The effects of War on environment

Having just yet won the war against covid, we are again glued to the screens of our TVs catching up the escalating war tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Of course, we hope that it doesn’t turn into a full-fledged war because the horrible effects of war on mankind are known to one and all. But today, let’s ponder on the effects of war on environment.

The natural environment has been a strategic element of war since the first rock was thrown by the first cave dweller. The armies of ancient Rome and Assyria, to ensure the total capitulation of their enemies, reportedly sowed salt into the cropland of their foes, making the soil useless for farming—an early use of military herbicide, and one of the most devastating environmental effects of war.

But history also provides lessons in eco-sensitive warfare. The Bible, in Deuteronomy 20:19, stays the hand of the warrior to minimize war’s impact on nature and men alike:

“When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you?”

War and the Environment: We’ve Been Lucky so Far

War is waged differently today, of course, and has widespread environmental impacts that last far longer. “The technology has changed, and the potential effects of the technology are very different,” says Carl Bruch, director of international programs at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C.

Bruch, who is also the co-author of “The Environmental Consequences of War: Legal, Economic, and Scientific Perspectives”, notes that modern chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare has the potential to wreak unprecedented environmental havoc that, fortunately, we haven’t seen—yet. “This is a great threat,” Bruch says.1

But in some cases, precision weapons and other technological advances can shield the environment by targeting key facilities, leaving other areas relatively unscathed.2 “You could make the argument that these weapons have the ability to minimize collateral damage,” says Geoffrey Dabelko, senior advisor to the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

It’s Local: The Impact of War Today

Warfare today also occurs infrequently between independent nations; more often, armed conflict breaks out between rival factions within a nation. These localized civil wars, according to Bruch, are usually beyond the reach of international treaties and bodies of law. “Internal conflict is viewed as a matter of sovereignty—an internal matter,” he says. As a result, environmental damage, like human rights violations, occurs unchecked by outside organizations.

Though skirmishes, armed conflicts, and open warfare vary tremendously by region and by weapons used, the effects of war on the environment usually involve the following broad categories.

Habitat Destruction and Refugees

Perhaps the most famous example of habitat devastation occurred during the Vietnam War when U.S. forces sprayed herbicides like Agent Orange on the forests and mangrove swamps that provided cover to guerrilla soldiers. An estimated 20 million gallons of herbicide were used, decimating about 4.5 million acres in the countryside. Some regions are not expected to recover for several decades.

Invasive Species

Military ships, cargo airplanes, and trucks often carry more than soldiers and munitions; non-native plants and animals can also ride along, invading new areas and wiping out native species in the process. Laysan Island in the Pacific Ocean was once home to a number of rare plants and animals, but troop movements during and after World War II introduced rats that nearly wiped out the Laysan finch and the Laysan rail, as well as bringing in sandbur, an invasive plant that crowds out the native bunchgrass that local birds depend on for habitat.

Infrastructure Collapse

Among the first and most vulnerable targets of attack in a military campaign are the enemy’s roads, bridges, utilities, and other infrastructure.6 While these don’t form part of the natural environment, the destruction of wastewater treatment plants, for example, severely degrades regional water quality. During the 1990s fighting in Croatia, chemical manufacturing plants were bombed; because treatment facilities for chemical spills weren’t functioning, toxins flowed downstream unchecked until the conflict ended.

Increased Production

Even in regions not directly affected by warfare, increased production in manufacturing, agriculture, and other industries that support a war effort can wreak havoc on the natural environment. During World War I, former wilderness areas of the United States came under cultivation for wheat, cotton, and other crops, while vast stands of timber were clear-cut to meet wartime demand for wood products. Timber in Liberia, oil in Sudan, and diamonds in Sierra Leone are all exploited by military factions. “These provide a revenue stream that is used to buy weapons,” says Bruch.

Scorched Earth Practices, Hunting, and Poaching

The destruction of your own homeland is a time-honored, albeit tragic, wartime custom. The term “scorched earth” originally applied to the burning of crops and buildings that might feed and shelter the enemy, but it’s now applied to any environmentally destructive strategy. To thwart invading Japanese troops during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), Chinese authorities dynamited a dike on the Yellow River, drowning thousands of Japanese soldiers—and thousands of Chinese peasants—while also flooding millions of square miles of land.

Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear Weapons

The production, testing, transport, and use of these advanced weapons is perhaps the single most destructive effects of war on the environment.8 Though their use has been strictly limited since the bombing of Japan by the U.S. military at the end of World War II,9 military analysts have grave concerns about the proliferation of nuclear material and chemical and biological weaponry.10 “We’ve been very fortunate that we have not seen the devastation that we might see,” says Bruch.

Researchers point to the use of depleted uranium (DU) as one particularly dangerous military trend.11 DU is a byproduct of the uranium-enrichment process. Almost twice as dense as lead,12 it’s valued in weapons for its ability to penetrate tank armor and other defenses. An estimated 320 tons of DU were used in the Gulf War in 1991; in addition to soil contamination, experts are concerned that soldiers and civilians may have been exposed to dangerous levels of the compound.13

How Environmental Problems Lead to War

While the effects of war on the environment may be obvious, what’s less clear are the ways that environmental damage itself leads to conflict. Factions in resource-poor countries like those in Africa, the Mideast, and Southeast Asia have historically used military force for material gain; they have few other options.

Bruch explains that once armed conflict begins, soldiers and populations under siege must find immediate sources of food, water, and shelter, so they’re forced to adapt their thinking to short-term solutions, not long-term sustainability.

This short-term desperation leads to a vicious cycle of conflict, followed by people who meet their immediate needs in unsustainable ways, bringing deprivation and disillusionment, which then leads to more conflict. “One of the chief challenges is to break that cycle,” Bruch says.

Can Warfare Protect Nature?

It seems counterintuitive, but some have argued that military conflicts often end up preserving the natural environment. “It’s one of the findings that’s utterly contrary to expectations,” says Jurgen Brauer, Ph.D., professor of economics at Augusta State University in Augusta, Georgia. “The most preserved area in all of Korea is the demilitarized zone because you have the exclusion of human activity,” he says.

Other researchers have noted that despite the massive amounts of herbicide use during the Vietnam War, more forests have been lost in that country since the war ended than during it, due to peacetime commerce and Vietnam’s quest for prosperity. The coal-black skies caused by the Kuwaiti oil fires in 1991 provided dramatic visual evidence of war-related environmental damage. However, these oil fires burned in one month roughly the amount of oil burned by the United States in a single day.

“Peace can be damaging, too,” says Dabelko. “You have some of these ironic twists.”

But experts are quick to emphasize that this is not an argument in favor of armed conflict. “War is not good for the environment,” adds Brauer, who is also an author of the book “War and Nature: The Environmental Consequences of War in a Globalized World.”

And Bruch notes that warfare only delays the environmental damage of peaceful human activity and commerce. “It may provide a respite, but the long-term effects of war aren’t that different from what happens under commercial development,” he says.

Winning the Peace

As military planning evolves, it becomes apparent that the environment now plays a greater role in successful combat, especially after an armed conflict ends. “At the end of the day, if you’re trying to occupy an area, you have a strong incentive not to ruin it,” Dabelko says. The aforementioned biblical quote from Deuteronomy about preserving trees is, perhaps, good advice for the ages.

And some warriors are learning that there’s more to be gained from preserving the environment than in destroying it. In war-torn Mozambique, former military combatants have been hired to work together as park rangers protecting the wildlife and natural habitats that they once sought to destroy.14

“That built bridges between the military and the park service. It has worked,” Bruch says. “Natural resources can be very important in providing jobs and opportunities in post-conflict societies.”

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Biology environment

This squirrel watches its neighbor’s back

Barbary ground squirrels look for predators together as a survival strategy

Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean everything isn’t actually trying to kill you.

Ground squirrels have few natural defenses against predators, so they rely on an early warning system to identify threats and alert others to run for cover.

But unlike meerkats that take individual turns standing watch while the rest forage, ground squirrels found off the coast of Africa keep watch together — a behavior called synchronous vigilance, according to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Lead author Annemarie van der Marel, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cincinnati, spent three winters studying Barbary ground squirrels, an invasive species introduced to the Canary Islands from Morocco on Africa’s mainland. The almond-eyed, striped rodents with bushy tails live in colonies and take shelter underground in a network of burrows like other ground squirrels.

“They’re pretty cute. People had them as pets and that’s how they were introduced to the Canary Islands in 1965,” she said.

“I looked at whether and why they were social. I began studying the strategies for how they evade predation and increase survival. That’s how I got to the question of the synchronous vigilance of the species,” she said.

Prey animals such as kangaroos and wild boar also use synchronous vigilance to stay safe, van der Marel said.

Co-author Marta López Darias, a researcher with the Institute of Natural Products and Agrobiology in Spain, said the synchronized behavior increased with the size of the group, similar to observations made in other species that use this defense mechanism.

Unusual for ground squirrels, the populations found in the Canary Islands are as comfortable in the trees as on the ground, she said. They seem to prefer high vantage points such as the old rock walls above the fields and ravines where they can scan all angles of their surroundings. On the Canary Islands’ Fuerteventura, the squirrels face daily threats from domestic cats and birds of prey like buzzards and common kestrels.

“When they forage, they’re most vulnerable,” van der Marel said. “So the squirrels have to balance the time spent foraging and being vigilant. Their main defense mechanism is being watchful and alerting other group members to escape predation.”

To find food, the squirrels set out daily from their underground dens to forage for roots, seeds and fruit. Active in the day, they rely on their keen vision to detect threats from the air and land. The alarm call of a nearby squirrel will alert others and may send some running for the safety of rock piles or the nearest burrow. Often, other squirrels will join in the watchful vigil.

The animals can’t look for food and be on high alert for predators at the same time. So throughout the day they stop what they’re doing to scan the environment together, often from a higher vantage point, van der Marel said.

Virtually all the squirrels spend time standing watch during the day. About one-third of the time, they do so alone. But 40% of the time, they have company. And when a predator is observed, multiple squirrels stop to stand watch 60% of the time, the study found.

Researchers found that squirrels that spent more time watching still found enough food to remain in good physical condition. Likewise, their extended vigilance did not affect their overall survival rates.

“There are plentiful resources and less predation pressure, so they don’t have to forage as much,” she said.

Barbary ground squirrel - Stock Image - C018/0830 - Science Photo Library
Barbary Ground Squirrel

Human activity is slowly killing the world’s rivers, study illustrates

The rivers criss-crossing Earth are choking up and anthropogenic factors were found to be one of the prominent reasons, according to a new report. Agriculture, mining and dam construction emerged as some of the biggest contributors to this degradation.

The chemical composition of major rivers such as Yangtze, Amazon, Mississippi and Congo have been altered by natural and human activities, the study found. 

Historical data analysis of  runoff and solute concentration of 149 large rivers pointed out that higher volumes of calcium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonates are flowing through river basins and estuaries. 

The concentration of total dissolved solids draining into oceans increased 68 per cent, chloride 81 per cent, sodium 86 per cent and sulfate (142 per cent) fluxes in almost a decade, according to the report published in Nature Communications journal October 12, 2021. 

An international cohort of scientists from universities in China, the United States and the United Kingdom created a database of solute contents (some records maintained over a century) and analysed the same for almost 10 years. 

The rivers observed included the Colorado and Mississippi (USA), the Amazon (South America), the Congo (Africa), the Rhine (Europe), the Yellow and Yangtse rivers (China) and the Murray (Australia).

The polar and tropical regions were the worst-affected because most of the urbanisation and agriculture were concentrated there. Weathering of rocks are also contributing factors. 

These human activities, along with natural factors, cause seven river syndromes — salinisation, mineralisation, desalinisation, acidification, alkalisation, hardening and softening — that damage ecosystems. 

“Acidification was also observed close to the equator as a result of bicarbonate levels vital for river health being present in the rivers of South America,” the researchers wrote in the report. 

About 6,400 million tonnes of solutes reach the sea from rivers each year, the report stated. 

It called for urgent mitigation measures to prevent solute concetrations from exceeding critical levels.

Covid-19 environment

CO2 Emissions bounce back!!

A new report by multiple international scientific agencies has flagged that fossil fuel emissions from coal, gas cement etc are back to 2019 levels or even higher in 2021.

Fossil CO2 emissions from coal, oil, gas and cement – peaked at 36.64 GtCO2 in 2019, followed by a significant drop of 1.98 GtCO2 (5.6%) in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Based on preliminary estimates, global emissions in the power and industry sectors were already at the same level or higher in January-July 2021 than in the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, highlights of the United in Science report said on Thursday.

United in Science is coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with input from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Carbon Project (GCP) etc. The full report will be released later today.

While emissions from road transport remained about 5% lower. Apart from aviation and sea transport, global emissions were at about the same levels as in 2019, averaged across those 7 months.

Concentrations of all major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO) continued to increase in 2020 and the first half of 2021, the report said, adding that overall emissions reductions in 2020 likely reduced the annual increase of the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases “but this effect was too small to be distinguished from natural variability.”

United in Science has reiterated that there is high chance that global average temperature in one of the next five years will be at least 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) higher than pre-industrial levels. Annual global mean near-surface temperature is likely to be within the range 0.9°C to 1.8°C in the next five years. There is a 40% chance that average global temperature in one of the next five years will be at least 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels but it is very unlikely (~10%) that the 5-year mean temperature for 2021–2025 will be 1.5°C warmer.

The report has also flagged that coastal cities around the world; low lying coastal areas, small islands and deltas will need adaptation strategies urgently. Global mean sea levels rose 20 cm from 1900 to 2018 and at an accelerated rate of 3.7+0.5 mm/yr from 2006 to 2018. Even if emissions are reduced to limit warming to well below 2°C, global mean sea level would likely rise by 0.3–0.6 m by 2100. “Adaptation to this residual rise will be essential – adaptation strategies are needed where they do not exist – especially in low-lying coasts, small islands, deltas and coastal cities,” the report has said.

“Throughout the pandemic we have heard that we must build back better to set humanity on a more sustainable path and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on society and economies. This report shows that so far in 2021 we are not going in the right direction,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

This report shows just how far off course we are. The past five-year period is among the hottest on record. We continue to destroy the things on which we depend for life on Earth. Ice caps and glaciers continue to melt, sea-level rise is accelerating, the ocean is dying and biodiversity is collapsing. This year, fossil fuel emissions have bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise to new record highs. We now have five times the number of recorded weather disasters than we had in 1970 and they are seven times more costly. Even the most developed countries have become vulnerable,” said UN Secretary-General, António Guterres on the launch of the report.

He added that UN climate negotiations (COP26) this November must mark that turning point. “By then we need all countries to commit to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of this century and to present clear, credible long-term strategies to get there. We need all countries to present more ambitious and achievable Nationally Determined Contributions that will together cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. Nothing less will do.”

Guterres, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have called an informal, closed-door roundtable with a small but representative group of heads of state and government, on the sidelines of the General Assembly, on Monday September 20. The Informal Climate Leaders Roundtable on Climate Action follows the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and comes less than six weeks before the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

IPCC’s report last month had flagged that the world may have lost the opportunity to keep global warming under 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels. The 1.5°C global warming threshold is likely to be breached in the next 10 to 20 years by 2040 in all emission scenarios including the one where carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decline rapidly to net zero around 2050.

According to senior officials in the UN, the focus of the meeting will be a road map for the 1.5°C goal; climate mitigation and adaptation finance particularly the commitment to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 by developed countries.


My Earth Day Initiative: Distribution of Plantable Pencils

Happy Earth Day guys!!!

This year’s theme of Earth Day is “Restore Our Earth” and its prime focus is restoring the Earth’s ecosystems by relying on natural processes, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking.

So I thought, what could be a better way to celebrate this earth day by encouraging people to plant trees! Couple of days ago I spent my time sitting on my table chewing the back of my pencil (not a good habit, I know😅) and brooding about how could I make tree plantation innovative and interesting. Suddenly it struck me-Pencils!! Yes, Plantable pencils. It is indeed a very innovative and attractive way to motivate people to plant trees.

Talking more about plantable pencils, its a pencil that wants to be a plant when it grows up!! When its too short to use, plant the pencil to grow a small plant. These are innovative eco-friendly pencils made of recyclable paper. Can be sharpened like a normal pencil. It has different types of germinating seeds enclosed inside capsule. So, after using pencil, just plant it.

So, this time, on earth day, I distributed 200 plantable pencils in my neighbourhood and in some slum areas. I got immense positive response from everyone. People happily took the pencils and promised to send pics when they grew a plant out of it.

It was indeed a memorable experience for me. I got immense satisfaction for doing something good for our mother earth. Below are the pics of this memorable drive.



World’s wealthiest ‘at heart of climate problem’

The world’s wealthy must radically change their lifestyles to tackle climate change, a report says.

It says the world’s wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50%, according to the UN.

The wealthiest 5% alone – the so-called “polluter elite” – contributed 37% of emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.

The authors want to deter SUV drivers and frequent fliers – and persuade the wealthy to insulate their homes well.

The report urges the UK government to reverse its decision to scrap air passenger duty on UK return flights.

And it wants ministers to re-instate the Green Homes Grant scheme they also scrapped recently.

  • The document has come from the UK-based Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change.

It’s a panel of 31 individuals who study people’s behaviour relating to the environment. They were tasked to find the most effective way of scaling up action to tackle carbon emissions.

Their critics say the best way to cut emissions faster is through technological improvements – not through measures that would prove unpopular.

But the lead author of the report, Prof Peter Newell, from Sussex University, told BBC News: “We are totally in favour of technology improvements and more efficient products – but it’s clear that more drastic action is needed because emissions keep going up.

“We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions.

“These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they’re well insulated or not.

“They’re also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to.”

Prof Newell said that to tackle climate change, everyone needs to feel part of a collective effort – so that means the rich consuming less to set an example to poorer people.

He continued: “Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air. But these schemes are highly contentious and they’re not proven over time.

The wealthy, he said, “simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV that’s still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place”.

Sam Hall, from the Conservative Environment Network, told BBC News: “It’s right to emphasise the importance of fairness in delivering (emissions cuts) – and policy could make it easier for people and businesses to go green – through incentives, targeted regulation and nudges.

“But encouraging clean technologies is likely to be more effective, and more likely to enjoy public consent, than hefty penalties or lifestyle restrictions.”

But Prof Newell said existing political structures allowed wealthy firms and individuals to lobby against necessary changes in society that might erode the lifestyles of the rich.

The recent report of the UK Climate Assembly, for example, proposed a series of measures targeting carbon-intensive behaviours such as shifting away from meat and dairy produce; banning the most polluting SUVs; and imposing frequent flyer levies.

The Treasury told BBC News that a frequent flyer levy might require the government to collect and store personal information on each passenger.

This could raise issues of data processing, handling and privacy issues. It would also be hard to keep track of people with multiple passports.

But the commission’s report said: “The goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change cannot be achieved without radical changes to lifestyles and shifts in behaviour, especially among the wealthiest members of society.

“If change across society is to be brought about at the speed and scale required to meet agreed climate targets, we need to shrink and share: reduce carbon budgets and share more equally.”

The report is the latest in a long-running dialogue over what it means to be “fair” while tackling climate change.

Poorer nations such as India have consistently argued that they should be allowed to increase their pollution because it’s so much lower per person than emissions from rich nations.

The issue forms part of the tangled tapestry of negotiations behind next week’s climate summit organised by President Biden and the COP climate summit in the UK scheduled for November.

Wealthy people :  Heart of climate problem

Animals fake death! Why??

A recent study by researchers from the University of Bristol has found that many animals fake death to try to escape their predators. With some individuals in prey species remaining motionless, if in danger, for extended lengths of time.

The study was published today in the science journal Biology Letters.

Charles Darwin recorded a beetle that remained stationary for 23 minutes – however, the University of Bristol has documented individual antlion larvae pretending to be dead for an astonishing 61 minutes.

Of equal importance, the amount of time that an individual remains motionless is not only long but unpredictable. This means that a predator will be unable to predict when a potential prey item will move again, attract attention, and become a meal.

Predators are hungry and cannot wait indefinitely. Similarly, prey may be losing opportunities to get on with their lives if they remain motionless for too long. Thus, death-feigning might best be thought of as part of a deadly game of hiding and seek in which prey might gain most by feigning death if alternative victims are readily available.

The study involved evaluating the benefits of death-feigning in terms of a predator visiting small populations of conspicuous prey. Researchers used computer simulations that utilise the marginal value theorem, a classical model in optimization.

The lead author of the paper Professor Nigel R. Franks from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences said: “Imagine you are in a garden full of identical soft fruit bushes. You go to the first bush. Initially collecting and consuming fruit is fast and easy, but as you strip the bush finding more fruit gets harder and harder and more time-consuming.

“At some stage, you should decide to go to another bush and begin again. You are greedy and you want to eat as many fruits as quickly as possible. The marginal value theorem would tell you how long to spend at each bush given that time will also be lost moving to the next bush.

“We use this approach to consider a small bird visiting patches of conspicuous antlion pits and show that antlion larvae that waste some of the predator’s time, by ‘playing dead’ if they are dropped, change the game significantly. In a sense, they encourage the predator to search elsewhere.”

The modelling suggests that antlion larvae would not gain significantly if they remained motionless for even longer than they actually do. This suggests that in this arms race between predators and prey, death-feigning has been prolonged to such an extent that it can hardly be bettered.

Professor Franks added: “Thus, playing dead is rather like a conjuring trick. Magicians distract an audience from seeing their sleights of hand by encouraging them to look elsewhere. Just so with the antlion larvae playing dead – the predator looks elsewhere. Playing dead seems to be a very good way to stay alive.”


Fight over Biodegradable Plastics

There’s a spat between tech companies trying to develop a new generation of plastics that biodegrade harmlessly without leaving a trace and skeptics worried that such novel substances won’t live up to their promise and will worsen the plastic waste problem.

The companies are calling for more time to perfect their inventions — which they say differ from earlier efforts to make cleaner plastics — while environmental campaigners demand even firmer regulatory action to get rid of plastic garbage. Firms are also battling against the image problem of an earlier generation of innovative biodegradable plastics that experts say haven’t lived up to the hype.

“The popular understanding of biodegradability is based on legacy solutions such as oxodegradable plastic, many of which unfortunately don’t work,” said Niall Dunne, the CEO of British firm Polymateria, adding that the “landscape has moved on significantly yet outdated perceptions remain.” 

Polymateria has developed a process, called biotransformation, to produce plastic products it says decompose harmlessly when littered.

It involves mixing bio-transformation chemicals with normal plastics to create food and drink packaging, bubble wrap, fruit nets, plastic bags and the like. The technology helped to define a new British standard for biodegradability.

“The role of innovation is consistently underestimated when solving complex global issues, including climate change and plastic pollution,” Dunne said.

But potential innovations like that are facing headwinds.

An expert study, published last week, found that a lack of standards and reliable certification schemes for biodegradable plastics — and, in some cases, misleading labeling — confuses consumers and can “exacerbate” environmental pollution.

The biggest problem, according to the report from the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies, is that while biodegradables can break down under ideal conditions they have a much tougher time doing so in a natural environment like deep in a landfill or on a beach.

Polymateria is tackling those issues. Although it can be recycled in the normal way, its new plastic will decompose into a wax or grease-like substance in a matter of months when exposed to sunlight, air and water. Bacteria and fungi will digest the wax, breaking it down into carbon dioxide, water and more microbes. Most importantly, there are no microplastics left behind.

For now the additives only work when added to the most littered type of plastics — polyolefins, which include polyethylene (plastic bags and packaging) and polypropylene (plastic cups and cutlery, bottle caps and containers).

In lab tests that mimic ambient real-world conditions, “there’s nothing left of polyethylene waxes in 226 days and the polypropylene waxes disappear in 336 days,” said Dunne. 

The plan is to stamp a “recycle by” date on each piece of plastic to show consumers that they have a deadline to dispose of them responsibly in the recycling system before they start breaking down. 

The technology is currently being tested in a handful of countries, including the U.K. and India, but has already helped to define the first standard for measuring biodegradability, published by the U.K.’s national standards body BSI in October.

That European Commission is also busy developing its own policy framework for bio-based plastics and biodegradable or compostable plastics, which it expects to adopt next year.

Not everyone is lyrical about Polymateria.

For one thing, the additive adds roughly 10 to 15 percent to the overall cost of packaging. There’s also the question of whether plastics should be made biodegradable in the first place.

British environmental groups including RECOUP and the Environmental Services Association wrote to the BSI, insisting the standard “will increase the prevalence of litter in all environments.” They fear that the concept of being able to throw away litter and assume it will biodegrade supports the continued use of plastics.

But Dunne said that most of the problem with plastic waste is due to exports to non-EU countries where it’s “not being recycled and is winding up in unmanaged waste systems,” he said, estimating that littering only accounts for 2 percent of the issue.

He argued that the solution is “innovative technologies which permit reuse and recycling” as well as redesigning materials to be biodegradable at the end of their useful life “if we are really serious about actually solving this global problem.”

The European Commission on Tuesday adopted new waste shipment rules going into effect in January that ban the export of plastic waste from the EU to non-OECD countries, except for clean plastic waste sent for recycling.


Daring Cities 2020: Top 5 most popular thematic sessions

A first-of-its kind virtual event, Daring Cities 2020 positioned itself as the global forum for urban leaders taking action on the climate emergency. With 100 sessions and more than 200 hours of online discussions designed with urban leaders in mind, the event unfolded over the span of three weeks.

The four plenary days at the heart of Daring Cities included a special addresses from the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, in the Daring Cities opening, a special three part session in collaboration with TED, the launch of the Redesign2020 Platform, the launch of the UNDRR Making Cities Resilient 2030 campaign and a look forward to the future with remarks by high level speakers

In addition to these core plenary sessions, Daring Cities’ sessions covered topics from nature-based solutions and innovative climate finance, to urban resilience and social equity. Hundreds of city leaders, practitioners, researchers, and experts shared their insights and experiences on how to take radical action in our cities, towns and regions to tackle the climate emergency, especially in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Of those rich thematic offerings, here are the five most popular sessions of Daring Cities 2020. All session recordings are available on the website and are free for anyone with a Daring Cities 2020 profile.  

Renewable Energy in Cities: Opportunities for Green Growth through Recovery Packages

Energy systems are the backbone of urban activities and systems from public transport to heating and cooling. Effective local renewable energy deployment can give cities the opportunity to achieve a wide range of socio-economic and environmental objectives. 

In this session, attendees had a closer look at energy supply and efficient energy consumption. They learned about the opportunities that renewable energy presents for cities to achieve a wide range of objectives, including fighting air pollution, improving public health, and mitigating climate change. 

Sustainable Urban Renewal through Nature-Based Solutions: Lessons Learned from Chinese and German Cities

Rapid and irreversible urbanization has escalated the impact of environmental degradation, climate change and various hazards and crises. But these challenges have given rise to a growing trend of sustainable urban renewal. 

Governments of different countries, including China and Germany, are endeavoring to support the transformation and regeneration of their cities and communities to become more sustainable, resilient and livable.

Co-organized by the Sino-German Urbanisation Partnership (SGUP), which aims to promote the exchange of experiences and expertise in the field of sustainable and integrated urban development between China and Germany, this virtual exchange workshop brought together key stakeholders to share knowledge and practices on sustainable urban regeneration through applying nature-based solutions.

Introducing CitiesWithNature to Daring Cities for Climate Resilience

Nature provides immense value and multiple benefits to urban communities. The loss of nature is a global crisis in its own right, and cities are not only part of the problem, but are also key to the solution. 

This session introduced CitiesWithNature, a global partnership initiative co-founded by ICLEI, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and The Nature Conservancy to the Daring Cities audience. The initiative provides a shared online platform for cities and regions to connect, learn, share, and inspire each other in pursuit of achieving global impact through collective local action for nature.

Attendees of this session left with a better understanding of how their city can become a city that is daring enough to demonstrate their commitment to nature. 

Innovative Climate Finance Case Studies

Local governments are at the frontline of climate action. Yet subnational governments often struggle to access finance required for sustainable, low-to-no emission, climate resilient development.

The session provided a platform for local governments to interact with financial experts, helping each other to better understand how to find and use innovative financing tools such as green bonds, revolving funds, energy performance contracts or crowdfunding for their climate project.

Nature-Based Solutions For Cities – What Are They And How Can Their Uptake Be Increased?

Many cities are looking for solutions to protect themselves from the impacts of disasters and climate change. However, many of these solutions are expensive, and they are not always sustainable or built for the growing impacts of natural hazards. Despite growing scientific evidence on their potential, the adoption of these nature-based solutions is still not widespread, especially in cities. 

This session not only explored barriers but also promising ways forward, including best practices from frontrunner cities in different ecosystems, research findings and capacity building activities. It took a deep dive into how the perception and use of urban green areas changed in the context of COVID-19 and what opportunities this change might present for the acceleration of nature-based solution uptake.

By bringing together panelists and participants from research, policy and practice, they were able to get a better understanding of how cities can best be supported in adopting nature-based solutions. 

Covid-19 environment

Let’s go BLUE for a COVID-19 recovery!!

“The ocean economy may be a victim of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, but it also holds solutions for rebuilding a more resilient, sustainable and equitable post-COVID world.”

– A Sustainable & Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis Report

Ocean and coastal habitats provide an essential workplace for the world’s small-scale fishers, and coastal communities rely on the ocean for jobs, food, health, and cultural traditions. In fact, the ocean economy adds approximately US$1.5 trillion in value globally (OECD 2016). But the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacts the ocean economy and these communities, especially those from Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

new special report commissioned by the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (the Ocean Panel) recognizes the ocean economy’s vital role and the pandemic’s devastating impacts on ocean workers and the marine sector—and importantly, offers recovery solutions.

“A Sustainable and Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis”, as the name implies, recognizes the power of nature to help solve daunting global issues like climate change and pandemics. The report was released ahead of Climate Week NYC and a Rare-facilitated high-level roundtable meeting of coastal countries, where officials issued a joint message acknowledging the importance of the small-scale fishing sector to a blue (or green) recovery: that by implementing coastal and marine nature-based solutions, small-scale fishers can improve food security, nutrition, and the local economies of coastal nations, and enhance coastal resilience from climate change.

As a member of the Ocean Panel’s Advisory Network, Rare supports the five blue stimulus opportunities for government investment in COVID-19 crisis recovery outlined in the report. These proposed solutions deliver short-term relief to the economy and long-term economic, social, and environmental resilience. Moreover, they are considered a win-win for immediate assistance and forward-looking sustainable planning, known as a ‘no regrets’ investment strategy.

Fish Forever, Rare’s coastal fisheries program, prioritizes the report’s solution related to coastal and marine ecosystems: Invest in Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Restoration and Protection. Fish Forever uses behavioral insights to inspire fishing communities — fishers, fish buyers and traders, community members, and their local government — to adopt more responsible behaviors related to coastal fishing and implement nature-based solutions to protect their natural resources.

Investing in a nature-based solution like restoring and protecting coastal and marine ecosystems benefits coastal fishing households and their communities. This solution also has a host of benefits critical for a blue recovery, including the following five:

  1. Improves Food Security – Protecting coastal ecosystems supports ample fish resources and fish breeding habitat, which safeguards fishing communities by strengthening food security during times of crisis. Technology innovations, like Rare’s OurFish App referenced in the report, show how a nature-based approach to resource management benefits the community and improves food security: the app digitally helps to manage and understand fish stock and finance trends and enables fishing communities to monitor the value, type and local amount of fish caught.
  2. Enables Sound Financial and Household Decision-Making – Establishing Savings Clubs led by small-scale fishers empowers its members, often majority women, to manage their long-term household finances. It also raises awareness of the actions needed to enforce fish sanctuaries for coastal habitat protection and community livelihoods’ sustainability. This approach to behavior change “can powerfully affect the long-term strategy behind coastal fisheries conservation and the goal of ending overfishing,” as the report explains.
  3. Enhances Economic, Social, and Environmental Resilience – Investing in coastal and marine ecosystem restoration and protection can also expand job opportunities, such as protected areas enforcement officers, development planners, environmental engineers, and ecological restoration scientists. In addition to job security, nature-based solutions support the healthy natural resources that protect small-scale fishers’ livelihoods.
  4. Manages Natural Resources Sustainably – Ensuring coastal and marine ecosystem integrity further increases economic productivity by improving fisheries and tourism opportunities. Sustainable management also allows for more significant investment opportunities in blue carbon activities focused on climate mitigation and adaptation benefits from mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal salt marshes.
  5. Builds Community Pride – Stakeholder engagement and collaboration with public and private sectors, including small-scale fishers and their families, are critical for building pride in and ownership of more sustainable behaviors and community-based programs. Co-owning and managing natural resources and ensuring the inclusion of women and Indigenous communities has also demonstrated long-lasting benefits and delivers on many of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Farmers and fishers rely on healthy ecosystems and strong local governance and management to thrive. Building back better from the impacts of COVID-19 will require a global blue recovery effort that not only prioritizes nature-based solutions but empowers coastal communities and their leaders to champion blue solutions.

BLUE solutions for COVID-19 recovery