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Investing to Save Earth’s Vanishing Biodiversity

Executive Secretary of the Conference on Biological Diversity addresses the High-Level Segment of the conference taking place in Egypt this month. November 14, 2018, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (Photo courtesy Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity)

Executive Secretary of the Conference on Biological Diversity addresses the High-Level Segment of the conference taking place in Egypt this month. November 14, 2018, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (Photo courtesy Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity)

By Sunny Lewis

SHARM El SHEIKH, Egypt, November 15, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – “Investing in Biodiversity for People and Planet,” is the theme of the UN Biodiversity Conference taking place in Egypt from now through the end of November. Officials from 190 countries have gathered to halt the loss of animals and plants and protect the ecosystems that support the livelihoods of billions.

Voluntary public and private commitments, with a review mechanism to ensure accountability, are encouraged, to step up the implementation of biodiversity targets.

This year, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), will be the last opportunity to assess progress towards the achievement of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

It allows two years to identify effective actions and tools for implementation of the Plan before its final evaluation in 2020, when a new global biodiversity framework will be adopted.

Back in 2010, in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity adopted a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for the 2011-2020 period, including the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

This revised and updated Plan provides an overarching framework on biodiversity, not only for the biodiversity-related conventions, but for the entire United Nations system and all other partners engaged in biodiversity management and policy development.

The first of the Aichi targets is simple: By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.

The second Aichi target is more complex: By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems.

The 20th and last Aichi target is the most important for accomplishment of all the rest: By 2020, at the latest, the mobilization of financial resources for effectively implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. Mobilization should increase substantially from 2010 levels.

Today at the Biodiversity Conference in Egypt, CBD Executive Director Cristiana Pașca Palmer opened the High-level Segment. “More than 80 ministers attended and I invited them to collaborate and be bold and visionary when it comes to the execution of our common vision: Living in Harmony with Nature by 2050.”

“I underscored that we need to save the planet to save ourselves, and for that we need to place biodiversity at the core of all economic and political decisions,” said Palmer.

Representing the European Union at the High-Level Segment, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said, “Biodiversity – nature – is our life-support system. The current rate at which we are losing our wildlife and ecosystems is an existential threat as worrying as climate change.”

“I am encouraged by the growing awareness of the links between the two, also at high-level international events such as this one and the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Poland. Protecting biodiversity on land as in the ocean is important for future generations, but also for our current wellbeing,” said Vella.

Contributing more than €350 million per year on biodiversity in developing countries, the EU is the world’s biggest donor for the protection of biodiversity.

The European delegation, headed by Commissioner Vella, will aim to bring biodiversity policy to the political forefront to prepare for an ambitious and united outcome at the Conference of the Parties (COP15) in China in 2020.

The EU will call for integrating nature objectives in the sectors of industry, mining, energy and infrastructure.

All the parties are expected to adopt a joint Declaration to that end.

Commissioner Vella also will sign the EU’s joining of the Coalition of the Willing for Pollinators, as foreseen in the recent EU Initiative on Pollinators, to support a strong, coordinated international response to the decline of pollinators.

There are many signs that the diversity of life on Earth is being pushed to the brink of extinction by human activities.

Since 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has maintained the Red List of Threatened Species, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

Currently there are more than 96,500 species on The IUCN Red List, and more than 26,500 are threatened with extinction – 40 percent of amphibians, 34 percent of conifers, 33 percent of reef building corals, 25 percent of mammals and 14 percent of birds.

In its review of the Aichi targets, the IUCN said in a position paper for the CBD conference, “Despite many positive actions, most of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are not on track to be achieved by 2020.”

“Less than two years before the 2020 deadline, IUCN emphasizes that focused, concerted and strategic action is urgently needed,” the organization warns.

But there are hopeful signs that conservation efforts can have positive outcomes.

Conservation action has brought renewed hope for the Fin Whale and the Mountain Gorilla, according to a November 14 update of The IUCN Red List. The Fin Whale has improved in status from Endangered to Vulnerable following bans on whaling, while the Mountain Gorilla subspecies has moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered thanks to collaborative conservation efforts.

Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General said, “These conservation successes are proof that the ambitious, collaborative efforts of governments, business and civil society could turn back the tide of species loss.”

“Unfortunately,” said Andersen, “the latest update also underlines how threats to biodiversity continue to undermine some of society’s most important goals, including food security. We urgently need to see effective conservation action strengthened and sustained. The ongoing UN biodiversity summit in Egypt provides a valuable opportunity for decisive action to protect the diversity of life on our planet.”

In another sign of the continuing decline of biodiversity, the global conservation group WWF issued its biannual “Living Planet Report – 2018: Aiming Higher,” compiled with the Zoological Society of London, on October 29.

It shows that populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have, on average, declined in size by 60 percent in just over 40 years.

The WWF report shows that the biggest drivers of the current biodiversity loss are overexploitation and agriculture, both linked to continually increasing human consumption.

The global population of giraffes is decreasing. Native to East Africa, the Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchii), also called Kilimanjaro giraffe, is the largest subspecies of giraffe. October 22, 2018, Naivasha Lake, Kenya. (Photo by Linda De Volder) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

The global population of giraffes is decreasing. Native to East Africa, the Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchii), also called Kilimanjaro giraffe, is the largest subspecies of giraffe. October 22, 2018, Naivasha Lake, Kenya. (Photo by Linda De Volder) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Marco Lambertini, director general WWF International, writes in his foreword to the report, “We have known for many years that we are driving the planet to the brink. The astonishing decline in wildlife populations shown by the latest Living Planet Index – a 60 percent fall in just over 40 years – is a grim reminder and perhaps the ultimate indicator of the pressure we exert on the planet.”

“The nature conservation agenda is not only about securing the future of tigers, pandas, whales and all the amazing diversity of life we love and cherish on Earth. It’s bigger than that. There cannot be a healthy, happy and prosperous future for people on a planet with a destabilized climate, depleted oceans and rivers, degraded land and empty forests, all stripped of biodiversity, the web of life that sustains us all.”

“In the next years, we need to urgently transition to a net carbon neutral society and halt and reverse nature loss – through green finance, clean energy and environmentally friendly food production. We must also preserve and restore enough land and ocean in a natural state,” wrote Lambertini. “Few people have the chance to be a part of truly historic transformations. This is ours.”

Featured image source: Mountain Gorilla, Virunga National Park, Rwanda, December 2, 2009 (Photo by Bradford Duplisea) Creative Commons license via Flickr.


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Biochar: ‘Black Gold’ With a Hundred Uses

SINTEF researchers Maria Kollberg Thomassen and Markus Steen hold handsful of biochar at the Skjærgaarden nursery. 2017 (Photo by Lisbet Jære courtesy SINTEF) Posted for media use

SINTEF researchers Maria Kollberg Thomassen and Markus Steen hold handsful of biochar at the Skjærgaarden nursery. 2017 (Photo by Lisbet Jære courtesy SINTEF) Posted for media use

 

By Sunny Lewis

OSLO, Norway, October 17, 2017 (Maximpact.com   News) – Biochar can help address many environmental challenges, as people in Norway are just now discovering. This form of carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage reduces the need for fertilizers and may lead to better crop yields. It also can remove heavy metals from the soil.

Biochar is plant matter, such as wood, straw, woody debris, or corn stalks, that has been heated to high temperatures in a no-oxygen environment. The result is a black, carbon-rich material similar to charcoal.

Biochar technology, which is not widely known in Norway, makes it possible to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store carbon in the soil. It offers benefits to the agricultural sector because it makes soils more nutrient-rich and counteracts the effects of drought conditions.

Norway has taken on the ambitious climate goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. This will require major changes in many sectors, and Norwegian agriculture has moved into a central role in the national debate on climate change.

Among the greenhouses at the Skjærgaarden nursery is Norway’s first biochar plant. The nursery is hosting the first biochar demo plant in Norway, which has been installed in collaboration with the cross-disciplinary research project CAPTURE+.

“Our motivation for starting biochar production is to improve the soil,” says Kristin Stenersen, who runs the Skjærgaarden nursery together with her husband Bjørge Madsen. “We want more robust and healthier plants, and to reduce our use of synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Of course, the fact that biochar also binds CO2 is an added benefit,” she says.

“If 4,000 Norwegian farms and nurseries produced biochar and mixed it with the soil, we could halve our emissions from the agricultural sector,” says Erik Joner at NIBIO, one of the partners in the CAPTURE+ project.

NIBIO is the organization with the longest track record in biochar research in Norway. Entirely natural, this approach also produces robust and healthy plants.

“People are welcome to come and see for themselves how it works in practice,” says Maria Kollberg Thomassen, project manager for CAPTURE+ and a senior researcher at Trondheim-based SINTEF, the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia.

In mid-June, the nursery welcomed more than 70 representatives from both private and public sector organizations, research scientists, and representatives from the agricultural sector in connection with the opening of the new biochar production plant.

Kollberg Thomassen picks up a handful of biochar from the plant, which can convert biomass to biochar at a rate of about 300 kilograms per hour. This plant is designed for small-scale production and can be used by everyday farmers.

“The project is ground-breaking because, on the one hand, we’re looking into how biochar technology can be improved by applying bio- and nanotechnologies,” says Kollberg Thomassen. “On the other, we’re studying the economic, social and political aspects linked to the use of a new technology.”

Sweden, Norway’s neighbor, is utilizing biocoal to a much greater extent. Kollberg Thomassen has recently returned from a visit to the Swedish water and waste management company Stockholm Vatten. It utilizes garden waste to produce biochar which is used to help cultivate trees and other plants in Stockholm.

The process is profitable because the plants require less care. It also has the advantage of handling surplus water following heavy rain.

In 2010, a research article was published in the journal “Nature” estimating that 12 percent of human-caused CO2 emissions could be captured in biochar each year without conflicting with other biomass utilization objectives.

Joner says that biochar contains stable carbon that is bound in the soil and does not return to the atmosphere. Coalification changes the molecular structure of the material such that bacteria and fungi are unable to break it down. When mixed with soil it constitutes about one half of one per cent of soil content.

In the Amazon region, NIBIO has found charcoal, or biochar, formed from residual plant material in the soil that is between 1,000 and 1,500 years old. The soil here is still more fertile today than soils which have not been provided with such additions of carbon.

Joner compares biochar with humus, which he calls the “black gold in the soil.”

NIBIO has estimated that the first two million tonnes of CO2 that can be bound each year in biochar in Norway can be sourced from easily accessible forestry and agricultural waste.

“Norway’s natural vegetation is rewilding, and there’s a lot of forestry waste just lying around and rotting away,” says Joner. “Timber volumes in Norwegian forests have increased by 25 million cubic metres, but only 12 million of these are harvested. The forests will benefit from thinning aimed at promoting growth and healthy forests.”

Professor Stephen Joseph from the University of New South Wales has been researching biochar for years and has visited Skjærgaarden to demonstrate how the plant works.

He has seen how biochar is being used for everything from the removal of heavy metals from soil, to the positive results from tests carried out in Australia where cattle manure has been added, and how the Chinese have now started to invest in biochar, which they mix with artificial fertilizer.

At the Skjærgaarden nursery, the initial plan is to mix the biochar with compost as a means of providing nutrients for plants and crops. Stenersen believes that biochar is an excellent agent for returning nutrients to the soil, and that it is a more natural and sensitive approach, similar to the methods used before artificial fertilizers became the norm.

“We’re only in the starting blocks and it will take time for us to find our feet. But the possibilities are enormous,” she says. “Stephen Joseph has inspired us to carry out an experiment that involves mixing biochar with silicon-rich waste from larvikite quarries. This can be used in addition to, or as a replacement for, artificial fertilisers,” says Stenersen.

Another benefit of adding biochar is that it raises the pH of the soil. Currently, Norwegian farmers use lime to increase pH values.

Markus Steen is a research scientist at SINTEF looking into the kinds of political measures required if biochar is going to become a means of mitigating climate change. He has also been studying the barriers that arise when a new technology is introduced.

If biochar is to become a factor in Norway’s climate change bookkeeping, a certification plan must be established to make sure that the carbon remains in the soil. This is essential if a carbon compensation scheme, paying farmers to plough biochar into the soil, is introduced.

At SINTEF, the scientists call biochar a “kinder egg” on the basis of all the opportunities it offers. It has the potential to address many challenges, including reducing the need for fertilizers and increasing crop yields.

Steen believes that during the start-up phase, it is important to provide incentives for establishing test plants at different scales, and in different parts of Norway. Users should be closely involved because this promotes interaction and confidence in the product.

“The public sector has an important role to play, and can take the lead in creating a niche market,” says Steen. “A good example of this is the inter-municipal waste management company IVAR, based in Stavanger and Sandnes in western Norway. IVAR is planning to invest in a biochar facility, from which the surplus heat will be used to heat public buildings,” says Steen.

Jon Randby works in the agriculture division at the offices of the County Governor in Vestfold, and has been following developments at the demonstration plant at Skjærgaarden. He agrees with Steen that incentives to start testing must start now.

“Biochar offers major opportunities to farmers, and there is now a greater willingness in the farming community to test new initiatives than there was 10 years ago,” he says. “For this reason, intensive research is needed to demonstrate that it works. We’re seeing that soils are becoming increasingly nutrient-poor, so we have to act now. Not least, we need climate change mitigation measures.”

The chemical giant Elkem is one of the world’s largest producers of silicon and ferrosilicon and is planning to use more biochar in its production processes in Norway. Elkem intends to increase the proportion of biochar in its reducing agent mixtures to 20 percent by 2021 and 40 percent by 2030.

This is equivalent to emissions reductions in Norway of 450,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). The emissions reductions will be achieved by replacing fossil coal with biochar.

“We’ve just started a four-year research project called PyrOpt, funded by the Research Council of Norway, in which our aim is to optimize the pyrolysis process used to manufacture biochar so that it meets Elkem’s requirements,” says Geir Johan Andersen, who is project manager for the PyrOpt project at Elkem.

The company is also aiming to exploit all pyrolysis by-products such as bio-oil, and surplus energy in the form of steam. There may also be some fractions of biochar that are more suited to purposes other than as a reducing agent.

Says Andersen, “We’re looking into opportunities to collaborate in the construction of a biochar plant of this type, and this is why it is useful to meet others and participate in demonstration projects such as that at Skjærgaarden.”

A world away in the U.S. state of Kansas, ICM Inc. plans to build a new state-of-the-art biorefinery next to its headquarters in Colwich. The US$175 million facility will showcase the company’s cutting-edge technologies.

The ICM patented gasifier there is capable of converting biomass and forestry feedstocks into producer gas or syngas, while cogenerating a biochar product with many applications.

In Texas, Rice University researchers have found that biochar from recycled waste may both enhance crop growth and save health costs by helping clear the air of pollutants.

Rice researchers in Earth science, economics and environmental engineering have determined that widespread use of biochar in agriculture could reduce health care costs, especially for those who live in urban areas close to farmland.

The study led by Ghasideh Pourhashem, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, appears in the July 2017 issue of the American Chemical Society journal “Environmental Science and Technology.”

Pourhashem and his colleagues demonstrated that urban dwellers in the American Midwest and Southwest would gain the greatest benefits in air quality and health from greater use of biochar.

“Our model projections show health care cost savings could be on the order of millions of dollars per year for some urban counties next to farmland,” Pourhashem said. “These results are now ready to be tested by measuring changes in air pollutants from specific agricultural regions.”

“Agriculture rarely gets considered for air pollution control strategies,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice. “Our work shows that modest changes to farming practices can benefit the air and soil too.”

Cornell University research published October 2016 in the journal “Nature Communications” suggests that biochar can be part of an economically viable model to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to thwart global warming until other removal methods become economically feasible and in regions where other methods are impractical.

“If we continue on current emissions trajectories, we will need to draw down excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if we’re going to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change. We’re offering a mitigation model that can do that. It’s not a silver bullet, but it may be among the tools we need in a portfolio of carbon dioxide mitigation strategies,” said Dominic Woolf, Cornell University research associate in crop and soil sciences and lead author of the study.

Although it has been omitted from major atmospheric mitigation scenarios until now, the new model shows that including biochar in a suite of options unlocks the ability to achieve cost-effective CO2 removal earlier and deeper than would otherwise be possible.

But an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia, UK warns that radical new ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere – such as adding biochar to millions of hectares of soil – could prove to be a risky business.

Dr. Phil Williamson, employed by the Natural Environment Research Council at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, published “Scrutinize CO2 removal methods” in the February 10, 2016 issue of the journal Nature.” He writes that much more research is needed before the wheels are set in motion on global-scale climate geoengineering’ schemes.

“Crucially, large-scale CO2 removal, by whichever means, will have knock-on effects for ecosystems and biodiversity. There could be benefits, but damage seems more likely,” says Williamson.

“For example, the amount of bioenergy crops we would need to grow could use up to 580 million hectares of land – or half of the land area of the U.S. This would in turn accelerate the loss of forests and natural grassland with impacts for wildlife, whilst also having implications for food security.”


Featured Image:  Biochar made from beetle-killed lodgepole pine, 2016. (Photo courtesy USDA Forest Service) Public domain.

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Where Tourists Step Lightly, Biodiversity Flourishes

Rainbow lorikeets in Queensland, Australia, June 2013 (Photo by Dave Curtis) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Rainbow lorikeets in Queensland, Australia, June 2013 (Photo by Dave Curtis) Creative Commons license via Flick

By Sunny Lewis

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, May 23, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – “We share our planet with millions of species of wild animals and plants. They keep us alive through making fresh air, clean water and healthy soils; they are used every day to make medicine, food and furniture and they support cultural, recreational and tourism pursuits,” says John Scanlon, who heads the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“While wildlife keeps all of us alive its future is squarely in our hands,” said Scanlon. “We alone will determine the fate of the world’s wildlife and in doing so our own destiny.”

Scanlon made these observations at the World Travel and Tourism Council’s 17th Global Summit in Bangkok, Thailand in late April, an event held in advance of the International Day for Biological Diversity, celebrated around the world on May 22.

In Monday’s global celebrations, held under the theme of Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism, people enjoyed the benefits of ecotourism, but also examined the potentially negative impacts that tourism can have on biodiversity.

Dr. Cristiana Pașca Palmer, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity said, “As we celebrate the 16th edition of the International Biodiversity Day let us all remember that by celebrating and protecting biodiversity we respect and give consideration to all forms of life that exist on this beautiful planet and that support the very existence of humans.”

Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force in December 1993. This international treaty governs the conservation of the many species of plants and animals, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. Based in Montreal, with 196 Parties to date, the Convention has near universal participation among countries.

Biodiversity and tourism are intimately linked. The travel and tourism sector is one of the largest and fastest growing global industries, accounting for 10 percent of global GDP and one in every 10 jobs.

And it’s growing quickly. The tourism sector grew by 3.9 percent in 2016, says the UN World Tourism Organization, with inevitable impacts on the animals and plants that visitors travel to experience.

About 40 million people are drawn every year to the Caribbean’s beautiful beaches and marine life, providing $25 billion of revenue annually, nearly half the region’s total income.

In Belize, which bridges the divide between the Caribbean and Central America and encompasses the world’s second largest reef, more than 50 percent of residents support themselves by income generated through reef-related tourism and fisheries.

Some 1.4 million people visit Australian parks every year to enjoy their natural landscapes and culture, contributing $23 billion a year to the economy.

“Tourism is like fi­re: you can cook your food with it, but if you are not careful, it could also burn your house down!” writes Jochen Flasbarth, director-general, nature conservation in Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

In his Forward to the publication “Managing Tourism and Biodiversity: User’s Manual on the CBD Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development,” Flasbarth details the risks.

“Risks include the immense volumes of traffic and waste and the huge land and resource consumption connected to travel. Sensitive ecosystems, especially those in coastal and mountain regions, are also the areas that are particularly interesting for tourism. For example, an estimated 71 percent of the dune landscapes that existed in the Mediterranean region in 1990 have now disappeared. At Germany’s coasts of the North and Baltic Seas, this ­figure is around 15 to 20 percent.”

The key is responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improve the wellbeing of local people who often act as stewards for the biodiverse areas.

“Many conventional businesses, such as hotels and tourism operators, have taken steps to ensure that they adhere to sustainable tourism principles and best practices in their day to day operations,” said Dr. Pașca Palmer.

She says many travellers are now making choices based on whether or not good conservation practices are followed by operators at their destinations.

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park is a great example of wildlife-based tourism generating local jobs, with government and operators engaging with and supporting local communities.

In Chitwan National Park on Monday, in the presence of the Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, ministers, representatives of local communities, international organizations, and media, Nepal destroyed confiscated stockpiles of wildlife parts. Parts of tigers, rhinos, leopards, pangolins, various reptiles and many other species were destroyed.

“Today’s event will not end wildlife crime,” said Scanlon, “but it does help to raise public awareness of the serious threats posed to wild animals and plants, people and economies by such crimes and it provides an ideal opportunity to make a very public expression of Nepal’s steadfast determination not to tolerate any poaching or illegal trade of its wildlife.”

“The strong measures being taken in Nepal not only benefits its extraordinary wildlife,” Scanlon said. “They are ensuring personal security, providing local jobs and community development, and supporting well-managed wildlife based tourism, and along with it the national economy.”

At Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in Southwest Uganda, tourists arriving to see gorillas have increased from 1,300 a year in 1993 to around 20,000 today, according to Dilys Roe,a principal researcher in the Natural Resources research group of the Lond-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

International tourists pay US$600 each to track gorillas and the Uganda Wildlife Authority shares US$10 per permit sold with local people recognizing that their support is important for conservation. But local benefits from gorilla tourism are very limited.

“Relationships between local people and the park are poor, and poaching, snaring and other illegal activities continue,” wrote Roe on the IIED blog on Monday. “This poses a significant threat to the park and to the long-term conservation of the mountain gorillas. It also represents a missed opportunity for harnessing tourism as an engine for local economic development in this remote rural area of Uganda.”

To address these problems, IIED is working with the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation, the Responsible Tourism Partnership and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme to develop new or improved local tourism products and services that meet the needs and interests of tourists, tour operators and lodges. This project is supported by the UK government’s Darwin Initiative.<

“We know that tourism impacts on biodiversity can be devastating,” said Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “Land clearing for tourism infrastructure, pollution and uncontrolled numbers of visitors destroy critical ecosystems that are often home to threatened species and provide an array of benefits to both people and nature.”

“As the official advisory body on nature under the World Heritage Convention, IUCN sees these impacts first hand. Andersen says over a quarter of all natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List are negatively affected by tourism.

But, she says, the impacts of tourism on the natural world do not have to be so destructive, and, “The industry itself can directly contribute to preserving the very places it depends on.”

In 2014 IUCN launched a new global standard of excellence – the Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas, which recognizes and helps ensure success in managing some of the most valuable natural places on the planet. Sustainable tourism is an important element of this success.

Andersen points to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, a green-listed area inhabited by the world’s last three northern white rhinos. The Conservancy recently won the prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow award for its work to improve lives in surrounding communities. It supports six health centers serving 20,000 community members, supplies water, solar power and ICT equipment to local schools, and provides cook stoves and solar devices to households.

“So we all have a responsibility,” says Andersen. “The tourism industry needs to lean in to create sustainable solutions for the industry and the consumer. And we as consumers have to work on the demand side of the equation, by booking our vacations and trips to destinations that support sustainable tourism. In that way, tourists will return home refreshed, but will also have contributed to creating a fairer and healthier planet, proving that the tourist industry can thrive while contributing to the protection of the planet.”


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Featured image: Silverback mountain gorilla of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, May 2013. (Photo by Mahboobeh Shirkhorshidi) Creative Commons license via Flickr

BioNurse: Generating Spaces for Life

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Yareta plants live in the high altitude of the Andes Mountains. Some are estimated at 3,000 years old. (Photo by Pedro Szekely) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

by Sunny Lewis

MISSOULA, Montana, December 1, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – A team from the Ceres Regional Center for Fruit and Vegetable Innovation in Chile has won the first-ever $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation “Ray of Hope” Prize in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge .

The BioNurse team from Quillota, Chile created the BioPatch, a biomimicry solution that enhances soil’s capacity to retain water, nutrients, and microorganisms so that degraded land is restored for the next generation of crops.

At least 25 percent of the world’s soil is degraded, and the winning concept provides a new way to protect seedlings and restore soils to health, with inspiration from natural plant processes.

The BioNurse team was inspired by the way that hardy “nurse” plants like the yareta, ancient flowering plants in the high altitudes of Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, establish themselves in degraded soils and pave the way for new plant species to grow.

Many yaretas are estimated to be over 3,000 years old.

By mimicking biological principles, the BioNurse team’s design innovation provides a way to grow and protect new plants and ensure that the soil can be regenerated to feed the world’s burgeoning population.

The judges were impressed with the way that the BioNurse team utilized biomimicry on multiple levels,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “Moreover, we believe in their potential to commercialize and scale the concept to achieve a significant impact in areas of the world where farming is limited due to poor soil.”

Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011), a Georgia native, was recognized as a leader in green business when he challenged his carpet company, Atlanta-based Interface, Inc., to reimagine itself as a sustainable company with a zero environmental footprint. His foundation funds projects that advance knowledge and innovation around environmental stewardship and sustainability.

Team BioNurse’s winning project aims to establish a first step that changes the course of the current “geomimetic agriculture” to a “biomimetic agriculture.”

Their design proposes a change in the fundamentals of agricultural food production, heading towards increasing soil health and vitality.

The team says their biomimetic method “emulates nurse plants in biologic communities.”

The physical, chemical and biological fertility concentration of their soil “comes from a continuous formation of a vivifying mass which transforms, recycles, composes and decomposes the organic matter and mineral elements, fluffing the ground to make it a real sponge, light and soft, rich in spaces for developing life.

The biomimetic method stands in contrast to the way that humans have opened and plowed the land throughout history, causing cracks and breaks in the soil.

This geomimetic system has taken a lot of fertility, energy and minerals from the soil, which in turn has released huge amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

The team’s biomimicry starts with a device they have called BioNurse, made of a biodegradable container and the appropriate biologic contents for each site.

The container is fabricated from corn stalks, utilizing a resource that otherwise would be burned as waste. It biodegrades after one season.

The team has demonstrated that the plants growing within the container will be capable of reproducing the same conditions in a natural way and, after one year, the soil will be productive again.

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BioNurse Team members: front row: Camila Hernández, Camila Gratacos, back row from left: Nicolas Orellana, Victor Vicencio, Jean François Casal, Carlo Sabaini, Eduardo Gratacos (Photo courtesy Biomimicry Global Design Challenge) posted for media use.

The seven BioNurse Team members are: Camila Hernández, Camila Gratacos, Nicolas Orellana, Victor Vicencio, Jean François Casal, Carlo Sabaini, Eduardo Gratacos

The team had three objectives:

  • Restore degraded soils by carrying: biologically available energy, a high and diverse microbiological load, plants with rhizospheres rich in mycorrhizae, and detritus generators.
  • Create growing levels of food plants’ community structure with increased complexity and local biodiversity,
  • Improve the capacity of moisture retention and accumulation of energy and minerals available to be cycled.

Two principles — seeking harmony with nature and leveraging the power of business — are at the core of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and the work of the Biomimicry Institute based in Missoula.

The Institute aims to “naturalize biomimicry in the culture by promoting the transfer of ideas, designs, and strategies from biology to sustainable human systems design.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has just launched, which offers another opportunity for teams to join and compete for the annual $100,000 “Ray of Hope” Prize.

The philanthropists at the heart of the Biomimicry Design Challenge take their inspiration from environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and author Paul Hawken, who said, “Biomimicry directs us to where we need to go in every aspect in human endeavor.


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 Featured image: Green Patch III – Yareta plants. (Photo by Magnus von Koeller) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

EU Patent Office Under Siege Over Seeds

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An organic garden in Walhain, Walloon Brabant, Belgium (Photo by Simon Blackley) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis,

MUNICH, Germany, July 12, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – More than 800,000 signatures against patents on plants and animals were handed to officials of the European Patent Office on June 29, as the EPO’s Administrative Council held a meeting in Munich.

By the signatures they have collected, civil society organizations are demanding that the EPO change its rules.

European patent laws do prohibit patents on plant and animal varieties, and on the conventional breeding of plants and animals.

But the civil society organizations behind the petition warn that the European Patent Office is undermining these prohibitions by granting more patents on food plants, including vegetables, their seeds and the harvested food crops.

In total, some 1,400 patent applications on conventional breeding have been filed at the EPO, and around 180 patents have been granted.

The petition comes in the context of a resolution passed by the European Parliament in December calling for a ban on patents for conventionally bred products; a groundswell against a patent requested by Syngenta for a conventionally bred tomato; and the recent revocation of a patent that had been issued by the European Patent Office to Monsanto in 2011 for a conventionally bred melon that resists viruses – “The Melon Case“.

The signatures were handed over to the president of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Office Jesper Kongstad, who also serves as director general of the Danish Patent and Trademark Office (dkpto), and to the chair of the Committee on Patent Law of the EPO, Sean Dennehey.

The signatures were collected in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and France.

The petition was organized by civil society organizations, including Campact from Germany, Arche Noah from Austria, Berne Declaration in Switzerland, Bionext in The Netherlands, the EU-wide group WeMove and dozens of organizations that are members of the international coalition No Patents on Seeds!.

The organizations are jointly calling for a change in the European Patent Office rules.

It is time for a change,” said Lara Dovifat for Campact, an organization that collected many signatures for the petition.

The patent system has become unbalanced. The interests of society at large, which does not want to become dependent on huge companies such as Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta, have to be given priority. Now is the time to stop patents on our food, seeds, plants and animals,” said Dovifat.

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Conventionally bred organic tomatoes for sale in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, France (Photo by Philip Haslett) Creative Commons license via Flickr

In 2015, the European Patent Office granted a patent to the Swiss company Syngenta for tomatoes with a high content of flavonols, compounds the company claims are beneficial to health. The patent covers the plants, the seeds and the fruits.

Opponents say this tomato is a product of crossing tomatoes originally from Peru and Chile with varieties currently grown in the industrialized countries, but is not an original invention.

European patent law is meant to prohibit patents on plant varieties and on conventional breeding. For this reason, the opponents want the patent to be revoked completely.

The members of the EPO’s Administrative Council are delegates from the 38 contracting states of the European Patent Convention. They have control of the Implementation Regulation, which defines the rules on how to apply current European patent law.

The civil society organizations are demanding that these rules are changed in order to stop further patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding.

They claim to be seeing support from many member states of the EPO, as well as from the European Commission and the EU Parliament.

An increasing number of member states such as Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain and The Netherlands are becoming increasingly aware of the problems that go along with seed monopolies and are unhappy with current EPO practice,” said Maaike Raaijmakers, speaking on behalf of Bionext, which represents the Dutch organic food sector. “Some of these countries have already changed their national patent laws or are invalidating these patents.

There is strong support from the EU Parliament and also some movement within the EU Commission. However, legal certainty will only be achieved if the rules and regulations at the EPO are corrected in a way that strengthens the current prohibitions to stop patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding,” said Raaijmakers.

In mid-May, members of the European Patent Organisation refused to accept a meeting requested by the opponents.

In May a symposium on patents and plant breeders’ rights was hosted by the Dutch Minister for Agriculture Martijn van Dam.

The International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) EU welcomed the Dutch Presidency initiative and urged the Commission to take concrete, legal action to put an end to patents on seeds.

Thomas Fertl, IFOAM EU Board Member and Farmers’ Representative, said, “The European Commission should urgently clarify that seeds and genetic traits that can be found in nature and obtained through conventional breeding cannot be patented.

The patent legislation has increasingly been used to grant patents on natural traits, which is a complete misuse of the patent system. This kind of patents fosters further market concentration in the seed sector and hamper competition and innovation,” Fertl said.

Today, only five companies control 75 percent of the seeds sold throughout the world and own most of the patents. This is corporate control over farming and the food chain at its most dangerous,” warned Fertl.

Raaijmakers said, “We are cooperating with conventional farming associations, NGOs and many concerned citizens to put an end to patent claims on our food. Farmers constantly need new varieties, as growing conditions on the fields and market demands change rapidly. Climate change makes it even more urgent for farmers to have access to a wide range of adapted varieties. Patents on seeds hinder the development of new varieties, reduce choice and increase prices for farmers and consumers. This threatens our food security in the long term.

Eric Gall, IFOAM EU Policy Manager, concluded, “Patents on seeds hinder innovation in breeding and block the circulation of genetic resources. Access to genetic biodiversity is essential for creating new varieties and should not be blocked by patents. Organic and smallholder farmers are particularly at risk of losing the varieties they need to farm.”

The Commission must issue a legal interpretation that clearly prevents these types of patents,” said Gall, “and should revise the biotech inventions Directive 98/44 in order to protect farmers from intellectual property rights claims regarding the plants and animals they save and breed.

The EPO has made no comment on the petition


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