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PostPosted: Wed Nov 19, 2014 6:58 pm 
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Fatberg as long as a bendy bus to be cleared from the sewers under Whitehall - and experts say WET WIPES are to blame for clogging up the pipes
By Claire Carter
5 November 2014

A fatberg stretching 66 feet beneath the government offices in Whitehall will be cleared as it was blocking all the sewers in the central London stretch and risking sewage coming up through people's plugholes.

The fatberg - one of the biggest ever to be cleared by Thames Water - has been largely created by people throwing wet wipes and fat down drains and toilets, which then congeals into a large immovable mass.

Removing the fatberg will cost tens of thousands of pounds and is likely to cause disruption as roads in central London will have to be closed to make way for specialist equipment. But if it is left it will grow, more fat and wet wipes will congeal, and there is a real risk that sewers could flood and people living nearby will see waste coming up through their sinks and toilets.

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A fatberg measuring 66ft long has been found beneath the Government offices in Whitehall, in London

The congealed mass of fat and wet wipes occupies a trunk sewer beneath Whitehall, where all smaller sewer pipes feed into before waste is taken to Beckton in west London to be removed. The fatberg is at the junction of Whitehall Court and Whitehall Place in south London and is in a sewer measuring 6ft high and 3ft wide. It stretches throughout 66 feet of the central London sewer and is almost the length of an articulated, or bendy, bus.

The Whitehall fatberg is broken down into smaller pieces spread through the extensive stretch of pipes but is still one of the biggest ever Thames Water have had to deal with. Officials at Thames Water said the amount of fat contained in the mass is not surprising given that pipes from Regent Street, where there are a number of restaurants and fast food outlets, feed into it.

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Sewer worker Tim Henderson is holding a piece of fatberg he grabbed out of the Whitehall ‘river of fat’

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The Whitehall sewer is a trunk sewer, which means smaller pipes feed into it before the waste is taken away

Dave Dennis, the sewer manager for west London at Thames Water, said: 'We have 67,108 miles of sewers, and that's a lot of pipe to keep clear. 'We spend £12 million a year tackling blockages, most of them formed because people have tipped cooking fats down the drain and wet wipes down the loo. 'The sewers serve an important purpose - they are not an abyss for household rubbish.'

Mr Dennis warned against throwing rubbish down sewers and drains, such as wet wipes and fat which because this does not break down. Instead it congeals into large immovable clumps and can cause sewer floods, which he described as 'horrific.' He added: 'We find objects down the sewers every day that should not be there. Planks of wood, plastic bottles, and the bane of our lives – wet wipes. They may say flushable on the packet but they don't break down inside the sewer. They cling to cooled cooking fat and form fatbergs, which block pipes and flood our customers with sewage.'

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A close-up of the fatberg, which has been formed by a collection of fat and wet wipes congealing into a mass

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The fatberg is located in a sewer at the junction of Whitehall Place and Whitehall Court, measuring 6ft tall

Officials examining the Whitehall fatberg found nail varnish pots, a pencil sharpener, condoms, and sanitary products - all of which should not be there. Staff from Thames Water will use powerful suction equipment to break down the blockage and then high-powered water jets to clear the tunnels. Because of the central location of the fatberg roads will have to be closed so equipment can be taken down into the sewers and there is likely to be significant disruption.

Thames Water said it has to remove around 55,000 fatbergs a year, caused by people throwing unsuitable rubbish down toilets and drains which congeals into a large immovable mass. This costs more than £1million a month.

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A fatberg formed from fat, wet wipes and other litter wrongly put down drains and toilets - was detected under a 260ft stretch of a road in Shepherd’s Bush just two months ago and measured about the size of a Boeing 747

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A 15 ton fatberg was found congealed in a London city sewer in August 2013 and was dubbed the biggest ever

Just two months ago, a fatberg described as being the length of a Boeing 747 was found to be blocking the sewer beneath homes in Shepherd's Bush, west London.

    WHAT IS A FATBERG?
  • A fatberg is a congealed lump consisting of fat, wet wipes, sanitary items and other items in sewer systems, which unlike lavatory paper do not break down.
  • Fatberg is the official term given to the deposits by Thames Water in London.
  • Regarded as a nuisance, they can also be used as fuel, specifically biogas.

The blockage was made up of waste fat, wet wipes, food, tennis balls and planks of wood. Staff from Thames Water found the blockage when they checked beneath a 260ft section of road. They cleared the huge underground pipe using high-powered jets. Last year a huge fatberg with a mass of 15 tonnes and measuring the size of a double-decker bus was found beneath the streets of London, and was growing at a mass of three extra tonnes a month as people continued to pour fat down drains and put wet wipes down the lavatory.

Source: Daily Mail UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 6:24 am 
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Balkan 'Wild Beauty' Montenegro faces waste woes
10 November 2014
By PREDRAG MILIC

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In this photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, a boat sails near a pile of jumbo bags filled with hazardous grit in an shipyard in Bijela, Montenegro.
(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) -- Montenegro takes pride in its majestic Adriatic coastline and towering mountains rising from the sea, lined with rivers, streams and lakes.

But the so-called Balkan Wild Beauty is now faced with the problem of waste disposal that is threatening both its natural wonders and its lucrative tourism industry.

Tons of hazardous and other waste is blemishing the spectacular scenery of Montenegro - a small country which declared itself an ecological state more than two decades ago - lying unprotected close to towns and villages, rivers and lakes, or newly-built luxurious sea resorts.

Like most Balkan countries in transition, Montenegro has done little over the past decades to deal with waste disposal and other environmental woes, allowing the problem to grow. As the country now seeks to join the European Union, it must deal with the issue to advance in its membership bid. "We are far from being proud of our environmental situation," State Secretary for Environment Daliborka Pejovic said. "I am quite confident that the EU will not accept the countries which have unresolved problems with hazardous waste."

The problem is visible just outside the capital, Podgorica, where colonies of gulls and cormorants rest on the shores of two huge red mud basins of a fallen aluminum giant, which was once the pride of Socialist-era industry. The basins - along with thousands of tons of solid open-air waste - are located within the smelter complex, which is about 100 meters (330 feet) from Montenegro's main Moraca river, a tributary of the internationally renowned natural preserve of Skadar Lake.

Natasa Kovacevic, from local environmentalist group Green Home, said that the basins, which cover around 100 acres (40 hectares) with about 7 million tons of mud, are contaminated with hard metals and cyanide. "We have at least five environmental black spots, along with some 350 identified and many more unidentified illegal dumps," Kovacevic said.

Down by the Adriatic coast, tons of hazardous grit have been piled in an old shipyard in Bijela within sight of Porto Montenegro, one of the biggest and most luxurious of all the yachting marinas on the Adriatic. The byproduct of ship-building can be used in road construction, but only after being processed at a waste facility - which doesn't exist in Montenegro, Kovacevic said. She added that a better option for a small country like Montenegro - its population is just over 600,000 people - would be to export hazardous waste, rather than build a processing facility of its own.

Government official Pejovic acknowledged it would be "a long-lasting process." Some citizens, such as 71-year-old Veselin Vujovic, are angry and skeptical. "We are somewhere between an ecological state and an ecological catastrophe," Vujovic said.

Jovana Gec contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.
Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 29, 2014 3:21 pm 
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Biggest Brazil metro area desperate for water
By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
November 7, 2014

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In this Oct. 29, 2014 photo, men walk on the receding banks of the Guarapiranga dam which is responsible for providing water to the Sao Paulo metropolitan area in Brazil. The sign reads in Portuguese "Don't dive into the water." (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

ITU, Brazil (AP) — It's been nearly a month since Diomar Pereira has had running water at his home in Itu, a commuter city outside Sao Paulo that is at the epicenter of the worst drought to hit southeastern Brazil in more than eight decades.

Like others in this city whose indigenous name means "big waterfall," Pereira must scramble to find water for drinking, bathing and cooking. On a recent day when temperatures hit 90 degrees (32 Celsius), he drove to a community kiosk where people with empty soda bottles and jugs lined up to use a water spigot. Pereira filled several 13-gallon containers, which he loaded into his Volkswagen bug.

"I have a job and five children to raise and am always in a rush to find water so we can bathe," said Pereira, a truck driver who makes the trip to get water every couple of days. "It's very little water for a lot of people."

Brazil is approaching the December start of its summer rainy season with its water supply nearly bare. More than 10 million people across Sao Paulo state, Brazil's most populous and the nation's economic engine, have been forced to cut water use over the past six months. A reservoir used by Itu has fallen to 2 percent of capacity and, because its system relies on rain and groundwater rather than rivers, the city is suffering more than others.

In Itu, desperation is taking hold. Police escort water trucks to keep them from being hijacked by armed men. Residents demanding restoration of tap water have staged violent protests. Restaurants and bars are using disposable cups to avoid washing dishes, and agribusinesses are transporting soybeans and other crops by road rather than by boat in areas where rivers have dried up.

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In this Oct. 30, 2014 photo, Diomar Pereira fills jugs with water at a community kiosk after nearly a month without water at his home in Itu, a commuter city outside of Sao Paulo that's at the epicenter of the worst drought to hit southeastern Brazil in more than eight decades. “I have a job, and five children to raise and am always in a rush to find water so we can bathe,” said Pereira, a truck driver who makes the trip every couple of days. “It’s very little water for a lot of people.” Sao Paulo is at the epicenter of the worst drought to hit southeastern Brazil in more than eight decades. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

"We are entering unknown territory," said Renato Tagnin, an expert in water resources at the environmental group Coletivo Curupira. "If this continues, we will run out of water. We have no more mechanisms and no water stored in the closet."

The Sao Paulo metropolitan area ended its last rainy season in February with just a third of the usual rain total — only 9 inches (23 centimeters) over three months. Showers in October totaled just 1 inch (25 millimeters), one-fifth of normal.

Only consistent, steady summer rains will bring immediate relief, experts say. But they also place blame on the government, which they say needs to upgrade a state water distribution network that loses more than 30 percent of its resources to leaks. Advocates also call for treatment plants to produce more potable water, along with better environmental protections for headwaters and rivers flowing into reservoirs.

Tagnin and others say the government ignored calls to begin rationing water months ago because it didn't want to take such a step before the October elections and risk losing votes. The government, however, maintains there will be no need for rationing. It says its measures to conserve water are working, such as offering discounted water bills for those who limit usage and reducing water pressure during off-peak hours.

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In this Oct. 30, 2014 photo, a water gage stands on the receding shore of the nearly empty Itaim dam in Itu, a commuter city outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Itu is at the epicenter of the worst drought to hit southeastern Brazil in more than eight decades, and desperation is taking hold. Police must escort water trucks to keep them from being hijacked by armed men. Residents demanding restoration of tap water have staged violent protests. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

But activists and consumer groups complain the government has done too little too late and failed to keep consumers informed.

The state's largest utility, which supplies water to more than 16 million people in Sao Paulo's metropolitan area, for months avoided acknowledging the looming shortage. Only recently did the Sabesp utility release maps showing which neighborhoods were at risk of water cuts, and was careful to avoid using the hot-button term "rationing."

In Itu, where the taps have been dry for weeks, residents dream of rationing — At least that would mean some water for their homes. "I forgot what water looks like coming out of the faucet," said Rosa Lara Leite, a woman carrying a few gallons of water in each hand at one of the city's crowded drinking fountains.

Authorities forced the city of 160,000 to cut its daily water consumption from 16 million gallons (62 million liters) to 2 million gallons (8 million liters). Dozens of water trucks are deployed to bring in water from far off towns. Huge 5,000-gallon tanks have been set up around the city.

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In this Oct. 30, 2014 photo, men fill buckets with water they purchased from a water truck in Itu, a commuter city outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Authorities forced the city of 160,000 to cut its daily water consumption from 16 million gallons (62 million liters) to 2 million gallons (8 million liters). Dozens of water trucks are deployed to bring in water from far off towns. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

"We understand that people's basic need is water. They need it," said Marco Antonio Augusto, spokesman for a government task force created to manage Itu's water supply. "We are bringing water from every possible place."

Baker Franciele Bonfim is storing whatever water she can get her hands on in every possible place. She and a neighbor recently paid $200 to buy water from a private water truck, storing it in two big tanks and about 20 plastic buckets that once held margarine for her cakes. "It's an added expense but at least I am good for 15 days," Bonfim said, as she used a thick hose to pour water into each bucket. "It has taken me a long time to use all this margarine. But water runs out fast."

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In this Oct. 30, 2014 photo, people carry plastic bottles to fill up with water at a community kiosk in Itu, Brazil. It’s been nearly a month since residents have had running water at their homes in Itu, a commuter city outside of Sao Paulo that is at the epicenter of the worst drought to hit southeastern Brazil in more than eight decades. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

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In this Oct. 30, 2014 photo, a man fills his container with water from a water truck during a historic drought in Itu, Brazil. Only recently did the state’s largest utility release maps showing which neighborhoods were at risk of water cuts, and was careful to avoid using the hot button term “rationing.” In Itu, where the taps have been dry for weeks, residents dream of rationing _ at least that would mean some water for their homes. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

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In this Oct. 30, 2014 photo, the earth lays cracked in the nearly empty Itaim dam, responsible for providing water to the Sao Paulo metropolitan area, in Itu, Brazil. This city whose indigenous name means “big waterfall” is at the epicenter of the worst drought to hit southeastern Brazil in more than eight decades. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

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In this Oct. 30, 2014 photo, a bird flies over the Itaim dam which has fallen to 2 percent capacity during a historic drought in Itu, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

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An aerial view of the Jaguari dam, part of the Cantareira reservoir, during a drought in Braganca Paulista, Sao Paulo state November 18, 2014.

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Workers of SABESP, Brazilian enterprise of Sao Paulo state that provides water and sewage services to residential, commercial and industrial areas, stand next to the Jaguari dam station, part of the Cantareira reservoir, during a drought in Braganca Paulista, Sao Paulo state November 18, 2014.

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An aerial view of a car on the cracked ground of Atibainha dam, part of the Cantareira reservoir, during a drought in Nazare Paulista, Sao Paulo state November 18, 2014. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Source: Yahoo! AP.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 3:32 pm 
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Polar bear fights to survive, and climate politics do little to help
28 November 2014
By Georg Ismar

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Chilly: The polar bear may find itself stranded if the IPCC is correct about melting

Berlin (dpa) - Climate change is threatening to flood whole islands in the South Pacific, and traditional ski countries like Germany often must resort to snow machines: things are changing, and they are changing fast.

World climate experts on Monday in Lima will launch the year-long UN effort to find a new agreement by December 2015, and more generally to try to negotiate ways to stop the global warming trend.

The polar bear has become the standard bearer for the threat. In 2004, there were still 1,500 polar bears in Alaska and in north-western Canada, but more recently they were down to only about 900. "The summer pack ice in the sea has been shrinking for years, and without ice, bears lack a platform from which to hunt seals. That makes survival increasingly difficult, especially for young animals," said Sybille Klenzendorf, of the Global Arctic Programme run by the environmental organization World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).

At the 2010 climate conference, in the Mexican seaside resort of Cancun, attendees agreed to scientists recommondations that they must limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature. However, measures taken so far have been insufficient. The 12-day UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-20) conference in Lima will bring together 195 countries, to propose the guidelines for an agreement that is to be formally sealed a year later in Paris.

Hope has sprung from the recent small but historic agreement between China and the United States to limit emissions - the world's number one and two CO2 producers whose stalemate has blocked progress for the past decade. US President Barack Obama announced that the United States would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005.

China wants to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) starting in 2030. Is that really enough? Hardly. However, climate experts and German government sources note that the Chinese leadership is nervous about thousands of unauthorized demonstrations against air pollution. India is making progress too.

And yet talks about climate change usually turn into a blame game. After all, for many years it was only western economies that secured economic growth while spewing greenhouse gasses blamed for global warming. Recently, hope has emerged of a more positive attitude than the one that made climate talks fail in Copenhagen in 2009. All states are required to come up with their own emission reduction goals starting with Lima. The deadline is late March 2015.

In Peru, negotiations will mostly focus on what gases should be targeted for reduction and the milestone year for achievement, said German climate negotiator Karsten Sach. The European Union plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, while China, the world's largest polluter by far, will by then still pollute more than it does today. But China has already laid out a plan to increase alternative energy and has been experimenting with regional carbon markets with plans to go nationwide in the coming years.

Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the new framework will not feature binding obligations, but rather a mix of national goals that will put the 2-degree goal out of reach. And yet a legally binding agreement is utopian at this stage, given the spotty support for the Kyoto provisions.

So far, climate talks have mostly been a frustrating zero-sum game. The European Union has made an effort to reduce emissions, while other countries increase their output. Eventually, a global trade in emission quotas - that is, an international price for CO2 emissions - could manage to keep CO2 pollution in check.

Half of the carbon dioxide emissions directly caused by humans since 1750 have been produced since 1970. Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam-based Institute for Climate Research, has a chart that shows the warmest summers in Europe since 1500: 2010, 2003, 2002, 2006, 2007. Without active and prompt mitigation, global temperatures are on track to rise by 3 or even 4 four degrees Celsius by 2100 - accompanied by drastic rises in sea levels and threat to human lives, climate scientists say.

There is however some good news in the finance sector: the Green Climate Fund, which is part of the UNFCCC framework, has already raised 9.3 billion dollars. It is intended to help countries that are particularly affected by climate change to adapt to imminent threats such as flooding, or to promote wind and solar power.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel - who signed the original Kyoto Protocol as environment minister and has been a major actor in pushing for a new agreement - will have a chance at the G7 summit in June in Bavaria to push the industrialized world to do more. But even Germany is likely to fall short of its own goal of reducing emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.

Source: dpa.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 5:58 pm 
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Muscovites Warned to Stay Inside as Toxic Chemicals Engulf City
By Alexey Eremenko, Jennifer Monaghan
November 10, 2014

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Vladimir Molotov / YouTube - No deaths or mass poisonings were reported as of Monday evening, City Hall said, Interfax reported.

Russian emergency services on Monday warned Muscovites to stay indoors and seal off access to fresh air amid reports of toxic chemical fumes permeating the city.

Air in southwestern Moscow contained 2.5 times the maximum permissible levels of styrene, a toxic and mutagenic chemical used for polymer production, according to city-run environmental monitoring watchdog Mosekomonitoring.

A strong smell of hydrogen sulfide was also reported citywide, including at The Moscow Times headquarters at Marina Roshcha. The substance has an aroma reminiscent of rotting eggs. "Head hurts, feel sick, eyes watering," Natalia Kim, a resident of the styrene-hit Kozhukhovo district, wrote on Facebook.

Other locals traded advice in comments, suggestions including drinking a lot of milk and activated carbon, covering things with wet towels, and either ringing up the district authorities or fleeing town. "Is it just me smelling sulfur, or has a portal to hell opened in Moscow?" Twitter user @ping_f wrote, a reaction typical of many Moscow denizens.

No deaths or mass poisonings were reported as of Monday evening, City Hall said, Interfax reported. Media reports speculated about an accident at a local chemical plant, though officials failed to offer a cohesive explanation for the stink attack.

The Emergency Situations Ministry, which issued the warning to stay indoors, blamed it on an accident at a Gazpromneft refinery in southeastern Moscow, Interfax reported. But the refinery's owner, state-run monopoly Gazprom, denied any incidents at the facility, according to Interfax.

Aeration plants in the city's southeast may have been the culprits, the TASS news agency reported, citing a law enforcement source. "We're taking air samples across Moscow," an Emergency Ministry spokesman told Gazeta.ru. "We'll let you know as soon as we know something."

"I believe the oilmen have messed up, and the wind's blowing from them. I think it will blow over by the morning, and everybody will calm down," Lev Fyodorov of interest group For Chemical Safety told Slon.ru.

Southeastern Moscow hosts many industrial enterprises, including the oil refinery and numerous chemical plants. Locals have campaigned against alleged air pollution in the district for years, but state watchdogs denied all reports about excessive levels of chemicals in the air, Gazeta.ru said.

While it was not immediately clear what was causing the odor, social media users were quick to poke fun at the unpleasant smell. "Do you [know] what smells in Moscow? It's not sulfur, but the ruble dying," a Twitter user wrote in reference to the recent drop in the value of Russia's currency compared with the dollar and euro. "Any small gas masks for kittens?" wrote another, more practical user.

The U.S. Embassy issued a warning Monday afternoon urging U.S. citizens to remain indoors, close windows and doors, and turn off heating and cooling systems in order to reduce the flow of outside air. According to the statement, “Multiple sources are reporting an industrial accident in Kapotnaya — in the southeast suburbs of Moscow — resulting in a leak of hydrogen sulfide, commonly associated with sewer gas. There is no official confirmation of this event at this time.”

Source: Moscow Times.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 6:33 am 
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Humans are turning the Earth into a 'lonely and very dangerous planet', ecologist warns
by Steve Connor
Monday, 10 November 2014

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The Sumatran rhinoceros, Amur leopard, mountain gorilla and white-tip shark are all species at risk. Getty Images

Humans are turning the world into a “lonely planet” depleted of its rich biodiversity, and there could soon come a point when the mass extinction of species turns into an irreversible spiral of decline, according to a leading ecologist.

Professor Ed Wilson, an authority on biodiversity at Harvard University, said that the extinction rate of species is running at between 100 and 1,000 times higher than in pre-human times and that we are on course to lose half of all animals and plants by the end of the century.

“We’re making a lonely planet. More than that, if we continue to destroy the biosphere it becomes a very dangerous planet,” professor Wilson told i on a recent visit to Britain. “If you wiped out enough species, all of those say in South America, then that may be a tipping point where you get enough changes globally to begin a downward spiral,” professor Wilson said. “A tipping point will come, but we don’t know when. However, the important thing is that it will come, and maybe sooner than we thought if we continue to destroy the natural habitat, and in particular the species,” he said. “You can rehabilitate a damaged habitat to some extent, but you can’t do that if you have gotten rid of species. We would lose them forever, and I think that would be a tipping point in human existence,” he added.

Animals in decline

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Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina)
Where: Orkney Islands. What: Between 2001-2006, numbers in Orkney declined by 40 per cent. Why: epidemics of the phocine distemper virus are thought to have caused major declines, but the killing of seals in the Moray Firth to protect salmon farms may have an impact.

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African lion (Panthera leo)
Where: Ghana. What: In Ghana’s Mole National Park, lion numbers have declined by more than 90 per cent in 40 years. Why: local conflicts are thought to have contributed to the slaughter of lions and are a worrying example of the status of the animal in Western and Central Africa.

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Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Where: Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Costa Rica. What: Numbers are down in both the Atlantic and Pacific. It declined by 95 per cent between 1989-2002 in Costa Rica.
Why: mainly due to them being caught as bycatch, but they’ve also been affected by local developments.


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Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans)
Where: South Atlantic. What: A rapid decline. One population, from Bird Island, South Georgia, declined by 50 per cent between 1972-2010, according to the British Antarctic Survey. Why: being caught in various commercial longline fisheries.

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Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica)
Where: Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. What: fall in populations has been dramatic. In the early 1990s numbers were over a million, but are now estimated to be around 50,000. Why: the break up of the former USSR led to uncontrolled hunting. Increased rural poverty means the species is hunted for its meat.

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Swordfish (Xiphias gladius)
Where: found worldwide in tropical, subtropical and temperate seas. Why: at risk from overfishing and as a target in recreational fishing.
A significant number of swordfish are also caught by illegal driftnet fisheries in the Mediterranean.


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Argali Sheep (Ovis mammon)
Where: Central and Southern Asian mountains,usually at 3,000-5,000 metres altitude. Why: domesticated herds of sheep competing for grazing grounds. Over-hunting and poaching.

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Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
Where: the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea to South Africa and to the Tuamoto Islands (Polynesia), north to the Ryukyu Islands (south-west Japan), and south to New Caledonia. Why: Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing and trading of the species

During his visit to the UK, professor Wilson, 85, broke the ground on a £30m construction project on the Isle of Portland on the south coast of England to commemorate the 460 species that are known to have gone extinct in the past 500 years, from the dodo to the Tasmanian devil.

The Mass Extinction Monitoring Observatory will be built from the Portland limestone of the Jurassic Coast, which was used extensively in re-building St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London.

“We need a transcendent moral decision to stop species extinction, and that should be made to include the stopping of the destruction of the biosphere,” professor Wilson said. Professor Wilson has spent a lifetime studying the biodiversity of rainforests and other wild habitats.

Source: Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 6:50 am 
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Deforestation may be at root of Brazil drought
4 December 2014
By BRAD BROOKS and ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON

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In this Sept. 15, 2009 file photo, a deforested area is seen near Novo Progresso, in Brazil's northern state of Para. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, file)

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Vera Lucia de Oliveira looks to the sky, hoping for any sign of rain.

For weeks, the taps in her home have run dry as Sao Paulo has suffered its worst drought in eight decades, with rainfall at one-third the normal level. Without heavy and prolonged rain, the megacity of 23 million could soon run out of water, experts warn. "We are always thinking: The rain is coming, the rain is coming," said Oliveira.

But it doesn't, and a growing consensus of scientists believes the answer to what is happening to Oliveria and her neighbors lies not in the sky above their heads but in decades of deforestation of Amazon rainforest hundreds of miles away. The cutting of trees, scientists say, is hindering the immense jungle's ability to absorb carbon from the air - and to pull enough water through tree roots to supply gigantic "sky rivers" that move more moisture than the Amazon river itself. More than two-thirds of the rain in southeastern Brazil, home to 40 percent of its population, comes from these sky rivers, studies estimate. When they dry up, drought follows, scientists believe.

It's not just Brazil but South America as a whole for which these rivers in the sky play a pivotal meteorological role, according to a recent study by a top Brazilian climate scientist, Antonio Nobre of the government's Center for Earth System Science.

The study draws together data from multiple researchers to show that the Amazon may be closer to a tipping point than the government has acknowledged and that the changes could be a threat to climates around the globe. His work is causing a stir in drought-stricken Brazil as environmental negotiators meet in neighboring Peru at the Dec. 1-12 U.N. climate talks.

Destruction of the Amazon went unchecked until 2008, when the government put teeth in its environmental laws and sent armed agents into the jungle to slow the pace of deforestation by ranchers, soy farmers and timber speculators. The impact was quick: Destruction in 2012 was one-sixth of what was recorded eight years earlier, though it has ticked up in the last two years.

But Nobre and other scientists warn it's not enough just to slow the pace of destruction - it must be halted. "With each tree that falls you lose a little bit more of that water that's being transported to Sao Paulo and the rest of Brazil," said Philip Fearnside, a professor at the Brazilian government's National Institute for Research in the Amazon who was not part of Nobre's study. "If you just let that continue, you're going to have a major impact on the big population centers in Brazil that are feeling the pinch now."

U.S. scientists praise the study, with U.S. Geological Survey drought expert James Verdin calling it "compelling and credible." Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Minnesota highlighted two "once-in-a-century-level droughts" occurring in 2005 and 2010 in the region, in a peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Climate. They used climate simulations to find that deforestation "has the potential to increase the impact of droughts in the Amazon basin."

The sky rivers are generated by the forest acting as a massive pump, according to research that has shown the jungle's uniform humidity consistently lowers atmospheric pressure in the Amazon basin. That allows it to draw moist air currents from the Atlantic Ocean much farther inland than areas that don't have forests. Those currents travel west across the continent until they hit the Andes mountains, where they pivot and carry rains south to Buenos Aires and east to Sao Paulo. The trees pump an estimated 20 billion metric tons of water into the atmosphere every day - 3 billion more than what the Amazon river, the world's largest, discharges into the ocean.

Recent research indicates rainfall has decreased downwind of deforested areas. The fewer the trees, the less humidity there is in the Amazon basin, making its "pump" effect weaker.

Nobre's October report warned of the crucial need to replant one-fifth of jungle areas that were razed. In addition, 310 million acres, an area twice the size of France, have been degraded by patchwork destruction and need to be restored. "We're like the Titanic moving straight toward the iceberg," Nobre said in a telephone interview.

The government is preparing a study to measure the impact deforestation has had over recent decades, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said in an interview. The issue is a complex one tied to local problems and the government's own drive to develop the Amazon region, home to nearly 25 million people. Teixeira said the trick is finding the balance, to be able to use the jungle to benefit the population without destroying it in the process.

However, Nobre's report calls on the government to take more urgent action and to aim for zero deforestation. It also calls on Brazilians to influence the government's approach to the Amazon, noting that "the shock of dry taps here, flooded cities there, and other natural disasters must surely provoke a reaction."

Taps have been dry for several weeks in Itu, a community 60 miles northwest of Sao Paulo, where residents are feeling the drought more than anywhere else. Water is so scarce that supply trucks have been hijacked at gun point. "We are very scared," said Ruth Arruda, an elementary school teacher who stopped washing dishes and uses only disposable plates and cups now. "The water simply has nowhere to come from. Nothing is helping concentrate it, and the dams are not storing it well."

On a recent day, Arruda drove herself and her daughter to a community kiosk to fill empty soda bottles with water from a spigot. On the ride there, she passed rows of homes with signs out front depicting the community's desperation: "Help, Itu Needs Water." In the 1980s, she says, the city chopped down dozens of trees to clear land for big homes for white-collar workers who wanted a quiet community away from Sao Paulo. "We have to look inward and pay attention to what we have done wrong to our environment," she said.

Associated Press writer Brad Brooks reported this story from Rio de Janeiro and Adriana Gomez Licon reported in Sao Paulo. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.
Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 8:06 am 
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Environmental filmmakers have rare impact in China
4 December 2014
By LOUISE WATT

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In this Oct. 28, 2014 photo, independent film maker Wang Jiuliang talks about his new film "Plastic China" at his home in Yanjiao, northern China's Hebei province.
(AP Photo/Louise Watt)

BEIJING (AP) -- One clip shows a girl swatting flies from a younger child among piles of trash. Another has children blowing up used medical gloves like balloons.

The footage is on the computer screen of Wang Jiuliang as he edits his second film about waste harming China's environment. He's already in discussions to show it on the main state-run broadcaster and answering calls from state media reporters who want to interview him. This in a country where independent filmmakers critical of the government generally face censorship, harassment or worse.

Environmental filmmakers continue to be hassled at the local level - Wang said he has been chased by dogs, threatened and punched - but their work apparently is being tolerated nationally because it aligns with the Communist Party leadership's new priority of fighting pollution. Some of these filmmakers are even influencing the authorities.

Meanwhile, their colleagues who are covering evictions and other social issues are increasingly being driven underground. While the ruling party was long indifferent to the environment as it pursued economic development, combating pollution has shot up its agenda as the public has become more aware of foul air, contaminated produce and polluted water. China last month pledged to cap its carbon emissions by 2030. "If you want to make a film about Tiananmen 1989, it will be impossible. If you want to make a film about the legal justice system you will get into trouble. But for now I think the environment is relatively safe, but not too many people have dealt with this subject matter," said La Frances Hui, film curator at the New York-based Asia Society.

In August, police abruptly closed down the Beijing Independent Film Festival that planned to show 70 films covering themes such as the famine resulting from Mao's Great Leap Forward. Distributors say they depend on such festivals to discover new filmmakers, and have seen fewer new films in the past two years, amid a tightening crackdown on freedom of expression under President Xi Jinping.

Independent films in China generally have not gone through the approval and censorship process and therefore cannot be shown in cinemas. Some independent filmmakers can sell their films to TV stations, but otherwise can expect only small audiences of students and film buffs.

Wang's first film, "Beijing Besieged by Waste," was uploaded free to online streaming sites. Clips of it were picked up in news reports throughout China. "It got a lot of attention by mainstream media and the authorities, so it created an impact that is kind of unheard of," Hui said.

The project started with Wang wondering where Beijing's massive waste ended up. A photographer at the time, Wang began following a motorcycle collecting waste in his local neighborhood to illegal landfill sites in 2008. He photographed and later filmed the stench-ridden dumps, which were not far from people's homes and fields growing fly-ridden vegetables. He used Google Earth to plot hundreds of landfill sites over three years, creating a map of dots that formed a huge circle around the capital. "My aim was to reveal the problem and then solve the problem through making a film," Wang said in an interview at his apartment just outside Beijing.

In 2010, before his film was finished, some of his photos were displayed at an exhibit in southern China, after which his project came to the attention of the official Xinhua news agency. Xinhua interviewed Wang and said he had ridden his motorbike 7,500 kilometers (4,600 miles) around Beijing, "staying in the cheapest hostels, eating the simplest food, just to shoot a landfill site, just to tell people about what is behind the rows and rows of tall high-rises." Xinhua asked Wang to contribute to an internal report on the landfills for party officials. Wang said that about three weeks later, a senior Xinhua boss told him Premier Wen Jiabao issued a "lengthy written instruction" to local officials to pay attention to it.

Today, roughly 80 percent of the 530 landfills he filmed have either been shut down or improved, Wang said. The Beijing municipal government didn't respond to a request for comment.

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam awarded Wang 17,500 euros ($21,700) to help produce his second film, "Plastic China," about how China accepts plastic waste from other countries to recycle and return to the manufacturing chain. The title "touches on China's vanity," Wang said. "The numerous economic achievements China has made in the last 30 years are worthless and cheap in comparison to the cost to the environment and people's living standards," he said. He still must be mindful of working inside the boundaries. He is negotiating with CCTV to "weed out sensitive content," such as a scene in which villagers criticize the government, but hopes it will air the film this month.

Another documentary, by Li Zhenzhen, focused on mass killings of birds in a Jiangxi province town. Locals slaughtered the birds as they migrated between Australia and Siberia, to sell to restaurants for a few yuan each. Li made "Let Migratory Birds Fly" in 2012 while she was a student volunteer at a nonprofit studio founded by director Jian Yi. A year later, she returned to Yingpanxu town and pressed local officials to better enforce conservation laws. By last spring, there were no more reports of bird killings. It is "a huge improvement and we feel really good," said Li, who now works for an environmental organization in Beijing.

The county's Forestry Administration has issued several notices banning the killing of birds, confiscated bird-catching tools, inspected restaurants and sent teams to the mountain communities to stop villagers from catching birds. An official from the Forestry Administration of Suichuan County, which covers Yingpanxu, denied that the film had prompted any action. The official, who declined to give his name, said the agency has been sending inspectors to the mountains every autumn for more than 10 years.

Jian said Li's film had a big impact because its team had worked with local authorities, highlighting solutions to a problem that might draw criticism from the central government. "We try to engage the government instead of turning them into our enemies," he said. "We let them realize it's actually in their interest to work with us or else there would be much greater media coverage of this."

AP researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.
Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 5:16 pm 
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A handful of countries contributes most to climate
5 December 2014
By DINA CAPPIELLO

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In this Nov. 12, 2014 file photo, President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Six countries produce nearly 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. China and the United States combine for more than two-fifths. The planet’s future will be shaped by what these top carbon polluters do about the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Six countries produce nearly 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

China and the United States combine for more than two-fifths. The planet's future will be shaped by what these top carbon polluters do about the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. How they rank, what they're doing:

CHINA
2013 CO2 emissions: 11 billion tons
2013 Population: 1.36 billion


It emits nearly twice the amount of greenhouse gases as the United States, which it surpassed in 2006 as the top emitter of carbon dioxide. China accounts for about 30 percent of global emissions. U.S. government estimates show China doubling its emissions by 2040, barring major changes. Hugely reliant on fossil fuels for electricity and steel production, China until recently was reluctant to set firm targets for emissions, which continue to rise, although at a slower rate. That changed when Beijing announced last month in a deal with Washington that it would stem greenhouse gas emission growth by 2030. About a week later, China's Cabinet announced a coal consumption cap by 2020 at about 62 percent of the energy mix. While politically significant, the U.S.-China deal alone is expected to have little effect on the global thermostat.

UNITED STATES
2013 CO2 emissions: 5.8 billion tons
2013 Population: 316 million


It has never entered into a binding treaty to curb greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, it has cut more carbon pollution than any other nation. It is on pace to meet a 2009 Obama administration pledge to reduce emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Carbon emissions are up, though, as the U.S. rebounds from recession. President Barack Obama has largely leaned on existing laws, not Congress, to make progress - boosting automobile fuel economy and proposing to reduce carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. The White House vowed in the China deal to double the pace of emissions reductions, lowering carbon pollution 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Expect resistance when Republicans control Congress in January.

INDIA
2013 CO2 emissions: 2.6 billion tons
2013 population: 1.2 billion


The U.S.-China agreement puts pressure on the Indian government, which could announce new targets during a planned Obama visit in January. Meantime, India plans to double coal production to feed a power grid still suffering blackouts. Its challenge: to curb greenhouse gases as its population and economy grow. In 2010, India voluntarily committed to a 20 percent to 25 percent cut in carbon emissions relative to economic output by 2020 against 2005 levels. It has made recent strides installing solar power, which it is expected to increase fivefold to 100 gigawatts by 2030. Under current policies, its carbon dioxide emissions will double by then, according to the International Energy Agency.

RUSSIA
2013 CO2 emissions: 2 billion tons
2013 population: 143.5 million


It never faced mandatory cuts under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol because its emissions fell so much after the Soviet Union collapsed. A major oil and gas producer, Russia in 2013 adopted a domestic greenhouse gas target that would trim emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Russia's carbon dioxide emissions today average 35 percent lower than 1990 levels. To meet its goal, Russia has set a goal for 2020 of boosting energy efficiency 40 percent and expanding renewable energy 4.5 percent. The state-owned gas company Gazprom has energy conservation plans, as has the federal housing program. But in 2006, Russia announced a move to more coal- and nuclear-fired electricity to export more oil and natural gas.

JAPAN
2013 CO2 emissions: 1.4 billion tons
2013 population: 127 million


The shuttering of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster forced a drastic change in plans to curb carbon pollution. In November, Japanese officials said they would now reduce greenhouse gases 3.8 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. With more fossil fuels in the mix, Japan's emissions will be up 3 percent from 1990 levels, its benchmark for its pledge at a 2009 United Nations summit in Copenhagen to reduce emissions 25 percent. Beginning in 2012, Japan placed a carbon tax based on emissions of fossil fuels, with the proceeds going to renewable energy and energy-saving projects.

GERMANY
2013 CO2 emissions: 836 million tons
2013 population: 80.6 million


It has outperformed the 21 percent reduction in greenhouse gases it agreed to in 1997. Emissions are down 25 percent against 1990 levels. To comply with 2020 European Union-set goals, Germany must reduce greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2020. On Wednesday, it boosted subsidies for energy efficiency to help it get there. Germany has in recent years seen back-to-back emissions increases due to higher demand for electricity and a switch to coal after Fukushima, which prompted a nuclear power phase-out. Coal use is down this year and renewables continue to gain electricity market share. Renewables already account for a quarter of Germany's electrical production. The country plans to boost that share to 80 percent by 2050 - and put a million electric cars on the road by 2020.

Sources: World Bank, Global Carbon Project, AP Research
Article Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:40 pm 
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Turkey: the pollution in Marmara Sea at alarming levels
16 October 2014

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(ANSAmed) - ISTANBUL - Pollution in the Marmara Sea is risking the life of the fish and all people who eat them, and cleaning the sea will cost USD 5 billion, as daily Hurriyet reports quoting the head of the Turkish Marine Environment Protection Association (Turmepa).

"Cleaning the Marmara Sea will cost USD 5 billion. Cleaning a sea after it becomes dirty costs more (than cleaning it regularly). The municipality should share a budget for it immediately," Turmepa Board chairman Tezcan Yaramanci told the Radikal website.

The Marmara region hosts 25% of Turkey's total population and 60% of the country's total industry. Yaramanci said there were 127 different species of fish in the Marmara Sea in 1975, but this number has decreased to just five species today, citing pollution as the main factor.

In the past four decades, the population of the species of fish has decreased approximately 90% in the Marmara Sea, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat). The population of mackerel has decreased by 95%, the chub has decreased by 91%, the horse mackerel has decreased by 90%, the goat fish has decreased by 73%, and the blue fish has decreased 58%.

Meanwhile, samples taken from fish in the Marmara Sea indicated that carcinogenic heavy metals were found in 11 samples of the 30 total fish samples taken, according to Yaramanci, with mussels and anchovies containing mercury, cadmium and lead.

Source: ANSAmed.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 16, 2014 4:28 pm 
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EU governments agree to curb plastic bag use
21 November 2014
By Helen Maguire

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Plastic bag - © Patrick Pleul, EPA

Brussels (dpa) - The European Union approved measures Friday aimed at reducing the use of plastic bags, which can clutter the seas and persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

Under new rules unanimously agreed by EU ambassadors, member states will be expected to impose fees on plastic bags handed out by shops, or else find other ways of curbing their use. EU citizens each used an average of around 200 plastic bags in 2010, according to the commission, the bloc's executive. Of these, 176 were the lightweight single-use bags targeted by the new legislation.

The new rules will allow Europe to "effectively tackle a very relevant environmental problem," said Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency. "This deal is a historic breakthrough in tackling the pervasive problem of plastic waste in our environment," added EU lawmaker Margrete Auken, who has been overseeing the issue in the European Parliament.

However, the European Commission has expressed concern over the ease of implementing the new laws across the EU, as the agreed compromise gives member states fewer options to transpose them into national law than the EU's executive had originally put forward. The legislature must still agree to the proposal, a step that is expected to be a formality.

The proposal includes a goal of cutting the use of lightweight carrier bags to 90 per person by the end of 2019, and 40 bags per person annually by the end of 2025. The target is not mandatory, as long as countries introduce plastic bag charges or other disincentives.

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dpa-infografik - Number of plastic bags consumed per person, per year in selected EU countries

Source: dpa.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 10:23 am 
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Greece receives huge fine for illegal landfills
3 December 2014

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ATHENS (ANSAmed) - The European Court of Justice on Tuesday slapped Greece with a 10-million-euro fine for failing to comply with waste management directives as dozens of illegal landfills continue to operate in the cash-strapped country.

As daily Kathimerini online reported, the Strasbourg-based court found that Greece has not fulfilled the requirements of a prior ruling dating from 2005 ordering the country to shut down all its uncontrolled dumps by 2008. The European Commission sent Greece formal notices in 2009 and 2010, followed by action taken in 2013 after the country continued to flout regulations.

According to official figures from Greece and the Commission, in May 2014, out of a total of 293 illegal landfills, 70 remained operational and 223, although closed down, had not yet been cleaned up. While this is an improvement from the 1,125 illegal dumps that were operational in 2004, the court deemed that measures remain insufficient.

Until the 2005 judgment is complied with in full, the actual amount of the penalty will depend on the progress made by Greece, the court said, adding that if there is no such progress, the penalty will be more than 14 million euros for each six-month period of delay.

Source: ANSAmed.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:16 pm 
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World set for climate disaster, say activists, as Lima talks falter
by Suzanne Goldenberg
Saturday, 13 December 2014

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Demonstrators take part in a ‘world march in defence of mother earth’ outside climate change conference.  Photograph: Ernesto Arias/EFE

Frustrated climate campaigners have claimed that the world was on course for an unsustainable four-degree rise in temperatures, as two weeks of negotiations for a climate change agreement headed for an unsatisfying conclusion.

The proposals, still under discussion on Saturday, a day after the talks were scheduled to end, were too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above preindustrial levels, setting the world on course to a climate disaster, according to developing countries at the summit.

“We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome,” said Tasneem Essop, international climate strategist for WWF. She said the final draft text, a five-page document put forward for approval on Saturday, offered little assurance of cutting emissions fast enough and deeply enough to curb warming. “We are really unhappy about the weakening of the text. This gives us no level of comfort that we will be able to close the emissions gap to get emissions to peak before 2020,” she said. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, put it even more succinctly: “It sucks. It is taking us backwards.”

The disappointment with the progress of the Lima negotiations was widespread – and hugely at odds with the mood of optimism that prevailed at the opening of the talks following a historic deal between the US and China to curb carbon pollution. The deal between the world’s two biggest carbon polluters – followed just days later by a US pledge to contribute $3bn to a fund to help poor countries deal with climate change – had created a sense of momentum at the opening of the talks.

By Saturday, with exhausted negotiators forced to cancel flights and continue the talks into extra time, those upbeat sentiments were gone. “None of us is really happy,” a figure in Switzerland’s delegation told the negotiating session. “At this moment, we have to make sure we are not striving towards the lowest common denominator.”

The Malaysian delegate said the proposed deal would not hold the major polluters to account. The Democratic Republic of the Congo representative said: “This crosses all our red lines.” Sudan flatly said the proposals were unacceptable.

The talks at Lima had been charged with producing the blueprint for a climate change agreement due to be finalised in Paris at the end of next year. “Let me be frank. There are parts of this text that make me very uncomfortable and parts that are very thin,” said Tony deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands. It was initially hoped the agreement would push the world’s large economies into making ambitious commitments to cut carbon pollution while also contributing funds and technology to protect the world’s poorest countries from climate change.

But those hopes were frustrated by the divide over whether rising economies should be under similar obligation to cut emissions as America and Europe. India – though quickly emerging as one of the world’s biggest carbon polluters – says it should not be held to similar standards as the US and EU.

By the time the final draft text appeared, it had been stripped of language that would have required the emissions cuts offered by countries to keep warming below the two-degree target. It was even unclear whether those targets would be subjected to a serious review. In an even bigger blow to small island countries, the draft made no mention of industrialised countries’ responsibility towards the small island states which are under threat of being drowned by rising seas. The accountability gap was a big disappointment for the US and the EU – which had pushed for a strong review process of such commitments – as well as the small islands.

The proposals also takes the pressure off industrialised countries to make good on promises to provide up to $100bn a year in climate finance to poor countries by 2020. “We are shocked that some of our colleagues would want to avoid a process to hold their proposed targets up to the light,” DeBrum said. “There should be nothing to hide.”

Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, said: “Though the weak text emerging from Lima is extremely disappointing, there are still 12 months for the negotiators to up their game before the critical Paris COP [UN climate talks]. Essential to this is for the negotiators to understand that the world’s public expect a global legally binding treaty. Not because it is enforceable, as we know they are not, but it shows commitment to a safe, better and hopefully more equitable world.”

Source: The Observer UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2015 6:51 am 
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For Obama, Indian parade may be a bit too breathtaking
January 8, 2015

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India's Border Security Force (BSF) 'Daredevils' motorcycle riders get ready to perform during a rehearsal for the Republic Day parade on a foggy winter morning in New Delhi January 8, 2015. REUTERS-Ahmad Masood

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - It may not rain on President Barack Obama's parade when he comes to New Delhi this month for India's Republic Day celebrations at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But, judging by the smog cloaking the Indian capital on Thursday as motorcycle stunt men rehearsed for the Jan. 26 event, the city's notorious air pollution could be a problem.

The U.S. embassy denied media reports that the outdoor program for Obama's visit, his second after a trip in 2010, would be curtailed if the bad air persisted. The embassy's monitoring station recorded an Air Quality Index reading of 252 on Thursday, making the city's air "very unhealthy", according to a scale devised by the Environmental Protection Agency. That's enough, the EPA says, to cause "significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly," and a "significant increase in respiratory effects in the general population."

Weather forecasters expect the index reading to be around 200 when Obama visits, in line with recent years, although accurate predictions will not be available until three or four days before. Indian defense and foreign ministry officials say there are no plans to change the parade, a military-dominated affair which stretches from the president's palace to India Gate, a memorial to unknown soldiers. "We are importing special masks for all," joked one. "We can give you one too."

Obama's attendance will be a first for a U.S. president at an event more closely associated with India's non-aligned past and friendship with the Soviet Union. In 2010, the event was wreathed in thick fog that obscured the view for the guest of honor, the then president of South Korea.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine and Tanya Ashreena)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2015 7:50 pm 
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Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo
by Robin McKie
Sunday, 14 December 2014

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A Tasmanian tiger in captivity, circa 1930, shortly before the species became extinct. Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images

A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature.

A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened.

Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems. “Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened,” said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. “The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors.”

The problem, according to Nature, is exacerbated because of the huge gaps in scientists’ knowledge about the planet’s biodiversity. Estimates of the total number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive vary from 2 million to 50 million. In addition, estimates of current rates of species disappearances vary from 500 to 36,000 a year. “That is the real problem we face,” added Tittensor. “The scale of uncertainty is huge.”
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In the end, however, the data indicate that the world is heading inexorably towards a mass extinction – which is defined as one involving a loss of 75% of species or more. This could arrive in less than a hundred years or could take a thousand, depending on extinction rates.

The Earth has gone through only five previous great extinctions, all caused by geological or astronomical events. (The Cretaceous-Jurassic extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was triggered by an asteroid striking Earth, for example.) The coming great extinction will be the work of Homo sapiens, however. “In the case of land extinctions, it is the spread of agriculture that has been main driver,” added Tittensor. “By contrast it has been the over-exploitation of resources – overfishing – that has affected sealife.” On top of these impacts, rising global temperatures threaten to destroy habitats and kill off more creatures.

This change in climate has been triggered by increasing emissions – from factories and power plants – of carbon dioxide, a gas that is also being dissolved in the oceans. As a result, seas are becoming more and more acidic and hostile to sensitive habitats. A third of all coral reefs, which support more lifeforms than any other ecosystem on Earth, have already been lost in the last few decades and many marine experts believe all coral reefs could end up being wiped out before the end of the century.

Similarly, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles and a seventh of all birds are headed toward oblivion. And these losses are occurring all over the planet, from the South Pacific to the Arctic and from the deserts of Africa to mountaintops and valleys of the Himalayas.

A blizzard of extinctions is now sweeping Earth and has become a fact of modern life. Yet the idea that entire species can be wiped out is relatively new. When fossils of strange creatures – such as the mastodon – were first dug up, they were assumed to belong to creatures that still lived in other lands. Extant versions lived elsewhere, it was argued. “Such is the economy of nature,” claimed Thomas Jefferson, who backed expeditions to find mastodons in the unexplored interior of America.

Then the French anatomist Georges Cuvier showed that the elephant-like remains of the mastodon were actually those of an “espèce perdue” or lost species. “On the basis of a few scattered bones, Cuvier conceived of a whole new way of looking at life,” notes Elizabeth Kolbert in her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. “Species died out. This was not an isolated but a widespread phenomenon.”

Since then the problem has worsened with every decade, as the Nature analysis makes clear. Humans began by wiping out mastodons and mammoths in prehistoric times. Then they moved on to the eradication of great auks, passenger pigeons – once the most abundant bird in North America – and the dodo in historical time. And finally, in recent times, we have been responsible for the disappearance of the golden toad, the thylacine – or Tasmanian tiger – and the Baiji river dolphin. Thousands more species are now under threat.

In an editorial, Nature argues that it is now imperative that governments and groups such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature begin an urgent and accurate census of numbers of species on the planet and their rates of extinction. It is not the most exciting science, the journal admits, but it is vitally important if we want to start protecting life on Earth from the worst impacts of our actions. The loss for the planet is incalculable – as it is for our own species which could soon find itself living in a world denuded of all variety in nature. As ecologist Paul Ehrlich has put it: “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”

Source: The Observer UK.

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