Gigafire, giant vacuum cleaners and a COVID boon for billionaires

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

Reflections of the Amazon rainforest in water. Nao Lizuka, Flickr
16 October 2020
16 October 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

France’s Calanques National Park, a marine and coastal protected area of limestone cliffs winding along the Mediterranean coast. The E.U.’s biodiversity strategy aims to establish 30 percent of all land and 30 percent of all sea areas in Europe as protected areas. Marc Barrot, Flickr
France’s Calanques National Park, a marine and coastal protected area of limestone cliffs winding along the Mediterranean coast. The E.U.’s biodiversity strategy aims to establish 30 percent of all land and 30 percent of all sea areas in Europe as protected areas. Marc Barrot, Flickr

The European Green Deal is a big deal. We spoke to the co-architect of its biodiversity strategy, Bas Eickhout MEP, to learn more about one of the world’s most ambitious conservation plans.

Part of that strategy involves planting 3 billion trees – and a recent digital forum by CIFORICRAF explores ways to build our forests back better after COVID-19.

As fires continue to rage across North and South America, listen back to our two-part GLF Live series on this year’s devastating blazes.

COVID-19

The pandemic has been devastating on the economies of tourism-dependent countries such as the Maldives, which opened its borders fully on 15 July. The archipelago’s economy has plunged and food security is threatened. Sergei Gussev, Flickr
The pandemic has been devastating on the economies of tourism-dependent countries such as the Maldives, which opened its borders fully on 15 July. The archipelago’s economy has plunged and food security is threatened. Sergei Gussev, Flickr

The world’s billionaires have grown even richer this year. At the same time, 150 million people could fall into extreme poverty by the end of next year due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, governments have failed to invest in health care, social services and labor protection, leaving most of the world’s countries “woefully unprepared” for the pandemic, says Oxfam.

Small island nations are heavily dependent on tourism revenues for climate adaptation. Some, like the Maldives, face an impossible dilemma between staying open to tourists and remaining COVID-free.

CLIMATE

Think-tank InfluenceMap found that ads denying realities of climate change were seen more than 8 million times in the first half of 2020. Stock Catalog, Flickr
Think-tank InfluenceMap found that ads denying realities of climate change were seen more than 8 million times in the first half of 2020. Stock Catalog, Flickr

California recently recorded its first ever ‘gigafire’, a blaze covering 1 million acres (404,686 hectares). But conspiracy theories still abound, partly fueled by climate denial ads on Facebook.

Carbon might be synonymous with climate change, but nitrous oxide emissions are also rising quickly across the Global South, driven primarily by the use of nitrogen fertilizers.

That means it’s increasingly crucial to protect and restore the planet’s ecosystems, including peatlands, which hold up to a third of the Earth’s soil carbon.

Fortunately, demand for coal and oil could fall by up to 8 percent by 2025, and solar energy is expected to overtake coal as the world’s leading source of electricity in the meantime.

PEOPLE

The UN is calling for USD 82 million to address this year’s flooding and ongoing humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. Women and children have been affected the most. UN Photo
The UN is calling for USD 82 million to address this year’s flooding and ongoing humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. Women and children have been affected the most. UN Photo

Some 690 million people across the globe are undernourished – and governments will need to invest USD 33 billion a year in food security and nutrition to end hunger by 2030.

Speaking of hunger, the Nobel Peace Prize–winning World Food Programme is seeking USD 6.8 billion in funding over the next six months to prevent widespread famine.

Mining interests are operating on around 20 percent of Indigenous lands in the Amazon, causing higher rates of deforestation. Nearby, almost half of the Indigenous territories in the Pantanal have been wiped out by wildfires.

Wracked by the heaviest rains in decades, 370,000 people have been forced from their homes in South Sudan since July, with many caught in a cycle between floods and ethnic violence over the past year.

PLANET

Clouds over the Ucayali River, a tributary of the Amazon River, and surrounding rainforest. Lighter green areas denote where forest has been cleared to develop land for agriculture. Coordenação-Geral de Observação da Terra/INPE
Clouds over the Ucayali River, a tributary of the Amazon River, and surrounding rainforest. Lighter green areas denote where forest has been cleared to develop land for agriculture. Coordenação-Geral de Observação da Terra/INPE

A fifth of the world’s countries are at risk of ecosystem collapse due to biodiversity loss, including Australia, South Africa and India, according to insurance firm Swiss Re.

In other new research, the Amazon is on the brink of turning into a savanna, and 14 million tons of plastic could be sitting at the bottom of the ocean – 30 times more than on the surface.

Your laundry might be contributing to the problem: washing and drying clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles that can cause severe damage to marine species.

And in Belgium, a “giant vacuum cleaner” has been dispatched to clear up millions of tiny pieces of plastic waste littered across a nature reserve.

POLICY

A wolverine, here pictured in a park in southern Sweden. Gustav Bergman, Flickr
A wolverine, here pictured in a park in southern Sweden. Gustav Bergman, Flickr

China banned the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine back in June, but dozens of Chinese companies are still engaging in the practice.

The E.U. is setting off a “renovation wave” to improve the energy efficiency of its buildings, which account for 40 percent of the bloc’s energy use. However, it could fall short on its plastic recycling targets.

U.S. officials have drawn the ire of conservationists by denying protection to wolverines, which only number about 300 in the lower 48 states.

A new book reveals how the U.S. military has contaminated the Pacific for decades, exposing Indigenous communities and marine ecosystems to toxins, nerve agents and radioactive waste.

BUSINESS

King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge, which said it will transform its USD 4.5 billion endowment fund’s portfolio of investments to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2038. Billy Wilson, Flickr
King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge, which said it will transform its USD 4.5 billion endowment fund’s portfolio of investments to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2038. Billy Wilson, Flickr

BP believes demand for oil may have already peaked in 2019, but it seems ExxonMobil didn’t get the memo: leaked documents reveal the oil giant’s plans would increase its annual carbon emissions by 17 percent – or 21 million tons a year – by 2025.

But asset owners are increasingly steering clear. Thirty of the world’s largest investors have pledged to reduce emissions by up to 29 percent over the next five years, while the University of Cambridge is the latest university to divest from fossil fuels.

Honda is withdrawing from Formula 1 to focus on zero-emissions technologies. Electric cars are set to triple their market share in Europe this year.

And with coastal property sales in Florida already in decline, could it be time to start thinking about taking out climate insurance?


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