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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 »

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise returns from Russia

The Arctic Sunrise has docked in Amsterdam, almost a year after it was seized by Russia following a protest against Arctic oil drilling. Greenpeace said it hoped to have the vessel back on the ocean within two months. The Arctic Sunrise received a warm welcome in the Netherlands on Saturday, greeted by dozens of well-wishers, many of whom waved Greenpeace's rainbow flag. The icebreaker had set sail from the Russian port city of Murmansk on August 1. Russia had released the ship in June but then it took around a month to get the vessel seaworthy; Greenpeace said equipment including navigation and communication aids "disappeared or had been severely damaged." "It's great to have her back," veteran Greenpeace captain Pete Willcox, the ship's skipper when it was seized by Russia after a protest at an oil rig last September, told news agency AFP by telephone. "We were missing a big member of our family for many months." A group of 30 Greenpeace activists and journalists, later dubbed the "Arctic 30," were arrested on September 18, 2013, after two of the protesters attempted to scale a Russian offshore oil platform. They were initially charged with piracy, then faced less severe hooliganism accusations. They were bailed after around two months in detention, before a Kremlin-approved amnesty secured the group's pardon in December. The same law led to the release of jailed members of the feminist "Pussy Riot" music group. Greenpeace is seeking to sue Russia at the European Court of Human Rights for what it describes as the illegal detention of its activists, including four Russian crew members. 'Na Zdarov'ye' More than half of the Arctic 30 boarded the ship after it arrived in Beverwijk port on Saturday, ready for the festive entry into nearby Amsterdam harbor. They drank a ceremonial cup of tea made in a traditional Russian teapot, a samovar, as part of their celebrations. After the welcoming ceremony, the Arctic Sunrise was taken to a shipyard for repairs. Skipper Willcox said he expected the ship to be "back out campaigning in about a month, maybe six weeks." Greenpeace opposes efforts to expand offshore oil and gas operations in the gradually-thawing waters around the Arctic, arguing that such operations pose a threat to the regions pristine ecology. International efforts to lay claim to what could become a key shipping lane and a resource-rich area of ocean are intensifying, meanwhile. Canada on Friday dispatched two icebreakers to the High Arctic on a data-gathering mission, part of its bid with the United Nations to vastly expand its Atlantic Ocean boundary. Canada faces competing bids from countries including Russia, Norway and Denmark.

The Arctic Sunrise has docked in Amsterdam, almost a year after it was seized by Russia following a protest against Arctic oil drilling. Greenpeace said it hoped to have the vessel back on the ocean within two months. The Arctic Sunrise received a warm welcome in the Netherlands on Saturday, greeted by dozens of well-wishers, many of whom waved Greenpeace’s ... Read More »

African biodiversity under threat

Researchers meeting in Cameroon have warned that Africa could lose up to 30 percent of its animal and plant species by the end of the century because of global warming, population growth and unregulated development. It is mid-afternoon in Lom Pangar in Eastern Cameroon. People are busy working, digging holes and cleaning up. Some are cutting down trees in preparation for the construction of a new dam that could generate up to 30 megawatts of hydroelectric power. Nformi Johnson works for one of the contractors. "We are entering the forest to do a survey of the area before Chinese engineers come in and destroy the trees. They will build company offices and hospitals after destroying the trees." The World Bank is contributing $132 million (98 million euros) in funding for this project. African forests at risk A group of researchers from 20 African, American and European universities, who met recently in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde, said such hydroelectric dam projects, along with industrialization and the plantation of cash crops, have turned into a real threat to the environment. It is the vast natural expanses of forest that suffer. Sub-Saharan countries are losing forest faster than anyhwere else on earth, the researchers said. Trees are being cut down to build houses, to make ways for huge hydroelectric dams and to meet the demand for timber from China, Europe and the US. Thomas Smith from the Center for Tropical Research at the University of California told DW that the felling of trees reduces the density of wildlife, destroys its habitats, and causes temperatures to rise. "With a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature, Africa may lose 30 percent of its animals and plants," said Smith. He also said that a rise of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in global temperatures could mean a loss of 40 percent of all mammal species in Africa by the end of the century. Disappearing species One species that researchers say is disappearing is the African chimpanzee. Mary Katherine Gonder from the Department of Biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia in the United States, told DW the primate's forest habitat was falling victim to the loggers. Chimpanzees continue to be hunted and sold as food. She predicted dire consequences over the next 20 years. "Their habitat will change fundamentally and they will no longer be around," Gonder said. South African researcher Teddie Eddie believes the process of replacing the disappearing species could take a very, very long time. "For certain species in Central Africa, their replacement time might be at least 25 million years." Such warnings about disappearing species comes as African countries are investing in energy and extractive industries in a bid to develop their economies and eradicate poverty. Green economies as an answer The United Nations 2013 Development Report says a majority of the population in Africa lives below the poverty threshold of $1 (74 euro cents) Smith said development and conservation in Africa need not be mutually exclusive. "With these enormous challenges we need to develop green economies. We need to make sure that the development we do is sustainable,” Smith said. He said his university is working with third parties to develop new strategies for the creation of green jobs which can preserve forests and at the same time produce commercially viable crops for food. "So we need to be thinking about how to preserve the natural processes and at the same time provide for the economic needs of the country," he said. The Congo Basin, which covers a large part of Cameroon, is one of the regions hardest hit by climate change. Tens of millions of people depend on the Congo forest for their livelihood.

Researchers meeting in Cameroon have warned that Africa could lose up to 30 percent of its animal and plant species by the end of the century because of global warming, population growth and unregulated development. It is mid-afternoon in Lom Pangar in Eastern Cameroon. People are busy working, digging holes and cleaning up. Some are cutting down trees in preparation ... Read More »

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