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Hawking urges Moon landing to ‘elevate humanity’

Stephen HawkingImage copyright
BBC/Richard Ansett

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Prof Hawking says: “If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before.”

Prof Stephen Hawking has called for leading nations to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

They should also aim to build a lunar base in 30 years’ time and send people to Mars by 2025.

Prof Hawking said that the goal would re-ignite the space programme, forge new alliances and give humanity a sense of purpose.

He was speaking at the Starmus Festival celebrating science and the arts, which is being held in Trondheim, Norway.

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German-UK team maintains Galileo success

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ESA

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The work order provides leeway should any existing satellites experience failure

Eight new satellites have been ordered for Galileo – Europe’s global positioning system.

As before, they will be made by the German-UK consortium comprising OHB-System of Bremen and SSTL of Guildford.

The industrial contract was signed at the Paris Air Show on Thursday by OHB and the European Space Agency, which is procuring Galileo on behalf of the EU.

Europe’s GPS has enough spacecraft for a full constellation already but this order ensures sufficient spares.

It will provide leeway as some of the first satellites that were launched into the network are retired.

This is the third straight contract win for OHB-SSTL. There are even options in the new order to add further units – of two, four or six extra satellites.

Speaking at the Paris Air Show earlier this week, Fritz Merkle, the head of marketing at OHB, said the consortium was hoping for early clarity on whether these options are likely to be picked up.

“We will be ordering components from our suppliers and there is a big difference if we are ordering those components for eight, 10, 12 or 14 units. If we have a gap between the orders – that will affect the price,” he told BBC News.

Europe’s Galileo system under construction

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ESA

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The European Commission is about to place an order for more Galileo spacecraft

  • A project of the European Commission and the European Space Agency
  • 24 satellites constitute a full system, but it will have six spares in orbit also
  • Spacecraft have been launched in batches of two, but now go four at a time
  • Galileo will work alongside the US-owned GPS and Russian Glonass systems
  • Completed Galileo promises real-time positioning down to a metre or less
  • It should deepen and extend high-value markets already initiated by GPS

The announcement of the new work order is a big fillip for SSTL, which as a UK company has been nervous about its position in the project given that Britain is about to leave the European Union.

There are implications which the consortium, the European Commission, Esa and the London government will somehow have to pick their way through over the course of the next year and a half.

One of the issues relates to the classified nature of some aspects of the satellites’ design. Only a company in the EU is permitted to work on these elements.

SSTL’s part in the production process is to assemble the payloads for each spacecraft, and it is obvious even now that not all units will have left Guildford by 29 March 2019 – the official date of Brexit.

“Industry is very much aware of the issues and their responsibilities and obviously we’re in touch with them to understand what the impact is on the programme,” said Paul Verhoef, Esa’s director of navigation.

“We will be working with them to find solutions, but we would leave it in the first instance to them to decide how to handle it.”

The obvious solution is that the Commission and the UK reach a deal or some transitional arrangement in their Brexit negotiations that allows the German-UK consortium to continue as before, moving equipment and people seamlessly between them across the Channel.

If that is not possible, some creative solutions will need to be sought.

For the moment, though, SSTL is delighted with another contract win.

“It’s great news for the team here in Guildford,” said Gary Lay, the director of navigation at SSTL.

“Galileo provides an important foundation for us. It gives us long-term certainty that makes sure our facilities are used. And that allows us to do all those other exciting, innovative and agile things that we like to do.”

There are currently 18 satellites orbiting in the Galileo constellation, with another eight from the previous work order still to fly. Twenty-four satellites are regarded as a fully operational system, but the idea is to have six spacecraft in orbit to act as spares should any failures occur. The next four satellites should launch on an Ariane rocket towards the end of this year.

Some of the existing satellites have experienced problems with their atomic clocks.

These devices are used to generate Galileo’s precise navigation and timing signals. The problems have not yet impacted the performance of the satellites, but engineers have had to change the way the clocks are managed in orbit. “And we’re taking the opportunity of the new work order to do some design strengthening,” Mr Lay told BBC News.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40368162

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India genome plan could boost healthcare

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Global Gene Corp wants data from people in under-represented regions, starting with South Asia

Could an effort to gather genetic data from its population of one billion people help India take the lead in advanced healthcare?

India is the land of inventors and industry, spices and spirituality – and 1.3 billion human genomes. But although the subcontinent contributes around 20% of the world’s population, the DNA sequences of its people make up around 0.2% of global genetic databases.

In a similar vein, 81% of the world’s genomic information has been collected from people with European ancestry. Still, this is an improvement from a staggering 96% back in 2009.

At the same time, there’s a growing interest in developing new, more effective therapies tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup – an idea known as precision or personalised medicine.

Missing out on mapping worldwide genetic diversity is a big mistake, according to Sumit Jamuar, chief executive of Global Gene Corp.

It’s a company aiming to democratise healthcare by capturing anonymised genetic data from populations around the world and share it with the global community of academic and pharmaceutical industry researchers. It will start by focusing on populations in South Asia.

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SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

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Artwork: Gathering genetic data will not be enough, improving how we analyse it will be key

“Healthcare is broken,” Mr Jamuar says. “We spend $1 trillion on drugs every year, of which 40% or more are deemed to be ineffective. That’s $400bn wasted. What’s more, the burden on healthcare systems is only going to increase.

“We realised that with the power and possibility of genomics and precision medicine, you can change the health outcome for any individual and allow them to have not just a longer but a better quality of life. What was lacking was genomic data to realise that promise, and that’s what we’ve set out to achieve.”

As deaths from infectious diseases fall, particularly in the developing world, there’s a rise in chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes – something the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as a “slow-motion catastrophe”.

Treatments for these conditions are moving away from “one size fits all”, becoming more precisely targeted to an individual’s genetic makeup. Yet these drugs are currently designed and tested on the basis of predominantly “pale, stale and male” genomic information, and may not work for people with regional variations in their DNA.

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Science Photo Library

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Observers believe the direction of travel is towards personally-focused, precision medicine

Mr Jamuar believes the key to fixing this problem lies in gathering genetic data – as much of it as possible – along with harnessing the technical tools to analyse and share it.

And with the cost of genome sequencing falling rapidly, with quotes for the $1,000 genome dropping to just $100 within a year or two, it’s definitely doable.

“If we take the example of GPS technology, it used to just provide longitude and latitude. Now we have Google maps and that has changed everything,” he explains.

“It allows us not to focus on what goes on underneath the technology, but how we can use it to navigate our way round the world. What we want to do is create a high-fidelity genomic map of the world. And instead of looking for things like restaurants or traffic in a city, we can look at mutations or diseases in different areas.”

Right now, Global Gene Corp is focusing its genomic firepower on India, although it has plans to expand into Africa and other parts of Asia. Other initiatives are also springing up to plug the global data gap.

For example, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’sAfrican Genome Variation Project is looking in depth at 2.5 million genetic variations in 100 people from more than 10 ethnic groups across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Getty Images

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African populations are also vastly under-represented in genetic databases

Similarly, consumer genetics firm 23andMe recently launched a dedicated African Genetics Project. These populations are woefully under-represented in today’s genomic databases, yet make up a significant and widely-dispersed fraction of the world’s inhabitants, including many millions of African Americans.

At Stanford University in California, Prof Carlos Bustamante’s Population Genomics and Global Health team is focusing on people from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. And in 2015, South Korea launched its own genomics project, initially aiming for 10,000 participants but planning to expand in the future.

But it’s not as simple as just sequencing a load of people’s genomes from different countries and sticking it all in a big database. At the relatively trivial end, genetic data gathered by different teams around the world may not be in the same format (akin to the old Mac versus PC incompatibility problem).

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health – an international coalition formed to enable DNA data sharing – highlights the challenge of harmonising genomic data across countries that may have very different legal frameworks for gathering and managing data.

Privacy concern

Then there’s the question of storage: a single human genome contains roughly three gigabytes of data, and it quickly adds up. With plans in place to sequence tens or even hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world, keeping all this information safe and secure is a growing issue.

If these problems can be solved and researchers start filling databases with genetic information from under-represented countries, the potential impact is huge.

It costs around a billion dollars to develop a single new drug, but 95 out of every 100 promising candidates never make it to the end of the journey. Treatments that seem promising in identikit animals or cells in the lab often falter when faced with the genetically complex reality of human patients.

Understanding more about the impact of genetic variations on the function of potential drugs – or identifying population-specific targets – could help to cut the cost of failure in the pharmaceutical industry’s development pathway. And purely from a business angle, more genomes mean more customers for novel treatments.

Most importantly, providing more tailored healthcare solutions for the diverse and growing global population has the potential to save lives on a grand scale.

“This is the future,” says Mr Jamuar. “Just imagine if we can change the health outcome for every individual – that is a phenomenal promise.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40343755

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Why suitcases rock and fall over

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Getty Images

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Speeding up, rather than slowing down, may prevent the suitcase flipping over

It’s a common experience when dashing for a train or plane while lugging a two-wheeled suitcase.

The bag rocks alarmingly from side-to-side and threatens to overturn.

Now, scientists have investigated this conundrum of everyday physics. Speeding up rather than slowing down can solve the problem, they say.

Alternatively, you can pivot the handle of the suitcase as close to the ground as possible.

French scientists studied a model suitcase on a treadmill to see what goes wrong when a suitcase rocks out of control at high speed. They developed equations to explain why two-wheeled trolleys have a tendency to rock from one wheel to the other.

In cases of unstable bags – after having gone over a bump, for example – they found luggage rocks from side-to-side until it falls over, or it reaches a regular side-to-side swing.

If a regular side-to-side swing develops, going faster results in smaller swings, said the researchers.

“Thus, one should accelerate rather than decelerate to attenuate the amplitude of oscillations,” they explained.

“A non-experienced suitcase puller would not react this way. The outcome should not be a dramatic for a suitcase, but it could be troublesome for a trailer towed by a vehicle.”

Knotty problems

This leads on to important practical implications of the research, which is published in the journal HRoyal Society Proceedings A.

“The suitcase is a fun way to tackle the problem but the study would be the same for any trolley with two wheels or blades,” Sylvain Courrech du Pont, of Universite Paris-Diderot, who led the study, told BBC News.

“So it will be the same for a caravan or maybe also for airplanes.”

In technical terms, the mechanical instability is mainly due to the fact that there is a coupling between the translational motion and the rotational motion of the suitcase.

It comes about because the two wheels are fixed together on a rod.

In April, scientists solved another problem of everyday physics – why shoe laces come undone.

They found the force of a foot striking the ground stretches and then relaxes the knot, while a second force caused by the leg swinging acts on the ends of the laces, like an invisible hand.

This too has practical applications for structures such as DNA.

Follow Helen on HTwitter.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40346519

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Europe selects grand gravity mission

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Airbus DS

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Artwork: LISA envisages three spacecraft linked by laser arms that are 2.5 million km in length

It is set to be one of the major science projects of the 2030s.

The European Space Agency has just given the green light to the LISA mission to detect gravitational waves.

This will see lasers bounced between three identical satellites separated by 2.5 million km.

By looking for tiny perturbations in these light beams, the trio hope to catch the warping of space-time that is generated by cataclysmic events such as the merger of gargantuan black holes.

Ground-based laboratories in the US have recently begun detecting gravitational waves from coalescing objects that are 20-30 times the mass of our Sun.

But by sending an observatory into space, scientists would expect to discover sources that are millions of times bigger still, and to sense their activity all the way out to the edge of the observable Universe.

It should immeasurably advance our understanding of gravity and how it works; and perhaps even highlight some chinks in Einstein’s so-far flawless equations.

“We have no idea what we will discover, but perhaps we can get closer to the line that divides gravity from quantum physics. This may take us there,” said Esa’s director of science, Prof Alvaro Giménez Cañete.

  • Third detection of deep space warping
  • Gravity probe exceeds performance goals
  • Europe picks Plato planet-hunter

Gravitational waves – Ripples in the fabric of space-time

Image copyright
IGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State

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Artwork: Two coalescing black holes spinning in a non-aligned fashion

  • Gravitational waves are a prediction of the Theory of General Relativity
  • It took decades to develop the technology to directly detect them
  • They are ripples in the fabric of space-time generated by violent events
  • Accelerating masses will produce waves that propagate at the speed of light
  • Detectable sources ought to include merging black holes and neutron stars
  • LIGO fires lasers into long, L-shaped tunnels; the waves disturb the light
  • LISA will fire lasers between three spacecraft separated by 2.5 million km
  • Detecting the waves opens up the Universe to completely new investigations

The agency’s Science Programme Committee took the decision to select LISA as one of the agency’s flagship missions at a meeting in Madrid.

It paves the way for parallel industrial studies to consider the best way to build the mission.

Once these have reported back and it is clear how Esa member states will divide up the various responsibilities for the satellites’ development, the SPC can reconvene to formally “adopt” the project.

It is at this point that the mission becomes real and the flight hardware begins to be fabricated.

One of the outstanding questions that needs to be resolved soon is the role and contribution of international partners.

There was a time when LISA was going to be a 50-50 endeavour between Europe and the US.

Then, in 2011, the Americans walked away from the concept, citing financial worries.

Europe continued with the feasibility work, even operating a demonstration spacecraft last year to test key technologies.

But with the confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves made at the Advanced LIGO labs in Washington and Louisiana states, the Americans are understandably very keen to get back onboard.

The earlier painful divorce had prompted Esa to put a 20% ceiling on any future international contribution, to avoid being left high and dry again.

But Prof Giménez said there could be some flexibility on the issue, especially if it makes the mission more do-able.

“The 20% is not so hard and fast; whether it’s 15% or 30% is not important. What’s important is that Esa leads,” he told BBC News on a visit here to the Paris Air Show.

“This is one of our Large-Class missions, one of our flagships. And you have to lead your flagships. The problem with 50-50 is that no-one leads, and nobody takes the responsibility needed to make sure things happen.”

Detecting gravitational waves is an astonishing technical feat. Even though these black hole mergers are extremely powerful, the ripples they induce in the fabric of space-time are fantastically small.

The laser interferometers in the LISA satellites will need to be sensitive to a squeezing and stretching of their light beams on the order of just a few picometres. That’s a few trillionths of a metre. And they must achieve this while the host spacecraft hold the formation of a triangle where each side is more than six times the Earth-Moon distance.

Remarkably, Esa’s demonstrator, known as LISA Pathfinder, proved the necessarily sensitivities could readily be accomplished.

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ESA

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PLATO will launch in 2026, two years later than originally envisaged

Tuesday’s Science Programme Committee also formally adopted a planet-hunting telescope called PLATO. This was first selected in 2014, which gives an idea of how long it can take to step through the hoops of mission approval. PLATO is now set for launch in 2026.

The earmarked launch date for LISA is 2034. Efforts will be made, though, to bring this forward because of the excitement that currently surrounds gravitational wave science.

“It won’t be much earlier – even if we had all the money in the world,” Prof Giménez said. “It’s a question of the technology readiness. It takes time to build a mission as complex as this. 2030 is the earliest we could do it, assuming we get the money we need and have no problems.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40346410

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Queen’s Speech: Plan aims to secure space sector

Orbital AccessImage copyright
Orbital Access

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Artwork: A number of companies are looking to develop low-cost air-launch systems

A government plan to secure growth in the UK’s £13.7bn space industry is laid out in the Queen’s Speech.

The stated purpose of the new Bill is to make the UK the most attractive place in Europe for commercial space – including launches from British soil.

It would help increase the UK share of the global space economy from 6.5% today to 10% by 2030.

Officials and stakeholders are keen to ensure the space sector does not lose out when the UK leaves the EU.

Spaceports have been an important sticking point.

Previous feasibility work has already identified a number of aerodromes that might make suitable spaceports – from Cornwall to Scotland.

But as the law stands, rocket planes and other launch systems currently in development around the world would not be able to operate out of the UK. The Bill would sweep away this barrier by “enabling [scientists] to launch from UK soil”.

The government says its legislation would “offer the UK’s world-leading small satellite companies new options for low-cost, reliable access to space”.

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OHB

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Artist’s impression: There are currently 18 Galileo satellites in orbit

Overall, the legislation aims to “deliver a stronger economy by generating jobs and putting British business, engineering and science at the forefront of this technology”.

It is also intended to secure continued growth of the space industry, which has been growing at an annual rate of 8% over the last decade. The sector already outperforms the UK economy as a whole.

While Brexit will not affect the UK’s status as a member of the European Space Agency (Esa), projects such as Galileo – the European sat-nav system – are largely funded by the EU.

Guildford-based satellite manufacturer SSTL is building satellites for the system as part of a UK-German consortium.

But there are restrictions on “third countries” working on classified EU information and technologies, which applies to Galileo.

There is now a concerted effort to keep the UK – and SSTL – inside the programme.

Likewise, the Copernicus programme – which includes an effort to gather information about the health of the Earth from satellite observations – is directed by the EU in partnership with Esa. The UK invested in the programme with the aim of ensuring access to operational data for industry and academia.

Paul Everitt, chair of ADS, the trade association for the aerospace and defence sectors, said: “By paving the way for a UK spaceport and our own rocket and satellite launches, this commitment has the potential to generate significant further growth.

He added: “Our sectors look to the future with confidence, but this is no time for complacency. The government must put renewed energy into industrial strategy, which has delivered real results.”

But Mr Everitt urged the government to refresh its approach. “No deal is the worst outcome for the UK and Europe, and the government needs to build a strong consensus on the priorities and options for a successful Brexit.”

Neil Fraser, head of space and communications at satellite broadcasting firm ViaSat, commented: “Critics may prefer the UK Government to look closer to home, but investments in space quickly return commercial applications,” adding that space “is a dynamic, fast growing sector which employs some of the country’s top talent, as well as contributing to economic growth and other important national needs, such as Earth observation and satellite communications”.

One key concern for industry is getting access to qualified staff. At the moment, engineers can move without restriction inside the EU, and the UK space sector’s leaders have told government that if the ambitious target for future growth is to be achieved then the recruitment of talent from the continent must continue to be frictionless.

Follow Paul on Twitter.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40354695

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Inflatable whales used as training tool

Volunteer rescuers have been using inflatable whales and seals to simulate saving stranded marine life.

The team from British Divers Marine Life Rescue took part in a training course in West Runton, Norfolk.

In the past 12 months, a number of whales have been washed up on beaches around East Anglia.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-40301057

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Scientists fear new EU rules may ‘hide’ forest carbon loss

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Trees are said to absorb about 10% of Europe’s carbon emissions every year

Leading researchers have condemned attempts to change the way carbon from trees will be counted in Europe.

The scientists fear that millions of tonnes of CO2 from forests will disappear from the books if the changes go ahead.

Trees are important carbon sinks as they soak up about 10% of Europe’s emissions every year.

But some countries want to cut more trees down in future without counting the resulting loss of carbon.

Europe’s forests have been increasing for the last century, and over the last 10 years the equivalent of 1,500 football pitches of trees have been added every day.

However accounting for carbon contained in trees is a fiendishly difficult task. Forests can both soak up and emit carbon depending on how old they are, and how they are managed and harvested.

As the European Union tries to put in place wide-ranging plans to restrict future carbon emissions, officials want to ensure that accounting for the impact of forests on the atmosphere should be based on sound science.

To this end they want to cap the use of forestry at the levels seen between 1990 and 2009. If countries want to harvest more trees in future than they did during this period, the loss of carbon would count towards the country’s overall emissions.

However several countries including Austria, Finland, Poland and Sweden want a change in these rules so that increased harvesting in the future should not be penalised.

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Getty Images

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Scientists are concerned that changes to the rules on forests would limit Europe’s ability to fight climate change

The Finnish government says that it plans to increase tree harvesting by almost a quarter before 2030. The Finns argue that they should not have to account for these extra emissions, since the country’s forests will still absorb more carbon dioxide than they release.

Industry supporters argue in favour of a more “flexible” approach. They say that Europe’s forests have increased because of investment from businesses that want to be able to exploit the resource. Putting in place rules that leave trees standing forever won’t benefit anyone, they say.

“In the Czech Republic they have a problem with their forests as they are getting older and older,” said Sylvain Lhôte, from the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI).

“Those forests were planted right after World War II; they are reaching an age of carbon potential. We need to exploit them or they will decay.

“Will they do this investment in future if they know they can’t do this harvesting in the future?”

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Getty Images

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The forest industry argues that encouraging harvesting leads to more trees being planted

But researchers in the field are very anxious about the proposed changes. Around 40 forestry experts from across the world have signed a letter arguing that if the rules are amended, it would “hide” roughly 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year – equivalent to two-thirds of France’s annual emissions.

“What the countries are arguing is that they should be able to use the forests in what they call a sustainable way,” said Prof Joanna House from the University of Bristol, UK, and a former lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“But it doesn’t account for what’s happening right now. If you are increasing the harvest rate, you will have less of a stock of carbon in the trees and soils.”

The forestry industry argues that a smart accounting system is needed as different parts of Europe have different patterns of growth. A more flexible system would encourage countries like the UK, Germany and France to plant more trees, they believe. They want scientists to take a longer-term view.

“It’s a long-term game. You need to be thinking how the carbon sink will behave over the period between today and 2050 and beyond. What are the implications in the long run?” said Sylvain Lhôte.

“It is a part of the thinking that is a little bit short-sighted.”

However, the scientists involved reject that view – they believe they are speaking up for the atmosphere and the planet.

“These forest sinks are quite critical to meeting the two-degrees celsius target under the Paris Agreement,” said Prof House.

“We can’t meet those targets at all without the forest sinks. If a decision is made that sends the wrong type of incentives to protect those sinks – that could undermine the Paris Agreement.”

Environment ministers from across the EU will discuss the issue on Monday in Brussels but no agreement on this complex area is expected at this point.

Follow Matt on Twitter and on Facebook

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40301769

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Brexit ‘will enhance’ UK wildlife laws

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AFP

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Mr Gove was announced as the new environment secretary following the 8 June general election

Any Brexit changes to the UK’s wildlife laws will increase – not reduce – environmental protection, Michael Gove has pledged.

The new Environment Secretary said he wanted to enhance current rules safeguarding Nature wherever possible.

He said he would discuss shifting the use of farm grants after 2022 in order to enhance the countryside.

Environmentalists welcomed his promises, but some are sceptical whether they will actually be met.

Mr Gove made his comments to BBC Farming Today.

He reassured farmers that there would be no race to the bottom on agricultural standards. The UK will compete on quality, he said.

“Two things are critically important: we need to maintain, and where possible, enhance environmental and animal welfare standards. We have a good track record on both areas and don’t want to see either of them diluted or eroded.”

Mr Gove, who once described himself as a “shy green”, is clearly seeking good relations with environmental groups during Brexit.

Change for the better?

During his time as a back-bencher, he expressed the view that EU laws protecting the heaths in his Surrey constituency should be diluted because they put up the cost of housing.

And previously, as a minister, he tried to take climate change off the geography part of the school curriculum and blocked the then climate minister Amber Rudd from attending international talks.

Mr Gove said he had been in discussions with the RSPB, and wanted to offer an assurance about any Brexit change in EU laws.

“It may well be that we change operation of particular rules,” he said. “But any change will be designed to ensure we get better protection for the environment.”

He continued: “While the EU has often been a force for good in raising environmental standards, some of the means haven’t necessarily been the most effective regulatory tools – so getting those right will be critical to Brexit success.

“There’s a huge opportunity to design a better system for supporting farmers, but first I need to listen to environmentalists about how we can use that money to better protect the environment… and also to farmers to learn how to make the regime work better.”

The RSPB said their meeting with Mr Gove was encouraging. Their spokesperson Martin Harper said: “He asked the right questions, took notes and listened. These are good signs.

“Without keeping and strengthening existing environmental regulations the government won’t be able to achieve their manifesto commitment ‘to pass on the environment in a better state to the next generation’.”

Others were more sceptical. On reading Mr Gove’s pledge to improve wildlife protection, Kate Parminter, Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson, tweeted: “Has he put that on the side of a bus, too?”

Important questions

Tom Burke, from the green think tank e3g, warned that Mr Gove must deliver actions, not just words. He called on the Environment Secretary to explain how Natura 2000 wildlife sites currently protected by the EU would be safeguarded in future.

These sites form the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world and, currently, member states have to discuss any plans to develop them with Brussels.

“Watch what Gove does, not what he says,” Mr Burke told BBC News.

“How will he translate the EU Habitats Directive into UK law? Who can environmentalists appeal to if the government allows development in a sensitive site? That’s a key question.

“I suspect Gove has been given a remit to ensure that the environment doesn’t become an issue in Brexit talks. But that could mean that anything that might be controversial gets buried under a torrent of fudge.”

But the Times newspaper columnist Matt Ridley urged Mr Gove to stand firm on re-shaping unnecessary rules.

He wrote: “The current obsession of the environmental pressure groups is that there must be no ‘watering down’ of environmental designations after Brexit.

“Mr Gove should demand that environmental policies are judged by their results, not their intentions. In fisheries, air pollution, tackling invasive species, reforming farm subsidies, wildlife conservation, badgers, landscape protection, genetically modified food and pesticides, what counts is not the size of the budget going, the moral motive behind it, or the number of committees overseeing it — but whether it gets results.”

Mr Gove said he would look again at scientific evidence on the badger cull, but said there would be no change to policy.

On seasonal farm labour, he surprised some political commentators by saying: “There’s an absolute commitment from the prime minister and from all of us in cabinet that when it comes to shaping new migration policy the economy comes first.”

Follow Roger on Twitter.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40331919

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Divided desert: Wildlife and Trump’s wall

As the US government border agency makes its selection of a company to build President Trump’s “great wall” at the US-Mexico border, BBC science reporter Victoria Gill joined a team of scientists studying the impacts of such a fence on desert wildlife.

In a collaboration between scientists in Arizona and Mexico, the researchers are working in the Sonoran Desert, which stretches across the border and is home to some of the most endangered mammals in the US.

Filmed and edited by Phillip Edwards

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39951270

© Warren Fyfe
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