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EU Leaders Fail to Set 2050 Carbon Neutrality Deadline

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EU Leaders Fail to Set 2050 Carbon Neutrality Deadline
ziss / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The European Union, responsible for almost 10 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, failed to agree Thursday on a date for achieving carbon neutrality, The New York Times reported.


Some European leaders had hoped to forge an agreement to reach net zero emissions by 2050 during a meeting in Brussels to set the agenda for the next five years of the European Parliament's term. But at least three Eastern European countries blocked the deadline, which was reduced to a footnote reading, "For a large majority of member states, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050," as The Guardian reported.

"The EU can and must lead the way, by engaging in an in-depth transformation of its own economy and society to achieve climate neutrality. This will have to be conducted in a way that takes account of national circumstances and is socially just," the final text of the strategic agenda read.

Western European leaders German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron had wanted the bloc to agree to an ambitious target ahead of a major UN climate summit in September. But leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary refused to sign any document with a 2050 date. It was also unclear if Estonia would have committed to the deadline, the EU Observer reported. Poland gets around 80 percent of its electricity from coal, The New York Times reported, and the countries were concerned such a timeline would disproportionately impact their economies.

The news was a disappointment to environmental activists, who already thought the 2050 deadline was too vague, according to The Guardian.

"Hollow words can't rebuild a house flattened in a mudslide or repay a farmer who's lost their harvest to drought. Merkel and Macron failed to convince Poland and bring others on board," Greenpeace EU climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang said in a statement. "With people on the streets demanding action and warnings from scientists that the window to respond is closing fast, our governments had a chance to lead from the front and put Europe on a rapid path to full decarbonisation. They blew it."

The decision comes amidst increasingly urgent warnings from scientists about the need to act on the climate crisis, and a growing popular movement demanding that politicians listen. A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that we now have 11 years to reduce emissions to 45 percent of 2010 levels in order to keep global temperatures from rising past 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. School strikes, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, have spread to cities across Europe and around the globe, and Extinction Rebellion protests blocked traffic in central London for a week in April.

These movements were reflected in the outcome of the EU elections, in which green parties did well enough to emerge as potential tie-breakers in the European Parliament. But the green wave did not extend to Central and Eastern Europe.

However, a large number of EU member states do support a 2050 carbon neutrality target. The UK has promised to meet it on its own, Sweden has set an earlier date of 2045 and Finland has announced an even more ambitious goal of 2035, according to the EU Observer.

European Council president Donald Tusk told reporters that a different decision could be possible from the entire bloc even within months, the EU Observer reported. An anonymous diplomat agreed.

"It's not a matter of if the EU commits to climate neutrality, it's when," the diplomat said, according to The Guardian.

Europe has currently committed to reducing emissions 40 percent by 2030, CNN reported.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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