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Reducing China’s Plastics Pollution

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a loan of US$430 million for the China Plastic Waste Reduction Project to help improve plastic waste management at the national and subnational levels in China and reduce plastics pollution from municipal solid waste.

Marine plastic pollution is a growing threat to the world’s oceans, with serious consequences for eco-systems, human health and livelihoods. Globally, 80 percent of marine plastics is estimated to come from unmanaged or poorly managed municipal solid waste as a result of improper waste management operations, infrastructure and systems. Municipal solid waste is also a contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for some 5 percent of global emissions.

“This is the first World Bank-financed project to support plastic waste management in China. By focusing on policies, regulations and programs to reduce pollution and promoting environmentally sustainable practices, this project will contribute to China’s efforts to transition towards a low carbon and circular economy, and will help reduce plastic waste leakages to the world’s oceans originating from China,” said Martin Raiser, World Bank Country Director for China, Mongolia and Korea.

The project will combine policy and regulatory work at the national level with investments and technical assistance at the subnational and local level. At the national level, it will help develop policy and implementation mechanisms to reduce plastics pollution, improve resource utilization through recycling, and support waste minimization and prevention.

Implementation of the new national policy framework for plastic waste management will take place in two project cities – Ningbo and Chongqing. Ningbo is among cities on China’s east coast that have already started to adopt advanced waste management, recycling and prevention measures. Chongqing, by contrast, represents the majority of Chinese cities that are in the early stages of separating waste at the source in urban areas, and improving waste services in rural areas.

The project will support these two cities to improve the functionality of their respective solid waste management systems, addressing plastic leakage hotspots in waste flows and pushing recycling to a higher level. In addition, in Chongqing the project will help demonstrate the urban-rural integration of solid waste management and plastic pollution control, and in Ningbo it will pilot enhanced separation of wastes and increased recycling rates.

Experiences gained and lessons learned through this project are expected to be replicated and inform reforms and practices in other provinces as well as further policy work at the national level.

A total of 13.2 million urban and rural residents in Ningbo and Chongqing will benefit directly from better municipal solid waste services, decreased plastic waste pollution, and a cleaner living environment.

Environment

In climate drama, the volcano is no villain

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BY SARAH WILD

New analysis of ash clouds created from large volcanic eruptions shows the temporary cooling effects are changed as the environment becomes hotter.

On 15 June 1991, the Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines erupted with a cataclysmic explosion so violent, the volcano collapsed in on itself. Its gas and ash cloud reached about 40km into the air, and in the weeks that followed, the cloud entered the stratosphere and spread around the globe. During the next year, the average global temperature dropped by about 0.5°C.

A volcano is an opening in the Earth’s crust that allows hot, molten rock to escape to the surface. It also allows gas and ash to escape from the high-temperature interior of the earth.

Volcanic eruptions play an important role in cooling the planet. The sulphur gases from the volcanic plumes combine with other gases in the atmosphere, and these aerosols scatter solar radiation, reflecting it into space. But scientists are concerned that climate change could make eruptions less effective at reducing global temperatures. This feedback loop, in which climate change could hinder or amplify the ability of volcanic eruptions to combat rising temperatures, is currently not included in future climate scenarios.

The VOLCPRO project set out to investigate two different types of eruptions to see if global heating would compromise their cooling effect.

Thomas Aubry, a researcher at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) fellow on VOLCPRO, wondered whether an eruption like Mount Pinatubo would have had the same cooling effect were it to happen a hundred years later in a world where global temperature rise – through the effects of climate change – continues unchecked.

High intensity eruption

The first type of eruption, similar to Mount Pinatubo, is known as a high intensity eruption. This type emits plumes of ash and particles that reach 25km or higher into the atmosphere, and contains billions of tons of sulphur gases. Relatively rare, an eruption of this very powerful type arises every few decades –– Mount Pinatubo was one of the largest eruptions the world had seen in a century.

The second type is smaller, but more frequent. ‘We were wondering how climate change will affect these two different types of eruptions, the small ones versus the big ones,’ said Aubry.

The VOLCPRO team modelled historical eruptions showing their influence on climate, and then simulated what would happen if those same eruptions took place in the future, when the climate has changed and global temperatures are hotter.

Their simulations relied on the UK Met Office’s advanced climate model. ‘Inside that (UK Met Office) model, we added another model that can simulate the rise of a volcanic plume and how high this volcanic column can rise depending on, for example, the wind condition during eruption day, or the temperature in the atmosphere on the day, and so on,’ Aubry said.

For the large eruptions, they found that the cooling would be amplified by global warming, ‘which is kind of good news,’ said Aubry. ‘More global warming, more volcanic cooling.’

In a warmer atmosphere, the plumes of high intensity eruptions will rise even higher, allowing the tiny volcanic particles to travel further. This haze of aerosols will cover a wider area, reflecting more solar radiation and amplifying these volcanoes’ temporary cooling effect.

The opposite was true of the smaller, more frequent volcanic eruptions. In those cases, the hotter temperatures thwarted the cooling effects from the eruptions.

However, before they push to have their findings included in scientists’ global climate change projections, Aubry wants to investigate other volcanoes and other models to reinforce their results.

VOLCPRO focused on tropical volcanoes, as eruptions around the equator tend to affect climate globally because the volcanic particles spread to both hemispheres easily. By including volcanoes closer to the poles, the researchers will be able to determine how other eruptions respond to higher temperatures. They also want to include more climate models, not just the UK’s, to make sure that their findings are robust.

Volcanic ash

Meanwhile, Elena Maters, a former MSCA fellow now based at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, is working to figure out what happens to volcanic ash in the atmosphere and how it influences cloud formation and, ultimately, climate.

Volcanic ash promotes ice formation in the atmosphere, which ultimately replaces water in clouds. Clouds are one of the biggest question marks in climate research, and the more we understand how they are formed and behave, the more precise our models.

‘The common assumption is that liquid water will turn to ice below zero (degrees),’ Maters explained. That is not always the case and small droplets can remain as liquid down to around minus 35°C. But particles in the atmosphere create ‘catalytic surfaces that make it easier for water molecules to form an ice crystal.’

Mineral dust, from sand originating in desert regions around the world such as the Sahara and Gobi deserts, is the dominant source of solid particles in the atmosphere. However, there are many other sources, including volcanic ash.

The INoVA project sought to determine the extent to which volcanic ash aids ice formation.

‘On a yearly average, there’s about 10 times less volcanic ash (than mineral dust) in the atmosphere,’ Maters said. ‘But you can have big eruptions that can quickly, in a matter of hours to days, release huge amounts of particles, and this has been neglected in a lot of climate modelling and even in cases that look at the impacts of volcanoes.’

Ice formation

As part of INoVA, Maters and colleagues investigated the efficacy of volcanic ash in promoting ice formation. They compared this to the ubiquitous mineral dust, testing to see which types were the most successful.

Volcanic ash is mostly glass, with a sprinkling of minerals like feldspars and iron oxides. The composition of the ash depends on the make-up of the magma roiling underneath, and the speed at which it is explosively ejected from the volcano, among other things.

Previous studies compared only a handful of ash types, said Maters, whose research focuses on volcanic ash reactivity and chemistry. ‘You can’t measure two or three samples and then make a conclusion for all volcanic ash and volcanic eruptions worldwide. They vary hugely in the glass composition, the proportion of glass to minerals, the types of minerals, and so the experiments I did were trying to get to the bottom of the range of efficacy of volcanic ash from different types of eruptions,’ she said.

Maters took nine ash samples with a range of compositions and used them to create nine synthetic samples through melting and rapid cooling. She compared these 18 samples to identify which properties make volcanic ash more active in creating ice. In another study with a group at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, Maters and colleagues analysed another 15 volcanic samples to identify their ice-making properties.

She suggested that the most ice-active component in volcanic ash is alkali feldspar, a mineral composed of aluminium, silicon and oxygen commonly found in the Earth’s crust. ‘Now, having this understanding of which minerals in ash are good at nucleating (forming) ice,’ said Maters, ‘you might be able to predict when a volcano erupts whether that volcano, based on its magma composition, could produce ice-active ash.’

While her work was previously very laboratory-based, the Covid pandemic has forced her into modelling, she joked. She is now investigating the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruptions in Iceland to see how that introduced ice-forming particles into the atmosphere, and how those particles compared to the abundance of mineral dust.

The study will examine how volcanic ash has a role in ice formation when we actually plug it into the atmosphere. It will compare it to other types of particle, such as mineral dust and asks the question, “Does it matter?”

As better climate models are developed, ‘It’s a proof of concept to demonstrate that explosive eruptions could be important to include’, said Maters.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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New Net-Zero Tracker Gives Heavy Industries a Platform to Catch Up on Climate Goals

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The World Economic Forum released today the first edition of a report on the state of the net-zero transition in key industrial sectors, the Net-Zero Industry Tracker 2022. The report highlights the need to fully understand the scope and scale of the challenge for these sectors and identifies a significant gap versus the pace of decarbonization necessary to achieve net-zero goals to limit global warming to 1.5C by 2050. The urgency for industrial decarbonization is reinforced by high energy prices and energy supply chain disruptions.

This initiative, launched by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Accenture, establishes a common, fact-based understanding of the industrial sector’s net-zero transformation enabling cross-industry and multistakeholder collaboration. The report introduces a holistic framework for a 360-degree perspective and standard metrics needed to measure progress, as well as key recommendations for industrial firms, policymakers, consumers and other stakeholders.

Progress-tracking and transparency are essential to help industries determine the trajectory of their decarbonization, maintain steady progress, and inform necessary course corrections along the way.

“While there are efforts under way and climate commitments being made, we currently lack a robust and comprehensive mechanism to understand the pace and direction of the progress of transformation of heavy industries, which account for 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” said Roberto Bocca, head of Energy, Materials and Infrastructure, World Economic Forum. “Several industrial sectors and individual companies have set up targets with the aim of reaching net zero emissions. We believe that bringing transparency to closing net-zero gaps and reporting on this progress is critical to achieve these ambitious goals.”

The report provides qualitative and quantitative measures to track the evolution of key enabling dimensions such as maturity of technology, access to enabling infrastructure, supporting policy frameworks, demand for low-emission products and availability of capital for investments in low-emission assets. It assesses the state of these enablers, which need to advance simultaneously, and highlights sector-specific accelerators and priorities in five heavy industries – steel, cement, aluminium, ammonia, and oil and gas, which together generate 80% of industrial emissions, according to Accenture analysis.

Given the cross-sector nature of barriers and priorities for industrial net-zero transformation, innovative forms of partnership within and across sectors, and with other stakeholders, will be fundamental to addressing the challenge. Other measures include consensus on defining “low-emission” industrial products and processes, robust and stable green demand signals, and risk-sharing mechanisms to attract necessary capital in technology and infrastructure development.

The report points out that over $2 trillion will be required to make low-emission industries a reality and that the first full-scale commercial projects still hold significant risks for companies to invest in.

Espen Mehlum, head of Energy, Materials and Infrastructure Programs for Benchmarking, World Economic Forum, said: “Investments in low-emission assets are riskier for companies due to their dependencies on new technologies and infrastructure. Collaboration will be at the heart of making the enablers of policy, fuel demand, technology, capital and infrastructure all pull in the same direction to accelerate progress towards climate goals.”

Muqsit Ashraf, a senior managing director and global Energy industry lead, Accenture, said: “Accelerating the transformation of industries, and in particular hard-to-abate industries such as cement and steel, is critical to realize net-zero ambitions. In addition, in today’s high energy and material prices environment, reducing the energy intensity of industries will also become a source of competitive advantage. Along with innovation, regulation and investments, the Net-Zero Industry Tracker will become an essential tool by bringing transparency to the decarbonization and energy efficiency journey.”

The report underlines that concerted efforts also should include policy-makers, financial institutions and consumers.

“Companies are at a sustainability inflection point, where embedding sustainability by design deep into their enterprises is no longer an option,” said Kathleen O’Reilly, global lead, Accenture Strategy. “To lead in this moment, companies must focus on multi-stakeholder collaborations — for example, helping customers reshape demand, teaming with industry peers to bring technology costs down and developing shared infrastructures and working with policy-makers on regulations to create differentiated markets for low-emission products.”

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A Roadmap to Stop Single-Use Plastic Pollution in Vietnam

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The majority of plastics polluting Vietnam’s waterways are single-use, low-value items such as plastic bags, food containers, and straws, according to a World Bank study launched today. To address the pollution caused by these items, Vietnam needs a progressive phase-out, accompanied by the promotion of viable alternatives, and an improved solid waste management system.

Vietnam: Plastic Pollution Diagnostics shows that plastic waste is by far the most abundant type of waste collected in river and coastal sites, accounting for 94 percent of the number of items and 71 percent by weight. The top ten most common plastic items account for more than 80 percent of the total plastic waste ending up in waterways. Most of these items are single use.

Rapid economic growth, urbanization, and changing lifestyles in Vietnam have led to a country-wide plastic pollution crisis,” said Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “This study shows that single-use plastic items make up a large portion of plastic pollution in Vietnam, and addressing their use will make a big difference.”

An estimated 3.1 million metric tons of plastic waste is discharged on land in Vietnam, and at least 10 percent of this goes into the ocean every year. The Vietnam National Plastics Action Partnership says the amount of plastic in waterways could more than double by 2030 if the country’s current waste collection, recycling, and treatment processes are not improved.

A related World Bank report, Toward a National Single-use Plastics Roadmap in Vietnam,proposes a gradual effort to combat this pollution through a mix of policy instruments and fiscal mechanisms, progressing from restrictions and fees to bans.

International experience shows that the benefits of phasing out single-use plastics outweigh the costs. However, effective transition requires a phased approach that offsets the losses of producers while preparing and creating incentives for consumers and industries to change their behavior. Beginning with the recommendation of restrictions on single-use plastics inside food establishments and in hotel toiletry products, the report also suggests imposing fees on non-biodegradable plastic bags and coffee-to-go cups. The roadmap gradually targets a market ban on plastic straws, non-biodegradable plastic bags and food containers.

The policy roadmap will help implement a recent government decree, designed to enforce plastic waste management issues under the Environmental Protection Law. The two reports are funded by PROBLUE, a multi-donor trust fund designed to help countries chart a course towards a sustainable blue economy.

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