The Weekly Roundup – Mar 15, 2019

March 17, 2019
World / Climate Change

1/ As more rain falls, Greenland is melting faster. Melting on the Greenland ice sheet is already happening at some of the fastest rates in centuries, and it’s only speeding up as the climate continues to warm. Rainfall is becoming increasingly common over parts of Greenland, one paper found, and it’s helping trigger sudden melting events that cause large amounts of ice to liquify and run off the edge of the ice sheet. Overall, the amount of melting associated with these events has doubled during the summer and more than tripled during the winter. (Scientific American)

UK & Europe / Oceans

2/ Shell wants to leave 64 concrete storage cells, which were part of offshore drilling rigs, on the seabed of the North Sea containing radioactive waste which campaigners fear will eventually leach into the surrounding water. Each is the size of seven Olympic swimming pools, and several still contain toxic oil and contaminated sediment. European authorities are considering Shell’s application for an exemption to legislation requiring companies to return the marine environment to its natural state after extraction operations. Earlier this year, Greenpeace’s investigative unit revealed that the German government had written to the UK about Shell’s application for exemption expressing concerns that the methodology used was biased in favour of leaving the installations in place. Germany also said that Shell had failed to properly account for long term risks to the environment and shipping traffic. (Independent)  

Australia / Oceans

3/ Australia is still considering allowing a Norwegian company, Equinor, to drill in the Great Australian Bight (a whale sanctuary and largely untouched marine area). Greenpeace has questioned the independence of the national offshore oil and gas regulator, amid revelations the authority will speak at a Parliamentary dinner in favour of oil exploration there. The draft plan sets out the company’s response to risks associated with the project, including the possibility of a major spill. A map, produced from an amalgamation of 100 oil spill simulations, shows the potential for spills to hit coastline and ocean anywhere from Western Australia, to the NSW coast, to Victoria and Tasmania (essentially covering the entire southern coastline of the country). “This place is Australia’s whale nursery, it’s populated by probably the highest concentration of dolphins in the world, and is home to more unique species than the Great Barrier Reef.” The project would create up to 1,500 jobs. (ABC / SBS / The Guardian / ABC 2)

USA / Environment

4/ The Trump administration is again asking Congress to all but eliminate funding for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, which protects natural areas and water resources, just days after the Interior Department’s leader called the program a priority. The proposal to slash its budget by 95 percent is part of Trump’s $4.75 trillion 2020 budget blueprint released Monday. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, established in 1964, uses offshore fossil-fuel revenue to acquire land and establish and protect parks, wildlife refuges, forests and important wildlife habitat. It also provides matching grants to states and local governments to fund recreation areas, recover endangered species and protect forest lands and other habitats. (Huffington Post)

World / Environment

5/ Sales of synthetic chemicals will double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment, according to a global study that highlights government failures to rein in the industry behind plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. The second Global Chemicals Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Monday, said the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, the study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that the industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great. The fastest growth was in construction materials, electronics, textiles and lead batteries. More and more additives are also being used to make plastics smoother or more durable. According to the UN, output will grow seven times faster than the global population between 1990 and 2030. (The Guardian)

World / Climate Change

6/ A new paper from the UN reveals that even if we pull the plug on all carbon emissions tomorrow, our hands are ultimately tied; the Arctic region is still going to warm by up to 5 degrees Celsius come the end of the century. Even under the terms of the Paris Agreement, the research shows that winter temperatures in the Arctic are set to rise by at least 3°C by 2050 and 5 to 9°C by 2080 compared to pre-industrial levels. Since 1979, research shows that the Arctic has lost roughly 40 percent of its sea ice, and the ice that still remains is thinner and more vulnerable than ever before. Some climate models even predict that the Arctic’s ice cap could disappear completely come summertime in the 2030s. Even if the Paris Agreement is met, Arctic permafrost is expected to shrink 45 percent more, releasing billions of metric tonnes of carbon and methane into the atmosphere. (UN Environment)

World / Environment

7/ The felling of forests, the over-exploitation of seas and soils, and the pollution of air and water are together driving the living world to the brink, according to a huge three-year, U.N.-backed landmark study to be published in May. The study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), expected to run to over 8,000 pages, is being compiled by more than 500 experts in 50 countries. It is the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth and will show how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature’s ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on earth. Around the world, land is being deforested, cleared and destroyed with catastrophic implications for wildlife and people. Industrial farming is to blame for much of the loss of nature. An obsession with economic growth as well as spiraling human populations is also driving this destruction, particularly in the Americas where GDP is expected to nearly double by 2050 and the population is expected to increase 20 percent to 1.2 billion over the same period. A new study showed that 1,237 species – a quarter of those assessed – are impacted by threats that cover more than 90% of their distributions. Most concerningly of all, we identified 395 species that are impacted by threats across 100% of their range.(Huffington Post / WEF / Mongabay)

The good news…

World / Climate Change

8/ More than an estimated 1.5 million students around the world turned out in protest of climate change inaction on 15 March. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, kids from 125 countries in over 300 cities & towns, on every continent, left school to protest and petition politicians to act on climate change. (The Guardian / 350 / ABC)

World / Climate Change

9/ Over 4,700 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and civil society representatives gathered in Nairobi for a UN Environment Assembly meeting. Attendance almost double the last event in December 2017 with prominent world leaders attending, and CEOs from major corporations. The Assembly’s status as the only UN body outside the General Assembly where all member states convene, and its power to bring together all sectors, means that the global environmental agenda is defined here. President Uhuru Kenyatta affirmed Kenya’s commitment to achieve a minimum of 10 per cent forest cover by 2022 as part of the country’s efforts to address the challenge of climate change. (KBC / All Africa)

Other notables…

  • Coal ash is one of Australia’s biggest waste problems and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the entire nation’s waste stream. Every year Australian coal-fired power stations produce 12 million tonnes of ash from burning coal. Per capita, that is 500 kilograms a year for every Australian. Most countries line ash dams with a impervious membrane to prevent water leaching into groundwater and nearby waterways, except in Australia. (ABC)
  • Scientists have discovered a new coral reef in the Adriatic Sea, near the town of Monopoli in Puglia. Not only is it the first coral reef known to be off the Italian coast (at least in modern time), it’s also a rather unusual one. This particular reef is around 35-50 metres (115-164 feet) below the surface and is unusually thick in some areas as well, the scientists say – up to 2 metres (6.5 feet) in certain places – and this all makes the newly identified reef a fascinating one for biologists. (Nature)
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