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The economics of biodiversity, vaccines, Africa’s great wall… and “the doughnut”

News to know in our bi-weekly digest

Doughnut economics are so-named for the circular shape of a sustainable economic model. Sheri Silver, Unsplash
5 February 2021
5 February 2021

For decades, economists have used gross domestic product (GDP) to measure progress – but is it time to start accounting for our impacts on the planet?

In this Landscape News bi-weekly news roundup, we cover the landmark Dasgupta Review, the explosive growth of renewables, the inequities of COVID-19 vaccination and more.

LANDSCAPE NEWS

A peatland forest in Peru. Kristell Hergoualc’h, CIFOR
A peatland forest in Peru. Kristell Hergoualc’h, CIFOR

Africa’s Great Green Wall has received an extra EUR 14 billion in funding to help stave off desertification and boost food security in the Sahel.

Peru is home to the world’s fourth-largest swath of tropical peatlands – and policymakers are putting together a national framework to protect them.

We also spoke with new IUCN director general Bruno Oberle why the next decade will be crucial for landscapes and biodiversity.

COVID-19

A Japanese scientist researches a COVID vaccine. Japanexperterna, Flickr
A Japanese scientist researches a COVID vaccine. Japanexperterna, Flickr

While many rich countries are set to vaccinate most of their populations by year’s end, over 80 of the world’s poorest countries are unlikely to even begin vaccinations until 2023.

South Africa will pay USD 5.25 per dose for AstraZeneca’s vaccine – almost double the price that the E.U. is paying.

Similar inequities persist within Europe, where countries such as Moldova cannot afford to buy vaccines, and the U.S., where only 5.4 percent of vaccine recipients to date are Black.

But hoarding vaccines could cost rich countries trillions of dollars, too, as an uneven recovery from COVID-19 will weigh down the global economy.

Accordingly, Norway is donating some vaccines to poorer countries as it vaccinates its own citizens. The U.S. will also join the WHO’s COVAX scheme, which aims to deliver 1.8 billion doses to 92 poorer countries this year.

CLIMATE

Cyclone Idai made landfall in Beira, Mozambique in 2019 and was one of the worst tropical cyclones to ever hit Africa. Sarah Farhat, World Bank
Cyclone Idai made landfall in Beira, Mozambique in 2019 and was one of the worst tropical cyclones to ever hit Africa. Sarah Farhat, World Bank

The planet is now the hottest it’s been in the last 12,000 years, and almost 500,000 people have died in climate-related natural disasters since 2000.

Likewise, the Amazon is turning into a carbon source, while global ice melt is accelerating at unprecedented rates.

Little wonder that 64 percent of the global public considers climate change as an “emergency,” according to the largest-ever survey on climate action.

PEOPLE

Female farmers selling fufu, a staple crop in Nigeria. Jamed Falik, Flickr
Female farmers selling fufu, a staple crop in Nigeria. Jamed Falik, Flickr

The U.K. has no sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, the U.N.’s international maritime court has ruled. It has also failed to compensate Chagossians who were forcibly evicted from their homeland in the 1960s.

Indigenous and environmental groups are suing the U.S. government and Forest Service to prevent the transfer of a large area of tribal land in Arizona to a mining company.

Meanwhile, a Dutch court has ordered Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for oil spills in the Niger Delta.

BIODIVERSITY

The blue whale, possibly the largest animal to have ever existed, was reduced to a fraction of its original population due to whaling during the past two centuries. Thomas Kelley, Unsplash
The blue whale, possibly the largest animal to have ever existed, was reduced to a fraction of its original population due to whaling during the past two centuries. Thomas Kelley, Unsplash

How did the reindeer cross the road? In Sweden, they’ll soon be using bridges specially designed to help them avoid being hit by traffic.

But blue whales will enjoy no such perks off the coast of Chile, where they face increasing encroachment from fishing vessels.

Humans are erasing thousands of species off the face of the planet, as this Australian artist illustrates by rubbing out her sketches of extinct species.

PLANET

The “doughnut economics” model. DoughnutEconomics, Wikimedia Commons
The “doughnut economics” model. DoughnutEconomics, Wikimedia Commons

Economists should replace GDP with a different measure that accounts for the benefits of biodiversity and the costs of its destruction, finds a landmark review commissioned by the U.K. Treasury.

One such alternative is “doughnut economics,” which is whetting appetites in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and several other cities around the world.

Many of the world’s urban areas, notably including Mexico City and Jakarta, are sinking as their aquifers collapse – a phenomenon that could affect 1.6 billion people by 2040.

POLICY

A tiny cottage in Salla, Lapland, an area just north of the Arctic Circle bidding for the 2032 Winter Olympics in order to raise awareness about the effects of global warming. Raoul van Wijk, Flickr
A tiny cottage in Salla, Lapland, an area just north of the Arctic Circle bidding for the 2032 Winter Olympics in order to raise awareness about the effects of global warming. Raoul van Wijk, Flickr

In a historic ruling in favor of climate activists, the French state has been found guilty of failing to address the climate crisis.

Nuclear weapons are now illegal under a new U.N. treaty – but the world’s nuclear powers haven’t signed.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro could face charges in the International Criminal Court for ecocide and violations of Indigenous rights.

A small town in Finland’s Arctic is bidding to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. The bold campaign aims to draw attention to the climate crisis, which could leave it without snow and ice in a decade’s time.

New U.S. President Joe Biden has signed several executive orders to combat the climate crisis, including suspending oil and gas leasing and cutting fossil fuel subsidies.

The U.S. is also freeing up funds to prevent future climate disasters and help rebuild Puerto Rico, over three years after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

BUSINESS

An electric car charges. Andrew Roberts, Unsplash
An electric car charges. Andrew Roberts, Unsplash

The global carbon trade grew to a record EUR 229 billion in value last year, mainly driven by the tightening of the E.U.’s emissions caps.

Ratings agency S&P could downgrade 13 major oil companies, citing competition from renewables, which surpassed fossil fuels in Europe for the first time in 2020.

Electric cars are reaching a tipping point as batteries grow ever cheaper, with General Motors announcing it aims to stop selling gasoline and diesel cars by 2035.

But even cheaper still are Spain’s new low-cost high-speed rail services, which will soon whisk passengers between Madrid and Barcelona for as little as EUR 1.


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