Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – November 24, 2015

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By: Julia Shaw, Ph.D.

Photo source: pixabay.com CC0 Public Domain

The Environment

Deforestation May Threaten Majority of Amazon Tree Species, Study Finds

For a recent report in the journal Science Advances, over 15,000 tree species native to the Amazon were assessed for their environmental sustainability. The results of this study found that between 36–57% of Amazonian tree species should be identified as threatened. More than 150 researchers contributed to the report, many of them by directly collecting data from 1,485 approximately 2-acre plots of Amazonian forest. The data was then analyzed using two different computer models. Based on a “business as usual” model, by 2050 an estimated 40% of the forest would disappear. This was contrasted with a model of stronger governmental regulations, where they estimated a 21% destruction. Timothy J. Killeen, botanist with Agteca-Amazonica, an organization devoted to the study and preservation of South American natural resources, noted that deforestation rates in Brazil “decreased by about 75% since 2005.” By ensuring proper protection of conservation areas and parks, Hans ter Steege, lead author of the paper, said it would be possible to “protect a substantial part of the diversity in the Amazon.” Unfortunately, according to Kenneth J. Feeley, tropical ecologist at Florida International University, “It’s very easy for governments to draw a line on the map and declare an area protected. It’s much harder to make that area effectively protected.” (Nicholas St. Fleur, The New York Times)

Climate Change

Green Climate Fund faces slew of criticism

Five years ago, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established during United Nations (UN) talks in Mexico in order to help developing nations respond to climate change. The initial funding target was $10 billion, to be divided between mitigation and adaptation projects. However, the small administration team, based in Incheon, South Korea, only has $852 million in hand, after receiving pledges totaling $10.2 billion. The United States is one of those nations who have yet to pay-up, having pledged $3 billion with no signed agreement in place. In the world of climate finance, GCF is a minor player, yet is it the largest international public climate fund. GCF approved its first aid commitments on November 6th, to include a wetlands resilience program in Peru, and climate-resilient infrastructure in Bangladesh. However, Brandon Wu, a policy analyst for the non-governmental organization ActionAID, warns, “We are worried about the fund’s social and environmental safeguards, consultation processes, accountability mechanisms and transparency.” The GCF has no information disclosure policy and no accountability mechanism. Projects are reviewed by the board and by an independent technical advisory panel, but are not publicly released. Another concern surrounds the money flow, which is funneled through international organizations rather than directly to institutions in the applicant countries. Understaffed and underfunded, the GCF will have to prove itself over time if it hopes to attract the loyalty of wealthy contributor countries. (Sanjay Kumar, Nature)

Aquaculture

The FDA just approved the nation’s first genetically engineered animal: A salmon that grows twice as fast

After 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the country’s first genetically altered animal for consumption. Laura Epstein, a senior policy analyst with the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine stated, “As with many products that are the first of their kind, we’re very careful to be sure we’re getting everything right.” Produced by Massachusettess-based AquaBounty, the fish, known as AquAdvantage, was found to be as safe and nutritious as conventional Atlantic salmon. AquAdvantage is an Atlantic salmon that contains a gene for a Chinook salmon growth hormone coupled with a promotor gene from an eel-like fish known as the ocean pout which can grow in near-freezing temeperatures. With these genes, the salmon continues to grow during colder months when it normally would not, ultimately resulting in a fish ready for harvesting at 18 months as opposed to 3 years. Opponents of “Frankenfish” argue that its approval sets a dangerous precedent for other genetically altered animals and suggest that it could out-compete native species, decimating their populations. However, AquAdvantage are all female, all sterile, and they will be raised in tanks in dedicated facilities in Canada and Panama. Ron Stotish, chief executive of AquaBounty, said “we’ve developed a product that mitigates many of the concerns they share and we share. I hope people take the time to consider the fact that we are an environmentally sustainable product, and that this might actually be a better way to grow salmon.” Another point of contention surrounds the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Because the FDA found no “material difference” in AquAdvantage compared to the wildtype salmon, the company is not required to label the fish as genetically modified. (Brady Dennis, The Washington Post and Nick Stockton, Wired )

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

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