The Weekly Roundup – Feb 22, 2019

World / Climate Change

1/ Forget about us only having 12 years to reverse climate change, a new paper says that we are already too late to stop 1.5 degrees celsius of warming. That is, if we’re hoping countries somehow live up to the commitments made under the Paris climate agreement. The paper in Nature Climate Change focuses on the Paris Agreement’s targets for “land use change.”  The European Union’s member states, for instance, rely on land use change for “up to 40 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” the authors pointed out. Finally, the authors argue, there’s the inescapable fact that since the Paris Agreement, deforestation has increased in many places that promised steep reductions. Deforestation “increased by 29 percent between 2015 and 2016 in Brazil and by 44 percent in Colombia.” Even worse: “The rates of primary forest loss in the Congo and Indonesia are now 1.5 and 3 times the rate in Brazil.” (Grist / Nature / CNN)

World / Plastics

2/ Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet. Once the birds have consumed plastic items, they are often too big to pass through their digestive systems meaning they sit in their stomachs, leaching out chemicals which can pass into developing eggs. (Independent)

World / Recycling

3/ America & Australia’s recycling crisis continues with recyclable materials stockpiling, burning and redirected to landfill. There isn’t much of a domestic market for US recyclables – materials such as steel or high-density plastics can be sold on but much of the rest holds little more value than rubbish – meaning that local authorities are hurling it into landfills or burning it in huge incinerators like the one in Chester, which already torches around 3,510 tons of trash, the weight equivalent of more than 17 blue whales, every day. (The GuardianABC / Huffington Post)

Australia / Environment 

4/ The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved the dumping of more than 1m tonnes of dredge spoil near the reef, using a loophole in federal laws that were supposed to protect the marine park. On 29 January the marine park authority granted conditional approval for North Queensland Bulk Ports to continue to dump maintenance dredge spoil within the park’s boundaries. The permit was issued just days before extensive flooding hit north and central Queensland, spilling large amounts of sediment into the marine environment. (The Guardian)

The Sea Dragon, with an all-woman crew of 14, launched from Hawaii in mid-June, traversing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The eXXpedition team is sending the samples they’ve collected from the ocean water and air for the past six weeks to laboratories all around the world to test whether toxic compounds are in fact adhering to the plastic. (The Guardian)

The good news…

Australia / Climate Change

5/Australia aims to plant a billion trees by 2050 as part of a new forestry plan the government says will help the country meet its Paris Agreement climate targets. It is expected to remove 18 million tons of greenhouse gases from the environment each year between now and 2030. Our note: Australia is currently not on track to meet the Paris targets and is the only developed country on the WWF hot spot list for deforestation. (Bloomberg / Green Matters)

South America / Animals

6/ A species of giant tortoise thought to be extinct for over a hundred years has been found on the Galapagos island of Fernandina, according to Ecuador’s government. An adult female individual of the appropriately named Chelonoidis phantasticus was found by an expedition led by the Galapagos Parks authority and the Galapagos Conservancy group, the environment minister Marcelo Mata said. (Independent)

Tanzania / Animals

7/ Tanzania has sentenced Yang Fenglan, a Chinese businesswoman nicknamed the “Ivory Queen”, to 15 years in jail for smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks.  Yang was accused of operating one of Africa’s biggest ivory-smuggling rings, responsible for smuggling $2.5m (£1.9m) worth of tusks from some 400 elephants. Two Tanzanian men were also found guilty of involvement in the ring. Ivory poaching is said to have caused a 20% decline in the population of African elephants in the last decade. The illicit trade is fuelled by demand from China and east Asia, where ivory is used to make jewellery and ornaments. (BBC)

America / Animals

8/ Seven rare right whale calves have been spotted so far this winter off Florida’s Atlantic coast, an encouraging sign for the critically endangered species but one which still isn’t enough. No newborns were spotted during the last calving season and just five calves were counted during the previous year. Scientists estimate only about 450 North Atlantic right whales remain. The whales need to deliver 16 to 18 calves a year just to maintain their current population. (The Guardian)

Other notables…

  • Even on a tiny island with no permanent settlement, humans have left a mark. The French Polynesian island of Reiono is an uninhabited dot of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, home to a unique tropical ecosystem. Because it’s so remote and untamed, it’s also a rare refuge for nesting seabirds. But when people arrived on Reiono, they brought rats with them. Humans introduced rats to places like Reiono, so it’s only fair that we clean up the mess. (ABC)
  • A small rodent that lived only on a single island off Australia is likely the world’s first mammal to become a casualty of climate change, scientists reported in June 2016. The government of Australia has now officially recognized the Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola) as extinct. (National Geographic)
  • Eighty per cent of the laws that protect the Welsh environment are tied to the EU and time is running out to replace them, nature groups have warned. Currently Wales abides by hundreds of regulations and standards which apply across the EU to protect nature and guard against pollution. (BBC)
  • Biodiversity in Kakadu National Park has been “decimated” by cane toads in recent years, with some species disappearing from sight altogether. Cane toads, a deadly pest first introduced to Australia to help eradicate sugar cane beetles in the 1930s, first reached Kakadu in the early 2000s. They have continued to be an invasive, predatory scourge on ecosystems and carry poison which can kill the native species which attempt to eat them. (ABC)
  • High-altitude kites or drones could be used to harness dependable wind power and could revolutionize approaches to renewable energy generation, scientists believe. A research team at the University of Madrid are using the giant aerofoil kites used in kitesurfing to experiment with on-board energy generation, in the form of small wind-turbines mounted to the aircraft. The power generated is then transmitted to the ground via a cable tether which also keeps the kite in place. (Independent)

  • Mount Everest has turned into a dumping ground as the growing numbers of climbers leave their trash behind on the mountain. “The growing population of people climbing means Everest is becoming a picnic spot for more of the ‘hobbyists’ rather than the previously genuine climbers.” The landscape of snow and ice is littered with tents, empty oxygen tanks, climbing equipment, food containers, and  human waste left by the nearly 5,000 mountaineers. (DW)
  • A Mexican environmental activist has been murdered before a referendum on a controversial thermal-electric plant and pipeline that he opposed. Samir Flores Soberanes, an indigenous Náhuatl, was killed in his home during the early hours of Wednesday. He was a human rights activist, producer for a community radio station and long-time opponent of the Proyecto Integral Morelos (the integral project for Morelos) – which includes the plant and pipeline. Mexican media reported that Flores had been shot twice in the head by unknown assailants. (The Guardian / BBC)

  • Pollution from Cannon air force base has gone unreported for decades. Now it’s threatening the US food supply. The toxins, collectively known as PFAS, have caused rampant pollution on military installations, something the Department of Defense (DoD) has known about for decades but routinely failed to disclose. Now New Mexico’s dairy industry is ground zero in an unprecedented crisis. The toxic plume is spreading slowly and inexorably across the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest aquifer in the nation, which spans 174,000 miles and parts of eight states. (The Guardian)
  • Trump’s pick to chair new climate panel once said CO2 has been maligned like “Jews under Hitler”. (Vox)

  • Icelandic authorities have announced plans to kill more than 2,000 whales over a five-year period. Despite a declining global market for whale meat and falling public support, the government opted to remain in defiance of the international ban on whaling. (Independent)

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