International Update Volume all, Issue 13
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<p><span><span><span><span>Last week, the United Nations released a new report that highlights land use and degradation worldwide. The report found that as much as 40% of land is now classified as degraded.

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<p>On April 29, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled in favor of nine young climate activists in their challenge against Germany’s 2019 Federal Climate Change Act. The law aims to meet the country’s carbon emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement and calls for the German government to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels.

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<p>Global carbon emissions are projected to fall by 8 percent this year, the largest decline in emissions ever recorded, according to a report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on April 30 (<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/30/climate/global-emissions-decline.htm… York Times</a>).

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<p>On May 8, New Zealand's government introduced legislation to tackle climate change. The bill would reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, and includes a target for cutting methane emissions from livestock by at least 10% by 2030. According to the United Nations, livestock farming alone is responsible for up to 18% of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

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<p>On May 7, the United States refused to sign an agreement with seven other nations—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden—addressing challenges in the Arctic due to climate change language. The meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland was supposed to frame a two-year agenda to balance the challenge of climate change in the region with sustainable development of mineral wealth.

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<p>On May 6, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a summary of its global assessment report on threats to biodiversity. According to the summary, the number of species has dwindled by an average of 20% over the past 120 years, and sensitive animal groups have been hit particularly hard, with 40% of amphibians and roughly a third each of corals and marine mammals facing possible extinction.

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<p>Representing the single largest investment for reef conservation and management in Australia’s history, the Australian Government announced more than 500 million Australian dollars ($379M USD) to fund Great Barrier Reef protection. The funding will target some of the threats to coral reefs including warming waters from climate change, agricultural runoff, and outbreaks from crown-of-thorns starfish, a natural predator of coral. Some criticism of the funding is that it emphasizes tactics that have already been tried and proven less successful than desired.

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<p>Indonesia's long-awaited indigenous rights bill to solidify the government's duty to protect indigenous collective rights is further delayed with the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs, suggesting the bill is not considered essential.

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<p>Late last year, the South African government announced “Day Zero,” the threshold when dam levels would be so low that they would turn off taps and send Cape Town residents to communal water collection points. While this tactic was deemed risky and “apocalyptic,” it ultimately proved effective. The aggressive campaign galvanized citizens into action. Water use is limited to 50 liters/person/day, and those exceeding the limit were subject to heavy fines or having meters installed that shut off water after the limit is surpassed.

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<p>Hoping to fulfill Japan’s vision of being the first nation to be fueled by super-clean energy, Norway and Australia are racing to supply Japan with hydrogen. Currently, Australia has a plan to derive liquid hydrogen from brown coal, but Norway’s new pilot program to produce clean energy may be cheaper. Japan’s annual hydrogen and fuel cell market is forecast to hit 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) in 2030 and 8 trillion yen in 2050, according to the industry ministry.

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<p>Phillipines Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Regina Lopez, announced that new open-pit metal mining would be banned because of evidence of injury to communities and water supplies, and findings of rampant violations of environmental law. The ban extends to new open-pit gold, copper, nickel, and silver mines. The order to prevent new open-pit mines does not affect quarries and the country’s sole open-pit coal mine. Lopez says her mining orders are meant to prevent any more damage from big new mines.

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<p>China and the European Space Agency are discussing a potential collaboration on a human outpost on the moon and other possible joint endeavors. The secretary general for China's space agency, Tian Yulong, first disclosed the talks about the envisioned lunar base in Chinese state media. Last week the China National Space Administration launched an unmanned spacecraft on a mission to dock with its currently unoccupied space station.

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<p>Europe’s highest court ruled on April 28 that the calculation the European Commission uses to set the maximum amount of free carbon permits issued to industries is flawed. Discrepancies in the data provided by the bloc's 28 nations on new industrial installations led to the error, the court said. It gave the Commission 10 months to review the policy. The ruling will not be retroactive and will not affect the overall cap of the EU's Emissions Trading System, but it could lead to a slight cut in the share of free permits issued to industry from 2018.

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<p>On April 22, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA) suspended the license for the São Luiz do Tapajós dam construction. This would have been the largest in the Tapajós watershed in the Amazon and would have flooded an area the size of New York City, deforested 849 square miles, and displaced indigenous people. The decision followed a report by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), which highlighted the negative impacts the dam would produce on local communities and recommended the demarcation of the nearby indigenous Munduruku territory.

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<p>A joint action by Peruvian public prosecutor’s office and a specialized environmental police force arrested 19 members of a logging gang on April 22. Among those arrested were two police officers and two regional forestry officials, whose involvement still needs to be clarified. Nearly 70,000 Peruvian Sol (a little over $20,000) were seized in the joint action, along with two trucks and a trailer loaded with illegal timber.&nbsp;China, Mexico, and the United States are said to be the chief destinations for the illegal timber harvested by the gang.

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<p>A May 5, 2015, vote by the Victorian Parliament will ban cattle grazing in national parks within the Australian state. The ban affects all national parks in the state, and follows a controversial trial period for grazing in Alpine National Park instituted by the previous administration.

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<p>The Chinese government has set quality standards for non-automotive diesel fuels that will go into effect in 2018. The National Development and Reform Commission released information on the standard as part of the continuing challenge of addressing the nation's smog problem.

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<p>The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-governmental, voluntary certification organization, has banned one of its biggest members, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), from acquiring or developing new land while a complaint concerning the company's practices in Indonesia is resolved. The complaint was filed by the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme, and alleges GAR took community land and filed for expansion without completing the proper environmental assessments in Indonesia's West Kalimantan province.

<p>Starting in June, UK households will be eligible to receive up to £7,600 (US $12,800) from the government for implementing measures that improve energy efficiency in buildings. Through the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (GDHIF), consumers will be refunded up to £1,000 for installing two measures from an approved list, including cavity wall insulation and replacement storage heaters, and £6,000 for solid wall insulation. According to Energy Secretary Ed Davey, the GDHIF seeks to improve energy efficiency while lowering consumers’ gas and electricity bills.

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<p>On May 1, Dutch police boarded a Greenpeace ship and arrested 30 activists who were trying to prevent a Russian tanker from unloading its oil shipment in Rotterdam. The shipment was Russia’s first attempt to extract oil from the Barents Sea, a move Greenpeace sees as potentially catastrophic for the fragile Arctic ecosystem. Greenpeace activists used paragliders, climbers, a fleet of boats, and inflatables in an effort to stop the tanker, but, according to Dutch police, the ship was still able to moor in Rotterdam harbor.

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<p>A recent Green Alliance report suggests that renewable energy may be the key to development in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the study, the lack of existing energy infrastructure is an impediment to economic growth in a region with 41% of the world’s energy-poor people and where 65% of primary schools and 30% of health centers have no access to electricity.

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<p>The European Commission voted to ban neonicotinoid pesticides linked to declining bee populations, despite opposition from several EU member states. Following a failed vote in March, 15 countries voted for the ban last week, short of the qualified majority needed. However, under EU rules the Commission now has the option of imposing a two-year restriction on the pesticides, which it says it plans to do by December of this year.

<p>The UK supreme court ruled last week that the government was guilty of breaching its legal duty to uphold European Union air quality laws. Britain's highest appeals court said that the government had breached a nitrogen dioxide directive and asked for guidance from the European Court of Justice on what actions need to be taken. The ruling marks the first time that a UK court has recognized that the government has failed to meet EU pollution rules, but the European court may take as long as 18 months to reply with answers to certain legal questions.

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<p>The UK supreme court ruled last week that the government was guilty of breaching its legal duty to uphold European Union air quality laws. Britain's highest appeals court said that the government had breached a nitrogen dioxide directive and asked for guidance from the European Court of Justice on what actions need to be taken. The ruling marks the first time that a UK court has recognized that the government has failed to meet EU pollution rules, but the European court may take as long as 18 months to reply with answers to certain legal questions.

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<p>The best way to meet growing demand for metals is for extraction companies to focus on recycling rather than increased mining, according to a report released last week by the United Nations Environment Programme. UNEP warned that demand for metals is likely to increase tenfold as developing economies emerge, putting severe stress on resources and bringing social and environmental consequences associated with mining. However, current recycling efforts focus on waste streams rather than reusing elements that have already been expensively mined, even though that can be cheaper.

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<p>South Korea became the latest nation to approve a climate trading scheme last Wednesday as lawmakers agreed to cap greenhouse gas emissions. The scheme places a cap on emissions from industry, generators, and even large universities, encouraging a move toward energy efficiency. The measure may lead to savings, as South Korea is the fifth largest importer of oil and the second largest importer of liquefied natural gas. Under the plan, firms can trade emissions permits or buy offsets from U.N. backed energy projects.

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<p>Rising sea levels and Greenland's glacial melt have not increased as fast as previously predicted, but ice loss has still increased 30 percent over the last decade, and sea level rises have endangered low-lying coasts, according to a new report published in the May issue of <em>Science</em>. Previous studies estimated that glaciers would double their ice loss by 2010 and continue at that speed, and the actual flow of ice rivers has caused "significantly less" of an increase in sea level rise.

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<p>Electricity retailer Origin Energy said that Australia is likely to overshoot its 2020 renewable energy targets by about six percent due to falling electricity demand and the penetration of household solar systems. Origin called for a change to the target, which will be reviewed this year by the Climate Change Authority. Russell Marsh, policy director for the Clean Energy Council, said that the level of demand for 2020 was unknown, and switching to a more flexible target would not give the certainty needed to drive investment.

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<blockquote><p><span>U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern and European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard</span> said that they didn't think that a climate deal at talks in South Africa in December was likely. "<span>There is just this feeling that it's simply not doable for Durban</span>," said Hedegaard after a meeting of the Major Economies Forum.

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<p>Canada's Conservative party's plan to battle industrial pollution may be the most costly to government, the most damaging to the economy, and the least effective at cleaning the atmosphere, according to a federal government analysis of climate change policies. "This approach requires many initiatives, likely by three different orders of government, with the associated administrative costs," said the report.

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<p>In response to local pressure to crack down on illegal mining, Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat said that "mining officials will have to follow the directives. If they don’t do it, they will be hanged." The wealthy region has recently seen greater activity from anti-illegal mining activists, resulting in the closure of two mines and increased pressure on corrupt officials to conform to policies.