THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE NEWS
Friday, 15 August 2008
UNEP and the Executive Director in the News ? TIME : Coastal Dead Zones Are Growing ? Agence de Presse Africaine: Rwanda-environment-study ? Diario Del Web (Italy): Towards a biofuel standard to sort the green from the ungreen ? Xinhua: Smiling volunteers win another Olympic gold for Beijing
? China Daily: Global oxygen level falling, warn scientists
Other Environment News
? Reuters: Coastal "dead zones" spread globally, study finds ? Reuters: Norway agrees $60 million carbon capture research ? Reuters: African firms start to take action on climate change ? Guardian: Climate change causes birds to lay eggs early ? Bloomberg: Amazon's Deforestation Won't Accelerate This Year
Environmental News from the UNEP Regions
Other UN News
? Environment News from the UN Daily News of 14 August 2008(none) ? Environment News from the S.G.’s Spokesman Daily Press Briefing of 14
August 2008 (none)
UNEP and the Executive Director in the News
TIME : Coastal Dead Zones Are Growing
Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008
By Unmesh Kher
Over the past two or three decades, scientists have noticed with growing alarm
that vast stretches of coastal waters are turning into dead zones — patches of
seabed so depleted of oxygen that few creatures, if any, can survive there. In
2004, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) took stock of the
phenomenon — which is caused in large part by agricultural runoff — and
pronounced it one of the biggest environmental problems of the 21st century.
Two years later it noted that the number of identified dead zones, some of which
cover thousands of square miles, had climbed from 150 to 200.
Predictably, things have gotten worse since then. Robert Diaz, an ecologist at the
College of William and Mary in Virginia who helped UNEP with its numbers,
reports in the current issue of the journal Science that today there are more than 400 known dead zones along coastlines around the world, covering roughly
95,000 sq. mi. of seabed. Some of the dead zones that Diaz and his Swedish co-
author identify in their review have been around for some time, but have only
recently been studied. Many others appear to be new. About 8% of them, mainly
those in the Baltic and North seas, persist throughout the year, says Diaz; half,
including one the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico, form mainly
seasonally, typically beginning in summer after the spring thaw and receding in
the fall. Overall, the researchers found that the number of new dead zones has
grown exponentially over the past four decades.
That's bad news for fish — and for the people who eat them. Much of the world's
fish supply is already troubled due to overfishing, dying reefs and the
disappearance of marshland, mangrove forests and other coastal environments
that serve as breeding grounds and nurseries for many valuable species.
Biologists haven't been able to figure out how much oxygen depletion alone
contributes to the decline of teetering fisheries — the question is hotly debated in marine-science circles these days — but few experts would disagree that an increase in dead zones can only be a detriment.
Indeed, severe hypoxia, as scientists refer to the phenomenon, has been linked
to the collapse of fisheries in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea (which has since
recovered) and a lobster fishery in the Kattegat, a patch of the North Sea between Denmark and Sweden. Other headline examples exist as well, but, more often, hypoxic waters have a relatively subtle impact on fish. "Most of the effects of low oxygen on fish stocks are what we call 'sub-lethal,' " says Diaz. "It doesn't kill the fish but stresses them. It affects their growth, it reduces their reproductive output, and makes them more susceptible to disease."
Dead zones are created when excess nitrogen and other pollutants in ocean water promote large blooms of algae and phytoplankton on the surface. The nitrogen gets there in a couple of ways: through river water filled with fertilizer from farm runoff and from air polluted with tailpipe and smokestack emissions. When the algae die and sink to the ocean floor, bacteria there break them down, while consuming pretty much all of the available oxygen in the water. The bacteria also proliferate wildly, taking over the ecosystem and exacerbating the oxygen depletion. If conditions like strong currents, which are common in summer, prevent oxygen-rich water from the surface from mixing with lower layers, bottom-dwelling animals like lobsters, crabs and flounder in that area either flee or die. Relatively immobile animals such as oysters, clams and worms are particularly susceptible to annihilation. Such deaths take the bottom out of the marine food chain, helping to create sustained dead zones.
The best way to prevent this from happening would be to reduce the amount of nitrogen introduced into the ocean. The technology already exists to do that. If, for example, farmers in the upper part of the U.S. were given a financial incentive to plant crops like winter wheat, rather than leaving their fields fallow after the fall harvest, says marine ecologist Robert Howarth of Cornell University, much of the nitrogenous fertilizer that would normally get washed into waterways by spring thaws could instead be absorbed into winter grain crops. Measures of this sort, if uniformly implemented, could all but eliminate the Gulf of Mexico's famously ballooning dead zone.
Such changes to farm management aren't likely to be cheap or easy to
implement. But, as Diaz's study suggests, the consequences of inaction might
prove infinitely more expensive. "The oceans are vast and they cover most of the Earth's surface," notes Howarth. "But what people mostly care about in the oceans is largely in these coastal areas. That's where the most productive fisheries are, and where people recreate. And that's where people are overfishing, and where dead zones are developing."
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Agence de Presse Africaine: Rwanda-environment-study
UNEP begins environmental assessment of Rwanda
APA-Kigali (Rwanda) The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) on Wednesday embarked on a countrywide environmental assessment study of Rwanda whose findings will be used by the government in its environmental management.
The study is to be carried out by about 14 environmental researchers in all provinces in the country, according the UNEP post-conflict and disaster management Rwanda project coordinator, Hassan Partow.
The study is estimated to cost $300,000- $400,000 and will be completed in about 10 days.
He said areas to be covered include those that have been environmentally abused according to desk studies carried out by Rwandan researchers early this year.
\"The report should be readable and accessible to non-experts and at least within five years the government should have reacted to the findings so that a compressive environmental management policy is made,\" Partow told APA in an interview in Kigali.
The countrywide study follows a two-day consultative workshop on Rwanda post-conflict environmental assessment that ended on Tuesday in Kigali.
The workshop that attracted several environmental experts from different local and international environmental organizations aimed at collecting their views about the study.
Partow noted that areas of the research will include environmental governance, conflict and peace building, population, poverty, population displacement, resettlement, natural disasters, climate change, urbanization and environmental health.
\"The study aims at highlighting key environment drivers facing the country which can have impact on the country\’s long-term development programmes with hope
that the findings can be integrated in such programmes,\" he said.
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Diario Del Web (Italy): Towards a biofuel standard to sort the green from the ungreen
Behind the debate were concerns that fuelling the world might be running into conflict with feeding the world and that being green at the fuel bowser might be linked with large scale deforestation, forest fires and species loss ? PANDA.org - Pubblicata il 13/08/2008
A global panel of experts have today lent their support to a draft standard for the use of sustainable biofuels that will inject some rigour into the murky debate about the embracing of biofuels that may cause more emissions than they save.
Behind the debate were concerns that fuelling the world might be running into conflict with feeding the world and that being green at the fuel bowser might be linked with large scale deforestation, forest fires and species loss. Towards a biofuel standard to sort the green from the ungreen
The new standard to allow environmental and social impact comparisons of rival biofuels was endorsed by the steering board of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB), and developed through a multi-stakeholder process that involves business, academics and environmentalists.
?With all of the mixed messages we hear about biofuels, there is a clear need for a standard that can differentiate the good from the bad,? said Dr. Claude Martin, formerly Director-General of WWF, and current chair of the RSB. ?For an issue of such seminal importance, it was necessary to bring many different stakeholder groups together to agree on how to define and measure sustainable biofuels? The RSB, housed at the Energy Center at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), is comprised of over three hundred experts from organisations, corporations and civil society groups, including UNEP, WWF, and a number of fossil fuel producers such as BP and Shell.
Next to market players, it is thought that the draft standard could also provide a useful tool for policy makers seeking to develop appropriate standards and certification schemes, and fill gaps that exist across legislative frameworks for biofuels.
It will also look to build on standards that are already in place, such as those put forth by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), to provide a robust set of standards that stand up to scrutiny.
Further discussions in Lausanne will be directed toward the adoption of a set of principles that will address the full extent of concerns on the use of biofuels. These are not solely limited to fuel price or carbon emissions, and incorporate social and environmental impacts right along the supply chain, including rural development, protection of land and labour rights, and maintaining biodiversity and food security.
?Ensuring sustainability is what all these discussions are hinged upon? said Jean-Philippe Denruyter, Global Bioenergy Coordinator at WWF and member of the RSB board. ?Biofuels are one of a number of potential alternatives to fossil fuels, and today’s agreement allows us to initiate a stakeholder-driven process
that will determine their value right across the production process, from field or forest to tank?
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Xinhua: Smiling volunteers win another Olympic gold for Beijing
www.chinaview.cn 2008-08-14 23:09:32 Print
by Xinhua sportswriters Zhou Yan and Lou Chen
BEIJING, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- As China's 600-strong Olympic team fight for medals on the home soil, a separate team nearly 3,000 times its size are trying to snatch another gold for their country -- with friendly smiles.
Of the host city's 1.7 million volunteers, about 100,000 are working at the Games sites -- mainly the competition venues and the Olympic villages -- or on the bus fleet shuttling between these sites.
The host city actually looks younger with these smiling young men and women, mostly in their early 20s and all wearing blue "Beijing 2008" T-shirts.
"Visitors to the Olympics can be forgiven for thinking that China is a land of unnatural youthfulness where nobody is older than 30," said New York Times reporter Charles McGrath.
Close as they are to the Games, few of these volunteers can sit back and enjoy the competition. Even the lucky ones working at the competition venues may not witness all the historic moments.
Pan Xingyu, 21, works at the National Aquatics Center, or the Water Cube, but has never caught a glimpse of her idol Michael Phelps. "He always competes in the morning but I always work afternoon or night shifts."
She also missed the excitement of the diving competitions -- in which China has won all the four golds offered so far, because she was either on duty at the entrance or maintaining order at the spectators' stand.
"I had a peep or two when the audience roared in excitement. But it's better to watch TV later on," she said.
At the end of a noisy, tiring day, Pan and her colleagues are always eager to get back for some rest, but their team leaders sometimes call them together to play games, hoping to help them relax and enhance cohesion of the group.
An engineering major at the prestigious Tsinghua University, Pan admitted her excitement at the job is subsiding. "It is very tiring and stressful. Sometimes you need to deal with tough issues and people would complain if you're not doing well enough," said the soft-spoken junior student. "But when I graduate from school, I guess I won't be afraid of any tough job (with this experience)."
For Pan and her peers, some of whom stand for several hours in the scorching sun to point the way for the Olympic visitors, all their hard work pays off when they are given a heartfelt "thank you" and compliments in return.
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who attended the Beijing Olympics opening on Aug. 8, said he was "especially moved" by the volunteers because of their enthusiasm and good manners. "Chinese young people have dreams...They deserve our expectation and admiration," he said in an interview earlier this week.
A senior official with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also paid tribute to the Beijing Games' volunteers at a press conference on Wednesday. "All the volunteers are dedicated... we have to say they are doing a fantastic job," said IOC's Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli.
These volunteers, many of whom are trained to be engineers, journalists or doctors, are doing a wide variety of temporary jobs created by the Games: running errands and distributing games results, conducting security checks, driving golf carts, housekeeping at athletes and media villages, or simply standing there and greeting everyone.
Frankly speaking, not everyone speaks good English and many, particularly the freshman students, lack the adequate problem solving skills their jobs demand. But they are certainly doing their best to help, and are hoping this hard-won opportunity will help prove their capability and enrich their experience, which might be a positive element in their future employment.
Xu Zhou, 19, has one of the "boring" jobs that is totally irrelevant to what she is trained to be -- a communication engineer.
She travels at least 20 times a day on a media bus commuting between the Main Press Center and the North Star Media Village, a 20-minute ride, to provide language assistance for foreign reporters aboard and answer their questions.
Most of the days, Xu, as well as 2,000 other volunteers who work for the media bus fleet, can only catch a glimpse of the ongoing competitions on TV during their breaks. But Monday was a red-letter day for the bespectacled sophomore from Beijing Communications University: she had a day off and she got a ticket to the Olympic Green Tennis Center through a lucky draw on campus.
To fully exploit the hard-won chance, she arrived at 5 a.m. and didn't leave until midnight, watching as many games as possible as the ticket was valid for all 65 matches played in the day.
"It was exciting to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play," said Xu, adding that she was happy to be among a home crowd that cheered Lu Yen-hsun from Chinese Taipei on to a hard victory against British Andy Murray.
Starting her service on July 25, Xu said she would stick to her position until the assignment is over by Aug. 25. "My job here might be a trivial detail in the running of the whole Games, but details matter in the Games' final success," she said.
Besides the 100,000 volunteers directly serving the Olympians and journalists, the other 1.6-million-strong volunteers in the Chinese capital have seldom come under the spotlight.
Among them are pensioners -- the oldest one already 103 years old -- that patrol streets and communities, students that answer tourists' questions at roadside information kiosks, skilled taxi drivers who have been handpicked to access the locked Olympic area in northern Beijing, and chefs selected from renowned Beijing hotels to help cook the Olympic dishes.
But a set of snapshots, showing a young female volunteer holding a foreigner, who fainted shortly in the street probably for a slight sunstroke, in her arms and feeding him water, spread quickly in China's vast Internet community, and stirred up a great sensation.
"You look so beautiful when you extend your helping hands. You are the embodiment of the traditional virtues of the Chinese -- hospitable and caring," read an online comment seen on qq.com.
At 103, Beijing resident Fu Yiquan still patrols the street near the Temple of Heaven in downtown Beijing as a "security volunteer," a job he has been doing for 30 years.
The perseverance of Fu and tens of thousands of other pensioners in Beijing impressed David Tool, a former colonel of the U.S. Army who now teaches at a Beijing university and hunts awkward translations in his spare time.
"These pensioners are doing a great job. The Beijing Games are a grand occasion. I, too, want to share the excitement," said Tool.
During the Games, he is serving as a volunteer at an information kiosk close to the Sanlitun bar street, one of the areas most frequented by foreigners in eastern Beijing.
"No matter who wins the most medals at the Games, one thing is clear -- these volunteers will win the hearts and minds of visitors to Beijing," Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said on the eve of the Beijing Games.
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China Daily: Global oxygen level falling, warn scientists
Updated: 2008-08-15 07:42
LONDON -- The world has realized the danger of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. It has, in its own way, been fighting global warming. But what about the long-term fall in oxygen levels and its knock-on effects?
Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere has fallen by over a third and in polluted cities the decline could be more than 50 percent.
This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, says Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.
So, what's the evidence? About 10,000 years ago, the planet's forest cover was at least twice what it is today, which means forests are now emitting only half the amount of oxygen.
And desertification and deforestation are rapidly accelerating this long-term loss of oxygen sources.
The story at sea is much the same. NASA reports that in the north Pacific Ocean oxygen-producing phytoplankton concentrations are 30 percent lower today, compared to even the 1980s. This is a huge drop in just three decades. Moreover, the UN Environment Program said in 2004 that there were nearly 150 "dead zones" in the world's oceans where discharged sewage and industrial waste, farm fertilizer run-off and other pollutants have reduced oxygen levels to such an extent that most or all sea creatures can no longer live there. Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University and Professor Jon Harrison of the University of Arizona accept that oxygen levels in the atmosphere in prehistoric times averaged 35 percent compared to only 21 percent today. The levels are even lower in densely populated, polluted city centers and industrial complexes, perhaps only 15 percent or lower.
Much of this recent, accelerated change is down to human activity, notably the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels. Which means we are slowing down one process, oxygen generation, and speeding up another, carbon dioxide production.
Very interesting. But does this decline in oxygen matter? Are there any practical consequences that we ought to be concerned about? What is the effect of lower oxygen levels on the human body?
Surprisingly, no significant research has been done, perhaps on the following presumption: the decline in oxygen levels has taken place over millions of years of our planet's existence.
Surely, this mostly gradual decline has allowed the human body to evolve and adapt to lower concentrations of oxygen? Maybe, maybe not.
The pace of oxygen loss is likely to have speeded up massively because of global industrialization and as a result of the massive worldwide increase in the burning of fossil fuels.
Scaremongering? No. A reason for doomsaying? Not yet. What is needed is an authoritative evidence-based investigation to ascertain current oxygen levels and what consequences, if any, there are for the long-term well-being of our species - and, indeed, of all species.
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