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Single-use plastics: New EU rules to reduce marine litter

MD Staff

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With the amount of harmful plastic litter in oceans and seas growing ever greater, the European Commission is proposing new EU-wide rules to target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear.

Together these constitute 70% of all marine litter items. The new rules are proportionate and tailored to get the best results. This means different measures will be applied to different products. Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market.For products without straight-forward alternatives, the focus is on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption; design and labelling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers. Together, the new rules will put Europe ahead of the curve on an issue with global implications.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development said: “This Commission promised to be big on the big issues and leave the rest to Member States. Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food. Today’s proposals will reduce single use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favourite products.”

Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, added: “Plastic can be fantastic, but we need to use it more responsibly. Single use plastics are not a smart economic or environmental choice, and today’s proposals will help business and consumers to move towards sustainable alternatives. This is an opportunity for Europe to lead the way, creating products that the world will demand for decades to come, and extracting more economic value from our precious and limited resources. Our collection target for plastic bottles will also help to generate the necessary volumes for a thriving plastic recycling industry.”

Across the world, plastics make up 85% of marine litter. And plastics are even reaching people’s lungs and dinner tables, with micro-plastics in the air, water and food having an unknown impact on their health. Tackling the plastics problem is a must and it can bring new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and job creation.

Companies will be given a competitive edge: having one set of rules for the whole EU market will create a springboard for European companies to develop economies of scale and be more competitive in the booming global marketplace for sustainable products. By setting up re-use systems (such as deposit refund schemes), companies can ensure a stable supply of high quality material. In other cases, the incentive to look for more sustainable solutions can give companies the technological lead over global competitors.

Different measures for different products

After addressing plastic bags in 2015, 72% of Europeans said they have cut down on their use of plastic bags (Eurobarometer). The EU is now turning its attention to the 10 single-use plastic products and fishing gear that together account for 70% of the marine litter in Europe. The new rules will introduce:

Plastic ban in certain products: Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market. The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead. Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached;

Consumption reduction targets: Member States will have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups. They can do so by setting national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale, or ensuring that single-use plastic products cannot be provided free of charge;

Obligations for producers: Producers will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as awareness raising measures for food containers, packets and wrappers (such as for crisps and sweets), drinks containers and cups, tobacco products with filters (such as cigarette butts), wet wipes, balloons, and lightweight plastic bags. The industry will also be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for these products;

Collection targets: Member States will be obliged to collect 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025, for example through deposit refund schemes;

Labelling Requirements: Certain products will require a clear and standardised labelling which indicates how waste should be disposed, the negative environmental impact of the product, and the presence of plastics in the products. This will apply to sanitary towels, wet wipes and balloons;

Awareness-raising measures: Member States will be obliged to raise consumers’ awareness about the negative impact of littering of single-use plastics and fishing gear as well as about the available re-use systems and waste management options for all these products.

For fishing gear, which accounts for 27% of all beach litter, the Commission aims to complete the existing policy framework with producer responsibility schemes for fishing gear containing plastic. Producers of plastic fishing gear will be required to cover the costs of waste collection from port reception facilities and its transport and treatment. They will also cover the costs of awareness-raising measures. Details on the new rules for fishing gear are available here.

Next Steps

The Commission’s proposals will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. The Commission urges the other institutions to treat this as a priority file, and to deliver tangible results for Europeans before the elections in May 2019.

To mark the World Environment Day on 5 June, the Commission will also launch an EU-wide awareness-raising campaign to put the spotlight on consumer choice and highlight individual people’s role in combatting plastic pollution and marine litter.

Of course, tackling EU-produced marine litter is only one part of the world-wide picture. But by taking the lead, the European Union will be in a strong position to drive change at the global level – through the G7 and G20 and through the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Background

Today’s initiative delivers on the commitment made in the European Plastics Strategy to tackle wasteful and damaging plastic litter through legislative action, which was welcomed by the European Parliament and Council and by citizens and stakeholders. The measures proposed will contribute to Europe’s transition towards a Circular Economy, and to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the EU’s climate commitments and industrial policy objectives.

Today’s Directive builds on existing rules such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and Waste Directives, and complements other measures taken against marine pollution, such as under the Port Reception Facilities Directive, and proposed restrictions on microplastics and oxo-degradable plastics. It follows a similar approach to the successful 2015 Plastic Bags Directive, which was positively received and brought about a rapid shift in consumer behaviour.

The proposed Directive will bring both environmental and economic benefits. The new measures will for example:

  • avoid the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent;
  • avoid environmental damages which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion by 2030;
  • save consumers a projected €6.5 billion.

Along with the new EU waste rules and targets adopted this month, the new rules will provide the clarity, legal certainty and economies of scale that EU companies need to take the lead in new markets for innovative multi-use alternatives, new materials and better designed products.

In line with Better Regulation requirements, stakeholder consultations and an open public consultation and thorough impact assessments were carried out in preparation of today’s proposal. In the public consultation between December 2017 and February 2018, 95% of respondents agreed that action to tackle single use plastics is both necessary and urgent, and 79% believed that these measures should be taken at EU level in order to be effective. 70% of manufacturers and 80% of brands also replied that action is necessary and urgent.72 % have cut down on their use of plastic bags and 38 % of them over the last year.

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Proof of Human Impotence and Agency in Climate Change While Disasters Multiply

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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To be rational is to know that weather events cannot be causally related to climate change, although exacerbation is another issue.  Yet when the news is full of record setting fires in California and Greece and Australia, temperature records tumbling, and typhoons and hurricanes relentless in their intensity, one might be forgiven for wondering.

Those who are not climate scientists can only interpret research done by others for the general public and form opinions colored by their work.  That sum of work as it develops becomes more frightening by the day, with a strong fear the predictions will come true earlier than anticipated.

Now there is new climate research on the troposphere, a region extending from the surface of the earth to 16 km (10 miles) at the tropics and 13 km at the poles.  Researchers have studied the amplitudes of the annual cycle of tropospheric temperatures, the highs and the lows, and how these have changed over time.  Above all, they have examined human agency.

The news, as they say, is not good.  Their results the authors state, “provide powerful and novel evidence for a statistically significant human effect on earth’s climate.”  They call it ‘anthropogenic forcing’.

As a consequence we have “pronounced midlatitude increases in annual cycle amplitudes in both hemispheres.”  These are repeated in satellite data.  It means higher tropospheric temperatures in summer and lower in winter.

Not only is there “seasonality in some of the climate feedbacks triggered by external forcings” (read human fingerprint), say the authors, but worse “there are widespread signals of seasonal changes in the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species.”  In other words, we are screwing up wildlife, both plant and animal.

It is as if the air in the earth’s attic is warmer in summer and colder in winter.  And its air conditioner, the tropical rainforest is on the blink.  Greed for hardwoods and farmland has resulted in serious depletion.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels continue to soar, exceeding 412 ppm on May 14, 2018.  The last time the earth reached a 400 ppm threshold was several million years ago.  The human footprint here is proven through the negative delta13C levels caused by fossil fuel use because plants are lacking in the 13C isotope of carbon.  Combining the CO2 rise with increasing tropospheric temperature cycle amplitudes can only magnify the problem.  A new report in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences lays out a scenario for a self-reinforcing feedback loop, a ‘hothouse earth’ at which point no human action could prevent catastrophe.

A quick glance at recent weather disaster reports, several within a week, should satisfy skeptics of the exacerbation of extreme events:

The Mendocino Complex fire in California is the largest in the state’s history.  It is uncontrollable and expected to burn through August.

Record breaking rains in Western Japan have resulted in floods causing over 150 fatalities and mudslides knocking over and destroying homes.  “We’ve never experienced this kind of rain before,” said a weather official.

Floods in France have led to the evacuation of 1600 people.  The flooding comes after the area and much of Europe suffered extremely hot weather.  Thus in July, devastating wildfires in Greece killed 92 people.  And as warning in Southeastern Australia, the bushfire season has been brought forward two months from October due to excessively dry hot weather.

Extremely heavy rains in Toronto have flooded the city.  Two men trapped in a basement elevator were rescued through the heroic efforts of first responders, who swam to the elevator and used a crowbar to open the doors.  There was just a foot of breathable air when the men swam out.

The climate story is not new; from Svante Arrhenius, the Swedish scientist who foresaw global warming from the use of fossil fuel (and thought it to be fortunate for Northern Europe) to James E. Hansen the climate scientist who, in historic Senate testimony on June 23, 1988, gave clear warning of the greenhouse effect that was changing the earth’s climate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established later that year, although the Montreal Protocol a year earlier had set the stage.  The Fifth IPCC Assessment was published in 2014 and the next one is due in 2022.  Yet, what have we learned?

On July 19, 2018, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution, H.Con.Res.119, denouncing a carbon tax as detrimental to the U.S. economy.  As we march to climate self-destruction, the president wants to increase the use of coal and has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement.

So there we are …  the ostrich syndrome in full effect.

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To beat hunger and combat climate change, world must ‘scale-up’ soil health

MD Staff

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Healthy soils are essential to achieve ‘Zero Hunger’ – and other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – peace and prosperity, the United Nations agriculture agency chief underscored in Brazil at the World Congress of Soil Science.

On Sunday, more than 2,000 scientists gathered in Rio de Janeiro under the theme “Soil Science: Beyond food and fuel,” for a week of exploring the increasingly complex, diverse role of soils; grappling with resilient agriculture practices to address environmental and climatic changes; and confronting threats to food security and sovereignty.

“Soil degradation affects food production, causing hunger and malnutrition, amplifying food-price volatility, forcing land abandonment and involuntary migration-leading millions into poverty,” said José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organizaation (FAO), in a video message noting that approximately one-third of the Earth’s soil is degraded

The FAO The Status of the World’s Soil Resources report had identified 10 major threats to soil functions, including soil erosion, nutrient imbalance, acidification and contamination.

Mr. Graziano da Silva stressed the importance of sustainable soil management as an “essential part of the Zero Hunger equation” in a world where more than 815 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

Soils and climate change

“Although soils are hidden and frequently forgotten, we rely on them for our daily activities and for the future of the planet,” the FAO chief said, underscoring the important support role they play in mitigating or adapting to a changing climate.

Mr. Graziano da Silva specifically pointed to the potential of soils for carbon sequestration and storage – documented in FAO’s global soil organic carbon map.

“Maintaining and increasing soil carbon stock should become a priority,” asserted the UN agriculture chief.

He also noted how soils act as filters for contaminants, preventing their entry into the food chain and reaching water bodies such as rivers, lakes and oceans, flagging that this potential becomes limited when contamination exceeds the soils’ capacity to cope with pollution.

In his message, Mr. Graziano da Silva noted the Global Soil Partnership in which FAO works with governments and other partners to build technical capacity and exchange knowledge on sustainable soil management through the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management.

“Let us make soils a vehicle of prosperity and peace, and show the contribution of soils to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” concluded the FAO Director-General said.

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Caribbean Aims to Become World’s First Climate-Smart Zone

MD Staff

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A ground-breaking partnership to support the Caribbean’s ambition to become the world’s first ‘climate-smart zone’ launched today. 8 Times Olympic Gold Medal Winner Usain Bolt was in attendance to help fire the starting pistol for the Caribbean ClimateSmart Accelerator, which will be led by the Caribbean leaders to create the world’s first climatesmart zone.

The Accelerator has created an unprecedented coalition including 26 countries and over 40 private and public sector partners which will implement climate solutions for resilience, renewable energy, development of sustainable cities, oceans and transportation. This climate-smart zone will not only protect the region but create jobs and a new economy in climate-smart infrastructure.

The Caribbean Accelerator has a vision which builds from the strategies of regional governments and agencies, including CARICOM and OECS. Although it has only just launching, it has already started to lay the foundations for success with initial Caribbean Climate-Smart projects including:

IDB’s US$1billion commitment to climate-smart investments: The Inter-American Development Bank announced that it will partner with the Accelerator to program and implement the additional $1 billion in funds that it pledged for climate smart-investments across the Caribbean region at the Paris One Planet summit. This additional funding will build on an existing portfolio of over $200 million to support innovative solutions focusing on low carbon emissions, sustainable infrastructure and energy efficiency projects in the wake of natural disasters, drawing from low-cost blended finance and contingent credit facilities.

The IDB also announced that they will provide $3 million as start-up funds to the Accelerator to help get this important initiative successfully up and running, with the first $1.5 million available this year.

Grenada Climate Smart City: The Government of Grenada announced the start of the implementation of a $300m project to create the world’s first “climate-smart city” with initial support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help catalyse the project. Closely following a recent GCF investment into Grenada for a $48.7m climate-smart water project

Ocean Resiliency: An anonymous entrepreneur is investing $2m to support the Belize government’s ocean protection efforts, ocean advocacy across the Caribbean, and entrepreneurs deploying business solutions to benefit the ocean like Algas Organics, which is turning the sargassum nightmare into a business opportunity creating fertilizer to support a thriving agricultural sector in the Caribbean.

The World Bank Group: The World Bank announced a three-year commitment of $1 million annually in in-kind services for the Accelerator, and is supporting Caribbean countries with an almost US$2 billion portfolio focused on strengthening resilience and financial protection against disasters – including US$1 billion in concessional financing from the International Development Association (IDA).

Airbnb: In partnership with the Accelerator, Airbnb is helping to weave a community of hosts who are ready to respond and build a more resilient Caribbean. The company is doing this by allowing hosts to open their homes to disaster survivors and relief workers free of charge.  Hosts waive their fees and Airbnb waives theirs. To date, over 11,000 people in need have been housed through the Open Homes program and it’s now expanded to the Caribbean.

Zero Mass Water, a member of Breakthrough Energy Coalition, are solving the drinking water problems for the pediatric wards of 2 major hospitals in Jamaica, through the installation of 20 of their Source Hydropanls, which will make clean, filtered drinking water out of air for the next fifteen years.

Accelerator Speed Award: Usain Bolt announced an annual climate-smart “Speed Award”.

Identifying the best initiatives across countries, companies, communities and individuals.  The first winners will be announced in June 2019.

Sean Paul a Grammy award winning Jamaican Musician, was announced as an official Ambassador of the Accelerator, with a focus on Oceans.

The TIDES Foundation announced a generous grant of $200,000 to the Accelerator.

Caribbean institutions and agencies – including governments, CARICOM and the OECS – have already started to use the Accelerator’s unique platform of public and private stakeholders to make a difference.

Speaking at the launch, Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness said: “Being climate-smart means putting the people of the Caribbean at the centre of all we do – to protect them from the challenges of climate change. The Caribbean Accelerator will also encourage job creation, social inclusion and economic growth. These benefits will only come when Governments, the international community and the private sector work together to overcome barriers and generate the investment that will benefit us all. That is why I am excited by the potential of the Accelerator to join the Caribbean with global partners who share our vision to see investment grow in the years ahead.” Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank has played a key role in bringing together a multinational coalition of public and private partners to fast track public and private investments over the next five years.

Luis Alberto Moreno, the President of the Inter-American Development Bank, stated: “The IDB Group reaffirms its continued and historical commitment to the Caribbean and will work with leaders of the region to improve lives by creating climate-smart and vibrant economies, where people are safe, productive, and happy. We hope that through this Climate Smart Coalition, in addition to offering new affordable financing, we will use the IDB’s extensive regional experience and presence on the ground to work closely with the people of the region to design their Caribbean of the future, today.”

Speaking at the event today Sir Richard Branson said: “Our goal is ambitious and bold: we are creating the world’s first climate-smart zone. We have a vision of a Caribbean which is greener, stronger and more resilient than ever before – built on innovation, powered by clean, sustainable energy and accelerated by public and private investment.”

Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, said: “We are committed to a stronger, more resilient, and climate-smart Caribbean.  Working together, bringing in international partners and increasing private sector participation will be key to maximize financing for development and create opportunities for all.”

The coalition was first announced in Paris last December (https://www.caribbeanaccelerator.org/)  and since then it has grown from 11 to 26 Caribbean countries, with over 40 private sector partners to implement informative climate action across the Caribbean region.

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