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Issue No. 79 - May 1, 2016

1. International trade agreements attempt to undermine EU environment and health protection

MEPs are not allowed to openly speak about the TTIP texts

Leaked documents* of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated behind closed doors between the European Commission and their counterparts, reveal that the U.S. want to drop European climate, environmental and health protection. The projected world's biggest bilateral trade and investment deal aims to dismantle Europe's precautionary principle.

The Guardian reports that "American firms could influence the content of EU laws at several points along the regulatory line". "Before the EU could even pass a regulation, it would have to go through a gruelling impact assessment process in which the bloc would have to show interested US parties that no voluntary measures, or less exacting regulatory ones, were possible".

A "blue print" for the TTIP is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada which is already more advanced. Several key issues are of concern:

Regulatory Cooperation, which would give business lobby groups ample opportunities to influence the result of decision-making, poses a direct threat to democracy. Economist Frank Ackerman writes: "The real agenda is not eliminating lingering trade barriers, but compelling downward harmonization." A new report , Europe’s Regulations at Risk: The Environmental Costs of the TTIP, explains there is almost no remaining scope for traditional trade liberalization between the US and the EU. Tariffs are close to zero, and the flow of goods is already enormous in both directions.

"What TTIP will do is to create enormous pressures for downward harmonization of regulations, adopting the weaker of American or European standards. Corporations and private investors will be allowed to sue foreign governments over regulations that are allegedly barriers to trade. The cases will be heard in special-purpose tribunals, outside the judicial system of any of the participating countries".

The planned Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is allowing foreign companies to sue countries for expected profit losses. This could widely open the backdoor for fracking in European countries which decide to ban this extraction method. Chevron has actively been lobbying to give foreign investors the legal right to challenge government decisions. But a UK government report comes to the conclusion that there are reasons to expect an EU-US investment chapter will impose meaningful economic and political costs on the UK, and there is little reason to think that an EU-US investment chapter will provide the UK with significant economic and political benefits. The German Magistrates Association and the European Association of Judges reject such arbitrary court systems. The Transnational Institute has put investment court systems to the test and comes to the conclusion that they will perpetuate investors’ attacks on health and environment. The leading expert of the UN Human Rights Council explained the EU Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement would undermine the rule of law and democracy. “Existing ISDS should be phased out and no new investment treaty should contain any provision for privatized or semi-privatized dispute settlement. It is wholly unnecessary in countries that are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which commits States to due process and the rule of law.

UK-based businesses express grave concerns about the secretly negotiated trade deal.

Twenty Agriculture Ministers have recently raised concerns about the cumulative impact on EU agriculture from the TTIP, the Mercosur agreement and the on-going Canadian trade deal (CETA).

A survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation shows plunging public support for TTIP in US and Germany.

* TTIP leaks update: Greenpeace response to Commission statements and links to the documents here.

2. Evidence is accumulating that fracking causes severe harm to health, environment and climate

Number of publications that assess the impacts of UNGD per year, 2009–2015
Number of publications that assess the impacts of UNGD.

Toward an Understanding of the Environmental and Public Health Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development:
A Categorical Assessment of the Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature, 2009-2015, a new meta study published in the U.S. Public Library of Science, finds the body of science evaluating the potential impacts of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) has grown significantly in recent years.

The results indicate that at least 685 papers have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that are relevant to assessing the impacts of UNGD. 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes; 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination; and 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations.

A new report, Fracking by the Numbers: The Damage to Our Water, Land and Climate from a Decade of Dirty Drilling, details the sheer amount of water contamination, air pollution, climate impacts, and chemical use in fracking in the United States. “For the past decade, fracking has been a nightmare for our drinking water, our open spaces, and our climate,” Rachel Richardson, a co-author of the paper from Environment America, told ThinkProgress. At least 239 billion gallons of water — an average of three million gallons per well — have been used for fracking. In 2014 alone, fracking created 15 billion gallons of wastewater. This water generally cannot be reused, and is often toxic. Fracking operators reinject the water underground, where it can leach into drinking water sources. The chemicals can include formaldehyde, benzene, and hydrochloric acid. Fracking is also bad news for the climate. Natural gas is 80 percent methane, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year period. Newly fracked wells released 2.4 million metric tons of methane in 2014 — equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 22 coal-fired power plants.

Endocrine disrupting activities of surface water associated with a West Virginia oil and gas industry wastewater disposal site, a new peer-reviewed study published in Science Direct, finds that oil and gas wastewater disposal may increase endocrine disrupting activity in water. As Ecowatch reports, surface water samples collected on the disposal facility site and immediately downstream exhibited considerably greater EDC activity than surface water samples collected immediately upstream and in a nearby reference stream. “What’s really interesting is that they sampled from different sites that are in different places in watershed,” said Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at The University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the study. “It clearly shows substantial difference in endocrine activity looking upstream and downstream.”

Another new study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, finds toxins in Wyoming's groundwater. Stanford researchers identified chemicals in the water related to substances that companies reported using in local fracking operations and acid stimulation, an oil and gas production method.

Researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London have published new citizen-collected data from the US that shows the damaging environmental impact fracking makes in people’s backyards.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a major upward revision to its estimates of total emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas up to 105 times as potent as CO2, in an annual inventory that the agency submits to the United Nations. “The oil and gas sector is the largest emitting-sector for methane and accounts for a third of total U.S. methane emissions.” The U.S. shale oil and gas boom is having global atmospheric consequences, scientists suggest.

Meanwhile, an Australian video has gone viral, showing a river catching on fire, prompting calls for a ban on fracking.

According to the latest UK government report, just 19% of people back exploration for shale gas, down from a high of 29% two years ago, while public support for renewables has surged to 81%.

3. March was the 11th consecutive month topping global temperature records

Berkeley Earth - Land and Ocean Surface Temperatures 3-2016
The Japan Meteorological Agency, NASA and NOAA confirmed that March was the 11th consecutive month where the global temperature was the hottest one by the greatest margin yet seen for any month since records began. The odds for that to happen in a balanced climate would be
1 in 271,438,504,226,343,896,484,375.
But world's climate is in imbalance.
March is the 13th month where the 12 month average has remained over 1°C above the pre-industrial average.

2016 is on track to become the 3rd consecutive year topping global temperature records.

Greenland's glacier melt is starting early. Arctic temperatures are about 20°C above normal. Sea levels are rising at fastest rate in the last 28 centuries. The Gulf stream is rapidly slowing down caused by a "cold blob" in the North Atlantic which is showing a direct impact on Irish weather.

Scientists explain why it is so crucial to keep global warming below the 1.5°C limit which was agreed in Paris last December: “Our results add to a growing body of evidence showing that climate risks occur at lower levels than previously thought. They provide scientific evidence to support the call by vulnerable countries, such as the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, that a 1.5 C warming limit would substantially reduce the impacts of climate change.” But this ambitious target has become a huge challenge. Rising Sea Levels May Disrupt Lives of Millions.

A report from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes it is now possible to estimate the influence of climate change on some types of extreme events. The science of extreme event attribution has advanced rapidly in recent years, giving new insight to the ways that human-caused climate change can influence the magnitude or frequency of some extreme weather events.

The Guardian reports that an influential committee of MPs has urged the government to approve the UK’s 2030s carbon target. The so-called fifth carbon budget sets a limit on the quantity of greenhouse gases that can be produced across the country between 2028 and 2032, as a way of meeting national and international commitments on combating global warming.

Meanwhile, the EU dropped climate policies after a BP threat of oil industry 'exodus'. CO2's role in global warming has been on the oil industry's radar since the 1960s, but instead of taking appropriate action to curb emissions the fossil fuel industry has been fostering climate change denial and cloaking this long lasting misinformation campaign as freedom of speech.

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