas by encouraging the redevelopment of brownfield sites.
Two 'best practice' case studies of brownfield regeneration in Germany and the UK have been analysed by researchers. Liverpool's and Cologne's two flagship waterfront developments were chosen in order to provide insights for other redevelopment projects. The assessment demonstrates that, if correctly managed, brownfield sites can help stimulate economic development in poor areas.
A recent study highlights the role of the public sector in encouraging private investment in natural and cultural brownfield regeneration projects by analysing four models of financing: public-private partnerships, land value finance mechanisms, urban development funds and impact investment funds. Local governments, it is suggested, are well placed to identify and select the most suitable financing mechanisms for redevelopment projects.
A study has evaluated the Municipal Urbanisation Tax (MUT)—a specific tax for the construction, maintenance, and reinforcement of urban infrastructure—in the city of Tomar, Portugal. The city has a new formula for the tax which is simpler and reinforces efforts to contain urban sprawl. The MUT is a one-time charge applied to new development through land subdivision (Loteamento) or individual buildings, similar to an impact fee. Other municipalities aiming to direct urban regeneration towards their brownfield sites, for example, could learn from the Portuguese experiences.
It can take six to seven years before the financial benefits of brownfield regeneration projects are realised, according to a new study which focused on redevelopment in Michigan, USA. The study examines liability issues, regulatory concerns, clean-up standards and funding mechanisms, and introduces a new model that informs debate on brownfield redevelopment policies and funding mechanisms.
A new study from Belgium has gathered community views of brownfield regeneration. Results indicate that the often overlooked aspect of landscape quality, such as green spaces, visually-attractive areas and cultural heritage, is important in people's opinions of brownfield regeneration schemes.
Monitored natural attenuation (MNA) is a long-term, 'hands-off' approach to cleaning up contaminated land. New research has surveyed the current development of MNA in Europe and demonstrates a clear need for practitioners to systematically collect and learn from each other's experiences with this form of brownfield remediation.
Europe produces around 450 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste every year, representing a quarter of all waste materials. A recent study of construction and demolition waste suggests that, with the right policies in place, there are good opportunities to ensure sustainable practices through re-use and recycling.
Pioneering methods used in the Netherlands combine remediation of brownfield sites with the use of groundwater for heat cold storage (HCS, or ATES: Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage) to achieve both low-cost remediation and sustainable use of energy. A new study demonstrates how HCS can be used to help decontaminate groundwater on brownfield sites.
Compared with traditional remediation techniques used to remediate brownfield sites, supporters of phytoremediation argue that it is cheaper and more environmentally-friendly. A new analysis has reviewed its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and suggests it is well suited to cleaning up sites with low to medium levels of contamination.
Transforming public spaces with plants that decontaminate soils can add functional, ecological, economic and social value to derelict areas. A new study calls for consideration of social and environmental factors, as well as remediation needs, to produce effective and innovative landscape design.
New research on climate-driven reductions in Arctic sea ice has predicted that, by 2040 to 2059, new shipping routes will become passable across the Arctic, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. An increase in traffic has implications for the ecosystems of this fragile area.
New barriers have been developed to prevent invasive American signal crayfish from moving upstream and colonising important European crayfish habitat. The barriers, designed to stop crayfish but allow fish to pass, have been found to be effective where water flow rates are sufficiently high.
Despite groundwater's importance to ecosystems, little is known about its global distribution. Researchers have now developed a model to map groundwater, revealing that ecosystems covering 22-32% of the Earth's surface rely on this important resource.
Researchers have developed a new model to assess the health-related external costs arising from air pollution from ten major emission sectors. Applying the model at national and Europe-wide levels, they suggested that the major contributors to costs were industrial power production, agriculture, road traffic and domestic combustion.
Green roofs have the potential to significantly reduce road traffic noise in the urban environment, according to a new study. The results suggest that greening of roofs and walls with materials suitable for growing plants softens the urban environment keeping sound levels low, whereas hard, manmade structures tend to amplify traffic noise.
The environmental benefits of recycling construction and demolition waste (CDW) are considerable, even after accounting for the impacts of the recycling process itself, research confirms. By assessing CO2 and energy use at a large-scale recycling plant in Portugal reseachers have shown that, over its 60-year lifespan, the CO2 emissions prevented will be ten times as much as those produced, and eight times as much energy will be saved, than is used.
Little is known about the organisms that live within soil, although they play a vital role in the biological processes that support life on Earth. In a recent study, researchers calculated the relative risk of pressures caused by human activity on soil biodiversity in the EU, showing that intensive land use has the greatest impact.
Use of environmentally-friendly LED lighting in Europe could play an important role in reducing energy consumption. A new report has now assessed the market for a mass adoption of such light sources, highlighting the need to ensure that the European lighting industry remains competitive.
Including civil society organisations (CSOs) when negotiating climate policy can mobilise public support for international agreements, a new study suggests. Using online surveys researchers found that the popular legitimacy of global climate governance decreases when CSOs are excluded.
Conserving genetic diversity is vital to allow populations to adapt in the face of changing conditions. A new study, assessing the conservation of genetic diversity of trees across Europe, has identified areas for improvement that could help maintain the genetic diversity of Europe's forests.
Low emissions zones (LEZs) can substantially reduce local levels of traffic-based air pollution, a new study has shown. Monitoring air pollution in Munich, Germany, researchers found that particulate matter from traffic sources dropped by 60% after implementation of an LEZ.
A fast and reliable method to measure the environmental impact of landfill sites has been developed by researchers. Analysis of the chemical composition of gas emissions and water leaching from sites provides a detailed picture of the extent of environmental pollution around landfill sites. Such monitoring is essential in order to manage risks to human health and natural resources.
A strong link between long-term exposure to vehicle pollution and deaths from heart disease and lung cancer has been found in a study of over a million individuals. The researchers say their results are relevant to European policymaking relating to air quality.
The challenge of measuring the ‘absence of waste’ makes it particularly difficult to monitor and evaluate waste prevention policies. Researchers have examined the strengths and weaknesses of nine methods of assessing waste prevention, and recommend a hybrid approach, which combines the best of many methods, as particularly valuable.
‘Bet-hedging’ behaviour among farmers, who diversify land use to avoid investing in a single land use that might fail, can boost farmland biodiversity, a new study suggests. However, because historical data show this is not the most frequent strategy used by farmers, balancing environmental and economic concerns in agriculture may still require public policy instruments, such as subsidies or taxes.
New research has compared the environmental impact of four alternative methods of water supply in Copenhagen. Results indicated that rain and stormwater harvesting is the most environmentally sound approach, whilst desalination currently has a large environmental impact, mainly due to electricity use. However, if freshwater extraction is included as an impact, the environmental credibility of desalination is improved.
Fertilising crops with cattle manure can lead to better soil quality than when synthetic fertiliser is used, recent research indicates. The use of cattle manure in the study led to greater soil fertility by encouraging higher microbial activity, and the researchers suggest that it could potentially improve soil's ability to cope with periods of difficult growing conditions.
Ship noise increases shore crabs' metabolism, a new study suggests. The researchers found that larger crabs were particularly affected by recordings of ship noise in controlled experiments. Increased metabolism is a sign of stress and could potentially reduce the growth of crabs and have implications for their survival, as well as for fisheries.
Increasing resource efficiency is a central aim of European environmental policy, and effective waste management must play a key role in this. A new report assesses waste management in 32 European countries, and identifies key lessons. Landfill taxes and mandatory separate collections of different waste types are highlighted as particularly successful policy instruments.
Richer countries have more resources for gathering biodiversity information, creating a biased view of the worlds' species and their distribution. However, a new study argues that there are other reasons why some countries are underrepresented in global biodiversity databases, with low numbers of English speakers, large distances from the database host and low security acting as key barriers to data collection.
Increasing the use of recycled materials could substantially reduce the carbon footprint of plastic packaging, research suggests. A new study of the life-cycle of plastic trays has shown that increasing the proportion of recycled material could lead to a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
EU integration may have led to more sustainable consumption patterns in new Member States (NMS) during 1995-2007, according to researchers from Lithuania. Their study indicates that, during this period in new Member States, a smaller share of household expenditure was spent on 'essential', but more environmentally-damaging items, such as food, drink and housing, and a larger share on 'luxurious', but less environmentally damaging, items.
Inhaling volcanic ash could weaken the body's natural defences against infection, a recent study concludes. A team of researchers collected samples of ash from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland and, in laboratory tests, found that they reduced the ability of immune cells in lungs to fight off bacterial infections.
Green roofs can cool buildings in summer and prevent heat loss in winter. A new study suggests, however, that in the warm climates of southern Europe the additional cost of watering means that 'cool roof coatings' may be more cost effective.
A new tool has been developed which highlights 'hot spots' of pharmaceutical pollution in Europe, where human health and aquatic environments could potentially be affected. The results suggest that the substances and locations posing the greatest risk are not the same for the aquatic environment as for human health.
Reforms to reduce discards of over-quota fish catches are generally predicted to have positive effects on marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Although concerns have been raised over the impacts of the changes on scavenging seabirds who feed upon discarded fish, new research on gannets indicates that, while they often forage near fishing vessels, more than half their time is spent foraging 'naturally' in the open sea.
The impact of shale gas development on surface water quality has been explored in a recent study. Focusing on the Pennsylvania portion of the Marcellus Shale formation (which stretches from West Virginia to the Canadian border), the researchers conclude that shale gas wells and the treatment of shale gas extraction waste have measurable impacts on downstream surface water quality.
Research into future climate scenarios suggest that by 2100, climate change could lead to annual damages in the EU from river flooding alone of €14 billion to €21.5 billion, with more people affected than today, and a reduction in household welfare.
Researchers have created a simple tool to analyse the risk of river flooding across almost all of Europe, and to estimate the associated economic losses. They found that Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Austria and the UK are the regions and countries most at threat.
Cultural and institutional barriers, coupled with a lack of confidence about whether and how to use it, mean that the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) has yet to be fully integrated into national flood warning systems, according to a recent study.
Improved understanding of flash flooding could be achieved through post-flood observations, re-examination of weather radar data and the use of combined weather and hydrological modelling, according to the recent HYDRATE research project. This information can be used to improve flash flood forecasting.
Research from Slovakia suggests that the total area of change in land cover, as well as land management practices, are more important in generating floods than the type of land cover change, such as deforestation.
Modern flood risk management is placing more emphasis on improving the resilience of communities prone to flooding. By examining three case studies, a recent investigation has provided insight into how resilience is put into practice, suggesting that clearer identification between the roles of different actors and better communication to the public is needed for successful implementation.
The importance of comprehensive flood emergency plans is becoming increasingly recognised. A new study has evaluated plans in England and Wales, France and the Netherlands. It was found that, although plans perform well in terms of organisation and communication, they are lacking in more technical aspects, such as the provision of flood hazard maps and evacuation plans.
The majority of respondents to a recent, large-scale European survey claim not to have prepared themselves for floods, even though they know their property is at risk of flooding and they are worried about the effects. A set of key recommendations for flood communications wrer developed from the survey's findings, intended to improve community preparedness as part of effective flood management plans.
According to a recent study, flood risk management projects should be economically evaluated in terms of their efficiency, i.e. the sum of the costs and benefits of a project over its lifetime. This would capture more fully the value of non-structural measures, such as warning and evacuation systems, that are better in terms of effectiveness related to hydrological protection standards.
The European Directive on the assessment and management of flood risks1 (the Floods Directive) represents a shift towards holistic and catchment-oriented management of flood risk and is likely to prompt changes to policy in many Member States. New research from Germany suggests that effective implementation of the Floods Directive is likely to be greatly aided by the participation of stakeholders and communication between groups.
Constructed wetlands can effectively remove veterinary drugs from wastewater, preventing contamination of the environment, research suggests. A recent study has demonstrated that laboratory-scale constructed wetlands were able to remove between 94 and 98% of two commonly used antibiotics from pig farm wastewater.
A target level of 20 micrograms of phosphorus per litre of lake water could help keep many lakes safe for recreation by restricting the growth of harmful algal blooms, European research suggests. The scientists analysed the relationship between phosphorus levels in medium- and high-alkalinity lakes, the growth of cyanobacteria blooms and the concentrations of cyanobacteria that trigger World Health Organization (WHO) warnings.
Differences in the way wetland plants accumulate pollutants are helping researchers understand how vegetation can be used to help restore contaminated marshes. In a study by Belgian researchers, certain plants, including bulrushes, were identified as being potentially useful for locking away metal contaminants below the surface, thereby helping to reduce spread of these pollutants through food chains and to the wider environment.
Methylmercury may accumulate more quickly in fish as the climate grows warmer, new research suggests. Researchers in the US have found that levels of the toxin were higher in fish exposed to higher temperatures; global warming could therefore lead to increased human exposure to methylmercury through seafood consumption.
Combinations of antibiotics have been found in high enough concentrations to pose a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems, in a recent Spanish study. Antibiotics can have toxic effects on the bacteria and algae that form the basis of aquatic ecosystems.
A new tool to help planners choose urban designs that positively influence flows of energy, carbon, water and pollutants in cities is presented in a recent study. It is designed to integrate scientific knowledge into the planning process and support cities in achieving sustainability objectives.
A recent study has revealed that grassland plots planted with a mixture of several agricultural plant species produced a greater yield than plots planted with a single species. The findings provide valuable evidence for scientists, farmers and policymakers who strive to increase the productivity of grassland, while reducing input of nitrogen fertilisers.
Woodlands in the grounds of old manor houses or castles can provide high quality habitat for numerous forest species, a recent study from Estonia concludes. The researchers found that, compared to nearby forests, old rural park woodlands appeared to be better at supporting biodiversity.
The public health impacts of air pollution in Europe remain large, but are falling thanks to regulatory actions to cut emissions, a recent study finds. However, it issues a warning about the public health impacts of emissions from rising levels of international ship traffic.
The development of Green Infrastructure (GI) in a UK case study has been researched in a recent study. Some issues caused by an imbalance in stakeholder power and conflicting roles played by major stakeholders were identified with the project. Stakeholder participation is central to the concept of GI and the research reiterates the importance for those implementing GI to ensure that participation is effective and balanced.
A recent survey of businesses in France, Germany and the UK has revealed that they recycle and refurbish much of their waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). However, some of this information is not being reported under the EU's WEEE Directive because the waste is being disposed of informally or by contractors, rather than by manufacturers who are responsible for the whole life cycle of the products.
Flooding can cause profound and lasting effects on people, business and agriculture. This Thematic Issue brings together recent research that provides insight into changes in European flood risk policy, that could help policymakers deal with the projected increases in flood risk.
The role of wild birds in spreading potentially deadly strains of 'bird flu' is poorly understood. Recent research in Georgia examined an important crossover point of migratory routes, including routes into Europe, and found that only 1% of wild birds tested here carried avian influenza. None of these had the harmful, pathogenic strains.
Forests may need to be converted to more drought-tolerant mixtures of tree species to prevent significant die-off under climate change, predicts a new study which modelled German forests. The researchers indicate that climate change is likely to lead to significant forest damage, which could be reduced through adaptive management.
Mercury, in the form of monomethylmercury, can accumulate in fish to high concentrations, presenting the greatest concern for human exposure to this potent neurotoxin. New long-term research of fish in a natural setting has shown that removal rates of the toxin from body tissues are likely to be even slower than thought.
People exposed to fine particle (PM2.5) and ozone pollution are at increased risk of suffering out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, according to a recent Finnish study. Cardiac arrest is more likely within 24 hours after exposure to PM2.5 and up to several days after exposure to ozone.
Sparrowhawks and their eggs are used to assess environmental concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), chemicals that were used until relatively recently as flame retardants. Recent research may help explain why different studies report different PBDE levels in sparrowhawks for the same countries and time periods. It appears nutrition may play an important role in determining PBDE concentrations in birds.
The impact of air quality on public welfare is important to policy development. However, it is difficult to make a clear link between the two when air pollution tends to be reported at a country level and wellbeing is an individual measure. A new study takes a step further towards linking the two by analysing regional level air quality across the EU and relating it to levels of life satisfaction.
A new method of assessing the sustainability of noise reduction devices (NRDs) used in transport infrastructure, such as noise barriers or absorptive claddings, is presented in a recent study. The new set of specially designed sustainability criteria allows NRDs to be easily and accurately evaluated, its developers suggest.
Biodiversity could play a key role in preventing future outbreaks of malaria in tropical forests, according to a new study. Results indicate that a greater number of mosquito species could increase competition for mosquitoes that spread malarial parasites, whilst more vertebrate species could increase the likelihood that malarial parasites end up in 'dead-end hosts' that are unable to transmit the disease any further.
A recent Swiss-US study of a short-term water saving campaign found that, although the programme successfully reduced water use, there was also an overall increase in electricity consumption by participants. The researchers suggest a 'moral licensing' effect may be in action, whereby people 'trade' a positive behaviour for a negative one.
Certain vegetables take up heavy metals from contaminated water used for irrigation, a new study finds. The researchers grew vegetables in greenhouses similar to field conditions in Greece and found that concentrations of nickel and chromium increased in potatoes and onions, but not in carrots, when irrigated with water containing contaminant levels similar to those found in industrial wastewater.
Sediments collected from coastal Louisiana over a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have been found to cause health defects in the Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis), new research suggests. Nearly all adult fish studied had signs of significantly altered gene function, and embryos exposed to polluted sediment were less likely to hatch.
Food security is being threatened by soils that are stripped of nutrients that are essential for the high yield of crops. A recent study outlines strategies to ensure the sustainable production of food through a holistic approach to soil nutrient management.
Shellfish harvesting areas in the UK are cleaner, thanks to sewerage improvement schemes over the last decade which have lowered average levels of Escherichia coli in oysters, mussels and other commercially-important species and boosted the shellfish industry's economic value. Addressing the additional pollution risks from agriculture could further reduce contamination and human health risks.
Climate change may increase the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as salmonella or tick-borne encephalitis. A new study has outlined five main steps in assessing policies to ensure that they can respond effectively to this challenge and highlights the importance of involving stakeholders at every stage of policy assessment.
Greenland's four major glaciers could contribute 19 to 30 mm to sea level rise by 2200, according to a new study. The researchers developed a sophisticated model which provides new insight into the effects of climate change on Greenland's glaciers, by capturing the complex processes involved in their movement and melt.
Although soil quality is best assessed using a wide range of indicators, a smaller set may be more practical and still provide the necessary information needed to choose between land management systems. This is the conclusion of a new study in Brazil that evaluated three different indexes of soil quality based on three sets of indicators.
Strong acids formed from shipping emissions can produce seasonal 'hot spots' of ocean acidification, a recent study finds. These hot spots, in ocean areas close to busy shipping lanes, could have negative effects on local marine ecology and commercially farmed seafood species.
Shellfish harvesting areas in the UK are cleaner, thanks to sewerage improvement schemes over the last decade which have lowered average levels of Escherichia coli in oysters, mussels and other commercially-important species and boosted the shellfish industry's economic value. Addressing the additional pollution risks from agriculture could further reduce contamination and human health risks.
Researchers have developed a new approach for identifying regions that are most suitable for expanding ecosystem services. This could be used to help inform spatial planning decisions. By modelling ecosystem services' opportunity costs in relation to agricultural revenue, the study provides a map of suitable areas of ecosystem service expansion in Eastern Europe.
Around 20% of all species found in a Spanish coastal wetland could be affected by increasingly salty water as seawater intrudes into the groundwater system as a result of groundwater being withdrawn to irrigate crops. This is the conclusion of a recent study which used a Life Cycle Impact Assessment approach to characterise the ecological damage in the wetland as a result of changes in groundwater consumption.
Low emission zones (LEZs), which restrict access for high emission vehicles, have proven to be a successful way to improve air quality in line with EU regulations. An analysis of London's LEZ has revealed discernible reductions in air pollution levels five years after implementation.
Controlling pests using their natural enemies can be an environmentally sound alternative to pesticides. However, the complex interactions between different pest control species and the landscape itself can affect the efficiency of such biological pest control, research suggests.
A 'feebate' can be an effective policy option to aid the transition to a more environmentally-friendly transport system, a UK study suggests. This combination of fees and rebates can increase the take-up of low-carbon cars, the researchers argue, which leads to reduced life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Covering walls with plants can significantly reduce the temperature of building walls during hot summer months. A recent study of three different types of these 'living walls' in Italy suggests that they can be 20°C cooler than a bare wall on sunny days. An added advantage is that living walls can be retrofitted to existing buildings.
An overview of groundwater contaminants in Europe is provided by a recent study, which calls for more integrated monitoring using a range of indicators. Groundwater contamination presents serious health and environmental concerns.
A study on how diet can affect water usage in the EU has concluded that a vegetarian diet is the most sustainable, but any reduction in meat consumption would be a move towards more sustainable water use.
Debate exists as to whether environmental concentrations of the hazardous substance hexachlorobenzene (HCB) should be measured in water or in wildlife when assessing compliance with environmental quality standards (EQS). New research has proposed a method to calculate concentrations in water that best represent critical levels in wildlife, and a tiered approach to compliance assessment that minimises sampling of wildlife.
Information on travel behaviour can provide insight into the most effective and sustainable ways to manage traffic congestion and its environmental impacts. A new German study focuses on service-related traffic and shows that employees of different types of companies have distinctly different travel behaviour.
Sustainable management of complex ecosystems requires clear understanding of uncertainty. However, scientific guidance documents show a lack of clarity and coherence regarding uncertainties and tend to focus solely on the need for more data or monitoring, new research indicates. The researchers suggest that scientific guidance should recognise uncertainty as an inherent part of any complex ecosystem.
Since the 1990s, rates of biodiversity loss of wild plants and their insect pollinators have slowed down in north-west Europe, according to a recent study. It is likely that conservation activities, such as agri-environmental schemes, have contributed to this improving situation.
The impacts of invasive alien species (IAS) can take many different forms, from ecological to socio-economic. A new review investigates how to define and quantify 'impact' and discusses the most successful strategies to reduce invasion risk and prevent different impacts.
A new framework has been developed by researchers to provide guidance in evaluating alien species risk. Using an analysis of more than 300 risk assessment (RA) models, the researchers highlight that many fail to cover all of the components of alien species invasion and offer guidance on which elements to include in future risk assessments.
Omitting socio-economic factors from invasive alien species (IAS) risk assessments could result in serious underestimations of the area at risk, new research suggests. Including factors such as population density and proximity to ports in risk assessments was found in this UK study to increase the size of the area predicted as suitable for invasion by up to six times.
Protected areas near densely populated towns and cities have higher numbers of alien species than those in more isolated locations, research suggests. In a South African study, researchers examined a number of different environmental characteristics of national parks, and found that surrounding human population density best explained the number of alien species in each park.
Detailed analysis of the patterns of invasion of alien fish species in Austria and Germany has highlighted how drivers of invasion, such as the animal trade, can change over time. The researchers who conducted the analysis warn that climate change may be a key cause in changing invasion patterns in the future.
The joint threat posed by climate change and invasive alien species can have different effects on endangered native species, new research suggests. This European study predicts that the invasive zebra mussel may benefit from climate change, negatively affecting native mussel populations; but both invasive and native crayfish could suffer declines.
Effective surveillance and risk analysis are key to preventing the ecological damage caused by invasive alien species (IAS). Habitat suitability models provide highly effective tools for predicting the spread of IAS and guiding monitoring strategies, new research suggests.
New research has identified global hot spots of invasion risk by marine species transported in the ballast water of shipping. Treating this water before discarding it could reduce the risk of invasions by as much as 82%, the researchers predict.
Key differences between public and professional opinions on invasive alien species (IAS) are highlighted by a recent UK study. Its authors recommend clearer, open discussion of the harm caused by IAS and human responsibility for their spread.
Neither the public nor conservation managers are fully aware of the different risks posed by invasive alien species (IAS), new research suggests. A study examining perceptions of five invasive species in the UK shows that both conservation managers and the public regard some highly damaging species as 'low risk', and that their awareness does not increase with the amount of scientific research on the topic.
A new study assessing the levels, and potential health risk, of toxic heavy metals in market-bought fish and shellfish in Spain has found that they are generally below European Commission regulatory limits, and that these products are therefore safe to eat for the average consumer in Spain. However, for high level consumers of specific fish species, toxic element levels could pose a risk to health.
Interactions between population growth, consumption and the use of natural products and services have created an unsustainable pressure on the environment. New research has provided a detailed investigation into the relationships between these three trends, providing insight into how to alleviate these pressures. It concludes they cannot be addressed by market mechanisms or technological advances alone.
Some agricultural activities, such as irrigation, could be powered by renewable sources, a new study indicates. Farm machinery could also be renewably-powered, but the machinery would need to be adapted to use renewable electricity, instead of liquid fuel.
Significant savings on mileage and vehicle costs can be achieved by using computer optimisation to plan waste collection routes, new research suggests. When applied to a case study of cooking oil recycling in Portugal, it was found that the technique could lead to a reduction of 13% in annual distance travelled and a fleet hiring cost reduction of 11%.
The widespread use of higher-yielding improved varieties of crops as part of the 'Green Revolution' has averted the conversion of between 18 to 27 million hectares of forests, woodlands and pastures in the period 1965 to 2004, according to a recent study. However, its authors caution that the relationship between these crops and land use change is complex, and good governance is needed to protect biodiversity from future expansion of agricultural land.
Exposure to polluted soil can affect human health, but the risk may vary depending on the soil type. A recent study has shown that the differing amounts of cadmium and lead that can be dissolved in the human digestive system can be predicted for contaminated agricultural, urban and woody habitat soils using a model. Its authors suggest this is a useful method for assessing the risks of contaminated land.
Periods of slow growth observed in coral reefs in the Caribbean are caused by aerosols in the air from pollution and volcanic activity, recent research suggests. Aerosols cause cooler sea surface temperatures and reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the coral, both of which slow coral growth.
By using design tools to increase sustainability at every stage of production, researchers have developed a new eco-light. The light, which uses low wattage LEDs and recycled plastic, has a substantially lower environmental impact than the traditional equivalent LED lights.
Agri-environmental schemes (AES) do successfully enhance the number and variety of insect pollinators, research suggests. They are particularly effective when implemented in arable landscapes which also contain some semi-natural habitat.
Integrating climate change policies with pollution control and energy security measures can deliver improved air quality, better public health and diversified energy supplies, and at a lower total energy cost than many previous studies have indicated, according to recent research.
Comprehensive flood risk management should include household measures, such as improving a home's stability and relocating heating systems to safe places within the house. According to new research, better communication with householders by authorities on the effectiveness of such measures, and how to implement them, could increase their uptake.
After more than 200 years of industrialisation, soil pollution has become a widepread problem in Europe. This In-depth Report draws on current research and case studies from a number of scientific disciplines that investigate the interaction between contaminated soils and human health.
It may be possible to use trees to monitor levels of air pollution in cities, new research suggests. A Belgian study found evidence that leaves of urban trees change both chemically and physiologically when exposed to different levels of air pollution. If these changes are carefully quantified, trees could provide cheap and widespread 'bio-indicators', the study's authors suggest.
Over a third of all food waste in Sweden is avoidable, according to new research. If such waste minimisation were achieved, there would be less potential for biogas production, but the researchers suggest that this does not represent a compromise because it is currently performed on only a very small amount of waste food.
US researchers have found that promoting the environmental benefits of energy-efficient products may actually deter some people from buying them. Since environmental issues have become politically polarised, those who hold more conservative views are less likely to purchase products that are marketed using environmental benefits, they argue.
A recent study has considered 21st century changes in shipping access through the Arctic Ocean along three potential new routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As the sea ice melts, it is possible that high-strength vessels will be able to sail directly through the North Pole by the end of the century, its results indicate.
Progress towards achieving a sustainable urban environment may be measured by sustainability indicators (SIs), which can be chosen to represent values that are important to local communities. A recent study has assessed a set of SIs developed by both sustainability experts and local citizens and suggests that local communities can attach different values to SIs to reflect local values and understandings of sustainability.
The impacts of drought on European trees are of high concern, especially under a changing climate. New research has indicated that, if summers become continually drier, sensitive species, such as larch and spruce, will suffer reduced growth in some Alpine areas. This could potentially compromise ecosystem services provided by forests in these areas.
Measures to protect biodiversity can also improve carbon storage and water flow regulation, research indicates. In a Spanish protected area, researchers mapped biodiversity, carbon storage and water flow regulation, and found there was substantial overlap between the three.
Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) to climate change could help avoid future food crises in Africa, a new review suggests. By examining United Nations EbA projects implemented across Africa, the authors demonstrate that such approaches help improve the climate change resilience of production systems and the communities dependent upon them.
Forests play an important role in both mitigating and adapting to climate change, although current policies tend to isolate the two approaches. A recent study suggests that mitigation and adaptation are complementary and linked, and that forestry management that integrates the two can successfully provide both of these important services.
Rates of carbon storage by mangroves are substantially higher than previously thought, research suggests. Using new data, researchers have estimated that worldwide, mangroves bury 26.1 megatonnes of organic carbon per year, which is 42% more than the estimations made in 2008.
Constructed wetlands can regulate stormwater flows and improve water quality, helping humans to adapt to a changing climate. New research has now shown that, if carefully designed, they can also be used for climate change mitigation by storing carbon, while also providing biodiversity and cultural ecosystem services.
Nearly a third of the EU's coastline has insufficient protection from erosion and flooding, according to recent research. The study presents a method for assessing coastal ecosystems' capacity to provide vital protection from these threats, and highlights the need to protect key habitats which safeguard coastal resilience.
Economic valuation of ecosystem services, from good quality water supplies to cooling cities in the face of climate change, can provide vital information for policy decisions. However, the definition and interpretation of ecosystem services need to be clarified to ensure accurate valuations, suggests new research.
Investment in restoring coastal habitats is an effective way of creating new jobs, recent research has found. The US study analysed 44 'blue infrastructure' restoration projects and found that, on average, 17 jobs were created for every US$ 1 million (€0.76 million) spent on these developments. This is more jobs than are created in the coal, gas or nuclear energy industries, where the same investment only results in 4-7 jobs.
Ecosystem services, such as coastal protection or water supply, form an integral part of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. However, preserving and restoring ecosystems and their services relies on the economic system that supports these efforts. Ecosystem services will not be best protected by the classic market framework, new research suggests.
Nitrogen pollution's wide-ranging impacts include contributions to global warming, acid rain and eutrophication. This In-depth Report summarises scientific studies and research results on nitrogen pollution in the European environment.
Trees form a valuable part of green infrastructure in cities by helping reduce surface water runoff, recent research finds. Together with grassy areas, significant reductions in surface water flows can be achieved by planting trees, reducing the risk of floods.
As part of the EU's Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Waters1, a new study from the Joint Research Centre has mapped the water requirements of livestock across Europe for 2005. The maps and data can help quantify total European water use but also inform sustainable management by making use of ecosystem services (ESSs).
Restoring the natural conditions of rivers and streams by intentionally adding forest deadwood boosts key ecosystem services, new research suggests. By calculating the value of these services, the researchers were able to show that increasing the amount of deadwood in rivers and streams in a Basque Country reservoir basin was economically profitable and that returns on investment could be realised within 20 years.
An overview of research into 'nudge' theory and practices has recently been presented. While there is much evidence to show how humans make decisions, translating these psychological and economic insights into viable policy instruments that encourage behavioural change remains challenging, the authors conclude.
A new tool to increase the efficiency of water supply and distribution networks is presented by a new study. By using a framework which encompasses both water sources and demands, researchers have developed an integrated system that has showed promising results when applied to the complex urban water system of Athens.
Travelling by coach or train has a lower impact on the climate than travelling by air or car, but using a small diesel car to carry several passengers can have similarly low impacts per person, new research suggests. Air travel is the worst form of transport, in terms of global warming impact, the researchers found, but the average percentage occupancy of a mode of transport significantly affects the impact per passenger.
The common ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) is threatened by an invasive fungal disease, which is spreading throughout Europe. Scientists have recently reviewed and presented previous research into the disease which could help us understand how to prevent the spread of the fungus and develop forest conservation strategies.
A new study of clean-up workers seven years after the 2002 Prestige oil tanker spillage has found potential evidence for long-term impacts on their hormonal and immune systems as a result of exposure to the oil. The results suggest new health surveillance measures may be appropriate for workers involved in future oil clean-up operations.
Research suggests that climate change could alter the structure and function of temperate peat bogs and that these changes are primarily driven by rising temperatures, rather than periods of temporary drought. An average temperature rise above 1°C could permanently shift moss-covered peat bogs into bogs predominately covered with trees, affecting their ability to store carbon and the existing carbon stocks in them.
Research from the US helps paint a clearer picture of the extent of global sea level rise, by considering new satellite data on the Earth's gravity. Its findings support reports of accelerating ice melt and suggest that most of the change in sea levels is caused by receding polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers.
Researchers have used a new comprehensive life cycle approach to estimate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from road construction. When applied to four projects in Spain, the results suggest improvements could be made in the use and efficiency of off-road machinery, the choice of materials and restoration of ecosystems.
A new study finds that meeting WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQG) on particulate emissions by 2030, thereby improving global human health, will require a combination of stringent policies on air pollution, climate change and access to clean cooking fuels.
Using plastic sheeting to encourage early growth of crops reduces the number and diversity of farmland birds, new research from Poland suggests. The study shows that this effect continues even after plastic has been removed.
Tourists would be willing to pay for increased biodiversity and reduced clear-felling in forests, a recent Finnish case study suggests. In a survey of over 900 visitors to Lapland, most stated that they felt landscape quality and biodiversity were important, and that they would be happy to pay their share for preserving these qualities.
Satellite observations are valuable aids to detect and monitor fire activity. A recent study has investigated how satellite images of fire activity, together with information on vegetation cover and fire risk associated with long and short-term atmospheric conditions could be used to help authorities better manage the risk of wildfires in Mediterranean Europe.
Wet grasslands abandoned less than 40 years ago can be successfully restored within a decade, a recent analysis suggests. By examining the findings of a range of studies, it identified the causes and consequences of abandonment and the key factors in successful restoration.
Water resource management needs to adapt to changes in climate, water demand and land use. A new tool has been developed by the LIFE+ Water Change Project to assess these 'global change' impacts on water resources and inform decisions on optimal adaptation strategies. A recent study has applied the tool to a river basin in Spain.
New low cost methods using bacteria to remove toxic metals from groundwater have been investigated using both actual contaminated groundwater and artificially controlled systems. Environmental conditions, such as changing levels of acidity or alkalinity, can have a significant effect on the removal of toxins, results show.
A major environmental challenge for wastewater treatment is the disposal of excess sludge produced during the process. The LIFE Perbiof project has been developing and testing a technology that will help to overcome this challenge. Results demonstrate it can perform highly effective treatment of municipal wastewater (removing 80% of the organic content) while producing low levels of sludge.
Management of waste from construction and demolition sites is a major concern, particularly in urban areas where large volumes of materials are generated. A recent study on the construction and demolition waste (CDW) produced in Lisbon, Portugal, suggests that improved municipal collection systems are needed to reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfill or illegal disposal sites.
A new concrete-reinforcement system, used by the LIFE INSU-SHELL project, replaces steel rods with non-corrosive textile structures to reduce the amount of concrete needed in construction. This nearly halves the global warming potential of traditional steel-reinforced concrete which is the largest producer of CO2 emissions in the building industry.
Controlled fires could help the regeneration capacity of some insects in regions of intensively managed forests, according to a recent study of Finnish forests that are part of an EU LIFE restoration project. Results indicated that fire can be an effective conservation measure but its impact depends on the region's history and context.
Restoration of upland bog habitats by blocking drainage channels has caused concern among some sheep farmers that this will reduce the quality of grazing areas. However, UK researchers have shown that drainage does not encourage growth of plants favoured by sheep, nor do sheep use drained areas more. Therefore they conclude such restoration measures are unlikely to detrimentally affect sheep grazing.
Temporary ponds and their varying water levels provide the conditions for valuable wildlife habitat. A study in Crete, conducted under the LIFE-Nature project Actions for the Conservation of Mediterranean Temporary Ponds in Crete, has demonstrated these ponds contain varied collections of seeds and that these 'seed banks' could play an important role in vegetation recovery after droughts.
The litter size of the endangered European mink is less than half of that of its main competitor, the invasive American mink, research shows. The higher fertility of the American mink may allow rapid population growth of this species, threatening European mink with extinction.
The value of moving animals or plants from a stable population into one that is endangered or even extinct has been questioned, with some suggesting that it will mean that the new population is not well adapted to its environment. However, research on an endangered toad has shown that even when individuals were translocated from great distances, the population was able to genetically adapt to local conditions within a few generations.
Thematic Issue 41
Invasive alien species (IAS) are a leading cause of biodiversity loss in Europe and across the globe. As plants or animals that are introduced, either accidentally or deliberately, into areas they would not otherwise have reached, IAS can cause substantial ecological damage. This Thematic Issue presents research exploring the problem of IAS.
The negative effects of human activity on biodiversity may not be fully realised for several decades, or even a century for some species, new research suggests. Conservation efforts may need to be much increased to prevent declines of wildlife populations as a result of environmental pressures that occurred many years ago, say the study's authors.
Elderly people are at particular risk from the damaging health effects of hot summers in European Mediterranean cities, such as Athens, Barcelona and Lisbon, but in North African and Middle-Eastern Mediterranean cities, such as Tunis and Tel-Aviv, younger people are more vulnerable, a recent study concludes. This is particularly concerning, the researchers suggest, given the insufficient resources available to deal with this public health problem in some countries.
Using open-access software and power saving technologies, researchers have developed an easily deployed, low-cost network for monitoring large areas of the Amazon rainforest. This Peruvian study shows that environmental information, such as soil moisture and rates of photosynthesis, can be recorded and uploaded to the internet without having to make repeated visits to remote areas.
Climate change affects air pollution at a regional and local scale. A recent study has reassessed the latest findings and suggests that climate change will increase ozone concentrations by about 3 parts per billion (ppb) in central and western Europe in the year 2050 if emissions from human activities remain at present-day levels. However, if emissions increase, ozone concentrations could increase by 16 ppb for much of Europe.
Staff in buildings that have been certified as 'green' under the LEED scheme are just as satisfied with their indoor working environment as people working in non-LEED buildings, according to research on commercial buildings. The study suggests that investment in the thermal and acoustic aspects of buildings, however, would further improve occupant satisfaction.
Human activities, including industrial development along coastal areas, risk polluting the marine environment with heavy metals which can harm human health and aquatic life. A recent study has found elevated levels of metal pollution in the Jade area of the German Wadden Sea, but concludes that metal contamination of the sediments would not be expected to have harmful effects on the marine environment and living organisms here.
In-depth Report Issue 7
We are facing a critical phosphorus challenge, as developments in industry, agriculture, waste handling and lifestyle have massively reduced the capacity for this important element to be cycled effectively by society and the environment via natural geological processes. The major source of phosphorus used in fertiliser is phosphate rock, which we mine in vast quantities, more than can be replaced by the slow geological cycle. This
In-depth Report examines scientific knowledge on the phosphorus challenge and recent research into the sustainable use of the element.
Thematic Issue 42
Ecosystems are not only essential to human life but can help us face changing conditions in the future. This Thematic Issue brings together the latest research on how the protection of ecosystems, and the services they provide, can form an important part of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Marine litter is a major issue in deep sea ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea, new research confirms. A recent study shows that the total weight of litter found in these sensitive areas often equals, and even exceeds, that of the animals that live there. This work can provide a baseline for assessments of the impact of deep sea marine litter and to inform future policy reforms, the researchers suggest.
By identifying leaks using 'smart' water meters, and then encouraging householders to fix the problem, water companies can reduce the volumes of wasted water dramatically, new research suggests. In a case study in Australia, households reduced water loss by up to 91% after being informed of leaks in their homes and offered a rebate on repairs.
Despite better public transport and more energy-efficient housing, city dwellers have a larger carbon footprint than those in rural areas, according to a recent Finnish study. This is partly explained by the phenomenon of 'parallel consumption' in which people extend their living space by using services that the home also provides.
The most up-to-date knowledge and data must be used to assess policy objectives, new research confirms. Studying air pollution environmental quality targets set by the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive1, a new study has shown that if 2001 data are used to assess progress, most such targets appear to have been met. However, more recent and accurate current data show that this may not be the case.
Warming of coastal areas due to climate change is already having an important impact on fishing catches in the North Atlantic, according to a new study. The study also suggests that rising levels of nitrogen pollution, due to run-off from farming and sewage disposal, will pose a serious threat to fisheries in the near future if left unchecked.
Drainage tunnels running under roads can provide small animals with safe road crossings, mitigating habitat fragmentation, a new study has confirmed. The researchers suggest that the tunnel design can be further improved to aid animal movements, for example by providing dry ledges to ensure the routes are still available in times of high rainfall.
Informing consumers about their energy use and giving advice on how it can be improved can result in lower public energy consumption, new research suggests. However, if such information campaigns are based solely on monetary savings they are not effective, the study concludes.
Noise caused by construction of Germany's first offshore wind farm caused significant habitat disturbance for harbour porpoises, according to a recent study. Its results suggest that porpoises avoided areas up to 20 kilometres from the noise source during construction of the wind farm's foundations.
Changes in complex microbial communities known as 'biofilms' at the bottom of rivers can reveal the effects of pesticide and pharmaceutical pollution of river water, according to a recent study. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs were found to have a significant effect on the structure and functioning of the biofilms.
Researchers in Greece have added a new dimension to noise level mapping by including data on residents' perception and value of different sounds. This consideration of the experiences of residents in this way could lead to more effective policy implementation.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land and water use all exert pressures on the environment; however, complex international trade links can make it difficult to identify their root causes. New research has now shown to what extent consumption in the EU drives displacement of all three of these environmental pressures to other countries.
The amount of land and ocean that a country uses in order to produce and trade food or other commodities increases by over a third for each doubling of income, research shows. Thus, as nations become richer, and lifestyles become more affluent, pressure on natural resources increases.
A tool for analysing and comparing environmental pressures from production and consumption in Europe is presented in a recent report. Its results suggest that the consumed products that exert the most pressure on the environment include construction goods and food products. The report also highlights the difficulty of assessing the true environmental impact of imported goods, which are often produced using less eco-efficient processes than those found in Europe.
A pioneering study has estimated that 30% of threats to species are driven by international trade. The researchers identified the products and supply chains which lead to biodiversity loss, and suggest that further loss can be reduced through regulation, supply chain certification and consumer labelling.
A recent report calls for improved protection of biodiversity in the production of biofuels. It highlights Europe’s current dependence on biofuels produced in other parts of the world, causing negative environmental impacts associated with biofuel crops to be transferred to other countries.
Policy measures need to address the key drivers behind illegal trade in environmentally-sensitive goods such as wildlife and timber. A recent report assesses both the drivers and impacts of five major types of environmentally-damaging illicit trade. It suggests that international licensing schemes and national policy regimes with economic tools could reduce illegal trade.
Thematic Issue 43
The EU's LIFE programme has played an important part in applied environmental research and science-based nature conservation over the past 20 years, benefitting Europe's wildlife and natural resources through the work of the projects that it co-finances. This Thematic Issue presents the findings of research which has taken place under just a selection of these projects; these have helped tackle important issues including biodiversity decline, habitat loss, resource efficiency, water protection and climate action.
In-depth Report Issue 8
The world is confronted by global food security and nutrition challenges on an unprecedented scale. While one in eight of the world's population is undernourished, paradoxically, an even higher number are classified as overweight. Yet it has been estimated that a third to a half of all food produced is thrown away and, furthermore, research has shown the negative effects that modern food production has on the environment, contributing to climate change, water pollution and biodiversity loss. This In-depth Report summarises the vast range of solutions that researchers and agricultural experts have suggested to ensure that the nutritional needs of the world's population are met, while reducing environmental damage.
Crop pests and pathogens are moving into new habitats, towards the North and South Poles, as global warming progresses, new research suggests. Observation records from around the world show that many crop pests, including insect and bacterial pests, are moving towards the poles at an average rate of 2.7 km per year.
The European ban on atrazine has effectively reduced concentrations of the herbicide in coastal waters, a new study has found. However, the researchers also warn that, in some areas, atrazine levels remain relatively high as some countries have not yet restricted use of the chemical.
Companies that adopt the environmental management system ISO 14000, designed to help reduce the businesses' environmental impacts, generally back this up with sincere investment in environmentally-friendly practices, research suggests. Researchers found that adoption of the ISO 14000 was not greenwash but reflected a move towards more sustainable practices in both European and North American companies.
Levels of aircraft noise experienced in primary schools might affect aspects of children's cognition, even several years after they have left the school, new research suggests. Researchers revealed that 15-16 year olds who had attended noisier primary schools six years earlier found aircraft noise more disturbing or annoying, even after accounting for aircraft noise at their current school.
Gas flaring and residential combustion are significant sources of soot, or black carbon, pollution in the Arctic, but their role has been underestimated until now, according to a recent study. The research indicates that flaring from oil and gas developments is the largest source of this pollutant, responsible for 42% of black carbon pollution in the Arctic.
Agricultural intensification can significantly impact soil ecosystems and the services they provide, new research suggests. Examining soils across Europe, the study demonstrates that high intensity arable land uses have lower diversity and biomass of soil organisms than lower intensity arable or permanent grassland, affecting the carbon and nitrogen cycles in the environment.
Globally co-ordinated climate change policy to limit warming to 2°C could provide additional health, ecological and economic benefits. Using established methods, researchers estimated that the implementation of climate policy would also reduce global expenditures on air pollution control in 2050 by €250 billion.
Climate change will lead to an increased risk of flooding and huge economic losses if countries do not invest in appropriate adaptation measures, according to a new study. The research estimates the risks posed by flooding to cities around the world and the associated economic losses in 2005 and 2050, and suggests that flood protection must be increased to maintain the same level of risk to coastal cities.
Two tagged Cuvier's beaked whales have shown intense and lasting avoidance behaviours in response to military sonar. In the first study of this kind, the whales showed significant responses to sonar at volumes that are currently assumed in the US to have no effect on behaviour.
A new economic tool designed to encourage sustainable production and consumption has been proposed in a recent study. To ensure that the environmental impact of products is reflected in their cost, the authors of the research recommend a system of green value added tax (VAT) based on life cycle assessment (LCA).
Non-target aquatic wildlife species may be more vulnerable to pesticides' effects, with repeated exposure to low doses over the long-term, if they compete with other species for food, according to a recent study. Understanding how this process occurs can help those undertaking risk assessments and managing pesticides in the natural environment.
The pressures facing Indian manufacturers to ‘green’ their supply chain have been explored by a recent study. Both international and national pressures from government and consumers were found to play an important role in whether a company adopts green supply chain management principles, with pressures varying to some degree depending on the business’s sector and size.
Thematic Issue 44
Goods consumed in Europe are commonly produced and harvested in other parts of the world where the highest short-term returns on investment can be achieved. However, the environmental costs of this international trade in commodities are frequently ignored. This Thematic Issue highlights research into international trade and related economic activities to help readers gain a better understanding of the environmental implications of the EU's import and consumption of commodities.
Recent research has found that silver nanoparticles in sewage sludge, which is used on agricultural land as a fertiliser, can be toxic to soil microorganisms. The researchers calculated that a maximum of 30mg of silver nanoparticles per kilogram of sludge can be applied to land before harm occurs, based on typical application rates in Germany of five tons per hectare of farmland every three years.
Harbour sediments should be tested for their toxic effects on living organisms in addition to being subject to the chemical, physical and biological tests usually conducted to assess water quality, according to recent research from Portugal. This would provide a better environmental assessment of dredged material to help guide port authorities' decisions on its disposal.
There is an ongoing debate over exploitation of the Dutch Wadden Sea, over issues including gas extraction and cockle fishing. According to a review analysing interactions between scientists and policymakers during these debates, the productivity of such discussions is substantially influenced by the policy setting, i.e. the level of government involved and the key decision-makers.
Two of the biggest barriers for organisations refurbishing waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) for re-use are the availability of sufficient quantities of good quality used equipment and a lack of legislation that encourages or enforces re-use. These, and other barriers as well as success factors, were identified in a recent survey of re-use organisations in Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe.
Despite the substantial impacts warming and drought can have on soil bacteria and fungi, these are not sustained if external conditions re-stabilise, a new study suggests. Small-scale experiements in five countries across Europe to show that even if warming and droughts continued for over a decade, there were no lasting effects on key properties of soils, such as growth rates, when the soils were allowed to re-stabilise in a laboratory over seven days.
Every year many marine animals including seabirds, sea turtles and sharks are unintentionally caught as bycatch in commercial fishing gear. Recent research has demonstrated that illuminating fishing nets with ultraviolet (UV) lights can reduce sea turtle bycatch without significantly affecting the number of fish caught or their market value.
Digital noise maps developed under the EU's Environmental Noise Directive (END) are a useful way of assessing traffic noise exposure for local residents, according to a recent Swedish study. The END maps could also be used to standardise noise exposure information in noise and health research.
The damaging impacts of the invasive alien plant, giant hogweed, decline over time, new research from the Czech Republic has concluded. Although this plant initially reduces the native species richness of the grasslands it colonises, the study found that numbers of native species increased again in sites that had been colonised by hogweed for 40 years or longer.
A model for chemical use that involves collaboration between suppliers and end-users could benefit both parties as well as the environment, according to recent research. In a Serbian case study, a bottled water manufacturer reduced its costs, water and chemicals consumption, and production of hazardous wastewater when it collaborated with its supplier of lubricant for factory conveyor belts using the 'Chemical Leasing' model.
House sparrows have the potential to become indicators of air quality, according to a recent Spanish study. The researchers demonstrated that small blood samples taken from the sparrows varied significantly depending on pollution levels in the birds' habitat.
Biodiversity offset schemes do not always fully compensate for loss of habitat due to development, new research suggests. Of 66 development projects in France with offset schemes, it was found that numbers of species in offset sites was on average five times lower than in the land destined for development. Furthermore, even endangered species were not always protected by these offset sites.
Recycling offers a promising means of supplying the rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, used in computing and low-carbon technologies, research suggests. If recycling infrastructure and technologies are prepared now to deal with the larger volumes of high-tech waste expected in the future, 7-9% of global demand for these critical elements could be met by recycling by the year 2030.
Moose avoid roads during day when human activity is highest, new research suggests. Monitoring moose movements in Sweden, researchers have found that the probability of moose being near roads drops after 06:00 and only rises again at approximately 18:00.
The promotion of diesel-fuelled cars in Europe may not have had the beneficial environmental effects that were expected, research suggests. It has been assumed that they help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transport sector, but studies show that their fuel efficiency is lower than previously believed, while their black carbon and nitrogen oxides emissions are higher. The consequent reduction in global warming effects from diesel cars may therefore be negligible, perhaps even negative.
Campaigns which remind individuals of the environmentally-friendly actions they already perform may motivate them to even more pro-environmental behaviours, new research suggests. If people identify themselves as environmentally-friendly, they are more likely to carry out green actions, even in the absence of any incentive.
The economic benefits of restoring natural ecosystems outweigh the costs, according to new research. The study examined the financial costs and benefits of restoring a range of ecosystems, including those found in marine, inland and coastal habitats, and concludes that in most cases the large value of ecosystem services provides a net economic benefit.
Researchers have explored the influence of indicators in transport policy in two case studies at the EU and Member State levels. In both cases indicators were widely used, however, this did not always translate into direct influence on policies. Involvement of policymakers themselves in the development of the indicators and good links to achievable goals were thought to increase the likelihood of policy influence.
Eco-innovations which help prevent the production of waste are explored in a recent German study. It considers the drivers and barriers to the uptake of material efficiency measures in businesses, green procurement and product leasing schemes.
Trawling can disturb the seabed, impacting habitats and biodiversity. Results from a new study in the North Sea have shown that changes in the distribution of trawling activity – the result of fishers' choices among fishing grounds and the effects of fisheries' regulations - have greater implications for the overall state of seabed habitat than the protection that might be provided by proposed Marine Protected Areas.
High levels of ammonia were observed at a Natura 2000 site nearly three kilometres upwind from an intensive poultry farm in a recent study. While downwind effects of ammonia emissions are to be expected, this study suggests that ammonia emissions could be a significant source of nitrogen pollution even upwind from the source.
The lack of clear international regulations is putting ‘animal forests’ at risk, a recent analysis concludes. The research examined threats to these important seafloor habitats, and suggests that collective responsibility and coherent ecosystem-based management are needed to prevent their loss.
Some marine ecosystems have been altered over long periods of time, resulting in a loss of knowledge of their true healthy state, new research suggests. In this UK study, researchers used historical records, samples of sediment and present-day diving surveys to reconstruct the true history of shellfish beds on the east coast of Scotland.
The effects of seafloor trawling can extend further than the immediate fishing grounds, affecting delicate deep-sea ecosystems, new research suggests. In this Mediterranean study, the researchers demonstrated that clouds of sediment from trawling reached deeper habitats, increasing water-borne sediment particle concentrations to a hundred times that of background levels.
Seabed fishing grounds in the UK are made up of intensively fished core areas surrounded by more rarely used marginal areas, new research shows. Excluding these margins, which contain only 10% of the total fishing activity, approximately halves the total area of fishing grounds. Thus reducing the fishing footprint by closing the marginal areas will disproportionately reduce the seabed impact of fishing activity.
A new tool for mapping the sensitivity of seafloor habitats to fishing activities has been developed. Researchers combined data on the resistance of habitats to damage from fishing practices, and how quickly they are able to recover, to produce a widely applicable tool that can be easily understood by stakeholders and used for different locations.
Researchers have developed a new method of mapping seafloor habitats, which uses easily measured environmental properties to infer the type and extent of seafloor ecosystems. It could help in the effective implementation of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the researchers suggest.
A new method of assessing human impacts on seafloor habitats suggests that over a third of habitats in the Baltic Sea have an ‘unfavourable’ status. The method is presented in a recent study which concludes that the tool can be effective in helping implement the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
A briefing document, providing policymakers with key information on environmental impact assessments of deep-sea mining, has been published. The authors describe the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process in detail to aid management and policy decisions regarding these sensitive habitats.
Guidelines to establish reserves protecting deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seep ecosystems have been proposed. A group of stakeholders from 14 countries have put forward the Dinard Guidelines for Chemosynthetic Ecological Reserves, to help design and manage reserves for these unique ecosystems in national and international waters.
Depositing dredged material on the seabed can significantly reduce the functioning of marine habitats, diminishing the amount of food available for fish and other animals further up the food chain, new research suggests. The author of the study calls for inclusion of this effect into environmental impact assessments of dredging.
The planned expansion of offshore wind farms in the German Bight of the North Sea will provide hard surfaces in what is currently a soft-bottom habitat. This could see an increase in the numbers of some species, such as mussels, which attach themselves to these hard structures, in turn leading to increased numbers of fish and crabs specialised to this habitat, new research suggests.
Leakage of radioactive material from the wreck of the nuclear submarine K-159 in the Barents Sea could increase levels of radioactivity in local populations of cod by a hundred times, new research suggests. However, this level remains well below ‘safe’ standards set by the Norwegian government.
A case study in Greece suggests that farmers growing low-value crops such as maize and cotton will suffer most from policies which introduce charges for water. However, this impact can be mitigated if groundwater is priced based on the energy needed for pumping, shifting some of the burden to higher value crops.
A new study suggests that abandoned farmland is widespread in Europe and that not all land that has been abandoned is unsuitable for farming. Understanding how abandoned farmland is distributed may be important for making land management decisions – for instance, recultivation versus reversion to forest.
Warmer sea temperatures are increasing the toxic effect of sulphides on seagrass meadows in the Mediterranean Sea, new research reveals. Higher sea temperatures in the region, as projected using climate modelling, will therefore further threaten these habitats which are already declining from the damage caused by other human activities.