FtF News #143 – 9th March 2022
A promising global agreement on reining in plastic pollution, tipping points in the Amazon, and corporations aren’t doing enough on climate
Hello, and welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly rundown of the latest climate news.
Well, another week, and the climate news sphere is once again unsure whether to focus on the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, or to pull more doom and gloom from last week’s IPCC report (of which there’s plenty). As such, it’s a grim time, and even news that doesn’t touch on these two massive and dark stories is not particularly happy reading. Still, that is in some ways the nature of climate change – a lot of dark, with a few rays of sunshine here and there – the news of a global agreement on plastics is certainly something to be hopeful about.
A quick housekeeping note – I will be away next week, taking a much-needed break from the ups and downs of the climate crisis! FtF will be back in your inboxes on the 23rd March.
Once again, this week’s issue was ably assisted by Syuan Ruei Chang, who contributed a number of the articles and stories featured this week.
State of the world
Climate research and findings, weather events and studies
Wildfires once again strike, this time in South Korea, where a blaze has burned through around 6,000 hectares in the east of the country, forcing thousands to be evacuated. There was some concern as the fire spread close to both a nuclear power plant and an LNG processing plant, but officials said they hoped the fire would be fully contained soon.
New analysis based on satellite observations suggests that the Amazon could be closer to a long-predicted tipping point than previously thought. More than 75% of the untouched rainforest has lost stability since the early 2000s, which means it struggles to recover from droughts and wildfires. The loss is greatest near to farms, roads and urban areas, pointing the finger at forest destruction and global warming. The study was not able to predict when such a tipping point might be reached, but warns that if it is, the forest would flip to grassland over just a few decades, releasing vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Using land to draw down carbon and tackle climate change could majorly impact efforts to reduce world hunger. A study looked at how tree planting, growing crops for bioenergy and reducing non-CO2 emissions from agriculture could affect the price of major food commodities in the coming decades. All three were found to increase the price of food, with tree planting in particular having a significant impact. In the worst scenarios, tens of millions of people could be put at risk of increased hunger should these climate change mitigation strategies be deployed at scale without care.
Moving towards a greener and more equitable world
175 nations have agreed to a legally binding agreement to control and limit plastic pollution across its lifecycle, in an unexpectedly positive outcome to a UN Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi. Despite heavy influence from fossil fuel interests keen to minimise regulations on plastic (which many see as the future of the oil industry), the attendees settled on the more ambitious of two proposals to limit plastic, with the agreement set to cover the entirety of the plastic lifecycle from production through consumption to disposal. It will also incorporate a financing model to assist less wealthy nations fund the changes required. It is still early days, and many of the finer details and specifics will need to be worked out over the next two years.
Events that move the needle in the wrong direction
A Token Effort
The latest analysis of pandemic recovery spending has found that a mere 6% of the $14tn spent by the G20 nations was ‘green’. In addition, about 3% of the stimulus actively increased emissions, making this overall worse for the environment than the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, which saw about 16% of spending going to green measures.
Corporations are also still majorly dropping the ball on environmental measures. CDP has said that only 1% of companies submitted sufficient data to let investors assess how credible their net-zero plans were, with transport and apparel performing particularly badly. Companies are also still lagging Paris Agreement goals, with only about 20% of firms in line with a 1.5°C warming target. Meanwhile, five of the world’s largest agribusiness companies lobbied to weaken EU laws around imports linked to deforestation just a few days after pledging to improve their action on this very topic at COP26. Last but not least, Amazon has been reportedly fudging its emissions numbers, only counting full lifecycle emissions from Amazon-branded products – just 1% of its online sales. This allowed it to report emissions lower than Target, despite having over $100bn more in sales and nearly double the emissions per dollar of revenue.
Interesting deep-dives into climate-related topics
The war in Ukraine is a microcosm of the wider climate debate in some ways, with a tension between the past and the future, between pulling apart and cooperating for a better world. Naomi Klein recently argued that much of the world is nostalgic for an idealised past, an extractivist, colonial mindset that is being challenged by the rise of climate justice, racial justice and other similar movements that are pushing for accountability. It feels like a slightly reductive narrative, but I do agree with the idea that we need to push for a more radical future that definitively breaks with the old, fossil fuel-driven ways if we’re to make the changes we need to tackle the climate crisis.
Meanwhile, Rolling Stone challenged the role of economics in climate policy and reporting, arguing that too much emphasis has been put on economic models of climate impacts. Economics appeals as it seems to quantify the vast complexity of climate change, but the models which purport to show the impact of global warming are based on uncertain assumptions, and as such they can say whatever we want them to – something we’ve seen in economic arguments from fossil fuel lobbies and others. Ultimately, we know we need to act, and maybe that’s all we really need to motivate us to do more.
Some quick climate news nuggets to sate your appetite
Honduras has announced a ban on open-pit mining, and said it will move to cancel environmental permits for mining operations across the country.
The US is looking to tighten vehicle emissions limits in a bid to curb pollution from heavy vehicles like trucks and buses.
A trial has validated a new way to extract water from air using solar panels, without drawing power and increasing the efficiency of the panels to boot.
Humpback whales are to be removed from Australia’s threatened species list following a major recovery in their numbers.