A landmark for UK conservation

At the very end of 2010, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced a major achievement for conservation in England with the news that 96% of England’s SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) are now in favourable or recovering condition. SSSIs are the most important collection of wildlife and geological sites in the England and cover 8% of the country’s surface area, so they play a unique role in preserving biodiversity and geodiversity. The 10 year project to reverse the long term decline of England’s SSSIs has involved an unprecedented conservation effort led by Defra, and involving government agencies, thousands of farmers and landowners, and organisations from across the private and voluntary sectors. In recent years one million hectares of land have been surveyed and monitored by Natural England and conservation plans put in place across thousands of sites. Defra’s news announcement marked a fitting end to the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

Natural England will be helping celebrate the success of the SSSI project with the publication of the report – Protecting England’s Natural Treasures – which will be launched at a special reception attended by Caroline Spelman at the London Wetlands Centre on 27th January 2011. ________________________________________ http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designatedareas/sssi/conservationlandmark.aspx


Oil spill – BP may not be ‘negligent’ but the industry IS ruinous against our ocean

The Guardian reports on BP and the oil industry….

Analysts said that blaming the oil industry, and not singling out BP, would help the company in its fight against being found guilty of gross negligence. But industry and legal sources told the Guardian that BP would still have to strike a deal out of court to settle myriad lawsuits. 

BP is more likely to escape the potentially ruinous charge of gross negligence, according to City analysts, after a powerful US commission blamed “systemic” causes for the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Barack Obama’s national commission released part of its final report into the disaster last night on Wednesday night. The report, to be published next week, could influence several other parallel investigations into the spill that are yet to finish.

The commission was scathing in its criticism of BP, as well as its contractors Halliburton and Transocean, which it blamed for a collective “failure of management”. But it added that it had found no evidence that the blowout which led to last April’s disaster was the result of “aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials”.

Commission co-chair William K Reilly said: “So a key question posed from the outset by this tragedy is, do we have a single company, BP, that blundered with fatal consequences, or a more pervasive problem of a complacent industry? Given the documented failings of both Transocean and Halliburton, both of which serve the offshore industry in virtually every ocean, I reluctantly conclude we have a system-wide problem.”

Analysts said that blaming the oil industry, and not singling out BP, would help the company in its fight against being found guilty of gross negligence. But industry and legal sources told the Guardian that BP would still have to strike a deal out of court to settle myriad lawsuits. Separately, the US justice department has launched a civil action against BP and is investigating potential criminal violations.

BP shares rose by more than 2% during morning trading in London but finished the day slightly down. Analysts expect BP to resume paying dividends – which were suspended last summer under intense White House pressure – when it reports full-year results on 1 February, as the company tries to move on from the disaster.

Before the spill the company paid out $10bn (£6.5bn) annually to shareholders but it is likely to resume dividends at only half that level. Investors could receive dividends for the last quarter of 2010 as soon as March.

Analyst Peter Hitchens, of stockbroker Panmure Gordon, said: “The national commission’s report is another chink of light for BP. BP was named and held responsible in the report but it also said ‘we can’t solely blame BP’.

“It’s hinting that there won’t be a finding of gross negligence. What seems to be coming through is there was an unfortunate string of accidents which led to the disaster. BP had a near-death experience. But time is a great healer for BP, it seems.”

The national commission report was also highly critical of the now-disbanded offshore regulator, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which it previously accused of giving a higher priority to increasing production in the gulf than to safety. The full report, to be released on Tuesday, is likely to recommend a radical overhaul of the regulatory regime to improve offshore drilling.

Charlie Kronick, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said: “The report sets up a big flag that the regulatory regime is going to be much tighter. The new regulator has already indicated that it won’t be a permit-fest once new guidelines for offshore drilling are drawn up.”

But he said that pointing the finger at BP’s contractors should not exonerate the company from blame. “Halliburton and Transocean were operating on BP’s behalf. It’s hard to see how that lets BP off the hook.”

If BP avoids a charge of gross negligence it will be able to charge its junior partners in the fateful Macondo well – Anadarko and Mitsui – for a third of the costs. US federal fines would triple under a gross negligence finding, with JP Morgan estimating that the total bill for BP under this scenario could be as high as $69bn.

BP has made good progress in its programme of selling assets worth $25-30bn, having netted about $20bn so far.


Lessons from the oil spill…

Following one of the biggest disasters in recent history, BP boss Tony Hayward admitted to his company’s insufficient response to the Deepwater Horizon rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico. But was there anything better they could have done to avert the tragedy?

January 8, 2011 – Washington

Following one of the biggest disasters in recent history, BP boss Tony Hayward admitted to his company’s insufficient response to the Deepwater Horizon rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico. But was there anything better they could have done to avert the tragedy?

Obama’s commission pointed out lack of safety procedures as a determining factor behind the disaster.

“Major accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico could also happen in the North Sea. But strong, organizational barriers between the oil industry, trade unions and the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway reduce the risk,” says Preben Lindoe, professor of societal safety and security at the University of Stavanger, Norway.

The researchers compare oil industry regulation in the USA, Great Britain and Norway.

The US regulator, Minerals Management Service, carries out inspections based on a fairly meticulous body of rules. Inspectors are transported to offshore installations, equipped with long and detailed check lists.

Norwegian authorities rely on the companies administering their safety work themselves. The model is based on trust – built up over time.

“The reason this model has succeeded in Norway, is because the parties have been able to fill the concept of internal control with substance. Both employers and unions are involved in developing industrial standards and good practice which can be adhered to,” he said.

“When attention fades, accidents happen more easily, and are followed by increased awareness. Societal safety is thus a perpetual Sisyphus effort. It is a big challenge for all organizations to maintain a high level of safety awareness over time,” he added.

According to Lindoe and associate professor Ole Andreas Engen, it is common practice in the US to look for scapegoats, and pin the blame for accidents on them, instead of changing the systems.

In Norway, the parties are more likely to come together to find out how systems and routines may have contributed to an employee making a mistake.

The researcher sum up the lessons learned after the Gulf of Mexico disaster:

“The Deepwater Horizon accident has uncovered some evident weaknesses within US safety regulation. The Government being restrained from intervening directly with the industry is one of them.

“To the Norwegian industry, this accident and the near-accident on Gullfaks C, should serve as reminders of the importance of maintaining the foundation pillars of the Norwegian safety management system: Effective and well qualified authorities, and clear guidelines for cooperation and trust between the parties,” Lindoe concluded.

Read more: http://www.andhranews.net/Technology/2011/Lessons-Gulf-Oil-spill-taught-us-173.htm?utm_campaign=30+topix+bp+oil+spill+gulf+of+mexico+%23oilspill&utm_medium=Twitter&utm_source=SNS.analytics#ixzz1ARz2xvy0


Climate change mission: clean up the mess after #Copenhagen


The conference which begins in Cancun today must restart the battle to lower emissions, says Michael McCarthy

From Editorial of The Independent

Snowfalls grip swathes of Britain. Temperatures in Wales dip to minus-17. As Britain shivers in the kind of freezing winter that we normally associate with Eastern Europe, it’s hard to remember that the world is at the tail end of the hottest, or second hottest, year on record. That is the problem with global warming. The steady rise in temperatures is incremental and often almost undetectable, especially in the cold northern hemisphere, where some feel tempted to celebrate the prospect of more Mediterranean-style summers.  Unfortunately, the price that the rest of the world stands to pay for more agreeable northern summers is catastrophic in terms of rising sea levels, drought and desertification, which is why progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at this week’s climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, is vital.


The article in full  

Officials and ministers from nearly 200 countries meet in Mexico today to attempt one of history’s greatest repair jobs: the mending of the world’s project to cope with climate change, which was comprehensively wrecked in Copenhagen a year ago. For the delegates gathering in the Caribbean “super-resort” of Cancun, it will not be possible to achieve the aim of the failed conference in the Danish capital, which was a new, legally binding treaty involving all countries, to slash the emissions of the greenhouse gases which are causing global warming. But what they may be able to do is “put the wheels back on the wagon” and restore momentum to the climate change negotiating process – which after the Copenhagen meeting seemed to have been smashed to pieces – in the hope of achieving a legal treaty at a future United Nations climate conference, perhaps even the next one, which is scheduled for Durban, South Africa, in a year’s time. They badly need to, because although climate change may have fallen out of the headlines and slipped down the political agenda in recent months, not least because of international financial turmoil, the threat of rising world temperatures has continued to mount. Last week, the Met Office in London released a report which asserted that evidence of global warming was stronger than ever, and later this week the World Meteorological Organisation is expected to announce that 2010 has been either the hottest or the second-hottest year ever recorded. Today, another group of British scientists claims that if the warming is not checked, children born today may live to see a world on average 4C hotter, which is unprecedented in human history.

It remains no less a critical issue, then, on the table at Cancun. The two-week meeting it is about to host will be seen, and even defined, in terms of the failure at Copenhagen last December. That was the most traumatic event in the two decades of international talks which have gone on since the global warming issue burst on to the scene in the late 1980s, not least for the enormous weight of expectation which had built up behind it. “Hopenhagen”, the young climate campaigners were calling it beforehand. Never have hopes been so dashed.The disenchantment was the greater for the fact that the 194 countries involved in the talks all accepted that if radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions were not made, average temperatures might rise by up to 6C by the end of the century. The threshold for dangerous climate change is generally thought to be a rise of about 2C. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated that to be on a path to halt the warming, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) had to be cut by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020. A new, legally binding agreement to achieve this was Copenhagen’s central aim. But such a deal would have to go much further than the existing climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which did not include the world’s two biggest emitters of CO2 – the US and China. George Bush had withdrawn America from Kyoto shortly after taking office in 2001; and under the terms of the protocol, China, along with all other developing countries, was not obliged to make actual emissions cuts. (Only the rich developed nations were so bound). Yet the US and China were each annually emitting about seven billion tonnes of CO2, making up nearly a third of the global total. The project to construct a new, all-embracing legal climate treaty that would incorporate them fell apart principally because of dissension about the form of the new agreement. The developing countries, led by China and India, were strongly attached to Kyoto, and wanted a renewal of its commitments (which run out at the end of 2012), because Kyoto made sure the rich countries were doing something, while they – the developing nations – did not have to do anything. Perhaps not unreasonably, they take the view that the rich world put most of the CO2 up there, and should take the lead in dealing with it. The developed countries, on the other hand, strongly led by Britain and the other EU states and backed by the US – which under the leadership of President Barack Obama was prepared to re-engage with the process and had set itself an emissions target for the first time – wanted to tear up Kyoto and replace it with a new deal, to set legally binding targets on the developing world alongside those on the rich nations. The gap between these two strongly divergent positions proved unbridgeable and the negotiations foundered. As more than 100 world leaders arrived for what was intended to be the triumphant final agreement, they faced the nightmarish prospect of there being nothing to agree on. The situation, and their faces, were saved by a last-minute, patched-up deal for which the main architect, it is entirely fair to say, was the former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and for which the credit was taken by Mr Obama. This was the so-called “Copenhagen Accord” – a three-page, 12-clause statement of intent, legally binding on no one, saying in effect that climate change is a Jolly Bad Thing and promising that We’re Jolly Well Going To Work Together To Stop It. On one level – in terms of the legally binding agreement which is needed – it is meaningless. But over the past year, the Copenhagen Accord has proved to have virtues, not least because all countries were invited to submit plans (entirely voluntary ones) for how they might cut emissions, to be inserted into an Appendix of the Accord, and 80 of them have now done so, including the leading carbon emitters, China, the US and India.Some of the targets (China’s and India’s for example) are for reducing the energy intensity of their economies rather than for actual emissions cuts, and the US target, to cut emissions by 17 per cent on 2005 levels, was dependent on the Senate passing legislation which is not, for now, going to happen.Nevertheless, it was unthinkable even two years ago that the US, China and India, along with other major emerging economies such as Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa, would have set out specific pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, yet all have done so, and this is a major step forward – as long as the pledges are carried out. An analysis published last week by the UN Environment Programme calculated that, if implemented in full, they might go 60 per cent of the way towards the emission cuts needed by 2020.This is where Cancun begins. There is no possibility of the 16th conference of the parties of the UN Climate Convention – COP-16, in the jargon – agreeing a new, legally binding climate treaty. The subject is not even on the agenda. So what can it do? The first thing is that it can regularise the Copenhagen Accord and the pledges it contains. The accord is not a decision of the COP, which is what is needed to give it legal status; it is at present merely a document which the conference of the parties has “noted”. More than that, the pledges, which were put forward from the end of January onwards, have not been formally acknowledged by the UN Climate Convention in any way at all, other than by being listed on its website. They need to be brought into the convention legally so they can be regularised and possibly improved. British officials are working towards this.Second, Cancun can make real progress on a number of climate side-issues, of which the most prominent are finance and forestry. The meeting can agree on the structure of a new fund to control the huge sums of money which were promised at Copenhagen, in its main positive outcome, to help developing countries cope with a warming world – $30bn (£19.2bn) by 2012 and $100bn annually by 2020. Third and finally, it can – it must – start out once more on the road to that treaty, and the object of cutting world emissions by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020.For its part, the British Government (along with the rest of the EU) now accepts that the attachment of developing countries to the Kyoto Protocol is very strong. It will contemplate a double deal, with a renewed Kyoto running alongside a new agreement which sets climate targets for developing as well as developed countries.But there is a price. Any new agreement, as far as the UK is concerned, has to be legally binding on the signatories. Countries might set their own targets, but once set, to avoid cheating they must have a legal obligation to meet them.This, potentially, is the crucial stumbling block on the road ahead. The Chinese made it crystal clear at Copenhagen that they were absolutely unwilling to be legally bound with regard to their future emissions.As for the US, Mr Obama’s pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent last year was predicated on the US Congress agreeing it. Since the triumph of the Republicans in the midterm elections, that agreement and that legislation are dead in the water.The climate project ran into the ground in snowy Copenhagen. Now there is a chance to resurrect it in sunny Cancun. But nobody is saying it will be easy; the road ahead will be long and hard.Climate change: the paperwork* The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate ChangeThe basic international mechanism under which the fight against climate change is carried on. Signed in June 1992, the convention now covers virtually every country, including the US (which has withdrawn from Kyoto).  * The Kyoto ProtocolSigned in Japan in December 1997, this treaty commits countries to making legally binding cuts in their emissions. So far, only the rich nations have targets. The US was part of this group until George Bush withdrew in 2001. Kyoto’s targets do not go far enough to slow down warming, and it does not set targets for developing countries. * The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change A UN body which reviews the science of global warming. There have been four assessment reports so far. The last, published in January 2007, warned that if emissions were not drastically cut, world average temperatures could rise by up to a devastating 6.4C by 2100.  * The Copenhagen AccordThe outcome of the 2009 UN meeting (COP-15), at which it was hoped that a new treaty would be signed to make much more drastic cuts in emissions. It fell apart because the industrialised nations wanted a new treaty binding all states; the developing countries wanted to renew Kyoto. The patched-up accord instead consisted of pledges with no official status whatsoever. * Cancun – COP-16The Cancun meeting will try to pick up the pieces of the wreckage of last year; one of its tasks will be to try to make the pledges of the Copenhagen Accord an official part of the convention.WHAT AN AVERAGE TEMPERATURE RISE O F 4 °C WOULD REALLY MEAN FOR THE PLANETOVERVIEWThe average rise will not be spread uniformly, and temperatures over land will be significantly higher (5.5C on average) than over the ocean, as the land heats up more quickly than the sea.THE ARCTICTemperatures at higher latitudes, particularly in the Arctic, will rise much more steeply in a four-degree world as they experience climate feedbacks due to the loss of sea ice and snow cover.Already, scientists have detected signs of unusual permafrost melting in Siberia and the release of vast quantities of underground methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.SOUTHERN EUROPEThe summer of 2003, when night-time temperatures were far beyond normal, caused many thousands of deaths through heat stroke and other related conditions. A four-degree world will make such summerscommonplace, causing environmental as well as medical problems.INDIAN SUB-CONTINENTA growing population puts pressure on water supplies, which will be exacerbated in regions of the world that will experience the greatest increase in numbers of people, such as India. In a four-degree world, however, the problems of water shortages will be primarily caused by climate change – a double whammy for the most populated countries.AMAZONAt higher temperatures, the Amazon rainforest is vulnerable to drought and uncontrolled spread of fires. Some climate models predict increased rainfall, while other “more realistic” computer projections predict severe drying in the Amazon. SOUTH-EAST ASIASea level rise is inevitable in a warmer world, but the problem will be significantly worse in a four-degree world because of melting ice sheets, glaciers and thermal expansion. Low-lying, heavily populated river deltas and coastal regions are especially vulnerable to flooding. Small oceanic islands will experience increased storm surges and problems with increased soil salinity.SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAAt 4°C, virtually all cereal-growing regions of the world experience crop failures or shortages. The areas affected most will be semi-arid regions where agriculture is already difficult, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Some regions may become uninhabitable with widespread famine


Are Africa’s seas getting protection they deserve, finally?

South Africa maps first deep-sea preserve

The Independent/AFP

Underwater canyons, deep-sea coral reefs and sponge banks are part of a unique ecosystem that South Africa wants to save within its first deep-sea marine protected area. After 10 years of consultations, South Africa has mapped the boundaries for the proposed reserve stretching 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal coast.The mapping required synthesising the many divergent interests in the Indian Ocean waters, with 40 industries from fishing to gas lines to jet skis operating in an area home to about 200 animal species and their ecosystems.”All of this data was then entered into conservation planning software in order to identify areas of high biodiversity while avoiding areas of high (economic) pressure,” said Tamsyn Livingstone, the researcher who heads the project.The conservation area is being born in a spirit of compromise, which will allow people and companies to continue using the protected waters in zones designated as lower-risk threats to biodiversity.The scheme still needs to be passed into law, but would join South Africa’s existing network of marine preserves strung along its 3,000-kilometre (1,800-mile) coast stretching from the warm Indian Ocean to the cold southern Atlantic.South Africa has embraced this “participatory” method to protecting species living in its water, an approach pioneered in California and Australia.Global goals for protecting biodiversity have been debated for two weeks at a UN summit in Nagoya, Japan (http://www.cbd.int/cop10/), in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.Environmental groups want 20 percent of coastal and marine areas protected, they say China and India are lobbying for six percent or lower. Talks are supposed to wrap up on Friday.Part of the challenge is in protecting species that are more often than not still unknown. Only one quarter of the estimated million species in the oceans have been discovered.A global census of the oceans unveiled in early October uncovered prehistoric fish thought dead millions of years ago, capturing researchers’ imaginations about what else lurks in the deepest parts of the sea.”Offshore biodiversity is not well known,” said Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.Exploring the seas remains an expensive project, prompting South African researchers to reach agreements to share information with fisheries, coastal diamond mines and the oil industry.”South Africa’s plan is unique in covering all industry sectors to ensure that biodiversity planning minimizes the impact on industry,” she said.”Healthy offshore ecosystems underpin healthy fisheries and keep options open for future generations.”With growing worries about climate change, scientists say the deep seas could become an important source of protein for the planet, because water temperature changes less at great depths.That assumes that the growth of industry can be managed alongside the marine life, especially as oil companies find ways to drill in ever-deeper waters.The explosion of a BP oil rig in April off the Louisiana coast, rupturing a 1,500-metre deep well, highlighted the risks.It took five months to shut off the leak which caused the biggest the oil spill in US history, with 205 million gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf.


Marine Reserves in UK http://www.marinereserves.org.uk/

South African Biodiversity Inst http://www.sanbi.org/

Good news for eco products?

The development and global implementation of a new environmental ratings system could make product comparisons easier for consumers across the world.

 The US-based Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) announced on August 10 that it had partnered with Canadian Standards Association and international US-based group UL Environment, two leading standards organizations. The three groups intend to develop a series of new standards which can be used by governments, retailers and consumers worldwide to identify and promote environmentally responsible products. 

The new standards of environmental efficiency will take into account not just the energy consumption of the product, but also its ecological impact across its lifetime. In a press release, the American and Canadian companies stated that they intended to develop a “metric that will instill consumer confidence.”

Increased transparency in environmental standards is needed as consumers become increasingly ecologically aware and manufacturers begin responding to their demands; it is not yet known when the firms will have completed drafting the new standards, or when they will be implemented.

Currently low environmental impact products are awarded under the Energy Star system and are available throughout America and Europe; energy-efficient EU products also carry a green flower symbol.

Consumer websites such as www.energystar.gov in the United States, www.energysavingtrust.org.uk in the UK and www.ecolabel.eu in Europe provide environmental ratings and information on a number of household appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines.

It is hoped that development of a new system of environmental ratings could lead to a comprehensive global standardized environmental rating system, simplifying product comparisons for consumers and allowing them to avoid “greenwashing” or misleading ecologically oriented marketing.