December 2018: Monthly Environmental News Roundup

1. GEP along with GDP needed says Padma Shri awardee

According to botanist turned activist and Padma Shri awardee Dr. Anil Prakash, along with GDP, we would need GEP (Gross Environmental Product) that indicates the health of our ecosystem based on the data collected on forests, water sources, quality of air, soil. He mentioned that mountains are our life lines and it is important for the people to realize the significance of the mountain states. Concerned over the reducing water resources, he said efforts were required to revive them. He also stressed on the importance of promoting organic farming.

2. New waste strategy – penalty for difficult to recycle packaging

Michael Gove, the environment secretary UK, launched a new waste strategy to tackle plastic pollution and food waste, which aims to introduce tax on single use plastic, ban plastic packaging, deposit return scheme for plastics, amongst others. The retailers, producers would have to pay for the cost of collection and recycling of their packaging and there could be a penalty for retailers for using hard to recycle packaging. The strategy expects to reduce the waste exports abroad. But critics feel that given the alarming climate warning, the strategy is very little and very slow.

3. Efforts to tackle climate change inadequate say experts

The UN talks in Poland ended with more details on the rulebook governing the Paris agreement. However it failed to address questions on increasing the targets for emission cuts. The latest numbers show carbon dioxide emissions still rising. Scientists say that with the current target, there could be more than 3C warming while even a 1.5C warming could cause sea level rise, floods, droughts and several devastating effects. Experts feel that given the scale and urgency of risk, the progress being made is definitely inadequate. It is in the 2020 conference that countries are expected to come up with major plans for drastic emission cuts.

4. UN climate change talks -progress made but some problems left out

The COP24 ended with clarity on some building blocks of how to put the Paris agreement into action. The countries thrashed out details of accounting and recording the greenhouse gas emissions. But discussions on financing the poor nations, scaling up the emission cuts were put off. Some of the other glitches included Brazil, a reliable supporter of these talks wanted carbon credits but the discussion was postponed and Turkey wanted it to be considered as developing nation. The experts feel that though progress has been made, the countries have to get more serious about the climate ambition.

5. Call for attention – Canada’s Chinook salmon endangered

A new report by Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, confirmed the prospects of the Chinook salmon to be dire, as out of the 16 populations studied, only one is stable and rest are mostly endangered or threatened. Increase in ocean temperatures leading to unfavorable ocean conditions for the fish, worsened by the surge in its predators- seals, sea lions are said to be reasons for decline of these salmons an important source of food for the endangered south resident killer whales, eagles, bears, seals, sea lions. This raises the alarm for immediate attention to protect these species. Similar calls were made last year, but no action has been taken so far.

6. Dinosaur footprints uncovered

Following coastal erosion along the cliffs, several dinosaur footprints at least 100 million years old have been uncovered near Hastings. Around 7 different species have been identified so far belonging to Cretaceous period. Besides clearly showing details about skin texture, scales, these markings also help in understanding details about which all dinosaurs were living at same place at same time. It is expected that this area where so many footprints were discovered to have had water source nearby. Many invertebrates and fossilized plants were also found besides the footprints.

7. New waste management plans – separate food waste collection

11years past the last waste management strategy, the UK government has come up with a new one which aims to reduce, reuse and recycle. Consistent labeling of packaging, separate collections for food waste, encouraging manufactures to make products that are repairable and long lasting, etc are considered under this. While some experts are frustrated that even after months of debate, key issues have not been handled under the strategy; some feel that the policy is on right lines and have welcomed the plans. Some are however afraid of the implementation, for instance they feel retailers may persuade government to exclude items like drink bottles from this.

8. Cement a massive carbon dioxide emitter

Due to its numerous advantages, concrete is most widely used construction material. However its key ingredient cement is a major Carbon dioxide(CO2) emitter and as per think tank Chatham House contributes to 8% of world’s emissions.  It is the process of making clinker, a key constituent of cement which emits most of the CO2 in the process. The newly established GCCA (Global Cement and Concrete Association) representing 35% world’s cement production is looking at sustainable development.  The cement sector is also looking at alternative green cements. Though there has been reduction in emissions, it is important to dramatically improve the construction methodologies to make them as close to zero emissions as possible.

9. Green house emissions cut percentages agreed – EU

After long discussions, the representatives of EU countries and European Parliament have settled to cut emissions from cars by 37.5% and vans by 31% with an interim target of 15% by 2025. This deal is a progress but is not very ambitious remarked the disappointed Brussels based green lobbying group Transport and Environment. German Automobile Association however said that the legislation sets high demands but offers very little to provide incentives or promote electric vehicles. EU countries are also among the 200, to have agreed to implementation of the 2015 Paris climate accord. The EU countries are also considering the level to which truck emission should be cut.

10. Green Packaging initiatives in China

New standards for promoting sustainable packaging have been issued by the Chinese government. In a meeting attended by senior postal officials, plan for postal industry transformation and construction of online service platform was discussed in addition to green packaging guidelines. Promoting green development by pushing for tax reduction, incentive scheme, reducing packaging materials, recycling of packaging materials were also discussed. E-commerce giant Alibaba has pledged to have green warehouses and recycle packaging materials while its rival JD.com uses reusable package boxes that customers can return to delivery man.

11. Wooden straws to replace plastic straws in Tokyo hotel

A hotel in Tokyo plans to trial wooden straws and ban the plastic straws in all its dining facilities. These disposable wooden straws are made by curling thinly sliced timber obtained from forest thinning operations. While plastic straws cost only around 1 yen, these wooden straws cost several dozen yen. However with more adoption, the cost is expected to reduce. To protect the marine environment, many other companies like Starbucks, Walt Disney are also coming up with ways to get rid of plastic straws. Some are going for paper straws as an alternative.

12. More demands placed on developing countries at COP24

In a meeting with the press during the COP24 (Conference of Parties) to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Xie Zhenhua, the representative from China remarked that the developed nations are not providing the financial support as promised but are making new demands on the developing countries. To tackle the climate problem, developed nations had promised transfer of advanced technologies to developing countries besides raising $100 billion every year. Developed countries urged the developing nations to be transparent and report their climate change confronting actions. He also said that the climate change initiatives would promote sustainable social and economic development.

13. Free public transportation in Luxembourg

The re-elected coalition government led by Xavier Bettel has vowed to prioritize environment and as a part of that the fares on trains, buses and trams are expected to be lifted in Luxembourg. This would make Luxembourg the first country in the world to have free public transportation. Earlier the government had brought in free transportation for all those aged below 20 and €2 for up to 2 hours travel for others. From 2020, all tickets are expected to be abolished. Besides this the new government is also considering introduction of 2 new public holidays and legalizing cannabis which has led to a lot of debate.

14. Hong Kong air pollutants and their causes

The main air pollutants in Hong Kong are PM2.5, PM10.0, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen. Wildfires, power plants, cars, etc cause PM2.5, PM10.0 to be released.  Burning fossil fuels and vehicle engines are the major sources of Sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen respectively. These pollutants penetrate the lungs causing cancer, asthma, and other defects. The shipping trade is found to be the major source of air pollution followed by energy generation followed by vehicle pollution, aviation and other combustion like construction machinery, paints, etc. Though the city’s air seems polluted, it is notable that there has been a lot of improvement between 2011 and 2017 and efforts to cut pollution have shown positive results.

15. Polluters in England now to pay under new proposals

The minister of Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove said as a proposed overhaul to England’s waste system, single use plastics would be cut down and the polluters would be made to pay for tackling the packaging problem.  For items harder to recycle, producers would have to take more responsibility while the household recycling would be simplified. These proposals would affect England only. Britain also plans to tackle food waste and food businesses and supermarkets would have to report the surplus so that the government could take measures to cut down waste.

16.  A low tech machine to solve plastic problem

A French actor Samuel Le Bihan along with a 35 year old self taught scientist has come up with Chrysalis, a low tech machine which when fed with plastic pellets breaks them down at 450° C to give diesel, gasoline and residual carbon useful in crayons. With additional financing the duo plan to create a larger prototype capable of producing fuel every 80 minutes from 50 Kg plastic. Opponents however worry about the harmful fumes from this process. Many companies have developed similar technologies to solve the plastic problem.

17. Arsenic contamination in Punjab ground waters

A study covering 30,567 wells across 199 Indian and 184 Pakistan villages found around 23% of the wells to have arsenic content levels higher than the safe limit of 10 microgram per litre specified by WHO. Above safe limits, arsenic enters the body, stops cells’ energy source -ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) production, leads to failure of multiple organs. Most of the households accessing the arsenic laden wells also have alternate access to clean water wells and they have been educated of the same. These arsenic laden wells have been marked and recorded in GPS compatible way to help future studies.

18. Setback to Tamil Nadu Government as NGT sets aside Government Order

In a setback to the Tamil Nadu Government’s order to permanently close Vedanta’s copper smelter plant over pollution allegations, an environment court set aside the order and directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to provide a fresh renewal order. It also directed the company to spend 1billion rupees towards welfare of that area’s inhabitants within three years. According to the panel, the authorities failed to comply with the procedures. But Tamil Nadu Environment minister said that the state will appeal to the Supreme Court against this.

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