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Slovenian Teachers as Facilitators for Climate Change and Sustainability

In the practical part of the training, participants were able to experience facilitated learning for themselves through a simulation in the classroom. The participants left the training motivated to actively transfer the knowledge they had gained to their classrooms. They also appreciated the two days of good companionship, great food and the caress of the warm spring sunshine.

The pilot training of the Classroom for Life project was carried out by Maja Vrčon, the project’s education activities lead; the online part of the training was supported by Manja Vrenko, the project’s expert collaborator; and the face-to-face part by Nara Petrovič, a well-known Slovenian fecologist and experienced facilitator.

Group picture of participants photo by Maja Vrčon © Maja Vrčon

Peatlands in Agricultural Areas: Conclusions from a Regional Workshop in France 

The main causes of peatland degradation in France are drainage for agriculture and forestry, by urban development, by peat extraction and by overgrazing. The majority of peatlands in France are used for agriculture or forestry. Peat extraction still continues on about 10 peatlands.    

The search for ways to rewet peatlands is in full swing. One solution is to market the accrued CO2 allowances after mitigation measures have been implemented. Another solution is paludiculture: growing common reed or cattail, growing sphagnum to replace peat in horticultural substrates, and using wet meadows for grazing. However, these are not yet general economically viable uses. 

Farmers need support  

Clara Diebolt from Network of Chambers of agriculture from the Atlantic Area (AC3A) highlighted a poignant issue: farmers may become the overlooked casualties in the necessary rewetting of peatlands used for agriculture, a process vital to reducing substantial greenhouse gas emissions from their soils.  

Douglas McMillan, representing a cooperative of individual Irish farmers brings a unique viewpoint shaped by his work in Ireland. Despite differences, his conclusion aligns with Diebolt’s: farmers need support. He advocates for adaptive measures to facilitate a shift from traditional peatland agriculture to sustainable, climate-conscious farming practices.  

Bridging a critical gap: monetising rewetted peatlands  

Maximillian Loessl, leads the startup Aeco aiming to bridge a critical gap: monetising rewetted peatlands and building an investable, implementation-ready peatland restoration project pipeline. Aeco creates and markets CO2 and ecosystem service certificates by collaborating with financial partners and the Eurosite network.  

This workshop pointed out again the necessity to define specifications for the good management of the wetlands involving all the actors of the environment. Every site is unique. And it is therefore important that landowners, site managers, decision makers and other stakeholders work together to define the most appropriate local solutions, keeping in mind these 10 ‘advises to success’ for rewetting projects in agricultural areas:

  1. Involve pioneer farmers, experts, specialized institutions to forge credibility to the statements and proposals
  1. Involve people from outside the area to provide a different perspective and broaden the discussion 
  1. Involve decision makers and local authorities 
  1. Do not focus only on the farming sector for change: broaden the discussion to other sectors 
  1. Alternative business models must guarantee farmer’s income. Farmers should be financially rewarded for rewetting peatlands, sequester carbon, improve biodiversity or water quality if this has an impact on their current productivity or workload  
  1. Available financial support must be equal to or even greater than those for drainage-based practices 
  1. Try to adapt existing models before shifting to new business models 
  1. Aim for diversification of income sources 
  1. Aim for clear political regulations on growing wet crops and rewetting soils 
  1. Farmers should be an integral part of the policy making while designing financial incentives related to rewetting 

Presentations are available upon request. Please contact: anne-sophie.mulier@elo.org

Effects of Mass Tourism in Croatia and the Attempt for a More Sustainable Approach

Crowds of tourists meander through the alleyways of the Croatian island of Krk. The asphalt shimmers with heat, there is no turning back, only pushing forward. Rental prices are rising due to the numerous Airbnbs and vacation apartments. And then there’s the garbage left behind by the thousands of tourists who flock to the Adriatic every summer!

These pressing issues were the focus of the final conference of the IJP German-Central-Eastern European Program 2023/24, which this year examined the effects of mass tourism in Croatia. From May 12 to 15, ten alumni of the program gathered in Zagreb, Rijeka and Krk to discuss critical perspectives with local actors. 

We journalists from Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia met with journalists, academics and cultural workers over the course of four days. A particular focus was on the coastal region near Rijeka and the island of Krk, which are affected both by the renewed increase in the number of tourists following the pandemic and by the impact of the climate crisis. Croatia is already massively affected by climate change, like for example the flood disasters of 2023 and the heatwaves. We should learn more about all of this at the final conference. 

On Monday, after a bus ride to the island of Krk, we met our tour guide Marijana Jadro, who grew up on Krk herself. She showed us the oldest places on the island, including Fulfinum, a settlement from the Roman Empire. However, this place was interesting for us environmental journalists for another reason: Croatia’s only LNG terminal is within sight and not far from it is an oil refinery – a sign of Croatia’s efforts to enable an independent energy supply and, at the same time, the ongoing environmental pollution. 

The island of Krk, Jadro told us, has been plagued by mass tourism for many decades, with tourists coming to the island mainly in August. We were able to experience for ourselves what sustainable tourism can look like on the island. Villa Menta, run by Marija Koeffler, is built sustainably. She cooked for us with seasonal vegetables, purely vegetarian and with herbs from the garden. The inviting little house is powered by solar panels. “More people should do that here on the island, since the sun shines so much here,” said Koeffler.

Ivan Jurešić, director of the local utility company Ponikve, agrees. During a tour of their facilities, he explained the challenges and progress in waste management and water treatment on Krk. His conclusion: The introduction of separation systems for consumers can only work if the cities and municipalities also have a functioning waste system, such as a separation plant and a possibility to resell waste. 

Boat excursion with Professor Robert Hofrichter_photo Nicole Reuter

Another highlight was the boat trip around the island of Krk, accompanied by marine biologist Prof. Robert Hofrichter. He explained the effects of climate change on the Croatian coast and the urgent measures needed to protect the environment and make tourism sustainable at the same time. Along the way, we learned useful facts about the vegetation, such as what sea fennel looks like or that most of the fish from aquaculture in Croatia is exported to France.

Visit of the exhibition Criticaltourism at Gallery Kortil in Rijeka_photo by Nicole Reuter

The conference ended with a visit to Rijeka, the former European Capital of Culture. Here, we met cultural professionals and visited the “Critical Tourism” exhibition, which deals with the impact of tourism on society and the environment. The author Doris Pandžić and Katarina Podobnik, herself a journalist and local cultural worker, gave us an insight into the local perspective and the efforts to find a balance between tourism and the quality of life of the locals over a drink in the Book Café.

LNG Terminal at Krk_photo Nicole Reuter

In summary, the final conference of the IJP German-Central Eastern European program not only provided a platform for exchange and networking, but also valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of tourism in Croatia. The perspective of Roma in Croatia, for example with regard to environmental racism or the work of (climate) activists, would certainly have made our perspectives even more diverse and an expansion of the program in this regard would be desirable. Nevertheless, we were able to return to our home countries with new ideas and critical perspectives. We can now incorporate the discussion about sustainable tourism into our journalistic work.

Energy Scouts Reduce Energy Consumption in Companies

Since spring 2021, eight European Chambers of Commerce Abroad (AHKs) of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) have been offering the qualification “Energy Scout” as part of the EUKI project “Young Energy Europe”. A total of 798 young professionals seized the opportunity between 2021 and 2024 and developed 361 practical projects in their companies. The Energy Scout practical projects demonstrate concrete measures to save energy and resources in 301 companies in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. In total, 121,000 MWh of electricity and 124,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year can be saved in the eight countries. On average, an Energy Scout identifies potential savings and reductions of 152 MWh of electricity and 155 tons of CO2 per year. Most of the projects could be implemented quickly due to short payback periods. With their practical projects, Energy Scouts not only contribute to more sustainable business practices in their companies. Through their practical approaches and the exchange of ideas among each other, they promote the cross-border transfer of expertise in the field of corporate climate protection in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.

The Young Energy Europe 2021-2024 brochure impressively shows how diverse and effective the practical approaches of the European Energy Scouts are – from upgrading conventional lighting to LEDs, equipping company roofs, car parking lots or open spaces with photovoltaic installations or optimizing the energy management in factories and cold storages.

To find out more about the specific approaches and characteristics of the training courses in each country click here

Community Energy in Central Europe – policy overview

Community energy centred around renewable energy sources has been identified as one of the key measures to contribute towards the European clean energy transition. The framework towards their establishment and strengthening their position in the energy market has been set by the EU Directives 2018/2001 and 2019/944. Their implementation into the national legislation is, however, solely in the hands of the EU member states, whose swiftness and attention to detail may vary greatly.

The Community Energy in Central Europe (COMMENCE) project aims to foster the development of community energy projects across Central European countries. This interim deliverable provides an overview of the current state of policy and regulatory environment and conditions for the development of community energy in Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

The report highlights the types of energy communities, processes for establishing communities, and mechanisms for electricity sharing in each country. The report focuses on three aspects: the legislative framework and definition of energy communities, the conditions for establishing energy communities, and the state of regulation of electricity sharing.

You can find the full interim report here.

The Renocally Report: A Guidebook for Local Authorities to Lead the Decarbonisation of Buildings in Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia

This Renocally report analyses the recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the flagship policy for decarbonising buildings in Europe. After being adopted by the European Council on 14 April, the EPBD recast has been published in the EU official journal on 08 May 2024. The EPBD recast has been under revision as part of the European Green Deal, aimed at making the European economy, including the buildings sector, climate neutral by 2050. New elements in the EPBD recast include, among others, voluntary building renovation passport schemes, one-stop-shops, and a zero-emission building standard.

Local authorities have an important role in the implementation of the EPBD recast. The EPBD says that local authorities should be consulted and supported by national governments to enable successful transposition of the Directive into national laws. More specifically, the Directive says that local authorities need support in the form of technical information, useful tools, accessible financing and capacity building. Building renovation passports (BRPs), like the ones developed in Renocally, are excellent examples of useful information tools.

Besides the EPBD recast, the report looks at the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the REPowerEU plan. The EED, which was published in 2023, highlights the exemplary role of public authorities in saving energy from buildings, and sets out specific renovation targets applicable to public bodies. The REPowerEU on the other hand, highlights the importance of installing solar PV on roofs and heat pumps.

The webinar elaborated on those matters, and provided practical examples of BRPs in Romania and Bulgaria. Energy experts presented BRPs developed for an administrative court in the Gabrovo municipality of Bulgaria and a medical centre in the Lipănești municipality in Romania.

Presentations were followed by a lively and interactive Q&A discussion. The number of questions raised by the audience highlighted the need for clarification and guidance in relation to the EPBD text. The European Commission is preparing a technical guidance document for the Member States, however the Renocally policy report is a good starting point for those willing to be initiated on the topic.

The policy report is available for download in English, Bulgarian, Romanian and Slovakian here.

Insulating Buildings with By-Products of Rice Cultivation

Lessons and Inspiration from the SURF Renovation Lunch

At previous online events, EUKI project SURF had already explored the use of climate-friendly building materials such as clay, straw, hemp and paludiculture plants in order to offer inspiring examples of circular and sustainable construction and renovation.

At the latest SURF online Renovation Lunch, SURF had the opportunity to host Alessio Colombo, the co-founder of Ricehouse. With their projects the Italian benefit corporation managed to absorbe 266 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021 (the equivalent of more than 50,000 planted trees), 765 tonnes in 2022 and 1,200 tonnes in 2023. How is this possible?

As consultant and implementer, Ricehouse is working with municipalities and artists to retrofit public buildings with by-products of rice. They manufacture insulating materials, plaster and outdoor floor tiles made of rice husks or rice straw.

Insulating with rice by-products solves a double problem: GHG emissions in construction and agriculture

  1. Construction related emissions: In Europe, the construction industry is responsible for one third of all waste as well as for 36% of the emitted carbon dioxide additionally to the emissions due to the heating and cooling of buildings. That is why the production of building materials generates huge amounts of carbon dioxide: half of the CO2 emissions in the building sector is emitted before their construction. This can be reduced by using recycled and/or natural materials (wood, clay, straw, etc.) – Ricehouse has chosen to do the latter.
  2. Agricultural emissions: Currently, the agricultural by-products, rice straw and husk, are burned. Yet, the burning releases carbon dioxide and harmful substances.

Solution: If rice straw and husk are used as building material rather than being burned, they can sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide in our buildings.  

What makes rice by-products a sustainable material?

  • Their high silica content makes them extremely durable, resistant to mould and insects.
  • It is a good thermal and sound insulator and fireproof.
  • It is a local resource: Rice is grown on 230,000 hectares in Italy, 1.6 million tonnes a year, more than 90% of which is grown in northern Italy, where Ricehouse is located. The rice husk and straw are therefore sourced from local producers in the area between Turin and Milan. In this way, the carbon emissions caused by transportation are not significant.

The housing tower blocks in Milan – An example of insulation with rice by-products were

The Clever Cities project renovated four eight-storey social housing tower blocks in Milan, owned by the Lombardy region.

Before the renovation:

  • The façades were originally 12 cm thick; they neither provided protection against the cold in winter, nor against the heat in summer.
  • In the project they were insulated with fire-resistant panels of compressed rice straw, covered with ricehusk-based plaster.

After the renovation: the energy efficiency of the buildings has improved dramatically

  • Energy consumption decreased from from energy class G to class A4 (A++++) They were upgraded to nearly zero-energy (nZEB). The annual energy demand, originally close to 60,000 kWh/m2, has been reduced to less than a tenth, to around 5,000 kWh/m2/year.
  • The roofs have also been insulated and roof gardens have been created.
  • Solar panels were installed on parts of the roof. This works in combination with the roof garden, as evaporation from the garden cools the air temperature on hot days, which helps to prevent the solar panels from losing power due to the heat.  

The aim was to enable low-income residents to grow healthy, chemical-free fruits and vegetables for their own consumption at low cost. In the long term, however, they want to make the gardens profitable and provide jobs for the people living in the buildings. Rooftop gardens increase biodiversity and reduce the heat island effect, which is common in cities in summer. The implementation of the green roof was financed by the Clever Cities project, but also involved several local stakeholders: universities, public and municipal institutions as well as private companies. 

The project was made possible by Italy’s introduction of a so-called super bonus scheme in 2020 in response to the economic downturn caused by the COVID epidemic.

Participating municipalities seized the opportunity to ask questions, share their views and exchange about best practices following the presentation given in the informal Renovation Lunch. The lunch was attended by participants from eleven EU and non EU-States: the participants were from Romania, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia, Kosovo, Albania, Lithuania, Spain and Portugal. They asked about the compostability of rice-based building materials and suggested that EU member states should have a lower tax on bio-based insulation materials to increase their uptake. Our next renovation Lunch will be in June 2024. More information will be posted on the SURF-website.

Riga Circular Economy Centre Gets State-of-the-art Interior Solutions

The municipality of Riga is creating the first Circular Economy Centre in Latvia to address the issue of inefficient use of resources, where useful things are often disposed of and can be given a second life. Many residents have expressed their desire to repair or redesign their goods, but the urban environment limits such possibilities.

In preparation for the opening of the Circular Economy Centre, REA invited students of Latvian higher education institutions and students of vocational training schools to submit proposals for modern, ergonomic and functional interior design elements of the Centre. On the 3rd of May, Riga residents had the opportunity to become acquainted with the ideas and works created by young designers, while a jury of material design experts, architects and local government representatives evaluated them and chose the most suitable ones.

Riga Energy Agency (REA) Project Manager Ieva Kalniņa admitted after evaluating the submitted proposals:

“We want Riga City Circular Economy Centre to carry a message of circularity in its interior elements, wall finishing and other solutions. This means that the layout of the premises must be creatively and interestingly designed demonstrating circular economy solutions. We are pleased that the submitted works are both contemporary and workable. The ability of young people to respond and mobilise in a short time to create ideas shows that the circularity concept is topical and easy to understand.”

Ieva Kalniņa, Riga Energy Agency (REA) Project Manager

Based on the CURE+ project findings, as well as on the learnings gathered during the study visits to successful Urban Resource Centres in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain, REA has proposed to launch the Centre as a space for community activities and repair.

“We see an opportunity for the municipal companies to collaborate by creating a centre as a demonstration site for co-creation and sustainable urban solutions. Private sector entrepreneurs can also come with cooperation offers in the setting up and operation of the Circular Economy Centre.”

Ieva Kalniņa, Riga Energy Agency (REA) Project Manager

7 youth teams from Riga Technical University, Vidzeme University, Art Academy of Latvia, and Victoria Vocational Secondary School participated in the competition.

The joint proposal of the team formed by students of interior design of the Art Academy of Latvia and the sustainable construction of Vidzeme University was recognized as the best. They covered the entire scope of the Centre and specifically considered accessibility solutions.

Riga Circular Economy Centre is being established within the framework of the project “Centres for Urban Resources, Reuse and Remanufacture (CURE+)”. The Circular Economy Centre will be a multifunctional place where citizens will get acquainted with the principles of the circular economy, as well as repair and prolong the life of different goods in a woodwork workshop; it will also host events such as masterclasses, seminars and lectures.

Riga Energy Agency is implementing EUKI project CURE+ in cooperation with the Tartu City Government, Municipality of Kavala, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Elisava Barcelona School of Engineering and Design. The project aims to improve the management of construction and demolition waste generated by households through reuse and repair respecting the principles of the circular economy.

Photos: by Riga City Council.

A road trip to peatland strategies

The importance of peatlands in climate change mitigation efforts appears undeniable when we consider the substantial amount of carbon trapped in them. Their significance gave the basis of the ‘Peatlands as Key Habitats in Climate Mitigation Efforts’ workshop held between April 25-26 in Budapest and the Fertő-Hanság National Park, where stakeholders could discuss various aspects of peatlands relating to their field.

The event was organized by CEEweb for Biodiversity in the frame of the project “Building the European Peatlands Initiative: A Strong Alliance for Peatland Climate Protection in Europe” with the objective of sharing perspectives and information regarding the role of peatlands and soils in national-level climate mitigation efforts and in science-based emission reduction pathways.

The presentations as well as a more thorough insight to the workshop can be found here.

LANDCARE EUROPE is nominated for the Natura 2000 Award

Peatlands, grasslands, organic soils and agroforestry systems are natural carbon sinks. The way agricultural land is used influences its capacity for carbon storage. A great amount of these areas are located in Natura 2000 sites. Natura 2000 sites are special protected areas in which a good ecological condition must be achieved by the Member States to preserve biodiversity in Europe (EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030). Consequently land use in them is subject to specific regulations which makes farming challenging. With the aim of having 30% of Europe’s land and maritime area covered by the Natura 2000 network till 2030, these areas need special consideration for climate mitigation of agricultural landscapes.
Landcare Associations demonstrate how it is possible to combine the sustainable and agricultural development of these important eco systems. The nomination of LCA’s European umbrella organization “LANDCARE EUROPE e.V.” for the European Commission’s Natura 2000 Award is a special recognition of this cooperative approach. Apart from the nomination as Finalist in the category “cross border cooperation”, there is the possibility to win the Natura 2000 Citizens‘ Award which is decided by a public voting.

Two of the Natura 2000 sites from the award application will function as best-practice examples for the EUKI project “Landcare Europe Captures Carbon”. The Natura 2000 sight and mountain region “Munții Ciucului” in Romania is characterized by a outstandingly high biodiversity. Important elements of the agricultural landscape that foster biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions are extensively managed grasslands, small scale farming, a high density of landscape elements and wooden pastures as traditional agroforestry systems. The Natura 2000 sight “Nemuno delta” in Lithuania is a best practice example for agricultural activities in peatlands. While organic soils with high water levels store a large amount of carbon dioxide, farming on them is a huge challenge as it requires special equipment and limits the possibilities for crop cultivation.

These and other examples of climate friendly farming are highlighted and multiplied in the project Landcare Europe Captures Carbon – together with recommendations for political decision makers to improve the framework conditions for farmers in this field. In case Landcare Europe wins the Natura 2000 award, it will thus be a great opportunity to better promote the work of Landcare Associations on natural carbon sinks in agricultural landscapes. Vote now.