Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Russia Celebrates International Day of Rivers

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

First published on Rivers without Boundaries

On March 14, 2014, at public hearings in the town of Mogocha, located in Zabaikalsky Province in eastern Russia near the border of China, local people endorsed an ambitious plan to develop a nature reserve on 330,000 hectares.

This protected area is being designed to safeguard the upper flow of the Amur River and valleys of its two principal sources: the Shilka River and the Argun River.

This area is the symbolic origin of the Amur – the last great free-flowing river that empties from Eurasia into the Pacific some 3000 kilometers downstream. The Argun (Erguna) and Amur (Heilongjiang) Rivers form the Sino-Russian border for almost 3000 kilometers. The Amur river is an important migration route for fish such as endemic Kaluga Sturgeon (Huso davhuricus) which may reach 4 meter length and weigh more than 1000 kg. This river valley is a globally significant biogeographic corridor that allows exchange between far eastern and Siberian fauna and flora. Locals also use the river valley for recreation, shipping, fishing, and hunting.

The Amur River creates the border between China and Russia and is home to diverse flora and fauna.

The Amur River creates the border between China and Russia and is home to diverse flora and fauna.

Two years ago, Russian En+ Group signed an agreement with China Yangtze Power Co. to develop new hydropower plants, one of which was proposed at the lower Shilka River and that resulted in continued public protests throughout the Amur River Basin for which the Shilka is the primary source. In addition, several years ago, Chinese Xin Ban Guoji Company from Heilongjiang Province began construction of a pulp mill nearby on the Amazar River, which is the large left-bank tributary of the Amur. This presented a grave threat both for the river and for the surrounding forests, because the company rented almost all remaining forests— adding up to 1 million hectares in the Mogocha district of Zabaikalsky Province.

Local people hope that establishment of the new nature reserve will protect the river valleys from logging and pulp-mill impacts and prevent construction of the hydropower dam. Their main message to the Zabaikalsky Provincial Government, which sponsors the development of  this nature reserve and opposes construction of large hydropower plants, is to expand the new protected area as much as possible safeguarding resources crucial for sustainable development and well-being of local people. The nature reserve was planned and designed on the initiative of Mogocha district administration with support from local scientists, provincial government, WWF Amur Branch and Rivers without Boundaries (RwB). When the hearings are over, documentation has to be prepared so that the provincial government can complete the classification process of the protected area.

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The new nature reserve will protect the Amur River Basin from man-made destruction, including logging, pulp-mill impacts, and the creation of hydropower dams

In addition, 20 Russian environmental groups united by the Rivers without Boundaries Coalition (RwB) signed a petition addressing the Russian government’s questioning of the feasibility of a grand plan to control Amur River floods by building multiple dams on its tributaries (including Shilka River). Such a plan was proposed by President Putin in the wake of a large flood that hit the Amur in summer 2013. However, the real motive behind it is to make use of public money to support development of export-oriented commercial hydropower.

The petition shows that “flood-control hydropower” is a controversial undertaking, which is hardly justifiable on economic and environmental grounds. Even the Russian Ministry of Energy publicly expressed doubts that these dams are feasible unless Chinese investors pay for their construction and guarantee buying generated electricity for a fair price.

RwB and its allies suggest considering an alternative comprehensive plan focused on investment into climate adaptation and modernization of settlements in the Amur river valley, which will guarantee improvements for local people and drastically reduce losses from inevitable future floods. Such measures cost less and could be implemented much faster than dam building.

Environmental groups urge the Russian government to use their recommendations to revise the current approach and make the resulting “anti-flood program” subject to public hearings and strategic environmental assessment.

On the 17th International Day of Action for Rivers, Rivers without Boundaries Coalition (RwB) congratulates friends and colleagues who protect other rivers around the world, and hopes that our efforts will save them from destruction!!!

Creating a Strong Polar Code is Our Priority

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

We all know climate change is having a huge impact here in the northland – and with it the Arctic Ocean is changing rapidly. Arctic sea ice is disappearing fast. Credible research now suggests that the Arctic may be ice free during the summer as early as this decade —84 years earlier than previously predicted by climate change models.

Nations and corporations are eager to exploit the newly “open” Arctic seas. The sea ice reductions will lengthen the navigation season, open new routes, and dramatically increase ship traffic throughout the region. Rising ship traffic threatens marine biodiversity and indigenous food security through potentially devastating oil spill disasters, routine oil discharges, chemical pollution, underwater noise, collisions with whales and other marine wildlife, introduction of invasive species, and destruction of ecosystems.

Experts predict that by 2016, the Arctic will be ice free during the summer, which means that trans-Arctic shipping is going to dramatically increase.

Experts predict that by 2016, the Arctic will be ice free during the summer, which means that trans-Arctic shipping is going to dramatically increase.

This is where Pacific Environment comes in. Pacific Environment is one of only a handful of environmental groups in the world with a seat at the table at the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization (IMO).  The IMO is in the process of creating the first international set of rules to govern shipping in Arctic waters, the so-called “Polar Code.”

Over the past two years, Pacific Environment’s highly collaborative efforts and targeted advocacy have helped shape the Polar Code and achieved the inclusion of several important environmental provisions—despite often strong resistance among IMO members.

These policy wins include a ban on discharge of oil and oily waters in the Arctic ocean, sharp restrictions on sewage and garbage discharge, and provisions that will make the code applicable not just to new but also, very importantly, to existing ships. These issues are very important for indigenous communities in the Arctic, some of which depend on pristine Arctic waters for up to 80 percent of their food. This is not just an environmental issue but a human rights and food security issue.

The new Polar Code will ban the discharge of oil and oily waters in the Arctic ocean and restrict the discharge of sewage and garbage for both existing ships and new ships planning to cross the Arctic Sea.

The new Polar Code will ban the discharge of oil and oily waters in the Arctic ocean and restrict the discharge of sewage and garbage for both existing ships and new ships planning to cross the Arctic Sea.

Despite our wins, we are facing a big fight this year. Both industry groups and the flag-ship states are feverishly working to weaken the Polar Code to the point where it would be relatively meaningless.

But we have solid strategies to win. We are partnering with indigenous leaders in Alaska and Russia to ensure their issues are brought to IMO’s attention. We are working behind the scenes to boost support from many countries’ delegations, including the U.S. delegation, to support strong protections.And, we are developing a media campaign to ensure the public knows what’s at stake in the Arctic and what they can do. Together, with your support, we will make a big difference in protecting our pristine Arctic Ocean and the marine resources which people there rely on.

Endangered Western Gray Whales Once Again Saved From Big Oil

Friday, February 21st, 2014

A few months ago we told you about a great victory for the Western Gray Whale: Shell Oil and Russian oil giant Gazprom scrapped its plan to build an oil drilling platform in the middle of the whales’ summer feeding ground.

Now, I’m happy to tell you that there has been another win in our efforts to protect the endangered whales. Together with our grassroots partners, and a group of Russian experts, we have delayed the construction of a new pier that would have been used to ship supplies to an oil project operated by another oil giant, ExxonMobil.

A planned pier by oil giant Exxon Mobile would have disturbed the critically endangered western gray whale’s calving ground, where mother whales teach their calves critical survival skills.

A planned pier by oil giant Exxon Mobile would have disturbed the critically endangered western gray whale’s calving ground, where mother whales teach their calves critical survival skills.

There are only about 150 Western Gray Whales left in the world, and their summer feeding grounds in the waters near Russia’s Sakhalin Island are right in the middle of two major oil and gas projects. ExxonMobil, the operator of one of these projects, recently decided that it needs a new pier to unload drilling equipment. However, ExxonMobil pledged years ago to protect the gray whales, and construction of the pier would cause a major disturbance to their feeding and calving grounds.

Dmitry Lisitsyn won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for ensuring that one of the world’s largest oil developments in Russia’s Far East cleans up its toxic sludge, stops dumping its waste straight into the ocean, and abides by strict environmental regulations.

Dmitry Lisitsyn won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for ensuring that one of the world’s largest oil developments in Russia’s Far East cleans up its toxic sludge, stops dumping its waste straight into the ocean, and abides by strict environmental regulations.

We worked with Sakhalin Environment Watch, one of Russia’s strongest environmental organizations and helmed by Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Dmitry Lisitsyn, to conduct an environmental assessment of the pier project. Sakhalin Environment Watch convened a diverse group of experts on marine mammals, fisheries, and oceanography to examine the potential environmental impacts of the pier project. All of the experts agreed that the pier would not only cause higher gray whale mortality, but would also damage local fisheries—a major source of income for many locals–and destroy seabird habitat.

Upon reviewing the experts’ conclusions, a government panel determined that it needs more time before making a final decision about permitting ExxonMobil to build the pier. This temporary delay is an important victory that may ultimately result in the cancellation of the project.

As more and more mining and logging projects and oil pipelines encroach on Russia’s last untouched wilderness areas, conservation organizations can increasingly count on scientists, and even businesses and government agencies, to agree that protecting the environment must be a priority. We will work with all of these allies as we continue our fight against the pier.

Stay tuned for more updates on our campaign to save the Western Gray Whale from extinction.

Shell Abandons Plan for Drilling in Arctic Seas

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Yesterday, the CEO of Shell Oil announced sharply lower earnings and canceled plans to try to drill in Arctic seas off the coast of Alaska.  While couched in terms of a temporary decision applying only to this summer’s drilling season, the actual press announcement by the company had the feel of a more dramatic change of course:

“The recent [federal appeals court] decision against the Department of the Interior raises substantial obstacles to Shell’s plans for drilling in offshore Alaska. As a result, Shell has decided to stop its exploration programme for Alaska in 2014. ‘This is a disappointing outcome, but the lack of a clear path forward means that I am not prepared to commit further resources for drilling in Alaska in 2014,’ van Beurden said. ‘We will look to relevant agencies and the Court to resolve their open legal issues as quickly as possible.’”

Pacific Environment was one of the first to start this fight, back in the mid-2000s, challenging oil and gas leases the Bush administration was selling to Shell and other oil companies. Our early concerns centered around the fears and concerns of Native Alaskan leaders how oil drilling might harm their traditions and food security.

The fight has snowballed as major environmental allies have joined, pulling out the stops to alert U.S. citizens of what could be lost if oil companies try to use current technologies in extreme Arctic conditions. When BP was unable to cap the Deepwater Horizon spill disaster in Gulf Coast waters, it demonstrated the much graver risk of trying to cap a spill in frigid, dark Arctic waters.

A huge part of the victory has been strategic use of the courts, challenging a complicit government’s failure to hold Shell accountable for oil spill preparation in Arctic conditions and to honestly account for the true risk to the Arctic’s polar bears, whales, walruses, and other iconic wildlife. A special shout-out is warranted to Earthjustice, NRDC, and pro bono lawyers who led that part of the charge so winningly.

If this sounds like a valedictory, it is not quite.  The ground now turns to President Obama’s administration to back up the strong, welcome rhetoric about addressing climate change with meaningful action against opening up our Arctic to oil multinationals—and meaningful action against an “all of the above” energy policy. In a world of changing climate, we’ll need a “no-carbon energy policy,” and “all of the above” isn’t the path to get there.

U.S. Government Finance Agency Curbs Coal Support

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Today, the Directors of the U.S. Government’s largest trade promotion agency, the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), approved restrictions on financing for coal plants abroad. In doing so, the Ex-Im Bank became the first government export credit agency in the world to curb coal plant financing.

But the restrictions include unnecessary exemptions. For example, in some circumstances, the Ex-Im Bank will be allowed to continue supporting coal plants that pollute the world’s poorest countries. In addition, in most countries, it will be permitted to finance coal plants that employ Carbon Capture and Storage—a technology to sequester carbon dioxide that has not been proven to be viable for most commercial coal plants. The policy also allows financing for most coal mines.

“It’s great that the Export-Import Bank is curbing coal financing, but the loopholes appear big enough to drive a coal train through,” said Doug Norlen, Policy Director, Pacific Environment.

At the same time, the policy conditions financing for coal plants in poor countries on an analysis demonstrating that there are no economically feasible alternatives.  This analysis must factor in externalities such as the “social cost of carbon,” including the cost of harm to human health from coal plant pollution which, if properly measured and internalized, will make most coal plants non-viable when compared to renewable energy alternatives.

In recent years, the Ex-Im Bank has supported enormous coal power plants, including providing $805 million in financing for the enormous Kusile coal power plant and mine in South Africa in 2011, and $917 million in financing of the Sasan coal power plant and mine in India in 2010. The Kusile and Sasan coal power plants and mines will spew local air pollution leading to increased health problems in local communities that, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, include respiratory and cardiopulmonary disease and cancer deaths. The 3,690 megawatt Sasan and 4,800 Kusile coal power plants are far larger than the typical 500 megawatt coal plant in the U.S.

The Ex-Im Bank will continue to finance coal plants in developing countries, including the Sasan plant in India.

The Ex-Im Bank will continue to finance coal plants in developing countries, including the Sasan plant in India.

The Ex-Im Bank’s continued support of certain coal projects have prompted Pacific Environment and other groups to file a federal lawsuit against the agency for financing coal exports from Appalachia without conducting any environmental or health analysis.  Pacific Environment and other groups have filed a separate federal lawsuit against Ex-Im Bank for financing liquid natural gas projects being built within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area—projects which source gas from coal beds.

As part of their larger government commitments to curb public financing for coal plants abroad, Nordic countries are expected to decide in early 2014 whether to restrict coal financing by their export credit agencies.

“It’s high time for progressive governments in the Nordic countries to do the right thing for local communities and the global climate by banning export credit agency financing for coal,” said Norlen.

Meanwhile, the U.K. exempts its export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), from the country’s recently announced coal financing restrictions. UKEF has provided $100 million in financing for coal mines in recent years.

A Win in Our Fight Against Dangerous Oil Spill Chemicals

Thursday, June 13th, 2013


Pacific Environment often opposes poorly planned oil drilling because of the grave risk of oil spill disasters. But it turns out even the clean-up can cause ecological and human disaster.

Right now toxic chemicals can be used to clean up oil spills in U.S. waters. In the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, federal officials authorized the use of toxic oil-dispersing chemicals to help get rid of the oil—even though no one knew their long-term effects on marine wildlife, corals, and humans.

Oil dispersants are chemicals that break oil spills into tiny droplets to be eaten by microorganisms for faster clean up, but they also allow toxins to accumulate in the marine ecosystem.

Years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, traces of the oil dispersant Corexit can still be found in the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal zone. Accumulated toxins are sickening or killing fish and corals, deforming shrimp and crabs, and harming sea turtles’ ability to breathe and digest food. People who were exposed to the oil and dispersants have complained about lasting health effects, from rashes and respiratory distress to liver and even cognitive damage.

These reported effects of Corexit clearly show that we need to pressure the federal government to consider the impact of oil-dispersing chemicals on human and marine life before authorizing its continued use.

That’s why, together with our allies Center for Biological Diversity and Surfrider Foundation, we asked a California court to order the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to demonstrate that the use of toxic oil-dispersing chemicals is safe for vulnerable species like whales, sea turtles, and other wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act.

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Oil dispersants can inflict even more harm than the spilled oil. Corexit, which was used to help clean up the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, damages the insulating properties of seabird feathers even more than untreated oil. This makes the birds more susceptible to hypothermia and death.

As a result of our court action, the federal government now has to analyze the effects of approving the California Dispersants Plan—which authorizes the use of oil dispersants in the event of a spill in California coastal waters—to determine whether these toxic chemicals would harm endangered wildlife.

Ultimately, we need a ban on the use of toxic dispersants in oil spill clean-up. Still, this win is an important step toward ensuring that we don’t endanger human health and inflict additional damage on marine ecosystems and wildlife in the event of another oil spill disaster in American waters.


Watch these video testimonials to find out more about the health problems caused by the BP oil disaster


Announcing the 2013 Whitley Award Winner – Eugene Simonov

Friday, May 3rd, 2013


Pacific Environment is proud to announce the winner of the 2013 Whitley Award – our own Eugene Simonov. The award is well deserved; it recognizes Eugene’s talent, years of hard work, dedication, and his tremendous impact on the environment in his community and beyond.

Eugene Simonov enjoying himself in the wetlands of the Amur River Basin.

Eugene Simonov enjoying himself in the wetlands of the Amur River Basin.

Eugene joined Pacific Environment as the Conservation Science Specialist in February 2013 but his history with our organization goes as far back as 2001 when he was one of our strategic partners and advisors. Although he currently resides in Dalian, China, his scope of work includes China, Russia, Mongolia and the United States. Eugene has a degree in biology from Moscow State University, a Master’s degree in environmental science from the Yale University School of Forestry, and a doctorate in nature conservation from China’s Northeast Forestry University. Eugene has been working on transboundary issues with a special focus on the Amur River Basin, a highly complex watershed of northeastern China, the Russian Far East, and eastern Mongolia. Since 2009 Eugene has been a coordinator of Rivers without Boundaries International Coalition which was formed to address conservation of the aquatic environment of Northeast Asia.

Eugene’s work has shined a light on the devastating impacts of major dam infrastructure projects. His organization has been successful in removing several of the most large scale projects from the agenda, and with the Whitley Award he plans to focus his energy on diverting investment dollars away from more of these dam projects and towards sustainable energy alternatives.

In his acceptance speech on May 2, Eugene imagined taking a boat ride down the river from its headwaters in Siberia through the wetlands filled with cranes and geese and possibly spotting the legendary river monster. Eugene works to make his dream of a free flowing Amur river a reality for his son and daughter.

Congratulations Eugene!

Beautiful Books about Kamchatka’s Salmon; from the rivers to the kitchen

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Nearly 300 years ago, one of the first researchers of the Kamchatka Peninsula, George Stelleronce wrote:

“Kamchatka lives almost solely on fish. If you hit the water with a spear you rarely miss a fish.  Fishing nets or seines are useless in Kamchatka for that reason.  It’s impossible to drag them ashore, they tear because ofthe abundance of fish.”

Many years ago, it seemed that the salmon would last forever.  However, today we know that all natural resources are limited, and Kamchatka’s salmon need protection.  So what is the current state of Kamchatka salmon?  The Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography has published extensively on the topic. (more…)

Following Flex

Friday, February 4th, 2011

A western gray whale named Flex has been receiving media attention worldwide for being the first of his kind to be tagged and tracked.  He is a 13 year old western gray whale that was tagged on October 4th, 2010 by Russian and American scientists off of Sakhalin Island in eastern Russia.

His precedence is not the only thing gaining him fame though; his unpredictable path in the last four months has also been gaining him attention.  Scientists and researchers are baffled by his movements, but then again, they humbly admit they did not really know where western gray whales should be going in the first place. (more…)

Fighting dirty paper!

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Program Director at Wuhu Ecology Center

In China, the paper industry is considered highly polluting and energy intensive. Its COD emissions are ranked first among all industries. Anhui, in Eastern China, has a high concentration of paper companies, and the Wuhu Ecology Center focuses on the pollution problems associated with them. In the process of collecting information regarding papermaking companies in Anhui, Shandong Chenming Paper Group’s repeated violations of environmental regulations came to our attention. Within the paper industry, Chenming Paper Group is one of the biggest publicly traded companies. It has integrated pulp and paper-making production and is quickly becoming one of top 500 companies in China and one of the top 50 in the world. Chenming’s product is sold globally, including to the United States. (more…)

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