International Update Volume all, Issue 3
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<p><span><span><span><span><span><span><span><span>Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $700 million for Great Barrier Reef conservation over the next nine years. More than half the money will go toward water quality, including projects to reduce erosion and runoff of pesticides and nutrients. Other funding will be directed toward conservation and reef management, including projects to address illegal fishing and coral-eating starfish.

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<p>Just hours after being inaugurated last Wednesday, President Joe Biden began his presidency by signing a series of Executive Orders, one of which re-entered the United States into the Paris Climate Agreement. Though the United States only formally exited the agreement last November, the country has been relatively absent as a key player in climate negotiations since Donald Trump took office in 2016. Biden’s move, viewed by many as the return of U.S.

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<p>A recent coronavirus outbreak in Asia has been linked to illegal wildlife trade in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, according to Chinese government officials (<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/24/calls-for-global-ban-wi… Guardian</a>). The virus has killed at least 25 people and sickened over 800 in Asia, as well as one person in the United States who had recently traveled to Wuhan.

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<p>On January 24, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for failing to protect its citizens from a polluting steel plant in the southern city of Taranto that has been blamed for hundred of cancer-related deaths. The court ruled that the country must pay 161 people who live near the plant 5,000 euros each in damages. The Ilva plant is Europe's largest steel plant and was put under special administration in 2015 after magistrates directed it to be cleaned up or shut down.

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<p>On January 25, the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency published a report stating that the Netherlands' emissions reductions target for greenhouse gases—reducing emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020—which was confirmed last year by an appeals court, is "out of reach." The agency predicted that the reduction in 2020 will more likely amount to 21% compared with 1990. Dutch lawmakers approved new climate legislation last month that aims to reduce emissions by 95% by 2050, but a plan to achieve these goals has not been confirmed.

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<p>China's environment ministry has announced a new plan to tackle illegal lead recycling and increase the collection rate of lead acid batteries for recycling to 70% by 2025. It is estimated that the country produces around 3.3 million tons of waste lead batteries every year, and less than 30% of the batteries are properly recycled.

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<p>Scientists are using information gleaned from both illegal ivory art and elephant dung to provide clues that could help save their lives. The process consists of cutting up seized artifacts and subjecting them to carbon dating to determine when the elephants were killed. DNA from the ivory art is then compared to a DNA database derived from elephant dung to pinpoint where they lived. Previous work by the researchers has provided valuable information to focus poaching law enforcement in Africa and prosecute ivory traffickers elsewhere.

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<p>The Sanchi, an Iranian oil tanker carrying more than 100,000 tons of toxic oil, collided with a freighter and exploded, killing all 32 crew onboard. The Sanchi was carrying the equivalent of nearly 1 million barrels of ultra-light crude, plus its own fuel, to South Korea. An updated emergency ocean model simulation shows that waters polluted by the sinking Sanchi oil tanker could reach Japan within a month.

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<p>France will not increase carbon emissions as it reduces its reliance on nuclear energy in coming years. Currently, nuclear is about 75% of the country's energy mix. Grid operator RTE has prepared scenarios for cutting nuclear energy’s share from 56 percent to 11 percent by 2035, and an additional scenario on reducing nuclear reliance to 50 percent by 2025. Environment activists complain that the government has withheld scenarios cutting back nuclear capacity the most, when it held workshops this month to prepare for the public debate.

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<p>In China, the government is relaunching an initiative that provides subsidies for “green cars,” aimed at promoting the growth of the electric and plug-in hybrid car industry, as well as reducing urban air pollution. The initiative is being relaunched with increased oversight and technical standards after widespread cheating. Last week, the Chinese government released its first list of “recommended” vehicles, which makes 185 car models eligible for government subsidies.

<p>Last year, thousands of Nigerians brought a case against Shell, accusing them of years of oil pollution that has contaminated the drinking water of thousands. The suit was brought against Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch company, in an attempt to hold multinationals liable for their subsidiaries’ actions. Last week, the British High Court ruled in favor of Shell and said the claimants should pursue the case in Nigerian courts. However, the claimants are skeptical that the Nigerian courts have the expertise to address their case.

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<p>Copper mining in southern Ecuador has incited numerous confrontations between indigenous communities and a Chinese mining company. The country’s leading environmental organization, Acción Ecológica, has been criticizing the government’s handling of these conflicts. In response to the criticism, the Ecuadorian government has tried to shut down Acción Ecológica, making the environmental NGO one target of what seems to be a larger government campaign against vocal civil society organizations.

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<p>An embargo on trading Madagascar’s ebonies, palisanders, and rosewoods was extended by the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The illegal harvest and trade of Madagascar’s precious wood has a detrimental impact on the livelihood of people dependent on the forests and on the Malagasy ecosystem.

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<p>A 2013 spatial plan exposed Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem to industrial development by the Aceh Government. Nine Aceh citizens filed a class action lawsuit last week against the plan, calling it illegal and requesting that Jakarta fulfill its promise to revoke it. The Leuser Ecosystem is one of Sumatra’s last intact rainforests.

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<p>Construction of the third largest dam in the world, Brazil's Belo Monte dam, is complete but a judge suspended its operating license. Judge Maria Carolina Valente de Carmo ruled that the dam must fulfill obligations that it made in 2010 to the region’s indigenous groups before the dam can begin generating electricity. The dam is located on the Xingu River in the Amazon and was just weeks away from beginning operation.

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<p>Austria has announced its intention to challenge a decision by the European Union to subsidize a nuclear power station in the United Kingdom. The appeal will be filed before April in the European Court of Justice, and it is likely other countries will join Austria in challenging the European Commission’s decision. Appellants will likely argue that the £17.6 ($26.43) billion subsidy is illegal state aid because the project does not meet the necessary criteria, including furthering the common interest of the EU as a whole.

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<p>Norway is offering new leases for fossil fuel exploration within its Arctic waters for the first time in over 20 years. The move infuses momentum into an energy rush poised to break out between the five countries claiming Arctic resource rights. The leases, mostly in the Barents Sea, have been offered to 43 energy companies, and production licenses could be awarded as early as 2016.

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<p>The Australian government has declared it will not list 5 of the 31 species covered by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, which Australia consented to in November. The five species, all sharks, include two species of hammerheads and three species of threshers. Australia’s Environment Minister said the reservation from the Convention is necessary because the country’s domestic laws are stricter than required by the agreement, and the listing would result in unintended consequences and unreasonably harsh penalties for violations.

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<p>The European Commission has proposed a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. The plan, which will be reviewed by the European Council in March, would also require the EU to generate 27% of its energy from renewables by 2030.

<p>U.K. oil and gas exploration company Cuadrilla has scrapped plans to use fracking technology near the village of Balcombe in Sussex. Last summer, Balcombe was the site of weeks of protests, as thousands of people voiced opposition to Cuadrilla’s presence and to an exploratory well the company drilled to see whether oil could be produced in the area. Last Thursday, Cuadrilla released a statement saying fracking would not be necessary as the rocks at the site are naturally fractured, but the announcement brought only limited relief.

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<p>In an effort to contain rising power bills, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet supported plans to tax owners of renewable energy plants for use of their own electricity. The proposal would require clean energy plants to pay 70% of the EEG-Umlage, a fee paid by power consumers that renewable energy producers are exempt from at present.

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<p>Following Beijing's announcement that it plans to implement harsher emissions standards for vehicles, China's environment minister said that emissions of four major pollutants fell last year and should fall by similar levels this year. However, he admitted that the country faced difficulties ending chronic pollution. Despite the winter's severe pollution, <span>emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, chemical oxygen, and ammonia nitrogen all recorded decreases of two percent in 2012 and are likely to drop an additional two percent in 2013.

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<p>Brazil appears to be suffering from an increase in deforestation after decades of decline, according to data compiled by researchers. Imazon, a research institute that tracks deforestation by satellite imagery, said that destruction in the Amazon increased for the fourth consecutive month in December as <span><span class="focusParagraph">farmers, loggers, miners, and builders moved into previously untouched woodland.

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<p>Australia must take swift action to protect the Great Barrier Reef, according to environmental groups. UNESCO issued a warning last June over development on the reef, and the United Nations said that the reef will be listed as "in danger" if there is no progress by February 1. The reef is worth approximately $6.26 billion in tourism to the economy annually.

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<p>The European Union could raise its binding 2020 emissions goals from 20 to 30 percent of 1990 levels much more cheaply and with costs divided much more fairly than originally believed, according to a draft EU document. The financial crisis has virtually guaranteed that the EU will achieve its 20 percent target, according to Reuters, and it also means that a 30 percent reduction would be much more affordable.

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<p>Japanese plans to restart nuclear reactors and cap their lifespan at 60 years has drawn anger, as citizen protestors delayed a nuclear watchdog hearing on its stress test results last week. Local officials, whose approval is needed to relaunch nuclear power plants, said that the stress tests are not enough and demanded additional safety standards.

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<p>Deforestation may cause the Amazon Basin to become a net emitter of carbon dioxide, according to a study published in the journal&nbsp;<em>Nature</em>. Though the region has traditionally defended against climate change, the basin's large population growth over the last 50 years has caused a massive spike in clearing for logging and agriculture. The study estimates that the Amazon contains 100 billion tons of carbon in its biomass, which is gradually released as the forest is cleared.

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<p>China is going to leave the rest of the world "in the dust" in terms of the development of a green economy, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christina Figueres said at a panel discussion in Switzerland last week. Last year the country boosted low carbon energy spending by 30 percent to reach over $50 billion, the largest figure of any country, and the development is set to continue. According to Bloomberg, China WindPower Group is slated to borrow as much as $240 million from the Asian Development Bank to develop more wind farms.

<p>UK's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs revealed some of its plans for "climate proofing" the nation last week, implementing climate adaptation plans submitted by government agencies. Under the Climate Act, organizations dealing with national infrastructure must release similar plans for national protection to face possible rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and increased incidents of extreme weather.

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<p>China is going to leave the rest of the world "in the dust" in terms of the development of a green economy, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christina Figueres said at a panel discussion in Switzerland last week. Last year the country boosted low carbon energy spending by 30 percent to reach over $50 billion, the largest figure of any country, and the development is set to continue. According to Bloomberg, China WindPower Group is slated to borrow as much as $240 million from the Asian Development Bank to develop more wind farms.

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<p>Royal Dutch Shell said at the Hague that it will not pay for thousands of oil spills in Nigeria caused by bandits, estimating that 70 percent of spills were caused by sabotage or theft. "When it comes to issues of the safety of people and crime, it's the responsibility of the government," said Peter de Wit, director of Shell Netherlands. "That's not happening.