April 2020: Monthly Environmental News Roundup

1. To support the climate, one clothing maker’s solution

The textile industry, after fruit and vegetable production, is the second-largest source of waste water in the world. It generates about 20 percent of the world’s wastewater and annually floods oceans with half a million tons of microplastics. Microplastics pollute the water and they are consumed by fish and other marine creatures, mistaking the minute particles for food. Once we eat fish, we consume microplastics in turn. Around 8 to 10 percent of worldwide carbon emissions also come from the apparel industry. Unsold inventory and discarded materials, called “deadstock,” make up landfills, losing $500 billion annually to businesses. “The fashion industry is incredibly detrimental to the planet; it’s extractive and it’s exploitative,” says Aras Baskauskas, CEO of Christy Dawn, the women’s clothing company. In 2013 Baskauskas and his wife Christy Petersen formed a sustainable business.

2. Europe’s environmental footprints go beyond different acceptable limits

The environment report recognizes that there are various ways of allocating Europe’s operational room in the global context, which inevitably requires normative choices about justice, equality, sharing of international burdens, sovereignty and the right to growth. The research aims at a minimum European share of 2.7 percent, a maximum share of 21 percent, and a median share of 7.3 percent of global limits based on these different allocation concepts. Using a consumption-based model for four of the Earths life support systems, the study shows that Europe currently exceeds by a factor of 3.3 its healthy nitrogen cycle operating space; the phosphorous cycle shifts by factor 2.0, and the land system by factor 1.8. In comparison, when it comes to freshwater use, Europe does live within its limits, while problems with overconsumption and water shortages remain local and national. The report also features a case study on the footprint of Switzerland’s ecosystems.

3. Tbilisi Mayor Proposes Private Vehicles Banning Twice a Week

The ecological situation in Tbilisi and all of Georgia’s territories has greatly improved during the traffic restrictions imposed these last months. The air quality index in the capital has significantly declined dramatically. Compared with the levels of air pollution in the same span of 2019, the current data are entirely different. The Mayor of Tbilisi noted that these significant accomplishments must be preserved, so he suggested creating a new rule in terms of protecting the environment, and is asking for the opinions of the people. In this regard, too, a public survey will be conducted to find out whether our people support this initiative, he said.

4. UN has recommended that a safe environment be considered a human right

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a wildlife NGO called upon the UN to declare a safe, natural environment a “fundamental” human right. Patricia Zurita, chief executive of BirdLife International, said in an open letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the “unprecedented” COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the value of a healthy natural environment, as well as the need to restore it to be safe from future outbreaks. She said Dec. 2023, the date that will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration’s adoption by the General Assembly, will be a positive step towards adopting it. She went on to say, referring to the right to a safe environment, that there has never been a more critical time to “shrine a human right” that benefits all people. Earth Day is annually celebrated on April 22. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day which is being celebrated under the climate change theme.

5. Financial assistance should be given to airlines under strict climate conditions

For certain nations, aviation has all but ceased, and flights in most other nations are significantly down due to lockdowns and other acts of repression. Airlines applied to governments for bailouts, as fleets were grounded. But campaigners and experts are afraid the sector could bounce back with the help of public money and send emissions soaring after the COVID-19 outbreak has waned. The campaigners — including Greenpeace, Flight Free, the thinktanks of the IPPR and New Economics Foundation, and Tax Justice — in their letter to the chancellor calls on the government to take equity stakes in airlines instead of handing out cash or loans. Airlines UK, a trade group, said before the coronavirus crisis struck the industry was already taking measures to reduce its environmental effects.

6. EPA faces court protection for the controversial crop program of Monsanto

While farmers are planning to plant a new season of key American food crops, farmers and consumer advocates are asking the San Francisco Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to examine and reverse the approval by the EPA of a Monsanto herbicide made with a chemical named dicamba. The claims are made by the National Family Farm Alliance, representing tens of thousands of farmers across the U.S., and three non-profit organizations of consumers and the environment. The court hearing, which is to be conducted by phone because of the California courthouses’ coronavirus closure, comes only a month after the EPA inspector general’s office announced it would launch an investigation into the handling of dicamba herbicides by the department. Farmers reported damage to dicamba in organic as well as conventional crops, including non-GMO soybeans, wheat, grapes, melons, tomatoes, and tobacco.

7. Researchers notice bugs that feast on toxic plastics

The bacterium, discovered at a waste site where plastic was discarded, is the first one known to strike polyurethane. Millions of tons of plastic are manufactured annually for use in products such as sports shoes, nappies, kitchen sponges, and foam insulation, but it is often sent to landfills because recycling is too difficult. It can release toxic and carcinogenic chemicals when broken down that would destroy most bacteria but the newly discovered strain can survive. Although the research identified the vulnerability and some of its primary features, more work needs to be done until it can be used to handle large amounts of plastic waste. Since the 1950s, over 8bn tons of plastic have been produced and most have ended up polluting the world’s land and oceans, or in garbage dumps. Scientists warn that it risks “near-permanent environmental pollution.”

8. Human effect on wildlife to account for virus spread, studies indicate

A new study has found that deadly viruses such as COVID-19 spill over from animals to humans. In a paper that indicates the root cause of the current pandemic is likely to be increased human interaction with wildlife, Australian scientists have identified which animals were most likely to exchange pathogens with humans. Taking 142 viruses believed to have been transmitted over several years from animals to humans, they compared them to the red list of endangered species on the IUCN. Domesticated animals such as cattle, pigs, dogs, and goats shared with humans the largest number of viruses, with eight times more animal-borne viruses than wild mammals.

9. Air pollution correlated with much higher death rates for Covid-19, study finds

The research demonstrates that only a tiny one-unit rise in particle emission rates in the years before the pandemic is correlated with a rise in the death rate of 15 percent. The research done in the US, estimates that hundreds of lives might have been saved in the past by marginally cleaner air in Manhattan. The report, by researchers at Boston’s Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, analyzed air pollution and COVID-19 deaths in 3,000 U.S. counties up to April 4, representing 98 percent of the population. A small rise in particle emission exposure over 15-20 years has already been reported to raise the risk of death from all causes, but the new research indicates that this rise is 20 times greater for COVID-19 deaths.

10. Coronavirus lockdowns sent plummeting emissions 

Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Finnish-based Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said China was responding to the financial crisis of 2008 with the “biggest, dirtiest stimulus plan in human history.  Leaders of the European Union have said that the Green Deal recently announced must be at the heart of an ‘intelligent recovery.’ Despite pressure to ease its green ambitions as a result of the pandemic, the EU has started a consultation on tightening its carbon reduction targets by 2030. In the meantime, other U.S. and European industries are calling for easing of certain regulations. Recently the plastics industry, on its back foot over concerns of ocean contamination, has been trying to turn the tide on plastic bag bans.

11. Half UK’s true footprint of carbon generated abroad; study finds

The government is committed to cutting the UK’s carbon production to net zero by 2050, and over the past three decades emissions have been dropping. But this doesn’t take into consideration the “invisible” side of Britain’s carbon footprint, which comes from foreign travel and the carbon produced overseas to manufacture products used here. The carbon associated with producing the imported products occur in the importing country’s carbon accounts. Exporters should have an incentive to reduce their carbon footprint and the resulting pollution from using their products. Many changes in people’s habits could also bear fruit, for example, encouraging a transition to a healthy diet with more vegetables and less meat could alter food imports and the associated emissions, Barrett said. The UK will host the next UN climate talks, originally scheduled in Glasgow in November but postponed by the coronavirus crisis until next year.

12. Trump to scale back clean car laws in the Obama period in a major climate blow

The Trump administration is scaling back the biggest effort by the US government to combat the climate crisis, eliminating regulations that require car firms to make more fuel-efficient vehicles. The reforms to the regulations of the Obama period would allow vehicles to emit about a billion more tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide – equal to about a fifth of annual US emissions. Experts say the planet is far from the track in coping with the climate emergency, after a year of record-breaking heat, rising hunger, displacement, and life loss due to extreme temperatures and weather disasters. Miles Keogh, executive director of the Clean Air Agencies National Association, a state and local air regulator organization, found the timing of the rule change “appalling.” The Obama administration mandated car companies to increase the output of vehicles by 4.7 percent per year. Originally, the Trump administration decided to suspend all fuel efficiency improvements beyond 2020. The rule change comes when many communities around the US are experiencing a decrease in air quality as a result of climate change, wildfires, rising temperatures, regulatory rollbacks and weak implementation of regulations, said Paul Billings, senior vice president of the American Lung Association’s advocacy organization.

13. ‘Enormous environmental waste’ as US airlines fly empty aircraft

Widespread travel restrictions across the globe have cut demand for air travel, with more than eight cancelled in 10 flights. But there is a difference in the US – while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced a 96 percent slump in passenger volume to a point not seen since 1954, the number of flights being scrapped has not matched this. In March, after becoming the only passenger to check in on an American Airlines flight from Washington to Boston, Sheryl Pardo posted a video of her being upgraded to first-class and given a customized safety briefing. In the latest stimulus package, the US airline industry has earned $25billion in assistance to cope with the sharp decline in revenue. In return, airlines are expected to maintain a certain level of service which can lead to flights that are nearly empty.

14. New potential for renewable energy reached record rates in 2019

Nearly three-quarters of the new generating capacity installed in 2019 uses renewable energy, which marks an all-time high. According to Irena, the world has invested around $3tn in renewables over the past decade, but to address the climate emergency, annual investments must double by 2030. The global oil market is in chaos, struck by the collapse of demand as a result of lockdowns by COVID-19 and a brutal price war between Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the US. New solar power supplied 55 percent of the new energy, much of which was installed in Asia, leading the way in China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. The US, Australia, Spain, Germany, and Ukraine saw other large rises. Wind power accounted for 34 percent of the total, with nearly half in China and significant rises in the US. Global wind power remains just ahead of solar power, with onshore turbines responsible for 95 percent.

15. COP 26 Glasgow climate summit postponed to 2021

The UN climate talks scheduled to take place later this year in Glasgow have been postponed as governments across the world struggle to avoid coronavirus spread. A statement from the UN on Wednesday night announced that it would delay the meeting of more than 26,000 attendees until next year. It said it would determine new dates for the conference in due course. The COP 26 meeting was expected to take place at the SEC arena in Glasgow, a site that the Scottish Government plans to convert into a field hospital for treating victims of viruses. Some campaigners claim there may be another benefit to postpone as the US presidential elections are taking place this November, just before the start of COP 26. The Glasgow talks aim to galvanize stricter efforts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb rising temperatures.

16. Record-size breach opens above the Arctic in ozone layer

In the ozone layer above the Arctic, a special void has opened up, in what scientists say is the product of the extremely low air temperatures above the north pole. Although a hole over the Arctic is a rare occurrence, the much greater hole over the Antarctic in the ozone layer has been a major cause of concern for over four decades. Development of ozone-depleting chemicals has been significantly reduced under the Montreal Protocol of 1987, but some sources still appear to be operating – illegal emissions from eastern China were found in 2018. New sources of ozone-depleting chemicals were not a factor in the Arctic hole that was found, Peuch said.

17. Ukraine: Wildfires near Chernobyl dangerously close

According to activists, wildfires in Ukraine have spread to just over a mile from the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and a hazardous waste disposal site, as over 300 firefighters are trying to contain the blaze. Ukraine’s emergency service on Monday said the fire was “difficult” but called for calm, saying all rates of radiation were usual in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and urged people not to listen to “apocalyptic tweets”. A fire that approaches a nuclear or hazardous radiation facility is always a possibility, “told the agency Rashid Alimov, head of energy projects at Greenpeace Russia. Since 4 April, fires have been burning in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl, the 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) area around the former nuclear plant in which authorities have forbidden people from staying.

18. Edible insects in ‘breakthrough moment’ to be accepted by the EU

The insect industry expects the EU’s European Food Protection Authority to approve whole or ground mealworms, lesser mealworms, locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers as safe for human consumption within weeks. The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Finland have taken a permissive approach to a 1997 EU law allowing foods not consumed before that year to receive new food authorization. Those national regulators agreed that EU legislation did not apply to animals used for food. As a consequence, a host of insect-based items can be found in supermarkets in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Finland. Every year about 500 tons of insect-based food is produced for human consumption. A new EU law was aiming to offer some clarification in 2018. It stipulated that dishes based on insects would also need authorization for novel foods. A transition period was set to enable companies that already manufacture insect food to work until they obtained a decision on the health of the species they deal with and final approval from the EU institutions.

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