2020 and 2016 in hot competition! Plus: Veganuary, and the costliest climate disasters ever

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

A visitor's silhouette in front of artist Olafur Eliasson's work "The Weather Project," an art installation that warns of the effects of global warming. Rory Hyde, Flickr
8 January 2021
8 January 2021

Welcome to the first Landscape News bi-weekly digest of 2021. From invasive king crabs to the human cost of air pollution, here’s the news to know as we kick off the new year.

LANDSCAPE NEWS

A Peruvian smallholder holds cacao fruits from her plot. Marlon del Aguila Guerrero, CIFOR
A Peruvian smallholder holds cacao fruits from her plot. Marlon del Aguila Guerrero, CIFOR

Tropical trees can be a valuable source of highly nutritious and sustainable food, so we asked the experts: why have they been largely ignored by the food industry?

West Africa’s “miracle grain” fonio, whose seed is believed by some cosmogonies to have given birth to the universe, is the current focus of unique agricultural methodologies that are massively boosting its yields.

We also take a look back at 2020 with our pick of last year’s top stories on foodfinanceforestsrights and One Health.

COVID-19

A lion at the Nambiti Game Reserve in South Africa, where the pandemic has caused tourist numbers and the revenue they bring to plummet. Gerry Zambonini, Flickr
A lion at the Nambiti Game Reserve in South Africa, where the pandemic has caused tourist numbers and the revenue they bring to plummet. Gerry Zambonini, Flickr

Ecotourism ground to a halt in 2020, and with it billions in lost revenue for the world’s conservation areas. In South Africa, game reserves are starting to cull animals as cash runs out.

Meanwhile, a deadly combination of conflict, COVID-19 and the climate crisis could lead to widespread famine in 2021, with Yemen, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo at greatest risk.

Israel has launched the world’s fastest COVID-19 vaccination drive – but Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza could have to wait months for their turn.

CLIMATE

Young civilians in Bentiu, South Sudan, which sees significant flooding during rainy seasons. United Nations Photo
Young civilians in Bentiu, South Sudan, which sees significant flooding during rainy seasons. United Nations Photo

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie! At 1.25 degrees Celsius warmer overall than pre-industrial times, 2020 has been deemed statistically on-par with 2016 for being the hottest year on record, with its temperatures raised largely by arctic wildfires and warming. More data will be released next week.

As an effect, last year’s costliest climate disasters caused a record USD 150 billion in insured damage – and the true cost is likely to be much higher, as most losses in low-income countries were uninsured.

Over 1 million people have been displaced in South Sudan after months of flooding, and 60 percent of the country’s population could face hunger by this summer.

Cities could bear the brunt of global warming, with temperatures projected to rise by up to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, though humidity is likely to decrease.

Still, here are five reasons to be optimistic about the fight against the climate crisis in 2021.

PEOPLE

Passengers in an autoricksaw in Uttar Pradesh, one of the Indian states that has experienced the highest rates of economic loss due to the knock-on effects of air pollution. Adam Cohn, Flickr
Passengers in an autoricksaw in Uttar Pradesh, one of the Indian states that has experienced the highest rates of economic loss due to the knock-on effects of air pollution. Adam Cohn, Flickr

Air pollution killed 1.67 million people in India in 2019, accounting for 18 percent of all deaths that year. It also causes nearly 350,000 pregnancy losses each year across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Microplastics have been found in the placentas of unborn babies for the first time, which scientists warn could affect fetal development.

A record 500,000 people have signed up for Veganuary, pledging to eat only plant-based foods for the month of January.

Two Indigenous environmental activists have been murdered in Honduras, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for land defenders. India is also targeting Indigenous rights activists with charges of terrorism.

PLANET

A Black Angus organic cow in the U.S. USDA
A Black Angus organic cow in the U.S. USDA

Elephant ivory is still being sold on eBay – despite having been banned from the platform since 2009.

Food production is driving habitat loss, and over 17,000 species of land animals will lose part of their habitat unless the world radically transforms its food systems.

But that transformation is unlikely to involve organic meat, which produces similar greenhouse gas emissions to conventional meat.

Invasive species can be lucrative, as Norwegian fishers discovered when king crabs emerged to such an effect in the 1980s. However, they could be responsible for a global decline in insects.

POLICY

A wind farm in Indiana, USA. scienceinhd, Unsplash
A wind farm in Indiana, USA. scienceinhd, Unsplash

The Democratic Party has won control of the U.S. Senate, potentially giving a massive boost to the country’s climate and science policy.

As part of a recent COVID-19 relief bill, the U.S. will also accelerate the phasing-out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and spend an additional USD 35 billion on renewable energy.

Ivory Coast has opened its first ever marine protected area. However, the E.U. has missed its target of ending overfishing by 2020, with member states using Brexit as a pretext for breaching limits.

Both Norway and the U.S. have authorized the expansion of oil drilling in the Arctic. Ukraine is building an inland waterway near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, raising concerns over contamination.

Japan plans to eliminate gasoline vehicles by the mid-2030s, while South Korea will replace all diesel trains with electric high-speed trains by 2029.

BUSINESS

Asia is a major market for Spam. timag, Flickr
Asia is a major market for Spam. timag, Flickr

Bowing to investor pressure, ExxonMobil has finally disclosed its carbon emissions for the first time.

But car manufacturers are already selling off factories producing diesel and gasoline vehicles, which are quickly becoming stranded assets.

And shipbuilders in Costa Rica are putting together a hybrid sailboat that will carry up to 350 tons of goods, powered mainly by the wind.

This Hong Kong company has invented vegan spam, while this Canadian startup is recycling disposable chopsticks into furniture and decor.

Even India’s notorious smog has a silver lining: architects are harnessing the black carbon in the air to make building tiles.


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