Coming soon: peak human population! Plus, biodiversity worth USD 10 trillion and why we throw away gold

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

The amount of high-value metals and materials, including gold, thrown away last year in electronic devices is estimated to value at least USD 57 billion, which is higher than most countries' GDP. Pea Chesh, Flickr
24 July 2020
24 July 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

A child carries water through the miombo woodlands in Zambia. Jeff Walker, CIFOR
A child carries water through the miombo woodlands in Zambia. Jeff Walker, CIFOR

How is racial equity related to climate justice? Our next GLF Live tackles these timely issues with Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement. But first, take a step back, and hear how the recent boom in digital events is reshaping the way we learn.

Fire season is upon us; here is how COVID-19 could affect it. And as the world continues onward into the pandemic’s fallout, here is a strong economic argument for putting more landscapes under legal protection.

Now for a short dose of art: a beautiful poem about letting forests grow back, as is happening in parts of southern Africa’s miombo woodlands, a vast expanse of dryland forests filled with elephants, lions and high-priced timbers that rarely receives the attention it deserves.

CLIMATE

A woman flees her home in the midst of last year’s floods in Bangladesh. The ongoing floods this year are worse. UN Women Asia and the Pacific
A woman flees her home in the midst of last year’s floods in Bangladesh. The ongoing floods this year are worse. UN Women Asia and the Pacific

Global warming could reach the feared number of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures within the next five years, warns the World Meteorological Organization. Methane in the atmosphere has reached record heights, while carbon dioxide levels are also nearing their highest in 15 million years.

This can expectedly result in more devastating weather events, such as the ongoing heatwaves in Siberia, where wildfires have burned through an area the size of Greece and are continuing to spread.

Monsoon floods have hit South Asia, putting one-third of Bangladesh underwater and displacing 4 million people in northeastern India and Nepal. China is also experiencing its worst flooding in decades, raising questions over the effectiveness of its Three Gorges Dam.

PEOPLE

By the Omo River in Ethiopia. Rod Waddington, Flickr
By the Omo River in Ethiopia. Rod Waddington, Flickr

The human population will likely peak in 2064 and then start decreasing as fertility rates drop, according to a new study in The Lancet. Sub-Saharan Africa will triple in population by 2100, while much of Asia and Europe will experience major declines.

Dams are also proving controversial in East Africa: fishers in Kenya are seeing their stocks dwindle after Ethiopia’s opening of a dam on the Omo River. Another Ethiopian dam, on the Blue Nile, is sparking diplomatic tensions with Egypt and Sudan.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been awarded an EUR 1 million humanitarian prize, which she will donate to climate and biodiversity causes.

China’s first climate striker Ou Hongyi has been threatened with expulsion from school for her activism.

COVID-19

Certain human bacteria have been appearing in wildlife, including Antarctic penguins, which could affect their vulnerability to disease and other threats. Kyle Mortara, Flickr
Certain human bacteria have been appearing in wildlife, including Antarctic penguins, which could affect their vulnerability to disease and other threats. Kyle Mortara, Flickr

It’s becoming ever clearer that air pollution is a major COVID-19 risk factor. It could also explain why the pandemic is disproportionately impacting ethnic minorities, a U.K. study suggests.

Meat plants are major hotbeds: after outbreaks in the U.S., Germany and the U.K., they’ve been blamed for spreading the virus across Brazil.

COVID-19 is also reversing years of progress on reducing plastic waste, as bans on single-use plastic have been reversed or delayed after extensive lobbying from the plastic industry.

And zoonotic diseases may be on the rise, but antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also passing from humans to bats and penguins.

With these challenges in mind, could it be time to change the narrative on contagious diseases?

PLANET

A green sea turtle swims in the Red Sea. Antje Schultner, Flickr
A green sea turtle swims in the Red Sea. Antje Schultner, Flickr

Climate change will cause most polar bears to die out by 2100, a new study in Nature predicts, as the melting of sea ice results in starvation and reproductive failure.

Most of the world’s coral reefs could also die in the coming decades, but those in the Red Sea have proven remarkably resistant to rising temperatures.

A carbon-neutral “nature-positive” economy that halts biodiversity loss could generate USD 10.1 trillion in benefits and create 395 million jobs globally by 2030, according to a World Economic Forum report.

POLICY

Land in the U.S. state of Oklahoma recognized as belonging to the Indigenous Cherokee people. Marcy Reiford, Flickr
Land in the U.S. state of Oklahoma recognized as belonging to the Indigenous Cherokee people. Marcy Reiford, Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized half of the state of Oklahoma as Native American land. The landmark ruling could have major repercussions for the oil industry.

In Brazil, however, President Jair Bolsonaro has vetoed COVID-19 aid for Indigenous peoples, whose isolated communities have very limited access to health care.

South Korea has fleshed out the details on its USD 95 billion “Green Deal” while the E.U. has approved a EUR 750 billion coronavirus recovery plan. Over 1,000 “green” projects are eligible for the E.U.’s fund, and one-third of the money needed could be raised via green bonds.

Still, the E.U. has faced criticism from activists, academics and investors for failing to address methane emissions from imported natural gas. The U.S. also abandoned plans to monitor methane emissions in 2017 after industry lobbying, email evidence reveals.

BUSINESS

British multinational beverage company Diageo is fashioning spirits bottles out of sustainable pulp lined with resin and aluminum caps. Courtesy of Diageo
British multinational beverage company Diageo is fashioning spirits bottles out of sustainable pulp lined with resin and aluminum caps. Courtesy of Diageo

E-waste has increased 21 percent in the last five years despite being potentially lucrative: USD 57 billion worth of gold and other rare earth metals were simply thrown away last year.

Only about 2 percent of Brazil’s agribusinesses are responsible for most of the country’s illegal deforestation – and international investors are piling pressure on the Brazilian government to act. Investors are also pushing the U.S. Federal Reserve to address climate risks.

Electric cars are still selling well in Europe despite this year’s recession, helped by government subsidies.

And keep an eye out for the world’s first plastic-free, paper-based spirits bottle, hitting the shelves next year with Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky.


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