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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 »

Germans want fewer cars in built-up areas, more public transport

The results of Germany's biennial environment survey have been released. It found that the vast majority of Germans want town planners to shift their focus from private car transport to more eco-friendly options. Close to 82 percent of Germans who partook in the Federal Environment Agency's biennial survey indicated they wanted town planners to focus less on private car transport and more on pedestrians, cyclists, car pooling and other means of public transportation. Regarding the figures released on Monday, Germany's Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said, "We need a new concept of mobility in towns," adding that reducing noise and fine-particle pollution should be a priority. "A carpool law, promoting the use of shared community cars, will soon be presented to federal parliament by transport minister Alexander Dobrindt," Hendricks added. While things are looking up in terms of transportation, the environment has slipped down the list of priorities for many Germans, with only 19 percent of people surveyed saying it is one of the most important challenges for their country. Since 1996, the German government has published an environmental awareness survey every two years. In 2012, 35 percent of Germans rated environmental concerns as a pressing problem. The survey was conducted soon after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Monday's figure of 19 percent is the lowest it has been since 2004, Hendricks said, while pointing out that this was because progress made on environmental issues meant that people were now more at ease than before. The survey also found that 37 percent of Germans were worried about social security, and that 29 percent of people were concerned about economic and financial policies. Pensions worried 24 percent of people, and 20 percent saw crime, peace and security as an issue. Some 2,117 people over the age of 14 were surveyed online in July and August 2014 for the biennial survey.

The results of Germany’s biennial environment survey have been released. It found that the vast majority of Germans want town planners to shift their focus from private car transport to more eco-friendly options. Close to 82 percent of Germans who partook in the Federal Environment Agency’s biennial survey indicated they wanted town planners to focus less on private car transport ... Read More »

Beijing’s credibility ‘on the line’ over China’s environmental crisis

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has renewed pledges to tackle the country's air pollution as the issue takes center stage at the annual National People's Congress. But will it be enough? DW talks to analyst Isabel Hilton. "Environment pollution is a blight on people's quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts," Premier Li said on March 5 at the opening of the annual National People's Congress (NPC), the country's communist-controlled legislature, in Beijing. "We must fight it with all our might," he added, but failed to outline new significant measures in his opening speech. Premier Li's statements follow the release of the documentary Under the Dome by a former CCTV anchor about the impact of Beijing's smog on her child. The film, which criticizes the government's handling of the issue, got hundreds of millions of clicks just a few days after its online release. Last year, Premier Li had declared "war on air pollution." But one year on, analysts say there are few signs of progress as recently collected data show only little improvement in air quality in China's northern cities. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of the country's underground water is polluted, according to state media. Derided in the West as a rubber-stamp parliament, the NPC is likely to discuss a host of regulations related to the world's second largest economy's environmental crisis. Isabel Hilton, a China expert and founder and editor of the non-profit organization chinadialogue, talks in a DW interview about the urgency to implement effective anti-pollution measures and explains why Beijing wants to be seen to act on this issue. DW: How important is this year's NPC in terms of adopting effective measures to tackle pollution? Isabel Hilton: It is important that the government be seen to be taking the issues seriously, especially in the light of the extraordinary impact of the documentary Under the Dome last week, but so far we have not seen any startling new measures. The government has been taking air pollution seriously since 2006 and has had some success in reducing sulphur dioxide. But overall air quality - and especially the problem of small particulate matter - has continued to deteriorate, largely because of coal and poor quality petroleum. The past few years have seen repeated episodes of "airpocalypses" which have periodically paralyzed major cities, and the government certainly realizes that its credibility and legitimacy is on the line over China's environmental crisis. It wishes both to act and to be seen to act, and last year a new Environmental Protection Law was adopted that greatly increased the penalties for pollution. One continuing difficulty, as Li Keqiang acknowledged, is in getting effective implementation and a robust court system that properly punishes violators. When he said: "We must fight it with all our might. We must strictly enforce environmental laws and regulations; crack down on those guilty of creating illegal emissions and ensure they pay a heavy price for such offences; and hold those who allow illegal emissions to account, punishing them accordingly," he was admitting that this tends not to happen at present. Li has not really announced any substantial new measures. He has set some targets and has promised implementation. But what will it take to tackle the issue effectively? Cleaning up China's air will require fundamental changes to the country's energy structure, principally a drastic reduction in the use of coal. It will also require restrictions on carbon and improvements to the quality of fuel used. Even then, it is likely to be at least a decade before China's city dwellers notice real improvements. This is difficult for the government, since people are already losing patience. Conspicuous punishment of violators will help to convince people that action is underway, but it may not be enough. What challenges do the authorities face in terms of implementing these changes? Implementing environmental improvement is not easy in any country. Other countries have been helped by having a robust civil society, a strong legal system, an effective and comprehensive system of inspection and a free press. China has had none of these so far, so laws are routinely ignored. The government has taken steps to strengthen the system of environmental courts, which is a good start. And perhaps as a result of Under the Dome, the public will be emboldened to report violations on the Ministry of Environmental Protection's hotlines. Beyond that, there are structural reforms - bringing some major industries into line, rethinking the design and planning of China's cities, reforming the State Grid which will be resisted by incumbent vested interests. How urgent is the implementation of effective anti-pollution measures in China? It is urgent for environmental, social and political reasons. The toxic legacy of China's industrial revolution is severe: air, soil and water pollution impact health, food safety, food security and energy - all of which are important. For a long time, most Chinese people were happy that the economy was growing and they were getting better off. But as the full impacts become clearer they are no longer happy, and as the economy slows, they are more likely to blame the government. What impact is pollution having on people's health? Air pollution reduces life expectancy in North China by six years, compared to South China. The difference is that North China burns more coal. In addition, heart disease and cancers are epidemic because of pollution. How is the pollution issue affecting Chinese businesses and potentially foreign investment? There is a growing reluctance among expatriates, especially those with young children, to live in China's major cities. The impact on business and investment is more complicated: Chinese businesses are only beginning to understand environmental risk as a material factor. Some businesses will be impacted by water shortages and water contamination. Others will be closed down or fined by government for failing to meet standards. Foreign investors will have to weigh these factors carefully. What impact do you think the recent documentary will have on China's people and policymakers? The recent documentary was a major phenomenon and one that had quiet support from some branches of government - notably the weak and underfunded Ministry of Environmental Protection. It may strengthen the ministry's hand as it does battle with other, more powerful entities that will resist change. People have been galvanized; but how they will direct their energies and how much the government will allow in terms of citizen action is unclear. Isabel Hilton is a London-based writer and broadcaster. She is founder and editor of chinadialogue, an independent, non-profit organization based in London, Delhi, Beijing and San Paolo.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has renewed pledges to tackle the country’s air pollution as the issue takes center stage at the annual National People’s Congress. But will it be enough? DW talks to analyst Isabel Hilton. “Environment pollution is a blight on people’s quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts,” Premier Li said on March 5 ... Read More »

‘Sitting on the cliff of a species extinction’

Scientists predict that a large number of marine species could soon become extinct. But Douglas McCauley tells DW it’s not all doom and gloom. A report published in the journal Science this month analyzed the health of global marine populations and the impact humans are having on it. DW talked to the study's lead author Douglas McCauley DW: What were the results of your research? McCauley: The findings basically are a bit of good news and a bit of bad news. The good news is that we haven't kick-started a major extinction event in the oceans yet. And the bad news is that it seems we're changing the way we use the oceans. We're sitting on an extinction cliff now for marine wildlife species. We're seeing mass reductions in the number of a lot of animals - 80 percent declines in some shark and tuna species. Iconic marine animals like bluefin tuna are hovering, particularly in the Atlantic, on the brink of extinction. But there's still a lot of good news in terms of how healthy marine populations are. Extinction, for example, is far behind in the oceans what it is for wildlife on land. There have been, in the past 500 years, 500 animal extinctions on land. And in the ocean, same time period, only 15 animal extinctions. So why are we on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to marine fauna? Well, something can be learned by lining up what happened on land and what happened in the oceans.What happened on land was that we began targeting wildlife directly, simply by hunting them. We needed hides. We needed food. And so, we went out there and killed and hunted these animals directly. And then there was a transition. We switched basically to going after the habitats of these animals. And this really began accelerating about the time of the Industrial Revolution. This was when we needed more space to put cities. We needed more resources to power factories. And so, we began to use resources and space that wildlife on land themselves needed. The spike in industrialization on land basically co-occurred with a major spike in extinction rates. And our review of the way that we are using the oceans suggests that we may be sitting at the beginnings of a marine industrial revolution. It looks like a lot of different marine industries - from marine farming to mining to shipping to building power plants in the ocean - all of this is beginning to increase at very rapid rates, reminiscent of the early stages of the terrestrial Industrial Revolution. So if what happens to wildlife on land during the Industrial Revolution is any guide for us, we could be looking at a somewhat frightening future for marine wildlife in terms of extinction in the next 50 to 100 years. Which species are hovering on the cliff of extinction? Perhaps, not surprisingly, a lot of marine animals that set a flipper or foot, at some point in their life history, on land are the kinds of species that are most at risk in the future. How hard is it to determine marine extinction rates? The thing to keep in mind is that we know less about the oceans than we know about terrestrial wildlife populations. We know less about extinction in the oceans generally because it's a much harder environment for us to study extinction. You can get a sense of this if you imagine how long it took us to find the Titanic. This is probably the most famous ship in history, greater than 100-foot; yet it took us decades to locate this thing on the bottom of the sea floor. So, as we search around for the last members of some of our marine animal species that we know are under threat, it is incredibly hard to determine whether they're gone or might still be out there in the ocean. So, all of these reports on extinction rates have to be viewed as absolute minimum estimates. 15 animals extinct in the oceans in the last 500 years - that's an absolute minimum number. Unfortunately, due to the uncertainties in the ocean, that number now is likely to be much higher. What effects does losing a marine species like a shark, for instance, have on its surrounding environment? Losing an animal like a shark from the oceans is obviously bad. Even reductions in their number have a catastrophic effect. We call this "local" or "ecological extinction." That is when an animal becomes so rare that they're just no longer doing their ecological thing in the oceans. You can't detect the role that it plays anymore. Sharks exert top-down control on communities. They help keep things functioning the way they have for thousands of years, keeping things in balance. And when they go, or become extremely rare in the seas - and sharks are certainly more rare than they have ever been before with reductions in populations of 80 or 90 percent - those functions they deliver go totally extinct. What is posing the largest threat to marine animals? What will be posing the largest threat in the future is this industrialization of the ocean. There are some specific examples - factory farming in the seas. We are beginning to farm with more and higher intensity in the oceans. The projections suggest, in the next 20 years globally, more fish will come to our plates from farming than will come from wild harvest. Another kind of industrialization in the oceans that's really important to pay attention to is this growing industry of marine mining. It's truly an underwater gold rush. So far, a million square kilometers of seabed have been licensed for ocean mining. So we're just about to see this industry take off. And there's a lot of concern and uncertainty about what it's going to do to seafloor ecosystems - the animals that use the oceans. All of this industrialization of the oceans is going to be necessary. We need energy, and we need more food from the seas. It's just a matter of not letting it run wild. It's a matter of thinking carefully and intelligently about where we put this new development of the seas. So what needs to be done to prevent marine animal extinction? We're sitting on the cliff of a species extinction in the oceans. And there's a pretty big difference between trying to save somebody sitting on a cliff and somebody falling off a cliff. So, we have an opportunity to chart a much healthier future for marine wildlife. Certainly, we have to address climate change. We need more parks for wildlife in the oceans, more marine protected areas. And we need to be smarter about what we eat from the seas. There are a lot of endangered species in seafood markets and restaurants. Douglas McCauley is an Assistant Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Scientists predict that a large number of marine species could soon become extinct. But Douglas McCauley tells DW it’s not all doom and gloom. A report published in the journal Science this month analyzed the health of global marine populations and the impact humans are having on it. DW talked to the study’s lead author Douglas McCauley DW: What were ... Read More »

Lima climate conference goes into extra time

The UN climate summit, like its predecessors, has been extended into the weekend. There were reasons to be optimistic, but the delegates of the 195 countries haven’t managed to get their work done in time. The "spirit of Lima," the "great launch," a "new era of climate protection:" This climate summit was expected to be a successful top-notch conference. Beforehand, after years of blocking progress at the climate talks, China and the USA had promised to be more proactive. But the longer the conference went on, the more old conflicts came up. On one side of the conflict line there are industrialized nations, reluctant to curb their carbon emissions, on the other side stand developing nations, who are interested mainly in compensation for climate impacts. One could still claim that this conference had a "new spirit." Has the American secretary of state ever entered the stage of a UN conference to call vigorously for climate action? It seems to be show-time when John Kerry delivered his speech: A crowd of journalists and body guards follows him to the press conference: "We simply don't have time to sit around going back and forth about whose responsibility it is to act. Pretty simple, folks: It's everyone's responsibility." And, referring to the developing countries, from which he expects more effective climate action, he added: "Rich nations have to play a major role in cutting emissions, but that doesn't mean that other nations are just free to go off and repeat the mistakes of the past." Hendricks: "We will make it" On Friday, Barbara Hendricks, Germany's minister for the environment, sat in the office of the German delegation and tried to cheer everyone up. " "Paris is still far away, but we will make it," she said. Paris is the host of the next climate conference in December 2015. Officials hope to sign a new climate treaty there that will require countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. All countries are supposed to sign this agreement. The purpose of the climate summit in Peru is to pave the way for the treaty. In the old climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, just 38 nations had promised to curb their emissions. Those were the richest nations, or rather the ones who were thought to be the richest at the beginning of the 1990s. But the world has changed since then: Today, developing and emerging countries, mainly China, are responsible for more than half of the annual emissions. Negotiating and haggling At climate summits delegates negotiate, bargain, haggle, and this one is no exception. Who will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to what extent, who will provide financial support to the countries of the global south? China does not want to be counted as an industrialized nation. Neither does Saudi Arabia, which is particularly absurd. The Europeans are asking the USA to have their climate pledges assessed by international experts. Will they really keep their promises? At this point, even Kerry can't keep up the high spirits. The matter in hand is so complex and contradictory that the negotiations are expected to drag on until late Saturday. It is not clear what will come out of the meeting, but the delegates have been given a watered-down version of the original draft conclusion. The only comfort is that the "spirit of Lima" is still there. Nobody opposes the new treaty as a matter of principle. Bärbel Höhn, a member of the German Greens and head of the environment committee of the German Bundestag said she believes that this is not a result of the actual climate summit. In her view, it is rather the current developments in the energy sector that are having a positive effect: "Renewable energies have become a lot cheaper, they are a real alternative to coal and nuclear energy. And the bigger countries face problems with their coal power plants. In China for example, health is a big issue. All this is convincing governments to protect the climate in their own countries, and that way, progress is being made on global climate protection." Still, the Lima round of climate negotiations has to be brought to a conclusion. The delegates will still have another round of tough negotiations ahead of them.

The UN climate summit, like its predecessors, has been extended into the weekend. There were reasons to be optimistic, but the delegates of the 195 countries haven’t managed to get their work done in time. The “spirit of Lima,” the “great launch,” a “new era of climate protection:” This climate summit was expected to be a successful top-notch conference. Beforehand, ... Read More »

The Big Four: What to expect at the UN climate summit in Lima

Which countries really push climate protection? And which ones are it holding back? DW takes a look at the most important players at the UN climate conference in Lima. Previous UN climate summits have ended in failure, never reaching a comprehensive agreement on how to tackle climate change. But with emissions spewers China and the US making all the right noises in the run up to December's conference in Lima, the mood is unusually buoyant. "I have never experienced such a development in my whole career - and I've been working for eight years on this topic," said Sönke Kreft, international climate policy team leader at the Germanwatch NGO. What has veterans of the climate scene cautiously optimistic this time around is an ambitious plan to curb carbon emissions announced in November by China and the US. It's an important development, say analysts: The two economic powerhouses produce almost as much CO2 as the rest of the world combined, and they've traditionally resisted meaningful global action on climate change. "China has taken on its own political responsibility when it comes to climate protection," says professor Reimund Schwarze, an economist, professor, and international climate policy expert at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. It's a remarkable turnaround, particularly for a state previously considered a developing country, and which had used that label previously to avoid responsibility, Schwarze told DW. "Now China's saying, 'Good, we have a responsibility as the world's biggest emitter, and are in this sense set apart,'" said Schwarze, referring to the country's new self-perception. As part of the plan, China made its first ever commitment to cap emissions growth by 2030. But the specifics remain elusive. China's President and Communist Party Secretary General Xi Jinping hasn't named any concrete figures. US President Barack Obama, on the other hand, announced his country would cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Washington and Beijing also plan to cooperate on expanding renewables, with China saying it would increase its share of green energy by 20 percent over the next 16 years. "It's really a gargantuan program," said Schwarze. "However, with the coal phase-out, it's not clear what alternative technologies will be used. Large water power plants could possibly be used, and they are not without their problems. " Europe must maintain credibility The shift in the Chinese-American position means the European Union, long a pusher of more ambitious emissions targets, may no longer be the assumed leader when it comes to climate protection. "Europe today is different than the Europe we saw during the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997," Schwarze says. "The EU is bigger, certain players have become more important. That has, of course, led to a shift in balance - explaining the weaker targets." Still, in October 2014 the EU became the first global region to declare concrete climate targets ahead of the UN conference in Lima. Following much wrangling, member states agreed to a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gases on 1990 levels. "The target is certainly still ambitious, and the EU will still see itself in a leading role," said Schwarze. But Germanwatch's Sönke Kreft is more critical. That's because whoever takes the global lead in Lima must also be prepared to implement credible measures at home. "A 40 percent reduction is simply not good enough. What we really need is 55 percent if we are to reach our targets," said Kreft, referring to the two-degree limit for global warming by 2050. India: The fourth player Without India, however, "no international climate change agreement will be successful," Schwarze says. For him, New Delhi's intentions remains the "biggest unknown" out of the four players. The country of nearly 1.3 billion acted cautiously with regard to climate action in recent months. India's President Pranab Mukherjee did not attend a UN climate summit in New York in September, sending Environment Minister Prakah Javadekari instead; admittedly, the German government did the same. India also held back at a recently held climate donation conference. Like China, India did not send any representatives, effectively giving a pocket veto to climate protection measures. But it seems India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attaches more importance to the meeting in Lima, and a high profile delegation is expected. "That could mean one thing or the other: that one definitely wants to block something, or urgently wants to achieve something," Schwarze said. Difficulties and options In Lima, a new climate agreement should set the course for 190 states to reduce their CO2 emissions. And despite the positive signals coming from China and the US in recent months, the path won't be easy. Oil-exporting countries in particular will push against wide-reaching climate targets. And, even among those countries in favor of a binding agreement, there are many disagreements. Germanwatch's Sönke Kreft that expectations of certain countries will be hotly debated; Schwarze, meanwhile, thinks differences will emerge between the US and Europe on one side and China on the other. "China's agreement has to translate into a concrete observable program. Only then can other nations go home and say, 'We have China on board,'" said Schwarze. As for India, Schwarze believes lawmakers could be convinced if other countries step forward with technological support and know-how in the energy sector, as well as development aid.

Which countries really push climate protection? And which ones are it holding back? DW takes a look at the most important players at the UN climate conference in Lima. Previous UN climate summits have ended in failure, never reaching a comprehensive agreement on how to tackle climate change. But with emissions spewers China and the US making all the right ... Read More »

China-US pledges spark hope on climate issues

A joint announcement by the USA and China on emissions reductions has met with widespread approval. While the pledges are still considered insufficient, they signal growing acceptance of the need for climate action. Prospects for a new universal climate agreement in 2015 have been given a boost with China and the United States jointly announcing their contributions - months earlier than expected. The two countries - the world's biggest economies and largest emitters of greenhouse gases - announced on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing new measures to address their greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades. The United States announced that it would reduce its emissions by a range of between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 from its 2005 levels in order to achieve "economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 per cent by 2050." China announced it would have its carbon dioxide emissions peak by 2030 - with the intention to try and peak earlier. Measures will include a far greater role for renewable energy and tighter energy efficiency standards. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN climate secretariat UNFCCC, responded positively: "These two crucial countries have today announced important pathways towards a better and more secure future for human-kind." She said the joint announcement provided "both practical and political momentum towards a new, universal climate agreement in Paris in late 2015." Not enough for the two-degree target German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks welcomed the top-level commitment from the two key players as a positive follow-up to Europe's recent pledges: "This shows that Europe's ambitious announcement of its target of cutting 40 percent by 2030 is being recognized in the world," said Hendricks. However, Hendricks stressed that the targets will not be enough to keep global temperature rise below the internationally agreed upper limit of 2 degrees. "That is why this first step must be followed by others in the course of the negotiations," said Hendricks. This sentiment was echoed by international climate experts. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said in a statement: "China is turning the steering wheel of that huge vessel which is international climate policy. This does not mean it is setting a straight course to the target of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees, and this vessel is awfully slow to turn around. But the new course will move it in the right direction at last." Economic advantages Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the same renowned climate think tank, stressed the announcement was of key economic importance, although it was "not enough to do the job." "The world's two largest economies are sending a strong signal that could shape the expectations of investors and thus give a push to the technological progress we need to steer away from burning fossil fuels," Edenhofer said. "Science shows that effective climate change mitigation takes substantial effort, but is feasible and affordable - in fact, it would reduce annual economic growth by about 0.06 percent globally, according to the latest comprehensive IPCC assessment." Edenhofer says from an economist's perspective, the best way forward is to put a price tag on CO2 internationally. Room for improvement NGOs also hailed the announcement as a milestone in international climate politics. Greenpeace climate chief Martin Kaiser said the US and China were moving in the right direction, although they could and should opt out of burning coal and oil faster. Nevertheless, the two biggest CO2-emitters were "putting their energy supplies on the renewables track." Christoph Bals, political director of Germanwatch, said the goals were "far more ambitious than anything we have seen from these two countries so far." He said this would have to be the beginning of an "upward spiral," because, so far, the targets are not enough. "The three biggest emitters - the EU, USA and China - have presented their current visions for the goals they will accept in the Paris agreement. The good news is that an international climate agreement is now very likely," said Bals. The bad news, he added, is that the combined targets so far would "set us on course for a three-degree world. And that would still involve completely unacceptable risks." Bals stressed that the EU had set its emissions reductions targets for "at least" 40 percent by 2030. China had also left the door open for tighter targets by saying its emissions would peak "around 2030." The US announcement was limited to what the president is able to do without congress, Bals added. But if efforts to create a cross-party climate protection group in the US congress were successful, there could be further improvements there too. There is general agreement that the announcement will give momentum to the forthcoming UNFCC meeting in Lima, Peru, in a few weeks' time. The conference aims to advance a draft universal climate agreement, with the aim of adopting it at the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris, France, at the end of next year.

A joint announcement by the USA and China on emissions reductions has met with widespread approval. While the pledges are still considered insufficient, they signal growing acceptance of the need for climate action. Prospects for a new universal climate agreement in 2015 have been given a boost with China and the United States jointly announcing their contributions – months earlier ... Read More »

The meager sum total of Obama’s environmental policies

Activists hope for clear words from US President Obama when the climate summit begins Tuesday in New York. To date, his environmental policies have been a disappointment for many US citizens. When Hurricane Sandy swept across New York City almost two years ago, it also hit Elizabeth Yeampierre's neighborhood in Brooklyn. "People lost their homes, they didn't have anywhere to sleep," the environmental activist recalls. "We at Sunset Park were lucky in comparison to other neighborhoods." To make sure that such superstorms won't ravage her neighborhood again, Yeampierre joined 310,000 other activists in the climate protest against global warming in Central Park. She pointed out that "now is the time to act and our leaders must see it" - first and foremost President Barack Obama. She had hoped he would get more involved in the fight against climate change in his second term. Yeampierre indicated her disappointment that not much has happened. At the same time, the frequency of thunderstorms and severe draughts is on the rise in the US, too. An Oxfam study found that 100 natural disasters were recorded in the US over the past five years alone, which is more than in any other country. When about 120 world leaders convene for the UN Climate Summit in New York on Tuesday, many will have an eye on the US President. Observers say he can neither remain silent nor can he look the other way. Demonstrators at the New York Climate March made that much clear. Public backing Jennifer Morgan of the Washington-based think tank World Resources Institute (WRI) agrees the march was a clear signal that it's time for reforms in the US. Public support for environmental issues increased in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. "President Obama should use this backup to make a clear point against climate change," said Morgan, WRI's Energy and Climate Program Director. Morgan isn't convinced, however, that legislation is on the horizon. "What you're seeing in the US is that it's quite challenging to get anything through the US Congress," she said. "President Obama saw this during his first term when the Cap and Trade Bill didn't pass the Senate." The 2010 bill would have forced power stations to purchase emission permits as a means to control greenhouse gas emissions. New thresholds So Obama changed tack in his second term, Morgan says. Backed by the Environmental Protection Agency he proposed stricter thresholds for coal-burning power plants that are to take effect next year: a 30 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030. He faced massive criticism - mainly from Republicans and the coal industry, which suspected a "war against coal" - because he bypassed Congress. If he succeeds with this project, he would have achieved more than any of his predecessors managed, says Lou Leonard, Vice-President of the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Climate Change Program. But it's still not enough, Leonard says. "The United States is the second biggest polluter after China. We need to cut down our emissions more drastically to achieve our goal of limiting global warming to two degrees." Fracking and solar energy Pleased as many of the protesters at Sunday's New York march were at the planned carbon emissions regulations, they still worry about plenty of other issues, including fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rocks to release oil and gas. "Hey, Obama, we need no fracking drama," they chanted. The level of support for solar energy was another contentious issue. Obama to the forefront All the same, many Americans hope Obama will play a leading role at the summit. Perhaps expectations are high because important heads of state and government - Canada, Russia - have cancelled while China and India are sending deputies. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel won't be in New York, either. She is sending Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks. Lou Leonard expects "a good speech where the President makes the case for environment protection." Figures are not expected, Leonard says:"It's too early for that, we can expect them at the Climate Summit in Paris next year." But he's convinced that New York is an important milestone on the path to a new global climate treaty.

Activists hope for clear words from US President Obama when the climate summit begins Tuesday in New York. To date, his environmental policies have been a disappointment for many US citizens. When Hurricane Sandy swept across New York City almost two years ago, it also hit Elizabeth Yeampierre’s neighborhood in Brooklyn. “People lost their homes, they didn’t have anywhere to ... Read More »

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