Science for Environment Policy, Issue 385: A service from the European Commission

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Issue 385, 11 September 2014

 Science for Environment Policy

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 In this issue

Public participation in flood risk management: the case of germany
How can stakeholders best be involved in the implementation of the EU Floods Directive? According to recent research examining germany as a case study, three types of strategy are being pursued across the country’s 16 federal states: the first draws on Water Framework Directive (WFD) procedures, the second meets only minimum requirements for participation and the third involves stakeholders more intensively.
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Harmful algal blooms in Europe will increase under climate change
Harmful algal blooms may become more common in north western European waters as a result of climate change, according to a new study. The researchers predicted that by the end of this century blooms of two groups of algal species will occur over larger areas and for longer periods every year.
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Deep-water fish remove over a million tonnes of CO2 in Irish-UK waters every year
Deep-water fish living along the Irish-UK continental slope remove more than a million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, according to a recent study. Continental slope ecosystems play an important role in carbon sequestration, which should be considered before exploiting deep-water resources, say the researchers.
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Congestion schemes have positive spillover effect on green behaviour
Congestion schemes can encourage people to adopt environmentally friendly behaviours more generally, a new study suggests. Researchers who surveyed car owners after the introduction of a congestion scheme in Stockholm found that after its introduction nearly half of people surveyed adopted greener behaviours such as conserving energy and water.
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Soil nitrogen increased through greater plant biodiversity
Increased plant biodiversity improves grassland soil quality by boosting its nitrogen levels, even in the absence of nitrogen-fixing plants, recent research has found. Previous research has shown that grasslands with higher biodiversity had higher levels of carbon and nitrogen. However, in the case of nitrogen it has been suggested that this was purely a result of increased numbers of nitrogen-fixing legumes, such as clover. This study was the first to show that, even without legumes, increased numbers of grassland species increased both carbon and nitrogen soil stocks.
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The contents and views included in this news alert are based on independent, peer-reviewed research and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.

 

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  Full articles

 

Public participation in flood risk management: the case of Germany

How can stakeholders best be involved in the implementation of the EU Floods Directive? According to recent research examining Germany as a case study, three types of strategy are being pursued across the country’s 16 federal states: the first draws on Water Framework Directive (WFD) procedures, the second meets only minimum requirements for participation and the third involves stakeholders more intensively.

Like many other EU policies, the Floods Directive requires EU Member States to involve the public in planning procedures. Policymakers’ participation with wider society is expected to lead to better informed decisions that are more widely accepted.

The Directive states that the public (including non-state interested parties, such as farming groups and environmental NGOs) must be encouraged to be actively involved in drafting Flood Risk Management Plans. These are due to be submitted by Member States to the European Commission by December 2015. How Member States choose to involve the public, however, is not prescribed by the Directive.

This study explored some emerging approaches to public participation in Germany. Each of the country’s federal states decides how to involve the public in planning and very different forms of participation have arisen, despite similar overall conditions.

The researchers analysed a variety of documents to find out about public participation in the Directive in Germany. These included planning documents, consultants’ reports, and official websites of German environmental ministries and agencies (for example, Hessisches Landesamt für Umwelt und Geologie), pilot projects and management plans (for example, for the river catchments Fulda and Elbe).

Six states are planning to use structures and procedures that have already been established for the WFD, a closely related policy. Generally, these consist of an advisory board at state level, and participatory forums at lower levels within river basin districts.

Bavaria, for example, has passed planning on to Regional Water Forums, which are an important participatory mechanism under the WFD. They include representatives of civil protection, cultural heritage and the insurance sector.

Five states meet only the bare minimum requirements for stakeholder participation, which is conducted on an ad hoc basis, and to a lesser degree than for the WFD. For instance, public participation in Saxony amounted to consultation events during drafting of the plans.

The third strategy used is much more inclusive and bottom-up. As an example, Baden Württemberg has developed flood partnerships which are designed to encourage cooperation between municipalities within sub-basins. There is also a state-level advisory board which includes representatives of both the federal state and non-state organisations such as cultural heritage groups, industry and environmental groups.

The researchers found that no German states appear to involve the lay public in their planning, despite flooding’s direct impacts on public safety, homes and livelihoods. In addition, although the Floods Directive suggests aligning planning with the WFD, most states in Germany are not doing so.

It remains to be seen which strategy is most effective. However, the study suggests that more inclusive approaches than are currently practiced would promote better-informed decision-making. In the past, public engagement has delayed flood protection measures, so the researchers also recommend structuring participation into plans with clearly stated deadlines to help avoid this in future.

Source: Newig, J., Challies, E., Jager, N. & Kochskämper, E. (2014) What Role for Public Participation in Implementing the EU Floods Directive? A Comparison with the Water Framework Directive, Early Evidence from Germany and a Research Agenda. Environmental Policy and Governance. Early online. DOI: 10.1002/eet.1650.

Contact: [email protected]

Read more about: Environmental information services, Natural hazards, Sustainable development and policy assessment


 

Harmful algal blooms in Europe will increase under climate change

Harmful algal blooms may become more common in north western European waters as a result of climate change, according to a new study. The researchers predicted that by the end of this century blooms of two groups of algal species will occur over larger areas and for longer periods every year.

Algal blooms occur naturally at certain times of year when these microscopic plants multiply rapidly. However, if algae populations become abnormally large they can starve the water of oxygen, and some species produce toxins. These harmful blooms can kill fish, contaminate seafood and disturb ecosystems. The economic cost of algal blooms in Greece, Italy and Spain is over €300 million a year.

The authors modelled the effects of climate change on harmful algal blooms for the end of the current century, i.e. 2090-2100. They focused on effects for two different groups of algal species and three different regions: the northwest European Shelf–Baltic Sea; northeast asia and southeast asia. Their projections were based on conservative climate models used in the fourth assessment report1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2007. They incorporated certain physiological ‘rules’ for the formation of blooms, to predict their response.

Prorocentrum and Karenia are groups of algal species found all over the world. The Prorocentrum group includes commonly recognised species associated with so-called ‘red tides’. Species from this group grow rapidly in nutrient-rich waters near shorelines. Karenia species grow more slowly and further away from the shore, but tend to be more toxic.

The researchers’ models predicted that by the end of the century, in the northwest European region, there will likely be larger areas and more months of the year when blooms of both Prorocentrum and Karenia algae are likely to occur. The results suggest conditions will favour Prorocentrum over Karenia. According to the researchers, the most important factor driving these changes was temperature.

By comparison, for northeast Asia, models predicted a smaller increase in the area where blooms are likely to occur and a reduction in the period of the year. Meanwhile, for the southeast Asia region, projections suggested there would be no increase in Prorocentrum blooms and a decrease in Karenia blooms. However, it should be noted that these are not the only species which form harmful algal blooms in these regions.

To check the accuracy of their model, the researchers compared its predictions based on current conditions with reports of actual blooms. The predictions matched the existing data well, particularly for the northwest European region. However, the researchers acknowledge their model is a simplification. For example, at present it does not account for increases in nutrient levels due to human activities such as fertiliser use. They suggest that it could be fine-tuned to include such factors, as well as including other species.

1.http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml

Source: Glibert, P. M., Allen, J. I., Artioli, Y. et al. (2014). Vulnerability of coastal ecosystems to changes in harmful algal bloom distribution in response to climate change: projections based on model analysis. Global Change Biology. DOI:10.1111/gcb.12662

Contact: [email protected]

Read more about: Marine ecosystems, Climate change and energy

 


 

Deep-water fish remove over a million tonnes of CO2 in Irish-UK waters every year

Deep-water fish living along the Irish-UK continental slope remove more than a million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, according to a recent study. Continental slope ecosystems play an important role in carbon sequestration, which should be considered before exploiting deep-water resources, say the researchers.

Transport of carbon from the ocean surface to deep water is affected by the movements of organisms such as squid, jellyfish and animal plankton, which rise to the surface to feed at night, before returning to deeper water during the day: a phenomenon known as diurnal vertical migration (DVM). Creatures making this journey take carbon in the food they have caught at the surface back to deep waters with them.

In this study, the researchers investigated the importance of the DVM as a source of food for deep-sea fish living along the UK–Irish continental slope and assessed how this affected the transfer of carbon to the seafloor.

Deep-water trawl surveys were carried out along the Irish-UK continental slope in 2006 and 2009. Fish were caught at depths of 500, 1 000 and 1 500 and 1 800 m and the researchers classified them as feeding either on the seafloor or just above, depending on factors such as the shape of their mouths or stomach contents.

To determine where the carbon stored in their bodies came from, the researchers took muscle tissue samples from 527 fish, representing 30 different species. They then analysed the samples and recorded the ratio of carbon and nitrogen isotopes. The relative levels of these different forms of carbon and nitrogen reflect the composition of an animal’s diet.

The researchers found that more than half of the fish living and feeding on or near the continental shelf at depths between 500 m and 1800 m fed on creatures that make the DVM, rather than on particles of organic matter falling to the seafloor, as had been assumed. These bottom-dwelling fish that never rise to the surface therefore store the captured carbon in the deep waters. The greatest abundance and diversity of these fish were found at mid-depths along the continental slope, between 500 and 1 800 m, because this is where most of their prey – the creatures of the DVM – can be easily caught.

Overall, bottom- and near-bottom-feeding fish remove between 350 000 and 620 000 tonnes of carbon a year from the atmosphere, which is then stored as they die and decompose on the seafloor, the researchers estimate.

Using carbon trading figures from the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme for 2014, where one tonne of carbon dioxide is valued at €6, the researchers calculated that the carbon removal service provided by these fish is worth between €8 and €14 million a year – around 10 to 50% of the value of the deep-water fishing industry on the UK-Irish continental slope.

Given that these ecosystems face increasing pressure from the expansion of fisheries, underwater mining, energy exploitation and waste disposal, the researchers urge that their value to society, including the carbon they store, be taken into account.

Source: Trueman, C.N., Johnston, G., O’Hea, B. & MacKenzie, K.M. (2014). Trophic interactions of fish communities at midwater depths enhance long-term carbon storage and benthic production on continental slopes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 281: 20140669. DOI:10.1098/rspb.2014.0669

Contact: [email protected]

Read more about: Marine ecosystems, Climate change and energy

 


 

Congestion schemes have positive spillover effect on green behaviour

Congestion schemes can encourage people to adopt environmentally friendly behaviours more generally, a new study suggests. Researchers who surveyed car owners after the introduction of a congestion scheme in Stockholm found that after its introduction nearly half of people surveyed adopted greener behaviours such as conserving energy and water.

Air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and driver stress are all important reasons for tackling traffic congestion. However, a new study hints that congestion charging also encourages pro-environmental behaviour in other areas of people’s lives. This ‘spillover effect’ has been noted before but has not been well studied.

The researchers sent questionnaires about the Stockholm congestion charging scheme to 1 210 people living in Stockholm county and received 370 responses. They answered questions based on a trial congestion scheme in 2006, although by the time of the study, the scheme had become permanent. The participants were asked how they travelled on a daily basis before and after congestion charging was introduced, as well as about recycling, shopping, their use of energy and resources, and weekend travel.

Before the scheme, 60% of those surveyed travelled by car on week days. Most of the remainder used public transport and a few walked or cycled. After congestion charging was introduced, the number who drove dropped slightly to 56%. In real terms, a relatively small number of people – just 22 – actually swapped their cars for public transport, bicycle or walking, while 151 carried on using their cars. In addition, a few people who were previously using more environmentally forms of transport started driving instead.

However, the results suggest that although only a few people changed how they travelled, nearly half changed their behaviour in other ways. People who already took public transport, walked or cycled were more careful about saving energy and resources – they used water and heating more sparingly and switched off lights when not in use. Even those who began driving after the scheme was introduced became less wasteful. Meanwhile, those who did change to greener forms of transport also adopted other environmentally friendly behaviours. The only group that showed little change were the individuals who began and remained as car drivers.

Most of the positive spillover behaviours related to energy and resource use. Survey respondents showed little change in patterns of weekend travel, shopping or recycling. The researchers suggest this is because they are not such ‘everyday’ behaviours.

These results suggest environmental policy measures may play an important role in raising awareness of environmental issues more generally. The increase in pro-environmental behaviours may be because environmental information publicised through the scheme meant people were “intentionally or unintentionally educated to be more environmentally responsible”, even those who were not drivers. They also suggest that because some people were forced by the congestion payment to consider the cost-benefit balance of driving, they may have extended that thinking to other contexts.

Source: Kaida, N., & Kaida, K. (2014). Spillover effect of congestion charging on pro-environmental behavior. Environment, Development and Sustainability. DOI:10.1007/s10668-014-9550-9

Contact: [email protected]

Read more about: Sustainable mobility, Environmental information services, Sustainable development and policy assessment

 


 

Soil nitrogen increased through greater plant biodiversity

Increased plant biodiversity improves grassland soil quality by boosting its nitrogen levels, even in the absence of nitrogen-fixing plants, recent research has found. Previous research has shown that grasslands with higher biodiversity had higher levels of carbon and nitrogen. However, in the case of nitrogen it has been suggested that this was purely a result of increased numbers of nitrogen-fixing legumes, such as clover. This study was the first to show that, even without legumes, increased numbers of grassland species increased both carbon and nitrogen soil stocks.

Levels of nitrogen in soils have been shown to increase with plant diversity. However, mixes of species in grasslands often include legumes (e.g. clover, peas and beans), which are able to ‘fix nitrogen’ through their roots, i.e. they effectively transfer nitrogen from the air into the soil. It is unclear whether increased nitrogen levels are the result of increased plant diversity generally or whether they are caused by increased numbers of leguminous species. Previous research has also shown that the amount of carbon stored in grassland soil increases as the amount of plant material (biomass) and diversity of species goes up.

In this study, the researchers explored whether increased plant diversity on grasslands increased soil carbon and nitrogen stores even in the absence of legumes. They planted 102 plots in an arable field in the Netherlands with various combinations of eight non-leguminous species: four species of grasses and four species of forbs (flowering plants that are not grasses) and monitored these plots for 11 years.

The researchers measured the above ground and root biomass from plant samples, and assessed the carbon and nitrogen content from soil samples.

The results showed that carbon and nitrogen stocks in the soil increased with the number of plants species grown. Plots containing all eight plant species had 18% higher carbon and 16% higher nitrogen than soil in plots growing only one species. This implies that nitrogen fixation by legumes was not necessary to boost soil nitrogen stocks. Furthermore, the researchers found that a greater diversity of plant species also boosted plant growth, probably due to the higher levels of available nitrogen in the soil.

Carbon decomposes in soil and is released into the atmosphere. The researchers assessed whether the release of carbon varied between plots by calculating the decomposition rate of carbon. They found that decomposition increased when there were more plant species. However, carbon input from above and below ground biomass was higher than carbon losses due to decomposition leading to enhanced soil carbon stocks.

Because the data for the ecosystem effects of each component species in the mixtures were not already available, the researchers tested for differences in ecosystem function and significant relationships between species, using a mixed model. The presence of the forb Centaurea jacea enhanced plant biomass and soil carbon stocks, but this was not the only driver of positive effects, as species richness also enhanced such stocks in plots without C. jacea, as well as enhancing nitrogen stocks. The researchers conclude, therefore, that the positive effects seen were not due to a single species.

This study is the first to show that nitrogen fixation by legumes is not necessary to enhance soil carbon and nitrogen stocks. Planting a diversity of grassland species was shown to effectively increase plant growth, thus boosting soil carbon, as well as enhancing nitrogen stocks.

Source: Cong, W-F., van Ruijven, J., Mommer, L. et al. (2014). Plant species richness promotes soil carbon and nitrogen stocks in grasslands without legumes. Journal of Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12280

Contact: [email protected]

Read more about: Soil, Biodiversity


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