UK Government’s New Plan for Cutting Domestic Carbon Emissions by 34 percent by 2020

This week, the UK government revealed dramatic plans outlined by Ed Miliband, Secretary of Environment and Climate Change, to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by 34 percent cut by 2020. The Guardian’s environment editor said carbon energy standards have “never been attempted on any scale like this… by any country.” The plans, laid out in “U.K. Low Carbon Transition Plan” also call for an 80 percent cut from 1990 levels in carbon emissions by 2050. To accomplish the reduction goals for 2020, changes will be made within every economic sector, aiming for a 15 percent carbon cut in homes by 2020; 10 percent in the workplace; 14 percent in the transportation sector; and 5 percent in agriculture and land use. In the process, 1.2 million green jobs are expected to be created.

While the 80 percent reduction measure in carbon emissions by 2050 was included in the 2008 Climate Change Act, the government hadn’t actually laid out a strategic plan until now on how to meet the targeted reductions.  The white paper is expected to be enacted into law by the end of this year.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is expected to cost many billions of pounds over the next 11 years. According to the UK government, household energy bills are expected to rise just eight percent between now and 2020. Miliband argues fossil fuels are expected to become more expensive over time, as a finite amount of natural gas and oil become harder to access with increasing demand worldwide. A failure to use alternative energy would further raise domestic energy prices.

The UK government is also fearful of exhausting local natural resources, such as the oil reserves in the North Sea. The proposal pushes the UK to tap into sustainable energy resources, particularly wave and tidal energy. According to The Guardian, “up to £180m would be made available to promote wind and tidal power – this includes setting up a low-carbon economic area in the south-west to promote marine technologies and money for up to 3,000 wind turbines off the UK’s shores by 2020.”

Also, for the first time, all major UK government agencies are allotted their own carbon budget to use in their own reduction plans. In comments to The Guardian, Miliband said: “Every business and community will need to be involved. The scale of the task is enormous.”  The Department of Energy and Climate Change has already pledged to reduce their own emissions by 10 percent by 2010.

According to the UK government, the following are key targets for 2020:

  • 40 percent of UK’s electricity will come from low-carbon sources, such as clean coal, nuclear, and renewables
  • 7 million homes will have benefited from whole house makeovers, and more than 1.5 million households will be supported to produce their own clean energy
  • The average new car will emit 40 percent less carbon than at present
  • 15 towns or cities will be challenged to pilot green initiatives
  • Half the current amount of gas will be imported
  • Implementation of a high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands

The Guardian writes on the financial investments that are part of the plan:

  • “Up to £6m to start development of a “smart grid”, including a policy road map next year.
  • Up to £180m would be made available to promote wind and tidal power – this includes setting up a low-carbon economic area in the south-west to promote marine technologies and money for up to 3,000 wind turbines off the UK’s shores by 2020.
  • £15m to establish a Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre that will develop the next generation of nuclear power infrastructure.
  • £10 million will go to improving infrastructure for charging electric vehicles.”

Read the article, analysis, an audio interview with The Guardian’s Environment editor, and an interactive feature on how the UK will meet its targets

Also, check out the full UK government report.

Image credit: The Guardian

Land Matters: In Search of a Good, Cheap Green Roof

What will the future of green roofs look like? Will it be some variation on the “starchitect” green roof at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), above, multiplied many times over?

Probably not. Sure, it’s stunning, but the CAS roof is also relatively high maintenance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always thought the point of green roofs was that they would be mostly self-sustaining—not needing any irrigation beyond plant establishment, nor weeding, mowing, or fertilizing. The CAS roof, however, has a pop-up sprinkler system that, given San Francisco’s dry seasons, will probably have to be used in perpetuity. And partly because of the plant choices, the roof must be frequently hand weeded and fertilized.

No question, green-roof “starchitecture” has its place in today’s building environment, because the green-roof movement is still just gaining a foothold in this country. Doubtless many Americans are unaware that such systems even exist. So it’s important that these early “demonstration” green roofs be eye-catching. But we should also understand that demonstration projects are mainly there to promote the genre, not to serve as prototypes for what will be built in the future.

Take the Chicago City Hall green roof as another famous example. I have personally visited it. It is stunning and inspiring—like a patch of Midwestern prairie perched above the city, abloom with wildflowers and buzzing with dragonflies and other insects amid the tall, waving grasses. The exposure it has garnered has done a great deal to bring attention to the genre, but its $2.5 million price tag disqualifies it, too, as a model to be emulated.

How can we progress beyond a few high-profile green roofs sprinkled here and there in a few of our cities? Scale is what will make green roofs work as an ecosystem service. If they are really to ameliorate stormwater runoff and the heat island effect, we need whole city blocks that are green roofed corner to corner. We need lots of multiacre green roofs on big-box stores on the urban fringe. What will it take for these to happen?

A few local governments are offering incentives for buildings with roofs that soak up rain and keep it from overloading the city sewer system. That’s part of the solution. We also need low-cost, foolproof systems put in by experienced installers who know green roofs because that is the core of their business. But if green roofs become a streamlined, mass-production enterprise dedicated to greening America’s rooftops, will designers then have a role?

Landscape architects who continue to have a role in the future will be those who have proved they are up to the job. With green roofs, a lot seems to fall through the cracks between the drawing board and the final product. Landscape architects who get serious about this project type will have to learn about the technology, test their products, and pay attention to what happens on the job site—and afterward. Do green roofs present enough of an opportunity for landscape architects to make that kind of learning curve worth the time and effort?

J. William “Bill” Thompson, FASLA
Editor, Landscape Architecture magazine

Send in your ideas. Use the comments to post examples of good, low-cost green roofs.

NYC’s “Greener, Greater Buildings Plan” for Reducing Building C02 Emissions

In a session at the National Building Museum, Laurie Kerr, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, NYC Government, outlined NYC’s efforts to significantly reduce emissions from the city’s almost one million buildings, while also cutting back energy use. “It’s harder to get energy in,” Kerr argued, also saying that NYC’s energy grid is becoming increasingly unreliable. The building energy efficiency program, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, is part of the broader PlaNYC 2030, the city’s sustainable development plan, and a major part of the effort to meet NYC’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) reduction target of 30 percent by 2030. This GHG reduction target was recently made into law by the City Council.

Looking at “existing technologies” for reducing GHG, Kerr said efficient buildings can take out 16.7 million tons/year (30 percent of targeted reductions); reduced sprawl can cut 15.6 million tons/year (another 30 percent of targeted reductions); clean power can reduce 10.8 million tons/year;  and efficient transportation can lead to 6.1 million tons/year in reductions.

Kerr explained that 77 percent of NYC’s emissions come from buildings. Within this 77 percent, almost a third are associated with residential buildings; commerical buildings account for another 22 percent. While there are a number of “LEED flagship buildings,” Kerr said the real issue is making sure all buildings are energy efficient. With the USGBC NY Chapter, the NYC government launched a Green the Codes Taskforce to change building codes. NYC government is targeting their own buildings, which, Kerr says, account for 6.5 percent of total building emissions. Mayor Bloomberg is also partnering with educational institutions, including Columbia University, N.Y.U., and the C.U.N.Y. system, hospitals, as well as Broadway theatres.

To address the emissions from buildings, NYC outlined a number of proposals in the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which has gone to the City Council for approval (they are hoping for a vote in September). If implemented, the plan will first target emission reductions in larger buildings. NYC is aiming at larger buildings (50,000 square feet or more) first because the top two percent of NYC’s buildings account for almost 50 percent of total emissions. “If we suceed, it will be the equivalent of making the City of Oakland carbon-neutral,” Kerr argues.

The plan has six components:

NYC Energy Code: NYC will create its own energy code which addresses all buildings.

Lighting Upgrades: Focusing on larger buildings, lighting upgrades will first aim at tenant spaces. The rules proposed would ensure that as spaces are renovated, they are brought up to new, more stringent lighting codes. “Why lighting as opposed to other systems?” Kerr asks.  “Lighting is separable from other building systems, accounts for 20 percent of all building emissions, and have improved the fastest in terms of efficiency over the past few years.” Also, lighting upgrades are relatively cost-efficient.

Benchmarking:  This is a “transparency proposal.” Large buildings will need to log and disclose their energy usage data, and use something like EPA’s Portfolio Manager Tool. There will be annual benchmarking among buildings of the same type (schools can compare themselves with other schools, for instance). As for putting labels in building lobbies, Kerr said this was “too much for the building sector to handle,” so the data will only be available through the Office of Finance, which is where real estate firms go to look for data.

Audits and Retrofits: Larger buildings will need to go through a full energy audit once every ten years. Retrofits will target the central building systems (beyond tenant systems) for upgrade. Kerr outlined a list of “improvements that pay for themselves,” including more efficient faucets and showerheads, lighting fixtures, etc.

Green Workforce Development Training: The City will involve unions, real estate groups, and other organizations to address skills gaps, and also look at existing certifications and training programs to see how they can be amended to meet NYC requirements. “There needs to be an infrastructure to support the changes we are looking for.”

Green Building Financing:  The City hopes to launch a USD 16 million loan fund using Federal energy efficiency block grants, and further expand the funds available using the Federal stimulus. These funds are designed to help larger buildings retrofit if they discover they can’t afford upgrades once they’ve completed their audit.

Kerr argues the overall impact will be: 5 percent GHG reductions; 19,000 jobs; USD 750 million in energy cost reductions; and local economic stimulus.

Other non-building components of NYC’s GHG reductions plan: NYC is hoping for congestion pricing in Manhattan (which the state has yet to approve), and is working to ensure all cabs are hybrid vehicles. Additionally, NYC has passed a law (the first ever, Kerr added) to allow for household distributed co-generation of energy. “Waste energy” produced close to home can be used locally, “making the existing grid twice as efficient.” As for renewable energy, NYC just opened a tidal power farm in the East River, and implemented a city-wide solar tax credit. There is also a wind-power-on-buildings pilot project underway.

PlaNYC was created to anticipate issues caused by the estimated one million new residents expected to come to NYC by 2030. PlaNYC has led to changes in NYC’s efforts to mitigate, and also adapt to, climate change. For instance, PlaNYC led to the launch of a NYC Panel on Climate Change to address adaptation related issues for the city, particularly the city’s 580 miles of coastline. PlaNYC also led to the development of 148 “green streets,” 100,000 new tree plantings (out of a targeted one million), and select rapid bus services.

Read more from PlaNYC

Targeting the One Billion High C02 Emitters Worldwide

The Economist
says a new approach may be needed in which high-polluting people, instead of countries, are targeted. Citing a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which argues that it’s “rich people, rather than rich countries, who need to change the most,” the Economist says the paper’s authors “suggest setting a cap on total emissions, and then converting that cap into a global per-person limit. This would be low enough that if everyone stuck to it, the worldwide target would be met.”

While difficult to implement across and within countries, this type of formula would put the onus on the world’s worst polluters to address their own carbon emission levels, which would perhaps help distribute mitigation costs more equitably. “Each country would then have the task of reducing its national consumption according to its number of ‘high emitters’—people with an extravagant output of carbon. Such individuals are scarce in India, more common in China, and common in America. If the goal were to cap emissions at 30 billion tonnes in 2030, say, that would mean squeezing the behaviour of some 1.1 billion ‘high emitters’ worldwide. So the high-living, carbon-guzzling rich minority in India and China would not be able to hide behind their poor and carbon-thrifty compatriots.”

The Economist wrote that dicussions at the recent G-8 meeting held in Italy proved “fractious” because India and other developing countries argue they should be able to take up the same share of the “carbon space” as the developed world has taken. “Past emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from rich countries have taken up much of that space. Now the poor countries are standing up for their right to a little bit of that space too.” The Economist says: “Put in those terms, it seems a matter of plain justice.” 

Shyam Saran, the head of India’s negotiating team for the UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen in December, argues that India will only accept the same limit on per-person greenhouse-gas emissions as citizens from developed countries. Unfortunately, this would be extremely bad news for the global climate, as India and China together account for a large share of global population. While their emissions per person are currently low in comparison with citizens from the U.S. and Western European countries, Brazil, China, and India are all aiming for developed world living standards for a majority of their citizens. These developing countries and others agree they deserve an equal share of emissions, as they are currently tied to economic growth.

Meanwhile, developed countries recently pledge to cut their own emissions by 80 percent by 2050, as part of an effort to reduce global emissions by 50 percent (meaning developing countries would essentially make a 20 percent cut). The Economist writes: “rich countries think they have already done a lot to meet the poor world halfway.” The Economist argues that disagreements between the developed and developing worlds on emissions allocations could unravel any agreement based on “common but differentiated” responsibilities among the two sets of countries. 

Read the article and a post from The New York Times’s Green Inc. on individual emission caps.

Also, read more about the recent G-8 discussions on climate change in the Guardian (UK), and The New York Times’ Dot Earth, including the declaration by developed countries.

Image credit: PNAS

ReBurbia: A Suburban Design Competition

Dwell Magazine
and Inhabitat have partnered on a competition — ReBurbia, which is focused on developing new ideas on suburbia. The ReBurbia competition web site writes: “According to the U.S. Census, about 90% of all metropolitan growth occurred in suburban communities in the last ten years. Urbanites who loathe the freeways, big box stores and bland aesthetics stereotypical of suburbia may secretly root for the end of sprawl, but demographic trends indicate that exurban growth is still on the rise. In a future where limited natural resources will force us to find better solutions for density and efficiency, what will become of the cul-de-sacs, cookie-cutter tract houses and generic strip malls that have long upheld the diffuse infrastructure of suburbia? How can we redirect these existing spaces to promote sustainability, walkability, and community?”

To guide potential proposals, Dwell and Inhabitat pose the questions: “What would a McMansion become if it weren’t a single-family dwelling? How could a vacant big box store be retrofitted to provide for local agriculture? What sort of design solutions can you come up with to facilitate car-free mobility, ‘burb-grown food, and local, renewable energy generation? How would you design future-proof spaces and systems using the suburban structures of the present, from small-scale retrofits to large-scale restoration?”

Of the top twenty finalists, one grand prize winner will be chosen by judges to receive USD 1,000. The grand prize winner will be featured on, and in the December issue of Dwell Magazine. 2 runners up and a “Reader’s Choice” winner will also be selected, based on the popular vote online. The 2nd prize winner, 3rd prize winner, and “Reader’s Choice” winner will all also be featured in the December issue of Dwell.

Go to ReBurbia to register

Image credit: ReBurbia

Rising Tides Competition Announces Winning Climate Change Adaptation Ideas

Rising Tides, an international competition for ideas on how to best respond to sea level rises in the San Francisco bay area as well as other areas, announced six award winners out of 130 entries received. Walter Hood, ASLA, a well-known landscape architect and one of the judges, explained why the jury had selected six winners to receive the USD 25,000 prize: “San Francisco Bay is not the place for a single idea. Taken as a whole, the six winning entries begin to tell a story about adaptation to sea level rise.”

Winners were mostly from the San Francisco bay area, and included: Skidmore Owings & Merrill’s entry “Bay Arc: A Tidal Response Barrier;” Faulder Studio‘s “Ray Dike;” Kuth Ranieri Architect‘s “Folding Water: A Ventilated Levee for a Living Estuary;” LANDplus Design’s “Evolutionary Recovery;” Wright Huaiche Yang + J. Lee Stickles’ “Topographical Shifts at the Urban Waterfront;” and Derek James Hoeferlin, Ian Caine, and Michael Heller’s “100 year plan: Rising Tides are a catalyst to solve the water crisis.”

The winning teams were largely inter-disciplinary, with architects as well as structural, marine and environmental engineers, participating in the concept development.

Learn more about the competition.

Also, the World Bank’s Development Marketplace is focused on climate change adaptation this year. 20-30 winners, who are expected to be announced in November, will share USD 4-6 million in awards. The top 100 finalists will be announced by the end of July.

Image Credit: Rising Tides / Kuth Ranieri Architects

Costa Rica Tops Index of Green, “Happy” Countries

The Guardian (UK)
wrote about the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a London-based think tank, which has used data on countries’ ecological footprints, average life expectancy, and “life satisfaction,” to construct an overall “happy planet index (HPI).” Costa Rica tops this years’ list, beating most developed countries. “Costa Ricans top the list because they report the highest life satisfaction in the world, they live slightly longer than Americans, yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size.” 

The top 10 countries are found mostly in Latin America, while African countries are near the bottom of the table. Among Western countries, the Netherlands tops the list. “People there live on average over a year longer than people in the US, and have similar levels of life satisfaction – yet their per capita ecological footprint is less than half the size. The Netherlands is therefore over twice as environmentally efficient at achieving good lives as the US, Nef says.” The United States is in the lower-middle range at 114th place.

The Guardian (UK) writes that HPI measures “how much of the Earth’s resources nations use and how long and happy a life their citizens enjoy as a result.” NEF argues that HPI is a better approach than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for measuring global wealth. “The unwavering pursuit of economic growth – embodied in the overwhelming focus on GDP – has left over a billion people in poverty, and has not notably improved the well-being of those who were already rich, nor even provided us with economic stability.” Even with economic growth, the HPI shows that the “US, China and India were all greener and happier 20 years ago than they are today.”

Increased life satisfaction and life expectancy has come at the cost of higher ecological footprints, according to NEF. “Life satisfaction and life expectancy combined have increased 15% over the 45-year period for those living in the rich nations, but it has come at the cost of a 72% rise in their ecological footprint.”  

Read the article and the full report. Use the HPI site to explore the data.

Also, check out another set of indicators, Gross National Happiness, developed by the government of Bhutan.

Image credit: NEF / HPI

California Prepares to Shut Parks in Effort to Close Budget Gap

Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, is trying to close a massive USD 26 billion budget gap, and has suggested that California can no longer keep its parks open. The Guardian (UK) writes: “It is hard to envisage a no-entry sign tagged to a towering redwood tree. But the recession – writ on an epic scale in California’s proposal to close 220 state parks – is forcing the American public to confront the closure of the great outdoors.” 

According to the Guardian (UK), conservationists are arguing California can’t afford to close its parks. “Conservationists believe parks can withstand a year or so of closure without lasting harm. But fewer ranger stations will mean increased risk of vandalism, and less maintenance will lead to environmental degradation.” Additionally, one conservationist argues that parks are, in fact, revenue earners for the state. Tim Gibbs, program manager at the National Parks Conservation Association, said in comments to the Guardian: “Each visitor to a state park is worth $57 per visit. The parks have generated millions throughout California. It’s almost as if they are shooting themselves in the foot.”

The U.S. federal government seems to agree. “And this week the federal government appeared to partly agree, with the National Parks Service threatening to seize some of the sites if Schwarzenegger goes ahead with the closures.” The U.S. federal government’s National Park Service issued a warning letter to Governor Schwarzenegger that it would “use protection clauses under the original land deeds to the states, so as to take control of six parks in the San Francisco area, the dunes around the Big Sur and elsewhere.”

A proposed park shut-down would impact 80 percent of California’s natural preserves, historic parks, and recreation areas, and limit access to 30 percent of the state’s coastline. “Affected areas would stretch from the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas to the beaches and wetlands of Big Sur, and to the deserts of San Diego, where some of the last peninsular bighorn sheep roam.” 

The Huffington Post said Schwarzenegger’s proposal would trim “$ 70 million in parks spending through June 30, 2010. An additional $143.4 million would be saved in the following fiscal year by keeping the parks closed.” California legislators rejected Governor Schwarzenegger’s plans to close parks last year.

Read the article and California’s proposal for shutting parks.

How to Design Resilient Cities

Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change,” published earlier this year, argues that cities need to plan their future development considering their “resiliency” to changes in climate and the availability of fossil fuels. Authors Peter Newman (Curtin University, Australia), Timothy Beatley (University of Virginia), and Heather Boyer (Harvard University) predict that in the next couple years, energy demand will outmatch oil supplies worldwide, resulting in a situation exceeding the challenges of the OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970’s. The authors argue that expanded use of cars, ever-growing urban sprawl, and poorly managed urban development could lead to a twin energy and climate crisis for cities. “A danger that few think about with such immediacy is the threat of the collapse of metropolitan regions in the face of resource depletion — namely, the reduction in the availability of oil and the necessary reduction in all fossil fuel use to reduce human impact on climate change.”

Newman and his co-authors focus on cities because “cities now consume 75 percent of the world’s energy and emit 80 percent of the world’s green house gases. Cities are presently growing globally at 2 percent per year, while rural areas have leveled out and in many cases are declining. For the first time, half of humanity lives in cities, and it is estimated that by 2030 the number of city dwellers will reach five billion, or 60 percent, of the world’s population.”

The authors outline some less-than-ideal future scenarios if nothing is done to help cities adapt: the total collapse of cities (economic, social, and cultural meltdown, similar to the ideas presented in Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”); a return to ruralized cities (characterized by semi-urban lifestyles and localized economies); and divided cities (separated by differences in economic status, with less affluent groups receiving little to none of the remaining energy resources). None of these scenarios offer long-term, equitable solutions for larger metropolitan areas.

“Resilient Cities” also presents a range of options to help “adapt cities to lessen a dependence on petroleum,” and create more resilient urban areas. The authors argue that the urban centers that can best survive a climate and energy crisis are those engage in long-term planning and design for resiliency; create sustainable, inter-connected modes of transportation; invest in renewable energy technology and smart grids; support walkable, high-density living; and provide for self-sufficient food production and protection of urban biodiversity. “This means the city can become more polycentric. The transport systems for fast cross-city movement and a series of small-scale electric and hybrid vehicles for small local trips as well as walking and cycling, which have survived all the city form changes. It is clear that the changes needed for a resilient city are not just technology substitutions, they are in the business paradigms, the culture of the utilities, and the organization that can enable new ways of managing our cities; every household needs to be a part of it.”

According to Newman and his co-authors, there are seven key elements to a resilient city:

Renewable Energy City: Urban areas will be powered by renewable energy technologies from the region to the building level.” As an example, the authors point to the German city of Freiburg, also known as the “ecological capital of Europe,” as a renewable city. Freiburg has incorporated renewable energy into many sections of the city (e.g. SolarRegion Freeburg). The authors also cite the use of LEED, home solar panels, and innovative community financing schemes for solar and wind power.

“Carbon Neutral City: Every home, neighborhood, and business will be carbon neutral.” The authors note the range of green rating systems (LEED, BREAM, Green Globes, and the New South Wales BASIX approval system). (Also, see earlier post on Clinton’s climate positive development cities)

“Distributed City:
Cities will shift from large centralized power, water, and waste systems to small-scale and neighborhood-based systems” (see earlier post on the Sustainable Sites Initiative and wetland system at Sidwell Friends School).

“Photosynthetic City:
The potential to harness renewable energy and provide food and fiber locally will become part of urban green infrastructure.” The authors cite the city of Vaxja in Sweden, which has developed a locally-based renewable energy strategy that takes “full advantage of its working landscapes, in its case the abundant forests that exist within close proximity to the city.”

“Eco-Efficient City:
Cities and regions will move from linear to circular or closed-loop systems, where substantial amounts of their energy and materials needs are provided from waste streams.” Ideas noted here include William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle (C2C), and viewing cities as a “complex set of metabolic flows.”

“Place-based City:
Cities and regions will understand renewable energy more generally as a way to build the local economy and nurture a unique and special sense of place.”

“Sustainable Transport City:
Cities, neighborhoods, and regions will be designed to use energy sparingly by offering walkable, transit-oriented options supplemented by electric vehicles.” As an example, Vauban, Germany (part of Freiburg) has re-designed its transport networks so many of its streets are now cut-off to cars. A majority of people don’t even own a car, and use bikes and public transportation to get around (see earlier post on Vauban, Germany). Also, NYC and Chicago were lauded for their green plans.

According to Newman and his co-authors, “cities throughout history have competed by examining innovations in other cities and building upon them. This […] is the basis of wealth creation. We see the response to climate change and peak oil as the impetus for the next burst of innovation.” “Resilient Cities” also outlines a set of specific recommendations for making existing cities more adaptable to changes in climate and energy usage.

Read the book

Image credit: Solar Settlement, Freiburg, Germany. Young Germany

Human Impact on Coastal Marine Ecosystems

According to researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), a number of coastal marine ecosystems are increasingly threatened by human activity. UC Santa Barbara says the authors have performed the first integrated, or comprehensive, analysis of all coastal areas in the world.

Benjamin Halpern, the lead author, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), UCSB, argues that pollution is coming from a variety of sources. “Resource management and conservation in coastal waters must address a litany of impacts from human activities, from the land, such as urban runoff and other types of pollution, and from the sea.” Furthermore, deciding where to focus anti-pollution efforts can be challenging. Research can provide direction on how to invest strategically in conservation and restoration: “One of the great challenges is to decide where and how much to allocate limited resources to tackling these problems. Our results identify where it is absolutely imperative that land-based threats are addressed –– so-called hotspots of land-based impact –– and where these land-based sources of impact are minimal or can be ignored.”

Halpern and his co-authors list what they view as the top 10″hotspots” where the greatest conservation efforts are needed. The “hottest hotspot,” or most polluted marine ecosystem, is found at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The authors note in the report: “the nutrient runoff from upstream farms that flows down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico is responsible for the most tainted coastal ecosystem in the world. These nutrients have led to a persistent dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by an overgrowth of algae that feeds on the nutrients and takes up most of the oxygen in the water, depriving other marine organisms of the oxygen they need to survive.”

The other top 10 coastal marine ecosystems most affected by people are in Asia and the Mediterranean. “The second most threatened marine coastal ecosystem is where the Ganges River drains into the Sunderbans delta in the Bay of Bengal near Dhaka, Bangladesh. The third most imperiled coastal ecosystem is where the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea near Saigon, Vietnam. Next are China’s Pearl River where it meets the South China Sea near Hong Kong, Italy’s Po River where it drains into the Adriatice Sea near Venice, followed by the Rhine and Meuse rivers that empty into the North Sea near Rotterdam in the Netherlands.”

 The authors surveyed four “key land-based drivers of ecological change” to determine their ranking:

  • nutrient input from agriculture in urban settings
  • organic pollutants derived from pesticides
  • inorganic pollutants from urban runoff
  • direct impact of human populations on coastal marine habitats

Halpern explained that just a few coastlines are hit hard by pollution because most pollution drains into just a few major rivers. “This is because a vast majority of the planet’s landscape drains into relatively few very large rivers, that in turn affect a small amount of coastal area.” The authors conclude: “these are areas where conservation efforts will almost certainly fail if they don’t directly address what people are doing on land upstream from these locations.”

Read the press release and research. Also, see TreeHugger’s photos of the world’s dirtiest lakes and rivers

Image credit: Mississippi River, via: TreeHugger / Getty Images – Internetwork Media