Investment zones could be allowed in England’s national parks

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Monday, October 3, 2022

Documents show zones with ‘liberalised’ planning laws could get go-ahead even in the most environmentally protected areasInvestment zones with “liberalised” planning laws to accelerate development could be designated within national parks and in the most environmentally protected areas of the UK, government documents reveal.Details of the government’s new zones to increase housebuilding and commercial development reveal councils can apply for zones in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, (AONBs) sites of special scientific interest, (SSSIs) and green belt land.A national park.An area of outstanding natural beauty.A site of special scientific interest, or equivalent designation.The buffer zone of a world heritage site.Designated green belt. Continue reading...

Documents show zones with ‘liberalised’ planning laws could get go-ahead even in the most environmentally protected areasInvestment zones with “liberalised” planning laws to accelerate development could be designated within national parks and in the most environmentally protected areas of the UK, government documents reveal.Details of the government’s new zones to increase housebuilding and commercial development reveal councils can apply for zones in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, (AONBs) sites of special scientific interest, (SSSIs) and green belt land.A national park.An area of outstanding natural beauty.A site of special scientific interest, or equivalent designation.The buffer zone of a world heritage site.Designated green belt. Continue reading...

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More green construction, less gravel mining: Ford walks back some environmental changes in Ontario housing bill

By Fatima Syed Facing backlash, the Ford government will let cities retain some limited oversight of sustainable building. It will no longer cut all citizen planning appeals or speed up aggregate production

By Fatima Syed On Thursday, the Doug Ford government told The Narwhal its sweeping legislation to get “More Homes Built Faster” would have unintentionally stripped away certain environmental powers from municipalities — a mistake the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says it is now moving to correct.  During a legislative committee meeting on Nov. 22 to review Bill 23, or the More Homes Built Faster Act, the Ford government proposed a flurry of changes to the original bill. One of the most significant is to revoke a controversial provision that would have banned environmental groups, residents and others from appealing project approvals. Most changes impact municipal authority over development: also being struck out are new rules that would have sped up aggregate mining to produce sand, gravel and crushed stone for construction. Another amendment proposes to protect some city powers to regulate environmentally-friendly design elements in buildings. The original version of the legislation had proposed to fully remove cities’ ability to set what are known as “green standards” for construction, dictating how new buildings address energy efficiency, waste and stormwater management, emissions and access for pedestrians and bikes. We’re breaking news in Ontario The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling environment stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism. We’re breaking news in Ontario The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling environment stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism. Repealing this authority would have eviscerated policies like Toronto Green Standards — a set of requirements for all new commercial developments in the city, offering financial incentives to developers to create energy efficient, low emissions buildings — which Ford voted in favour of as a city councillor.  Buildings are the third largest source of emissions in Ontario, accounting for 24 per cent of the province’s total emissions. In 2020, the province’s auditor general found the government wasn’t doing enough to address these emissions, noting that various ministries “do not … effectively oversee, evaluate and improve the performance of programs to support and encourage reducing energy use in buildings.” Given that provincial gap, cities have tried to fill it themselves. Green standards are the key measure by which Toronto plans to achieve its 2040 net-zero goals. In an official response to Bill 23 submitted to the province earlier this week, City of Toronto staff wrote that cutting green standards “could result in the city’s inability to address climate change, biodiversity loss and the TransformTO Net ZeroStrategy targets.”  A dozen other cities have adopted these standards too, including Ottawa, Brampton, Ajax, Whitby, Pickering, Halton Hills, Markham and Richmond Hill, with others like Hamilton and Mississauga in the process of setting their own.  The proposed amendments don’t let cities keep all of their powers: they would only be allowed to regulate specific elements, particularly green roofs and climate-conscious landscaping. The province has extended the public consultation period for this new green standards clause by 15 days, until December 9.  In an email to The Narwhal, Victoria Podbielski, a spokesperson for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, said: “The intent of Bill 23 was not to prevent municipalities from addressing these types of matters — but to prevent municipalities from using this tool to implement unnecessary visual design requirements, like mandating a certain type of brick exterior or colour. Often these requirements lead to increased costs and significant delays.” When asked, Podbielski didn’t offer any examples of municipalities that had used green standards to mandate brick colour or delay development.  The statement is a confirmation of what multiple municipal and provincial sources told The Narwhal this week, that repealing green standards was “a mistake” made by Clark, “an unintended consequence” of the omnibus bill that the Ford government says is designed to address Ontario’s housing crisis.  In a government committee meeting, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark didn’t explain why he had cut Ontario cities’ ability to enforce green building standards, or offer details on introducing a province-wide replacement. Photo: Government of Ontario Bryan Purcell, vice president of the regional climate agency Toronto Atmospheric Fund, said that senior members of Clark’s office as well as housing ministry staff gave him the same rationale, saying that the clause in question was originally removed because “cities shouldn’t regulate the colour of bricks in a building.”  After the legislation was released, Purcell told The Narwhal, he learned some who drafted it were “completely unaware” the bill would repeal green standards. Senior housing ministry staff “were surprised to hear it would stop cities from enforcing green standards,” said Purcell, whose organization invests in low-carbon projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. “They said it wasn’t their intention to compromise the standards.”  On Nov. 24, after the legislation amendments were announced, Purcell met with Clark’s Chief of Staff Ryan Amato and Assistant Deputy Minister of Planning and Growth Sean Fraser. Purcell said he was told that when Clark heard of the impact of Bill 23 on green standards, “he wanted to do something to preserve them.” The government has also made a new promise to develop a voluntary provincial-wide green building standard, but hasn’t provided details. Purcell said that in Thursday’s meeting he was told this new standard “would take some time to develop and pass” and the government couldn’t commit to a timeline. When he asked that Bill 23 be delayed until the regulation was written, senior staff told him “they are not prepared to do that, though they hope green standards will keep going until the new province-wide regulation is ready for use,” Purcell said. Podbielski said that the Ontario building code “already contains high standards for energy efficiency that apply across the province.” But municipal sources are concerned the code is not robust enough to meet climate targets, noting that the 2020 auditor general report chastised the government for poor enforcement of what requirements do exist. Cities like Mississauga were in the process of setting up their own environmental standards for new buildings, but those plans are now on hold. City planners say green standards also save residents money by making buildings energy efficient and resilient to storms. Photo: Carlos Osorio / The Narwhal Ontario cities say green standards are both good for the environment and save residents money  Municipal planning staff from four Ontario cities told The Narwhal they have not received answers from the Ford government to their questions about green standards, or much else in the huge bill. The Narwhal granted them confidentiality because none were authorized to speak publicly: many said they suspected the green standards repeal was intended to reduce construction costs. Green standards compel developers to carry the expense of setting up energy-efficient technology and sustainable garbage and composting systems, for example.  The standards are meant to be environmental protections, but also long-term cost-saving measures. Planners say that buildings designed to be sustainable and climate resilient for decades to come should ultimately save municipalities and residents money. Don Herweyer, Ottawa’s interim general manager of planning, spoke to his council about Bill 23 on Nov. 8, noting the city just implemented high-performance green standards this year, despite developer pushback and outrage. The motivation, he wrote, was that the costs of new low-carbon buildings is “substantially lower than retrofitting buildings after construction.”  Some municipal staff told The Narwhal they believe repealing standards will result in new houses that face rising energy and retrofit costs as climate change impacts — such as flooding and extreme heat — continue to worsen. Craig Rutton, policy director at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, told The Narwhal the repeal of green standards would hurt Ontario’s economy, as businesses see them as “really effective in encouraging more efficient construction that promotes innovation and saves costs in the long-term.” Rutton hopes the government recognizes green building standards are “a huge economic opportunity for the province that has given way to new businesses.”  These environmental worries are among a list of many spurred by the changes to the planning process in Ford and Clark’s housing legislation, including gutting conservation authorities and downloading responsibilities to manage watershed and flood protection to cities and towns.  In Mississauga, a Nov. 17 planning report states repeatedly that losing municipal authority over sustainable design “could impact the creation of units that are more efficient and affordable to heat and operate” and increase building emissions. “Elimination of this takes away the city’s ability to shape the public realm and would undermine the quality of places in our city,” the Mississauga staff report says. The Ford government walked back other elements of Ontario’s controversial housing bill, including rules that would have sped up the production of aggregate for construction. Photo: Christopher Luna Katsarov / The Narwhal On Thursday, a group of over 50 Ontario engineers also voiced concerns about the province’s changes to green standards, releasing a letter that asked the Professional Engineers of Ontario and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers to publicly oppose Bill 23. The letter said the bill “threatens the ability of engineers to make the safety of the public their first priority.” It also noted that green standard requirements have already “been successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stormwater runoff from new buildings, as well as reducing the urban heat island effect,” the term for how concrete and asphalt trap heat, which can be offset by natural features like trees, water and unpaved areas. On Thursday, in an email response to the letter, Sandro Perruzza, CEO of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, said he had “personally met” with Ontario’s associate minister of housing last week and “vocalized my opposition to the bill” on behalf of the organization. Before walking back the bill, Clark was asked about the repeal of green standards at a Nov. 9 government committee meeting. In response, Clark didn’t offer his rationale for cutting them, saying he he recognized the strength of Ontario’s building standards but that municipalities did not want “a one-size-fits-all approach” and “there are some inconsistencies out there, so we’ll continue to consult them.”  But municipal staff tell The Narwhal they have not been consulted, and feel there isn’t much time for dialogue with only two weeks left till the legislature takes its holiday break. Ford introduced the housing bill before newly-elected municipal governments were sworn in, and councils have had less than two weeks to read and absorb Bill 23 — which is one of the largest pieces of legislation the Ford government has released, impacting nine laws and every aspect of planning and development in Ontario.  New councils across southern Ontario plan are now scrambling to make sense of the bill even as the Ford government makes changes. “Cities are confused,” Purcell said. “On the one hand, they’re being told this wasn’t intended. On the other hand, their authority is still being undermined. It’s left a gaping hole in cities’ climate plans and the [Ford government] has made it difficult, actually impossible, to fill.” 

Kenyan government halts baobab exports to Georgia after outcry

President orders Ministry of Environment and Forestry to launch investigation over contractor’s licence for removing treesThe Kenyan government has halted the transportation and export of Kilifi baobabs to Georgia and ordered an investigation into how a foreign contractor received permission to transport the ancient trees out of the country.Kenya’s president, William Ruto, ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to investigate whether Georgy Gvasaliya had the proper licence to take the trees out of Kenya under the Nagoya protocol, an international agreement that governs the conditions for the export of genetic resources, which has been incorporated into Kenyan law. Continue reading...

President orders Ministry of Environment and Forestry to launch investigation over contractor’s licence for removing treesThe Kenyan government has halted the transportation and export of Kilifi baobabs to Georgia and ordered an investigation into how a foreign contractor received permission to transport the ancient trees out of the country.Kenya’s president, William Ruto, ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to investigate whether Georgy Gvasaliya had the proper licence to take the trees out of Kenya under the Nagoya protocol, an international agreement that governs the conditions for the export of genetic resources, which has been incorporated into Kenyan law. Continue reading...

NSW environmental offsets scheme risks ‘trading away’ threatened species ‘for cash’, inquiry finds

Inquiry says it is too easy for developers to pay cash to biodiversity offsets fund with no guarantee offsets will ever be foundFollow our Australia news live blog for the latest updatesGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastA New South Wales government environmental offsets scheme allows too much flexibility for threatened species to be “traded away for cash” and should be reformed to ensure offsetting is “genuinely used as a last resort only”, a parliamentary inquiry has found.Triggered after reporting by Guardian Australia, the inquiry found multiple problems with the scheme, including “serious flaws in its design and operation that raise fundamental questions about whether it can achieve the stated goal of ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity”. Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup Continue reading...

Inquiry says it is too easy for developers to pay cash to biodiversity offsets fund with no guarantee offsets will ever be foundFollow our Australia news live blog for the latest updatesGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastA New South Wales government environmental offsets scheme allows too much flexibility for threatened species to be “traded away for cash” and should be reformed to ensure offsetting is “genuinely used as a last resort only”, a parliamentary inquiry has found.Triggered after reporting by Guardian Australia, the inquiry found multiple problems with the scheme, including “serious flaws in its design and operation that raise fundamental questions about whether it can achieve the stated goal of ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity”. Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup Continue reading...

The White House’s plan to colonize the moon, briefly explained

An artist’s rendering of Artemis base camp. | NASA Putting humans on the moon is more political than you might think. The first mission in NASA’s Artemis program finally took the Orion spacecraft on a trip around the moon, a huge step forward for the ambitious plan to bring humans to the lunar surface as soon as 2025. It’s also the beginning of the White House’s far-reaching ambitions for a permanent outpost on the moon. The White House’s national science and technology council last week released its new “National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy,” a wide-ranging document that explains the Biden administration’s objectives for cislunar space, which is the area under the gravitational influence of the Earth and the moon. The strategy outlines four primary goals that, broadly, seem to make a lot of sense. They include investing in research and development, cooperating with other countries, building communications networks in space, and boosting humanity’s overall situational awareness near and on the moon. What this plan also hints at, however, is a range of open legal, political, and environmental questions about how life on the lunar surface should work. “The test missions, like Artemis 1 going on now, and the next crewed mission and then the first landing, are fairly well laid out,” Scott Pace, the director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, told Recode. “The question is, ‘Well, what comes next?’” Part of the answer to that question is “advancing science.” The United States, for example, is interested in how to use the far side of the moon, a shielded zone of the moon that doesn’t experience radio frequencies coming from Earth, to make new types of astronomical observations. Developing resources and technology on the lunar surface could eventually make it easier to launch future missions to Mars. But the government is interested in the moon for reasons that go far beyond expanding humanity’s knowledge of the universe. The White House’s new strategy emphasizes the “economic development activities” and “economic growth” available in cislunar space and on the moon, and also outlines the government’s political goals, including “realizing US leadership.” “It’s very clear that this is not just about the research and the science, but it’s also going to be about the economic prospects from the moon,” explained Namrata Goswami, an independent space policy analyst. “Until now, the US has been very reticent to so clearly engage in a manufacturing use of lunar resources.” Should the US succeed in its goals, the moon could eventually look quite different, Pace argues. Lunar orbit would be filled with many more satellites, including a lunar GPS network and a human space station capable of housing human astronauts that serves as a rest stop before they land on the moon’s surface. While there are no plans for a lunar city, there are proposals for a permanent outpost on the south pole of the moon, where crews might one day spend six-month rotations (China and Russia have announced plans for a lunar outpost, too). If NASA has its way, the lunar surface might eventually include a series of nuclear power plants, a resource extraction operation, and even something akin to moon internet. Given these plans, the US government estimates that the level of human activity in cislunar space over the next decade could exceed everything that’s happened there between 1957 and today, combined. SpaceX The SpaceX Starship is designed to deliver cargo on the surface of the moon. But the White House’s plans face several hurdles. Political tensions alone could be a major source of conflict, according to Michelle Hanlon, the co-director of the Air and Space Law Center at the University of Mississippi law school. For one, there still isn’t a globally shared vision for what the future of the moon should entail. Just over 20 countries have signed the US-led Artemis Accords, a set of principles for, among other things, exploring and using the lunar surface. The former head of Russia’s space agency, unsurprisingly, said that the country would not support the Artemis program in its current form, and Congress has barred NASA from working with China since 2011. And while the White House continues to emphasize international collaboration and the moon itself is pretty large — it’s just under 15 million square miles — multiple countries could end up sparring over the same resources, like one particular landing location or a certain trove of materials. These tensions could even impact an effort to create a common understanding of what’s going on in cislunar space, which is one of the government’s major goals. The White House has said it wants to expand access to data about space weather and satellite tracking in order to help with the emerging problem of satellite traffic management, and also create a catalog of all the objects on the moon. But it’s not clear how that will happen. “I think the US is very far from achieving this,” Moriba Jah, the co-founder and chief scientist of Privateer Space, said in an email. “When it comes to space object catalogs in the US right now, this is pretty much developed and maintained uniquely by the US military/Department of Defense, which cannot be a fully transparent organization for obvious reasons.” At the same time, there’s a more immediate problem that humanity has begun exporting to the moon: junk. The lunar surface is already littered with items that astronauts have left behind, including golf balls and nearly 100 bags of poop. Humans have also figured out ways to trash the moon without actually visiting. NASA purposely smashed a robotic spacecraft into the lunar surface in 2009 in a bid to study potential sources of water on the moon, and this past March, space junk believed to be from a Chinese rocket mission in 2014 crashed into the lunar surface. Space environmentalists are worried that some of the same environmental destruction that humans have created on Earth could become a problem on the moon and in its lunar orbit. Ideally, the emerging space economy would focus on preventing pollution in space and avoiding single-use machinery, such as satellites, rovers, and rockets, as much as possible. “We need to make those things reusable and recyclable,” explained Jah, who is also an aerospace engineering professor at UT Austin. “For the ones that can’t be, how do we dispose of them properly so that they’re not causing a detrimental environmental impact, versus just abandoning stuff?” Of course, the White House’s recently released strategy is just a first draft of what the government’s plans for the moon might ultimately resemble, and there’s no guarantee the US vision will be the one that plays out. It’s increasingly clear, however, that the Artemis-era space age will come with major challenges. As humanity ventures deeper into space — and onto the moon — humans risk introducing the same issues that we still haven’t worked through here on Earth, including conflict between countries, damaging the environment, and even the challenge of preserving our history. “It would be tragic for Neil Armstrong’s blueprint to be erased, either inadvertently or maliciously, because of all these activities on the moon,” said Hanlon. “It’s gonna get very crowded very soon.”

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