State of the world’s migratory species

44%, that is the percentage of migratory species listed under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) on the path to extinction. The CMS recently published a first of its kind report on the state of the world’s migratory species. This landmark report shows us that we need to take immediate action in order to preserve these amazing animals that know no borders. 

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What is the CMS?

The Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals is a United Nations (UN) treaty. The goal of this treaty is to promote the sustainable use and conservation of migratory species and their habitat throughout the world. Under this treaty governments and wildlife experts must collaborate to address the issues surrounding animals that make migratory journeys on land, in the air and sea. The Convention has 133 members spread across every continent, except North America.

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Looking closer at the conservation status of migratory species.

We often hear the words critically endangered, endangered and many more terms thrown around, but what do these terms actually mean for the CMS species being categorised and their conservation? 

Let’s explain with an example, the Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).  After a major decline in population size to 450 individuals from 27,000, the western South Atlantic  sub-population has reportedly recovered 93 % of its population size. This puts the global population of this majestic creature at around 80,000 individuals. For this reason the Humpback whale is classified as least concern. But the same can not be said for other sub-populations of the Humpback whale. Most are still endangered. So we must be careful when discussing threat level classifications. As global classifications do not always reflect regional or local conservation status of species.

Across the board, the extinction risk is rising for migratory species under the CMS. The report highlights that in the period of 1988 to 2020, 70 listed species experienced a deteriorating conservation status, hence leading to a higher Red List threat category. On the other hand only 14 listed species had a genuinely improving conservation status. Something very important that the report mentions is that, globally 399 migratory species are not listed under the CMS. These species are mostly fish and birds. This is an unfortunate fact as these species can not benefit from CMS protection. They deserve more investigation by the CMS countries and scientists.

Of the species listed under the CMS the future of migratory  fish are particularly concerning. 97% of these fish are threatened with extinction. Furthermore, most have a declining population. Compared to fish, mammals and birds are doing a bit better overall. 78% of birds and 44% of mammals have a population of least concern. However, in reality this still means that 134 (14%) birds and 63 (40%) mammal species are still threatened with extinction.

For us here in Europe, there is some good news. As the report says that in the past 10 years,  migratory species listed under the CMS in Europe have increased in numbers. Which means a more positive Red List threat status. Fortunately, this is also the case for migratory species in the Caribbean, South and Central American regions.

Revealing threats to migratory species: human activities in the spotlight 

Navigating across vast distances, migratory species encounter significant challenges caused by human activities, not only during their journeys but also at pivotal locations for their feeding and reproduction processes. The CMS indicates that 58% of monitored sites, vital for CMS-listed species, are at risk due to anthropogenic reasons. 

The report’s in-depth analysis exposes the two most pressing human-induced threats impacting migratory species:  

  • Overexploitation

Migratory species globally face the risk of overexploitation serving various purposes such as food consumption, transformation into products, pets, belief-based practices, and sport hunting. Their vulnerability intensifies as most species return to specific sites during predictable times of the year, impacting migratory terrestrial mammals and birds through unsustainable and/or illegal taking. The oceans, too, witness the consequences of overfishing and the unintended capture of non-target animals, posing a significant challenge to marine migratory species worldwide.

  • Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation 

Migratory terrestrial and marine movements are increasingly restricted by both anthropic physical and nonphysical barriers, disrupting vital connectivity for a large range of species. The rapid expansion of energy and transport infrastructures emerges as a major concern regarding habitat fragmentation and its impact on migratory behaviours. In addition, agriculture expansion causing the loss of natural lands and intensification of practices to meet growing human food consumption are key threats to numerous migratory species.

The report reveals other pressures faced by migratory species such as climate change and pollution. These findings highlight the urgent need for immediate intervention to address these threats and ensure the survival of these species and the habitats they depend on.

Unifying efforts to protect migratory species : a wake-up call fo urgent action 

After detailing the numerous pressures confronting migratory species, the CMS issues a clear call to immediate, collaborative and international action. Governments, communities, the private sector, and other stakeholders are urged to come together to ensure the survival of migratory species. 

While the State of the World’s Migratory Species report presents a concerning scenario, it also highlights successful conservation efforts and policy changes from local to international, demonstrating that viable solutions exist. Achievements include multilateral initiatives to tackle illegal taking of migratory birds and the establishment of international task forces like the CMS Energy Task Force, aiming to reduce renewable energy projects impacts on migratory species. However the report emphasises the need to amplify and expand these efforts globally to achieve conservation objectives. 

To combat overexploitation of migratory species, the report’s priority recommendations for action include implementing stricter national legislation, improving monitoring of legal developments, and reinforcing initiatives to tackle illegal, unsustainable taking along with mitigating incidental catch. Addressing habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation requires additional identification and effective protection of crucial sites for migratory species, getting further knowledge on the threats they face, ensuring their ecological connectivity and restoring them when necessary. Urgent attention should be directed towards nearly extinct species, especially CMS-listed fish species. Proposals also include completing the CMS listings with overlooked endangered migratory species, demanding national and international attention. The report finally advocates for implementing ambitious initiatives to tackle climate change and light pollution. 

The alarming decline of migratory species populations and broader biodiversity loss due to numerous anthropic threats raises an urgent imperative: a collective and global acceleration of efforts to ensure their future existence is necessary. The CMS, serving as a worldwide cooperation platform, plays a critical role in providing solutions and mobilising forces at every level. 

As youth we also have a role to play. Whether we are volunteering for local environmental organisations, advocating for the environment or getting involved in political discussions our voice can stimulate change!

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Dive into action with UK Youth4Nature | Members’ Spotlight

Learn about UK Youth 4 Nature's Creative Campaigning for Biodiversity and Nature Conservation.

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About UKY4N

UK Youth 4 Nature (UKY4N) is the leading UK youth movement calling for urgent action on the nature crisis, and they have been cherished members of YEE since 2022. UKY4N’s mission is to mobilise and empower young people to advocate for decisive action on biodiversity in the UK, emphasising the importance of protecting and restoring nature and wildlife to address the consequences and issues of climate change. March 14th marks the International Day of Action for Rivers, and we find this the perfect occasion to put the spotlight on UKY4N and its creative river projects.

 

Started in 2019 as a simple Whatsapp group with the mission of bringing nature into stronger focus within political discussions, UKY4N has rapidly evolved into an active organisation with a solid volunteer base all across the UK. The organisation has strategically focused its campaigning efforts on nature rather than climate issues and has today successfully positioned itself as a prominent advocate for biodiversity. We have met with co-director Ellen Bradley, to hear more about UKY4N’s creative campaigning and imaginative projects on rivers, hoping to inspire others to take action on this important topic!

Check out UKY4N

How can you help freshwater?

  • Support nature-friendly farmers, where possible buy organic, local food.

  • Banish pesticides and herbicides from your garden!

  • Celebrate freshwater ecosystems and raise awareness of the threats, share a photo on social media, tag UKY4N and use the hashtag #NotSoFreshwater

  • Research and learn more about the state of freshwater in the UK, sign up for the UKY4Ns newsletter to keep up to date with our campaign.

  • Join the team! UKY4N is always looking for new members to help fight for nature. Email UKY4N at ukyouthfornature@gmail.com to find out more.

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Making waves for freshwater conservation 

Freshwater ecosystems are the lifeblood of our planet. In the UK, around 3% of land is covered by freshwater and with an intricate network of 200,000 km of streams and rivers the freshwater ecosystems in the UK are of international importance. Thousands of lakes, ponds and ditches provide homes for diverse wildlife species, ranging from dragonflies to water voles. And yet, no rivers in England, Wales or Northern Ireland are considered to be in high ecological health, and in Scotland, as much as 92% of rivers do not meet these standards either. 

Recently, freshwater systems gained more media focus on regulating sewage and plastic pollution, advancing freshwater protection. However, agricultural pollution, affecting 40% of all freshwater bodies in England, remains overlooked. In addition to that, targets for cleaning up waterways, such as the goal set for 2027, have been pushed back to 2063, giving the protection of freshwater systems in the UK an urgency that cannot be ignored.

With the campaign Not so Freshwater, UKY4N launched an awareness campaign giving agricultural pollution a much-needed spotlight. The goal is to cut the use of pesticides in half by 2023 as well as restore field margins and riverside ecosystems to reduce field run-off. Ellen emphasises creative campaigning to facilitate positive change, celebrating sustainable farmers and advocating for political action.

On the 23rd of May 2023, UKY4N was able to host a successful event, summoning a variety of politicians and NGOs. The Chemical Cocktail Bar was one of the highlights of the event, which received a big positive response and even more importantly, political attention. The concept behind the Chemical Cocktail Bar is simple, creative and yet effective. Cocktails, named after UK rivers like the Mersey and Thames, the bar creatively highlighted freshwater pollution. Presented as beautifully designed cocktail recipes, these cards added a lively touch with real added proof of the urgency of freshwater pollution, proving that campaigning for political change does not have to be boring or dry. 

Beautifully designed recipe cards show the pollution of some of the biggest freshwater systems in the UK in a fun and engaging way.

The event successfully brought together young people and politicians in a positive atmosphere, fostering constructive discussions on environmental challenges, as Ellen tells us. UKY4N maintained a balance of fun and passion, ensuring engagement while addressing urgent issues facing our natural world.

UKY4N offers practical guidance for individuals to make a difference in preserving freshwater systems, including a five-step guide for reducing pollution. Additionally, they provide a template for a letter to your regional Member of Parliament to advocate for improved chemical standards and freshwater regulation. Later this year, UKY4N will host The Senedd, an event in Wales, allowing young people to engage with Welsh politicians on nature and freshwater issues.

With its campaign Not So Freshwater and a creative, positive and fun approach UKY4N inspires us to get involved in the movement for cleaner waterways and a more sustainable future. Let yourself be inspired too!

The UKY4N team during the event promoting the end of chemical pollution in freshwater systems in the UK (from left to right: Juliette Bone, Ellen Bradley, Lottie Trewick, Hannah Branwood, Joe Wilkins)

Crafting change with creative campaigning 

The fun and creative methods used in the Not So Freshwater project were not a one-off, but rather lie at the very heart of UKY4N’s approach to advocating for nature. Creative campaigning entails using creative and imaginative methods and employs artistic, cultural and interactive strategies to make an impact. Ellen tells us that the main goal of this approach is to get young people excited about an issue and encourage them to make a positive contribution, even if they are not experts on issues such as the environment, sustainability or politics. That way, different people can contribute in different ways, and that makes it more diverse and even more impactful! 

Another example of UKY4N’s bold creative campaigning was in their project Nature Loss: Lines in the Sand. On March 23, 2022, a 50-metre drawing depicting biodiversity in Britain was created on Scarborough Beach, featuring four biologically significant species that are declining. This symbolic act aimed to address the alarming depletion of nature in the UK, urging authorities to prioritise conservation efforts. Their creative ways received public recognition and an international audience, and if you look at the pictures of this impactful mural it is easy to understand why!

An overhead shot of the beautiful mural created by UKY4N on Scarborough beach.

UKY4N also regularly hosts workshops to introduce young people to creative campaigning, the next one to be held in Brighton on the 23rd of March 2024

In addition, UKY4N is currently dedicating their time to work relating to the general elections coming up in the UK this year. With the voting turnout among people in the age between 18 to 24-years in the UK in 2019 reaching 47% (compared to over 74% in the group of over 65-year olds), getting young people more enthusiastic and interested in the election is a crucial issue. As Ellen shares with us, only 50% of young people in the UK think they learn sufficiently about politics in school, so another focus of UKY4N lies on knowledge-sharing and capacity-building on the voting system. In order to be able to navigate the different and sometimes confusing party manifestos, UKY4N explains each programme from relevant political parties for everyone to understand. The main reason for that is to underline the importance of casting your vote to support certain policies and causes, as they so aptly put it on their website, “[n]ature cannot vote in elections. But many of us can!” With important elections coming up across Europe this year, not to mention the European Parliament elections, this is something many of us can keep in mind!

And with that being said, it is easy to see the problems that unite us. UKY4N is tackling the problems of the depletion of nature in the UK, but we are seeing similar problems worldwide. Although freshwater ecosystems are so important to nature and human well-being, they are also the most threatened in the world. Since 1970 freshwater species have experienced an 83% decline – twice the rate experienced within terrestrial or marine sources. Let us therefore stand united on this International Day of Action for Rivers, and reflect on the importance each and every one of our actions plays in the protection of our water systems!

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Dive into action with UK Youth4Nature | Members’ Spotlight

What are countries doing about plastic pollution?

A reflection of a INC-3 youth delegate.

Shellan, a Youth4Ocean Forum member and INC-3 observer, reflects on the challenges facing the UN Plastic Pollution Treaty, which aims to be completed by the end of 2024.

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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 “Nairobi Spirit”

At the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA 5, 2022) at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya Resolution 5/14 entitled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument” was passed to start the process of the plastic pollution treaty.

This historic moment marked the beginning of what several major news organisations have called the most important environmental deal in all fields since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. This paved the way for the establishment of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC) to develop “the instrument”, which is to be based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design, and disposal” (UNEP) (See timeline below).

Five rounds of negotiations (INC) have been proposed for countries to come to an agreement and close negotiations by the end of 2024. This treaty will be the first-ever global agreement on addressing plastic pollution and aims to tackle the full life-cycle of plastic.

Plastics are currently one of the last unregulated industries contributing to the climate crisis and increased carbon emissions. Currently, 430 million metric tons of plastics are produced every year and without intervention, this could triple by 2060. The majority of plastic is neither recycled nor reused (UNDP).  It follows that a plastics treaty is not only necessary for human health but also for future generations. This statistic was emphasized in the most recent negotiations (INC-3) in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2023.

Timeline of the INC Process

Jun 2023
Apr 2024
Dec 2022
Nov 2023
Nov 2024

The third round (INC-3) was held from 13 to 19 November 2023 at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. After countries voted to create a Zero Draft at INC-2. The Zero Draft was a collection of ideas and views from member states submitted during the international negotiations in INC-2. The draft was released during the inter-sessional period between INC-2 and INC-3, when countries began negotiating the Zero Draft version of the treaty. During a preparatory meeting for INC-3 on November 11th,  Iran announced a low-ambition coalition with other gas-driven countries called the Global Coalition for Plastics Sustainability. There was very little to no mention of the coalition during the rest of the negotiations. Countries negotiated a specific text in three smaller groups called contact groups. Each group debated the following parts of the treaty:

Contact group 1: Part I and Part II of the Zero Draft

Contact group 2: Part III and IV

Contact group 3: Addressed elements not previously covered at previous INCs including principles, scope, and definitions.

While negotiations progressed throughout the week, the “Nairobi Spirit” died at the very last minute late on the last night of negotiations after contact group 3 could not come to a consensus on important intersessional work due to be completed between INC-3 and INC-4. Low-ambitious countries successfully used stalling tactics to threaten an ambitious treaty being drafted by the end of 2024 and aimed to be in place by 2025. While countries are eager to work and close negotiations by the end of 2024, there appear to be a lot of ideas for the treaty which are ultimately hindering progress.

More ideas than agreements after INC-3

The negotiations ended with more ideas than conclusions. During INC-3 the secretariat received over five hundred submissions from member states on the treaty. Due to the number of submissions at one point, some member states were arguing that their voices and inputs were not being heard. This led to threats by some states to quit negotiations.

The result was a revised draft expanded from thirty-one pages released after INC-2 to 71 pages. Some sections such as the scope have sixteen different options on text while several other options have four or more options. This was instead of a first draft that was expected after INC-3, a revised zero draft was released on December 26, 2023.

Low-ambitious, gas-driven countries such as Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are arguing for a treaty focused on recycling, waste management and voluntary action, while other countries that are part of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, co-chaired by Norway and Rwanda, are arguing for a treaty that focuses on global mandates by aiming at reducing plastic and targeting the full lifecycle of plastics. Along with more ideas, the lack of an agreement on intersessional work resulted in more setbacks.

The consequences of a lack of consensus

The initial timeline proposed important inter-sessional work which, as agreed at INC-2, should have happened between INC-3 and INC-4. This intersessional work was supposed to bring in experts on different technical and scientific topics related to plastics, finance, and implementation issues. Many of these topics would help delegates have a better understanding of what they are discussing and negotiating as well as different perspectives to fill in knowledge gaps. 

This would have helped advance negotiations further at the upcoming INCs. At the last minute, the United States tried to reopen negotiations with Brazil agreeing to try to come to a consensus on work for the inter-sessional period (months between INC-3 and INC-4), but Russia and Saudi Arabia struck down the idea. After hearing member states’ opinions, the Chair decided not to reopen negotiations delaying hopes of progress towards an ambitious plastic reduction treaty.

An ambitious treaty threatened by lobbyists

As countries argue the direction of the treaty, several issues externally and internally towards an ambitious treaty remain. The treaty has gained attention from the fossil fuel and chemical industry. According to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), “143 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists have registered to attend the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) to advance a global plastics treaty, gaining access to the negotiations at a time when the talks are entering a critical phase”. The article goes on to say this is a 36% increase from previous INCs.

The fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists outnumbered the scientist coalition by over 100 people and 70 of the smallest member state delegations, and they will likely increase in the coming INCs. One of the potential solutions to preventing fossil fuel and chemical lobbyists from interfering with the negotiations would be to pass a Conflict of Interest Policy in the upcoming United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) or future meetings related to the plastics treaty such as the future Conference of Parties (COP). A Conflict of Interest Policy has been requested by several observers. By passing this policy it could prevent a weak treaty.

Lack of representation in the treaty

The treaty continues to lack representation from key groups impacted by plastics and the effects of plastic pollution in the revised Zero Draft text: its seventy-one pages only mention “Indigenous” twenty-eight times, while “youth” and “children” combined are only mentioned ten times. Other vulnerable groups such as women, waste pickers, and workers in plastic value chains are even mentioned less. There are several vulnerable groups not yet mentioned in the treaty such as the disabled (physically and visually-impaired), people of color, and displaced people. Also, the term vulnerable populations/groups remain undefined. This could cause problems during the implementation of the treaty, leaving certain groups at risk of the effects of plastic pollution and unable to benefit from the treaty. 

Final thoughts and looking ahead

The UN Plastic Pollution Treaty faces an uphill battle to be completed by the end of 2024. It is still unknown if the treaty will focus more on waste management and recycling or reduction. Several important groups remain voiceless in a treaty critical for their health and livelihoods. The next two INCs are scheduled to be INC 4 in Ottawa, Canada in April and INC 5 in Busan, South Korea in November.

Many key elements of the treaty such as scope, definitions, and principles remain undecided, which will add to the additional challenge of cutting text and cementing a clearer direction the treaty will take. This will make it more challenging for member states to complete the negotiations by the end of 2024. If the treaty stays on schedule, the Diplomatic Conference will be held in 2025 to adopt it and for member states to sign. This would also be when a governing body will be established for future Conference of Parties (COP) to be held on the treaty.

INC-4 will be critical for countries to decide the direction the treaty will take. The secretariat will provide an update in February UNEA-6 on the status of the treaty. While history has shown it is not impossible, it is going to require total focus and compromises from member states to achieve a historic plastics treaty by the end of 2024.

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Speeding up history in the face of war: How the invasion of Ukraine has shaken up the EU’s energy transition plan

The war in Ukraine has highlighted the significance of energy policy as a major power issue. It is an opportunity to break toxic dependence in geostrategic and climate terms.

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In its latest report, the International Energy Agency shows that the geopolitical context since the war in Ukraine has had an unprecedented impact on the energy transition. While a number of changes had already been initiated, such as those concerning renewable energies, the war in Ukraine seems to have accelerated them. In addition, European sanctions have massively reduced Russian gas imports into Europe. Under European sanctions, Russia reduced the flow of its gas pipelines to the EU by around 80%, prompting European states to find alternatives in a short space of time. This episode was an opportunity for many member states to reflect on their energy policy and, above all, the energy transition. 

The war in Ukraine revealed that energy policy is a major power issue. This is illustrated by the expression “war ecology” defined by Pierre Charbonnier. According to him, the war in Ukraine is an opportunity to break a toxic dependence, both in geostrategic terms and in terms of climate policy. Achieving energy sufficiency would kill two birds with one stone, by aligning the imperative of coercing the Russian regime with the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, “the period 2020-2021 was marked by a radical shift in the balance of competitiveness between renewables and existing fossil fuel and nuclear energy options”. So let’s take a look at how the war in Ukraine has affected the energy transition – has it accelerated or slowed it down?

What responses has the EU put in place? 

First of all, there is a desire at the European level to promote the EU’s independence, while also attempting to take account of the climate objectives set out in the European Green Deal.

This is illustrated first and foremost by the introduction of the RePower EU plan. What does this plan consist of? This plan, proposed by the EU a few weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in line with the demands of the 27 member states, aims to massively reduce Russian gas imports, to do without them altogether by 2027. This strategy is based on four pillars: saving energy, replacing Russian fossil fuels with other hydrocarbons, promoting renewable energies and investing in new infrastructures such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals.

We can therefore see that the EU Commission, while wishing to reduce member states’ dependence on Russia, also aims to achieve the Green Deal’s climate objectives. The strategic objective is linked to the climate objective. Through this plan, it is proposing to increase the EU’s renewable energy target from 40% to a minimum of 42.5% by 2030. To reach this objective, at the end of the year, the EU adopted a regulation aimed at speeding up the procedure for granting construction permits for renewable energy projects. 

Through the RePower EU plan, the EU has also decided to bet on hydrogen, setting a target of 10 million tonnes of domestic production of renewable hydrogen and a similar figure for imports by 2030. The creation of a European Hydrogen Bank is also planned, with the task of investing 3 billion Euros to develop this market on the continent, as announced by Ursula Von Der Leyen during her State of the Union address last September.

Are there any concrete examples of the successful implementation of this plan?

Yes, especially when it comes to the development of renewable energies. After the war, the use of renewable energies rose sharply. Between 2022 and 2023, European renewable energies increased by 57.3 GW. This figure is set to rise further, given that the RED III directive, the result of the RePower EU plan, calls for doubling the share of renewable energies in European energy consumption to 42.5% by 2030. This increase in investment in renewable energies has helped bring prices down. However, their role in heating, and especially in transport, is still limited, although growing.

It’s worth noting that this increase in investment in renewable energies has not been confined to Europe alone, as it is China that has increased its renewable energy production capacity the most (+ 141GW)

What initiatives have been put in place at national levels?

Many member states have also taken steps to reduce their dependence on Russian gas imports. In 2022, for example, Lithuania declared its autonomy from the gas pipeline linking it to Russia, thanks to its LNG terminal and links with its neighbours. Shortly afterwards, Poland was able to put the suspension of Gazprom supplies into perspective, thanks to its LNG terminal and cross-border gas pipelines. Co-financed by the EU, the various cross-border gas pipelines have proved invaluable in times of crisis, embodying the principle of solidarity proclaimed in the Treaty of the European Union.  In coastal areas, LNG terminals, previously under-utilized, have made it possible to diversify supplies, even if technical constraints remain between certain member states. 

States have also sought to find other countries that can provide them with energy. So there has been a revival of confidence in nuclear power throughout the EU. Italy and Germany have also sought to establish or renew bilateral partnerships. However, the diversity of national energy mixes and the differing levels of vulnerability between member states could well lead to a situation where each country is left to its own devices.

Finally, the war in Ukraine was also an opportunity for many states to review their position on nuclear energy, as was the case with Germany. 

Can the EU afford the energy ambitions proposed in its RePower EU plan? 

The plan will cost 210 billion euros, and major investments are needed. That’s why InvestEU, the EU’s flagship investment program, was created. Its original aim was to finance a green and digital revival, but with the crisis in Ukraine, the plan is now part of Europe’s drive for emancipation from Russian oil and gas. At present, the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels costs 100 billion euros a year. To free itself from this, an investment of 210 billion euros is required by 2027. However, the EU has already far exceeded 210 billion euros: the 27 countries have spent a combined total of 314 billion euros, bringing the EU’s bill to almost 450 billion euros.

Will Europe emerge stronger from the energy crisis? 

While the oil shocks saw European states reacting in a scattered fashion (not necessarily contradictorily, incidentally), the gas crisis provoked by Russia has confirmed the timeliness and effectiveness of a European approach. This energy crisis has made European countries realise the strategic importance of energy supply and has been the starting point for in-depth reflection on the importance of ensuring their independence.

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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).

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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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Green Hydrogen=Green Flag

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

INC-2: a session for nothing?

Why is it so difficult to reach an international treaty on plastic pollution?

Why is it so difficult to reach an international treaty on plastic pollution?

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A new phase of the international treaty to end plastic pollution negotiations took place in Paris, at UNESCO headquarters, from May 29 to June 2, 2023.

Plastic has become one of the most significant sources of water and soil pollution.

According to the latest OECD figures, 460 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced every year.  This figure has doubled since 2000 and is set to triple by 2060. 

Although several countries have taken measures to deal with plastic waste, such as the European Union with its Directive on single-use plastic in 2019, or Rwanda in 2008, which was the first country in the world to ban plastic bags, 75% of the plastic waste found in the oceans comes from poor waste management. Indeed, most countries do not have the infrastructure to manage their own plastic waste. 

Others, like Japan, export over 90% of their plastic waste to developing countries that have no means of recycling it. Plastic waste is at best burnt, at worst abandoned in the wild, creating huge open-air dumps. China produces 32% of the world’s plastic, a leap of 82% in ten years. What’s more, 10% of the world’s plastic is emitted by soda giants Coca and Pepsi

Finally, the treaty is also part of the drive to move away from fossil fuels, as plastic is a direct derivative of petroleum.

Why is it so difficult to reach an international treaty on plastic pollution?

The Fifth United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a landmark resolution in Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2022 with a view to negotiating a legally binding global treaty to combat plastic pollution by the end of 2024. It will be based on a comprehensive approach covering the entire life cycle of plastics. To achieve this, five working sessions are planned, the first of which was held in Uruguay in November 2022. This first session laid the groundwork for future discussions by identifying the expectations and ambitions of the main delegations, with France hosting the second negotiating session.

An urgent treaty, yet negotiated at a snail’s pace

The second negotiation session got off to a rocky start, with more than two days lost on protocol issues. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China, and India clashed with the presidency over whether or not to resort to voting in the event of a lack of unanimity in the future consideration of a draft treaty. The resolution of the controversy was postponed.

Finally, after a week, the Committee decided that “The International Negotiating Committee [INC] requests its Chairman to prepare, with the assistance of the Secretariat, a draft first version of the legally binding international treaty“. The text will be examined in November at the third meeting of this committee in Nairobi, then in April 2024 in Canada, and in November 2024 in South Korea, with the aim of a definitive treaty by the end of 2024.

Non-governmental observers

The treaty process includes the possibility for non-governmental observers to attend almost all the negotiations. However, at the Paris session, due to the size of the room, only one person per NGO could be present. Despite a statement signed by many associations, the length of the negotiations did not allow many NGOs to make any comments. It is therefore very important to follow the treaty news on the United Nations Environment Programme page, and the CIEL page which is in charge of coordinating the youth NGO accredited to the treaty.

An urgent treaty, yet negotiated at a snail’s pace – that’s how we might sum up this second phase of negotiations. We can only hope that future negotiations in Nairobi will be more prolific. In particular, the 175 countries will have to agree on the definition of plastic waste and the potential creation of a fund to help developing countries manage this waste. 

And finally, there remains the thorny question of plastic waste already in the environment: who will be responsible for paying for its management?

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INC-2: a session for nothing?

Our Right to be Heard: how the Aarhus Convention can open its doors to Youth

Why Aarhus State Parties fall short of their obligation to guarantee the right to public participation of young people in environmental decision-making?

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Margarida Martins (EEB), Ruby Silk (EEB) and Emma Pagliarusco (YEE)

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What is the Aarhus Convention and why is it important for young people and future generations?

Climate change poses real threats to the future of the youngest generations through both extreme and gradually escalating weather events, with manyfold repercussions. This looming threat has even proven to lead to “climate anxiety”, a serious and negative psychological phenomenon affecting the current generation of young people in particular and associated with the “perceived failure by governments to respond to the climate crisis”.

The latest IPCC report echoes these disproportionate threats to the youngest generations and sheds light on the intergenerational dimension of the climate change problem: in order to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of today’s youth and future generations, there is an urgent need for environmental laws which are more ambitious than ever before and implemented in the fastest possible way.

The Aarhus Convention and young people

Since its adoption in 1998, the Aarhus Convention has been hailed as the leading international agreement on environmental democracy. It has brought three key environmental rights to our doorsteps: the right to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. 

The idea underpinning the Convention is no other than participatory democracy: to empower citizens and civil society to participate in environmental matters. For this reason, national authorities of State Parties are legally bound to make Aarhus rights effective. This means that they have to ensure the implementation as well as enforcement of the Aarhus provisions within public processes. Since its enactment, numerous Communications have been brought by NGOs as well as individuals to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee to challenge state practices, with energy and spatial planning being the most common sectors addressed.

Article 3(8) of the Convention also states that Parties shall ensure that persons who exercise their Aarhus rights are not penalised for their involvement. This is critically important since environmental defenders are constantly and increasingly under attack across the globe, facing intimidation, harassment, stigmatisation and criminalisation, assaults and even murder. Among them are a high number of young people and children. Global Witness has recorded that 1,539 environmental defenders were killed between 2012 and 2020 worldwide, and the real figure is likely much higher, given that many murders go unreported. 

Unfortunately, young climate activists systemically face many different challenges when seeking to exercise their rights protected by the Aarhus Convention. The targeting of youth activists is taking place in multiple and different ways across Aarhus State Parties: through brutal repression of climate movements; enacting new laws to limit and criminalise strikes (with the latest example of Italy); and through intimidation against environmental defenders (e.g., through SLAPP strategies; and even violence such as in France). There are increasingly more barriers to youth public participation, access to information and access to justice. In this regard, States constantly fall short of their obligation to guarantee the right of public participation of young people in environmental decision-making. Youth underrepresentation and generational imbalances are incompatible with democratic participation. Besides, the costly nature of going to court – which we call climate litigation – very clearly impairs the right of young people to access justice.

The Aarhus Convention is a vital piece of legislation that can ensure that the principle of intergenerational equity is included in environmental action. Article 1 recognises the role of the Convention’s pillars in contributing to the protection of the rights of every person of present and future generations. The recognition of the rights of future generations in a legal text – and an international treaty at that – is very rare and should be highlighted. It has the potential to bridge the gap left by the lack of youth representation in decision-making at the national level, ensure a level playing field in the protection of youth activists and serve as good practice for other international environmental legal frameworks.

Youth participation in Aarhus processes 

Why should the Convention promote and incorporate young voices?

There are many reasons why young people and youth organisations need to have adequate capacity to exercise their Aarhus Convention rights. Young people have a bigger stake in future problems, as they have lived in an epoch which is also defined by environmental crises

Youth-led movements and actions have taken an active stance on promoting sustainability and protecting the environment, which is unfortunately not reflected in the current environmental legal framework, apart from references in non-binding international documents such as Agenda 21, a plan of action adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which is far from enough. 

Despite its capacity and uniqueness, even the Aarhus Convention is far from being considered a well-functioning instrument for the promotion and protection of procedural rights of the youngest: just speaking about its processes, throughout YEE’s experience in two task forces, one MoP and one WGP,  we noticed a substantive gap left by the lack of youth participation. This representational imbalance presents several hurdles to the effectiveness and legitimacy of the legislative process.

First of all, youth participation is key to the legitimisation of environmental decisions amongst the young public. Considering the disproportionate climate change impacts that the youngest generations will suffer from, and considering that youth represents 30% of the population in the world, excluding youth from environmental law is one step towards climate injustice and systemic suppression of youth voices.

Secondly, the urgency felt by youth with regard to the climate emergency is unique in its kind and, when taken into consideration adequately, leads to the adoption of more ambitious and binding environmental laws.

Thirdly, including youth voices in the Aarhus Convention processes is also in line with adopting a rights-based approach to environmental legislation, therefore contributing to a more holistic consideration of the various impacts of climate change. Considering that climate change is also a human rights crisis, youth voices in the Aarhus Convention processes are needed in order to take into consideration the disproportionate impacts of climate change on all groups, including the marginalised and potentially vulnerable ones.

Last but not least, in line with Article 1 of the Aarhus Convention the principle of intergenerational equity should be given effective meaning and implemented at a national level as well as at the Convention level. This is impossible without including young people in decision-making processes.

Opportunities for youth involvement

How youth can be better involved in processes (what the Secretariat can do)

In light of the previous section, the Secretariat of the Aarhus Convention is uniquely positioned to promote intergenerational dialogue and enhance the exercise of procedural rights amongst youth. Here are a few steps it can take to promote intergenerational equity:

  1. Youth should be involved in a systematic way in the Aarhus processes, for example through the establishment of a permanent youth advisory board, (such as UN Youth Advisors, UN Human Rights Youth Advisory Board). Regarding its feasibility, the Secretariat could disseminate the opportunities for youth participation to national youth focal points and NGOs to ensure that the call is open and transparent and that different youth-led groups are represented in all their diversity. The appointment of such youth envoys could follow an election process, or be the result of a competitive application process;
  2. Youth movements and representatives need to be actively supported in the exercise of access to justice. Cost abatement of climate litigation and access to the courts is essential in order to ensure access to justice for everyone (including young people) without any discriminatory obstacles. Promoting access to justice in environmental matters amongst youth also means promoting and offering pro bono legal counselling, as linguistically and culturally appropriate, to climate activists engaging or willing to engage in climate litigation, with a special focus on marginalised and potentially vulnerable groups.

How to include youth in Aarhus rights at the national level

The Aarhus Convention is also a good forum to mainstream youth participation in environmental decision-making at the national level. Through Aarhus-related processes intergenerational and multi-stakeholder dialogue can take place, good practices can be shared and the principle of intergenerational equity can be promoted. In order to include youth in Aarhus rights at the national level, State Parties should take the following steps:

  1. Parties should include youth representatives in the Convention processes with a vision to foster meaningful youth engagement and ensure fair democratic representation in line with the principle of intergenerational equity. 
  2. States should adopt the necessary legislation that reflects their environmental goals, taking into account any international obligations. In this process, it is vital that there is access to justice provisions, which ensure that the public concerned can scrutinise authorities’ decisions which have an impact on the environment (per Article 9(3) of the AC). The process should also be made accessible to youth. 
  3. States should ensure that environmental information is made accessible to the youngest members of the public, including children.
  4. States are urged to decriminalise youth activism and start a process to involve youth activists in decision-making processes as an alternative channel.
  5. Connected with this last point, it is fundamental that States support more systematically the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders and collaborate with youth and non-youth NGOs active on the matter.

The Rapid Response Mechanism, a mechanism under the Aarhus Convention that provides emergency response to environmental defenders in situations of danger, also addresses the many challenges youth climate activists face, including criminalisation and repression following climate action. Young climate activists need protection. In this regard, appointing youth national focal points or hubs in coordination with the RRM would be beneficial as it would allow young people to easily approach them when seeking the enforcement of Aarhus provisions. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur should take into account social and cultural differences and collaborate with national governments to abate any linguistic, cultural, social and political barriers to the enjoyment of Aarhus rights. Likewise, it will be necessary to devote provisions to young people, with special attention to the possibility for underage people to benefit from the RRM. 

Stronger Environmental Rights on the Horizon for the Youth

In conclusion, all people of the present generation should be able to meaningfully and effectively exercise their rights under the Aarhus Convention and shape the environmental and climate policies that affect their lives and the lives of future generations. All Parties to the Convention – as well as the Convention itself – have a duty to ensure this is done properly, and swiftly. The latest developments discussed above indicate that there are stronger environmental rights on the horizon for the youth to acquire.

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Our Right to be Heard: how the Aarhus Convention can open its doors to Youth

Advocating for stronger legal protection of rivers in Europe

Why up to 60% of European water bodies are highly polluted?

Rivers - anywhere you are in Europe, there must be a river not far from you. Ancient Greeks would marvel at rivers like Gods. How have we now come to a point in which up to 60% of European water bodies (including rivers) are highly polluted?

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Rivers – anywhere you are in Europe, there must be a river not far from you. Ancient Greeks would marvel at rivers like Gods. How have we now come to a point in which up to 60% of European water bodies (including rivers) are highly polluted?

River Health

The health of water bodies constitutes a major determinant for human food and water quality, which demonstrates how human health is inextricably tied to healthy water body habitats. Rivers, in particular, constitute mobile water bodies which cross vast swathes of Europe while exchanging water, materials, energy and nutrients with their surroundings. Therefore, even though they make up a small percentage of surface freshwater, they have a significant influence on European habitats and their conservation status.

Pollution

Like other surface water bodies, rivers are affected by multiple sources. Point source pollution for example is any identifiable source of pollution, such as wastewater. Its disposal in rivers leads to a high concentration of toxic chemicals, such as cyanide, zinc, lead and copper. Then, diffuse source pollution results from the collective run-off of water used by human activities, particularly in agriculture. It increases the concentration of nitrogen and phosphate in water bodies, which are likely to trigger eutrophication, a situation which adversely threatens biodiversity due to an increased load of nutrients present in the water. Lastly, there are hydromorphological pressures, such as barriers, which may result in habitat alterations which have a series of cascading consequences ranging from higher water temperatures to reduced species’ migration.

Water pollution can have grave consequences for the environment. The safety of drinking water can be jeopardised, entire food chains can be disturbed and there is a likelihood of disease spread (e.g. typhoid, cholera, etc…).

The Water Framework Directive

The European Union, in response to the unfavourable status of water bodies, introduced Directive 2000/60/EC – the Water Framework Directive (WFD) – in 2000.

The purpose of the WFD is “to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater” (Article 1). Through the Directive, the EU, therefore, wishes to promote sustainable water use, enhance the protection of aquatic ecosystems, and ensure the progressive reduction of pollution. Member states are required under Article 4 to issue River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) every 6 years, detailing how they will achieve a good water status. A deadline for publishing RBMPs was originally set for 2015; nevertheless, Article 4(4) provided for the possible extension of the deadline to 2027, which includes two more cycles of RBMPs.

For surface waters – like rivers – good status is dependent on a good ecological and good chemical status. The WFD also specifies that when natural circumstances do not allow a good status to be reached (Article 4(4)), or if the restoration is unfeasible or disproportionately expensive (Article 4(6)), an exception can apply to achieve a good water status. Nevertheless, no deterioration of the status is legally acceptable.

As of 2023, most MS have had difficulty realising the ecological ambitions of the WFD.  Furthermore, according to countries’ RBMPs covering the period up to 2015, good or better ecological status has been achieved for only around 40% of surface waters.  The following section will examine the progress (or regress) of the WFD in more detail.

Challenges to the Water Framework Directive

With only four years left to meet the – extended – WFD deadline, the good status targets seem unlikely to be achieved. A study by the Living Waters Europe Coalition revealed that 90% of river basins studied around the EU will fail to reach the criteria specified in the WFD by 2027. In the same vein, a news headline by WWF revealed that “Europe’s rivers [are] nowhere near healthy by [the] 2027 deadline”. It is also noteworthy that a great deal of the water bodies which presented a good water status in 2015, already had the status before the adoption of the WFD.

Moreover, in September 2021, at least nine MS had still not presented their draft plans for all river basins, and RBMPs studied by WWF and the Living Rivers Europe demonstrated that there has been insufficient funding by MS for the Directive’s implementation. Giakoumis and Voulvoulis (2018)  reveal that although the plan is fit for purpose, socioeconomic contexts and the MS’ institutional settings have restricted the opportunities the WFD has brought to the table. This means that these countries will fail to fulfil legally binding requirements.

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Advocating for stronger legal protection of rivers in Europe

How to Sue a State

In conversation with the youth behind the Aurora climate lawsuit

How to sue a state - article
Many climate lawsuits are started by young people, including an ongoing climate lawsuit in Sweden led by a group called Aurora, led by over 600 youth and children, including Greta Thunberg, are involved. Three young people from Aurora share their experiences.

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What is Aurora
What is Aurora
Quote by Anton Foley, Aurora
Quote by Agnes Hjortberg, Aurora
Quote by Ida Edling, Aurora

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Climate litigation is becoming a hot topic, following an upsurge of legal mobilisations globally. In several countries citizens have come together to sue their states for insufficient climate action, and legal mobilisations have opened up new ways to demand climate justice from those in power. A large share of the lawsuits brought forward are driven by young people, who are suing their states for threatening their future human rights. Examples of recent youth driven climate lawsuits include Juliana v. United States, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others and Soubeste et. al v. Austria et. al

We had the opportunity to speak to three young people from the organisation Aurora, who are behind an ongoing climate lawsuit in Sweden. On November 25th 2022, Aurora filed a lawsuit against the Swedish state for insufficient climate policies. More than 600 children and youth are behind the lawsuit, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The youth are condemning Sweden’s climate policies to be illegal, as the targets set by the Swedish state are too slow and insufficient, while the  previously set climate targets remain unachieved. Aurora is thus claiming that Sweden is not treating the climate crisis like a crisis

The district court of Nacka (a town in Sweden where the lawsuit was filed), considered the claims to be clear enough to be tried in court. On the 21st of March 2023 the Nacka District Court issued a summons, upon which the Swedish state will have three months time to respond to the case. The case is treated as a class-action lawsuit, meaning that a large group of people in Aurora will be represented by a few members of the organisation. The Swedish state on the other hand will be represented by the Chancellor of Justice.

We will now hear from three young people from Aurora: Agnes Hjortsberg (21), Anton Foley (20) and Ida Edling (23), who will share their experiences of filing a lawsuit as a group of young people.

Agnes Hjortberg

Agnes Hjortsberg

Anton Foley

Anton Foley

Ida Edling

Ida Edling

What breaches are you suing Sweden on?

Ida Edling

Ida

The legal provisions that we say the state has violated is human rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. So we're saying that the Swedish state's lack of sufficient climate measures threatens young people's human rights in the future. We're talking about the human right to life, to health, to dignity, to well-being, to home and to property. And that's Article 2, 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights - and it's the first article of the first protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights.

How did you start this process?

Anton Foley​

Anton

A lot of the inspiration to do this came from people who had already done it in other countries. A natural first step, or one of the first steps, was to reach out and make contacts: at the very early stages we had calls and meetings with lawyers and activists who had pursued similar cases in for example Norway, the Netherlands and France. We learned from them both legally how we should approach it, but also how we should approach it organizationally, financially and from a media perspective. And then as we came to terms with what kind of case we wanted to run, or how we should do it, we also had close contact with international climate litigation groups, to sharpen our arguments and learn from their cases. Thus, I'd say there have been two waves of work: The first one is just about figuring out what is going on and how we should do this. And then secondly, once we had it more figured out, on the legal and technical side, we could focus on sharpening the arguments.

What type of competences are needed to file this type of lawsuit?

Agnes Hjortberg

Agnes

In Aurora as an organisation, almost none of the youth and children had any knowledge of how to do something like this from previous experience. Of course, we have law students who manage a lot of the law stuff, but when it comes to funding, media and social media, or how to run an organisation and how to take care of each other, it's something we learn as we go.

Anton Foley​

Anton

And we've collected a network of professionals and people who know what they're doing in lots of different areas. For example: legal experts, climate scientists and public relations people to help us figure out how to get our message out there. But also a lot of climate activists helped us figure out what our actual aims are. Because there are lots of ways you could structure this legally, but not all would be desirable for what we actually want to achieve. Thus, “where are we going” is the first question we need to answer. Then, “what do we want to achieve? “ and thirdly “how can we use law as a tool to achieve that?”

Ida Edling

Ida

I think that the way we have decided to structure our work within the Aurora case is quite unique. And we've heard that from people who have worked with many different climate cases in other countries too, that our work culture is original because we have a very mixed work culture. We are completely led by youth who have no particular academic background, but who are firmly rooted in what we're actually trying to do. Like Anton was saying, the direction we're actually headed in. And then on the same decision making level or level below even, we have the actual competences. So this democratic way of working together from different age groups and different competence levels is unique I think, and has proven to be very dynamic and successful for us.

What would be your advice to a group of young people wanting to start something similar? What is the first thing to start with?

Agnes Hjortberg

Agnes

One thing we've begun doing is creating a network of youth doing this all over the world. For example we have contacts in Norway, South Korea, Austria, and the Netherlands. I think one of the first steps is to reach out to one of those groups. We've had meetings with new groups, but we have also been the new group in other meetings. I think using the platforms and networks available is a good tool.

Anton Foley​

Anton

Yeah, and I think in general, if you're young and you want to make a difference in this or any social or environmental cause, the most important thing to do is to start from where you are and use whatever expertise, interest and platform you have available to you. And if you have a big idea, just go for it! We were just a group of people who thought this would be a cool thing to do and then we started talking to people who knew what they were doing. And then it took a while but over time we assembled this sort of group. And I think that, it sounds very cliche, but just do it, go for it and see where you end up. Nobody thinks they're going to start a global movement when for example deciding to school strike. You just do it because it's the right thing to do and then people sort of catch on. So, I think that wherever you are, start affecting change in your community and whatever spaces you are active in, in school, student unions, trade unions, religious groups, and wherever else you are active. Just start making a difference and speaking up in those circles and then see where it takes you.

Ida Edling

Ida

Yeah, educate yourselves, take action and then take inspiration and learn from those who have done similar things before you, because you don't have to reinvent the wheel! The three steps that we advise other youth groups to take, if they also want to sue their states, is to: First find each other and then find competence, find lawyers and scientists, and then find money. Because you will need money. But also remember that all types of legitimate action is vital for sufficient climate action. So, litigation is one way but every other way is also valuable.

How can other young people or youth organisations support Aurora?

Ida Edling

Ida

The first thing is to do what you're doing, continue to raise awareness of the climate crisis, continue to push for urgent action in the climate crisis, continue to try to make people in power see that the way we use Earth today is dangerous and won't last. And try to change that in a way that you're already doing, because that will help us all. We're one movement trying to achieve climate justice and everyone needs to do it in their way and every legitimate way is valuable. But then if you concretely want to help our particular cause, we are always in need of money, because holding the state accountable for violations of human rights is very, very expensive in Sweden. And so this would not have been possible without extensive economic support from the public, and here every contribution matters.

Agnes Hjortberg

Agnes

And also if you're a youth in Sweden and you are interested in Aurora, you can also join Aurora! We always need more people!

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How to Sue a State