Environmental Impact

Regional News • Asia • China
Beijing flights cancelled after China's worst sandstorm in a decade
Beijing during the sandstorm
Beijing during the sandstorm Credit: Twitter Reproduction

More than 400 flights out of Beijing's two main airports were cancelled amid high winds and low visibility. The National Meteorological Center said Monday's storm had developed in the Gobi Desert in the Inner Mongolia Region.

With its mix of desert and grassy steppe, Inner Mongolia is particularly prone to extreme weather resulting from resource exploitation.

The National Meteorological Center forecasted the sand and dust would affect 12 provinces and regions from Xinjiang in the far northwest to Heilongjiang in the northeast and Tianjin's eastern coastal port city.

Regional News • Africa
Ship runs aground off Mauritius with fuel aboard
Ship runs aground off Mauritius with fuel aboard
Credit: Twitter (Reproduction)

A Chinese-flagged trawler containing 130 tonnes of oil ran aground off the Indian Ocean archipelago nation Mauritius. It is the second shipwreck in less than a year off Mauritius, after a tanker struck a reef in July and leaked 1,000 tonnes of fuel in the country's worst environmental disaster in history.

Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo said the captain of the Lurong Yuan Yu, a trawler flying the Chinese flag, issued distress calls late Sunday afternoon. By the time the government issued an urgent appeal for international help the slick had reached the shore, coating mangrove forests, fragile ecosystems and coral reefs. The disaster was unprecedented for Mauritius, an archipelago of 1.3 million people where many derive their livelihood from tourism and fishing, and tens of thousands marched in protest over the government's handling of the crisis.

Climate & Environment
1270 km² iceberg breaks off Antarctica
North Rift crack photographed by Halley team in January 2021
North Rift crack photographed by Halley team in January 2021 Credit: British Antarctic Survey (BSA)

1270 km² glacier has broken off the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reported. The chunk, which is larger than New York City, broke off on Friday. Glaciologists have been expecting the event for over a decade and had gotten first indications that the iceberg would break off last November.

"The first indication that a calving event was imminent came in November 2020 when a new chasm – called North Rift – headed towards another large chasm near the Stancomb-Wills Glacier Tongue 35 km away. North Rift is the third major crack through the ice shelf to become active in the last decade," the statement of the BSA read. "Our teams at BAS have been prepared for the calving of an iceberg from Brunt Ice Shelf for years. We monitor the ice shelf daily using an automated network of high-precision GPS instruments that surround the station, these measure how the ice shelf is deforming and moving."

Regional News • Americas • Mexico
Mexican Government Bans Glyphosate and GMO Corn Cultivation and Importation
Corn crop
Corn crop Credit: Jo Zimny Photos (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0)

Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador quietly rocked the agribusiness world with his New Year’s Eve decree to phase out the use of the herbicide glyphosate and the cultivation of genetically modified corn. His administration sent an even stronger aftershock two weeks later, clarifying that the government would also phase out GM corn imports in three years. The ban would include not just corn for human consumption but yellow corn destined primarily for livestock. Under NAFTA, the United States has seen a 400% increase in corn exports to Mexico, the vast majority of genetically modified yellow dent corn.

The bold policy moves fulfil a campaign promise by Mexico’s populist president, whose agricultural policies have begun to favour Mexican producers, particularly small-scale farmers, and protect consumers alarmed by the rise of obesity and chronic diseases associated with high-fat, high-sugar processed foods.

Regional News • Americas • Brazil
Brazil dam collapse: Vale will pay a $7 billion compensation for 270 killed
Brazil dam collapse: Vale will pay a $7 billion compensation for 270 killed
Credit: Ricardo Stuckert

The Brumadinho dam, owned by Vale, contained waste from an iron ore mine but gave way, unleashing a sea of mud which engulfed a staff canteen, offices and farms, killing 270 people. The company will pay $7 billion to the victim's families.

After the 2019 Brumadinho disaster, Brazilian prosecutors charged 16 people, including Vale's ex-president Fabio Schvartsman, with intentional homicide and environmental offences, alleging they hid the risk of a dam collapse.

Vale said it would pay both "socio-economic" and "socio-environmental" reparations, funding projects to repair the surrounding environment, including a massive clean-up of the Paraopeba river.

Climate & Environment
1.56b single-use face masks estimated to have entered oceans in 2020
1.56b single-use face masks estimated to have entered oceans in 2020
Credit: unsplash.com/Brian Yurasits

A study conducted by OceansAsia estimates that 1.56 billion of around 52 billion manufactured face masks in 2020 will have entered oceans this year, resulting in an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of marine plastic pollution.

“The 1.56 billion face masks that will likely enter our oceans in 2020 are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Director of Research for OceansAsia, and lead author of the report. “The 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of face masks are just a small fraction of the estimated 8 to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic that enter our oceans each year.”

Climate & Environment
Ocean Panel countries commit to higher level of ocean protection
Manta Ray
Manta Ray Credit: Tchami (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0)

14 countries worldwide have committed themselves to the sustainable management of their national waters. The "Ocean Panel" is a body for sustainable marine management. A goal is it to place until 2030 a third of the seas under protection.

Involved are countries like Australia, Canada, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Norway and Portugal. Together they have a marine area that is about the size of Africa.

Climate & Environment
Ban on new petrol cars by 2030 on Britain roads to net-zero emissions
Ban on new petrol cars by 2030 on Britain roads to net-zero emissions

Five years earlier than previously planned, as part of what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is casting as a "green revolution", Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050.

In total the plan would mobilise 12 billion pounds ($16 billion) of government money, with as much as three times that amount coming from the private sector, and create and support 250,000 highly skilled green jobs by 2030, Johnson said.

Climate & Environment
The U.S. formally withdraws from Paris agreement

After a three-year delay, the US has become the first nation in the world to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement formally. In the wake of the President Donald Trump announcement back in 2017, several states and businesses have pledged to continue cutting carbon and to try and make up for the Federal government's decision to walk away from the US commitment under Paris.

"The EU green deal and carbon neutrality commitments from China, Japan and South Korea point to the inevitability of our collective transition off fossil fuels," said Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris agreement and now chief executive of the European Climate Foundation.

Regional News • Americas • Brazil
Brazil and record fires: Bolsonaro government withdraws firefighters
Fires in the Pantanal region
Fires in the Pantanal region Credit: Sílvio de Andrade (Public Domain)

The Brazilian environmental authority IBAMA has recalled all the forces fighting forest fires and justified its drastic step with lack of money. "I am ordering the withdrawal of all forest fire brigades to their respective bases," said a letter quoted by the news portal G1.

At the end of August, IBAMA had already announced the complete cessation of fire fighting due to the blockade of financial resources.

Research by the organisation Human Rights Watch, recently showed that the environmental authority is imposing virtually no more fines on illegal loggers.

Science • Nature
Seagrass reforested on Virginia's coast
A seagrass meadow
A seagrass meadow Credit: NOAA Photo Library (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

The restored seagrass beds in the sea off the coast of the US state of Virginia ensure a rapid recovery of the ecosystem. A research team sowed about 70 million seagrass seeds off the coast of Virginia, which developed into seagrass beds of about 3.612 hectares.

In the 1930s, a hurricane and plant disease wiped out the seagrass, but now the important ecosystem, which is home to marine life, but also removes large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and cleans the ocean of pollutants, has been successfully restored.

The cultivation of the seagrass beds is not yet complete, but it is already clear that the rebuilding of seagrass can also help other regions to regenerate the coastal ecosystem.

Climate & Environment
Most key habitats in Europe are in poor or bad condition
Most key habitats in Europe are in poor or bad condition
Credit: R Boed (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

80% of Europe's key habitats are found to be in bad or poor condition according to the State of Nature in the EU 2013-2018 report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). About one-third of the 233 listed habitats is in an unfavourable condition and getting worse, while the condition is unfavourable but stable in about the same number of habitats.

At the same time, only a quarter of Europe's species are found to have good conservation status. Reptiles and vascular plants are faring best among species types. The situation is improving for mammals, while it's getting worse for birds and fish.

Urbanisation, pollution and lack of water are playing a role in the loss of habitats and biodiversity. But the biggest reason is intensive farming, which tends to be favoured by the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP). An upcoming CAP reform will be voted on in the European Parliament and EU council. But groupings on the political right are expected to reject most measures that would prioritise the environment. According to WWF's Jabier Ruiz, "the future of the CAP looks grim".

Climate & Environment
European Parliament about to decide over EU's Common Agricultural Policy
European Parliament about to decide over EU's Common Agricultural Policy
Credit: Tobias Nordhausen (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0)

The European Parliament and the council of member states are about to decide over the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the years 2021-2027. With the animal farming industry in Europe emitting more CO2 than all EU cars and vans combined, this will be an important decision for the environment, biodiversity and small farms.

Until now, the CAP has mostly benefitted large agribusinesses while failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or the loss of biodiversity. Between 2005 and 2013, almost 3 million small to medium-sized had to close down. Existing ecologic measures implemented in the CAP have not proven to be effective.

In the current negotiations, a coalition of political groups in the European Parliament led by the right-wing EPP is trying to keep the CAP this way, while environmentalist groups are calling for a "greener" CAP that serves the environment, farmers and rural communities.

Transportation • Cars & Automobiles
Austrian government to provide €40 million in funding for electric cars in 2021
An electric car being charged in Flachau, Salzburger, Austria.
An electric car being charged in Flachau, Salzburger, Austria. Credit: Jakob Härter (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

In 2021 the Austrian government will provide 40 million euros in funding for electric cars. This was announced by Environment and Transport Minister Leonore Gewessler on Sunday.

In the years 2019 and 2020, a total of 93 million euros - together with the automobile importers - were available. As the APA (Austrian Press Agency) stated, these funds have now been almost completely exhausted. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the ministry had increased the subsidy per e-car from 3000 to 5000 euros.

Climate & Environment
Research suggests Great Barrier Reef has lost 50% of its corals within three decades
Research suggests Great Barrier Reef has lost 50% of its corals within three decades
Credit: Robert Linsdell (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

According to findings by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the "number of small, medium and large corals on the Great Barrier Reef has declined by more than 50% since the 1990s".

Regional News • Oceania
Rio Tinto CEO resigns after the destruction of ancient aboriginal caves
Jean-Sébastien Jacques
Jean-Sébastien Jacques Credit: Rio Tinto

Jean-Sébastien Jacques has resigned as the CEO of Rio Tinto after the company destroyed a 46,000-year-old sacred aboriginal site in Australia. Jacques will leave once his successor is chosen or at the end of March 2021, whichever comes first.

The company also announced the departure of the head of the iron ore business, Chris Salisbury, and the group expand for corporate relations, Simone Niven.

Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson released a statement saying: "We are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation."

Climate & Environment
Half a million people flee Oregon to escape wildfires
Oregon Wildfires, 2018
Oregon Wildfires, 2018 Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20180811-FS-Rogue-KG-1068_(30465240178).jpg

Over half a million people – or 10+% of the state's population – are fleeing Oregon to escape the wildfires that have been raging across the Pacific Northwest.

Governor Kate Brown (D) told reporters that this most likely wasn't a "one-time event" and that the current situation was a "bellwether for the future" of "acute impacts of climate change." Brown has reported that at least four people have died, including a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother.

Climate & Environment
French fishing federation alleges Nestlé to be responsible for thousands of dead fish in French river
French fishing federation alleges Nestlé to be responsible for thousands of dead fish in French river
Credit: Fédération de pêche des Ardennes via Facebook

Thousands of dead fish have been found in the river Aisne in France. The Ardennes fishing federation posted on Facebook that on the third day of collecting dead fish they have removed one tonne in fish weight from the river. In total three tonnes of dead fish have reportedly removed.

Michel Adam the president of the Ardennes fishing federation has stated that they "have lodged a complaint against Nestlé France for pollution and violation of article 432.2 of the environmental code". The local prefecture has stated that the fish have died due to a decrease in the water's oxygen levels.

The Challerange Nestlé has confirmed that they've been responsible for an "occasional and involuntary overflow of biological sludge effluent, without the presence of chemicals". They also stated that the production of powdered milk in the factory has been stopped as soon as reports have gotten in.

Regional News • Americas • Brazil
New evidence links Brazil meat giant JBS to Amazon deforestation
New evidence links Brazil meat giant JBS to Amazon deforestation
Credit: Ibama

The Guardian reports that the farm "Estrela do Aripuanã" in Mato Grosso would have used JBS transport services to transfer cattle to another 'clean record' property, which later supplied two company's slaughterhouses. The practice it is known as 'cattle triangulation'.

The investigation, joint initiative by Repórter Brasil, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian, found photographic evidence of the cattle being transported from "Estrela do Aripuanã", already fined by Ibama for illegal deforestation, to another farm.

JBS said in a statement that "The company clarifies that the logistics and transportation service provided and executed, independently, must meet the same sustainability policies as the company, including blocking farms that do not comply with these policies".

Regional News • World
UN holds meeting over fears that abandoned tanker off Yemens's coast could release 1.1 million barrels of crude into ocean
UN holds meeting over fears that abandoned tanker off Yemens's coast could release 1.1 million barrels of crude into ocean
Credit: Twitter (Reproduction)

United Nations have met and discussed possible actions to prevent a breach of the FSO Safer tanker that is anchored off Yemen's coast near the port of Hodeida. The 45-year-old tanker has been abandoned, is under the control of the Iran-backed Huthis and carries 1.1 million barrels of crude oil. The UN Security Council fears that in case the tanker explodes or leaks, the oil would destroy the environment and livelihood of tens of thousands of people that depend on fishing in the area.

The UN Security Council has reportedly proposed a plan to conduct repairs on the ship to which the Huthis had previously agreed in 2019, only for the mission to get cancelled in the last minute. In May a leak in the engine room has been repaired alorad but according to the British UN mission "a permanent solution is urgently needed".