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Social distancing tips from the platypus, renewable records and enzymatic scissors

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

An offshore wind farm in North Wales. Doug Scobie, Flickr
17 April 2020
17 April 2020

Welcome to the Landscape News bi-weekly digest on landscapes, climate and sustainability. From what’s on your shelves to what’s in the atmosphere, here’s the news to know.

LANDSCAPE NEWS

Join us in conversation with renowned climate and public health experts in exploring the linkages between COVID-19, climate change, biodiversity and more.

In this new series, GLF Live, we asked Otto Scharmer how the pandemic provides an opportunity for systemic change, while Thomas Gillespie and Kate Jones discussed how human encroachment on wildlife is driving the spread of infectious zoonotic diseases.

And sit back and take a virtual journey to no-longer-forgotten karst forests of Madagascar, southern China, and the Maluku Islands of Indonesia.

Health screening in Seoul's empty Incheon Airport. Jens Olaf-Walter, Flickr
Health screening in Seoul’s empty Incheon Airport. Jens Olaf-Walter, Flickr

CORONAVIRUS

It’s official: COVID-19 deaths are indeed linked with exposure to air pollution, according to a new nationwide U.S. study. Fortunately, air pollution levels are at an unprecedented low in major cities across the world.

Another study adds to the mounting evidence that contact between humans and wildlife – and specifically forest loss and landscape fragmentation – is contributing to the spread of diseases from wild animals to humans.

As fossil fuel consumption plummets, global carbon emissions are set to fall by 5 percent – or 2.5 billion tons – this year, making it the largest decrease on record. The jury is still out, though, on how coronavirus could affect climate action in the long run.

Still, we shouldn’t expect a similar drop in methane emissions, warns the International Energy Agency, as oil and gas producers could scale back their mitigation efforts as low prices hit their bottom lines.

Solar energy now accounts for 23 percent of the world's renewable energy. Berkeley Lab, Flickr
Solar energy now accounts for 23 percent of the world’s renewable energy, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. Berkeley Lab, Flickr

CLIMATE

While costly in the short run, efforts to mitigate climate change will more than pay off over the course of a century, finds a new paper. The global economy could lose up to USD 800 trillion by 2100 compared to a scenario that limits warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, it claims.

And unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced soon, new research suggests a wave of mass extinctions could begin as early as the next decade.

Renewable energy is breaking new records, with almost 75 percent of new power generation capacity globally coming from renewable sources in 2019, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Over one-third of the world’s electricity is now derived from renewables.

Crude oil in an open toxic oil waste pit abandoned by Chevron in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest. Rainforest Action Network
Crude oil in an open toxic oil waste pit abandoned by Chevron in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest. Rainforest Action Network

PEOPLE

In Ecuador, a group of nine children is suing the country’s state-owned oil company, Petro Amazonas, for contaminating the air in their Amazon community through gas flaring.

A new report reveals widespread environmental racism against Roma communities across Central and Eastern Europe, who are frequently denied clean water and sanitation and forced to live in landfills and other polluted sites.

Fridays for Future’s new chapter in Singapore is feeling the heat – albeit more so from the authorities than from the city-state’s tropical climate.

A wild platypus, a species that keeps a distance from its brethren, swims in Tasmania. Klaus, Flickr
A wild platypus, a species that keeps a distance from its brethren, swims in Tasmania. Klaus, Flickr

PLANET

Wildfires are causing alarm in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, fenced off since the 1986 disaster. Radiation levels in the area have spiked, with winds blowing toward the nation’s capital of Kiev last week.

Social distancing is a relatively new term for most humans – we are social beings after all – but here are eight animal species who might be more accustomed to it than we are.

Speaking of social behavior among animals, a new book by ecologist Carl Safina explores how culture manifests itself in whales, birds and chimpanzees – and may be helping them survive the Anthropocene. Read an excerpt here.

The waterways of Indonesia's current capital of Jakarta pose risks to the city's infrastructure. Seika, Flickr
The waterways of Indonesia’s current capital of Jakarta pose risks to the city’s infrastructure. Seika, Flickr

POLICY

China and Vietnam recently outlawed the wildlife trade in response to COVID-19 – and U.N. biodiversity chief Elizabeth Maruma Mrema has called for a worldwide ban to prevent similar future outbreaks.

Indonesia has halted the construction of its controversial new capital city on the island of Borneo to focus on fighting the pandemic.

In Europe, a group of 180 policymakers, business leaders and civil society groups have called on the E.U. to adopt a green stimulus package to fund a transition to a carbon-neutral economy. A number of U.S. municipalities are playing their part, too, by phasing out the use of natural gas in buildings.

 An enzyme known as leaf-branch compost cutinase has been found to cut the bonds of polyethylene terephthalate, essentially proving an easy way to break down the world's most commonly used form of plastic. Vincent WR, Flickr
 An enzyme known as leaf-branch compost cutinase has been found to cut the bonds of polyethylene terephthalate, essentially proving an easy way to break down the world’s most commonly used form of plastic. Vincent WR, Flickr

BUSINESS

March was a rough month for investors, as COVID-19 wrought havoc on stock prices, including those of agricultural commodities: the price of timber has almost halved, while palm oil has dropped by almost 15 percent. Nonetheless, “green” investment funds lost less money than their mainstream counterparts.

Airlines, in particular trouble as air travel is slashed, are lobbying the U.N. to relax a carbon-offsetting scheme set to come into force in 2021.

Meanwhile, scientists have made a massive breakthrough in plastic recycling, creating a bacterial enzyme that can break down plastic bottles and turn them into high-quality new bottles in a matter of hours. With current technologies, plastic bottles can only be recycled into low-grade fibers that can be used in carpets and clothing – but that could all be about to change.


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