Extreme temperatures keep affecting wheat production in Europe

Yet another year, climate change shows its effect more vividly on European summer. Extreme temperatures have devastated corn fields in North Europe, while a combination of droughts and high intensity rains on the Black Sea area have plunged production estimations, with the consequent potential of a price raise.

France, main EU producer, has also been experimenting extreme meteorological situations, which forced analysts to take their production estimations down to 34 million tons, almost 3 million less than last year.

As we follow harvest path to North Germany (second biggest corn producer in the European Union, right behind France), more and more evidence of damage on the crops arise, leading to a reiterative cut on the production forecasts for the EU joint corn output.

“Situation is catastrophic in northern Europe” recently said Andree Defois, president of Strategie Grains, the company of reference regarding grain and oilseed markets in Europe.

The consultancy cut off again few weeks ago its estimation for soft wheat’s harvest in Europe for the year, setting it under the 130 million tons, which is a six year minimum, and Defois confirmed that most likely it will be revised again.

Map of droughts in July 2018, JRC European Drought Observatory

Poland wheat production is also struggling: droughts at the beginning of summer and the effects of the recent heatwave mean that the country’s production may fall over 8%, to a total of 10.7 tons, according to Wojtek Sabarinski, analyst for Sparks Polska.

In the meantime, United Kingdom prays to have it better than its neighbours, has also estimated that this year’s output will be a 5 years low.

The Scandinavian and Baltic regions have not been able to escape this weather craziness either: for instance, Sweden’s production has fallen around a remarkable 40% so far.

European prices have risen over 15% in the last month, reaching its peak price in the last 4 years: 208.5 €/ton, in consonance with an increasing concern worldwide regarding wheat supply.

Thus, the repercussion of European situation it’s going to be noticed all around the globe. Considering that the EU as a collective is the main wheat producer in the world, and that the forecasts for production have fallen for the main four producers (France, Germany, UK and Poland), shortage in supply or a very noticeable increase on prices to readjust equilibrium may be expected.

The implications of this situation are very straight forward: the price rice in such a basic product as wheat will definitely be felt throughout the agro-alimentary sector. While clearly being bad news, both for Europe and for consumers, we can only hope governments take note of the “not-so-gentle” pushes that nature keeps on giving us. Global warming is becoming everyday a more tangible problem, and the longer we take to seriously tackle it the more it will cost us.

Plastic remains as one of the biggest hurdles in the path of circular economy in Europe

As European economies have flourished and developed along the last 50 years, the use of plastic has intensified enormously. According to recent estimations, plastic production has become 50 times bigger in this time period, and it is supposed to stay on growing.

While this can make sense to a certain extent since population and consumption has also increased during this period, what remains unbearable is how little is being done to switch to a more circular approach: nowadays, only 7% of the plastic produced is recycled. Furthermore, Europe is exporting part of that recycled plastic to countries like China, because the inner demand is not high enough.

Although the image of used bottles and bags can be the more visual representation of plastic waste, truth is technology has taken this problem to a whole new level. Specifically, the existence of microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic materials of less than 5mms) makes it so that a lot of the plastic we throw away is undetectable also for us: from hygiene products to clothes, many of the products we use on daily basis include almost undetectable traces of plastic, making it really hard for the average user to know the damage he is causing by using those products.

According to studies, the highest damage by plastic waste is done in the oceans. All those microplastics slowly tear apart and go down the sink to end in the waters of all around the world. For instance, rain takes microparticles of the car tires away, which finish in the sea. We have another example in the washing machines: recent evaluation suggests that around 10% of the microplastic present in the oceans comes from its use.

And why is this so important? Well, for a start, it is much easier to tackle the problem while the waste is still on land. Even when the plastic particles are already into the sewer system, it is possible to apply different filters to capture it. In this sense, the company SUEZ has developed new technology to filtrate the microplastics that pass through different plants for water treatment.

Nonetheless, the full circle of the circular economy does not close just with the increasing capability of collection. As Jean-Marc Boursier, one of Suez’s senior executives affirms, “it does not make much sense to ask people to increase their efforts on separating their waste to facilitate the recycling process when, for instance, most of the plastic collected in Europe ends up in China because the internal demand is not high enough”. “It’s a matter of political will” he adds.

European Commission is trying to take some steps in this direction. Recently, a proposal was raised to change the relation with plastic, materialized on the goal of recycling at least 90% of disposable bottles by 2025. While on paper it may seem ambitious enough, reality keeps on pushing us to make bigger efforts: it has been forecasted that by 2025 the oceans will bear a plastic waste/fish ratio will be 1:3. The time to raise awareness is falling behind, and now is the time to take actions.

Gorona Del Viento has the wind on its sails

The Island of El Hierro (Canary Islands, Spain) covered its whole electricity demand between the 25th of January and the 12th of February of this year on a 100% with renewable resources, avoiding the use of pollutant energy sources for over more than 560 hours in 2018, and a total of almost 2.000 hours since it started operating.

This major success comes mainly explained by the positive progress of El Hierro’s first wind and pumped hydro system, La Gorona del Viento, set up on 2014. The basic idea behind the functioning of this power plant is simple: an initial deposit of water is set on an adequate high ground area of the island, and another one is set on lower ground. The water running downwards produces energy, which, together with the input brought by a small wind farm, is used to pump the water up, back to the first deposit, while producing enough surplus to also feed the electricity demand of the island.

 

 

Since the moment it started normally operating, on summer 2015, Gorona del Viento has produced more than 20.250 MWh. Its progress is being remarkable: on the first half-year of performance, its share on the total demand of electricity was 19,2%. 2016 was the first whole year for the power plant, and it reached 40,7% of the total demand. On 2017, the share kept climbing up to 46,5%.

As the president of Gorona del Viento Belén Allende pointed out, one of the keys to explain the continuous improved performance of the plant is the close collaboration with Red Eléctrica de España (REE), the corporation that controls the national electricity grid in Spain and operates the power transmission system. In this regard, REE added that the recent operative updates introduced in the system will keep leading to efficiency improvements.

The positive effects that this initiative has brought and keeps bringing to the island of El Hierro are numerous: most obvious ones are directly connected with its environmental impact. Since Gorona started operating, it has been estimated than the emission of more than 30.000 tonnes of CO2 has been avoided, as well as saving the consumption of a great amount of diesel, which translates in lower energetic dependence, one of Canary’s biggest concerns.

Beyond that, Gorona del Viento has also helped re-launching the brand of El Hierro, promoting it as an environmentally friendly destination for regular tourists, while also becoming an interesting destination for scientific tourism, going from professionals in the energy field, to students, environmental engineers…  Besides, it has helped involving the inhabitants of the island into sustainability and increasing their awareness concerning these topics.

Overall, Gorona del Viento’s progress is slowly taking it from an experiment on how to switch to a 100% renewable energy context to a wider reality, becoming an example not only for the other Canary Islands but to anyone in the world interested on how to effectively perform this transition.

Current carbon approach can be insufficient to achieve Paris Goals, experts say

Nowadays models’ trust into dealing with climate change by using “negative emissions” technologies, such as CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), may be into question, according to latter news.

A recent report from the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) claimed that the current state of technology cannot compensate for the actual amount of emissions, even with the forecasted cuts and reduction on them.

“We cannot trust technology to come to rescue,” are words from Michael Norton, a science and engineering professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TITech). “We need to reduce our emissions as rapidly as possible.”

Nonetheless, since the efforts to lessen the use of fossil fuels seem to be insufficient, the attention that researchers are giving to capture climate pollution is consistently growing: alternatives like fertilising the oceans with iron or planting more carbon-absorbing trees keep popping up and taking the issue forward.

Problem is, according to the scientific community, that much of the needed technology is still under test and not for the open public, meaning its actual reach capability is way lower than what it should be according to both its potential and the scale needed. For instance, it has been estimated that more than 12 gigatons of carbon dioxide would need to be removed from the atmosphere each year; however, current situation of technology would get to eliminate just a fraction of that.

Furthermore, Norton pointed out that the technique required to store that captured carbon below ground is still far from being viable in real life, and showing a slow progress. “Science is not actually making much headway at all”, added.

Definitely one of the roots of the slow development of this sector is the shortage of economic incentives to actually carry the industry forward. Probably the most flagrant sign of it is the absence of a carbon tax: the fact that most emitters of carbon pollution do not actually pay for that makes it so that they lack a real incentive to actually consider these technologies or to work on cutting their emissions.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of progress on the specific sector of carbon capture and storage from both economical and technical sides, it is still researchers’ duty to keep investigating them. Their relevance is going to grow steadily as time goes on and humanity’s effect on the environment stays increasing, worsening also nature’s reactions to our footprint: longer droughts, more devastating floods, a general rising on the sea level… “Every tool in our toolbox may be necessary in the second half of the century to tackle climate change”, warned Norton.

 

 

You can find the original report here:  https://easac.eu/publications/details/easac-net/

Agrisource : an Open-Innovation Platform for Climate-Smart Agriculture

With 10% of the world facing food and water scarcity, any viable solution to meet the challenge of global food production must extend beyond field-level problems and encompass a wider, science-based approach.

The main practical problems encountered across the entire seed-to-shelf spectrum are:

–          lack of communication and transparency between the players of agriculture

–          needs for advice, knowledge and actions

–          need of better life cycle evaluations for the value chain.

These problems have also been strengthened in the context of deep climate change.

How to solve the problem?

Agrisource aims at bringing together all actors (businesses, institutions, associations, farmers…), stimulate debates on innovative technologies and technics, and act as a catalyst for new local or international projects. It is a mine of resources for those who seek information, and a network hub for those who come with an idea.

In order to do that, an Open Innovation Platform has been created for the purpose of encouraging a more efficient innovation into the agricultural sector by sharing best practises, experiences, knowledge and information. That may also be seen as a place where to spread and discuss strategies regarding both the reduction of GHGs emissions and the adaptation of the agricultural practises to climate change. At the same time, value chain players may also influence each other in the decision making processes and, finally, share the risks of changing food systems.

Data are collected using specific sensors and intelligent data collection devices, combined with hundreds of other data inputs, including satellite and drone imagery. Multi source data are used to monitor the full spectrum of agricultural and operational activity and solve specific agriculture and business problems (such as increasing brix in grape and sugar cane crops, optimizing irrigation scheduling for water sustainability). In this way, both yield and revenue are increased by improving crop health, food quality and safety, but also wages and profitability.

These data are then combined with advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning. Armed with this information, that provide a full range of economic, climate, infrastructure, and operational insights, officials in government or enterprise farm management teams can optimize water, electricity, nutrient, chemical, and fuel usage and make more informed forecasting and investment decisions in order to maximise the final output.

AgriSource is the Europe’s first open innovation platform for climate-smart agriculture, operating with the support of the CSA Regional Boosters, an original initiative from the European Climate-KIC, that focuses on CSA solutions on specific business areas.

The platform is still young and launching and there’s a lot to do to make it completely intuitive and efficient. The operating team from the INRA, the CIRAD, and the startup eKoal – as the lead developer, Marc Nougier claims in an interview for Daily Planet – is facing the challenges of now spreading the use of AgriSource by all kinds of users and in order to do that, the first step required is that users subscribe, contribute, bring their input… and their feedback on things that can be improved.

Highlights from COP23 – a brief explanation of the key outcomes and the plans for the future

The 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Bonn, Germany, from 6 to 17 November 2017 under the presidency of the Government of Fiji.

It is the first time that a COP is presided over by a small Pacific island developing country that is facing an existential threat from global warming. Fiji’s presidency aimed at raising awareness about the situation of Pacific Island Countries that are among the most affected by the impacts of climate change.

The Conference was organized in two zones: the “Bula Zone”, where negotiations between governments took place, and the “Bonn Zone” dedicated to climate action events (high-level events, side-events, exhibits and delegation pavilions).

COP23 had as a major objective to define rules and framework to translate the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement into action. The Paris Agreement is an international agreement to reduce global warming emissions and limit the increase in global temperature to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels”. It was adopted in 2015 at COP21 in Paris and entered into force on 4 November 2016.

 

Some key outcomes from COP23

Fiji Momentum for Implementation

The 23rd COP closed on Saturday 18 November, after a night of negotiations, with the adoption of the “Fiji Momentum for Implementation”, a document that aims to advance the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement, in order to complete the Work Programme by 2018, and prepare the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue. In addition, the document contains some provisions on “pre-2020 implementation and ambition”.

Talanoa Dialogue

As agreed in Paris in 2015 and confirmed at COP23, the Facilitative Dialogue, renamed as Talanoa Dialogue, will start in January 2018. The word “Talanoa” is used in Fiji and the Pacific to define a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue”. The purpose of Talanoa is to “share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions, which are for the collective good”.

The Dialogue is a process through which all countries will take stock of their collective efforts towards the Paris Agreement’s objectives and will revise their ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (their nationally determined contributions – NDCs). The Dialogue will close at the end of COP24 in Katowice, Poland.

 

Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform and Gender Action Plan

Several decisions were adopted at COP23, including the decision to operationalize the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform. The platform will be a way to “strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change” and to increase their involvement in climate negotiations.

Moreover, on 13 November, the Conference adopted the decision to establish a gender action plan to enhance the participation of women in UNFCCC processes recognising their critical role in climate action.

 

Ocean Pathway Partnership and Powering Past Coal Alliance

Two important initiatives were launched at COP23: the Ocean Pathway Partnership, which highlights the critical relationship between the ocean and climate and promotes action for a healthy ocean; and the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a coalition that aims at accelerating the phase-out of coal in a “sustainable and economically inclusive way”.

Look at the stars… Whoops we can’t!

You may find yourself looking at the sky during these summer nights, but where are the stars at?

Light pollution in our cities is a serious issue. In a recent study conducted by an Italian and American research team, it has been found out that more than 83% of the world’s population experiences light-polluted night skies, including more than 99% of all Europeans and Americans. The countries with the worst skies are Italy (yes you are reading right) and South Korea.

Atlas_NightSky
      Most and Least light polluted countries by population’s size

You can see this horrifying data looking at the following link of the NASA Blue Marble project, showing light pollution around the globe (the most recent image however is from 2012) http://www.blue-marble.de/nightlights/2012

But what are the real hazards of light polluted skies?

According to various researches the main negative impacts are the following:

  • Increasing energy consumption: in an average year in the U.S. alone, outdoor lighting uses about 120 terawatt-hours of energy, mostly to illuminate streets and parking lots. That’s enough energy to meet New York City’s total electricity needs for two years!
  • Disrupting the ecosystem and wildlife: light pollution disrupt natural cycles of many species of birds, insects, plants and night animals, interfering with their reproduction, hunting activities and migration patterns!
  • Harming human health: increasing risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer and anxiety are related to bad night luminosity! It also alters the circadian rhythm having severe consequence on our sleep-wake timing.
  • Effecting crime and safety: More light does make us feel safer but it does not make us safer. Different studies in English or American cities concluded that more outdoor lightening does not deter crimes!
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Levels of light pollution

Moreover, the lack of darkness is causing a huge loss in terms of cultural heritage for current and future generations. Since ancient times stars have inspired science, religion, philosophy, art and literature. Just  looking at them we have been able to navigate and to explore seas, we learned about our expanding universe, not to recall the beautiful Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night” or the infinite numbers of songs, poems and sonnets “written” under the stars.

Thinking that the majority of us will never experience a brimming night and appreciate the vastness of the universe is just as sad as terrible.

Once Stephen Hawking said: “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes universe exist. Be curious”

Well Dr. Hawking we all would like to follow your advice, but now how can we do that?

What is Euroenviro (as a participant)?

 

Imagine yourself in a city you have never been before, although acting like a veteran. Then add up that you are among friendly people, who are actually strangers as  you have never met them before.

Plus, you are passionately  chit-chatting about your dreams and commitments for a better and green world.
And the best part is: it is never going to end!

Euroenviro2016

Picture of Euroenviro participants 2016

 

This is EuroEnviro: an annual week long, big and  stunning conversation about sustainability. It takes place every year in a different location and featuring diverse participants. It usually lasts a week, and involves often  60 students from all around the globe. Every edition has a particular theme, which will be paramount throughout all the week. The participants take part in this theme- related activities as workshops, seminars, guided tours, lectures… and in the end they say goodbye while welcoming- and democratically voting for-  another city candidate that will host the same initiative the upcoming year, only declined in another way.

Euroenviro’s best part is that it is completely self- organised by students and it has very few rules (almost none). It is an evolving creature, who is a wildling, that does not follow any specific pattern but is allowed to freely run in the outer unexplored space of opportunities. This is the reason why every year it is special and it is worthy of participating since it is very much shaped by the participants, organisers, cities and the myriads of  x- variables.

The very first original EuroEnviro was not Euroenviro! In fact, it came to light with the name “Born in Born”, probably (not sure) because it settled in Born, Germany. Then it changed it name and never missed a beat. It travelled around Europe stopping in Austria, Croazia, Spain, Finland, Poland, Scotland and many more interesting places. This year EuroEnviro has just turned 22, taking place in the sunny and fresh-to-death Copenhagen.
The theme was “Building the Future” and 60 lovely people explored through workshops and seminars how a city could be sprouting, living and moving: in a word, Sustainable. In the meantime, they were also divided into groups and developed with a lot of creativity projects addressing these issues, which in the end became material when they crossed  3D-Printers and Laser-Cutters. Finally, the projects became alive in a little but public exhibition where they were testified under unknown and curious eyes and opinions.

 

Euroenviro is not just like that. It is very much more. It is sharing a wonderful experience, travelling in an alternative manner. Above all, it is talking to real people who stem from places from the other side of the world, but think in the way you do. In such a way, you do not feel like an alien when you are flying back to  your profit-centered  world. In fact, strength has taken control of you, and motivation is leading you towards a green path at an unbelievably ambitious pace.

PS: stay tuned for more articles about Euroenviro (knowledge will be shared). Also: upcoming article on “Euroenviro (as a organiser)” as EuroEnviro 2017 will be hosted in ITALY with the contribution of the bloggers here 🙂

Exotic Renewable Energy Plants: Tidal Energy

Tidal Energy power plants are definitely some kind of an exotic form for energy production. That’s because most tidal power plants are just pilot projects that are only build for research purposes and do not create a very big amount of energy in their lifetime. Tidal energy is one form of hydropower energy that gets obtained from tides and is then converted in useful electricity. In ancient times and in the middle ages tide mills have been used to mill grain, and nowadays axial or cross flow turbines are used to produce the electrical energy that is needed in modern times. As the gravitational attraction of the moon moves huge amounts of ocean water on certain coastlines or trough lagoons, tidal power plants were build in this strategic positions, there are 4 main types of tidal power generators: Tidal stream generatorstidal barragesdynamic tidal power and a tidal lagoon.

Unfortunately the issues that come with tidal energy are fairly big, from environmental concerns on marine life (also given the danger of blade strikes and the acoustic output). From a technical and maintenance point of view corrosion in salt water and fouling have a big impact on the plants and make them hardly economically efficient.

Even tough there are some massive problems to face when it comes to significant tidal power generation, there are some steps in the right direction, like a 3,4 MW tidal power generator in the East China Sea.

Check out tidalenergytoday.com for more news on the argument!

 

Life transitions can help to instil better environmental behaviours

You are most likely to change your habits if you are changing your city, a job or even a country. Maybe that’s why people say that their life changed once they moved to some other country. Different language, people or food can have a very positive effect on you. At least the researchers of University of Bath (Bath?! Really??) think so too.

“The study tested the habit discontinuity hypothesis, which states that the behavior change interventions are more effective when delivered in the context of life course changes. This assumption was that when habits are (temporarily) disturbed, people are more sensitive to new information and adopt a mind-set that is conducive to behavior change. A field experiment was conducted among 800 participants, who received either an intervention promoting sustainable behavior, or were in a no-intervention control condition. In both conditions half of the households had recently relocated, and were matched with households that had not relocated. Self-reported frequencies of twenty-five environment-related behaviors were assessed at baseline and eight weeks later. While controlling for past behavior, habit strength, intentions, perceived control, biospheric values, personal norms, and personal involvement, the intervention was more effective among recently relocated participants. The results suggested that the duration of the ‘window of opportunity’ was three months after relocation.”

Check the link below to read the actual scientific paper for more details.

We all can’t move to other location but we can try to change our lifestyle to be more sustainable. Maybe following Meatless Monday’s or going to office twice in a week by public transport, walking more or using less plastic.

Source: ScienceDirect, University of Bath