In February a meteor exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,491 people and damaging over 4,300 buildings. It was the most powerful meteor to strike Earth’s atmosphere in over a century.
It is a classic element having floods in India. Flash floods and landslides in the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh killed more than 5,700 people and trapped more than 20,000 in June 14–30.
Because of warmer water temperatures at the Flemish coast 230 swimmers in one day were stung by jellyfish.
A few times in 2013 people were evacuated in Flanders because of flood warnings. At one point the government was afraid to have to face again such a disaster as in 1953. But all the measures taken the previous years to make flood walls and protective measures seemed to have worked. No big flooding in the Low Countries for 2013.
At the international Super Storm conference, held begin November Flanders’ minister of public works, Hilde Crevits, told that three artificial sandbanks might be built to protect the Flemish coastline between Zeebrugge and the Dutch border. The last of the sandbanks would extend into Dutch coastal waters off the town of Cadzand. The minister argued that sandbanks would not help to protect the coastline between the French border and Zeebrugge, but a chain of three proposed sandbanks could defend the coast to the east of Zeebrugge. She also talked about extending the port of Zeebrugge to provide an additional barrier. The idea of constructing artificial islands is included in the Coastal Defence Plan. The city of Antwerp has also drawn up a plan to protect the city from flooding in the event of a super storm.
Big storms do come more regularly in the picture. In November the East was confronted with Typhoon Haiyan “Yolanda”, one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record. Most hit were the Philippines and Vietnam, presenting a ‘war zone’ for miles on miles, causing devastation with debris taking months to be cleaned up and at least 6,149 dead.
In July €511 million cost was counted to the economy of traffic congestion in Brussels, according to the employers’ organisation Beci, based on 32 million hours a year lost in delays, plus the estimated cost of air and noise pollution
There were 600 deaths between 6 July and 4 August as a result of high temperatures and high ozone concentrations, according to an estimate by the federal Scientific Institute for Public Health.
The 250th species of spider discovered in Antwerp in August, in a private garden, did not seem to have any problems of the global warming yet. The wolf spider (Pardosa amentata) adds to the 249 species recorded within the city during a major research project in 2008
Environment minister Joke Schauvliege in 2013 has approved funding of €50,000 each for four projects that bring more green space into cities. From a field of 20, the projects chosen are in Vorselaar, Antwerp province, Veurne in West Flanders, Maldegem in East Flanders and Rotselaar in Flemish Brabant. They include park renovation, green spaces in town centres and the integration of sports facilities.
In September €18 million was approved by the education and environment ministers to help finance the cleaning up of school grounds, such as leaking heating fuel tanks. About 90 of Flanders’ 6,400 schools are thought to require urgent attention.
€210 million was approved by the Flemish environment ministry for 117 sewer projects in 2014. The work is required to improve river water quality and to meet EU targets.
In September environmental organisations in Brussels and Antwerp were holding “protest picnics” to complain about the fine particulates in the air in Flanders’ cities, which are among the highest levels in the world. Belgians lose one year of active life on average because of particulate pollution, according to Bond Beter Leefmilieu.
Brussels Airlines has been rated 121 of 188 international airlines for its climate-friendliness. The ratings were published last week by the German climate-protection group Atmosfair and are based on airlines’ carbon dioxide emissions, or carbon footprint. For years now, Atmosfair points out, car drivers have been able to inform themselves about the carbon performance of cars, while airline passengers could not. The company’s overall ratings put it in efficiency class G – the lowest. No airline made it into class A, though Belgium’s neighbours fared far better: Air France at 21; Alitalia at 22; KLM at 28; Lufthansa at 67; British Airways at 83.
Entomophagy, or the eating of bugs, is widely regarded as one of the most promising solutions to increasing environmental pressure, worldwide food insecurity and the rising cost of animal protein. Edible insects, which require minimal space to breed and produce no greenhouse gases, are 40 to 70% protein. Corn, in comparison, is only 10%.
While the EU is yet to come out with a clear position on eating insects, Belgium has taken the lead and legalised its own list of 10 insects, making it the first European country where the consumption of insects is officially allowed. The list includes larvae of mealworms, superworms, the African grasshopper, American desert locust and specific subspecies of crickets and beetles. Retailers who want to put insects on the market first have to be registered with the FASFC and abide by all applicable rules concerning hygiene, traceability and labelling.
There are currently only five people in the country breeding insects for human consumption. Antwerp-based Peter De Baptist is the only one who is licensed to distribute and sell insects for human consumption. He has long been lobbying for large-scale consumption and acted as a consultant in the drafting of this list.
“Breeding insects has 10 times less impact on the environment than the breeding of cows and pigs,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “Plus, they are very healthy. Apart from carbohydrates, insects contain everything we need to keep our immune system up and running: protein, not less than 14 vitamins, fatty acids and minerals.”
Additionally, according to De Baptist, most insects are delicious. Raw mealworm larvae taste like hazelnut; when heated they miraculously turn pistachio-flavoured. African grasshopper, depending on the method of preparation, can taste like walnut, bacon or chicken. There is just one thing standing in the way of mass consumption: widespread public distaste. While more than 80% of the world’s population eats insects and humans have been eating bugs for as long as they’ve existed, most Europeans are put off by the sight of grilled beetles on a plate. “There is a need for a change of mentality,” says De Baptist. “Insects are not scary.”
A UNEP treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds was agreed to by delegates from some 140 countries and territories who signed it as the Minamata Treaty.
In November the Belgian fur producers’ association Beffa has described as “absurd” a protest that took place at the weekend in Wervik, West Flanders, against the arrival of a new mink farm. The protest attracted 1,500 opponents to the scheme, which would involve 107,000 minks being reared every year for their fur. While politicians and animal rights organisation Gaia called for a ban on fur farms, a spokesperson for Beffa said the farm was “an ordinary agricultural business in a sector that provides more than 200 jobs.”
In November the government of Flanders launched the International Trauma and Transformation Network to assist regions worldwide involved in war or natural disasters.
The network will have two functions: the handling of different kinds of trauma associated with conflict areas or affected by natural disasters, and later the transformation of societies affected by war by reconstruction and reconciliation. Funding for the launch of the network was set at €150,000.
“With this network we want to group together our local expertise and scientific knowledge of trauma treatment and social transformation,” Peeters said. “In the longer term, the network will be able to be called upon in particular areas and situations worldwide, allowing Flanders’ expertise to be put into action. That could be at the request of an overseas partner or at the Flemish government’s own initiative.”
The government of Flanders has approved a bill to provide a new framework for the production and delivery of drinking water. “This framework will allow our drinking water companies to better control the quality and provision of drinking water supplies,” said environment minister Joke Schauvliege and public health minister Jo Vandeurzen in a joint statement.
Flanders has a well-developed drinking water network of nearly 62,000 kilometres of pipes, with a reservoir capacity of 912,000 cubic metres, the government said. The quality of drinking water is very high, and shortages occur rarely. In 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, more than 11,000 inspections were carried out across the whole network.
The new framework requires water suppliers to develop a strategic plan “from source to tap”, which includes risk evaluation and prevention. It also obliges them to draw up long-term supply and delivery plans to guarantee sufficient safe drinking water for future generations.
“Our water supplies are under pressure from new sorts of pollution, including medicines and pesticides,” commented Schauvliege. “Drinking water companies make intensive use of surface and ground water to ensure drinking water of high quality, but these supplies are not inexhaustible. There are challenges of quantity as well as quality.”
“This revised legislation,” noted Vandeurzen, “with its public service obligations regarding disaster provision, quality management and risk management makes it clear what is expected of municipal authorities and civil protection. Clear agreements are the key to a better approach.”
Joke Schauvliege represented the collective position of Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region at the UN climate change talks in Warsaw. She told De Morgen before leaving for Warsaw that it was essential to reach agreement on capping the rise of global temperatures at two degrees Celsius.
“Global warming has disastrous consequences for all of us,” she said. “Just think of the scale of the natural disasters that have hit in recent years. Typhoon Haiyan makes it clear that there are serious problems with our climate.”
The government of Flanders has already agreed on a Climate Plan for 2013-2020. But organisations such as Greenpeace remain critical of the steps taken by the government to cut CO2 emissions and develop a sustainable energy policy by 2020. In a Greenpeace “report card”, Flanders scored just two out of 10 for its climate change efforts, while Wallonia received five to seven out of 10. Schauvliege dismissed the report as “poorly compiled” and points out that Wallonia has not yet drawn up a climate plan.
Flanders is amongst the regions with the highest concentration of fine dust in Europe.
Thousands of small farming families in Pará, in the Amazon jungle in northeast Brazil, have turned to the African oil palm as a new source of income, through contracts with biofuel companies.