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Pollution killing more people than war and violence, says report

Pollution kills more people each year than wars, disasters and hunger, also causing huge economic damage, a study says. Almost half the total deaths occur in just two countries. Environmental pollution is killing more people every year than smoking, hunger or natural disasters, according to a major study released in The Lancet medical journal on Thursday. One in every six of the 9 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015 could be attributed to diseases caused by toxins in air or water, the study says. It says air pollution was the main cause of deaths, responsible for 6.5 million of the fatalities, followed by water pollution, which killed 1.8 million. Read more: Air pollution is 'top health hazard in Europe' The estimate of 9 million premature deaths, considered conservative by the authors, is one and a half times higher than the number of people killed by smoking, and three times the death toll from AIDS, turberculosis and malaria combined. It is also 15 times the number of people killed in war or other forms of violence. Ninety-two percent of pollution-related deaths occurred in low- or middle-income developing countries, with India topping the list at 2.5 million, followed by China at 1.8 million. Economic costs The report also attributed massive costs to pollution-related death, sickness and welfare, estimating the costs at some $4.6 trillion (€3.89 trillion) in annual losses — or about 6.2 percent of the global economy. "What people don't realize is that pollution does damage to economies. People who are sick or dead cannot contribute to the economy. They need to looked after," said one of the study's authors, Richard Fuller, who is head of the global pollution watchdog Pure Earth. Read more: Five ways to improve air quality in our cities "There is this myth that finance ministers still live by: that you have to let industry pollute or else you won't develop. It just isn't true," he said. According to the study, the financial burden also hits poorer countries hardest, with low-income countries paying 8.3 percent of their GNP to tackle the harm caused by pollution, as compared with 4.5 percent in richer countries. 'Worrying developments in US' The Lancet editors Pamela Das and Richard Horton said the report came at a "worrisome time, when the US government's Environmental Protection Agency, headed by Scott Pruitt, is undermining established environmental regulations." Pruitt announced this month that the US, a major producer of air pollution and greenhouse gases, would be pulling out of former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan. The plan, which aimed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production, was expected by the EPA to also reduce smog and soot in the air by 25 percent and thus avoid thousands of premature deaths through asthma and other lung conditions. Das and Horton said the latest findings should serve as a "call to action." "Pollution is a winnable battle ... Current and future generations deserve a pollution-free world," they said.

Pollution kills more people each year than wars, disasters and hunger, also causing huge economic damage, a study says. Almost half the total deaths occur in just two countries. Environmental pollution is killing more people every year than smoking, hunger or natural disasters, according to a major study released in The Lancet medical journal on Thursday. One in every six ... Read More »

Al Gore holds ‘productive’ meeting on climate change with Trump

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said he had "an extremely interesting conversation" with the US president-elect. Donald Trump has described climate change as a "hoax" invented by China to undermine American industry. Former US Vice President Al Gore, known for championing the fight against climate change, on Monday described his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump as a "productive" session "It was a sincere search for areas of common ground," said Gore, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for his efforts to curb climate change. "I found it an extremely interesting conversation and, to be continued," Gore added. Trump, who threatened to upend the 2015 Paris accord during his campaign, has vehemently denied the existence of climate change, describing it as a foreign "hoax." "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive," Trump said in a tweet. "Let's continue to destroy the competiveness of our factories and manufacturing so we can fight mythical global warming. China is so happy," he said in another tweet. Since his electoral victory in November, Trump has eased his tone on climate change, saying he has an "open mind" towards the relationship between human activity and climate change. "I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much," Trump said during a post-election interview with "The New York Times." The meeting comes as Trump works to fill his cabinet, with an expected announcement on his state secretary, the US' top diplomatic role, this week.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said he had “an extremely interesting conversation” with the US president-elect. Donald Trump has described climate change as a “hoax” invented by China to undermine American industry. Former US Vice President Al Gore, known for championing the fight against climate change, on Monday described his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump as a “productive” session “It ... Read More »

A star-studded Paris summit makes far-fetched promises

World leaders kicking off the UN climate conference in Paris have talked a lot about a moral duty to save the planet. Now, negotiators have to work out how that translates into a global climate treaty. It is not unusual that climate conferences start off with resounding speeches and fervent appeals. But what set this first day of the climate conference in Paris apart from other such events was the fact that these appeals were delivered not by environment ministers, but by some 150 heads of state and government. "It is on your shoulders that the hopes of all humanity rest," French President Francois Hollande told his counterparts from around the world. And US President Barack Obama urged fellow world leaders to "rise to the moment." Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in general less emotional, said that concluding a universal climate change agreement in Paris was "a question of the future of humanity." Merkel's statement The chancellor also said there was a need for "far-reaching" decarbonization of the global economy - a statement climate activists said should be taken with a grain of salt. "When chancellor Merkel says we must decarbonize and get off coal, oil and gas, we support that," said Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace International. "But the detail that we want to hear is that we can get to that point by 2050," Naidoo added. Merkel spoke of decarbonization "by the end of the century." She also called for a climate agreement that was "ambitious, fair and binding." "I found it interesting that Merkel said she wants to see a review of national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before 2020," said Christoph Bals of the NGO Germanwatch. "The position of the European Union has been that the first review should take place only in 2023. By calling for an earlier date, Merkel is putting pressure on the EU to improve on its climate targets for the decade starting in 2020." A different view from China? For his part, Chinese President Xi Jinping said it was "imperative" to respect the differences among countries and that developing nations should not be denied their "legitimate needs" to grow. But Xi also talked about "win-win situations" in following low-carbon growth paths. Germanwatch's Bals interpreted this as a positive change from the rhetoric used in past climate conferences. "China used to say that fighting climate change is a burden that others should bear," Bals said. "Saying that through technology transfer it can be turned into an opportunity means putting a whole new spin on things." "At the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, China said emissions would continue throughout the century," Greenpeace's Naidoo said. "Now they have made a commitment that emissions will peak by 2030 at the latest - and that is a pretty big shift." 'Let's get to work' President Obama reaffirmed the US's commitment to help developing nations embark on low-carbon growth paths, and pledged $50 million (47 million euros) to a fund supporting the world's poorest countries. "We embrace our responsibility," Obama said, acknowledging the US's role in climate changes as the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and ending his statement with an appeal to negotiators to "get to work." Overall, Bals said, "there was little of substance in Obama's speech." Concepts to speed up negotiations The getting to work that Obama called for was facilitated by a move of the French presidency to get procedural questions addressed prior to the event's formal opening, enabling true negotiations to start right away. Bals called this an "innovative" approach that might prevent negotiators from spending "two or three days" on tactical maneuvering. The longtime observer of climate conferences added that, though many of Monday's statements might not have contained many surprising or specific elements, they should not be seen as mere "showcase speeches." "The delegations will be held to what their leaders have said," Bals said, "and if a delegate says something contradictory, the presiding chair can refuse this position for backtracking on a leader's statement." The aim is to present a consolidated text on Thursday. But many take this as an ambitious goal, and a lot of obstacles have to be overcome to achieve it.

World leaders kicking off the UN climate conference in Paris have talked a lot about a moral duty to save the planet. Now, negotiators have to work out how that translates into a global climate treaty. It is not unusual that climate conferences start off with resounding speeches and fervent appeals. But what set this first day of the climate ... Read More »

Global leaders attend climate conference in wake of Paris terror attacks

World leaders from US President Barack Obama to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Germany's Angela Merkel are set to address the UN climate conference opening in Paris. It is the first time ever that heads of state and government have opened a UN climate conference with speeches. Hopes are high that their statements will send positive signals that a global climate agreement can be achieved in Paris. Some 150 leaders from around the world are due to speak from 12 noon onwards on Monday with statements to be delivered simultaneously in two meeting rooms, due to the number of leaders attending. "This is the greatest diplomatic event France has ever hosted," a French diplomat told DW, "and it has been a huge endeavor both in terms of diplomacy and in terms of security." The French capital is still reeling from the devastating terrorist attacks of November 13, which killed 130 people. The government has deployed more than 6,000 security officers for the climate conference's opening day. Observers hope for strong signals The last time that world leaders personally involved themselves in climate negotiations at the conference in Copenhagen in 2009, it turned out to be a failure. The countries attending agreed merely on an "accord" which did not contain commitments to emission reductions. Observers agree it was a smart move by the conference's French hosts to invite heads of state and government for the event's opening day rather than involve them in last-hour negotiations. "Politically speaking, the fact that heads of state and government are here to kick off the conference is extremely important," Jan Kowalzig, a senior climate change advisor with Oxfam told DW. "We expect these statements to reinforce the political momentum that has been building up towards concluding an agreement," Kowalzig said. "We also expect that leaders will outline when they expect global greenhouse gas emissions to peak and by when they expect zero greenhouse gas emissions." Aim: To reach global climate agreement The task of the two-week-long conference is to come to an accord in which all countries commit to curbing global greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent the world from warming by more than two degrees by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial levels. But while more than 170 countries submitted national reduction pledges ahead of the Paris conference, it is clear that even if all pledges were implemented unconditionally, the world would still warm by around three degrees. Germany and EU calling for review "That means that we need a review process to follow up on this issue," said Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel in her weekly video podcast. "The agreement must be fit for purpose," EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said in Brussels last week, "and that means that it cannot be static." Disagreement on finance The question of whether there should be a global stocktaking of the implementation of pledges and the trend of greenhouse gas emissions, and if so, when such a review should first take place, is one of the issues observers expect to be contentious. Other issues include financial support to help developing nations embark on a low-carbon growth path and adapt to the impact of climate change, such as rising sea levels. Pressure to compromise But on Sunday evening, the French foreign minister put pressure on parties to cut out political manouevering and demonstrate a willingness to compromise. At a meeting of negotiators involved in reworking a draft Paris agreement, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he understood that some participants had a tendency to leave others to take the first step. But nobody should wait for any miracles during the conference's final day and night, Fabius added. "We have to make progress here every day," Fabius said.

World leaders from US President Barack Obama to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Germany’s Angela Merkel are set to address the UN climate conference opening in Paris. It is the first time ever that heads of state and government have opened a UN climate conference with speeches. Hopes are high that their statements will send positive signals that a ... Read More »

India unveils ambitious environmental targets

India has unveiled its climate targets ahead of December's United Nations climate conference in Paris. Its environmental targets include reducing its carbon intensity by 35 percent by 2030. Ahead of a major United Nations environmental conference in Paris, India pledged to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within 15 years. "We are confident we will achieve the 35 percent (target) by 2030," said Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. He added that "it is a huge jump for India, therefore it is a very ambitious target.” However, India vowed to continue expanding its use of coal - it plans to double coal production to one billion tons by 2020. It said that was vital to meet the needs of its expanding economy, which grew seven percent last quarter. "India is not part of the problem, but we want to be part of the solution," said Javadekar. India has resisted rigid carbon reduction targets with the argument that developing countries cannot forego their right to development. He has called on developing countries "to walk the talk" while also arguing that industrialized countries have a "historical responsibility" in curbing climate change. "The developed world has polluted the Earth and we are suffering. Still, we want to become part of the solution and give results," Saaid Javadekar. The goals are knows as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and were submitted to the UN ahead of the COP21 meeting in Paris in November, which will seek to forge a global agreement on curbing Earth-warming emissions. Reactions are mixed Environmental groups have welcomed India's announcement and several experts praised New Delhi's announcement on Friday, and it as positive given the country's developmental challenges. "From all angles, India's INDC is as good as China's and better than the US's considering that both these countries have higher emissions than India," said Chandra Bhushan of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. Rhea Suh, president of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council said, "India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy, and is poised to play an active and influential role in the international climate negotiations this December." Yet, some environmental campaigners criticized the failure to curb coal use, and said it would hurt green efforts and increase air pollution, water scarcity and forest destruction. "India's continued commitment to expand coal power capacity is baffling," said Pujarini Sen, a senior Greenpeace India campaigner. "Further expansion of coal power will hamper India's development prospects." While India did not promise any absolute cuts in emissions, it vowed to slash carbon intensity - the amount of pollution per dollar of GDP. On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel begins a three day visit to India with stops in Bangalore and in New Delhi to meet Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.

India has unveiled its climate targets ahead of December’s United Nations climate conference in Paris. Its environmental targets include reducing its carbon intensity by 35 percent by 2030. Ahead of a major United Nations environmental conference in Paris, India pledged to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within 15 years. “We are confident we will achieve the ... Read More »

Study: aluminium contamination may be behind bee dementia and decline

A new study from universities in the south of England has suggested bees may be declining due to dementia caused by aluminium contamination. Bees rely on their brains to navigate to flowers. Biologists at Keele University and the University of Sussex in the UK have found aluminium contamination in bumblebee pupae at levels that would cause brain damage in humans. In the study published in the journal Public Library of Science One, bees were found not to avoid flowers contaminated with aluminium when foraging for nectar. The scientists discovered that the pupae contained levels of between 13 and 200 parts per million (ppm) when just 3 ppm would be "considered as potentially pathological in human brain tissue." Researchers at the University of Sussex on the south coast of England collected pupae from bee colonies and sent them to Keele where the aluminium content was assessed. The recent, significant decline in bee numbers has been blamed on pesticide residues but this study suggests that aluminium is also contributing to the decline. "Aluminium is a known neurotoxin affecting behaviour in animal models of aluminium intoxication," Professor Chris Exley of Keele University said. "Are we looking at bees with Alzheimer's disease?"

A new study from universities in the south of England has suggested bees may be declining due to dementia caused by aluminium contamination. Bees rely on their brains to navigate to flowers. Biologists at Keele University and the University of Sussex in the UK have found aluminium contamination in bumblebee pupae at levels that would cause brain damage in humans. ... Read More »

UN climate talks resume to prepare deal on greenhouse gases

The French foreign minister is to open UN climate talks in Bonn aiming to prepare a deal on greenhouse gas emissions. The accord would then be finalized in Paris later this year. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will open the ten-day conference being held in Bonn Germany on Monday. He will also be in charge of the Paris talks when the draft text will have been edited into a presentable proposal. The meeting will also continue progress on addressing the most effective ways to raise climate action before 2020, which is when the new agreement would come into effect. The current draft text is an 80-page compendium of national viewpoints, some of which overlap and present conflicting positions. "News of yet another group of stakeholders committing to long term emission reduction targets or ambitious investments in renewable energies is emerging almost daily—building confidence and a sense of ‘can do' among nations as we enter the final six months of 2015" Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said. The aim is to present an agreement which will save the Earth's climate from damage by heat-trapping fossil fuel gases. The accord would commit the member states to restrict emissions and help poorer countries which are threatened by drought, flood and rising seas. The draft text focuses on the need to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures from pre-industrial times. But some countries want to set intermediate goals and only 38 countries - including the United States, the European Union, Russia and Canada - have pledged curbs on emissions. The accord sought would be a binding deal for more than 190 countries, to apply from 2020. Liz Gallagher of campaign group E3G said: "It's not about just one plan, it's a conversation that's taking place across governments, across civil society, that says 'what's the vision for our country in 2050, what do we want to look like?'" The G7 summit being held in Bavaria on June 7-8, may also have a bearing on the UN talks.

The French foreign minister is to open UN climate talks in Bonn aiming to prepare a deal on greenhouse gas emissions. The accord would then be finalized in Paris later this year. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will open the ten-day conference being held in Bonn Germany on Monday. He will also be in charge of the Paris talks when ... Read More »

Historic drought prompts California makeover

Beverly Hills, known for glamour and luxury, is getting a new look as residents cope with mandatory water restrictions. As further curbs are considered, Californians ask if urban water cuts are fair - and achievable. Last Friday (22.05.2015), California water regulators accepted a historic 25 percent voluntary water cut by farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river delta. Meanwhile, the California State Water Board is poised to enact a sweeping mandate on landscape irrigation: It would limit outdoor watering to only two days per week for most residential and business customers. This would be the most extensive such restriction in the state's history. In April, the ongoing drought prompted Governor Jerry Brown to issue an unprecedented emergency executive order that will force residents to cut their water use overall by 25 percent. Governor Brown admitted that the 38 million residents of the state may face some "heartache." But since earlier voluntary efforts did not meet conservation goals, he now believes mandatory water regulations are the only way for the state to effectively cut water use. The governor made the announcement as he stood on a patch of dry grass in the Sierra Nevada, which has been covered in snow since measurements were first taken in the 1940s. "As Californians, we have to pull together and save water in every way we can," said Governor Brown. Guzzlers and sippers The cuts are proportional, and tied to previous use. That means that cities identified as water guzzlers - such as Beverly Hills - are facing even greater restrictions. The state has tracked residents of the posh city as using almost 236 gallons (893 liters) of water per person, per day. Residents there are required to cut water use by 36 percent. Compare that to the city of Compton, also in Los Angeles County. The water sippers in that much less affluent neighborhood used about 64 gallons per person per day during the same time period. "It's very simple: poor people can't afford lots of water," said Madelyn Glickfeld, director of the Water Resources Group at the University of California in Los Angeles. "Poor people are careful [with their water use]. Rich people are not." Brown is the new green The Department of Water Resources says that statewide, on average, outdoor watering represents about 70 percent of urban water use. With grand mansions and often even grander lawns, the city of Beverly Hills will have to cut back on its resplendant landscaping. "Turf is the biggest challenge for us," said Trish Rhay, assistant director of the Beverly Hills Public Works Department. In a move that is consistent with other cities across the state, Beverly Hills has restricted residential watering to two days a week. Those sprinkling sessions have to before 9:00 am or after 5:00 pm, and may not last longer than eight minutes. Even so, on a casual early morning stroll, it is not a challenge to find sprinklers watering the cement or small rivers of water running into the gutters of Beverly Hills. There has been an increased interest in fake or plastic grass, although some homeowners associations around the state allow only the real thing. San Diego State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales has proposed an emergency bill that would allow homeowners to use artificial turf. Another option for Californians is to replace lawns with drought-friendly vegetation. Other water restrictions are also hitting home around the state, and for Beverly Hills residents in particular, include bans on refilling pools, spas and ponds. Agricultural water use reductions 'equitable' Urban use, however, only accounts for about 10 percent of water use in California. Agriculture is by far the state's largest water-user. While specific cuts for farmers were not detailed in the governor's April directive, growers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river delta have voluntary offered to cut 25 percent of their water allotment. They have done so in exchange for assurances that they will not face additional cutbacks during their growing season, which runs from June to September. With more than half of the state's water going toward agriculture, California is the top agricultural producer in the United States, generating some $44 billion in revenue. Glickfeld says there needs to be a balance between conserving water and conserving jobs. "I worry about the economic impact and people being out of work," said Glickfeld. She is concerned about businesses affected by the drought, from farmers to gardeners. Even before the voluntary plan was announced, Glickfeld said that water cut distribution to farmers has been equitable compared to urban users. She sees the agricultural cuts as achievable. New water order "This is a serious crisis. We need to make sure everyone complies," said Rhay. She also believes that the urban water cuts, even at 36 percent, are doable. But Rhay said that first, residents need to be educated about the drought. The will need to understand that the mandatory water makeover means the garden city is going to have to get its act together - and update its look.

Beverly Hills, known for glamour and luxury, is getting a new look as residents cope with mandatory water restrictions. As further curbs are considered, Californians ask if urban water cuts are fair – and achievable. Last Friday (22.05.2015), California water regulators accepted a historic 25 percent voluntary water cut by farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river delta. Meanwhile, ... Read More »

Malta’s springtime bird hunt ‘an African-European issue’

Malta has voted to continue a controversial springtime hunt of migrating birds. It's the only EU country to allow the practice. BirdLife's Steve Micklewright says the hunt is contributing to the decline of bird species. Malta's spring hunting season is set to open on Tuesday, after the hunting lobby claimed a narrow victory in a referendum to decide whether the longstanding tradition should be kept or banned. Results on Sunday showed the pro-hunting camp had won 51 percent of the votes, slightly ahead of the 49 percent garnered by the coalition of NGOs who called the referendum. Malta is exempt from the European Union's Bird Directive, and is the only country in the bloc that allows the hunting of quail and turtle dove in spring, when the species fly from Africa to Europe to breed. The hunting lobby says the activity is part of a strong tradition in Malta, and that prohibiting the spring hunt could be followed by other pastimes being banned via referenda. In an interview with DW, BirdLife Malta Executive Director Steve Micklewright explains how the hunt has impacted bird populations, and warns it has provided a cover for some hunters to target other, rarer birds. Deutsche Welle: BirdLife Malta led the campaign against spring hunting in the leadup to this referendum. How did you feel when the results were announced? Steve Micklewright: I've just heard the margin is a couple of thousand votes so that's made us feel devastated because it was so close. We know the default position in Malta is about 60 percent of people wish to see spring hunting ended, so having lost by such a small margin, and knowing that in their hearts most people really do want this to stop, is devastating for us. Malta is the only country in the EU to allow recreational hunting of migrating birds in spring. It's a relatively short period running from April 14 to April 30. What impact has spring hunting had on bird populations? Legally they're allowed to hunt two types of bird: the turtle dove and the quail. The turtle dove has declined by nearly 80 percent since 1980, so it's becoming a very rare species of bird in Europe now. And of course spring is a very bad time to hunt birds, even if you're a hunter, because you're killing birds that have survived the winter, that are strong, and are returning to places like Germany to lay eggs and breed and increase their numbers. This isn't just a Maltese problem. These birds are moving between Africa and mainland Europe - it's an African-European issue. After the referendum results were announced, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said it was "not back to usual" for hunters, and that hunters who violated the laws would be punished. Is that an encouraging sign? If he lives up to that promise then it's of some comfort, because one of the problems is that during the spring hunting season the hunters target very rare birds that are flying back to mainland Europe to breed, like ospreys and marsh harriers - very interesting, rare birds that are being protected in Europe by multi-million-euro conservation projects. If he deals with that problem then it would be very good. But having said that, the government we have in Malta was elected partly on the basis of a deal with hunters. Since the last election we've seen hunters gain more concessions from the government than we had seen in years. They used to have to pay a license of 50 euros - that was removed. They used to have to wear armbands to identify themselves so that we knew the legal hunters from the ones that were illegal - that was removed. So if you look at that track record you have to ask yourself how genuine the promise is. There are already strict limits in place for hunters. No more than 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quail can be killed in the spring season, and hunters can't kill more than two birds per day. There are also hefty penalties for anyone who does'nt follow the rules. Is there a compromise you could imagine reaching with the hunting community that would still allow the hunt to go ahead? It's difficult for us because it is the last place in the EU where these two birds are hunted in spring. Malta is like the bottom of the barrel for this, so to say that there's a compromise when it's not allowed and doesn't take place in any other EU country just doesn't seem appropriate. There are quotas, and the quotas on paper seem quite small, but we know that hunters abuse those quotas. They're meant to self report, so when they shoot a bird they're supposed to send an SMS to say they've shot a bird. But we've got evidence over many years to show that they don't always report the number of birds they kill. When the hunters are responsible for policing themselves, as they are in Malta, it's very a hard to see how you could reach a compromise because we know some hunters disobey the rules that are set for them. Have there been improvements in recent years to the way the hunting season in Malta is managed? If you get caught, the penalties are the highest they've ever been. People have been in prison, they lose their hunting license and they do suffer very strict fines, but you're trying to catch hunters that are out in the Maltese countryside. It's very hard to catch them, and very hard for the police to actually pinpoint who shot what bird, where and when. Sometimes we're lucky, and then those people are penalized. The increases in penalties are of course welcome, they should be a deterrent, but in order for them to be an effective deterrent, hunters have to feel they're likely to get caught. We're obviously going to spend the next few days before the season starts on Tuesday trying to figure out how we can make sure that those hunters who break the rules are caught and punished. Steve Micklewright is BirdLife Malta's executive director. He has been an active environmental campaigner for more than 20 years. He has previously worked for WWF and the Avon Wildlife Trust.

Malta has voted to continue a controversial springtime hunt of migrating birds. It’s the only EU country to allow the practice. BirdLife’s Steve Micklewright says the hunt is contributing to the decline of bird species. Malta’s spring hunting season is set to open on Tuesday, after the hunting lobby claimed a narrow victory in a referendum to decide whether the ... Read More »

German government approves controversial fracking bill

German cabinet has decided to allow shale gas fracking in Germany, but only under strict regulation and for testing purposes. Even so, lawmakers criticized the proposed bill for not being strict enough. According to the government proposal, fracking should be prohibited in so-called sensitive regions such as nature parks or water bore areas, and in depths above 3,000 meters. However, the bill allows for exceptions such as scientific tests, and it does not eliminate the possibility of commercial drilling past 2018. The public remains hostile to the plan, with environmentalists, unions and even churches criticizing the proposal. There is even strong resistance within the ruling coalition itself, which holds 504 out of 631 seats in the German parliament. "Many of my fellow lawmakers could not vote for the draft bill in its current form," Andreas Mattfeld, a member of parliament from Angela Merkel's CDU party, said. "We couldn't imagine indiscriminate (blanket) testing in Germany. We believe it would be reasonable to quantify it, relating to geological conditions." Some members of the German SPD party, which is CDU's coalition partner, have also demanded the proposal to be changed. Fracking involves blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals deep into layers of rock to release trapped oil and gas. Critics claim the process is damaging to the environment and could pollute the drinking water. Burden of proof on companies Federal environment minister Barbara Hendricks claims that the government does not intend to lift any bans. "Just the opposite: plenty of things that were possible before, are now forbidden", she said at a press conference Wednesday. At the same time, Hendricks positioned herself against a complete ban of fracking in shale, clay and coal, saying a total ban on a technology goes against principles of the German constitution. "Whether or not this technology will someday be environmentally friendly, remains to be seen. It is possible to doubt whether Germany even needs it," she wrote in a letter to SPD and CDU lawmakers. "However, it's not our goal to permanently ban a new technology. Instead, our task is to eliminate the possibility of it endangering the health, lives, and the environment." In addition, Hendricks pointed out that in future court disputes, citizens will no more need to prove that their property was damaged by mining. Instead, the drilling companies would have to prove that events like earthquakes are not related to fracking. Russian gas pressure The Federation of German Industries (BDI) has welcomed the lack of a total ban on fracking while criticizing the other aspect of the draft bill. "It's a positive signal that extraction of shale gas in Germany is not completely out of the question. However, the requirements for extracting the gas are completely exaggerated," said the association's general manager Markus Kerber, adding that fracking could be an important point in ensuring energy security. According to official estimates, the amount of gas to be obtained by fracking could theoretically cover the demand in the country for 14 years. In the current political climate, the exploitation of domestic energy reserves has an added advantage of making Germany less dependent on importing gas from Russia.

German cabinet has decided to allow shale gas fracking in Germany, but only under strict regulation and for testing purposes. Even so, lawmakers criticized the proposed bill for not being strict enough. According to the government proposal, fracking should be prohibited in so-called sensitive regions such as nature parks or water bore areas, and in depths above 3,000 meters. However, ... Read More »

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