International Update Volume all, Issue 4
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<p><span><span><span><span><span><span><span><span>After over a year of debate and lobbying, the European Commission revealed its proposal to designate nuclear power and natural gas as “sustainable” in the European Union’s (EU's) sustainable finance taxonomy.

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<p>This past Friday, a Dutch appeals court ruled that Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for two pipeline leaks in the Niger River Delta, occurring in 2004 and 2005 in the villages of Oruma and Goi (<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-shell-nigeria-court/environmentalist…; and <a href="

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<p>Last Wednesday, the Administrative Tribunal of Paris ruled that France’s failure to meet its greenhouse gas reduction commitments have caused “ecological damage.” In order to meet its emissions reduction targets under the Paris Climate Accords, France had passed domestic laws promising to decrease emissions by 1.5% annually and 3% annually beginning in 2025. However, according to France’s High Council on Climate, these goals have yet to be achieved.

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<p>Portugal, Germany, and Australia have taken measures this past week to achieve ambitious emissions reduction goals. On January 28, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced that a hydroelectric project under construction in northern Portugal will replace all power lost from the closing of the country’s final coal plants. The project, called the Tamega complex, will generate enough energy to supply 2 million homes.

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<p>Indonesia has announced its intentions to challenge a European Union directive, known as RED II, that aims to stop the use of crops that cause deforestation in transportation fuel by 2030. The country is concerned that the directive will unfairly target palm oil, of which it is the world's top producer. A government document outlining Indonesia's stance on the directive claims that the method use to measure the risk of unintended carbon emissions was not internationally recognized and not applicable in a tropical region.

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<p>On January 30, United Nations human rights experts called for an impartial investigation into the collapse of a dam in Minas Gerais, Brazil, on January 25, and into toxicity of the waste from the iron ore mine. The dam is owned by Vale SA, the world's largest iron ore miner. One expert urged the government to prioritize safety evaluations of dams, and to refrain from authorizing new tailing dams until safety has been ensured.

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<p>Canada's top court has ruled that energy companies must fulfill their environmental obligations before paying back creditors in cases of insolvency and bankruptcy, effectively requiring companies to clean up old oil and gas wells rather than leaving them for others to clean up.

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<p>In December 2017, a research group visited the Galápagos Islands to survey coral reefs and to gather ecological information on their extent and condition. The reefs of the Galápagos have a history of coral bleaching across the archipelago. El Niño's hot waters pushed many corals beyond their thermal tolerances, resulting in widespread reef-scale bleaching.

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<p>In 2017, like some other European countries and cities, the German government announced a plan that would eventually remove diesel vehicles from the roads. A governing coalition, including Chancellor Merkel's conservative bloc, is discussing a plan to allow automakers to install new hardware in older diesel models to improve emissions rather than remove them from the roads. In August 2017, the industry agreed to provide software updates and trade-in incentives aimed at improving air quality in cities seeking to stem growing smog.

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<p>A group of researchers have discovered two new species of dog-faced bats in South America. Researchers have described two new species of dog-faced bats: the Freeman’s dog-faced bat&nbsp;from Panama and the Waorani dog-faced bat from Ecuador. At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History the scientists compared their field observations, including DNA, sound recordings and body measurements of the bats, with existing museum collections and confirmed that the bat was a new species. The team first came across the bats in 2012.

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<p>The Philippines declared Cleopatra’s Needle, an area over 100,000 acres on the island of Palawan, as a critical habitat. Critical habitats are lands outside protected areas that have habitats or other features essential for the conservation of threatened or endemic species. The Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat (CNCH) is almost seven times the size of the second largest critical habitat (Carmen Critical Habitat) and hosts about 85% of the mammals and birds endemic only to Palawan.

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<p>Last week, the European Union proposed extending an exemption of international flights from emissions limits. The exemption was set to end at the beginning of 2017, but may not be enacted for at least another four years. The EU had tried to include international flights in its emissions trading system (ETS) in 2012, but was met with backlash from non-EU countries who said the deal violated their sovereignty.

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<p>Last month, the Brazilian government issued Ordinance 80, which moved the decision-making power for the recognition of indigenous territory boundaries away from the National Indian Foundation to the Ministry of Justice. Ordinance 80 is a redraft of Ordinance 68, which was previously annulled. The Ordinance promotes “careful analysis…of the whole demarcation procedure,” but promotes speedy action (demarcation of lands by the National Indian Foundation has sometimes taken decades).

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<p>On February 3, 2016, the European Parliament supported a compromise deal that allows vehicles to continue to pollute more than the official limits. This disregards the call for stricter reform that followed the Volkswagen emissions-test cheating scandal. In September, Volkswagen admitted that it cheated on U.S. diesel emissions tests, which caused outrage in Europe where approximately half of the vehicles run on diesel. The Parliament's vote was almost blocked by opponents who viewed it as too lenient, but they narrowly missed the votes needed.

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<p>Fifteen people tried in connection with a 2010 toxic spill that killed 10 people were acquitted by a Hungarian court on February 4, 2016. The spill, one of Hungary’s worst environmental disasters, sent toxic red mud from a reservoir across three towns, destroyed hundreds of homes, and penetrated rivers all the way down to the Danube. The aluminum smelting company responsible for the spill, MAL Corp., was taken over by the government and remains under liquidation. In the ruling, the court determined that MAL Corp.

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<p>A British Columbia court ruled that the Wilderness Committee, an environmental group, did not break the law by criticizing a proposed mine project. In 2012, Taseko Mines sued the Wilderness Committee, stating that the group made defamatory statements about Taseko Mines’ New Prosperity mine project during a public comment period. These claims were dismissed, with the court awarding the Wilderness Committee court costs and additional costs incurred during the lawsuit.

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<p>France's farm minister has announced the country will delay pesticide reduction goals after failing to curb use of the chemicals as the original 2018 deadline approaches. The new target will be a 25% reduction in pesticide use by 2020 and a 50% reduction by 2025. Though reductions are voluntary, the Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood, and Forestry hopes to add 1,000 farming operations to its network of 2,000 farms using technology and biological controls to decrease conventional pesticide use.

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<p>China is imposing a complete ban on commercial logging of state-owned forests in its Heilongjiang province, a major timber producer. The government sees the restriction as a trial program to allow the forests to regenerate, while refocusing the timber industry on forest management. Funds have been allocated to support forestry workers for the next 5 years, and programs will encourage them to become forest rangers or take up sustainable agriculture. Observers see the ban as part of China's larger shift from an extraction-heavy economy to one focused more on sustainability.

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<p>Caribbean nations and organizational partners issued a joint statement calling for the adoption of "necessary and specific reforms" in Caribbean energy policy at the first-ever Caribbean Energy Security Summit, hosted by the Obama administration in Washington, D.C. The statement specifically addressed sustainable and clean energy production. The United States also announced a $90 million investment in Jamaican wind power through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

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<p>Last Friday, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority gave the green light to North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to deposit as much as 3,000,000 cubic meters of dredging waste into the Great Barrier Reef. The dumping permit would allow for major expansion of the port of Abbot Point, potentially bringing in up to $28 billion in coal projects. While the Authority placed 47 environmental conditions on the project—including long-term water quality monitoring and measures to reduce the impact on biodiversity—environmentalists fear the damage expansion of the port could cause.

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<p>European Union (EU) negotiators are clashing with member states on whether to require all airlines using EU airports to pay for their emissions. Currently, only emissions from intra-EU flights are regulated; last Thursday, however, members of the European parliament’s environment committee voted to charge for emissions for all flights through European airspace.

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<p>Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd. (APRIL), Indonesia’s second-largest pulp and paper producer, has announced a new environmental policy intended to address criticism of its forestry practices. The announcement came just days after the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, a group of 200 companies that have made commitments to greener business practices, threatened to kick APRIL out if it doesn’t reform its forestry practices and stop clearing rainforests and peatlands on the island of Sumatra.

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<p>Europe's MEPs voted to ban the discarding of healthy fish and to implement measures to protect endangered stocks in a series of sweeping reforms to the controversial EU Commons Fisheries Policy. A spokeswoman for the Greens said that the reforms would "finally put the EU's fisheries policy on a sustainable footing," as waste discards are estimated to account for a quarter of total catches under the current quota system.

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<p>United Kingdom's nuclear giant Sellafield has pleaded guilty to sending nuclear waste to a landfill instead of a repository, as the cost of cleanup at the Sellafield facility reached nearly $107 billion with no end to the rise in sight. The nuclear power company admitted to sending four bags of radioactive waste to the wrong facility, blaming a new monitor that exempted the bags from strict controls by classifying them as "general" waste. All four bags were retrieved, and sentencing will take place March 8.

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<p>A new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency suggests that 48 percent of timber sent to China from Mozambique's forest is illegal. The illicit logging, which the report blames on poor governance and widespread corruption, costs Mozambique $29 million in tax revenue.

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<p><span style="color: #000000; font-family: 'Times New Roman'; line-height: normal; text-align: left; font-size: medium;">India's air quality is worst in the world for its effect on human health, according to a recent study from Yale and Columbia universities, measuring 3.73 out of a possible 100 points. The study, which used satellite data to measure air pollution concentrations, found that the fine particulate matter level in India is nearly five times the limit at which it becomes unsafe for humans.

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<p>Wildlife-rich English grasslands are at risk of being ploughed so that farmers can continue to claim EU subsidies for pastures, experts have warned. To escape penalties under proposed changes to the common agricultural policy, farmers are mowing down high-value grasslands to register permanent pastures ahead of a 2014 deadline. Though many of the grasslands are monocultures with limited natural value, an estimated 100,000 hectares remain that are rich in plants, fungi, bees, moths, and butterflies.

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<p>Though Petrobras appears to have contained Brazil's second major oil spill in four months, the accident has raised questions about offshore drilling's safety as the country moves forward with plans to develop offshore resources. A government team evaluating efforts to contain the spill said that there was virtually no chance the oil would reach the coastline, and that Petrobras' quick response was able to control the spill. However, environmental regulators have questioned the company's emergency plans.

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<p>Ross Garnaut, an architect of Australia's stalled climate change policy, has called for increased efforts to halt climate change in response to a recent spate of natural disasters linked to climate change. Garnaut said that recent disasters, like last month's devastating flooding and last week's Cyclone Yasi, were examples of extreme weather events likely to increase if global warming goes unchecked. "If we are seeing an intensification of extreme weather events now, you ain't seen nothing yet," said Garnaut.

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<p>The European Commission is developing a strategy to simultaneously recycle and assist countries in Africa in sustainably mining rare earth materials, partially in response to a reduction in export quotas by China, provider of 97% of the world's supply. China issued an outright ban on rare earth exports to Japan in a dispute over fishing rights last year, and a few weeks ago <em>Caijing</em> magazine reported that China would begin stockpiling materials.

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<p>The European Commission is developing a strategy to simultaneously recycle and assist countries in Africa in sustainably mining rare earth materials, partially in response to a reduction in export quotas by China, provider of 97% of the world's supply. China issued an outright ban on rare earth exports to Japan in a dispute over fishing rights last year, and a few weeks ago <em>Caijing</em> magazine reported that China would begin stockpiling materials.

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<p>The European Commission is developing a strategy to simultaneously recycle and assist countries in Africa in sustainably mining rare earth materials, partially in response to a reduction in export quotas by China, provider of 97% of the world's supply. China issued an outright ban on rare earth exports to Japan in a dispute over fishing rights last year, and a few weeks ago <em>Caijing</em> magazine reported that China would begin stockpiling materials.

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<p>The Brazilian state oil company Petrobras will soon begin the process of carbon sequestration in its Lula oil fields to reduce the environmental impact of its deep water exploration. The oil fields, in the region known as the subsalt, contain large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) that will now be re-injected into oil reservoirs or sub-sea salt caverns rather than released into the atmosphere.