Entries by YEE

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National Energy & Climate Plans | Webinar

It's NECPs time!

Mobilising youth in the NECPs processes

It's NECPs time!

Mobilising youth in the NECPs processes

Practical information

  • When

    Friday 12th January 2024 at 16h CET

  • Where

    Online

  • How

    Register your interest

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Are you interested in a campaign to mobilise youth in the NECPs processes?

 
Join us on Friday 12th January from 16.00 to 17.00 CET for a session in which the YEE Environmental Law team will present the new initiative to launch a campaign to mobilise youth to demand more consideration of young people’s engagement in the NECPs processes.

During the session, attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about the campaign and how they can get involved. The YEE Environmental Law team will provide an overview of the NECPs processes and explain how young people can participate in them.

About NECPs

NECPs, or National Energy and Climate Plans, are an important part of the EU’s efforts to combat climate change. They set out each member state’s targets and policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency.

Learn more about NECPs in our handbook.

Have questions? Get in touch!



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National Energy and Climate Plans | A handbook for youth participation

National Energy and Climate Plans | A handbook for youth participation

This handbook works as an explainer to the EU regulated National Energy and Climate Plans, and as a guide to how to participate in the process as a young citizen.

Each EU Member State is required to submit a National Energy and Climate Plan (NECPs), reflecting how various energy and climate targets will be achieved. According to EU regulations, these plans need to be open to public participation and consultation, yet the majority of Member States have failed to provide opportunities for the public to participate in the process.

These handbooks aim to shed light on the ways in which public participation can be improved, and how you as a young person can take part in the process!

This toolkit covers:

  • Explaining NECPs

    National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPS) are plans that each Member State of the European Union needs to prepare. An NECP should reflect how energy and climate targets will be achieved. But what does this mean in practice? What kind of information do NECPs contain?

  • Exploring the role of public participation

    According to EU regulations, all NECPs should be open to public participation and consultation. What is so crucial? And are all Member States fulfilling this requirement?

  • What we as young people can do

    Including the perspective of young people is important for well-functioning NECPs, but participation is not always easy. How can you as a young person take part in drafting NECPs? How can you make your voice heard?

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Youth Participation in the NECPs

The Legal Seeds project has been conducting interviews with young people from 4 different EU member states, in order to report on the status of youth participation in the NECP-process. We have compiled country-specific reports on youth involvement for Cyprus, Italy, Bulgaria (coming soon) and Greece (coming soon). These reports outline both the importance and legal requirements of public- and youth participation, while describing the current status of youth involvement in the NECP-process. These reports also highlight the shortcoming of the national processes, while also including suggestions on improvements to national governments.

Youth Participation in the Bulgarian updated NECP draft

In Bulgaria, youth participation is often seen as a “good to have” addition to the already minimal requirements for participation put in place. However, youth empowerment is growing and is demanding more and more accountability, transparency and engagement from public institutions.

Youth Participation in the Cypriot updated NECP draft

The report raises awareness about Governance Regulation shortcomings in Cyprus, focusing on updating NECPs in 2022/2023. Public participation is not there solely for the sake of participating - it is there to increase the acceptability of divisive policies and unite the Cypriot public.

Youth Participation in the Greek updated NECP draft

Young individuals in Greece perceive significant neglect in the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). The overall process of engaging in NECPs has been disappointing, failing to meet the state's obligations under the Governance Regulation.

Youth Participation in the Italian updated NECP draft

The report highlights issues with implementing the Governance Regulation in Italy, focusing on updating National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), namely the lack of public participation in Italian climate and environmental policymaking , higlighting the bigger focus on administrative procedures rather than human rights.

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COP28 recap ​| Webinar

COP28 recap

Join our live webinar on COP28 recap with youth delegates, from Youth and Environment Europe (YEE) Generation Climate Europe (GCE) and European Youth Energy Network (EYEN), who were present at #COP28 in Dubai!

COP28 recap​

Join our live webinar on COP28 recap with youth delegates, from Youth and Environment Europe (YEE) Generation Climate Europe (GCE) and European Youth Energy Network (EYEN), who were present at #COP28 in Dubai!​

Practical information

  • When

    Friday 21st December 2023 at 15h CET

  • Where

    Online

  • How

    Register your interest

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Join our live webinar on COP28 recap with youth delegates, from Youth and Environment Europe (YEE) Generation Climate Europe (GCE) and European Youth Energy Network – EYEN, who were present at #COP28 in Dubai!

Did you miss the event?

Watch the recording or read the written summary!

Have questions? Get in touch!



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Health first: The IED cannot deprive pollution victims of their rights

Health first: The IED cannot deprive pollution victims of their rights

In 2023, toxic pollution has become the norm in Europe, with industrial complexes illegally polluting and causing harm to people's health. The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which governs emissions from various industries, is being updated by EU decision-makers. However, the draft law appears to be inadequate in protecting people from pollution.

Written by

Bellinda Bartolucci, ClientEarth

Alexandros Kassapis, Youth and Environment Europe

Contents

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It’s 2023 and exposure to toxic pollution is the norm in Europe.

Across the bloc, people are living in the shadow of industrial complexes that are still polluting illegally, eroding their health, and claiming lives.

This is a rights issue. An estimated 10% or more of Europe’s cancer burden is suspected to relate to pollution exposure, while EU premature deaths related to excessive levels of air pollution chart in the hundreds of thousands each year –
including minors, whose small bodies register big and lasting pollution impacts.

It’s hardly the futuristic picture we’d hoped for.

EU decision-makers are on the cusp of finalising the update of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). It governs the emissions of over 50,000 installations, including steelworks, chemicals and plastics facilities, coal plants and factory farms all over Europe – and it needs to be the most powerful tool to protect people that it can possibly be.

But on the contrary – the draft law looks set to blow over in the wind. From strong beginnings, we’re left with a nearly empty shell as far as people’s rights are concerned.

So what do our lawmakers need to do?

On your doorstep – what does industrial pollution
look like in Europe?

Pollution exposure is not just about isolated incidents – the reality is more insidious. From ‘forever chemicals’ to heavy metals, there are dramatic cases of chronic industrial pollution across Europe. Their impacts are startling reminders that industrial operations can cause severe illness and kill, in 21st century Europe.

There are ample examples of European workers and local residents – particularly children – being impacted by industrial pollution. A 5-year-old has died in Taranto, Italy, from a brain tumour – metal and dust particles from the local steel plant (Italy’s largest) were found in his brain. The local waters can’t be used to raise mussels because of iron dust levels.

Those living near antiquated coal plants in Bulgaria and Poland complain of stinging eyes and report respiratory ill-health. Towns near coal complexes in Bulgaria have been blanketed with air pollution for years – coal regions in the country chart the EU’s highest levels of sulphur dioxide pollution. But the government gave one of the local plants ongoing permission to pollute far above EU limits. 

The above cases were from facilities operating within the law. So it goes without saying that, at least in cases of illegal pollution, anyone suffering from its impacts should be able to go to court and stand a chance of receiving compensation for the damage – no? 

They pollute, you pay – why we need a real route to justice

If a facility is polluting beyond the limits allowed by the law, people suffering from health issues due to this illegal pollution must be able to access the courts for compensation. But the legal set-up right now makes it very difficult for anyone to hold Member States or industries to account

The European Commission has acknowledged this injustice and the new IED was supposed to fix this. The law included a new compensation right for victims of illegal pollution. But throughout the process, the real substance of this right has been systematically dismantled over the course of the negotiations – by now, it risks becoming an in-name-only gesture, which contains no actual avenue for people to access their rights.

With the current wording, negotiators have given the chop to the possibility of NGOs standing for sick people in class actions – vital given that in extreme cases, claimants have passed away before they could complete their actions. The law also relieves authorities of all legal responsibility for failing to enforce laws and therefore enabling health damages. 

People across Europe have been pushing for their rights to be reflected in the law. But pressure has been too strong and conflicting information has emerged throughout the process to derail positive lawmaking. This has got in the way of what this law is for: keeping people safe.

Youth and Environment Europe (YEE) have written to EU representatives to urge them to “prioritise health over illegal pollution” and adopt a real, functional compensation right. Along with a host of legal and consumer organisations, we highlighted that an inadequate law would fail people’s fundamental rights – the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that harmful industrial pollution can give rise to individual compensation.

A turning point for victims of illegal industrial pollution – will lawmakers deliver?

An effective compensation right already exists in competition, data protection, anti-discrimination and consumer laws. It works for all parties involved and it ups compliance from the outset. Why should health be protected less? Contrary to industry claims, none of these types of rules have ever led to excessive litigation. In the case of the IED, only illegal polluters are exposed to the risk of litigation. Companies adhering to the rules have no reason to worry – and will actually benefit from a level playing field across the EU.

There is no justification for failing to apply it in the IED for victims of illegal pollution. This is a no-brainer.

An IED based on justice goes far beyond environmental action –  it is about helping victims on the ground. This is a major opportunity to bring back justice and finally offer protection for citizens across Europe. Missing it would be a statement by EU lawmakers that lawbreakers have officially taken precedence over people’s rights. 

Brussels should take a deep breath and consider this before they give the IED their final seal of approval.

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The EneRail | Podcast​

The EneRail | Podcast

How is our generation responding to the challenges posed by the energy crisis and the imperative for a green transition?

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The Enerail podcast takes us on a captivating virtual journey across the European Union, examining the energy and climate crisis from different perspectives. In a world where the term “we” can be complex and multifaceted, this immersive podcast introduces us to a diverse range of individuals living through this crisis.

Activists, researchers, and institutional youth representatives are just a few of the voices we encounter along the way. As we delve into the heart of this pressing issue, one burning question guides our exploration: How is our generation responding to the challenges posed by the energy crisis and the imperative for a green transition? This thought-provoking podcast provides a comprehensive and nuanced outlook on the realities, insights, and actions that are shaping our present and future.

Discover all episodes:

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Green Hydrogen=Green Flag

Green Hydrogen=Green Flag

Overcoming the limits of batteries with hydrogen energy storage

In this article, we will delve into the exciting world of hydrogen as a potential solution for energy storage, aiming to overcome the current limitations of Lithium Ion Batteries (LIB).

Written by

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of YEE.

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The importance of effective storage systems in the transition to renewable energy

A future powered by renewables needs effective storage systems. Unlike fossil fuels, wind and sunlight, two low-carbon energy sources at the centre of the energy transition, have some great limitations: they are intermittent and cannot be stored to be converted into energy later on. A turbine spins only where and when the wind blows, and a solar panel works only under daylight. Learning to work around those limitations can help us abandon fossil fuels faster, which is crucial, given the short time we have left to meet the Paris carbon emission reduction targets. Storage systems can help us overcome these limitations, by offering alternative ways to even out energy supply to the grid and by allowing the electrification of sectors that are not connected to the grid altogether.

In this article, I want to look at one of those systems: hydrogen. More specifically, I want to explore how we can store energy using this material, and see in what ways it can help us overcome some of the limitations of the more commonly used Lithium Ion Batteries (LIB). To do so, I will provide you with an accessible explanation of how hydrogen energy storage works. I will also show that LIBs have three main downsides that hydrogen storage can help mitigate: high impact of raw materials, low gravimetric energy density and limited long-term and high-capacity storage capabilities.

My goal here is not to advocate for the complete abandoning of LIBs, rather, I want to show how in some cases having an alternative can help us achieve the decarbonization of our economy faster.

How can electricity be stored in hydrogen?

Let’s start with the basics. How do you generate electricity with hydrogen? It’s pretty simple. Hydrogen atoms flow through a “fuel cell”, which splits their electrons from their protons and nucleus. The electrons then leave the fuel cell and run through a circuit, powering whatever device they are connected to. The end of the circuit is connected back to the fuel cell, where the electron re-joins the proton and nucleus from which it was split. The hydrogen cell is thus re-formed and, reacting with oxygen in the air, it transforms into water vapour. Of course, this is an oversimplification, for a more accurate, but still very accessible, explanation of the process, I redirect you to this video from Alex Dainis, PhD. Just to be clear, this is not a nuclear reaction, as we are not splitting the nucleus itself.

The next question is where do we get hydrogen from? Due to its highly reactive nature, hydrogen is often bonded to other materials. Thus, we need to extract it from other molecules before we can convert it into energy. There are different ways you can do this. The key things to keep in mind are two. Firstly, these processes take a lot of energy. Secondly, the energy source you use determines the name we give to the final product, together with its carbon footprint. Some examples of carbon-intensive production methods are steam methane reforming and gasification. The output of these processes will be called grey or blue hydrogen (in the second case, a carbon capture mechanism is used to limit emissions).

Another method to produce hydrogen is electrolysis. With the same fuel cell we mentioned before, you can split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, through a process that is exactly symmetrical to what we have described two paragraphs above. To do this, you need electricity. If that is produced from renewable sources you have green hydrogen, which is low carbon.

Now, the round-trip efficiency of green hydrogen is less than one, meaning that the energy you get from it is less than the one you used to produce it. This means that, whenever possible, it is more efficient to use a renewable energy source directly, without hydrogen as an intermediary. Whenever that is not possible, however, one can produce hydrogen as a way to store and transport energy. First, clean electricity is used to perform electrolysis. Then the resulting hydrogen is reconverted back into water when and where electricity is needed. Through this process, hydrogen can be used as a stock of electricity that can be displaced in space and time to better match our energy demands.

Obstacles to decarbonizing the economy using batteries

As you know, batteries can also be used to store and transport energy. Some of their limitations, however, pose important obstacles to our ability to fully decarbonize our economy. Hydrogen can help us overcome those obstacles.

High impact of raw materials

Firstly, the raw materials required to manufacture LIBs pose environmental, social and geopolitical challenges that become more and more pressing as the scale of production of this technology increases. Lithium and cobalt are two materials used in LIBs. Lithium mining, on the one hand, has a water footprint of more than 2000 liters per kilogram extracted. The practice has also been linked with “declining vegetation, hotter daytime temperatures and increasing drought conditions in national reserve areas”. Cobalt mines, on the other hand, are notoriously infamous for the terrible working conditions of their workers. At the same time, both materials are to be found in only a couple of regions throughout the world. This creates perverse incentives to adopt hoarding strategies, which artificially push up the price of these resources. Such a high level of concentration also decreases the resilience of the supply chain to unforeseeable external shocks, decreasing the long-term reliability of the industry as a whole.

Hydrogen, like lithium, can be used to store energy, however, unlike lithium, it is not a rare material and can be extracted with carbon-neutral technologies. Consequently, replacing some of the current and future demand for batteries with hydrogen-based solutions can reduce our consumption of these materials, and with that the challenges that they come with. This can also diversify the energy storage supply chain, increasing its ability to withstand exogenous shocks. Hydrogen systems also do not use cobalt.

Of course, this is only a part of the solution, the issues I have highlighted above need to be addressed independently of the fact that we introduce hydrogen in the equation. Nonetheless, this technology can help us reduce the scale of the problem. With this, it should also be noted that, while hydrogen is not a rare material, iridium and platinum (two materials often used in fuel cells) are. These materials come with their own environmental problems, which further proves that technical diversification is only part of the solution. The social and environmental patterns of exploitation behind mining need to be addressed, regardless. That, however, is a broader conversation that pertains to our economy as a whole.

Low gravimetric energy density 

Secondly, the low energy density of LIB makes them unsuitable as an alternative to fossil fuels in some applications. The aviation industry is an example of this issue. The table below shows the energy density of different materials, i.e., the amount of Megajoules stored in one kilogram of material ( = gravimetric density) and the amount of Megajoules in one litre of material ( = volumetric density).

Material Gravimetric energy density* Volumetric energy density Energy efficiency
Jet A1 (kerosene)
43.3 MJ/Kg
Hydrogen
142 MJ/Kg
LIBs
0.5 MJ/Kg

As you can see, compared to Jet A-1 (a common aviation fuel), a LIB providing the same amount of energy as an airplane’s fuel tank would be 86 times as heavy. Emily Pickrell, Energy Scholar at the University of Houston estimates that “if a jumbo jet were to use today’s batteries, 1.2 million pounds of batteries would be required just to generate the power of the jet engine it would be replacing. This weight would effectively need an additional eight jet planes just to carry that weight!”.

Consequently, replacing jet fuel with an equivalently powerful battery would make the plane too heavy to fly. Hydrogen, on the other hand, is more energy-dense than both LIBs and Jet A-1. Thus, it can provide the same amount of energy at a much lower weight.

Hydrogen’s energy density makes it a much better match for the electrification of the aviation industry than batteries. There are, however, some limitations to the potential of this gas. If we look at its volumetric energy density, a hydrogen tank would take 4 times as much space as a Jet A-1 providing equivalent energy. And this is assuming we are able to keep the gas in its liquid form at -252.8°C. Together with this, to this day the round-trip efficiency of hydrogen systems is still much lower than that of batteries. Finally, hydrogen aircraft are still in the early stages of development, meaning that we still need to wait for the large-scale commercial adoption of these vehicles.

Limited long-term and high-capacity storage capabilities

Finally, LIBs are less efficient at storing higher quantities of energy for longer periods of time than hydrogen systems. In some applications, we need this longer-term storage capacity. One case is that of intermittent energy storage.

As I said before, renewables’ energy supply cannot be adjusted to the specific demands of consumers and producers at any given moment. To address this, storage devices allow us to stock up energy in moments of excess supply, in order to release it back into the grid in periods of excess demand. Intermittency, however, is a multidimensional phenomenon that has a short-run and long-run component: fluctuations in supply can be intraday or seasonal. Looking at solar energy makes it easier to understand both. As the sun shines only during the daytime, at night panels will not produce any electricity. That is intra-day intermittency. At the same time, during summer days are longer, and, in many climates, less cloudy. Thus, output will be higher during June, July and August than it will during winter (as shown by the table below). This is what we call seasonality.

LIBs are more effective at smoothing intraday fluctuations. Battery storage facilities are cheaper to install, but more expensive to scale up, making them more suited for smaller capacity applications. Their higher round trip efficiency (look at the table above) also means that less energy is wasted in the process. Due to their higher rate of self-discharge, however, they cannot store electricity for prolonged periods of time, making them useless when it comes to seasonal intermittency. At the same time, hydrogen is better suited to supply that higher capacity, long term storage facility needed to smooth out seasonal fluctuations. On the one hand, hydrogen deposits show increasing returns to scale. They can be more costly than batteries to set up, but doubling capacity less than doubles the cost. This makes the technology better suited for higher capacity stockage. On the other, hydrogen has a lower rate of self-discharge, meaning that it can store energy for longer. These two characteristics make this technology a useful tool to smooth out seasonality, even when we account for its lower round trip efficiency (being able to store something is better than being able to store nothing).

To conclude, we can see that hydrogen can help overcome three important limitations of LIBs: high impact of raw materials, low gravimetric energy density and limited long-term and high-capacity storage capabilities. Nonetheless, the analysis also shows that hydrogen technology is still in its earlier stages of development. Consequently, important challenges need to be overcome before this technology can be deployed at scale. If used together, batteries and hydrogen will have a central role in facilitating the energy transition.


I would like to thank Tuur Knevels, who provided some crucial support in the drafting of this article. He is a passionate young engineer who has been active in the hydrogen and automotive industry for the past 3 years and is currently completing his degree in Aerospace Engineering whilst working as a freelance fuel cell systems engineer. We met back in July during the in-person training we organised as part of the AmPower Project. Of course, any potential incoherence in this analysis is solely attributable to me.


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Social Media Coordinator | Part-time Opportunity

Call for Social media Coordinator

to organise posts across all social media platforms.

8 h/ week

12 EUR/hour

EU/Europe

Remote

Start ASAP

Contents

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YEE is seeking a Social Media Coordinator to

YEE is excited to announce the opening of a part-time Social Media Coordinator position, requiring 8 hours per week, with a compensation of 12 EUR/hour.

The coordinator will be responsible for managing social media posts, collaborating with the Communications team, analysing metrics and trends, and providing reports and recommendations.

Candidates must have a working proficiency in English, an EU work permit, and be under the age of 35. 

Application deadline:

3rd December 2023

Your responsibilities

  • formulating and organising posts across all our social media platforms
  • improving our social media strategy in collaboration with the Communications team
  • analysing social media metrics and trends, and regularly reporting insights and suggestions for improvement
  • assisting with any communications-related deliverables from the project designated to this profile

Requirements

The ideal profile

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When youth takes states to court | Handbook

When youth takes states to court | Handbook

This handbook provides important information on the hearing and the potential impact of the Court on climate action in Europe.

On the 27th of September, the Duarte Agostinho et al case will be heard at the European Court of Human Rights. This will be the third of a series of climate lawsuits brought in front of the Court, after Klimaseniorinnen, and Câreme, which were heard this Summer. The case involves youth from 11 to 24 years old. This will be an excellent opportunity for youth all around Europe to make the voices of the youngest generations heard! We have prepared this handbook to highlight the most important things to keep in mind when following the hearing, including the potential role of the Court in enhancing climate action in Europe.

This handbook covers:

  • Youth in Climate Action

    Apart from peaceful protests, young people have also increasingly made use of the law to strive for a healthy and safe environment. And why are youth so involved?

  • Explaining the Claims of Duarte Agostinho

    September 2020, six young people and children from Portugal made a
    complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) stating that
    the climate inaction of 33 states under the jurisdiction of the Court was
    endangering their lives and well-being. How is the Duarte Agostinho lawsuit structured?

  • The ECtHR Processes

    How does the European Court of Human Rights work? What is the role of the ECtHR in enhancing climate action?

  • Previous Successful Cases

    What are the other climate lawsuits that have yielded results?

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Introducing Vika | Showcasing the Unheard









Contents

Learn more about the project

In the beginning, I was all alone

Vika Hovsepyan from Yeghvard, Armenia is passionate about creating positive change in her community. She began by initiating a recycling campaign at her school and now is involved in educational projects related to the environment. Her work is motivated by seeing the positive results and the support of others. Vika’s future goal is to collect and recycle clothes to help those in need.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who’s Vika?

I am Vika Hovsepyan from Yeghvard, which is a small town near the capital of Yerevan in Armenia. I’m 19. Since high school, I’ve tried to be active in my community and create something positive for others who have fewer opportunities or need help. I have been doing different kinds of activities in my community for more than five years now.

What is your work and how did it all start?

Around me, there were some problems which were visible and I couldn’t sit and just see what was happening near me. Everything started when I decided to create a little campaign at school involving some others who were interested. The aim was to collect paper and plastic waste and transfer it to a recycling center every three months. The reimbursement from our recycled items would be invested in the school to be used to buy some new plants, as well as for the school garden and sorting bins for waste or whatever else was needed. This became a tradition in a very short time. 

I just wanted to share my ideas with the students and teachers. I started to collect all the papers because the school was full of paper and there isn’t one day that paper isn’t used. I started to collect it and then I made a small pocket where I put them away, and the students saw my steps and they followed me. This is when the project became larger.

I started on a very large scale. Students and teachers became part of this project and they supported me and encouraged me. I got support and I became very motivated, even more motivated than at the beginning. I continued with new encouragement and new motivation.

I graduated two years ago but this tradition still goes on. After that I started to participate in environmental projects to deepen my knowledge about environmental topics and my behavior has changed a lot. New eco-friendly practices were formed in my everyday life. I started to use eco bags and water bottles and now I can’t imagine my life without these steps.

What projects do you work on at the moment? 

I’m part of the educational projects at Yeghvard NGO, where I’m a member and a volunteer. They organize educational projects for youth about the environment. I organise seminars and trainings for youth with fewer opportunities. There are also times when I am the participant and I strive to deepen my knowledge to be able to share it with others.

What does your work mean to you? 

My work is very important for me because I started the project at school and I like seeing the good results and the happy faces of people and their reactions and support. That gives me a lot of motivation to continue what I’m doing. My vision is for people to become more careful and more caring because nature is in danger. 

What’s next for you?

I want to continue my work by collecting clothes. Every year I collect clothes from people and just give them to those who have fewer opportunities and need them. In a few months, I will start and collect clothes that I will recycle. I want to open a second-hand store or engage people who have fewer opportunities than I had.

If you could send a message to other young people, what would it be? 

“Whatever you do, do it for a positive result and do it with all your heart.”

This is the key to success. 

It is very easy if you are motivated and want to bring change. There are only a few things you need to do. Have an aim, motivation for any situation and a strong will. This is the key because if you are not motivated if you don’t want to see a good result, if you don’t want to see happy faces, support, and change around you, nothing will change. You are the change. You will become the change and people will follow you. 

Other interviews


Introducing Rahim | Showcasing the Unheard

Rahim Zehdiev, a 27-year-old volunteer and green ambassador at Young Improvers for Youth Development in Smolyan, Bulgaria, is passionate about creating positive changes in his community and empowering young people, particularly in environmental issues. He is involved in various projects aiming to address environmental challenges and empower young individuals from marginalised communities.


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Introducing Mihai | Showcasing the Unheard

Mihai Oancea, a young Romanian from a traditional Roma community, is a founder of the youth NGO, ROMA T.E.A.M. Association. They offer mentorship programs and screening activities for vulnerable communities, with a focus on empowering young people. Mihai’s vision is to create community centers for education and mental health, and he believes that Roma people should be involved in different contexts to fight against racism and make the community more inclusive.


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Introducing Kacper | Showcasing the Unheard

Kacper Lubiewski is a 19-year-old Israeli-Polish climate activist living in Berlin. He started his activism in 2019, joining the climate movement in the same year. He is also a member of a housing activist group. For him, activism means working towards change and making a difference. He encourages those interested in activism to research their chosen cause, find a community, and take care of themselves to avoid burnout.


Read


Introducing Alex | Showcasing the Unheard

Alex is a 22-year-old Cypriot-Greek activist who became passionate about environmental protection after witnessing forest fires near his home and the subsequent destruction of the ecosystems. Alex is currently involved in an initiative fighting the Energy Charter Treaty, which allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments that shut down their operations.


Read



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Exploring the biological and ecological importance of Europe’s First Wild River National Park | Article

Exploring the biological and ecological importance of Europe’s First Wild River National Park

Did you know that only a small number of rivers on our planet remain untouched by human influence? The recently designated Vjosa Wild River National Park, is a remarkable exception and serves as an example of our ability to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services within our waterways.

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Wild River National Park

Wild River National Park

Wild River National Park

Wild River National Park

Wild River National Park

Wild River National Park

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The Vjosa River

In the Pindus mountains of Greece, close to the village of Vovousa, you can find the source of the last wild river of Europe – the Aoös/Vjosa river. Flowing northwest in natural meanders, it is joined by the river Voidomatis and eventually enters Albania, where it is again joined by the river Sarantaporos. Continuing its way northwest, passing the cities Përmet, Këlcyre and Tepelenë the river is joined by its Albanian tributaries Drin and Shushicë and finally flows into the Adriatic Sea close to the well-known city Vlorë.

As a result of major undisturbed natural processes, a unique landscape and ecosystem developed over thousands of years along the course of the river, based on different flow velocities and river depths ranging from unvegetated gravel bars to floodplain forests. Local people have found a way to live in harmony with this precious ecosystem, making use of and depending on its natural resources without posing a threat to its further existence. This also allows the continued existence of a vast variety of plant as well as animal species, native to the unique and rare habitats of the river. Flagship species that have been picked up by international media representing the unique flora and fauna are the Egyptian vulture, European eel and the Dalmatian pelican, just to name a few.

Europe’s First Wild River National Park

On march 15, 2023, the precious landscape around the last free-flowing wild river of Europe was announced as the Vjosa Wild River National Park. The protection status corresponds to IUCN’s Protected Area Management Category II, the main objective being the protection of its natural biodiversity and the underlying ecological structures and undisturbed natural processes. The protection and therefore continued existence of the ecosystem also aim at the promotion of education and recreational activities.

The process and fight for the protection of the Vjosa to be declared a protected area or National park started in the year 2014 when the german magazine “Der Spiegel” published an article on the situation of rivers in the Balkan region and their threatened status due to several planned hydropower plants. After the first biodiversity assessment was carried out, underlining the unique nature of the river ecosystem, the matter attracted the attention of the European Parliament which demanded the halt for all construction plans and the control of Albania’s hydropower development. Several international protests followed, a lawsuit was filed in December 2016 to stop the development of a new hydropower project which was decided in favour of the Albanian NGO EcoAlbania. In spite of this development, the Albanian government decided to move ahead with the construction of yet another dam, triggering further protests. In 2018, data gathered by international scientists was published in the form of a study. The campaign picked up speed with yet another study by the Austrian University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, concluding the Vjosa river to be unsuitable for energy production due to its high sediment transport. The international attention was followed by a petition, signed by  776 scientists from 46 countries in the beginning of 2020. Within the same year, the plans for the Kalicaç Dam were brought to a halt by the Albanian Environmental Ministry. 

The first official proposal for the creation of a Vjosa National Park was put forward in early 2021 by 20 Albanian Environmental organisations, which was then backed up by a study conducted by the IUCN. In parallel to support by the community of scientists, public attention was further achieved by the release of an explanatory video by Patagonia as well as a significant action on World Water Day 2021 in several European cities.Throughout the year 2021, further gathering of scientific data on the Vjosa tributaries, publicity-boosting actions and the launch of a global petition were the last steps of the campaign, before it was declared a Nature Park in January 2022. However, with the status of a Nature Park not guaranteeing effective protection of the Vjosa and its tributaries and sufficient eco-touristic opportunities for the local people, the Vjosa river was finally declared a Wild River National Park ten months later, in March 2023.

A biodiversity hotspot 

The rare and unique geological features of the river give rise to an equally unique diversity in plant and animal species, many of which are globally threatened and some of which are protected. As part of the mediterranean basin, the balkan peninsula  is one of the 25 most important world hotspot areas of biodiversity.

In a baseline survey Scientists from all over Europe clearly presented the impact the construction of hydropower plants would have on rare habitats and therefore species, threatening the continued existence of such a unique ecosystem. The absence of fish barriers in the Vjosa, until today, allows for the existence of numerous endangered and endemic fish species that are heavily  dependent on the free-flowing nature of rivers, such as the migratory European eel, which is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red list. Based on the variety of different habitats, a number of 18 species were found in the baseline survey, once again underlining the importance of river-connectivity and varying speed of water flow.

Within the group of Macroinvertebrates, which includes different organism groups like molluscs, worms, crustaceans, and insects, a number of 227 aquatic invertebrate taxa were found along the course of the Vjosa, some of which are still to be included in scientific research. While some of the species used to be present throughout Europe, other species like  the stonefly Isoperla vjosae have, to date,  been found exclusively in the Vjosa.

However, the Vjosa valley is crucial not only for the survival of aquatic species but also provides habitat for birds, of which 257 species have been recorded in the basin, many of which are listed on the Red List of Albanian Flora and Fauna and in the Appendix of the Bern Convention, and some in the Annex of the Convention on Migratory Species. Species like the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) serve as flagship species, once again demonstrating the sensitive and vulnerable nature of this natural ecosystem which, until today, provides habitat for species that would otherwise be on the brink of extinction.

The value of Vjosa as a reference site 

Finding a floodplain today that remains untouched by significant human influence has become increasingly challenging. Floodplains are important ecologically, covering 7% of the European continent and accounting for up to 30% of terrestrial Natura 2000 site area in Europe. Alarming studies reveal that 70-80% of floodplain have suffered environmental degradation due to human activities. 

Amid this concerning trend, the Vjosa River stands out as a remarkable exception. Baseline surveys have identified the Vjosa River as a reference site due to its exceptional ‘near natural status’, boasting high biodiversity and hosting endangered fauna and flora. Moreover the habitats found along the river possess an international value, making it a unique and valuable ecological system. 

What sets the Vjosa River apart is its minimal human influence, a rarity in today’s world. The majority of its tributaries flow freely into the river, with only two of them subject to damming. This makes the Vjosa an invaluable case study for understanding and researching the ecological and morphological conditions of a floodplain. A critical aspect of utilising reference sites like the Vjosa is their utility in assessing human impacts on floodplains such as hydropower projects which pose a significant threat to river ecosystems and biodiversity. Therefore, the Vjosa serves as blueprint for understanding what a functioning river should look like and highlights the need to preserve and protect this ecosystem for future generations. 

How you can get involved in protecting rivers: 

  • Education: Learn more about important rivers in Europe, the challenges facing European rivers, and the impacts a national designation of a national park would have on biodiversity, society and the economy.
  • Volunteer: There are many opportunities to join charities and youth groups to clean litter from rivers, and to participate in hands-on work restoring rivers. 
  • Participate in citizen science: Support scientists to collect data about rivers such as water quality and biodiversity monitoring. Data is important to understand more about rivers and to support petitions.
  • Join environmental organisations:Join as a member or volunteer with an environmental NGO working to restore rivers in Europe such as WWF, European Rivers Network or local river protection groups. 
  • Advocate for policy change: Write letters, emails or petitions to government officials to advocate for stronger environmental regulations and policies that protect rivers. 

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