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Green Planet

Travel and tourism industry takes aim at plastic pollution but more action needed

MD Staff

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With some of the world’s most beautiful beaches paying a heavy price for our plastic addiction, the travel and tourism industry is taking action to reduce its plastic footprint and encourage its customers to do the same.

One of Britain’s biggest tour operators, Thomas Cook, said in November 2018 that it would remove around 70 million single-use plastic items—enough to fill 3,500 suitcases—from domestic operations, planes and branded hotels during the next year.

A pilot scheme in its #noplaceforplastic campaign will run this summer on the Greek island of Rhodes where the company will try out sustainable alternatives and work with the local community and government to improve recycling infrastructure.

Thomas Cook will trial plastic-free toiletries in some of its brand hotels and promote water fountains and other fresh water sources. The company will also work with sustainable designers Wyatt and Jack to turn broken and discarded inflatables, like lilos and armbands, into bags and holiday accessories. On its airline, it will remove plastic wrappers on headsets and reduce the size of its duty-free plastic bags.

“This is very important because many of the tourist destinations that we travel to do not have appropriate systems for recycling,” says Xavier Font, professor of sustainability marketing at the University of Surrey. “Their action is important to create awareness amongst destination stakeholders and, more importantly, to empower them to look for solutions.”

While tourism contributes 10 per cent of global gross domestic product and accounts for one in 10 jobs worldwide, UN Environment’s research has shown that the industry’s use of key resources, like energy and water, is growing commensurately with its generation of solid waste, including marine plastic pollution, sewage, loss of biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions.

The World Wildlife Fund reported in June 2018 that more than 200 million tourists visiting the Mediterranean every summer cause an almost 40 per cent spike in plastic entering the sea. With 80 per cent of all tourism taking place in coastal areas, this destructive pattern is repeated elsewhere.

Last April, the Philippines temporarily closed the island of Boracay to clean up dumped sewage and upgrade its drainage systems. Thailand has closed Maya Bay, made famous by the 2000 film The Beach, to allow it to recover from pollution and other damage caused by tourists. And in 2017, Indonesia declared a “garbage emergency” in parts of Bali.

As part of its Clean Seas campaign, UN Environment is working with governments, businesses and citizens to reduce the use of disposable plastics. Among those who have signed up are dozens of hotels from Thailand’s Phuket Hotels Association and the airline Hi Fly.

Increasingly aware of public dismay over the toxic tide of plastic, the industry is cracking down on single-use plastics. Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin Australia and United Airlines are among carriers pledging to phase out single-use plastics like straws and stirrers. Ryanair has pledged to eliminate all non-recyclable plastics by 2023, switching instead to wooden cutlery and biodegradable coffee cups, for example.

Hotel group Iberostar has made its staff uniforms out of recycled plastic and is eliminating single-use plastics from its rooms, while the Walt Disney Company is set to ban single-use plastic straws and stirrers from nearly all its theme parks and resorts from mid-2019. Polystyrene cups will be eliminated at its parks.

Hotel giant Hilton pledged to get rid of plastic straws in all its 650 locations and eliminate plastic bottles from its conferences. Marriott International is eliminating plastic straws and replacing small bottles of toiletries with dispensers in its North American hotels.

MSC Cruises aims to phase-out single-use plastics by March next year, while Norwegian cruise operator Hurtigruten says it has removed all unnecessary single-use plastic items. Lindblad Expeditions, an adventure cruise company, has said it is now free of single-use plastics with all such items banned from its 13 ships.

Royal Caribbean has said its 50 ships would stop using plastic straws by the end of last year. P&O Cruises and Cunard are also planning to abolish plastic straws, water bottles and stirrers by 2022, while Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has launched an anti-plastics initiative, including a ban on straws.

However, while eliminating plastic products is positive, the industry must do more, Font says.

“If a hotel group, for example, removes plastic straws, this is great to create staff and customer consciousness around this topic. But this cannot be the only thing that the company does. Otherwise, it becomes tokenistic, and any campaign that focuses on that is another form of greenwashing,” he says.

In its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report in 2017, the World Economic Forum noted that degradation of the natural environment was having a serious effect on the tourism sector: as natural capital depletes—because of overfishing, deforestation or water and air pollution—so tourism revenues decline.

“Given the close relationship between natural resources and a very large segment of the tourism industry, then, a lack of progress on fostering sustainability, both from a general and sectoral point of view, will reduce tourism development opportunities,” it said.

Some tour operators are going the extra green mile, offering holidays designed to help tourists ditch their plastic habits. For example, Responsible Tourism offers a “no single-use plastics” section on its website while Undiscovered Mountains offers a plastic-free trip in the French Alps which includes a night in a refuge with guests asked to carry the rubbish away with them.

Innovative solutions to environmental challenges will be at the heart of the fourth UN Environment Assembly in March. The meeting’s motto is to think beyond prevailing patterns and live within sustainable limits.

Authorities in some popular tourist destinations are doing just that. Fort Myers Beach, in Florida, has banned the sale or use of plastic straws throughout the island in a bid to protect turtles nesting on the beaches. In Italy, the archipelago of Isole Tremiti has banned all plastic plates, cups and utensils, with fines for those who do not comply.

While such initiatives may offer inspiration to others in the industry, Font says the scale of the plastic pollution problem demands a collaborative approach.

“What we need is for industry associations to get behind these individual actions [by tour operators, etc.] and introduce industry-wide standards as a requirement to be a member of the association. We need whole destinations to act on this. We are not there yet.”

The UN World Tourism Organization is developing a way to measure the sustainability of tourism to create an international standard for tourism statistics. The standard will eventually be able to connect tourism indicators to the Sustainable Development Goals, expanding existing measurements beyond primarily economic indicators.

Beyond industry initiatives, individuals can also play a role. The World Travel and Tourism Council has urged travellers to minimize their plastic footprint by doing four simple things: bring your own water bottle and purification system, carry a collapsible tote bag, refuse small bottles of toiletries in hotels and find out where you can recycle your plastic waste.

Simple steps, but if taken by every one of the estimated 1.3 billion international tourists, they could make a world of difference.

UN Environment

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Green Planet

UN Environment, Google, EC partnership effective to depoliticize water crisis in South Asia

Bilal Ahmad Pandow

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This year the theme for World Water Day 2019 is ‘Leaving no one behind’ and goes hand in hand with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-six which is ‘water for all by 2030’. However, the ground reality in South Asia appears gloomy and too far to achieve the SDG-6 as the countries are still politicizing water crisis.

The women and children walk miles each day in search for water in Pakistan’s financial capital, Karachi. While, in India, according to a 2018 WaterAid report, about 163 million people in India lack access to clean water close to their home and 70 percent of the country’s water is contaminated. The situation in Bangladesh is no better, the demand for water in the Dhaka is 2.2 billion liters a day, while the production is 1.9 billion liters a day.

Besides, in Bhutan and Nepal, South Asia’s per capita water availability is already below the world average. The region could face widespread water scarcity— less than 1,000 cubic meters available per person.

Warning bells too have been sounded by Down To Earth, the magazine that Centre for Science and Environment, Bengaluru will see Cape Town-like water crisis in the not too distant future. As the number of waterbodies in Bengaluru has reduced by 79% due to unplanned urbanization and encroachment – while built-up are has increased from 8% in 1973 to 77% now.

Despite common concerns over the inevitable threat of water scarcity South Asian countries have found it difficult to collectively curate effective agreements over efficient water resource management within international river basins. The absence of guiding frameworks plagues hydro-diplomatic relationships of these countries. It is also being said that water will be one of the critical drivers of peace and stability in South Asia in the second decade of the 21st century.

Though there are some joint mechanisms like India-Pakistan Indus Waters Treaty of 1960.Both have repeatedly accused each other of violating the 1960s Indus Waters Treaty that ensures shared management of the six rivers crossing between the two neighbors, which have fought three major wars in the past 71 years.

Yet fast-growing populations and increasing demand for hydropower and irrigation in each country means the Indus is coming under intense pressure. Also, the NASA in one of its reports mentions that the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan is the second-most overstressed basin. Another one is between India-Bangladesh Ganges Water Sharing Treaty of 1996, long-standing and seemingly intractable regional disputes have put a strain on these agreements.

The EastWest Institute, researchers have suggested steps should be taken towards enabling effective hydro-political regimes to take root in South Asia and involved countries should endorse the United Nations Watercourses Convention (UNWC). This will ensure, sharing of transboundary hydrological data and water bodies would be managed through the Integrated River Basin Management process.

Besides, Hydro-diplomats have a role to play along with the multilateral institutions like the World Bank. Local and international NGOs also have a key role to play by bring all stakeholders of these countries together for cooperation on the Indus basin.

The recent partnership between the UN Environment, Google, and the European Commission, which aims to ‘leave no one behind’ on World Water Day, have launched a groundbreaking data platform that would track the world’s water bodies—and countries’ progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And this partnership could be of vital importance for South Asian countries to depoliticize the water crisis.

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Green Planet

I love the the Green New Deal but …

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Ever since out first ancestor lit a fire, humans have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.  Add to that the first herder because ruminants are another large emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG). 

Some people want to declare a national emergency and ban fossil fuels within ten years.  How?   I am for it and all ready to go.  But please tell me how.  Think of the quarter billion vehicles in the U.S. and the infrastructure supporting them; the myriad gas stations and repair shops and the people employed in them; the thousands of miles of domestic gas pipelines to homes using gas stoves and gas heating.  Think of the restructuring, the replacement, the energy required, the megatons of metal and other materials used and their production which all require one thing — energy.  And what about air travel and the shipping industry? 

What of the millions of jobs lost?  Think of the jobholders and their families.  Most of these workers cannot switch skills overnight.  These are not just the million and a half employed in the industry directly, but include gas company employees, your gas furnace repair and maintenance man, the people building furnaces, gas stoves, the auto repair infrastructure — electric motors of course are darned reliable and need attention only to brakes, tire rotation and battery coolant checks for the most part — and so on.   

When you offer this laundry list, the response is likely to be, “Well I didn’t mean that.”  In effect, it defines the problem with the Green New Deal:  It is remarkably short on the ‘whats’ and especially the ‘hows’.  Funny though I first searched for the Green New Deal at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (whose courage I admire greatly) official web page and surprisingly found … well nothing.  Why not something practical like mandating solar collectors on new homes constructed?

So you want to suck the CO2 out of the air; you can.  It takes 300MW to 500MW of electrical energy per million tons annually.  To put it in perspective, we need to remove at least 20 billion tons (20,000 times more) each year to remove the minimum of a trillion tons expected to be emitted by the end of the century.  The 10 million megawatt electrical base  required for this is ten times the current total US electrical power grid of 1.2 million megawatts

You want to bring carbon emissions down to zero.  I am all for it even though our ancestor — the one who lit the coal fire — could not.  Just tell me how.  If you want to talk about carbon neutrality … now there’s an idea.  But “switching immediately away from fossil fuels” as I read from one advocate recently … I wish it was possible. 

The rest of the goals are equally laudable — in fact I have advocated many including the necessity for well-paying jobs, infrastructure spending, eating less meat, and even net-zero emissions.  The big question is ‘how’ against entrenched interests. 

In the meantime, would someone please electrify my local suburban train. The 1950s diesel-electric locomotives spew black smoke and the carriages were designed in the same era.  Worse still, the service is chronically late.  Electrification of rail lines and improving public transport in the U.S. should be job one.  But every activity — and change particularly — uses energy.

Author’s note:  This piece first appeared on counterpunch.org

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Green Planet

Seven ways to fix a warming planet

MD Staff

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Many people across the world, including schoolchildren, are demanding bolder action on climate change by governments, businesses and investors. There are tremendous opportunities here to “think beyond, solve different,” transform our economies, and change the way we live.

Climate change actions are key to sustainability, and part and parcel of globally agreed efforts in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Agriculture and food

According to UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2018, food systems from production to consumption have the potential to mitigate up to 6.7 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, which is second only to the energy sector. We need a global food transformation in the next 12 years in which food waste is halved and diets and health are improved through decreased animal protein intake. We also need to incentivize climate-smart and sustainable agriculture and end the current unjust food situation in which over 820 million people are undernourished.

Buildings and cities

Responsible for some 70 per cent of energy use, buildings and construction account for 39 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Vast amounts of urban infrastructure are to be built in the coming 15 years as rural-urban migration accelerates. There are huge opportunities here to retrofit existing buildings, improve building standards, and rethink urban planning such as by providing incentives for mini-grid solutions. We also need to tackle human-induced methane, nitrous oxide and CF11 emissions, and find smarter solutions for cooling, heating and waste management.

Education

Educate girls: educated women have fewer and healthier children. Improve global access to, and education on, family planning. We need to focus on economic, social and political inclusion to leave no one behind. Education, skills, and awareness-building are essential ingredients for meaningful inclusion.

Energy

Invest in renewables and stop commissioning new coal-fired power plants. We need to redirect fossil fuel subsidies to incentivize large-scale investment and job creation in renewable energy. At the same time, we need energy efficiency standards for electric equipment (lighting, appliances, electric engines, transformers) and a transition towards efficiency-labelled electric equipment.

Energy finance

Help poor countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. According to UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2018, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries could significantly cut emissions by 2020 if industrialized nations made good on their pledge to mobilize US$100 billion a year of climate funding. While energy investment is flowing increasingly towards clean energy, it is not flowing at the rate necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals.

Forests and land use

Protect and restore tropical forests. Plant a trillion trees to boost carbon capture, with associated benefits for biodiversity, food security, livelihoods and rural economies. To do this we need to scale up investment to halve tropical deforestation by 2020, stop net deforestation by 2030 globally, and raise around US$50 billion per year to reach a target of 350 million hectares of forest and landscape restoration by 2030 in line with the Bonn Challenge. So far, 168 million hectares of restoration have been pledged by 47 countries. We should avoid any further conversion of peatlands into agricultural land and restore little-used, drained peatlands by rewetting them. We also need to plant more trees on agricultural land and pastures.

Transport

Transport is responsible for about one quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions, and set to increase to one-third by 2050, growing faster than any other sector. With the right policies and incentives, significant emission reductions can be achieved. For this to happen, we need to put in place vehicle efficiency standards, incentives for zero-emission transportation and invest in non-motorized mobility. For example, the Indian government is prioritizing policies that are helping to shift freight transport from road to rail.

UN Environment

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