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Wednesday, 30 January 2008
The Scottish Parliament has launched a consultation on proposals for a Scottish Climate Change Bill. Key features include a statutory target to reduce Scottish carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050, an annual measure of progress against targets and a framework of carbon budgets to act as milestones towards the core target.
The consultation closes on 23 April. It is hoped that a draft Bill can appear before the Scottish Parliament before the end of 2008.
Monday, 28 January 2008
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is currently consulting on plans for a Research Excellence Framework (REF), the successor to the RAE which, it is proposed, will take place in 2012. Under the REF proposals, scientific departments will be judged by the number of citations which academics' papers receive, number of research students and research income, over a five to 10 year period.
In last week's Times Higher (24 January), John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, called for a greater recognition within the REF of the engagement between scientists and policy makers. Such work could be measured through reports to Government, committee membership and verbal advice. At present, HEFCE's proposals for the assessment of research in science, engineering, technology and medicine do not extend to the use of the 'light-touch peer review' necessary to take account of such contributions.
The BES plan to respond to the HEFCE consultation together with the Biosciences Federation and Institute of Biology.
Friday, 25 January 2008
A worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs was launched on Wednesday, 24 January. The International Year of the Reef (IYOR) 2008, launched by the International Coral Reef Initiative, aims to build upon the awareness generated by the 1997 IYOR. 11 years on from this original event, it is clear that more needs to be done to safeguard the future of coral reefs around the globe.
The launch of IYOR 2008 coincided with the release of a report by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) showing that at least 50% of the world's coral reefs are dangerously threatened by warming oceans and increasingly rough seas. 2005 was the warmest year on record, leading to widespread bleaching and death of corals across the Caribbean, a situation exacerbated by increasingly strong storms, including Hurricane Katrina, which battered the coasts throughout the hurricane season.
UK targets for the percentage of fuel for transport to come from biofuels have been revised upwards, in accordance with the European Commission's climate and energy package. Currently standing at 2%, a figure which has taken ten years to achieve, the UK Government has pledged to meet a commitment to increase this to 15% by 2020. Before the Commission's announcement on Wednesday, this figure stood at 5%. The figure is the UK's share of the 'burden' to reach 20% of transport fuel as biofuels by 2020 across the whole of the EU.
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
The EU Commission has announced its 'Energy and Climate Change Package', building on proposals agreed in early 2007. The package comprises a review of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), sets targets for renewable energy, establishes a framework for the development of Carbon Capture and Storage(CCS) technology and outlines how the EU's 'CO2 burden' will be shared between the 27 EU member states.
The aim is to reduce the overall level of EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.
The ETS is to be expanded to cover a wider range of greenhouse gases, with emissions targets adjusted year on year to reduce emissions, from sectors included, to 21% of 2005 levels by 2020, across the EU. Energy credits for the power sector will be auctioned from the beginning of the scheme, with other sectors, to include aviation, entering this process gradually. Allowance may be made for those sectors particularly vulnerable to competition from developing economies, such as those in India and China. Funds generated through the ETS will be used to foster innovation and growth in renewables, R&D and CCS. They will also be used to help developing countries adapt to climate change. The ETS extension will begin in 2013.
National targets for emissions reductions have been proposed for emissions not covered by the ETS.
Biofuels should make up 10% of all transport fuels across the EU by 2020, if production is shown to be sustainable this will not cause other environmental problems.
It is hoped that the package of measures can be agreed by MEPs and Member States by the end of 2009.
Tuesday, 22 January 2008
John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, today published the terms of reference for a two-year feasibility study into the potential to harness tidal power from the Severn Estuary. The cross-Governmental project, involving the Welsh Assembly Government, South West Regional Development Agency, and other stakeholders, will analyse the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of a range of possible projects. The study will culminate with a full public consultation in early 2010.
Although a 'Severn Barrage', one of the projects under consideration, would have the potential to generate 5% of the UK's electricity, its development poses grave concerns for many conservationists due to the importance of the Severn Estuary for, amongst others, over-wintering birds, migrating salmon and other species of fish. The Estuary represents 7% of the UK's total tidal resource for wildlife and is afforded a high-level of protection under international legislation, such as the EU Habitats and Birds Directive.
Monday, 21 January 2008
Natural England have this morning warned that the poor condition of lowland heathland across Britain is putting many species at risk of extinction, including stone curlews and nightjars.
A survey by the organisation, the first of its kind in England, has revealed that all lowland heathland sites outside of legally protected conservation areas are in poor condition and do not meet the standards of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Due to the expansion of urban areas, only 60,000 hectares remain covered by lowland heathland in England.
Lowland heathland is a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which sets targets for the management of these areas and for establishment of new heathland sites.
The Environmental Audit Committee has today published a report criticising the EU for being "reckless" in subsidising biofuels in the absence of legislation to protect tropical forests. Members argue that increased growth of sugar beet and wheat for biofuels in Britain would push up the price of food, along with compromising the conservation of numerous species of birds, plants and animals.
The Committee call for a suspension of subsidies for biofuels by the EU, which it calls "expensive and inefficient". Instead, they say, funds should be directed towards schemes to grow 'bio-mass', wood and other crops grown on non-crop land and used in the generation of heat, and second generation biofuels, generating energy from waste.
Thursday, 17 January 2008
The new published annual report card of the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) shows that marine climate change is having a significant impact on the UK's marine environment. According to the report, 2006 was the second warmest year for UK coastal waters since records began, with seven of the warmest years occurring in the last decade.
Recent warmer conditions have led to a shift in the abundance and geographical distribution in plankton. In turn this has led to reduced prey availability for some seabirds, linked to poor breeding success and reduced survival rates.
Models predict that coastal erosion and flooding will increase, with an increase too in the number of severe storms. This will have a severe impact on the goods and services which the seas can provide, with fishing and farming severely compromised by temperature change and alterations in plankton availability and ports, shipping and built structures all at risk.
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
The Forestry Commission's Woodfuel Task Force today presented a report to the Scottish environment minister, Michael Russell, outlining 26 recommendations by which Scotland can exploit its woody biomass in the generation of energy.
The Task Force has identified 7 million dry tonnes of new woody material which would be suitable for use in the bioenergy sector, including from waste wood, short rotation coppicing and short rotation forestry.
Recommendations include the development of new branch wood and branch recovery grant to encourage growers to bring wood to the market and carry out greater thinning in their forests and woodland.
Monday, 7 January 2008
The British Ecological Society sponsors a Fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) for 2nd or 3rd year PhD students in ecology. Applications for the 2008 Fellowship should reach the BES offices no later than Friday 11 April 2008.
The successful applicant will receive a £5,000 award to cover his/her living costs while undertaking the three-month fellowship at the Houses of Parliament, London. The start date will be mid-September or thereafter.
The Fellow will work on a policy topic grounded in science and technology and will be expected to produce a POSTnote, contribute to a longer report, or assist a select committee of either House in a current inquiry.
Further information about this opportunity can be found at http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/articles/publicaffairs/POST/.