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Finding the right balance between nature conservation and fisheries management – who will pull the strings?

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While our oceans are under threat, important decisions must be made over the management of fisheries and Marine Protected Areas in European Seas, write Hanna Paulomäki and Magnus Eckeskog from marine conservation group Oceana. But will nature conservation directors have equal input to fisheries leaders, or will economic concerns prevail in talks held behind closed doors?

The seas of Europe are under great threat from pressures like pollution and overfishing. The current management systems in place visibly favor economic activities over nature conservation. Overfishing has led to a steady decline of commercial fish stocks in EU waters and human activities such as trawling, dredging and offshore oil exploration have taken their toll on marine habitats.

The designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is an efficient way to protect important marine species and habitats, by limiting human activities like fishing and other forms of exploitation. The main instrument in the EU to protect valuable ecosystems is called the Natura 2000 network. Unfortunately, there are very few examples where fisheries have actually been restricted in European MPAs, despite fishing being identified as one of the major threats to species and habitats.

Currently the procedures for developing fisheries restrictions inside Natura 2000 areas are being discussed among high level staff from the fisheries administrations in EU countries. The discussions are primarily taking part in the North Sea Scheveningen group and in a Baltic Sea discussion forum called BALTFISH. Denmark is taking the lead in both groups by drafting the proposals for the procedures for establishing management measures for fisheries within the Natura 2000 network.

The end result of the discussions in these groups will likely affect how this is dealt with in the rest of the EU, as Northern Europe is the forerunner of regionalisation of fisheries management under the Common Fisheries Policy.

It is a highly welcomed fact that authorities are finally starting to discuss management measures inside MPAs. However, it is worrying that most of the discussions on the matter occur behind closed doors, with little insight from the public and without the relevant nature conservation authorities who are responsible for ensuring adequate protection of marine species and habitats.

Our fear is that the authorities responsible for securing sustainable use of fisheries lack the necessary conservation expertise to determine what type of measures are needed in order to ensure the conservation and protection of marine species and habitats, as in practice, they are not responsible for implementing EU Environmental legislation.

We have been trying to follow the work of these groups. It has been increasingly difficult to get hold of the draft documents produced by the Danish Ministry for agriculture and fisheries, where the process describing the procedures for establishing fisheries in Natura 2000 areas is laid out. This is quite remarkable considering that Denmark has a rather good track record of consulting stakeholders when the management of Natura 2000 areas are discussed at the national level.

Nevertheless, according to the information that we have managed to receive, the proposals for fisheries measures will be approved by an expert group consisting of representatives of the High Level Group in the Scheveningen and the Baltfish cooperation, before presented to the European Commission. The High Level Group consists of representatives from the national fisheries administrations. As we have understood it will be left to the hands of the Member States to ensure that adequate environmental competence is being consulted throughout this process.

We know that the dialogue between the fisheries and environmental authorities is very well established in some countries, while in others it is very poor – some environmental ministries are even unaware that this process is taking place. We therefore feel that it is of importance to formally include environmental authorities in this process, as we otherwise fear that environmental protection will be deprioritised in favour of exploitation interests.

The newly established Juncker commission took a stand on this by nominating Karmenu Vella as the commissioner responsible for both fisheries and the environment. Our hope is that this will lead to better balanced work and coordination between the two areas, building upon the successful reformation of the Common Fisheries Policy, which recognises the centrality of the ecosystem-based approach to human activities. However, we fear that there will be an even stronger focus on economic development and that environmental protection and conservation will be given less priority.

Nature conservation and economic activities have to be dealt with in a more integrated manner, equally incorporating both Nature and Marine Directors and Fisheries Directors and measures need to be based on advice already developed at the EU level such as the European Habitats Forum, and should engage stakeholders such as NGOs and the fishing industry.

A way forward would be for Scheveningen and BALTFISH to be in better collaboration with working groups under the regional conventions set up to protect the marine environment, namely OSPAR for the North Sea and HELCOM for the Baltic Sea. Running parallel processes with counteracting goals is a waste of time for all parties involved, and will prohibit finding the best possible measures, and to achieve both economically and environmentally sustainable results.

Oceana is the largest international organisation focused solely on ocean conservation, with offices based around the world. Hanna Paulomäki is the project manager at Oceana’s Baltic Sea Office in Copenhagen, Denmark. Magnus Eckeskog is the policy advisor, also at Oceana’s Baltic Sea Office.

Photo: Oktaviani Marvikasari via freeimages

Further reading:

Scotland designates 30 new marine protected areas

EU looks to remove barriers for sustainable investment in ‘blue economy’

27 new marine conservation zones to be created around English coasts

Marine conservation could be worth ‘billions’ to UK economy

Scientists disappointed with government’s protection of seas

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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