Environmental issues on the agenda for 2015

Jan 2015

Climate Change – this is it!

This year’s 21st session of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP21), this December in Paris, will be a critical juncture in climate negotiations. All participating countries around the world will be expected to commit to a universal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount that will prevent global average temperatures rising above the internationally accepted ‘tolerable’ level of 2°C. Not only that but the objective, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, is to agree a legally binding agreement; in the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreement with some form of legal force, commencing from 2020. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – to be submitted prior to COP21 – will form the basis of such an agreement. These will be revised if necessary to ensure that, collectively, the contributions are sufficient to keep global warming below 2°C. So, watch for stories during the year about country emission reduction targets (their INDCs)!

From Millennium to Sustainability Goals

At Rio+20 in 2012 it was agreed that a new set of development goals would be established to drive the post-2015 global and UN sustainable development agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will provide an opportunity and indeed an obligation for countries around the world to look at their own models of development and steer in a sustainable direction. The United Nations is in the final stages of defining that agenda having drafted the Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals last year. The final set of SDGs to be realised at a UN Summit in September 2015 should go beyond the previous Millennium Development Goals by including targets for such themes as sustainable production and consumption systems.

Europe has declared 2015, “Year of Development”, focussing on their international development dialogue, European development policy and the Sustainable Development Goals which should guide its Europe 2020 Strategy but also spur the long overdue revision and updating of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy.

Protecting our soils

2015 has been marked as the UN International Year of Soils, to bring attention to the importance of  one of the most valuable, yet generally overseen and exploited, complex biological systems on the planet. Soils are degraded the world over; mis-understood, mis-managed and poorly protected. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that a third of world soils are degraded. Scientists will be gathering in France, Dijon at the end of this year for the first Global Soil Biodiversity Conference ahead of the publication of the first Status of World Soil Resources Report.

Global Energy Production

Scientists say that to limit global warming to 2C 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are “unburnable”. But IEA projects that by 2040 fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) will still represent the majority energy source globally. Renewables are steadily growing, and there are uplifting stories and trends, but they are not happening as fast as they could or should! How will the increasing use of fossil fuels for energy production be reconciled with the climate change agenda? With the Paris Climate Summit coming up will energy policies shift? What we need is some political Umph! To really shift our energy use politicians need to make radical and politically risky decisions.

While Congress has passed a bill to go ahead with the Keystone pipeline – a pipeline that will transport oil from Canadian tar sands to the US – President Obama still maintains that his administration will veto its construction. Will he continue to oppose the project or finally cave to Republican pressure! This issue has become a symbolic reflection of the Obama administration’s true position on climate change.

This year the EU will develop its energy strategy – a strategy with a target of 27% energy generation from renewables by 2030 – while it will make its first steps towards a European Energy Union: “to ensure energy supply security, further integrate national energy markets, reduce European energy demand and decarbonise the energy mix”. How pro-nuclear will it be?

Creating a Circular/Green Economy

The economic outlook for 2015 is not inspiring. Recession is looming in Europe again. Economic growth is stagnating in emerging nations. Even China’s sky-rocketing growth is slowing. Is it not an opportune time to reassess our throw-away society and take advantage of circular thinking to boost economic growth and improve life quality? Circular/green economic thinking became part of the global political agenda at the Rio+20 conference, has been discussed and researched by the World Economic Forum (and will be on its agenda this year), and is being explored by many governments and businesses. Although it seems to be failing to make political and mainstream traction it is just the beginning.

Watch for European Commission’s final decision on whether their ambitious Circular Economy Package should stay! Also the European Commission will be updating its Energy Label Directive and certain aspects of the Ecodesign Directive, along with reviewing its Waste Framework Directive, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and the Landfill Directive.

Arctic’s growing vulnerability to exploitation

According to the US Geological Survey, the Arctic contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its oil, with the majority of resources remaining offshore. The discovery of the deposits sparked international competition over the region’s resources; the five nations that border the Arctic Ocean – Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the US – are involved. Next spring, Russia plans to file an extended request to the United Nations for expanding the boundaries of its continental shelf, updating its initial claim. Denmark filed a similar submission just last month.

Denmark’s submission will be considered at the UN Commission on the Limits and the Continental Shelf thirty-eighth session to be held in New York from 20 July to 4 September 2015. If the Commission rules that several countries can claim the same Arctic area, then it would be up to the states themselves to reach an agreement on use of the territory.

The Arctic, unlike the Antarctic, is not a Nature Reserve; it is partly protected by different treaties covering different environmental issues. With this significant interest in its resources, the Arctic is increasingly vulnerable to industrial activities which will change its landscape beyond recognition. This story needs watching carefully!

ICIS’s environmental events calendar 2015 will be updated shortly!