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Will Trains Play a Key Role in the European Green Deal?
By Sergio Matalucci
Night trains are making a glorious comeback in several European countries, banking on the penchant for nostalgic traveling while sleeping. After a 16-year break the first night train connecting Vienna and Brussels left the Austrian capital in mid-January.
Austria's national railway system, ÖBB, which operates the route, is planning to launch a sleeper train connecting Vienna and Amsterdam by the end of the year. The state-owned company is not the only one that sees an opportunity in Europeans' changing habits and growing attention to the environment.
In 2017, EU transport sector emissions were 28% above 1990 levels. The European Green Deal, currently being discussed by the Commission, aims at reversing the trend.
"Through the Green Deal, we have committed to make the transport sector in Europe to contribute to our effort to tackle climate change. All the modes have to contribute, but I think that rail in particular is a game changer, since it is a truly sustainable way of moving people and freight," Adina-Ioana Valean, European commissioner for transport, told DW.
Within the European transportation sector, road transport is the largest contributor of EU CO2 emissions (73%), followed by aviation (13%) and maritime (11%). Rail, given its high degree of electrification, comes in fourth at 1.6%.
Valean explained that current European programs to promote railways are no bone of contention. "We are looking forward to receiving, within the next Multiannual Financial Framework, a good budget for transport."
No Duel Speed EU Rail Network
The transport commissioner underlines significant differences between member states in terms of rail networks, adding that European funds should target less developed regions through existing instruments, like the Connecting Europe Facility and the Cohesion Fund.
She did, however, rule out targets in transportation — at least for now. "What we need now is to understand which are the bottlenecks in the network and how much investment will be needed. So it is not the right moment for targets. Before that we need a strong assessment."
Valean added that the EU's Fourth Railway Package is being implemented, liberalizing the market and increasing competition for passenger services.
Competition to Soon Increase
"Competition will increase, especially after June 2020, when the remaining EU member states will join the first eight that already transposed the directive by June 2019," Josef Doppelbauer, executive director of the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), told DW.
"Some examples: Italy's Trenitalia has applied to ERA for a single safety certificate and vehicle authorizations to be able to also operate in France. French SNCF and Trenitalia will enter the Spanish market in June 2020."
ERA has two roles. It implements the EU regulation on interoperability and safety. Since June 2019, it also issues single safety certificates and vehicle authorizations. "This means that for trains operating in multiple countries one authorization issued by ERA is sufficient."
Doppelbauer said that there is still plenty of room for improvements. "For instance, the first night train from Vienna to Brussels in mid-January had to stop in Aachen for 30 minutes, because the locomotive had to be changed because of technical compatibility issues. Also the driver had to be changed, as he needed to speak Flemish."
You Get What You Invest
Doppelbauer argues that national routes like Barcelona–Madrid are already showing that it is possible to "increasingly replace less environmentally friendly inland flights by cutting down travel time and price."
Rail's ability to compete with aviation will now depend on track investment, a prerogative of individual EU member states. While countries like Italy keep decreasing investments in rail, countries like Germany are committing more, even though ticket prices have recently decreased. Last month, for example, its government launched a €86-billion plan to be implemented over the next decade.
"It is an additional contribution of €64 ($75) per person a year, bringing Germany to roughly €140, which is still not top class compared to Austria and Switzerland."
According to Doppelbauer, customer satisfaction is pretty much a function of per capita investments in rail. He notes that in 2018 Switzerland was first for customer satisfaction with rail service and at €365 first for per capital investments on rail. "Austria was second for customer satisfaction, second for spending with €218 per capita. In Germany the corresponding figure is currently €77 per year."
The Challenge of Sustainable Tourism
"The majority of travel agents don't include at the moment trains as a mode to reach the final touristic destination," Libor Lochman, executive director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, told DW. "But we don't start from scratch. Travel agents for instance already offer Euro Passes, which allow passengers to travel four or seven days a month with a single ticket."
Freight transportation remains an even more difficult endeavor. "We have a growth of the passenger volumes, but we don't have the same figures for freight," stressed Lochman.
"As things stand, rail's market share of EU freight is slipping, falling from above 18% to below 17% in recent years," said James Nix, director of freight at Transport & Environment, a clean transport campaign group. As roads currently take the lion's share of inland freight, "very substantial sums are being invested in rail freight," he added.
"We've been requested by the Green Deal to move, as much as possible, freight from road to rail. But for this you need to improve the European cross-border railway network," said Commissioner Valean. Intermodal connections and capacity have to be built, border activities have to be streamlined.
All in all, prospects remain rosy, as strong support for rail comes from environmentalists and industry alike.
"The EU regulation will also help the railway sector to define a uniform technical standardization process," Francois Davenne, director general of the International Union of Railways, told DW. He even thinks that the Green Deal will have consequences on railways in many regions of the world, not just in the EU.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.