International Update Volume all, Issue 1
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<p><span><span><span><span><span><span><span><span>Last week, the U.K. government announced new schemes that aim to restore natural ecosystems, stop species decline, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Local Nature Recovery and the Landscape Recovery schemes will pay landowners and farmers for undertaking environmentally beneficial actions on their properties, including actions such as restoring floodplains and wetlands, creating nature reserves, and planting trees.

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<p>On January 6, China notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC), whose Member States include Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, that it would be holding back the Mekong’s water flow for 20 days. China’s statement on the matter was delivered one day after the new U.S.-funded Mekong Dam Monitor found that disruptions to the river’s water level caused by operation of China’s Jinghong Dam had begun on December 31.

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<p><span style="font-size: 12.0pt; line-height: 107%; font-family: 'Times New Roman',serif;">Effective January 1, Thailand’s plastic bag ban in major stores follows a yearlong campaign against single-use plastics after several incidents in which animals died from plastic blocking their digestive systems (</span><a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-thailand-environment-plastic/thailand… st

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<p>Canada's Syncrude has pleaded guilty to the deaths of 31 blue herons at its oil sands mine in northern Alberta and fined C$2.75 million. According to Alberta's energy regulator, the birds died after becoming oiled in an abandoned sump that was built to collect process-affected water containing residual bitumen from a storage site at the mine. Syncrude was previously fined C$3 million for negligence in the 2008 deaths of 1,600 ducks in a toxic tailings pond.

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<p>Julia Kloecker, Germany's Agriculture Minister, has proposed to loosen hunting restrictions on wolves to reduce their threat to grazing animals. According to the ministry, wolves killed more than 1,000 farm animals in 2016. Kloecker wrote last month to Svenja Schulze, Germany's Environment Minister, to lobby for a change in the rule to allow more wolves to be shot as part of a moderate regulation of the species' population, but it was unclear who would be licensed to carry out the shooting.

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<p>Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has issued an administrative decree that shifts responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the government's indigenous affairs office to the ministry of agriculture. The decree also shifts authority over regulation of quilombola territory from the government's agrarian reform institute to the ministry.

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<p>An outbreak of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish has been found munching Australia’s World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. The predator starfish feeds on corals, and the outbreak hits as the reef is still reeling from two consecutive years of major coral bleaching. The threat has caused the government to start culling the starfish. The crown-of-thorns were found in large numbers last month in the Swains Reefs, at the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef, by researchers from the reef’s Marine Park Authority.

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<p>Hebei, China's most polluted province, pledged to cut emissions by 14 percent by 2020 as part of China's overall goal of improving air quality in the region. The provincial government promised to cut fine particulate matter to an average of 57 micrograms per cubic meter by 2020, down from 65 micrograms in 2017. The province has been under heavy pressure to bring smog under control this winter, shutting factories, curbing traffic and converting coal-fired heating boilers as part of a state anti-pollution drive.

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<p>For the first time ever, scientists have surveyed the rainforest of Penang Hill comprehensively. The 130-million-year old forest is believed to have never been cut before and has remained largely unexplored. Among the exciting discoveries is a potentially new species of “ghost” scorpion. A 117-member team climbed tall trees, searched the forest floor, and scoured the dark to discover many animals and plants. They recorded more than 1,400 species, including four likely new to science.

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<p>As China faces one of its worst air pollution incidents to date, leading to a national smog red alert, the country is taking a variety of steps to combat coal-fired electricity production by 2020. The Chinese government is planning to create a nationwide emissions permitting system to cover all major industrial sectors, is placing stricter emissions caps for sulfur dioxide on a larger number of industries, hoping to cut sulfur dioxide emissions 15% in the next 3 years, and is upgrading coal plants of 300,000 KW capacity to improve efficiency.

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<p>With China’s air pollution now featured in international headlines, China’s legal system is making it easier to take legal action against polluters. The courts are planning to widen the definition of what constitutes an “environmental crime.” This development is particularly useful in the fight against air pollution as it is very difficult to collect evidence (air pollution “undergoes a large degree of dispersal, and is very quickly diluted”). Under the new terms, prosecutors will be able to focus on tampering with sensor equipment and falsification of data.

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<p>At the end of 2016, China announced a total ban on the domestic ivory trade, to be enforced by the end of this year. China, the world’s largest ivory market, hopes that this ban will reduce the illegal poaching of African elephants, whose numbers have declined dramatically in the last century. The ban will shut down a large number of factories and shops. Legally obtained ivory will still be permitted to be displayed at museums and traded as antiques under strict supervision, though certification will be required.

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<p>Belize has reversed a plan to allow offshore exploration and drilling and introduced a ban that prohibits these activities in areas within one kilometer of the Belize Barrier Reef system or within World Heritage Sites. The banned areas comprise 15% percent of the country’s marine territory. Belize has a total of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites within its territory, and they have been on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger since 2009 because of lack of solid conservation policy.

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<p>On December 31, 2015, Peru’s Minister of Production passed a resolution that banned fishing of manta rays, among other stipulations. The resolution requires that mantas that are caught must be released immediately back into the ocean. The largest known populations of giant manta rays live in Peru and Ecuador. Ecuador began protecting manta rays in 2010, and Peru’s new ban adds to this protection. Other countries, including the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, and the Philippines, have passed regulations for manta ray protection.

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<p>On December 31, 2015, Peru’s Minister of Production passed a resolution that banned fishing of manta rays, among other stipulations. The resolution requires that mantas that are caught must be released immediately back into the ocean. The largest known populations of giant manta rays live in Peru and Ecuador. Ecuador began protecting manta rays in 2010, and Peru’s new ban adds to this protection. Other countries, including the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, and the Philippines, have passed regulations for manta ray protection.

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<p>On December 31, 2015, Peru’s Minister of Production passed a resolution that banned fishing of manta rays, among other stipulations. The resolution requires that mantas that are caught must be released immediately back into the ocean. The largest known populations of giant manta rays live in Peru and Ecuador. Ecuador began protecting manta rays in 2010, and Peru’s new ban adds to this protection. Other countries, including the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, and the Philippines, have passed regulations for manta ray protection.

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<p>On December 31, 2015, Peru’s Minister of Production passed a resolution that banned fishing of manta rays, among other stipulations. The resolution requires that mantas that are caught must be released immediately back into the ocean. The largest known populations of giant manta rays live in Peru and Ecuador. Ecuador began protecting manta rays in 2010, and Peru’s new ban adds to this protection. Other countries, including the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, and the Philippines, have passed regulations for manta ray protection.

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<p>The Supreme Court of India upheld a temporary ban on selling large diesel cars in New Delhi. This ban aims to counter toxic smog conditions in India's capital city. New Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world, with air quality worse than in Beijing. Proponents of the rule would like to see the ban extended to smaller diesel cars and other cities in India. The Supreme Court stated that it was considering expanding the ban to diesel cars with engine capacity of less than 2,000 cc but planned to seek industry input first.

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<p>Royal Dutch Shell and residents of the Bodo community in the Niger Delta have reached an $84 million settlement agreement for the harm caused by two oil spills in 2008 and 2009. Both spills came from the Trans Niger Pipeline and together affected thousands of hectares of mangrove in the region. The settlement comes after three years of litigation and also imposes cleanup requirements on Shell.

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<p>Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is asking the cabinet and parliament to approve a budget request of approximately $779 million to be used for energy efficiency programs. The Ministry wants to help factories and small businesses transition to energy-efficient devices, increase solar energy storage capacity at power stations, and bolster the clean energy industry in the region harmed by the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami.&nbsp;The Ministry’s announcement comes after utilities warned that their solar storage capacity was running out.

<p>The Marshall Islands filed a civil suit in the International Court of Justice against the world’s nuclear powers in an attempt to spur nuclear disarmament and bring attention to climate change issues faced by island nations. Countries named in the suit include Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States. The complaint asks the court to find the countries in violation of disarmament treaties and customary international law, and to establish a disarmament calendar with negotiations beginning one year after the court’s decision.

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<p>Last week, China called for all cities to start charging tiered prices for household water by the end of 2015. In a statement released on Friday, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development said cities should institute a three rate structure, whereby homes that use more water would pay more. Eighty percent of the country’s residential population would fall in the first and lowest tier, where prices would remain flat.

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<p>Lower house members in Chile have proposed a bill that would require mining companies to use desalinated water from the Pacific Ocean to run their copper mines in Chile. According to a high-level mining industry executive, communities in Chile's Atacama, the world's driest desert, often feel they must compete with mining companies for freshwater; under the new bill, mines that use more than 40 gallons of water per second would be forced to integrate seawater into their operations.

<p>A leaked report from the European Commission revealed that the United Kingdom’s opposition to new EU targets for green energy could mean the loss of over half a million jobs over the next two decades. Along with Czech Republic, the U.K. has opposed setting a renewable energy goal for 2030. Both nations want individual countries to be required to meet greenhouse gas emission levels instead. According to Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Davey, the EU should promote a “technology neutral” approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

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<p>Beijing warned residents that air quality had reached serious pollution levels and that people should "avoid outdoor activities" last Friday. The U.S. embassy confirmed over Twitter that pollutants had reached "hazardous" levels and and were at their worst since at least December 1. The warning follows an announcement from March of last year that the government would demand stricter monitoring of fine particulate matter by cities, and it marks the fifth warning since January 1, when the measures went into effect.

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<p>Alberta's oil sands development has produced carcinogens in surrounding lakes well beyond natural levels, according to a study released last week, and the contamination may cover a much larger area than initially believed. The study analyzed sediment dating back 50 years from six small lakes in the center of the oil sands industry, finding that levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons had risen steadily since the beginning of large-scale oil production in 1978.

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<p>Japan's government is attempting to reverse plans to phase out nuclear power, almost two years after the Fukushima disaster. The previous government promised to rid the nation of all 50 nuclear reactors by 2040, dramatically shifting earlier plans to increase Japan's dependence on nuclear from 30 percent to 50 percent by 2030. The new government has announced a review of the nuclear phaseout, and has promised to restart reactors that pass safety tests.

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<p>Tokyo Electric Power Co asked a government-backed bailout body for an additional 690 billion yen ($8.8 billion) last week to help compensate victims of the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi power plant. To help Japan's biggest utility, known as Tepco, meet costs running into trillions of yen for compensation and cleanup, the government had already agreed in November to provide 890 billion yen ($11.4 billion) through a bailout fund.

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<p>A maritime court in the northern coastal city of Tianjin accepted a case of compensation claims last Friday from aquaculture farmers who believe oil leaked from ConocoPhillips-operated oil field platforms in Bohai Sea resulted in their business losses. The Tianjin Maritime Court took up the lawsuit filed by a group of 29 aqua-farmers against ConocoPhillips China and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

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<p>A record number of rhinos were poached this year in South Africa, home to the greatest number of the animals, as rising demand in Asia for their horns led to increased killings of the threatened species. At least 443 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2011, up from 333 last year, the national park service and conservationists said.

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<p>A hydroelectric dam project in Peru could destroy almost 3.7 million acres of jungle over the next 20 years, according to a study by ProNaturaleza, a Peruvian conservation organization. The nation is set to construct five dams as part of an energy agreement with Brazil. "There will be a serious impact on the Amazon ecosystems," said engineer Jose Serra of the project, which includes plans to build the largest dam in Peru and the fifth largest dam in Latin America.

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<p>India is set to build an advanced ultra-super critical coal-fired power plant in the next six years, according to the <em>Business Standard</em>, putting it in a position to significantly reduce pollution compared to its current thermal plants.

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<p>On the heels of a government decision to slash its rare earth materials export quota by 35 percent in 2011, Chinese <span>Minister of Land and Resources Xu Shaoshi</span> announced that the nation would tighten controls on rare earth mining, limiting its exports to conserve resources and protect the environment. The new rules, which are expected to be issued as early as February, will limit pollutants allowed in waste water and emissions of radioactive elements and phosphorus.