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Teaching youth to plant for the planet and change the world from the heart of Europe

MD Staff

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A project run from a remote and beautiful part of the German countryside is transforming young people into climate scouts with a powerful message to share.

The Sustainability Guides and Climate Scouts project is run from the International Meeting Centre, St. Marienthal in Ostritz in the Free State of Saxony near the border with Poland.

Established in 1992, the centre conducts around 60 Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) events for more than 2,500 families, youths, adults and experts each year.

The guides and scouts project started in 1998 and welcomes groups of students for intensive courses that combine study with practical outdoor activities, and make good use of its forest experience trail and nature protection station.

Over 1,100 youth have taken part so far including 680 learning-disabled and socially disadvantaged young people who traditionally have very little access to ESD. Its geographical location means it is perfectly placed to bring together students from Germany, Poland and Czech Republic. And a new model project is currently underway which opens the door to ESD for refugees as well.

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is the Plant for the Planet scheme where children have planted around 34 hectares of forest and undertaken more than 30 small-scale energy and water conservation initiatives.

Project Manager Georg Salditt said: “Our message is really twofold: we are teaching peace and the environment. We are well placed at the very heart of Europe to bring young people together who may not normally have met and to demonstrate to them that we are all human beings and we must respect each other and the planet.”

The work with refugees who come from Syria, Afghanistan and African countries and elsewhere also has a double aim.

“We want to make sure that if they make their lives here they know how important it is to protect the environment, but also if they are able to return home or to another country that they carry those messages back with them,” said Georg.

Not only is the centre itself a model of sustainability with its own environment management system: when children leave the course they take back with them ideas on how to transform their own schools. The centre ties all theory very tightly to practice. In some schools, environmental representatives have been appointed and students introduced permanent energy saving routines for heating and ventilation and for the reduction of paper use and waste.

As part of the project young people also learn about the effects of climate change on societies in the form of soil erosion, extreme weather phenomena , rural depopulation, economies and the environment especially with regard to forest damage. They are motivated by quick feedback on successes in energy and water conservation and updates on the amount of forest planted.

Crucially children also take part in communication workshops to learn how best to share and pass on what they have learned at open school days or town halls.

For Georg one of the most satisfying aspects of his work is watching the transformation take place before his eyes.

“It might sound silly but students do actually write to me one or two years after the course and say that these five days changed their lives not only as far as the environment is concerned but as a human experience. Some had never met anyone from another country at all. And they got to plant a tree!”

And there is a new project already underway.

“We are now working to introduce a project to protect bees and insects. Everyone loves honey and honeybees so we think it will be a success,” he said.

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UN Environment and Google announce ground-breaking partnership to protect our planet

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UN Environment and Google announced today a global partnership that promises to change the way we see our planet. Combining environmental science, big data and unprecedented accessibility, this joint effort aims to expand what the world knows about the impacts of human activity on global ecosystems.

When completed, the platform will leverage Google’s cloud computing and earth observation public catalogs and for the first time enable governments, NGO’s and the public to track specific environment-related development targets with a user-friendly Google front-end.

“We will only be able to solve the biggest environmental challenges of our time if we get the data right,” Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said. “UN Environment is excited to be partnering with Google, to make sure we have the most sophisticated online tools to track progress, identify priority areas for our action, and bring us one step closer to a sustainable world.”

Too often, when a country seeks to implement real-time environmental action, they find their efforts halted by gaps in critical data needed to direct those actions safely and effectively. Through this partnership, and Google Earth Engine’s analysis and visualization tools, the world can finally begin to fill those gaps, enabling decision makers to better invest in environmental services.

“This partnership announcement builds on a common shared vision between our organizations,” said Rebecca Moore, Director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Earth Outreach. “We are excited to enable all countries with equal access to the latest technology and information in support of global climate action and sustainable development.”

Long term, the partnership hopes to establish a platform for open-source data and analysis of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As an entry point to development, the partnership launches today with an initial focus on fresh-water ecosystems including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.

These areas account for 0.01% of the world’s water but provide habitat for almost 10% of the world’s known species and evidence suggests a rapid loss freshwater biodiversity.

Google will periodically produce geospatial maps and data on water-related ecosystems by employing massive parallel cloud computing technology. Satellite imagery and statistics will be generated to assess the extent of change occurring to waterbodies, and made freely accessible to ensure nations have the opportunity to track changes, prevent and reverse ecosystem loss.

Other areas of collaboration include advocacy and capacity building activities as well as the development of partnerships with organizations like the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The partnership was launched during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in at UN Headquarters in New York, where world leaders are gathering to review of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a set of clear, measurable goals for global development – as well as best practices and progress towards implementation.

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China’s trash ban lifts lid on global recycling woes but also offers opportunity

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China’s decision to ban imports of foreign waste, including some plastics, has reverberated around the world, with recycling operations in other countries struggling to deal with the new reality. But is this an opportunity wrapped in a crisis?

Some experts argue that developed nations will, at last, have to face up to the true cost of their plastic addiction instead of shipping the problem to China, which has taken nearly half the world’s waste since 1992.

This could spur much-needed investment in domestic recycling facilities as well as innovation in plastic manufacturing to make products more suited to repurposing. It could also invigorate the vociferous public campaign to change our throwaway culture.

Last year, China decided to ban imports of 24 categories of solid waste, including certain types of plastics, paper and textiles, citing environmental and health concerns. Essentially, it is seeking to upgrade its economy and deal more effectively with its own growing mounds of trash. The material it was importing added 10-13 per cent to its overall waste levels.

Another problem was the poor quality of waste imports, which made them more difficult to recycle and consequently hit profits for the Chinese companies involved.

The ban came into force in January and the effects are now being tallied.

In a new study, published in June in Science Advances, scientists from the University of Georgia (UGA) found that 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced by China’s new policy by 2030. All that rubbish will have to go somewhere else.

The ban is already beginning to bite. The Washington Post says states such as Massachusetts and Oregon are lifting restrictions on pouring recyclable material into landfills.

AFP has reported that significant stockpiles of recyclables are piling up in the US, with some municipalities saying they will no longer collect certain materials or send them to landfills, while some recycling facilities are storing the extra waste outside or in parking lots.

“Our team has been and will be closely monitoring reports and impacts from the ban and have certainly heard that waste is accumulating within the borders of countries that have long depended on China or other countries to import their plastic waste,” said Amy Brooks, a doctoral student at UGA’s College of Engineering and lead author of the plastic waste study.

The ban has also exposed systemic weaknesses in recycling processes in the United States. The National Recycling Coalition (NRC) said in May that the ban exposed the problems caused by dirty recyclables. The introduction of single-stream recycling in the United States, which mixes paper, metal, glass and plastics — means recyclables are less pure and less valuable.

“The good news and bad news is that customer enthusiasm for recycling is strong. The public wants to recycle, but they express that enthusiasm by recycling materials that are not eligible.  A combination of ‘wishful recycling’ and insufficient enforcement of quality is proving very damaging to the industry – abysmal and volatile markets, a dirty product that is not a reliable ‘commodity’, closed plants, and programs that are hurting economically,” Marjorie Griek, the NRC’s executive director, said in a statement.

“We cannot continue to act and behave as if business as usual will offer a solution to today’s issues. We must fundamentally shift how we speak to the public, how we collect and process our recyclables, and what our end markets accept and utilize to truly recycle,” Griek said.

Such changes will, of course, take time. As will new investment in recycling facilities to fill the gap left by China, which imported around 7 million tonnes of waste in 2016. This is even more concerning when one realises that, to date, only 9 per cent of waste has been recycled globally, with most of it ending up in landfills or in the environment, including in our seas.

Some developed countries reacted to the ban by sending their waste to other Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia, and some Chinese recyclers have opened factories in nearby countries to cash in on this new business.

However, experts point out that some of these countries do not have the capacity to deal with the waste influx and are already considering imposing restrictions of their own. Another concern is that Asia is already home to five of the world’s top marine plastic polluters and sending more trash to countries that are ill-equipped to deal with it will simply exacerbate that problem.

Since the Chinese ban, Britain’s waste exports to Malaysia have tripled, the Financial Times has reported, with the domestic recycling industry seen to be languishing and underfunded.

Peter Skelton of the sustainability organisation WRAP, believes the government, waste management firms and local authorities can rise to the challenge.

“We’ve been reliant on export markets for a lot of our recycling and that’s got to change. In some ways, it’s a forced decision,” Skelton said. “There’s been a great response from the waste and recycling organisations … because they see the landscape has shifted,” he said.

Governments also have a role to play by investing in recycling and waste management, he added. The British government is due to publish a Waste and Resources strategy later this year.

UGA’s Brooks agrees that governments must step up by educating people about recycling and encouraging innovation.

China’s ban has also shone a spotlight on the parlous state of international regulation about plastic waste.

The UGA study argues that the International Basel Convention, which governs the export of hazardous and other waste, could be applied to plastic waste if the latter was characterized as “waste requiring special consideration”. It could then be regulated while knowledge could be shared and standards harmonised.

One potentially positive side-effect of China’s ban has been to focus attention on the need for a more sustainable circular economy, where resources like plastics will be kept in use for as long as possible. However, with oil prices relatively low, virgin plastic is cheaper than recycled plastic — a financial obstacle that must be surmounted.

“This is definitely a complex situation financially and socially,” Brooks said. “I prefer to remain optimistic that our relationship with plastic can be improved, despite some of the financial barriers. Every person plays a role in our global use of plastic and the circular economy can be embedded in that relationship so that waste is more valuable and less likely to end up in the environment.”

European authorities appear to have recognised the value inherent in plastics. The European Commission’s Plastics Strategy, which was unveiled in January, says its drive to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030 could create 200,000 jobs but only if recycling capacity is multiplied fourfold.

For Brooks, and her co-author Jenna Jambek, an associate professor at UGA’s College of Engineering, China’s ban should serve as a wake-up call and an opportunity to improve domestic management of plastic waste and invest in technology and new initiatives.

“The bottom line is that our solutions going forward need to incorporate all stakeholders, citizens, governments and industry, both locally and internationally,” said Brooks.

UN Environment

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Climate Change Could Depress Living Standards in India

MD Staff

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Rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns from climate change could cost India 2.8 percent of GDP and depress the living standards of nearly half the country’s population by 2050, a World Bank report says.

According to South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards, almost half of South Asia’s population, including India, now lives in the vulnerable areas and will suffer from declining living standards that could be attributed to falling agricultural yields, lower labor productivity or related health impacts. Some of these areas are already less developed, suffer from poor connectivity and are water stressed.

India’s average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1.00°C to 2°C by 2050 even if preventive measures are taken along the lines of those recommended by the Paris climate change agreement of 2015. If no measures are taken average temperatures in India are predicted to increase by 1.5°C to 3°C.

The work scientifically identifies vulnerable states and districts as “hotspots” using spatial granular climate and household data analysis. The report defines hotspot as a location where changes in average temperature and precipitation will have a negative effect on living standards. These hotspots are not only necessarily higher temperature zones than the surrounding areas, but also reflect the local population’s socio-economic capacity to cope with the climatic changes.

In India today, approximately 600 million people live in locations that could either become moderate or severe hotspots by 2050 under a business-as-usual scenario, the report says. States in the central, northern and north-western parts of India emerge as most vulnerable to changes in average temperature and precipitation.

According to the report’s analysis, by 2050 Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are predicted to be the top two climate hotspot states and are likely to experience a decline of more than 9 percent in their living standards, followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Seven out of the top 10 most-affected hotspot districts will belong to the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

“These weather changes will result in lower per capita consumption levels that could further increase poverty and inequality in one of the poorest regions of the world, South Asia,” says report author Muthukumara Mani, a Lead Economist in the South Asia Region of the World Bank. “Identifying hotspots will help policymakers in finding specific locations and household types where the resources are needed the most to address the rising risk to living standards.”

The report provides options to prioritize investments and strategies to build local resilience to climate change. To offset the negative economic impact in India, for example, the analysis suggests enhancing educational attainment, reducing water stress, and improving job opportunities in the nonagricultural sectors. The analysis predicts that a 30 percent improvement on these measures could halt the decline in living standards by almost 1 percent from -2.8 percent to -1.9 percent.

Muthukumara Mani adds:Development is indeed the best adaptation strategy, since it is associated with improved infrastructure, market-oriented reforms, enhanced human capabilities, and a stronger institutional capacity to respond to the increasing threat of climate change and natural disasters.

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