International Update Volume all, Issue 34
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<p><span><span><span><span>After word of a gold discovery on the Madeira River in the Brazilian Amazon in November, hundreds of gold miners flocked to the river.

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<p>Last Thursday, France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, ruled that the French government would have three months to show that it is enacting policies to ensure it will meet its carbon emissions reduction requirements (<a href="https://www.conseil-etat.fr/actualites/actualites/emissions-de-gaz-a-ef… d’Etat&nbsp;[FR]</a>, &lt

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<p>While most of the world works to reduce reliance on coal, China has expanded its coal-powered generation to a level equal to the generating capacity of the European Union. According to a United States-based research group, Global Energy Monitor, China raised its coal-firing capacity by 42.9 gigawatts (gW), or 4.5%, in the last 18 months. In the same period, the rest of the world cut its coal power capacity by 8.1 gW. Coal plants currently under construction in China add another 121.3 gW—enough to power all of France.</p>

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<p>Beginning January 1, 2020, Singapore's Maritime Port Authority will ban discharge into the ocean of "wash water" that is created when ships capture sulfur from engine exhausts using open-loop exhaust gas scrubbers. The ban is being imposed to prepare one of the world's busiest ports for International Maritime Organization rules that will require ships to use cleaner fuels beginning in 2020, including reducing the sulfur content in fuel from 3.5% to below 0.5%.

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<p>On November 29, a Honduran court convicted seven men for the 2016 murder of Berta Caceres, an indigenous land rights campaigner who led opposition to the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the ancestral lands of her Lenca tribe. Caceres was shot and killed at her home on March 2, 2016, after receiving death threats over her challenges to the Agua Zarca dam that threatened to displace hundreds of indigenous Lenca. The seven men face up to 30 years in jail.

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<p>On November 28, the European Union's (EU's) executive branch proposed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The proposal is far more ambitious than the national targets set by many of the EU's 28 member nations and is likely to be met with resistance. To achieve net-zero emissions, any greenhouse gases that are emitted would need to be soaked up by forest growth or by new technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

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<p>Due to government mismanagement of waste disposal in Lebanon, people and municipalities have turned to burning garbage, with adverse effects on nearby residents. The waste problem came to a head when the government closed the main landfill near Beirut without arranging an alternative. According to Human Rights Watch, the government has failed to find a solution since.

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<p>The new French president, Emmanuel Macron, promised to rid France of the weedkiller glyphosate within three years. This goal is viewed as too ambitious by the European nation's farmers. Many French farmers believe that even five years is too short a time frame because there is currently no economically viable alternative that is more environmentally friendly. Glyphosate was determined to cause cancer by the World Health Organization in 2015.

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<p>Delegations for the United States, Russia, and China, along with other countries, struck a deal to refrain from commercial fishing in the high Arctic seas until scientists can determine what fish are there and whether they can be sustainably harvested. The agreement will protect an area of the central Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years. Waters in the region were once frozen year-round but the area is now the earth's fastest-warming. The other parties to the legally binding agreement were Canada, Norway, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.

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<p>According to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, the number of non-native great apes and gibbons residing in zoos and other wildlife attractions in Thailand is much higher than those recorded as legally imported. For the great apes, this discrepancy is in part due to the fact that international trade in apes is prohibited (due to listings on Appendix I of CITES), but only four of those apes—those native to Thailand—receive protection under Thailand’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act.

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<p>Last week at the<a href="http://www.c40.org/&quot; target="_blank"> C40 Mayors Summit</a>, four cities—Athens, Mexico City, Madrid, and Paris—committed to ban diesel-fueled automobiles in their cities by 2025, a move applauded by many environmental supporters. Diesel-fueled vehicles had previously been championed for emitting less carbon dioxide than gasoline-powered vehicles.

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<p>Last week at the<a href="http://www.c40.org/&quot; target="_blank"> C40 Mayors Summit</a>, four cities—Athens, Mexico City, Madrid, and Paris—committed to ban diesel-fueled automobiles in their cities by 2025, a move applauded by many environmental supporters. Diesel-fueled vehicles had previously been championed for emitting less carbon dioxide than gasoline-powered vehicles.

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<p>Last week at the<a href="http://www.c40.org/&quot; target="_blank"> C40 Mayors Summit</a>, four cities—Athens, Mexico City, Madrid, and Paris—committed to ban diesel-fueled automobiles in their cities by 2025, a move applauded by many environmental supporters. Diesel-fueled vehicles had previously been championed for emitting less carbon dioxide than gasoline-powered vehicles.

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<p>Last week at the<a href="http://www.c40.org/&quot; target="_blank"> C40 Mayors Summit</a>, four cities—Athens, Mexico City, Madrid, and Paris—committed to ban diesel-fueled automobiles in their cities by 2025, a move applauded by many environmental supporters. Diesel-fueled vehicles had previously been championed for emitting less carbon dioxide than gasoline-powered vehicles.

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<p>China aims to provide clean air in its largest cities for 80% of each year, or more than 9-1/2 months, by 2020, up from a figure of 76.7% last year, the country's cabinet announced today. Amid concern that pollution was stirring social unrest, China launched a campaign in 2014 to revitalize its tainted air, water and soil, which have been ravaged by more than three decades of breakneck industrial growth.

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<p>Beginning in April 2016, India will not allow commercial trucks that are more than 15 years old on the road. This is an attempt by the Indian government to limit air pollution, as India is home to 13 of the 20 most polluted cities on the planet. Commercial vehicles, particularly when badly maintained, are one are the largest contributors to air pollution nationally.

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<p>French President Francois Hollande and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an international solar alliance at the onset of the Paris COP21 climate summit. The alliance includes more than 120 countries and was described by Modi as “the sunrise of new hope, not just for clean energy but for villages and homes still in darkness, for mornings and evenings filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun.” The goal is to bring clean and affordable solar energy to everyone. The majority of the countries involved are tropical, solar-rich nations.

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<p>French President Francois Hollande and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an international solar alliance at the onset of the Paris COP21 climate summit. The alliance includes more than 120 countries and was described by Modi as “the sunrise of new hope, not just for clean energy but for villages and homes still in darkness, for mornings and evenings filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun.” The goal is to bring clean and affordable solar energy to everyone. The majority of the countries involved are tropical, solar-rich nations.

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<p>The government of Botswana quietly sold the rights to frack for shale gas in nearly half of the Kgalagadi Park. Prospecting licenses were granted to a UK-listed company called Nodding Donkey in September 2014, although the sale was not reported. The company recently changed its name to Karoo Energy. The park is located along the border of South Africa and spans more than 36,000 sq. km. It is one of Africa’s largest conservation areas and is home to pygmy falcons, the gemsbok desert antelope, and black-maned Kalahari lions.

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<p>China continues to make commitments to wide-scale environmental protection as the Ministry of Agriculture announced plans to limit the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Reductions would begin in the coming years with the intent of a nation-wide cap on growth of use by 2020. China produces more rice and wheat than any other country and is also the largest consumer of pesticides in the world. Ministry officials said the country plans to maintain self-sufficiency in production of those crops despite the planned decreases in pesticide and fertilizer application.

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<p>Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new government is reportedly reforming environmental regulations and removing regulatory requirements for industry in order to spur economic growth. A committee tasked with rewriting India's environmental laws released a report last week that recommended removing a layer of government inspection, instead relying on self-reporting and monitoring by industry. The changes are a stark contrast to the previous government's environmental policies that curtailed industrial growth in some regions.

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<p>An Aboriginal community in southwest Queensland, Australia, has filed an appeal with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. The Mithaka people claim the state government violated international law by failing to consult the group before removing protective status for certain rivers in order to open the region to shale oil exploration. The group fears hydraulic fracturing will threaten rights to their traditional culture, which is closely associated with the area's waterways.

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<p>A new 10-year Forest Management Plan for Western Australia will double the area previously allowed for logging. The plan, which will be in effect from 2014 to 2023, will open up more than 2,000 square kilometers of old jarrah and karri forest in the southwest for logging, while protecting an extra 4,000 hectares in Whicher National Park and over 334,000 hectares of old-growth forest. According to Environment Minister Albert Jacob, the plan is based on “scientific knowledge” and will protect biodiversity, but conservationists feel that it will further endanger threatened wildlife.

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<p>Singapore-based Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, has signed a policy committing to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain. Over the past decade, the palm oil industry has become one of the leading drivers of tropical deforestation. As Wilmar controls 45 percent of the palm oil market, the new policy could have far-reaching environmental effects. Wilmar says that the policy will cover all its operations, including the company’s non-palm oil holdings and its dealings with third-party suppliers.

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<p>As the air quality index in Shanghai passed 500 last Friday—entering the “beyond index” category—Hong Kong revealed plans to create a new index that will assess the health risks associated with smog. Smog levels like those seen on Friday, which prompted Shanghai to order 30 percent of government vehicles off the road and resulted in widespread flight cancellations, cause serious health concerns; the new index would detail the risks associated with high levels of pollutants and would be the first time the country has changed the way it measures air quality since 1987.

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<p>Half of the world's wetlands have been destroyed in the past century, while melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica contributed to an 11 milimeter rise in sea levels, according to new reports. A study by the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity found that just 12.8 million kilometers remains of the 25 million kilometers of wetlands that existed in 1900, as over-exploitation, aquaculture, and storm damage destroy them at a rate of as much as 80 percent per year in some areas.

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<p>The European Commission announced last week that it would investigate the possibility that Germany's new renewable energy law is leading to misuse of incentives and exemptions. The Commission is responding to business complaints that the nation's shift from nuclear to subsidized renewables is leading to higher costs and jeopardizing growth.

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<p>The European Commission announced last week that it would investigate the possibility that Germany's new renewable energy law is leading to misuse of incentives and exemptions. The Commission is responding to business complaints that the nation's shift from nuclear to subsidized renewables is leading to higher costs and jeopardizing growth.

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<p>As China prepares to employ hydraulic fracturing to tap into its enormous supply of natural gas, critics are raising concerns about China's already stretched water supply. Most of China's 25 trillion cubic meters of gas is in areas already threatened by water shortages, according to China's <em>Caixin</em> newspaper, and industry sources say new gas policies designed to protect groundwater are unlikely to be legally binding.

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<p>New South Wales will extend its ban on hydraulic fracturing until April to give the state, the most populous in Australia, time to strengthen standards for the extraction process. The move, which adds an additional three months to the state's moratorium, comes shortly after the release of a Senate committee report that recommended the suspension of all new coal seam gas projects in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, pending further research on fracking's effects.

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<p>Environment Minister Peter Kent declined to confirm or deny that Canada is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, a move that would save the country as much as $6.7 billion and make it the first of 191 signatories to annul its obligations. Kent declined to confirm that Canada would pull out of Kyoto, but he did say the government wouldn't make further commitments to it. "Kyoto is the past," he said at a press conference.

<p>A government study indicated that the United Kingdom may substantially surpass carbon reduction targets, an accomplishment that Chris Huhne, secretary of state for energy and climate change, hopes will demonstrate to Durban that cuts are achievable. The report "shows other economies that, with the right planning, the transition to a low-carbon economy is achievable and affordable," said Huhne. Emissions have dropped by 25% since 1990, but the report indicated that those cuts were much easier to achieve than those needed over the next 20 years.