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Emerging risks

Extreme coastal water levels will increase considerably due to climate change, posing an increasing threat of coastal floods due to ‘overtopping’ — a cause of flooding

Climate change and anthropogenic pressures are widely expected to exacerbate hazards such as coastal flooding. One process that could contribute to this is overtopping which occurs when the extreme coastal water level exceeds the maximum elevation of the coastal system (such as dunes, dykes or cliffs). A new global analysis — using satellite-derived models of coastlines — estimates that under a high emissions scenario, the incidence of overtopping, globally, will accelerate faster than the global mean sea-level.<a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/569na6_en-1342_a-global-analysis-of-extreme-coastal-water-levels.pdf">Click here to read more</a>

 
Managing Asian hornet incursions with nest dissection and microsatellite marker analysis

The yellow-legged Asian hornet (Vespa velutina nigrithorax) is an invasive species that poses a particular threat to the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). This study reports on the management of Asian hornet incursions in the UK, including the use of nest dissection and microsatellite marker analysis (a form of genetic testing) to determine the relatedness and reproductive status of detected nests and hornets. <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/569na4_en-1328-managing-incursions-of-vespa-velutina-nigrithorax-in-the-uk-an-emerging-threat-to-apiculture_v2.pdf">Click here to read more</a>

 
Pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors: transfer from water to land ecosystems

Pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors increasingly contaminate the world’s freshwaters. New research provides direct evidence of their transfer from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems via the consumption of aquatic insects by terrestrial predators such as spiders, birds and bats. This exposure may have negative impacts on the physiology and population dynamics of predators, suggesting a need for improved risk-assessment guidelines and practices. <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/569na3_en-1323-aquatic-insects-transfer-pharmaceuticals-and-endocrine-disruptors_aquatic-to-terrestrial-ecosystems.pdf">Click here to read more</a>

 
The 'Dark Ecological Network': strategically tackling light pollution for biodiversity and people

Night-time light pollution from artificial sources can disrupt biological processes and fragment habitats. This study presents a new concept for addressing the problem: a 'dark ecological network'. Its development involves mapping a new system of connected functional zones and corridors where dark can be preserved to help birds, bats and other taxa, and gives people the chance to experience starry skies. <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/569na2_en-1317_grasping-darkness_the-dark-ecological-network_v2.pdf">Click here to read more</a>

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

Frozen freshwater lakes provide ice to support human transportation, refrigeration, food harvest and recreation. This ice also influences key environmental factors; crucially, it minimises lake evaporation rates, moderates summer water temperatures and curtails toxic algal blooms. However, freshwater-lake ice cover is decreasing under climate change. A study estimates how many lakes in the Northern Hemisphere will permanently lose ice cover within this century, and identifies those most at risk of becoming ice-free.</br> </br> <b><a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/560na3_en-nearly-5700-northern-hemisphere-lakes-may-be-ice-free-within-this-century.pdf">Click here to read more</a></b>

 
Nanoplastics may reduce efficacy of constructed wetlands for water treatment

Water bodies absorb the nitrogen released by human activity and must, therefore, be protected against nutrient overloading (or eutrophication), which can cause significant environmental damage. Constructed wetlands (CWs) are widely used as an eco-friendly treatment method for this; however, the efficacy of CWs may be affected by the presence of emerging contaminants in wastewater. This study explores how nano-sized particles of polystyrene plastic (nanoplastics) affect nitrogen removal (denitrification<sup>1</sup>) in CWs. </br> </br> <b><a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/557na4_en_nanoplastics-may-reduce-efficacy-of-constructed-wetlands-for-water-treatment.pdf">Click here to read more</a></b>

 
Antibiotics: even low levels found in the environment might drive resistance

Researchers behind a new literature survey of antibiotic levels in the environment call for regulators to recognise antimicrobials as pollutants and to regulate them similarly to other hazardous substances — for which environmental limits, reference standards and treatment protocols have been set. Recognising that low-level contamination from antibiotics in waste and waste-water streams, agricultural run-off<sup>1</sup>, and pharmaceutical effluent<sup>2</sup> may be important risk factors linked to antibiotic resistance, they suggest setting maximum acceptable levels that are below those selecting for antimicrobial resistance. They suggest that it is vital to view antibiotics as a contaminant and to monitor levels in soil and water<sup>3</sup>. </br> </br> <b><a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/557na1_en_antibiotics-even-low-levels-found-in-the-environment-might-drive-resistance.pdf">Click here to read more</a></b>

 
New publications on financial institutions’ contribution to the biodiversity crisis

A new report from Portfolio Earth titled “Bankrolling Extinction” details the role of the banking sector in the biodiversity crisis. Another recent report from ShareAction titled “Point of No Returns – Biodiversity” evaluates asset managers’ approaches to biodiversity and similarly finds that the asset management sector’s approach to biodiversity is critically underdeveloped.

 
Swiss Re Insurance pioneers index on risk from ecosystem collapse

Swiss Re Group, a provider of reinsurance, insurance and other forms of insurance-based risk transfer, has developed a Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (BES) index to enable businesses and governments to account for biodiversity and ecosystem issues into their decision-making.

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

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

 
Sixteen-year reduction in levels of toxic PAHs in the Elbe River, Saxony

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a large group of toxic molecules produced by forest fires, industrial processes and the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. The airborne particles containing these molecules are often washed into watercourses, where they can persist. This study uses long-term monitoring data from the Elbe river, Saxony, Germany, to show how changes in PAH sources affect both the concentrations of these chemicals and the corresponding environmental risks. The researchers suggest that controlling PAHs is the best prevention of harm to aquatic and human health.

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

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