Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International. №12

Magpie River. Photo by Peter Holcombe Photography 2017.

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices. Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

River’s rights

In a first for Canadians, a river in Côte-Nord, Que., has been granted legal personhood by the local municipality of Minganie and the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit.

The Magpie River, (Muteshekau-shipu in the Innu Coet) is an internationally renowned whitewater rafting site, winding nearly 300 kilometres before emptying into the St. Lawrence. The river has one hydroelectric dam managed by Hydro-Québec, and environmental groups have long sought a permanent solution to protect the river from further disruption.

It is unclear how this will affect attempts to build developments on the river, including dams, moving forward, as legal personhood for nature doesn’t exist in Canadian law and could be challenged in court. Minganie, Innu council and several environmental groups — collectively called the Alliance — hope international precedents set in New Zealand, Ecuador and several other countries will help pressure the Quebec government to formally protect the river.

“This is a way for us to take matters into our own hands and stop waiting for the Quebec government to protect this unique river,” explained Alain Branchaud, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Quebec chapter. “After a decade of our message falling on deaf ears in government, the Magpie River is now protected as a legal person.”

In accordance with Innu customs and practices, the Alliance has granted the river nine rights: 1) the right to flow; 2) the right to respect for its cycles; 3) the right for its natural evolution to be protected and preserved; 4) the right to maintain its natural biodiversity; 5) the right to fulfil its essential functions within its ecosystem; 6) the right to maintain its integrity; 7) the right to be safe from pollution; 8) the right to regenerate and be restored; and perhaps most importantly, 9) the right to sue.

The Magpie River in in Côte-Nord. Photo by Boreal River

Energy & climate

A hydrogen-powered snowmobile is now running on slopes at the Hinterstoder ski region, Austria. Unveiled last year (2020) by BRP-Rotax to decarbonize winter tourism, the vehicle emits only water vapor and runs almost silently. After one and a half years of experimental development on the test bench and in the vehicle, the fuel cell system now boasts 120 operating hours. A complimentary hydrogen refueling system, which generates green hydrogen on-site, is supporting the zero-emission vehicle. Developed in collaboration with Fronius, the station produces green hydrogen for the vehicle right next to the slope. The electricity for the electrolysis is generated from green photovoltaic power; the plant was planned and built by ECuSol GmbH.

BP and Chevron have led a US$40 million investment round for a Canadian startup that claims to have developed a unique way to extract energy from geothermal heat on demand, using an unpowered looping fluid design that’s already prototyped in Alberta. There are lower-temperature, low-enthalpy geothermal projects out there that can generate energy from hot rock in a flexible, scalable, on-demand fashion, but according to Eavor CEO John Redfern, these haven’t taken off because they lose between 50-80 percent of the power they generate in the task of pumping the water up and down.

Plans for Europe’s largest gas plant were scrapped. Climate groups scored a victory this week as plans to build Europe’s largest gas plant were axed. Energy giant Drax was due to construct the facility in Yorkshire, but abandoned the project after campaigners argued it was incompatible with the UK’s climate targets. The firm pulled the plug despite climate groups losing a legal challenge against the UK government in January over its approval of the plant.

The positive news was tempered by a report by the thinktank Carbon Tracker. It revealed how plans to build 17 gas power plants in the UK (including the now abandoned Drax one) would undermine climate targets and push up energy bills. Carbon Tracker said clean energy could offer the same level of grid services as gas, at lower cost.

Biodiversity

Three years ago, Panji Gusti Akbar was flipping through the pages of Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago when he came across a photo of a bird with brown wings and a black stripe across its brow, appropriately named the black-browed babbler (Malacocincla perspicillata). On the map beside the bird, there was a question mark, indicating that no one knew where the species lived. In fact, this bird hadn’t been sighted for the past 172 years. Then, in October 2020, Akbar received a message from a colleague on WhatsApp with a picture of a living bird with brown wings, a gray breast and a distinctive black stripe on its brow. Two men had accidentally caught it in South Kalimantan province, in Indonesian Borneo, and had taken photos of it before releasing it unharmed.

The rediscovered black-browned babbler. Photo by Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan.

Melting ice has forced polar bears in the Russian Arctic to change their diet and switch from hunting seals to catching fish, geese and even lemmings, scientists said. “In recent years, there is a trend that bears are beginning to adapt to life on the shore. Previously, we noticed emaciated individuals in greater numbers, now more often there are well-fed animals. Their behavior suggests that they find an opportunity to adapt on the shore,” said Ilya Mordvintsev, a leading researcher at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve, which is home to about 800 polar bears, said that the predators began to fish. “Two years ago, a lot of pink salmon appeared in the rivers, bears began to actively hunt for fish, although not as successfully as brown bears in Kamchatka. We haven’t seen this before. The activity of the bears was high, and they became well-fed on fish, ” the director said. According to him, the bears also began to practice uncharacteristic ground hunting. “There are attempts to hunt musk oxen, sometimes they try to chase geese. When there was a large number of lemmings, the bears dug through the entire tundra, extracting them, and so waited out the ice-free period on them, ” said the head of the reserve. Director of the National Park “Lena Pillars” (Yakutia) Arkady Semenov noted that in the region there is a similar behavior of polar bears. “With the Lemmings, this is absolutely true. Even this year, we had two bears terrorizing reindeer herders, we somehow drove them away. The bear is really adapting, ” Semenov said.

A polar bear in a field of flowering cypress on the shore of Hudson Bay. Photo by Dennis Fast.

Over the past two decades, orangutan researcher Marc Ancrenaz watched as a tidal wave of oil palm has engulfed his once-forested research sites in northern Borneo. When he would find an orangutan in a patch of forest surrounded by planted palms, he said he figured the animal would soon disappear. But as the months and years rolled on, some of those orangutans stayed where they were, Ancrenaz said. Females turned up with babies clinging to their bellies, and he would occasionally spot males swaggering on the ground between the palms. “Year after year, they were still there,” he said.

A male orangutan in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongobay.

A widespread field search for a rare Australian native bee not recorded for almost a century has found it’s been there all along — but is probably under increasing pressure to survive. Only six individual were ever found, with the last published record of this Australian endemic bee species, Pharohylaeus lactiferus (Colletidae: Hylaeinae), from 1923 in Queensland.

“This is concerning because it is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus and nothing was known of its biology,” Flinders University researcher James Dorey says in a new scientific paper in the journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

“Three populations of P. lactiferous were found by sampling bees visiting their favored plant species along much of the Australian east coast, suggesting population isolation,” says Flinders University biological sciences PhD candidate James Dorey.

Emmanuel’s NGO, Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW), is training locals as beekeepers, giving them the prospect of a decent income from honey and beeswax products – and an incentive to protect the forest from bushfires. His particular forest is known as Kilum-Ijim and it rises up the slopes of Mount Oku in Cameroon’s remote Western Highlands. It’s a fragment of rare montane rainforest which once cloaked the slopes and valleys as far as the eye could see. It’s been losing ground for decades – but not anymore. Now it’s starting to recover. Which is where the bees come in. And it’s working. Fires are now a rarity – and when they do happen, he says, “people rush to the forest to put them out”. CAMGEW’s work doesn’t begin and end with bees. It’s set up tree nurseries to restore lost acres, where local schoolchildren care for the seedlings and “learn to love the forest”. It’s trained farmers in sustainable techniques, like forest gardens and alley cropping, which can provide better yields than destructive slash-and-burn methods (which all too often start bushfires). And it’s working with local women’s groups, arranging micro-credit loans to help them establish small businesses and earn their own income. Result? Over the last decade, it’s simultaneously restored the rainforest and massively improved the lives of those who live in and around it.

Lower Border of the Oku forest above the village of Elak, Cameroon. Photo by B. Gill.

Wastes

A nairobi-based 29-year-old entrepreneur and inventor — is the founder of a startup that recycles plastic waste into bricks that are stronger than concrete. Called gjenge makers ltd, her company initiated following the development of a prototype machine that turns discarded plastic into paving stones. One day at the factory means 1,500 churned plastic pavers, prized not just for the quality, but for how affordable they are. Inspiring video

Also in https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-bricks-in-kenya-2650645441.html

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International №10

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Swamps in the Komi Autonomy of the Russian Federation.

Two courts have defended the Pechorsky Nature Reserve, the Komi Republic, which was liquidated in 2016 under the pretext of losing its value. At the request of Greenpeace, the Prosecutor’s Office of the republic sued and won the case. The decision on liquidation has been canceled. The Pechora Nature Reserve was established in 1989 to preserve a swampy area of several thousand hectares. The territory has not undergone significant changes, but the authorities recognized it as having lost its value and in 2016 abolished the reserve. The elimination of protected natural areas is not provided for in federal laws, and any change in the regime must be approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation. But in this case, these norms were not taken into account. To restore the reserve, Greenpeace appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Komi Republic. The prosecutor’s office fully supported us and challenged the decision of 2016 in court. The Supreme Court of the Republic also upheld these claims. The liquidation of the reserve was declared illegal. The Komi government appealed but lost, and the Supreme Court’s decision went into effect.

The gharials of Chambal will now be found in the Kuno River inside the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. 25 gharials were released in the Kuno river. These gharials were being taken care of at Deori Gharial Breeding Centre in Morena district for the past three years. Deputy Conservator of Forests (Wild Animals) Rajnish Kumar Singh said that so far 50 gharials have been brought from the breeding center and released into the river. Now the number of these gharials has gone up to 50 in the Kuno National Park. Out of which 10 are males and 40 are female gharials. The gharials left in the river are between 120 and 150 centimeters in length. Wildlife scientists studying gharials in the Chambal River for some years found that one of the radio-tagged gharials in the Chambal River had given eggs in the Kuno National Park. Thereafter, it was decided to secure the gharial breeding site and release a large number of gharials from Deori to the Kuno River with a view to conserve the reptile. And after that, almost 50 gharials have been released so far. Out of which five gharials have been radio-tagged for the purpose of the study. (One of the main reasons for gharial extinction is degradation – pollution of habitats and depletion of fish. The gharial survival depends on wise management of water resources and the ability of rivers to provide habitats for wildlife).

The Gharial has been recognized as Critically Endangered at the global level. Photo-credit: https://wildfauna.ru/gavial

The Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge, which connects San Antonio’s Phil Hardberger Park across a six-lane highway, opened Friday afternoon for people and animals alike. A project ten years in the making, the bridge is now the largest completed wildlife crossing of its kind in the U.S. “For many years, the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge was only a dream. Thanks to overwhelming community support of the 2017 Bond, the generosity of donors from across the city and the hard work and dedication of so many, the vision is now a reality,” former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger said in a City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation press release. “I am honored to invite San Antonians to come to experience the Land Bridge and hope it will offer them an escape from the stresses of this year — a place where they may spend time with family and friends and connect with the natural world.”

Agroforestry-grown coffee gives Amazon farmers a sustainable alternative.

Located alongside the Trans-Amazonian Highway near the border with the state of Rondônia, Apuí became a municipality in 1987 through the development projects implemented under Brazil’s military dictatorship. Settlers from all over Brazil flocked to the region to claim large swaths of open territory. The first groups of migrants came from the state of Paraná and were followed by people from other states in southern Brazil. Many settlers already knew about coffee farming and brought with them their conventional monoculture farming systems: large treeless plots flooded in sunlight, with pesticides in the mix. For some 20 years, coffee production was strong in Apuí. But the inevitable degradation of the soil caused farmers to begin abandoning their plantations around 2012. “Without spending money on supplies, without constant technical support and, especially, without tropical technology or that more compatible with the Amazonian climate, the soil became worn out,” Reia says. “Our soil is acidic, so if you don’t work at it, you don’t get any coffee here.” When the experts from Idesam arrived in the region, they saw an opportunity. Patches of forest had sprung back up in the abandoned plantations, supplying organic material to the soil and shade for the fruit trees. Coffee plants, in particular, adapt well to low light. As a result, the abandoned plantations were healthier than those being farmed by traditional methods.

Farmer Ronaldo de Moraes harvesting coffee cherries. Image courtesy of Idesam.

Last week two local anti-coal fights in Turkey scored big wins. First, the Çırpılar thermal coal plant project, which would have caused wide-scale destruction on the local ecology, was denied an application to overturn a local court decision to uphold the EIA. Meanwhile, in Northern Anatolia, the local resistance in Bartın managed to stop a second EIA process of the Amasra Thermal Coal Plant project (after the first was overruled by the State Council). 350 Turkey worked closely with the local groups in both regions that made these victories possible. Drue Slatter-Fossil Free News 350@350.org

Power engineers have installed 28 autonomous hybrid electrical installations operating with the use of solar energy technologies in the peasant farms of Buryatia, Russia. This was reported by the press service of Rosseti Siberia. The 28th autonomous hybrid electric power plant (ASUE) with a capacity of 5 kW was launched in the area of the Khory tract of the Tarbagatayskoye rural settlement. In total, 28 installations of this type have been installed in the republic for the period from 2019 to the present. The company noted that thanks to this, it was possible to save more than 290 million rubles, which could be included in the tariff for consumers. The Government of Buryatia provides subsidies from the republican budget, compensating for 95% of the costs of purchasing and installing ASUE.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International

February 09, 2021. №9

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Three court decisions – three incredible precedents.

The Court of Appeal in The Hague has ruled in favour of Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerians on most points in an oil pollution case that was first brought against Shell in 2008. Shell Nigeria in particular is liable for oil pollution at three locations in the Niger Delta, but according to the court, the parent company Royal Dutch Shell also violated its duty of care. Three of the four Nigerian plaintiffs and their fellow villagers must now be compensated for the damage caused and Shell must ensure that there is a leakage detection system in the pipelines in Nigeria. It is the first time that a court has held a Dutch transnational corporation accountable for its duty of care abroad. For decades, millions of people living in the Niger Delta have been suffering the consequences of large-scale oil pollution. Every year, 16,000 babies die as a result of pollution, and life expectancy in the Delta is ten years less than in the rest of Nigeria. Friends of the Earth Netherlands’ lawsuit revolves around pollution from leaks of Shell oil in three villages, which has rendered local people’s fields and fish ponds unusable. The leaked oil was never thoroughly cleaned up and new oil is still leaking out regularly.

The Paris Administrative Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs, including Greenpeace France, in a landmark case acknowledging the responsibility of the French State for the climate crisis. 

Executive director of Greenpeace France Jean-François Julliard said in response: 

“Let’s be frank: this is an historic win for climate justice. A French judge has ruled that climate inaction of the French State is illegal. This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts. For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts! This story is not over, we will use this decision as a crucial first step in pushing our scientifically-grounded arguments and get the court in the coming months to order the French State to act against the climate emergency. No more blablas!
Why is it historic?

  • It’s the first time the State’s responsibility in the climate crisis, because of its lack of action, is acknowledged by French justice.
  • It’s a victory of truth over the denial of the State, who has relentlessly claimed its actions are sufficient, despite evidence (GHG emissions consistently over carbon ceilings, reports from the High Council for the Climate, etc.). Today justice sides with all those who have been warning about the climate crisis for decades.
  • The recognition of the State’s fault and responsibility is a crucial step to obtain a court order forcing the State to act.

In a ruling believed to be the first of its kind in France, the appeals court in Bordeaux overturned an expulsion order against the 40-year-old man because he would face “a worsening of his respiratory pathology due to air pollution” in his country of origin. A Bangladeshi man with asthma has avoided deportation from France after his lawyer argued that he risked a severe deterioration in his condition, and possibly premature death, due to the dangerous levels of pollution in his homeland. “To my knowledge, this is the first time a French court has applied the environment as one of its criteria in such a case,” the unnamed man’s lawyer, Ludovic Rivière, said. “It decided my client’s life would be endangered by the air quality in Bangladesh.”

Other positive news.

The UK crane population has soared, a census found. Their courtship dances have inspired ballets, while some cultures worshipped them as gods. Now cranes are soaring again in the UK, some 400 years after they were wiped out by hunters. A census published this week revealed that 23 crane chicks were born in the UK last year, pushing the national population past the 200 milestone. The birds returned to Norfolk in the 1970s under their own steam and have spread to Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Somerset thanks to ongoing efforts to restore their wetland habitats.

“The return of cranes to the British landscape shows just how resilient nature can be when given the chance,” said Damon Bridge, chair of the UK Crane Working Group. “If we want to see this success continue then [the] sites that cranes use and need must get adequate protection.”

Common Crane (Grus grus). Photo by Andreas Trepte/ Creative Commons

Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and the world’s oldest known, banded wild bird, hatched a new chick this week at Midway Atoll. Biologists first observed the egg pipping on Friday, January 29. After several days, the chick hatched on Monday, February 1. Every year, millions of albatrosses return to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. Beginning in October, birds return to their same nesting site and reunite with their mate in the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012 when biologists first banded Akeakamai. “At least 70 years old, we believe Wisdom has had other mates,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dr. Beth Flint. “Though albatross mate for life, they may find new partners if necessary — for example, if they outlive their first mate.”

Wisdom’s newest chick shortly after hatching, with its Dad, Akeakamai. Photo credit: John Brack/ Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Cambodian authorities on Monday released five environmental activists after they were detained for three days for protesting against illegal logging inside one of the country’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries. The five, including Ouch Leng, a 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, were detained by rangers on Friday for being inside the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary without permission, Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. The Kratie Provincial Court court had released the five who signed an agreement not to enter restricted areas without permission, Neth Pheaktra said. A case has also been filed against Ouch Leng’s Cambodian Human Rights Task Force for not being registered with the Interior Ministry, he said. The begging of history. On Friday afternoon Kratie provincial environment officers reportedly arrested prominent environmental activist Ouch Leng along with Heng Sros, Men Math, Heng Run and Choup Cheang. They are being detained at the Kratie city police station, according to Soeng Senkaruna, spokesperson for human rights group Adhoc, as reported by VOD.

Mr. Leng Ouch. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union, February 5

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

North Atlantic whales

Biodiversity: North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are in serious trouble, but there is hope. A total of 14 new calves of this Critically Endangered species has been spotted this winter between Florida and North Carolina. The 14th latest calf of the season was spotted Thursday off of Florida’s Amelia Island, News4JAX reported. “What a way to start the weekend – a new right whale!” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southeast announced on Twitter.

Calf number 14th was born by a 12-year-old female named Champagne and it is her first known calf, the agency said. The news came just two days after the 13th calf of the season was spotted off of Wassaw Island, Georgia, News4JAX reported. This baby was also born to a first-time mom who was 14 years old. All of this is good news for the species, which ended 2020 on a low note. An NOAA report highlighted that there were no more than 366 of the animals left alive. Then, the first known calf of the season washed up dead off the North Carolina coast in November.

12-year-old whale named Champagne and her first-known calf. Photo credit: @GeorgiaWild, under NOAA permit #20556.

An investment group of Swedish retail giant Ikea has acquired forestland in southeast Georgia to protect the land and its diverse ecosystems from development. The Ingka Group, which owns and operates most Ikea stores, purchased 10,840 acres of land near the Altamaha River Basin, the company announced on January 14.”We truly believe responsible forest management is possible and we see that a large part of our responsibility towards the land we own — and by extension the planet — is to restore forests and plant more than we harvest,” Ingka Investments managing director Krister Mattsson told CNN. “In all our properties nature conservation is important. In this particular US investment in Georgia, first, it is important that the land cannot be broken up into small units and it remains forever forestland. “The land, acquired from non-profit conservation organization The Conservation Fund, is home to more than 350 plant and wildlife species — including the endangered longleaf pine and gopher tortoise — which are now protected.

The grey steel girders of Platform Holly rise 235ft (72m) above the waters of the Pacific Ocean, just a couple of miles off the Santa Barbara coast. Above the water, this decommissioned oil rig is dull and lifeless, but the view below the surface is very different. Beneath the waves, colorful fish, crabs, starfish, and mussels congregate on the huge steel pylons, which stretch for more than 400ft (120m) to the ocean floor. There are more than 12,000 offshore oil and gas platforms worldwide. As they drain their reservoirs of fossil fuels below the sea, they eventually become defunct when they produce too little fuel for extraction to be profitable to their operators. The big question is what to do with these enormous structures when fossil fuels stop flowing. With curbing climate change rising up the international agenda, and with some questioning whether we have already passed peak oil, hastened by the coronavirus pandemic, the number of defunct rigs in the ocean is set to get bigger. Removing them from the water is incredibly expensive and labor-intensive. Allowing them to rust and fall into disrepair is an environmental risk that could seriously damage marine ecosystems.

For some species, offshore rigs are even better nurseries than natural reefs. The towering pylons are the perfect spawning grounds for tiny fish larvae. But there is one way in which these old rigs can be remarkably useful: the subsurface rig provides the ideal skeleton for coral reefs. Teeming with fish and other wildlife offshore rigs like Platform Holly are in fact the most bountiful human-made marine habitats in the world: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210126-the-richest-human-made-marine-habitats-in-the-world

In 188 km from Arkhangelsk, Russia not far from the Golubinsly karst massif, a cultural and landscape park has been developed on the place of a bankrupt campsite. The park is maintained by two families – Klepikov and Shestakov. “For a couple of years, we thought we were doing tourism, and then we realized that we had become big. We began to be called the point of socio-cultural development. But I always had the idea to show the nature and beauty of the Russian North,”- explained Anna Klepikovskaya. The owners followed the path of American national parks, the main idea of which is the beauty of natural places. People come here not far from amenities and luxury service, but for natural attractions. Around Pinega there are karst caves, waterfalls, and other natural beauties. “At first, most people came to us from Arkhangelsk, but since the year before last, there have been more Muscovites. Our Russian territories do not have enough ambassadors in Moscow, so my husband and I stayed in the capital. Relatives live there,” – Klepikovskaya added. Especially popular in the park is the deer festival, where thousands of people sign up: https://ecologyofrussia.ru/park-sever-tayga-proekt/.

Deer. Photo by Golubino Park.

Climate

President Joe Biden signed an order directing federal agencies to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels on Wednesday, amid a bonanza of climate-focused executive orders. “Unlike previous administrations,” he said at a press briefing, “I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil.” Climate activists have been waiting to hear those words for years. Fossil fuel subsidies, they argue, keep oil and gas companies in business and help them spew planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The problem is that not everyone agrees on what counts as a fossil fuel subsidy and what doesn’t. Subsidies aren’t blank checks from the government: They usually take the form of tax breaks, regulatory loopholes, or anything else that gives a particular industry a leg up. The estimates for the U.S. run from around $20 billion to as much as $650 billion a year, if you think fossil fuel companies should be paying the government for all the damages from their pollution. http://www.envirolink.org/2021/01/28/biden-is-canceling-fossil-fuel-subsidies-but-he-cant-end-them-all/

Climate Change Policy Simulator: C-ROADS is a free, award-winning computer simulator that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of national and regional greenhouse gas emission reductions at the global level. C-ROADS has helped the world to understand the impact of the emission reduction pledges countries proposed to the United Nations. These proposals take different forms with various reference and target years, however, using C-ROADS we can rapidly test these policies to determine whether collectively they are enough to stabilize temperature below 2°C. C-ROADS is made available for free to make insights about what it takes to address climate change more accessible. We encourage you to use C-ROADS as part of a World Climate Simulation, where a group of people plays the roles of UN climate negotiators working to create an agreement to limit global warming https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/c-roads/

ALPS: National food system modeling, to make sense of national policy priorities.

Climate Interactive developed the Agriculture and Land Policy Simulator (ALPS) allows users see to the interactions of different policy decisions on a nation’s food system. As a national-scale model, country ministries and civil society groups can think about different development pathways to see if those policies could create their desired future. ALPS frames the importance of agriculture in the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDCs) that countries pledged for the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change (UNFCCC, COP21). As part of that global climate change agreement, countries declared their goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With ALPS, countries can create an interactive tool to explore their pledges to see what it would take to achieve their goal and how different policies affect the timing of reach food production and emissions targets https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/agriculture-and-land-policy-simulator-alps/.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International

January 27, 2021

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let’s us spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Saiga tatarica
Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica) is a species that evaluated as Critically Endangered at the global level. Photo by Mark Pestov .

Climate & Energy

The Prince of Wales launched an ‘Earth charter’ for firms. Most people are familiar with the Magna Carta, the historic tome that laid the foundations for human rights. Now there’s the Terra Carta – or ‘Earth charter’ – which seeks to safeguard the planet by putting sustainability at the heart of the private sector. As he unveiled the initiative this week, the Prince of Wales called on firms to sign up to the Terra Carta https://www.sustainable-markets.org/terra-carta/, which offers a roadmap for businesses to become more sustainable. The charter was launched alongside a fund run by the Natural Capital Investment Alliance, which aims to direct $10bn (£7.3bn) towards safeguarding nature by 2022. “The Terra Carta offers the basis of a recovery plan that puts nature, people and planet at the heart of global value creation – one that will harness the precious, irreplaceable power of nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector,” said the Prince of Wales: https://www.positive.news/society/positive-news-stories-from-week-2-of-2021/?utm_campaign=5%20things%20from%20the%20week&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=107799024&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_-PCzfD9eqZ7aixCO4FJeCoDrq63dOsG1ZdgOL5YEMcgzZ2wpYXbg5YX6ehgYp2MuL2VbjvGfl6fP5_UIFLTxYhNwQeQ&utm_content=107680814&utm_source=hs_email

European Union foreign ministers will promote a global phase out of fossil fuels and reaffirm commitments to finance climate adaptation measures at a meeting on Monday (25 January). “EU energy diplomacy will discourage all further investments into fossil fuel based energy infrastructure projects in third countries, unless they are fully consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality,” according to draft conclusions from the meeting, seen by EURACTIV. Foreign ministers are expected to put green diplomacy at the top of their agenda, saying the EU “will seek to ensure undistorted trade and investment for EU businesses in third countries” as well as “a level playing field, and a fair access to resources and green technologies” in countries like China. Moreover, all EU trade agreements, overseas aid and foreign investment strategies will from now on also need to be aligned with the bloc’s climate ambition https://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/eu-foreign-ministers-to-push-for-global-fossil-fuel-phase-out/.

Three of New York City’s largest employee pension funds representing civil servants, teachers, and school administrators are divesting from securities tied to fossil fuel companies. With a combined value of $239 billion, representing 70% of the city’s pension assets, the move is one of the largest fossil fuel divestments in the world. Under the resolution, the pensions would phase out fossil fuel investments over five years. “Fossil fuels are not only bad for our planet and our frontline communities, they are a bad investment,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. The NYC pension funds join others, including cities in California and Australia, in the divestment movement https://www.ecowatch.com/fossil-fuels-nyc-pension-2650142167.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1.

Biodiversity
Records in early January showed an increase in the number of saigas in the Bogdinsky-Baskunchak Reserve.

The year 2021 came, frosts came and snow fell. According to the historical tradition, the saiga had to go to Kazakhstan, to the Salt Mud, where it spends the winter, feeding on salt marshes. But it remained, and records in early January showed even an increase in its number from 400 to more than a thousand heads. The population has increased due to the “alien” animals and this pleases. They came to the untouched steppes, rich in food, where there is no man with a gun, and there is a special security regime. All this allowed the saiga to graze quietly in the protected expanses, to rest in the lowlands, sheltered from the icy steppe wind, without fear of an insidious shot.

Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica) in winter. Photo from the Bogdinsky-Baskunchak Reserve.

An intergovernmental organization representing countries that produce the bulk of the world’s timber has thrown its support behind a decade-long effort to protect the last remaining primary forest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. In its November 2020 meeting, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) endorsed a proposal by the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) for what’s been called the Baram Peace Park. The proposed park would cover 2,835 square kilometers (1,095 square miles) of northeastern Sarawak on the island of Borneo, incorporating a hodgepodge of undulating forests, past and current timber and oil palm concessions, and agricultural lands for the thousands of Indigenous people who live in the area: https://news.mongabay.com/2021/01/timber-organizations-backing-one-step-toward-peace-park-in-borneo/.

The Ministry of Forestry of the Primorsky Territory, Russia has canceled tenders for the right to harvest wood on eight sites in the central Primorye, which have plantings of different categories of protection. WWF Russia warned about the negative social and environmental consequences of the transfer of these lots to the cutting in December 2020. “The cancellation of these forest competitions is the right and timely decision. The existing forest legislation, unfortunately, does not provide for the possibility of involving residents in the process of forest management, even in cases where we are talking about the forests closest to the population – green zones and other forests with high social significance. That is why the social aspect should be taken into account in advance-at the stage of planning and forming lots. The World Wildlife Fund positively assesses the decision of the new leadership of the regional Ministry of Forestry and Hunting».

The tree of Tilia mandshurica. Photo by Denis Kochetkov

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International

January 19-21

Digest of SOES
An European Byson (Bison bonasus) in winter

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices. Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

A coalition of more than 50 countries has committed to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030 to halt the destruction of the natural world and slow extinctions of wildlife.

The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, which includes the UK and countries from six continents, made the pledge to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans before the One Planet summit in Paris on Monday, hosted by the French president, Emmanuel Macron. Scientists have said human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, and agricultural production, mining and pollution are threatening the healthy functioning of life-sustaining ecosystems crucial to human civilisation.

In the announcement, the HAC said protecting at least 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade was crucial to preventing mass extinctions of plants and animals, and ensuring the natural production of clean air and water. The commitment is likely to be the headline target of the “Paris agreement for nature” that will be negotiated at COP 15 in Kunming: https://chinadialogue.net/en/climate/cop-15-road-to-kunming/ , China later this year. The HAC said it hoped early commitments from countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Pakistan, Japan and Canada would ensure it formed the basis of the UN agreement: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/11/50-countries-commit-to-protection-of-30-of-earths-land-and-oceans.

A herd of 20 kulans Equus hemionus and 8 fallow deer settled in the Tarutino steppe in southern Ukraine to develop the future of the wild Danube Delta. Their further release into nature will increase the biodiversity of the region, reduce the risk of fires and promote the development of eco-tourism. The Tarutino Steppe, part of the Danube Delta’s rewilding region, is one of the few almost untouched steppe territories left in Europe. Like all steppes, it is characterized by large grassy plains and is home to many endangered species. If not for human intervention, it would have been inhabited by herds of wild herbivores such as kulan, saiga antelope and deer, although these species have now disappeared from the steppe, mainly due to hunting. The program of reintroduction of kulans in the Tarutino steppe is carried out by the Rewilding Ukraine team and the Askania-Nova Biosphere Reserve. To read more: https://rewildingeurope.com/news/kulan-comeback-wild-donkeys-set-to-roam-free-in-the-danube-delta-region-once-again/

The European bison (Bison bonasus), Europe’s largest land mammal, has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened thanks to continued conservation efforts, according to today’s update of the IUCN Red List: https://www.iucnredlist.org/ . “The European bison and twenty-five other species recoveries documented in today’s IUCN Red List update demonstrate the power of conservation,” said Dr. Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General. “Yet the growing list of Extinct species is a stark reminder that conservation efforts must urgently expand. To tackle global threats such as unsustainable fisheries, land clearing for agriculture, and invasive species, conservation needs to happen around the world and be incorporated into all sectors of the economy.” “The conservation successes in today’s Red List update provide living proof that the world can set, and meet, ambitious biodiversity targets. They further highlight the need for real, measurable commitments as we formulate and implement the post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” said Dr Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. https://www.iucn.org/news/species/202012/european-bison-recovering-31-species-declared-extinct-iucn-red-list?fbclid=IwAR0QP9GELNDd5TddpqFEpXpvGD9W82xS-4ArqKFXynzB2QkfOs_raJsMXM4

The Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Program for Aral Sea Basin (CAMP4ASB) provide  support to adaptation activities in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Providing grants to the most vulnerable communities for climate resilient measures in priority areas, including to the poorest populations residing in risk-prone areas, and marginalized groups such as women. In 2020 the Guide at affordable climate-resilient prices technologies and practices in the Russian and Kyrgyz languages was published.  In frames of the Project in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan, centers for demonstrating eco-technologies on the basis of local communities in seven regions of the republic have appeared. In various centers, you can get acquainted with such technologies as Solar water heating collector, Solar air collector, Solar dryer, Self-assembled solar furnace, Drip irrigation, Vermicomposting, Urban aquaculture, Hydroponics and others. About the project see: https://www.greenclimate.fund/project/fp014

Ecopark “Clear Field” on the border of the Tula and Moscow Regions, Russia is a story about how you can live on earth in harmony with yourself, with respect for nature and each other. Yasnoye Polye is a village of the future, where we invite guests and tourists. We are engaged in agro-tourism, grow berries, fruits, vegetables. We have a farm with goats, cows and other animals to pet. We conduct excursions to the cheese factory, master classes in cheese making, teach our guests horse riding. We also have a cultural and educational center with a theater and a creative workshop. We started building the ecopark by studying how to cultivate the land for agriculture without pesticides, herbicides, and a huge amount of mineral fertilizers. We try to take care of nature and gradually begin to put this knowledge into practice. When you find out what we eat, then growing vegetables on your site or in your farm becomes a factor in caring for yourself and your children: https://yasnopole.ru/en/.

Central Asian Tortoise and its Conservation

This tortoise is still widely distributed in the desert areas of Central Asia. Photos by Mark Pestov

If you will visit the desert plain near foothills of Nuratau Range in Uzbekistan in spring – from mid-March – until late May, more likely that you will be able to spot several individuals of Central Asian Tortoise, grazing on juicy spring ephemeral plants and cereals. This turtle has the huge periods of “hibernation”, hiding for harsh time of summer heat and winter cold in deep holes, and appearing again only next spring for the short period of breeding time. It is possible to distinguish “good” and “bad” years on the rings of the tortoise carapace. After “good” years, abundant with rains and juicy vegetation, the rings are wide and prominent; after “bad” years the rings are slightly distinguished. It is possible to identify the age of individuals counting yearly rings. Surprisingly, this tortoise could adapt to the extremely difficult conditions of cold Central Asian deserts and evolve for millennia, occupying all appropriate plain desert landscapes. This tortoise does not need too much that to survive in the modern world: habitats that are not disturbed and mild anthropogenic pressure. Many desert habitats are still virgin and cannot be transformed into agricultural lands due to lack of precipitation and water. However, anthropogenic pressure is a more serious threat…   

Development of road network is one of the threats for tortoise populations

Central Asian Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfeldii), the species widely distributed in Central Asia in the past, becomes more and more threatened in last decades due to species exploitation in the international trade, change and transformation of habitats, development of road network in the desert regions and other anthropogenic impacts. The species also called Horsfield’s Tortoise, Russian Steppe or Afghan Tortoise. This is an only tortoise species, which is an endemic of Central Asia. Species range and abundances significantly reduced last decades in the result of human development and transformation of virgin desert lands into irrigated crop production fields and due to international trade for pet markets. Central Asian Tortoise is included in IUCN Red List as a Vulnerable species (VU), however, its population status is unknown and not much is known about population trends (IUCN, 2021). The species is included in CITEC Appendix II and covered by agreement about international trade of wild plants and animals.

Central Asian Tortoise occurs in desert plains of Central Asia inhabiting sandy, gravelly sandy and loamy plains with sparse desert vegetation. It also can be found in stony-loamy foothills on elevations up to 800 m above sea level. Although there are known its findings on altitudes up to 1,600 m above sea level. But feeding conditions are better in the desert plains, therefore the population densities of tortoises in mountains are very low. Habitats with optimal conditions, providing a stable food base and reliable shelters, are represented by loess foothills and piedmont plains with ephemeral or wormwood-ephemeral vegetation, usually, below 800 m above sea level (Bondarenko & Peregontsev, 2017). According to assessment, conducted in Uzbekistan, the current range of Central Asian Tortoise in Uzbekistan occupies around 300,00 square kilometres. The population density varies significantly ranging from 0.1 – 0.9 individuals per hectare (rare) to 1.0 -9.9 individuals per hectare (common) and > 10.0 individuals per hectare (abundant).

Agricultural development of desert areas in Central Asia that took place in 1950-1980s led to expiration of this species within developed lands. Because tortoises ate seedlings of crops and green vegetation on agricultural fields. In some developed regions farmers collected and killed 2,000 – 3,000 tortoises a day.  At present, the Central Asia tortoise is extirpated from the developed regions. In some regions of Central Asia, for example, in Fergana Valley, the species is completely extinct. However, the greatest damage to the remained tortoise populations has been done by uncontrolled collection for trade.  

Males of tortoises are smaller than females

This species has an important value for local economies. Since 1990s until present, it is a subject of zoological trade, covering the needs of pet market, mostly in Europe. The tortoises for trade have been caught mostly in natural environment, therefore planning and control of animals collected for zoo-market are extremely important.

Collection of Central Asian Tortoise for trade started in 1960-1980s in southern Kazakhstan by Central Asian zoo-enterprise, located in Tashkent. Since independence time in 1990, this zoo-enterprise started to collect tortoises for trade in Uzbekistan, supplying for the market 4,000 -19,000 individuals annually. At the same time, the illegal trade to Russia and Ukraine on assessment of experts reached 50,000 individuals annually (Bondarenko & Peregontsev, 2006).  Until 1999, the CITEC quote was issues to Russia. Since 1999, it is issued directly to Uzbekistan. At the same time, since 1999 to 2016 the annual export quotas for collection of tortoises in natural environment increased from 35,000 to 80,000 individuals (UNEP-WCMC, 2016). A trend of sharp increase in trade took place from 2009. More likely, it is related not only high demand of the foreign markets in inexpensive turtles, but also by the increased number of organizations received official permits for catching. In total, according to expert evaluation from 1997 to 2015 only in Uzbekistan there were collected for trade legally 592,100 individuals. Besides, at least 430,000 individuals were exported for the same period of time illegally mostly to Russia and Ukraine (Bondarenko & Peregontsev, 2017).

Surveys carried out in Uzbekistan on the areas of long-term collection of tortoises for trade showed that uncontrolled catch caused the sex and age composition of the populations. After collection of individuals, suitable for trade (specimens with carapace’s length less than 12 cm), the populations are mostly represented by females over 15 years old (Bondarenko et al., 2001), because males are smaller than females and their share in catch is greater. The further research indicated that after 10 years of tortoise collection within surveyed areas, their density of populations significantly decreased and did not recover to the level before catching in next 9 years. The population density within the most part of the tortoise range does not exceed 3.0 individuals per hectare.

Central Asian Tortoise at the end of breeding season

All these facts indicate that sustainable catch of tortoises from natural environment should be only 10,000 – 12,000 individuals annually. But even in this case the international mechanisms do not solve the problem of tortoise conservation, because illegal collection and illegal export of tortoises through Kazakhstan to Russia and Ukraine. The conservation efforts should include strengthening of legislation and control, including other Central Asian countries, Russia and Ukraine. Monitoring of wild populations, public awareness and engagement in conservation of local communities in desert regions.         

References:

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/21651/9306759

Bondarenko D. A., Peregontsev E. A. 2006. Perspectives of Study and Protection of Steppe Tortoise in Uzbekistan // Chelonii. Vol. 4. P. 278 – 284.

Bondarenko D.A., Peregontsev E.A. 2017. Distribution of the Central Asian Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii [Gray, 1844]) in Uzbekistan (Range, regional and landscape distribution, populations density). // Modern Herpetology, 2017, V. 17, issue 3/4. Pp. 124-146.

UNEP-WCMC. 2016 . Review of species selected on the basis of the Analysis of 2016 CITES export quotas. UNEP-WCMC. Cambridge. Available at:
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/pdf/reports/

The Persian Leopard in Kazakhstan: new observations

Landscapes of Ustyurt Biosphere Nature Reserve provide good conditions for surviving of wildlife, adapted to arid environment

New fact of Persian Leopard observation in Kazakhstan was confirmed in May 2020 due to camera-trap video taken in Ustyurt Biosphere Nature Reserve.   You can find here the short video about Leopard in the reserve:

The Leopard – Panthera pardus – is included on the IUCN international red list as a vulnerable species (VU) .  The Persian Leopard – P. p. saxicolor or P.p. ciscaucasica is a Central-Asian subspecies. It is even more rare and globally endangered (EN). The range of this species covers the Caucasus Mountains (eastern Turkey, southern Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia). It is also found in Iraq, northern Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Until recent, the Persian Leopard did not occur in Kazakhstan. It was known from southern Turkmenistan, mostly from Kopetdag and Badkhyz Mountains. Besides, it was found in southern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. But to the end of XX century, the leopard was almost extinct in both these countries. The distance from Kopetdag Nature Reserve in Turkmenistan to Usyurt Nature Reserve in Kazakhstan is 600 km, and from Badkhyz Nature Reserve to Usyurt Nature Reserve is around 1,000 km (976 km). Leopards needed to cross deserts and populated areas that to reach Kazakhstan. It is surprising that it could happen relatively recently – during last decades. 

First reports about findings and observation of Persian Leopard in Kazakhstan looked anecdotical. Time to time shepherds and people living in remote areas reported about observation of large spotted cat, which they called “kaplon” (the name of large cats, like, for example, cheetah). The leopard was not even included in the list of Kazakhstan fauna. However, in 2007 and 2015, the presence of leopard in Kazakhstan was confirmed by skins of two large cats. Shepherds shot the first leopard in the Mangystau region and showed its skin. Another leopard was captured in a trap set for wolves and also killed. More recently, during fall 2018, an alive leopard was fixed on a camera-trap set in the Ustyurt State Nature Reserve in the framework of the project for feeding scavengers (vultures), conducted with the support of the Rufford Foundation.

Cinereous vultures found scavenge. Photo by Mark Pestov

The leopard is not even officially included in the list of of the fauna of vertebrate animals in Kazakhstan.  Accordingly, this species is not listed in the  Red Book of Republic, which provides legal protection status for rare, vulnerable and endangered species. The last findings allow to make the necessary amendments in Kazakhstan that will provide both legislative and territorial protection of the leopard in the country.

Photo of leopard from camera-trap in Ustyurt Biosphere Nature Reserve

Not only leopard, but the presence of other interesting fauna was confirmed due to projects, organized last years, and camera-traps placed in the valleys of Ustyurt. Other interesting animals, found there, are the grey wolf, Central-Asian caracal, goitered gazelle and many others, adapted to severe conditions of life in arid environment.

Mr. Zhaskayrat Nurmukhambetov,  Deputy Director of the Ustyurt State Nature Reserve and coordinator of the project on feeding of scavengers can provide additional information about this finding.

Studies of fauna in remote corners of Central Asia should be continued and more likely that more secrets of wildlife adaptation and resilience will be discovered in the future.