Dispatches


Striving for World Cup “green” goals

Jen Fela

This year's wildly anticipated 19th Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA; Zurich, Switzerland) World Cup – set to begin in South Africa on June 11 – marks the first time that an African nation will host this premier international soccer tournament. During the month-long event, the national teams of 32 countries will compete in nine host cities, with half a million fans expected to attend from all corners of the globe.

Organizers hope that the hefty carbon price tag of this mega-event – an estimated 2.75 million metric tons of emissions – can be lowered by “green” activities, such as planting thousands of trees, conducting waste reduction, water conservation, and recycling campaigns, improving public transportation, and educating the public about environmental sustainability.

The greening of the FIFA World Cup made headlines during the 2006 tournament, when host country Germany was applauded for achieving carbon-neutral status for the first time in the history of the event. The “Green Goal” initiative in Germany included the use of rainwater tanks, reusable cups in public areas, combination tickets to encourage public transport, and eco-electricity, to lessen the environmental impact of one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Excess carbon emissions from the German event (estimated to be around 90 000 metric tons, according to a press release issued by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety [Berlin]) were offset by financial contributions to environmental projects in South Africa and India.

South African organizers face an even bigger challenge: according to a 2009 study – Feasibility study for a carbon neutral 2010 FIFA World Cup – this year's World Cup will have “the largest carbon footprint of any major event with a goal to be ‘climate-neutral’, in large part because South Africa relies primarily on coal-generated electricity. The study estimates that the event will directly produce over 896 000 metric tons of carbon emissions – more than eight times as much as the German 2006 World Cup – with an additional 1 857 000 metric tons produced as a result of international travel, due to the long journeys teams and fans must make to reach the southern tip of Africa.

Figure 1.

Can the World Cup inspire fans to go green?

Despite some criticism, Lorraine Gerrans, Manager for Green Goal 2010 for the City of Cape Town, explains that her organization has made progress. “As Green Goal 2010 is the first program of its kind in Cape Town and South Africa. It is, in effect, generating the baseline data for future greening programs in Cape Town; this is why much importance is placed on our environmental monitoring, measuring, and reporting framework for the World Cup.”

Many are choosing to help. More than half of the qualifying countries have committed or pledged to offset emissions traveling to and from South Africa, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP; Nairobi, Kenya) is encouraging fans to offset their emissions as well.

UNEP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF; Washington, DC), will help install solar-powered and energy-efficient street lamps, traffic lights, and billboards in several South African cities. And GEF's “Green Passport” will provide visitors with tips on how to travel sustainably. Monique Barbut, Chairperson and CEO of the GEF, says, “The World Cup represents a great opportunity to showcase innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint, through sustainable transport and other energy-efficient projects that will have lasting impacts for the South African people, long after the last goal is scored. International initiatives like the Green Passport program are an important step toward generating clean and efficient energy choices across Africa and the developing world.”

Corporations are making voluntary efforts as well. Nike recently announced that the nine participating national teams that it sponsors will be wearing the most environmentally friendly jerseys in the history of soccer. Each jersey is made entirely from recycled polyester, produced from recycled plastic bottles – a move that prevented almost 13 million plastic bottles from entering landfill sites in Japan and Taiwan. Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola Company, in partnership with FIFA and the South African Department of Education, expanded a recycling education program to 200 schools nationwide and awarded 20 000 World Cup tickets to the winners of a competition to collect bottles and cans.

“The FIFA World Cup has worldwide acclaim and credibility”, continues Gerrans. “If such a tournament truly commits to sustainability, fundamentally shifts its founding philosophy, and communicates this in an effective manner that appeals to its participants and global audience, people will take notice. The transferral of environmental consciousness would grow cumulatively as sustainability principles become the norm. This is the intention behind Green Goal, and our program represents a positive step forward for the mainstreaming of ‘green’ principles and the furthering of sustainable progress in South Africa.”

Scientific communication could help the Arctic

Nancy Bazilchuk

Populations of high-Arctic vertebrate species have declined by an average of 26% over the past 34 years, according to a report commissioned by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum representing the world's eight circumpolar nations. “We should be concerned about the patterns we are seeing in the High Arctic”, says Louise McRae, the report's lead author and a researcher at the Zoological Society of London (UK). “These populations are only going to be under more pressure in the future due to climate change.”

The report, the Arctic Species Trend Index, is the first effort to collect vertebrate population datasets from as early as 1970 to create a pan-Arctic index. All told, researchers were able to assemble records for 965 populations, representing 306 species, or 35% of all known vertebrate species in the region.

Figure 2.

The new Arctic Species Trend Index showed a general downturn in populations of grazers, such as caribou, in the High Arctic.

The index allowed researchers to examine trends at different trophic levels, as well as from different geographic Arctic subregions. That approach enabled the researchers to detect declines in grazers such as caribou/reindeer (Rangifer spp) and Arctic and mountain hare (Lepus arcticus and L lepidus), says Christoph Zöckler, Senior Advisor on Biodiversity for UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Cambridge, UK), and a report coauthor. “We now know something is happening with grazers – [it is unclear] whether this is the result of major changes in the vegetation or the microclimate”, he notes, adding that although some of these changes may be due to natural cycles, it is too early to ascribe them to climate change.

At the same time, the index showed that some populations in the low Arctic increased, as was the case for several different goose species “partly due to conservation successes”, explains Zöckler. “But these increases were also attributable to more worrying situations such as overfertilized, very nutritious feeding grounds to the south.”

The hope is that the publication of the index will persuade more researchers to contribute to the next edition. “We would really like to encourage scientists to come forward”, says Zöckler. “There's a lot of gray literature out there that hasn't been published – not just new data, but old data too.”

Crops for food or fuel?

Noreen Parks

As industrial-scale efforts are being ramped up to produce biofuels from corn, soybeans, and other plants, scientists continue to debate the energy tradeoffs of using such crops for fuel instead of food. The latest salvo in this contest comes in a comprehensive, long-term study (Environ Sci Technol 2010; doi:10.1021/es903385g), which concludes that producing grains for food is more energy efficient.

To calculate the energy balances of raising crops for food or fuel, Ilya Gelfand and colleagues at Michigan State University (East Lansing) analyzed 17 years of data from a long-term agricultural ecosystem experiment in southwestern Michigan. The researchers first estimated the energy inputs associated with the full spectrum of farming activities – from the manufacture of agricultural chemicals to plowing and harvesting – associated with growing corn, soybeans, and wheat in rotation. The researchers examined several farming systems: conventional tillage and no tillage (both with standard chemical treatments); reduced chemical treatments; and organic practices. They also evaluated the continuous growing of alfalfa, which can be used for cattle feed or for cellulosic feed-stock for ethanol.

Next, they determined the energy outputs from using all harvestable biomass for either food for human consumption or biofuel. For every system, the results showed that the energy yield for food was greater than that for fuel. “No-tillage agricultural management had the highest biomass yields, and thus the largest energy outputs, under both the food and fuel scenarios. Conventional tillage, the most common system in the US, was the least efficient system for agricultural production”, says Gelfand. The only cellulosic crop – alfalfa – showed the greatest energy yield for biofuel, while its use as cattle feed proved less energy efficient. “On average, growing grain for human food was 36% more energy-wise than growing it for ethanol production”, Gelfand concludes.

“From a conservation standpoint, we should shift away from using productive farmland for fuel production and instead focus on developing cellulosic biomass that can be grown on marginal lands or in combination with food”, suggests Gelfand. An example of a combined system is one in which grain is used for food production and some portion of the crop residue is used for fuel.

Agroecologist Rita Seidel (Rodale Institute, Kutztown, PA) concurs, adding that “although the [study demonstrated that the] organic system had a lower net energy gain, it increased soil organic matter and reduced nitrogen leaching, contributing to organic agriculture's sustainability and energy efficiency over the long term”.

Australia ends emissions trading plan

Claire Miller

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has all but abandoned plans to introduce a carbon trading scheme, telling the nation in late April that he would wait until action by other nations was assessed, in late 2012. The turnaround comes as a surprise, as Rudd had declared during the 2007 election campaign that climate change was one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation.

In 2007, Rudd promised to lead Australia back into the Kyoto Protocol fold after 13 years in the wilderness under former Prime Minister and climate skeptic, John Howard. As recently as November 2009, Rudd said in a keynote speech that the “argument that we must not act until others do is an argument that has been used by political cowards since time immemorial”.

But after his plan failed to pass the Senate in November, when conservative politicians split over the issue, and in the face of a campaign by opponents of carbon trading who portrayed the scheme as a “big new tax”, Rudd has joined the wait-and-see ranks rather than once again make carbon trading a central issue in this year's Federal elections.

“It is extremely disappointing”, says Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of the Climate Institute Australia (Melbourne). “Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate-change impacts, and we had positioned ourselves as a forward-thinking country. Now we have positioned ourselves as the first major economy to step back from our commitments in Copenhagen. There is no logical reason – neither of the reasons given, Senate obstruction and lack of international action, stand up to scrutiny.”

With policies to reduce emissions now absent from the platforms of both the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia – the two dominant political parties in the country – Jackson says the economy will suffer as investment in renewables flows to the European Union, Japan, and China, where governments are taking their Copenhagen targets seriously. Without carbon trading, Jackson believes that Australia's carbon emissions will continue to rise. And with many Australians still wanting political leaders to take real action, disillusionment has translated into polls that reflect plummeting support for Rudd and his government.

“Both sides will come under increasing pressure with the public realization that other countries are acting, and despite what happened in Copenhagen, international negotiations are still continuing”, Jackson says. “The world hasn't stopped because Australia has started to look backwards.”

Bushmeat hunting: assessing sustainability

Jane Bradbury

Researchers have proposed a new method for assessing the sustainability of bushmeat hunting, using village-based surveys and hunter interviews to measure changes in prey profiles and catch per unit effort. “Monitoring changes in these simple indicators could be used by local communities to manage their bushmeat resources”, says lead researcher Noëlle Kümpel (Zoological Society of London, UK).

Bushmeat has long been an important source of animal protein for people in West and Central Africa, but many experts fear that bushmeat hunting is no longer sustainable in many areas as a result of increasing human populations and the loss of forest habitat. Measuring sustainability of this resource is challenging, however, and the most commonly used indices of sustainability require information – which is often unavailable – about the density of wildlife populations and their reproduction rates.

Figure 3.

Villagers show off their catch.

Kümpel and her colleagues combined data from an offtake (catch) survey, hunter follows, and hunter interviews to measure the sustainability of mainly commercial bushmeat hunting near the Monte Alén National Park in Equatorial Guinea. Compared with similar data collected in 1998–1999, their 2003 findings indicate that the average distance that the hunters travel has remained constant, and that the overall offtake and number of active hunters have not changed substantially. Catch per unit effort decreased slightly, however, while the proportion of the two most commonly trapped species – brush-tailed porcupine (Atherurus africanus) and blue duiker (Philantomba monticola) – along with primates (mainly black colobus, Colobus satanas) has increased (Conserv Biol 2010; doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01505.x). “These results are consistent with what we would expect in a semi-sustainable but already partially depleted system”, explains Kümpel.

“This is an important study because it addresses the overall sustainability of a bushmeat system and advances a robust and replicable method for measuring sustainability”, says John Robinson, Executive Vice President of the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York, NY). “It also demonstrates that bushmeat hunting can be relatively sustainable under certain conditions.” Both Robinson and Kümpel emphasize the importance of having local communities and governments work together to help regulate and manage both subsistence and commercial bushmeat hunting.

Satellite tracking wildlife to predict emerging diseases

Virginia Gewin

The Wildlife Trust, a non-profit conservation organization based in New York, has partnered with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the US Geological Survey to track wild waterfowl in Bangladesh, in an effort to predict outbreaks of the H5N1 virus, known as “bird flu”. Wildlife Trust disease ecologist Kurt Vandegrift (New York, NY) and a team of collaborators from those three organizations tested 16 water-birds caught near Bangladesh for H5N1 and then attached satellite transmitters to track them. The devices will monitor the birds' movements every 2 hours over the next 12–14 months.

Little is known about the role of wild birds in disease transmission in Southeast Asia, but Bangladesh is a hotspot for human and wildlife disease emergence, resulting from the combination of high human population density, broad diversity of wildlife, and degree of interaction between humans and wildlife. “There is the potential that wild birds are moving H5N1 around Asia, so it is imperative to know where they travel, to prepare those areas in case the virus is introduced”, explains Vandegrift.

Figure 4.

Tagging ducks, like this male ruddy duck (Tadorna ferruginea), will help disease ecologists track emerging viruses.

The research team is hoping to increase the number of waterfowl tested for the virus to 600 individuals and to track an additional 20 individuals by next year, to determine whether H5N1 is as prevalent or lethal in wild ducks as it is in poultry. Costs – roughly US$5000 per tagged individual – may prove prohibitive, yet it is the only way to track species that migrate over vast distances.

“Satellite tracking can save money in the long term, because it can quickly confirm or reject hypotheses”, says Peter Daszak, President of the Wildlife Trust, (New York, NY). For example, Wildlife Trust researcher Jon Epstein began using satellite tags in 2004 to track how large bats, including the Indian flying fox (Pteropus giganteus) and the Malayan flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus), spread the deadly Nipah virus, which can cause brain inflammation in humans. Epstein's satellite tracking data instantly resolved a long-standing debate: whether the pathogen-carrying bats emerged from Sumatra or Malaysia. It turns out it's the same population of bats, roving throughout the region in search of fruiting trees. “Understanding that bats move large distances and mingle with different colonies explains how the virus persists”, notes Epstein.

The Wildlife Trust is increasing satellite surveillance efforts in other species, to build the models necessary to achieve it's ultimate goal: predicting the next disease before it emerges. “I believe that within 10 years we'll be well on our way to identifying – and preventing – the next new emerging disease”, predicts Daszak.

The Swedish Red-Listers

Kathryn Senior

The updated Swedish Red List, published at the end of April by the Swedish Species Information Centre, revealed a few winners but many more losers in the battle to maintain sufficient wildlife populations in the Swedish landscape. The classification status has improved for animals such as wolves, bears, wolverines, and lynx; however, the eider, herring gull, swift, and black guillemot are newly listed as threatened, while the situation for selected Swedish fish species is described as “grim”. For example, the catfish is now endangered and eels and dogfish are critically endangered.

Trees have also suffered; the spread of fungal diseases has had a catastrophic impact on elm and ash trees throughout Sweden, and both types are now endangered. Removing infected trees not only fails to slow the spread of such diseases, but also affects associated species, some of which may eventually find their way onto future Red Lists.

In total, 4127 species in Sweden are red-listed, of which 212 are categorized as critically endangered 634 are endangered, 1096 are vulnerable, 1440 are threatened, and 224 have been extirpated from the country. For the remaining 521 species, insufficient data are available to classify their status with any accuracy. “Although it's alarming that biodiversity loss continues at that rate, unfortunately these findings do not surprise me”, comments David Wardle, Professor of Soil and Plant Ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Umeå). “The main factors that are driving biodiversity loss at a global level continue unabated, including land-use change (particularly in the tropics), human overpopulation, resource exploitation, nitrogen deposition, and – increasingly in the future – climate change. The reality is that we are right in the middle of Earth's sixth wave of extinction, and as long as the drivers of this loss continue in their present trajectory, it is inevitable that losses such as these will continue.”

The increase in species on the country's Red List is a blow to the 2010 Biodiversity Target, which was to halt biodiversity loss by the end of this year. “Targets are good, because they encourage us to at least recognize the problem, which is the first step”, says Wardle. “But effective action must follow.”

Penan people block loggers in Borneo

Adrian Burton

The Penan people of Sarawak's Upper Baram region, Borneo, have blocked two roads into a local nature reserve, to prevent Malaysian timber company Samling from logging some of the region's last virgin forest. For now, the bulldozers have relented, but this long-running dispute is far from over.

“Logging of the Penan's lands began in the mid 1980s”, explains Lukas Straumann, Director of the Bruno Manser Foundation (Basel, Switzerland), a human rights/environmental organization and Penan advocate. “Over 90% of the primary forest has now disappeared. Formerly forest nomads, the Penan are now almost entirely settled, and have become rice farmers. However, they still depend on the forest for protein, obtained through fishing and hunting. The authorities do not recognize the forest as the Penan's traditional land, and thus allow logging operations without their consent.” A recent report, Logging in Sarawak and the rights of Sarawak's indigenous communities, published by JOANGOHutan, the Malaysian Network of Indigenous Peoples and Non-Governmental Organizations (Subang Jaya, Malaysia), highlights this lack of recognition, and claims the authorities are “largely ignoring” native people's land rights, even when courts deliver judgments in their favor.

In November 2009, 17 Penan communities of the Upper Baram region declared their home area (about 163 000 ha) a self-administered nature reserve, the so-called “Penan Peace Park”. The roadblocks are now defending this area. “[We cannot] survive without the forest”, says Aya Luding, a spokesman for the Long Sabai community. “If we let the company in, [it will want] to take all of our forest.”

However, the Samling corporation's logging operation is legal. The Penan Peace Park is entirely unofficial (the land is state-owned) and Samling has permission to exploit the area. “[Samling complies] with all environmental impact requirements”, contends Mandy Chen (Manager, Corporate Communications, Samling Global Ltd, Hong Kong). “In this area we are practicing reduced impact logging.” The company also states that “a formal and systematic process of continuous engagement” is in place “to achieve community consensus and acceptance”, that it “invests considerable time and resources on building relationships with the local communities”, and that “many villages in our concession areas welcome our presence, and want us to build roads and bridges (and we have) for better access to schools and medical facilities...”. However, the words of Penan leader Unga Paren, collected in the JOANGOHutan report, stand in stark contrast: “If logging continues and our jungle is destroyed, the Penans will die. It will be the end of us.”

A new home for coral

Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

Researchers from Israel's National Institute of Oceanography (Haifa) and the University of Haifa have found a way to grow coral colonies in floating “nurseries” made of rope. At a time when reefs worldwide are in decline, the underwater nurseries, tested off the Philippines, may provide a method for coral restoration that is both simple and inexpensive (Ecol Eng 2010; doi:10.1016/j.ecoleng.2009.12.003).

When a reef is damaged, coral fragments or entire colonies are often transplanted to the damaged site as part of a restoration program. However, this process can damage the donor-coral site and stress transplanted coral. The use of nurseries and nursery-farmed coral colonies could provide an effective alternative. Baruch Rinkevich (Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, National Institute of Oceanography, Haifa), coauthor of the paper, compares coral nurseries to the terrestrial practice of silviculture, the process of restoring forests, often by planting trees from nurseries.

Figure 5.

A coral rope nursery off the northwestern coast of the Philippines.

The backbone of these nurseries is composed of horizontal and vertical ropes, a chain of floating buoys, and lead weights, which form an underwater trellis. To attach the coral fragments, researchers untwist the strands of the horizontal rope and place small coral fragments between the coiled strands. “The idea was to make the whole system very inexpensive, so we can work in areas where there is no money available for restoration”, explains Rinkevich. In the Philippine trials, the combined costs of supplies, labor, and maintenance were US$0.11 per coral fragment.

Overall, 60–70% of coral fragments from branching and encrusting species were successfully established. The floating nursery allows for increased water circulation and provides protection from benthic predators. The project did pose challenges: rough weather detached coral fragments, although this could be avoided by sinking the nursery by several meters during storms. Similar to their terrestrial counterparts, underwater nurseries face pest problems: every 3 months, managers were forced to remove pests such as coral-eating snails. At the same time, however, other organisms, like damselfish, lived in “harmony” with the nurseries. “The nursery became like an oasis”, says Rinkevich, “like a small, floating reef in the middle of the water”.

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