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The global threat to biodiversity is so severe and all-encompassing (one million species already face extinction), it qualifies for “issue salience”. Can the 2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework be a watershed moment in international environmental law, finally delivering strong guidance to avert a global crisis of biodiversity? Can soft international law have the power to affect fundamental changes in the way biodiversity conservation currently takes place? Is this hinged upon how successful international diplomacy is in stimulating re-direction and scaling up of financial resources? As always, the answer depends on the quality implementation, with standards of quality set collaboratively at the international level. This piece primarily unpacks the flagship 30×30 target and highlights the significance of the delivery of funding under Target 19. It also lays out some of the other pertinent provisions in the recently adopted treaty, heralded by the international community as the “Paris Agreement” for Nature. Read on to gauge its potential and what scientific experts say is requisite for effective implementation. 

Background

Human-induced biodiversity loss and climate change, two mutually reinforcing global phenomena, have demonstrated the power to radically transform the Earth’s ecological and climate systems – at rates unprecedented in human history. 

Multiple drivers of biodiversity loss – key amongst them being land and sea-use change, overexploitation, pollution and climate change (as shown by scientific experts) – act synergistically to reduce global ecosystem functioning, thereby affecting humans and our social and economic systems adversely. 

The enormity of the findings of the 2019 IPBES Report was not lost on the international community. In yet another wake-up call, the report finds that around one million species already face extinction and an average of 25%, from the assessed plants and animal groups, are threatened. The report’s findings resuscitated international policy action, after the failed 2010 Aichi targets. The need for an effective global strategic framework to guide action for long-term preservation of biodiversity and related ecosystem services has never been felt more strongly before. 

Historically, nations’ participation in global environmental treaties have had varying normative and behavioural impacts on domestic action, with varying degrees of incorporation in their national regulatory regimes. The hope is that the 2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework can animate the work needed, at all levels, to make fundamental changes in how conservation actions are carried out today.

You might also like: The Remarkable Benefits of Biodiversity

2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework 

The 2022 Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework (herewith, the GBF), heralded as a landmark Agreement and the “Paris agreement” for nature, includes four broader Goals and 23 Targets towards the 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature of the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

The GBF has an ambitious short-term mission to “halt and reverse biodiversity loss” by 2030. A prerequisite for fulfilling this mission is a target popularly known as 30×30, embedded in Target 3 of the GBF, and discussed here.

Target 3: The Flagship Target

“ Ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and of coastal and marine areas especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed through ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, recognising indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable,….”

The GBF’s flagship target is the clarion call to effectively protect “at least 30%” of land, inland waters, and coastal and marine areas by 2030, through the designation of protected areas (PAs) and use of other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). A Protected Area has a broad legal definition under the CBD as a clearly-defined geographical area designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives. In practice, there has been substantial variegation in the definition, scope and methodologies used to designate and manage PAs. PAs have also been increasingly used to address a broad array of conservation, social and economic goals. However, political commitments for increased coverage and effective management of PAs has been considerably lacking. The question that can now be asked is: Will this new impetus from international diplomacy – the GBF and the 30 x 30 Target – drive a change that can tap into the full potential of PAs?

Prior to the 15th Conference of the Parties in Montreal, the 30×30 target was already championed by the High Ambition Coalition of Nature and People, consisting of over a 100 countries. Internationally, PAs and OECMs are well-regarded as cornerstone policy instruments to directly halt and reverse ongoing biodiversity loss, with co-benefits for achieving other Sustainable Development Goals. 

In fact, scientific literature regards the 30%-aspiration to be the “lower limit for effective biodiversity conservation.” A key IUCN-UNEP report explains how 30% is the minimum target for preserving fundamental global biodiversity values – from preventing species’ extinction (halting/reversing decline of endangered or threatened species), protecting biodiversity and ecosystem-services rich areas, preserving crucial spawning areas and migration sites, and preventing fragmentation and habitat degradation in ecologically-intact areas that support large-scale ecological processes. If areas of high carbon density and climate refugia are to be offered protection, the coverage of PAs and OECMs would have to be increased to 50% of Earth’s land and sea. 

As per a detailed analysis of Target 3 by Equilibrium Research, the numerical aspiration of 30% could be subject to varying legal interpretations. Some countries may prefer to interpret 30% as an all-inclusive target, while conservation groups would prefer to aim for a 30% coverage for each of the three elements – land, inland waters, and marine/coastal areas – separately. Equilibrium Research’s analysis also sheds light on the significance of the phrase – “Ensure and enable” – under Target 3. This language reflects the dire need to establish relevant national Protected Areas-related legislation in many countries, and as Equilibrium Research’s briefing points out – the need for updating policy, as well the much-needed funding gap – in order to make effective biodiversity conservation a reality.

Quality Over Quantity for Target 3 Deliverance 

To put the 30×30 target in perspective, currently 17% of land and 8% of marine areas are under protection. Given prior concerns over the “quality” of such protected areas under Aichi Target 11, the 2022 GBF calls for the target to include “ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems” PAs and OECMs. International collaboration can be a key aspect of ensuring quality – to bring under protection only those areas rich in biodiversity (not selected “for their size but for their ecological value”) and without conflicts with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. 

In fact, a significant aspect of the GBF is the call for conservation efforts to be undertaken in a manner that respects the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), “including over their traditional territories” (Target 3). Even though the latter is not recognised as a separate protection category under Target 3, the text of the GBF is commended by the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity for upholding the rights of IPLCs.

What of the rest of the 70% of Earth?

One scientific study affirms that simply achieving the quantitative goal set out in Target 3 would not be sufficient for maintaining ecosystems of high ecological integrity (Target 1), nor sufficient for the recovery and conservation of threatened species and genetic diversity (Target 4), nor for overall maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity-related ecosystem services (Goal B and several Targets). This is especially so if the rest of the 70% of land and sea is open to human exploitation without limits defined by biodiversity-conservation values. This is why the highly-regarded IUCN-UNEP report recommends that beyond the 30% target, best sustainability targets should be applied to protecting the remaining 70% of the Earth, in a “Whole Earth Approach.”

Guidance and standards have been developed by the IUCN with respect to what constitutes Protected Area, how to identify key Biodiversity Areas and four different governance types that ought to be used, including governance by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, based on human-rights based approaches. 

As always, national efforts are required to make sure these areas are well governed and effectively managed. As pointed out by the report by Equilibrium Research, action is needed on developing more comprehensive guidance on the selection criterion for OECMs with specific links to biodiversity, to ensure governments do not declare OECMs in a capricious manner. 

Cost-Benefit Analysis of the 30×30 Target

As with several environmental management and policy decisions, the 30×30 target has been subject to a cost-benefit analysis. A widely-cited analysis, involving more than 100 scientists/economists, estimates that the total economic output of sectors directly impacted (agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism) increases by a range of US$64-454 billion per year  (depending on the implementation approach) by 2050, in a scenario where PAs are expanded (versus non-expansion). This analysis includes the notion of PAs as an economic sector in its own right, with high-revenue generating potential through tourism.

Add to the above estimates of the large risks avoided through staving off catastrophic natural disasters, plus the non-monetary value of ecosystem services preserved, and this would dwarf the estimated investment costs of $103-178 billion per year required for the expansion of PAs under Target 3. Just a partial assessment, focussed on forests and mangroves alone, estimates an “avoided-loss” value of $170-534 billion per year from avoiding flooding, climate change, soil loss and coastal storm surge related damages. 

As PAs are central to reducing land-use change, and the latter has the largest potential impact on zoonotic disease emergence, the cost-avoidance of pandemics such as Covid19 should be at once imaginable and unimaginable to all of us inhabiting this planet today. 

Target 19

A 2020 UN Summit had called attention to a funding shortfall of $700 billion as one of the key roadblocks to successfully meeting the Aichi targets. 

The expansion of PAs to meet Target 3 requires the bulk of the investments to be made in low- and middle-income countries. This makes the availability of biodiversity-related financing for developing countries a prerequisite for success. It’s no surprise then that the issue of resource mobilisation was a major sticking point in the COP15 negotiations

What gives hope is the commitment  in the final outcome to mobilise at least 200 billion United States dollars per year” by 2030 from varied sources (public and private) and the agreement to set up a “global biodiversity fund” to finance the implementation. This includes a commitment to scale-up total biodiversity-related international financial resources from developed countries to developing countries, especially least-developed countries and small island developing States, to at least US$ 20 billion per year by 2025, and to at least US$ 30 billion per year by 2030.”

A major setback in the GBF, from the point of view of developing countries, was the non-inclusion of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) in the treaty texts. While CBDR’s status as a globally accepted legal norm remains contentious, it is a founding principle of the Rio Declaration (Article 7) and considered the underlying basis for the financing provisions under CBD. As well put by international scholars of environmental law (Professors Percival, Robert, Yang, Tseming et al), the CBDR principle, along with other principles such as sustainable development and intergenerational equity “gained widespread acceptance as fundamental principles of sound planetary stewardship.”

You might also like: Did COP15 Succeed or Fail?

Other Significant Targets:

Conclusion 

The success of the Montreal Protocol – rightly acclaimed as a model for successful environmental treaties – has been attributed to several factors including the strength of commitment of parties, political will, global partnership and partnership between State and Non-State Actors. These factors are essential ingredients for the successful implementation of the GBF, especially since robust standards are required for implementing the 30×30 target, which necessitates a “two-way flow of information from local to global and vice-versa”  and maintenance of synergies with other conventions. 

The aim of the GBF was not to achieve a lowest-common denominator outcome but to be a step above international commitments/actions taken in the past. Aspects that set the GBF apart from its predecessors are the agreed-upon mechanisms for its planning, monitoring, reporting and review and the scaled-up financial commitments. A question that looms large is – will developed countries fulfil their financial commitments or will it end up a broken promise similar to the $100 billion a year for climate finance?

You might also like: Biodiversity Is More at Risk Than Ever Before. Here’s How We Change Course.

In an exclusive interview with Walid Al Saqqaf, co-founder and CEO of nature-based solution platform Rebalance Earth, and Amit Ghosh, Chief Information & Services Offices and Head of Asia Pacific of enterprise blockchain technology provider R3, Earth.Org discusses the importance of biodiversity and the necessity to implement nature-based solutions such as nature credits to protect keystone species and alleviate the climate crisis. 

Biodiversity Is at Risk

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), great whales are typically valued at US$50,000 for their meat. Still, they are actually worth $2 million if kept alive due to the carbon sequestration services they perform in the ocean. 

This is an illustration of a key point that is missing in most climate change conversations – the remarkable benefits of biodiversity

The World Economic Forum estimates that roughly half of the global GDP, or about $44 trillion of economic value, depends on the natural world in some way, meaning its destruction also carries an enormous financial toll.

Biodiversity is often referred to as the “web of life” because it shows how all the species work together to support life and ecological balance on Earth. Our planet is home to approximately 8.7 million species and while humans make up just 0.01% of life on Earth, their activities are compromising entire ecosystems and killing millions of animals and plants every year. Our modern lives and patterns of overconsumption are putting a strain on the planet’s natural resources. 

According to the WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022, since 1970, 69% of our planet’s wildlife population has been lost due to land-use change, over-harvesting, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and pollution. Data from the World Economic Forum suggests that 75% of our land has been fundamentally altered, 66% of oceans negatively impacted, and 85% of wetlands lost.

Biodiversity loss by region; wwf, nature credits

Image 1: Biodiversity loss by region (WWF).

To learn more about viable nature-based solutions that support biodiversity conservation while simultaneously contributing to carbon emission reduction, Earth.Org spoke to Walid Al Saqqaf, co-founder and CEO of Rebalance Earth, and Amit Ghosh, Chief Information & Services Officer and Head of Asia Pacific at R3, a leading enterprise blockchain technology provider.

A Partnership to Develop Nature Credits

The IMF study about the economic value of great whales represented a turning point in Al Saqqaf’s career. When confronted with the findings, the startup developer decided it was time to change something. 

“I realised three things,” he said. “First, we only value nature when it’s dead and not when it’s alive. Second, I refuse to accept that my daughters grow up in a world with such crummy values. And finally, I think I know how to solve this.”

Motivated to find a nature-based solution to protect biodiversity while simultaneously alleviating the climate crisis, Al Saqqaf co-founded Rebalance Earth, a new nature-based solution platform that allows its users to purchase ecosystem service credits produced by forest elephants and earn returns in the form of carbon credits and biodiversity credits. 

“With our work, we want to help develop a nature-based economy where it becomes more valuable to keep nature alive than to kill it,” he explained.

Through its partnership with R3, a blockchain technology provider that specialises in the creation, distribution, and tracking of digital assets, Rebalance Earth integrates services performed by nature into the market by creating high-integrity nature credits. These credits, Al Saqqaf explained, have three, tightly interconnected aspects: climate change, biodiversity, and global communities. 

“Our mission is to create high-integrity nature credits that protect and grow biodiversity, support carbon capture, and generate prosperity for the communities that preserve nature.”

R3 makes the whole process of selling and buying these credits more efficient. According to Ghosh, this efficiency is guaranteed through smart contracts, which can track and enable the movement of assets across different bodies, as well as through the use of cryptography to make sure that data is tamper-proof. This ensures the company buying the credit that the data obtained from the forest is reliable and thus that they are paying for the right cause.

natur credits; Amit Ghosh

Amit Ghosh, Chief Information & Services Offices and Head of Asia Pacific of enterprise blockchain technology provider R3.

You might also like: What Are Nature-Based Solutions And How Can They Help Tackle the Climate Crisis?

Carbon Capture Technologies vs. Nature Credits

Building carbon capture technologies (CCTs) remains one of the most popular ways to solve the existential threat our planet is facing. CCT refers to anthropogenic activities that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it durably in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, as well as in products. Carbon capture builds on the ability of so-called natural ‘carbon sinks’, like the ocean and forests, to absorb or store carbon, often enhancing it through the use of technology. 

However, there is also another form of technology that allows us to protect biodiversity and slow down climate change, a concept that has gained traction only recently: nature. Concretely, this can be done by selling ecosystem services provided by biodiversity to produce carbon offsets, which in turn support the livelihoods of local communities.

Rebalance Earth decided to focus specifically on keystone species, including the forest elephant, the gorilla, and the caribou, one of Canada’s most recognisable species. Such species are regarded as “ecosystem engineers” as they “have been shown to respond to, and create, habitat heterogeneity”. In practice, they help boost diversity by creating ecological niches for other species whether flora or fauna.

The ecosystem services platform surveyed 23 large companies across 8 industries to find out how much they would be willing to pay for a high-integrity nature credit that provides them with biodiversity, carbon, and a human element. The answer was $40.

“Over 80% of the $40 goes to pay park rangers’ salaries, to provide free health care and education to local communities, and into a micro-fund that invests only in women for them to set up their own business,” Al Saqqaf clarified. “This is truly a holistic solution.”

The reason why Rebalance Earth believes nature credits are a better solution than carbon capture technologies lies in the fact that they have a ripple effect. Through R3’s institutional-grade blockchain technology, Rebalance Earth makes use of capital generated from the biodiversity credits into projects that support the UN Sustainable Development Goals

“If you spend $40 dollars on CCT, it will absorb the carbon from the atmosphere,” explained Al Saqqaf. “However, if you spend $40 dollars on an orangutan, a great whale, a forest elephant, or a wolf, you’re not just saving a species from extinction, you’re also getting the carbon sequestration, the biodiversity impact because they’re providing those ecosystem services for the entire ecosystem, you’re financing the economic development of a local community who now become consumers themselves, who spend money, who pay taxes. You’re actually lifting a whole nation up.”

natur credits; Walid Al Saqqaf

Walid Al Saqqaf, co-founder and CEO of nature-based solution platform Rebalance Earth.

Unlike carbon or biodiversity offsets, which are payments made by a business to compensate for its damaging impacts on location-specific ecosystems, buying a nature credit means investing in an opportunity to become stakeholders of nature while also getting a financial return in the form of future carbon and biodiversity credits which are tradable in the market. 

The R3 and Rebalance Earth partnership is set to launch early this year in a number of jurisdictions across the world and with a number of species.

Final Thoughts 

Ahead of last month’s flagship biodiversity summit in Montreal, or COP15, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK-based think tank, released a report backing biodiversity credits, or ‘biocredits’, as a way to “incentivise nature conservation and restoration to benefit marginalised groups living with nature.”

“As a purely positive investment in nature, biocredits are distinct and are preferred to biodiversity offsets, which can cause net damage to biodiversity,” the paper reads.

COP15 ended with a historic deal to protect the world’s biodiversity and provide finance to restore habitats in developing countries and sent a clear message to the world about the importance of protecting and preserving nature.

With the clock ticking to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss and reverse global warming, nature credits can play a key role in our efforts to reach the shared global goal of net zero. 

You might also like: Did COP15 Succeed or Fail?

Haiti is among the most deforested countries in the world. While deforestation in the country has continued to contribute to other environmental problems such as landslides, addressing the problem remains difficult, owing to the fact that cutting trees to produce charcoal is critical to the survival of the majority of Haiti’s residents. In an exclusive interview with Earth.org, Caitlyn Eberle, a scientist at the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), explains that solutions to combat deforestation in Haiti must align with the needs of charcoal producers and farmers.

EO: What are the reasons or causes of deforestation in Haiti and why is it difficult to address the problem?

Eberle: Deforestation in Haiti is a really systemic issue that can be traced back centuries, beginning in force when the French colonial government cleared thousands of hectares of forest for plantations. More recently, with the population in the country increasing rapidly in the 1940s, so did the demand for resources, so forests are often cleared primarily to make new agricultural plots or for harvesting fuelwood.  

The problem is difficult to address because of its systemic nature. Deforestation in Haiti happened over centuries and was largely beyond the control of the people that are in power nowadays. Additionally, over 80% of the country’s energy is generated from burning charcoal or firewood, which makes them an important source of rural energy production that contributes even more to the household economy (up to 25%) than agriculture (around 4%). As such, attempting to put limits on forestry practices without providing alternative livelihood support is not going to work. 

You might also like: 10 Deforestation Facts You Should Know About

EO: What are the impacts and consequences of deforestation in Haiti?

Eberle: The impacts of deforestation in Haiti and in most places in the world mainly relate to soil stability and health. A lack of forested areas means fewer tree roots can hold the soil in place, increasing the risk of landslides triggered by heavy rain or earthquakes. Deforested slopes also accelerate the process of soil erosion, since the soil is more exposed to wind and rain to transport the soil elsewhere. This exposure to wind and rain also decreases the capacity of the soil to absorb water, creating a pseudo-drought where there is enough rainfall but unavailable for crops. 

As more and more land is deforested in attempts to grow food on marginal soils, it becomes increasingly susceptible to erosion and nutrient loss, which furthers the need to deforest more land in search of more fertile soils.

EO: How much of a problem is deforestation in Haiti, especially as climate change remains a major threat? And how is forest loss contributing to climate change?

Eberle: It’s difficult to say which issue is more of a problem because deforestation and climate change impact each individual to a different degree at different times. They do often combine, amplifying the effects of certain issues such as drought or landslide risk. For example, if deforestation-exposed soil is combined with climate change causing stronger, more intense rain and storms, there is more risk of devastating landslides than if only one of those factors existed by itself. 

Deforestation does contribute to climate change, as the loss of trees and soil decreases the ecosystem’s ability to store carbon. It’s important to keep in mind that deforestation is just a part of the larger picture of global greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable consumption. 

You might also like: How Does Deforestation Affect the Environment?

EO: In the recently published Interconnected Disaster Risk report, deforestation was highlighted as one of the drivers of risk during the latest earthquake that hit Haiti. Can you explain the relationship between these two phenomena?

Eberle: Deforestation was definitely a driver of risk during the Haiti earthquake disaster, since it contributed to the increased risk of hazards in the form of landslides, but also to the vulnerability of people affected by the earthquake. Landslides not only destroyed roads and blocked rivers, but they also destroyed whole crop yields, disrupting livelihoods and food production systems. A more hidden aspect of deforestation as a driver of earthquake risk is that it increases the vulnerability of people, increasing the risk that they will suffer from a hazard such as an earthquake. Land degradation and erosion brought on by deforestation often push subsistence farmers onto steep terrain in hopes of more fertile soil, putting them at greater risk of landslides. Increasingly degraded soils decrease crop yields, creating economic and food insecurity and making it more difficult for people to cope or recover after a disaster strikes.

EO: What solutions would you proffer to address the issue of deforestation in Haiti?

Eberle: Reforestation and ecosystem restoration at first seem like the best solution to combat deforestation since planting trees on hillsides can help stabilise soil, promote overall ecosystem health and reduce the severity of flood events. However, reforestation and soil conservation projects have often failed because they were not aligned with the needs of local communities. Instead, solutions should focus on working with charcoal producers and farmers to meet their needs. Creating living erosion barriers, such as hedgerows of trees or shrubs, can provide erosion control by capturing soil and water run-off while also allowing farmers to prune the leaves for animal fodder and woody stems for cooking fuel. Agroforestry systems (cultivating food crops between trees) can similarly provide soil stabilisation while providing livelihood and food security benefits from agriculture and forest products. 

You might also like: Reconsidering Reforestation and Tree Planting Projects

Many approaches to combat deforestation have focused on banning charcoal production and trade while attempting to reforest areas with fast-growing, exotic species, such as neem and eucalyptus, or promoting the use of more efficient (but expensive) cookstoves. These solutions ignore that charcoal production is a significant source of income and energy for people across the country and that attempting to change such a culturally-ingrained livelihood strategy without a sustainable, affordable alternative is doomed to fail.

EO: Are the government and other institutions putting enough effort into addressing this huge issue?

Eberle: I think there is a lot of good work going on, and people both locally and internationally really care about this issue. However, the problem is often viewed only from this one perspective and solutions presented often seem singularly focused: that the solution to deforestation is to plant more trees. In reality, the issue is much bigger than that. It’s a good start, but livelihoods and well-being need to be protected, and land rights should be formalised so people have the incentive to invest and care about the place they live in. Ideally, these kinds of solutions should be implemented in a “package” to address as many different aspects of the problem at once.

EO: Any last thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

Eberle: A commonly cited estimate puts Haiti’s forest cover at just 2%, but this is an outdated and likely incorrect figure. Recent satellite imagery suggests the figure is closer to 20-30%. It’s really important, however, that the narrative around Haiti is not that it is some deforested moon-scape – it is a lush Caribbean nation with a lot of resources that could use some more focused management. 

Featured image by Pixabay

If you enjoyed this interview, make sure to check this out next: A Partnership to Protect the Dulan Forest of Indonesia: An Interview with Dax Dasilva

As yet another record-breaking year draws to a close, Earth.Org loos back at what has happened in the last 12 months. Fortunately, despite the many grim headlines we were confronted with this year, there were some positive environmental news stories that left us feeling hopeful for the times ahead. 

2022 was another year for the record books. From unbearable heatwaves and ruinous droughts to devastating floods and wildfires – we have seen it all. This summer will undoubtedly go down in history for the countless extreme weather events that have brought about destruction, claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and displaced millions worldwide. 

The latest IPCC report clearly shows that the world is rapidly losing sight of being able to stay under the crucial 1.5C limit of global temperature rise and a grim UN report even suggests that we are on track to warm above 2C, as the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue their relentless rise.

The situation is dramatic and requires drastic measures. Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. This year, some things happened that made us a little less pessimistic about what the future holds for us and our precious planet. Keep reading to find out the top 6 good environmental news stories of 2022 that will hopefully help you cope with climate anxiety and make you a little more confident for the year to come.

6 Positive Environmental News Stories From 2022

1. Renewable energy production hit record levels (and is on track to become the largest source of global electricity by 2025)

The War in Ukraine and rising fossil fuel prices this year have undoubtedly pushed countries to look for alternative energy sources. Short on gas following Russia’s cutoff, the European Union has ramped up efforts to scale up renewable energy infrastructure, and the outcome is promising. In the second quarter of 2022, 43% of the bloc’s energy mix came from renewables, with 19 of the bloc’s member states achieving record wind and solar power generation. And while it’s true that some countries returned to coal (even if only temporarily) amid the energy crisis, recent data shows that EU emissions in November have reached their lowest value in at least 30 years, showing that concerns about the bloc regressing on its climate commitments are unfounded.

But Europe was not alone. China, the US, and India – whose economic growth has largely been fuelled by coal and gas – have also made great strides in their commitment to shifting to alternative energy sources in light of their net-zero targets. 

According to the International Energy Agency’s latest report, global growth has been so substantial that renewable energy is now on track to become the largest source of global electricity generation by 2025, and by 2027, the world will have twice as much renewable capacity as in the previous five years. 

You might also like: 7 Interesting Renewable Energy Facts

2. The US passed the biggest climate bill in the country’s history

In August, US President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law. The historic piece of legislation is the single largest investment in climate and energy in America’s history, paving the way for a greener future in the US – the world’s second-largest polluting nation after China – but ultimately also for the entire planet. 

The IRA sets aside US$369 billion to fight the climate crisis. Experts predict a 40% reduction in US emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels, which would bring the country one step closer to its commitment to reach net zero by 2050. 

Inflation Reduction Act; positive environmental news; joe biden

The Inflation Reduction Act is the largest piece of climate legislation ever taken up by the US Congress. Photo by Adam Schultz (Flickr)

The bill includes significant investments in renewables, particularly solar and offshore wind, as well as new credits for nuclear power production and clean hydrogen and incentives to develop more facilities that produce clean energy inputs, components, and finished products. It also provides tax breaks to make electric vehicles more affordable and help low-income households to turn away from gas-powered cars. Through these incentives for investment in clean energy, the government hopes to push consumers to make more sustainable choices.

What’s more, the IRA provides huge incentives for carbon capture, utilisation, and sequestration (CCUS) projects and expands the eligibility for carbon capture and sequestration credits. 

You might also like: All You Need to Know About The US Inflation Reduction Act

3. COP27 countries reached a long-awaited deal to provide compensation for climate change damages to vulnerable developing nations

One of the main topics of discussion during November’s COP27 summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, was the financial support that wealthy nations must provide to the vulnerable Global South. Despite their little contribution to global warming, developing nations are the ones experiencing the greatest economic, social, and cultural losses and damages caused by anthropogenic climate change.

The conference kicked off with an agreement that placed the issue of loss and damage on the agenda for the first time in COP’s history after this year’s major disasters such as the devastating floods in Pakistan reignited the debate. The Asian nation, which contributes a negligible 0.8% to the global carbon footprint, was hit by unprecedented, erratic rains that resulted in mass destruction across the disaster-prone nation, killing nearly 2,000 people, displacing millions, and causing damage to cities and infrastructures for approximately US$28 billion. 

positive environmental news; cop27

Hundreds of people marched through UN climate conference in first big protest at COP27 to demand compensation for climate change  from richer countries and fossil fuel firms. Photo by UNFCCC (Flickr)

After two weeks of tense negotiations, the final COP27 agreement included the long-awaited provision to establish a fund to help developing countries that are  “particularly vulnerable” to global warming bear the immediate costs of climate change-fuelled events, such as storms and floods. Despite the historic win for poor nations, however, details as to who would pay, how much, and who would benefit won’t be decided until next year, when a transitional committee is expected to make recommendations for countries to adopt at COP28 in November 2023.

You might also like: Did COP27 Succeed or Fail?

4. New bloc-wide laws and regulations put the European Union at the forefront of international efforts to fight climate change

Throughout 2022, the European Union – the world’s third-largest emitter behind China and the US – has undoubtedly positioned itself as an indisputable leader in the fight against global warming. As part of the European Green Deal, a plan that sets out a clear path towards the bloc’s ambitious targets of a 55% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century, the EU passed sweeping legislation and adopted new rules that will put its 27 member states on track to achieve their climate goals.  

In October, the European Parliament and Council reached an agreement that effectively bans all sales of fossil fuel cars and vans by 2035, a crucial step forward considering that the transportation sector accounts for about 30% of the bloc’s total greenhouse gas emissions and almost two-thirds of oil used. The EU is effectively the world’s first (and for now only) region to go all-electric. Similar legislations were recently adopted by California and the State of New York, as both US states announced that they will ban the sales of gas-powered cars by 2035.  

More recently, Brussels announced new bloc-wide regulations on packaging waste – which currently accounts for 36% of all municipal solid waste – and proposed a new plan to certify carbon removal projects, though key details will be worked out at a later point. EU lawmakers also agreed to add the shipping industry to the bloc’s Emission Trading System (ETS), a decision that effectively forces vessels to pay for their carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen dioxide emissions for voyages within the bloc and that adds pressure to scale up green infrastructure and technologies. 

Lastly, EU countries agreed on a world-first carbon-border tariff targeting imported goods including steel, aluminium, cement, fertilisers, and electricity, which requires overseas and domestic companies to buy permits to cover the CO2 emissions associated with them.

5. Countries agreed to provide critical financing to save the world’s biodiversity at COP15

In December, representatives from 195 countries gathered in Montreal, Canada, for the UN’s Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, otherwise known as COP15. Here, negotiators were tasked with securing a global action plan to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. 

Besides the 30×30 goal – an ambitious plan to protect at least 30% of the world’s land, inland waters, coastal areas, and oceans by 2030, negotiators agreed on allocating US$200 per year for biodiversity initiatives both from the private and public sector. Developed countries also pledged to provide $25 billion annually starting in 2025 and $30 billion by the end of the decade to poorer nations through a new biodiversity fund that will be created under the Global Environment Facility.

The conference came at a crucial time in history. Biodiversity loss is happening at the fastest pace ever recorded, making boosting conservation and ecosystem management pivotal to safeguarding our planet and humans, whose lives and survival depend on it. A grim report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) earlier this year found that the world has lost about 69% of its wildlife population in the past 50 years. The study also suggests that freshwater species have also been “disproportionately impacted”, plummeting 83% on average in only half a century. Among the species most threatened by overfishing are pink dolphins and harlequin frogs. 

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6. Lula’s election in Brazil brings hope for the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest and one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems

After years of persistent deforestation and a sharp increase in wildfires under climate denier Jair Bolsonaro, Lula’s astonishing comeback marked a turning point in Brazil’s fight against climate change and spurred hope for the future of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest and one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems, home to three million species of plants and animals. 

positive environmental news; COP27 week 2; Lula

Newly-elected president Lula arrives at COP27. Photo by Peter Dejong/AP

During Bolsonaro’s presidency, deforestation of the Amazon soared to a 15-year high, with scientists warning that the forest was nearing a tipping point beyond which there would be irreversible consequences that would be felt across the globe. September marked yet another record-breaking month, as nearly 1,455 square kilometres (562 square miles) of coverage were lost. This marked a staggering 48% increase from just a year ago and more than the current record, which was hit in September 2019.

During his election campaign, Lula vowed to fight Amazon deforestation and crack down on illegal gold miners, loggers, and ranchers responsible for widespread environmental destruction and the displacement of indigenous communities. 

The newly elected president made a meaningful appearance during the second week of COP27, saying that climate change would have the highest profile in his government: “There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon. We will do whatever it takes to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes.”

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COP15 wrapped up on December 19, and, as with every other international conference, there were polarising opinions on the productiveness of the aims that the participating parties so expertly self-proclaimed. Chaired by China but hosted in Montreal, Canada, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was held to finalise a global framework that can mitigate and eventually reverse the current tides of biodiversity loss. The following is a recap of what was achieved and what was not. 

What Was Achieved?

1. Nations’ agreement for global biodiversity restoration

The main achievement that is at the tip of everyone’s mouths is the long-awaited adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework (GBF). Signed on the last day of the two-week-long summit, this agreement brings the issues of biodiversity loss and the urgency of restoring global ecosystems into perspective and perhaps also symbolises the delegates’ rolling up their sleeves in actually acquiring the targets ruled out. There are 4 overarching goals that characterise this document:

  1. Stop the extinction of species caused by humans and dramatically decrease all species’ extinction rate by 2050.
  2. Sustainable use and management of biodiversity to guarantee that nature’s contributions to humanity are acknowledged, preserved, and increased.
  3. Equitable distribution of advantages derived from the use of genetic resources, and digital sequencing information on these resources.
  4. All Parties, notably Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, should have access to appropriate means of implementing the GBF.

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Within these objectives, 23 targets are specified to further contextualise the GBF’s credibility, with the assurance that they will be met by 2030, with the following highlights:

Finance and funding are crucial in pushing the success of these goals in advance to their 2030 deadline. At COP15, a number of agreements pertaining to the GBF’s execution – including monitoring, reporting, resource mobilisation, assisting developing countries in fulfilling their duties, and the digital sequence information on genetic resources – were further endorsed. It was proposed that a Special Trust Fund contributed by all COP15 delegates be established immediately, so as to assist the implementation of the GBF Fund. The fund would supplement the necessary finances to guarantee the timely implementation of the GBF via a sufficient, predictable, and timely cash flow.

2. Mandating private investments for deforestation prevention

Aside from this, a mandate was also achieved at COP 15 to prevent deforestation via private investments. The Deforestation, Conversion, and Abuse-Free (DCAF) Investment Mandate from the non-profit Global Canopy includes instructions for assisting the development of investment portfolios that do not fuel deforestation and related human rights concerns, such as labour difficulties and indigenous peoples’ rights. The objective is to remove deforestation from portfolio assets within four years. 

3. Indigenous-led conservations in Canada

Changes were motivated locally as well in the host country, as the Northernshelf Bioregion in British Columbia, the Qikiqtani Region in Nunavut, the Hudson Bay Lowlands in Ontario, and the coastlines of Western Hudson Bay and southern James Bay will get $800 million in financing over seven years, as announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This $800 million is in addition to the $118 million and $454 million spent in indigenous-led conservation efforts in 2018 and 2021, respectively, as part of a continuing reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples to safeguard 25% of lands and waterways by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

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Controversies

Since the beginning of the conference, there have been protests and demonstrations that flooded the doors of Montreal. Hundreds of protestors who claim to be anti-capitalists and environmental activists held banners that read “Bloquons la COP15 (Block COP15)”, demanding governmental action in resolving environmental issues instead of negotiations after negotiations. Many of them expressed that the protection of nature should not be exclusive to world leaders and organisations, and discussions should not happen behind closed doors. 

“They want to pick and choose which parts of us to include,” said Ta’kaiya Blaney of the Tla’amin Nation (a small group of Indigenous women from Canada’s West Coast), “They demand Indigenous expertise to solve colonial issues yet refuse to halt colonial conflict.”

Police monitor a protest opposing COP15, the UN Biodiversity Conference, in Montreal, on Wednesday. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

This anti-sentiment towards the conference also came from the Indigenous community. Extractions and deforestation have continued in Canada despite the opposition of indigenous people, which led to a wide distrust between indigenous communities and the Canadian government.

Most controversies surrounding COP15 are rooted primarily in its initiation: Is the conference just for show? Are the resources spent to hold such a big summit justifiable with mere agreements and paperwork? 

The worry from these protestors is believed to stem from the failures of the previous COP15 held in Copenhagen in 2009. The summit lacked organisation in putting theoretical solutions into practice, many countries agreed on the courses of action towards sustaining biodiversity but refused to adopt restrictive measures to limit carbon emissions. Furthermore, as witnessed in the past COPs, the coping of major environmental issues, such as biodiversity loss and nature degradation, have been reduced to a singular perspective: money. In true capitalist fashion, much of the discussions at this year’s COP15 revolved around funding and the affordability of countries to carry out plans. This ultimately leads to another question: Is the combination of money and legislation enough to save us from global biodiversity devastation? What about advocacy? Evaluation? Education? 

“Funds alone will not guarantee success,” says Dinaman Tuxa from the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil. “The people need to be leading the process from start to finish.” 

Did COP15 Succeed or Fail?

Big international conferences like COP15 and COP27 often begin with the right intentions but end in enigmas. It provides young people who pay attention and would like to contribute to the survival of our planet a medium to rest their moral conscience, but in actuality, its overall effectiveness is often up for debate. Unlike previous biodiversity COPs, this one succeeded in pushing forward an official agreement that binds participating delegates to achieve their promises, which could be interpreted as a step forward. But it is too early to determine whether they will turn into reality.

There are certainly reasons to be hopeful. COP15 is an opportunity to revitalise efforts to safeguard wildlife on Earth. But experts agree that lofty speech and ambitious goals are insufficient. To guarantee that objectives are met, it will be necessary to enact stricter laws and regulations and to make additional advocacy efforts in conservation.

Featured image: UN Biodiversity (Flickr)

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The magnitude of climate change is arguably best depicted in the fact that most, if not all, aspects of life are altered by it. The sport industry, one of the most popular forms of entertainment across the entire world, is no different. In the recent past, a surge in extreme weather conditions has already caused problems in holding sporting events. With the sport industry significantly contributing to global warming, it also has a large potential to be a part of the solution. However, its positive contribution has still not been maximised. We take a look at organisations that have found a way for sports to join the fight against climate change and continue to pave the way for others to follow.

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A few years ago, the negative consequences of climate change in the world of sports were first-hand experienced by tennis players and fans. In 2018, organisers of the US Open were forced to implement a new tournament policy that allows players to take “a heat break” during their matches. The rule came into effect after several athletes withdrew from the tournament due to extreme heat conditions in New York City. Just two years later, a similar situation happened at another tennis Grand Slam. As wildfires were raging all over Australia, the poor air quality caused organisational problems at the Australian Open, once again forcing some players to retire from the tournament.

As expected, experts predict that climate change will continue to negatively affect sporting competition. For example, a study shows that around half of the former winter Olympics host cities won’t be able to sponsor the Games by 2050 due to a lack of snow and ice. A different research projects that nearly a quarter of English football stadiums will be partially or completely flooded every year.

Of course, none of these alarming forecasts appear to be as troublesome as the most threatening climate change-triggered events (water and food insecurity, energy shortages, and mass migration to name a few). Nevertheless, it is important to analyse the role of sports since they provide both a significant carbon footprint but also potentially impactful solutions.

The Impact of Sports on Climate Change

When examining the contribution of the sport industry on climate change, it is easier to describe how such a negative impact is made than to precisely state its magnitude. The reason is that an accurate method of keeping track and following its own carbon footprint is still not widely practiced within the industry.

However, according to a report by Rapid Transition Alliance: “The global sport sector contributes the same level of emissions as a medium-sized country.”

Examples of this are the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2018 Russia World Cup, which resulted in 3.6 and 2.16 million tons of carbon dioxide respectively. In order to understand such substantial impact, one must take into account the carbon footprint that comes out of the construction and usage of sporting venues (lighting, heating and cooling), the transportation to/from competitions, as well as the production of sporting equipment.

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How to Lower the Carbon Footprint of Sports?

Fortunately, there are numerous ways through which sports can help in our battle with climate change. The first (and most obvious) step is to halt their further negative impact by transitioning to sustainable means of operation (e.g. partnering with energy providers who generate electricity from the renewable sources). This change would not only decrease their carbon footprint, but also create financial savings.

Next, thanks to its broad popularity, sports could be a powerful tool for raising awareness about the climate crisis among people across the world, regardless of their geographical location and social background. Simply put, the industry could share important messages about the environment to billions of individuals that are involved in sports either as spectators, practitioners, or facilitators. Such strategy of increasing awareness and educating has shown good results in the past. Research found that fans are receptive to ecological initiatives organised at sporting events, some even to the extent that they are willing to change their lifestyle habits regarding sustainability. This study precisely concluded that “the norms related to sport events have a significant relationship with positive perceptions of the efforts undertaken by sport organisations while also influencing at-home environmental behavioural intentions.”

Social status of athletes can even have a further effect. For instance, at COP26 in Glasgow last year, more than 50 world Olympians and Paralympians (from Tokyo 2020) united to urge for ambitious climate change actions from global leaders. By doing so, athletes spread the word and raised awareness among their fans and especially young people who follow and, often, idolise them. This goes to show that, as the United Nations have perfectly put it, sport can be “recognised as a low-cost, high-impact tool to reach sustainable development, including addressing global warming.”

The Olympic Torch Lighting the Way

The sport organisation that has emerged as the industry’s sustainability leader is the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The involvement of IOC in climate change began in the aftermath of the 1992 United Nations summit, one of the first world meetings on the topic. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, took place in Rio de Janeiro and concluded that “the concept of sustainable development was an attainable goal for all the people of the world, regardless of whether they were at the local, national, regional or international level.”

Having that in mind, the major accomplishment of UNCED was the development of an action programme and cooperation strategy for the 21st century – the Agenda 21. One of the first organisations that followed this lead was the Olympic Movement (OM), which is governed by the IOC. Six weeks after the Rio Summit, the OM’s leading members (International Sports Federations and National Olympic Committees) signed the Earth Pledge at the XXV Olympiad in Barcelona.

In 1994, the environment was officially included as the third pillar of Olympism, and the role of IOC became “to encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly.” Furthermore, the OM published its own Agenda 21 that outlined the ways for the sporting community to be more sustainable and oriented towards a greener future.

Ever since then, the promotion of these values has been demonstrated during the actual Olympic Games. At the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, which were the first Games to explicitly include environmental concerns, the IOC and UN Environment Programme agreed to a cooperation. The Olympic Village for the 2000 Sydney Olympiad became the world’s largest solar-powered suburb, proving that green technologies for housing are possible even on a large scale. Two years later, the Salt Lake Games demonstrated an energy recycling system, which used the curling hall’s air conditioning unit to heat up the venue’s showers and bathrooms.

Athens, home to the first-ever modern Olympic Games in 1896, was chosen to be the host once again in 2004. For that occasion, the city transport infrastructure significantly improved, resulting in better air quality. Similar outcomes were accomplished in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics, which were held in Beijing. Since poor air quality had historically been a major issue in Beijing and the country as a whole, the Chinese authorities, as a part of their pre-Olympic plan, took many steps to improve it. For example, they removed more than 300,000 high-emitting vehicles from the street, relocated polluting factories, and converted old household heating systems from coal to natural gas. Additionally, by creating urban greenbelts, the total green area of the city increased to 43%. The final outcome of all projects resulted in 16.4 million of tonnes of carbon dioxide being absorbed during seven years prior to the Games.

sports climate change; olimpics

The Olympic Games in Beijing. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The last decade’s Olympics also presented various sustainability innovations and environmentally friendly practices. According to many, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games set new standards by coming up with several great ideas. For instance, the Olympic speed-skating venue was built by salvaged timber which had been eaten by mountain pine beetles. Biological diversity was also given much attention, as several species (e.g. locally significant plants, tailed frogs) were relocated rather than endangered during the construction of sporting venues. 

London 2012 was the first Olympiad to measure its carbon footprint throughout the entire project term as well as to commit to and achieve a ‘zero waste to landfill’-target. By doing so, the organisers managed to save an equivalent of 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The Olympic Park, which was built on once-contaminated industrial land, was later converted into the biggest urban parkland in Europe over the previous 150 years. The following Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro also had some significant positive accomplishments: total of nine kilometres of rivers were recovered through restoration practices, while new waste and wastewater treatment stations were established.

However, probably the most impressive sustainability results were achieved at the last Summer Olympics – Tokyo 2020. Among many ecological initiatives, the ones that particularly stood out were in domains of recycling and carbon neutrality. Recycling was indeed one of the “3Rs” (Reduce/Reuse/Recycle) promoted during the Games. For competition purposes, only eight new venues were built from scratch, 10 sites were temporary constructed, while some of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics locales were just renovated.

Furthermore, 99% of non-consumable items acquired for the tournament, including timber wood, computers, tablets, electrical appliances as well as office desks and chairs, were reused or recycled afterwards. Even the beds in the Olympic Village were built from recyclable cardboard and the athletes’ 5,000 medals were made out of precious materials extracted from old electronic devices, which were obtained from the Japanese public in a nation-wide donation campaign.

In terms of carbon footprint, the Tokyo Games did not only use most of its energy from renewable sources (solar arrays, wood biomass power), but they also went beyond the neutrality by offsetting all the direct and indirect emissions produced throughout the event. This was mainly accomplished through emission trading programmes, which ended up creating an offset of 4.38 million tonnes of CO2 in comparison to the total 1.96 million tonnes of generated carbon footprint.

Additionally, the organisers put an emphasis on the usage of hydrogen. For the first time in the tournament history, this fuel flamed the Olympic torch and nearly 500 hydrogen-cell electric vehicles were used for transportation. At the same time, electricity generated with pure hydrogen supplied power for many residential buildings in the Olympic and Paralympic Village. As a matter of fact, the Village will become Japan’s first hydrogen-powered town, as it has been planned to transform it into “hydrogen-powered flats, a school, shops and other facilities.”

Precisely the longevity of Olympic sites is another aspect to which the IOC has paid a great attention to. The Olympic Games Impact (OGI) studies were created to help city candidates understand and quantify potential impacts of hosting an Olympiad. Such studies are a prerequisite for all host cities, and they encompass a total of 12 years (two prior to the Host City Election plus three post-Games years).

Thus, the IOC strives to explain the environmental impacts, including the positive legacies that carry over beyond the immediate world of the Games. Interestingly, in the past, many unsuccessful candidate cities were able to deliver legacies, as they developed and implemented ‘green’ initiatives regardless of the negative outcome of their bid. Great examples are New York City, Manchester, Chicago, and Sion.

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Private and National Actions for Sustainable Venues

There has been a handful of organisations established in the previous years with the goal of promoting green and circular economies in sports. One of them is the Sports Environment Alliance (SEA), a not-for-profit organisation created to protect and improve the natural environment of Australasia. Their idea is to use the sport industry as a ‘megaphone’ from which the importance of sustainable development and regeneration will be transmitted. Through creative campaigns, like #NoPlanetNoPlay, the SEA wants to motivate sport participants to specifically address climate change by protecting spaces where games and matches are played.

The list of SEA members varies from local community and professional clubs to city councils, schools, state and national sports organisations such as the Australian football, tennis, cricket, and golf federations. Aside from contributing to scientific research reports, the SEA has presented at the COP21 and co-chaired the 2018 Sustainable Innovations in Sports Forum. To stimulate a responsible use of resources, the organisation strives to educate, encourage, and engage general public with the idea of clean future.

Similarly, a membership platform GOAL (Green Operations and Advanced Leadership) aims to help sporting venues operate in environmentally friendly ways with a software that has “a tactical roadmap, a library of resources, progress tracking tools and the free exchange of knowledge and experience among GOAL member venues.” The platform was created by the American Oak View Group (OVG) and among its first members were the NBA franchise Atlanta Hawks and its State Farm Arena.

Another organisation that has been doing significant work in connecting sports and sustainability is the Green Sports Alliance (GSA). Interestingly, this past November, GSA and OVG entered a strategic collaboration “to better support the sport industry’s response to climate change.” The Green Sports Alliance is an environmentally focused trade organisation that aims to create awareness and change for a more sustainable future. To reach such a goal, the GSA gathers various stakeholders from the sport industry and currently counts 600 members. The most notable include the NBA and some of its franchises (Spurs, Celtics, Suns, Jazz, 76ers, Cavaliers, Heat), numerous NFL teams (Patriots, Broncos, Chiefs, Yankees, etc.), as well as United States Tennis and Golf associations, NASCAR, NHL and MLB. Additionally, many U.S. universities are also involved in the GSA: Yale, Notre Dame, Penn State, Texas A&M, North Carolina State, Loyola Marymount, etc. Stanford University, another GSA member, went a step further and offered a course on “Sustainability in Athletics” in its curriculum.

One of the GSA’s strategies is to share recourses and experience from which their members can learn and find inspiration. A concrete example of that strategy is Food Waste Diversion and Compostable Packaging Playbook, where the Alliance presented numerous case studies of stadiums from the United States which transitioned their waste from landfill to circular economy. It is also important to mention that, on GSA’s initiative, October 6th is now recognised as the Green Sports Day, during which sport teams raise public awareness about the green movement. Interestingly, in 2016, the initiative was supported by The White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Around the same time period, the US government passed two analogous federal initiatives. The first one established a workshop that created a roadmap for the design, construction, and operation of energy efficient sporting facilities; while the second one selected sport ambassadors (professional athletes and coaches) and sent them abroad to educate youth on issues including the environment.

A few other countries, such as Zambia, Cape Verde, and Palau, also addressed the importance of sustainability in sports. The last two countries are especially interesting, as they are both archipelagos, which are naturally in the most danger of sea level rising due to climate change.

The Football Contribution

Since football is globally considered to be the most popular sport, it is noteworthy taking a look at how some professional clubs have addressed the issue of sustainability.

Some European football teams with the longest traditions have lately been contributing to this field as well. For example, the Italian football powerhouse AC Milan joined Puma’s ‘Re:Jersey’ campaign that has a goal of closing the loop on training clothes. Ever since, the club has been urging its fans to donate the unwanted polyester-made jerseys to be chemically reprocessed and used to produce 100% recycled polyester training kits. Aside from Milan, the campaign has been joined by Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Olympique de Marseille. 

Another famous club, Chelsea F.C., changed its energy suppliers to become more environment friendly. The Brook Green Supply Ltd now provides the club with the energy from renewable sources (wind, landfill gas, and solar). Chelsea’s front office called the change “massive” and pointed out how it will, among other things, help them climb the Sports Positive Premier League table. This sustainability league, apart from England, has been launched in the top French and German football competitions.

Nevertheless, the absolute star in terms of sustainability among football clubs is currently Galatasaray S.K. Last year, the Turkish team and its energy provider Enerjisa installed over 10,000 solar panels on the club’s stadium, making it the largest solar power plant of that kind. And in March 2022, a new Guinness World Record for the amount of megawatts produced by stadium’s solar panels was set when Galatasaray’s Nef Stadyumu generated 4.2 megawatts of such energy. The record-breaking number equals to the energy usage of 2,000 houses and it will decrease the annual carbon footprint by 3,250 tonnes, which furthermore translates to approximately 200,000 saved trees over 25 years.

sports climate change

Galatasaray Nef Stadyumu. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This Istanbul stadium has a capacity to host 52,280 spectators, and the solar energy provides 63-65% of the venue’s electricity usage. But, since Nef Stadyumu is fully using its lighting system only for the official matches (ca. 150 hours a year), a portion of the solar energy remains unused. Therefore, Galatasaray sells the remaining energy to the surrounding area. Interestingly, the whole idea of installing solar panels originated from the stadium’s director Ali Çelikkıran, who is an electric engineer by training.

Last but not least, it should be noted that, according to FIFA, Forest Green Rovers (FGR) is the world’s greenest football club. This English team, which competes in the national third tier league, became the world’s first UN-certified carbon-free team and it also received the UN’s “Momentum for Change” climate action award in 2018. There are several reasons for such recognitions. Club’s current stadium: uses 100% renewable energy, recycles rainwater, has an organic field pitch and a solar-powered robotic lawnmower. That being said, FGR plans to build a new carbon-free wooden stadium, which would among many sustainability features, increase its location’s biodiversity by 12%.

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Hurdles on the Green Track

Over the years, it has been repeatedly shown that climate change is not bypassing sports. For a part of its community, such a realisation has served as a wakeup call that sports have the power to be a catalyst for positive change.

Among fans and especially among professional athletes, the Olympic Games represent the pinnacle of sporting competition. Therefore, it is very fitting to have the International Olympic Committee as the leading organisation for sustainability within the whole industry. Numerous private organisations, national governments and professional clubs stand right behind, following the Olympic direction.

Nevertheless, there are obstacles along the way. For example, a lack of comprehensive data on carbon footprint produced by sports organisations makes it difficult to provide precise recommendations and create an effective sustainable agenda. A possible solution for the issue is a standardised assessment approach that would be applied across the sport industry. Furthermore, in order to stimulate clubs and organisations to follow such a regulated practice, the national governments should also create policies to incentivise the transition to renewable energy and sustainability.

Additionally, sports organisations, in some instances, declare their commitments to sustainability, but at the same time develop partnerships with companies that do very little to contribute to the green future. Rather than participating in this type of greenwashing, the sports organisations should strive to follow the example of the Forest Green Rovers. Subsequently, fans would adopt the trend and the green domino effect would be created.

Sometimes, the barriers can also be very concrete. As pointed out by the director of Nef Stadyumu in Istanbul, the large solar panel installation was possible because of the venue’s retractable roof, which has the right shape to take in sunlight and sustain the weight of thousands of panels. Other stadiums (i.e. Camp Nou of Barcelona F.C.) maybe do not have that capacity, hence applying the Galatasaray’s idea might not be possible for every club.

Regardless, as we have seen – there are always ways to contribute. The bad news for sports is that they have a lot of room for improvement; however, the good one is that there are plenty of great examples to learn from.

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The Biomimicry Institute has awarded the 2022 Ray of Hope Prize to GreenPod Labs, an India-based agricultural biotechnology startup focused on tackling food loss problems in developing countries. By learning how fruits and vegetables naturally resist pests and fungal pathogens, GreenPod Labs showcases how learning from nature can solve both climate and societal problems. As the 2022 Ray of Hope Prize recipient, GreenPod Labs will receive US$100,000 in support of their groundbreaking work. In an exclusive interview for Earth.Org, Deepak Rajmohan, CEO of GreenPod Lab shared the company’s story.

EO: Tell us a little about yourself and what motivated you to tackle the food waste issue. 

Rajmohan: From my childhood, growing up in a middle-class family in Chennai, India, food has always been considered precious; and early in my years, I understood all the efforts that it takes to bring food to our plates. While I was doing my Bachelor’s in Agriculture Engineering I spent a significant time working with smallholder farmers to understand their pain points. I also took on a couple of projects to reduce the by-products (food waste) in the beer and wine industry during my Master’s in Food Science at Oklahoma State University. This gave me a first-hand understanding of the magnitude of this problem. 

On top of that, I learned that about 40% of all fruit and vegetables are lost before they reach consumers in developing countries such as India, while in developed countries such as the US, about 35% of fruits and vegetables are wasted after they reach consumers. It’s the lack of infrastructure that causes spoilage in India whereas it’s the consumer behavior that causes wastage in the USA. This was the trigger point for me to make the plunge and move back to India to develop products that can solve food losses in developing countries

EO: Why is food loss during transport/storage an important issue for people to consider? 

Rajmohan: Globally, about one-third of food produced is lost during transport and storage – this costs about $1.3 trillion and contributes to 8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and by 2050, we will have to produce more food to feed 10 billion people. Solving this problem is important for humanity’s survival. 

To us at GreenPod Labs, food waste/loss is more like a leaky bucket problem – before we pump in more water, we need to make sure we fix the leakage. 

This leakage can be seen even in your own home, as you see strawberries sitting on your kitchen counter with white mould just three days after purchasing. If we solve this problem you wouldn’t have to see that again. 

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EO: Why look to nature for the solution?

Rajmohan: Behind innovation is inspiration. I strongly believe that nature is the best teacher we can look at. Nature has been innovating for centuries to build a sustainable environment, and if we want to develop solutions to build a sustainable future, we need to look at nature for inspiration.

food loss; greenpod labs; food waste; food waste solutions

GreenPod Labs’ sachets can extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by 40 to 60% at ambient temperature and conditions.

EO: What is GreenPod Labs and how have you learned from nature to tackle this food waste/loss problem? 

Rajmohan: Similar to the human immune system, fruit and vegetables have their own defence mechanism to fight against external biotic and abiotic stress. We got inspired by the communication platform between different fruits pre-harvest to activate the defence mechanism to fight against any stress. We have replicated this into our product to activate the defence mechanism on fruits and vegetables during storage and transport at room temperature. Everyone on our team is very passionate about the problem that we’re solving, going above and beyond to develop technologies that can transform the agriculture ecosystem in India and other developing countries.

EO: What’s the impact this solution could make on countries like India and Kenya?      

Rajmohan: India is the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world but still loses about 40% of fresh produce before it reaches consumers. On top of this, the average farm size in India is less than 2 acres (0.8 hectares). For reference, the average US farm size is 400 acres (162 hectares), thus a fragmented supply chain on top of the lack of cold storage and cold supply chain. The situation is similar in African countries such as Kenya. Our product can help smallholder farmers and other fragmented stakeholders within the supply chain to help them preserve, store and transport fresh produce at room temperature and help increase their economic gain. This would in turn help improve their overall livelihood.

food loss; greenpod labs; food waste; food waste solutions

The GreenPod Labs team consists of 17 innovators passionate about solving the food waste and food loss problem and has over 30 years of combined research and operational experience in agriculture and food biotechnology.

EO: Why does this matter to people outside those countries?

Rajmohan: Asian and African countries can be huge agriculture production hubs and with the right technology can export their commodities to other countries, this can be a huge benefit for people all over the world. Also, climate change and global warming are impacting every country, and solving the food waste/loss problem can mitigate climate change.

EO: This year, you received the Biomimicry Institute Ray of Hope Prize. Tell us about that experience and what it means to you. 

Rajmohan: In the last few years I got fascinated by Biomimicry [a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges and find hope] and its potential to transform the world. One of my personal aspirations was to incorporate the principles of Biomimicry into GreenPod Labs’ product development. The Ray of Hope Prize programme gave us the opportunity to ignore all the noise and effectively communicate our science to different stakeholders. Having access to mentors, experts, investors, and a community of entrepreneurs working towards building a better future through biomimicry is the best part of this programme. It also helped us strengthen our business fundamentals along the journey.

Winning Biomimicry Institute’s “Ray of Hope” Prize is a dream come true moment for us. I’d strongly suggest this programme to other entrepreneurs who are working on “nature-inspired” solutions to solve a critical problem. This is a true validation for the technology that we’re building at GreenPod Labs and I’m super proud of our team that has worked tirelessly to solve the most pressing problem of Food waste and Food Loss by unlocking nature’s potential to defend itself.

EO: What is next for GreenPod Labs and what is your Ray of Hope for the future? 

Rajmohan: We at GreenPod Labs are passionate about solving the food loss/waste problem in developing countries. We will be scaling up both horizontally by developing innovations to reduce spoilage in more categories such as fruits/ vegetables, grain/seeds, meat, and milk, and vertically to launch our innovation to more international markets in Africa and Asia. 

Our Ray of Hope for the future is “we believe Food waste is a preventable problem.” 

All photos courtesy of GreenPod Labs

GreenPod Labs has commercially launched three products so far in India, working with over 150 customers (watch a customer success story). Their unique targeting for specific plants, cost-effective and easy-to-adopt approach, and plant-based chemistry sets them apart from competitors. In the coming months, 12 different products for crops will be developed, and funding from this year’s Prize will help the company further its innovative solution.

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The Hong Kong consumerism culture is at the heart of the city’s ongoing plastic pollution problem. The city’s beaches and waterways are drowning in plastic and nearly 6,000 marine species are now considered endangered. Hongkongers’ Christmas spending sprees significantly add up to the city’s monumental waste crisis, a year-round problem. In this article, two important questions will be addressed. How can Hongkongers avoid generating excess amounts of plastic waste from buying gifts during Christmas? And, more importantly, how can businesses, consumers, and the government work together to create a circular economy where plastics can be processed in ways that do not harm the environment?

“It’s The Most Wasteful Time of the Year”

With Christmas just around the corner, we’re all already thinking about how we are going to prepare for the most joyful festival of the year. This is also a time of giving; as the hectic year comes to an end, it is the ideal time to reward ourselves and our loved ones with presents.

Unfortunately, Christmas is also one of the most wasteful times of the year. According to a study, global waste levels increase by around 30% during this period. While figures may vary from country to country depending on how important they view the holiday, Hong Kong definitely has one of the world’s most festive and grand Christmas celebrations.

One need not think too hard to know how wasteful Christmas can be in Hong Kong. People have long criticised yearly Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations for the abysmal amounts of waste that they create as a result of excess packaging of mooncakes and the enormous interest in single-use glow sticks. While Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations may last for days, the Christmas season lasts for weeks, even months. As a result, it is not surprising to see how much waste we generate during Christmas, as festive lights and decorations are sent directly to landfills while artificial Christmas trees are dumped on the side of streets.

According to a 2015 survey by HK-based charity GreenPower, about 5 tonnes of waste were once collected on Christmas Eve in Tsim Sha Tsui alone, which occupies less than 0.1% of Hong Kong’s landmass. They also suggest that “if every person in Hong Kong was to give one thoroughly-wrapped present, 138 tonnes of wrapping paper would be used, requiring 2,400 tress and 240,000 litres of petroleum as raw materials.”

Nobody wants to be a killjoy during Christmas; to bring up an existential discussion about Hong Kong’s plastic waste problem out of nowhere is no fun. But since there is still some time until official celebrations begin, it’s better to be a party pooper now than later.

The Plastic Waste Problem is a Cultural Problem

While these “extravagant” Christmas numbers are expected, Hongkongers are known to be lavish spenders all year round. According to a 2017 study, Hong Kong consumerism and spending habits are among the unhealthiest in the world. Even though the pandemic has led to a slight drop in consumption, the city has already “resiliently” bounced back, as people have also turned to online retail. As David Dodwell, executive director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Study Group, rightly points out, Hongkongers are without exaggeration deserving of the label “shopaholics”.

And with excessive consumption comes excessive waste. It is therefore no surprise that Hong Kong’s landfills grow so rapidly. According to the Environmental Protection Department, more than 10 thousand tonnes of waste are dumped every day. That’s the equivalent of about 1.5 kg per person; and 21% of this waste is plastic, a huge proportion of which is not recyclable. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Hongkongers threw away about 3.9 billion disposable food and drink containers every year. In 2020, these figures have continued to grow at exponential rates, as people have increasingly relied on food takeaway options, which often involve using plastic boxes and cutlery. Hong Kong’s move toward online retail also worsens the problem, as products purchased online are often over-packaged in plastic.

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The Dangers of Hong Kong Consumerism 

The wasteful impacts of Hong Kong consumerism go a long way.

When in landfills, plastics release toxic chemicals and gases into the air. This can dramatically affect local biodiversity, especially when landfill sites in Hong Kong are primarily situated in the countryside. Moreover, huge quantities of plastic waste make their way into the ocean, destroying habitats and representing a huge danger to marine animals. The city‘s beaches and waterways are drowning in plastic, and microplastic levels in the sea are 40% higher than the global average. According to a research conducted by the Education University of Hong Kong, more than 3,000 pieces of microplastic can be found in every square metre of sea, one of the highest rates in the world. This and other environmental issues, coupled with poor conservation efforts and low environmental awareness among the public, are the reason why Hong Kong missed the United Nations’ Aichi Targets that are intended to curb biodiversity loss and the destruction of nature, as a report found last year.

Humans can also be affected, even if they are nowhere near locations with concentrated amounts of plastic waste. Exposure to the gases released from plastics can cause respiratory problems such as asthma, as a study on Hong Kong found. Moreover, when plastic containers are exposed to high temperatures (such as during Hong Kong’s hot summers), particles can leach into our foods and drinks; if they enter our body, they can be very damaging. Consequences range from hormonal disruption to developmental delays and even cancer.

But if the environmental and physical health arguments against irresponsible and wasteful consumption aren’t enough, consider the mental health arguments. As many studies have found, materialistic tendencies are significantly linked to decreased life satisfaction, happiness and quality of relationships. While gifts can certainly make us and our loved ones happier, an unhealthy focus on possessions can distract us from the meaningfulness of personal relationships. In wanting more, we can never be satisfied with what we already have. This has been found to lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.

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Rethinking Gifts in An Age of Consumerism

There are plenty of resources out there that offer useful eco-friendly strategies for celebrating Christmas and choosing greener gifts in Hong Kong. They show that spending on gifts on our loved ones and protecting the environment need not be a zero-sum game. 

But these strategies may not do much to combat plastic waste pollution if Hong Kong consumerism and our exorbitant lifestyles remain the same. Instead, this would only results in what some have referred to as “green materialism”. What we need is a fundamental re-examination of our consumption habits.

It is therefore important that we rethink the meaning of gifts. Key to this is a recognition that human desires are never-ending and can never be fully satisfied. If giving was done purely out of gratification, we would find ourselves giving all the time; not only would we run out of money, gifts would also lose their meaning and value. To reclaim the meaning of gifts, we should instead focus on making every gift memorable and precious. We give gifts not just because they are demanded, but because we want our receivers to feel our special love and care.

This is why giving should not be a routine but a wonder. We may hence find ourselves giving less; not because we are selfish, but because we take whom we give seriously: they are not “errands” to be run, but relationships that we treasure.

Giving less is also a simple way to show our love and care to the environment. As evidence shows, buying less has significantly more positive environmental implications than “green buying”, with the major reason being that it reduces one’s footprint and waste more effectively. The broader implication is that not only should we give less, but we should buy less in general. This does not mean we should not stop giving; it means that we should be more mindful of the consequences of our own purchases.

At the same time, consuming less encourages us to consume higher-quality items that last longer. And when we get better quality experiences out of our purchases, we will also feel happier. Given Hong Kong’s well-known lavish spending habits, a slight reduction in Hongkongers’ existing levels of consumption will far from become a “repression” of individual desires.

As there is still some time until Christmas, let’s start rethinking about the purpose of giving. What gifts should we get? Where best can we get them? How much should we get?

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Consumers Are Not the Only Ones to Blame

It is encouraging to see that consumers’ preferences are increasingly shaped by environmental concerns. Many now prefer sustainable brands and often show distaste in the fact that their purchases are too often heavily coated in single-use plastic packaging. This is a trend that is even more apparent in Asian countries.

But this demand shift in mentality has not forced producers to look for better alternatives. As June Wong, lead research on marine plastics at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Hong Kong, explains, inertia on the supply side is so prevalent for the very fact that plastic is a significantly cheaper and more convenient option.

This is reinforced by the fact that Hong Kong’s producer responsibility schemes (PRS) are still significantly underdeveloped with regard to plastic waste management: beverage suppliers are the only group required by law to pay for collection and recycling of their plastic bottles, meaning that Hong Kong’s other culprits such as online retail stores continue to run unencumbered. There is little to no incentive for the majority of companies in Hong Kong to be more eco-friendly in their production.

What Do We As a Society Need to Do to Help Reduce Our Plastic pollution?

To tackle Hong Kong consumerism and the plastic waste problem seriously, we should consider how producers, consumers and collectors can collaborate to create a more robust recycling infrastructure for plastics and other kinds of municipal waste. Collectively, they can help create a circular economy where plastic components and products are designed, packaged, consumed and treated in ways that minimise leakage of plastics into the natural environment.

On the production side of things, Hong Kong needs a more comprehensive strategy to regulate and strengthen suppliers’ commitment  to “plastic footprint” reduction. In this regard, the government will need to be way more ambitious with its producer responsibility schemes: by implementing pre-market producer responsibility schemes (PPRS), as they require producers to revamp their business models to consider adequately not only the end-of-life of plastics but also their entire life cycle.

With regard to consumers, the government can consider methods to encourage responsible disposal of plastics after consumption. Some have suggested that Hong Kong look to Norway’s deposit return system (DRS) as an example: a customer deposit is required when they buy an item packaged in a single-use plastic container; they can only receive the deposit when the container is returned. This way customers may be incentivised to recycle or think twice before buying an item.

Consumers also have active roles to play: strong awareness can pressurise producers to use less plastics in their manufacturing processes. In many places, public pressure has indeed forced companies to ditch plastics; it’s about time Hongkongers do the same.

These initiatives, however, depend crucially on collection: if recyclable plastics are not collected properly – which has been the case in Hong Kong – then all the aforementioned efforts will go to waste. In Hong Kong, this needs to be taken seriously. Firstly, Hongkongers’ “plastic literacy” requires drastic improvements: What kinds of plastics can be recycled in Hong Kong? How should we clean or sort different types of plastics so that they won’t just end up in the landfill? In turn, Hongkongers may also become more conscious consumers to consider other important questions; for example, what products or brands might enhance the recovery rate of plastics? 

Consequently, accessibility to recycling points also needs to improve. This involves increasing the number of collection points in Hong Kong, as well as improving access to information about their locations and purposes. How many people in Hong Kong actually know about the government’s “Reverse Vending Machines” today?

Altogether, the solution to Hong Kong consumerism and monumental waste problem is not to turn away from plastic – as plastic does have its environmental benefits. Instead, the solution to Hong Kong’s plastic pollution is to be more attentive to the consequences when plastics are being involved.

Together, we can make Hong Kong a plastic smart city. Of course everybody wants Christmas to be enjoyable – but we don’t want it to be the only season to be jolly! Since we still have a bit of time, let us think about how we can prepare for a more eco-friendly festivity.

Featured image by johnlsl (Flickr)

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In an exclusive interview with Peter Spiller, a partner at McKinsey & Company and author of a recent report on how to keep the industry on the path to net zero, Earth.Org discusses the importance of semiconductors, the rise in sustainable commitments across the value and supply chains, and the steps needed to keep the industry on track with the Paris Agreement target.

The World Meteorological Organization has shown that the past 8 years are on track to be the warmest on record. Emissions of all three main greenhouse gases hit record levels in 2021 and we are again on track to hit record-high emissions in 2022. At COP27 last month, world leaders engaged in heated debates to find the best ways to fulfil the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the average rise in global temperature to 1.5C from pre-industrial levels – though the results were rather upsetting.

All sectors must work extremely hard in the coming years to slash emissions, as this is the only way we might still be able to achieve the 1.5C target. Companies like McKinsey, a global management consulting firm working with clients on their sustainability green goals and decarbonisation and helping them navigate this intricate field, are doing their part in making the transition smoother. However, as the latest IPCC report highlighted, we are quickly running out of time.

The semiconductor industry is undoubtedly among the most important, yet also the most environmentally damaging industries in the world, and, like many other sectors, it is slowly transitioning to more sustainable practices. In an exclusive interview with Peter Spiller, a partner at McKinsey & Company, Earth.Org discussed the present and future of semiconductors and the strives the industry is making to stay on track with the Paris goal.

The Semiconductor Industry

“Pretty much all devices we use in our everyday lives are run on semiconductors,” Spiller explained. Based in Frankfurt, he co-leads McKinsey’s efforts in environmentally-sustainable operations by advising clients across different industries – including the semiconductor industry – on operations transformation. From phones and laptops to heating systems and electric cars, semiconductors power almost everything in our daily lives, and for this reason, they have grown to become indispensable resources worldwide.

In recent years, the world has experienced a global shortage of semiconductors, partly driven by Covid-19 lockdowns and the rising demand for laptops and other devices that suddenly required everyone to work remotely. While the automotive industry was particularly impacted by the shortage, it didn’t take long to realise how much the entire world actually depends on this key resource.

Among the global players are Samsung – the number one semiconductor company in the world – and Intel – the second-largest. Both produce chips for their own products. Taiwanese TSMC, Hynix, and Micron follow. The latter, however, sell their chips to companies across the world. 

As Spiller highlighted, three out of the five companies are located in Asia, by far the largest manufacturing market in the world. Most Asian semiconductor companies are spread between Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, all places that offer cheap labour costs and are thus preferred over others. 

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The Paradox of the Semiconductor Industry 

Besides being the building blocks of modern computing, semiconductors are what we need to boost electric vehicles and efficient heating systems, just to name a few examples, meaning they play a key role in facilitating the transition toward greener economies. Paradoxically, however, the environmental cost of manufacturing them is huge.

“Semiconductors have a significant footprint, comparable to the airline industry,” explained Spiller; and given the remarkable growth in demand in recent years, it is not surprising that emissions from the sector have also risen considerably.

As for where emissions come from, Spiller identified three main sources. 

“Manufacturing one chip requires one terawatt/hour,” he said. That’s a “massive amount” of energy that inevitably generates high emissions. But besides this, the production process also requires special gases – such as perfluorocarbons – that have about 30 thousand times the global warming potential than CO2. With them also comes chemical waste, which inevitably adds to the already massive environmental footprint. Lastly, chip manufacturing requires very significant water usage, “a key resource for cleaning and cooling”.

Yet, as Spiller put it, the semiconductor industry has a “significant impact downstream”. “We wouldn’t have efficient electric cars without semiconductors that control and make the battery work [and the] same [goes] for energy-efficient heating systems,” he explained.

Is the Industry ‘On Track’?

With such a rapid growth of the semiconductor industry, Spiller explained, there is “no doubt” that the footprint will keep growing. Fortunately, however, emissions associated with the production of single chips are actually going down, owing to progress in sustainable practices and huge investments in decarbonisation practices and water treatment solutions. 

In a report published on November 4 titled “Keeping the semiconductor industry on the path to net zero”, Spiller and colleagues at McKinsey focused on investigating and evaluating the industry’s behind-the-scenes practices to understand how companies’ sustainable commitments are shaping it and suggest ways to keep the industry on a 1.5C trajectory.

“Going for net zero is the theme right now,” he explained. “We can definitely see customers reacting and pushing hard. They also have very ambitious targets for decarbonisation and are pushing their suppliers to do the same because they are in their own value chain.” 

For example, a company such as Apple could never decarbonise its phones without ensuring that the semiconductor that goes in it is also a zero-emission product.

Despite the promising progress, Spiller said the industry is still “not on track”. In order to get to net zero by 2050, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is asking for a 42% emission reduction in the semiconductor industry by 2030, equivalent to around 54 million tonnes. However, total emissions account for 93 million tonnes, and in a ‘do-nothing scenario’, the number is expected to double to about 180 million tonnes.

“Emissions would be massive taking into account the growth rate, however, some changes already happening in the manufacturing prevent them to be too high,” Spiller said, adding he still feels “doubtful” that the industry will manage to reach the targets set for 2030 as the gap between current commitments and where the industry needs to be are still “significant”.

Concrete Solutions

Innovation and improvements in recent years led to a range of new technologies that can help bring the semiconductor industry on the path to net zero. Spiller recognises four main steps that could help accelerate sustainable growth and bring the industry’s emissions to 89 million tonnes a year which, despite being quite far away from where we need to be, would still be below where current commitments would lead us.

The first and most obvious driver to decarbonising the industry – considering that about 45% of manufacturing emissions are energy-related – is shifting to renewable electricity. However, as mentioned before, most manufacturers are located on islands, such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. Here, Spiller explains, it is “virtually impossible” to develop onshore wind power infrastructure. In order to scale up renewables, “the industry needs to come together to find alternative solutions to source renewables from other countries, for example through under-sea cables or hydrogen.”

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Another strategy would be to deploy abatement systems, which include burn chambers where gases are burnt and decompose into other gases with less global warming potential. This, however, is still “highly unpopular among manufacturers.” Alternatively, companies can put efforts into recycling gases instead of letting them evaporate. 

Lastly, an increasingly viable option would be using alternative gases that have a significantly lower environmental footprint. Despite them being “increasingly available”,  many companies are still “very hesitant” when it comes to changing their manufacturing process.

“They don’t want to change running habits as they don’t know how the output will be affected,” Spiller explained. “And yet, this is definitely something worth exploring.”

The Benefits of Collaboration

Spiller repeatedly stressed the importance of collaboration in improving the sector’s sustainability and allowing it to be simultaneously part of the transition to clean energy and net-zero economies, saying that “the transition is already happening.”

No company can become sustainable and reach net-zero alone and the only way of succeeding in this is to work with governments, regulators, and all players across the value and supply chain, including competitors on standard-setting practices.

“Regulatory pressure is kicking in more and more, companies are forced to become “real” about these commitments,” Spiller explained. “There’s also an actual interest from companies to become energy-efficient, partly due to the skyrocketing energy prices, which makes moving to renewable energy a good investment.”

But holding companies accountable isn’t enough. Fundamental incentives that can actually help put companies “on the right track towards decarbonisation” must include cost-reduction opportunities, regulatory policies, tax burden reduction and accountability requirements in terms of progress and transparency. To explain his point, Spiller noted how the European Union Emission Trading Scheme is pushing companies to seriously consider more sustainable practices as their only way of avoiding the hefty taxes imposed by the bloc for their environmentally damaging practices.

Recognising the immense benefits of collaboration, SEMI – the industry association serving the global electronics manufacturing and design supply chain – recently announced the new Semiconductor Climate Consortium (SCC) – a group formed by companies across the semiconductor value chain to accelerate the ecosystem’s reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. 

“The SCC is the first global collaborative of semiconductor ecosystem companies focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the value chain,” the official website reads. Members will work together on efforts to align approaches and bring forward technology innovations, ensure transparency and work together towards near- and long-term decarbonisation targets.

Future Outlook

As global demand for semiconductors continues to rise, investing in ways to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint must become a key priority among manufacturers that are working to increase capacity. 

Given the progress made in recent years and the growing momentum to find more sustainable technologies, Spiller said he is “confident” that the industry can be fully decarbonised by 2050. However, the road ahead is a “marathon” and only with the right momentum, push from consumers and governments, and serious commitment from companies can we reach this historic goal before it is too late.

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In November, world leaders gathered in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt for COP27 to discuss action to tackle climate change. Like past climate summits, this year’s conference addressed the usual issues, including deforestation, decarbonisation, gender equality, water security, and biodiversity. Yet, COP27 also had a slightly different flavour. This year, the theme of war was also brought up, which raised many new questions, bringing to the fore those which have hitherto been buried among other alarming issues plaguing our world today. What is the relationship between war and climate change, and more crucially, what are the opportunities for ecological peace and environmental justice?

On November 8, 2022, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to fellow delegates at COP27, delivering a haunting statement on Ukraine’s situation under months of relentless Russian aggression: “There are still many for whom climate change is just rhetoric or marketing or political ritual – whatever – but not real action,” he said. 

“The Russian war has brought about an energy crisis, [but it has also] brought an acute food crisis to the world, even worse for those countries that suffer from existing manifestations of climate change. The Russian War destroyed five million acres of forests in Ukraine in less than six months.”

Discussions about the impact of war on climate change are not new. The importance of a global commitment to the protection of human rights around the world has always been a central message of past COPs, and the Russia-Ukraine war today has only provoked more intensive deliberation on such matters. As the EU scrambles for new energy sources, experts and activists have urged for new policies and investment directions, ones that take human rights issues seriously.

Perhaps, as the founder of Ukrainian public relations agency Gres Todorochuk  Yaroslava Gres says, people are already “a little bit tired of Ukraine” after reading headlines about it every day and for so many months. However, as conflicts heighten, or rather, as people begin to grasp the gravity of war on people and the evironment – the moral imperative to examine closely the connections between climate change and violence becomes greater than ever. Regardless of whether or not one wishes to learn about the terrible events unfolding in places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Palestine or Syria, climate justice cannot be achieved without tackling ongoing violence in these places.

The relationship between climate change and violence has been studied for decades and is well-acknowledged by international organisations around the world. The overarching idea is captured persuasively in the Ecological Threat Report 2022 published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) this year: “The degradation of resources leads to violence. Violence leads to the degradation of resources”. 

The ways through which these processes occur are endless. Yet the field of peace and conflict studies equips us with useful tools to handle the complexities arising from our understanding of the kinds of violent possibilities that intersect with climate change and environmental degradation.

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Climate Change and Violence

In 1969, a Norwegian sociologist by the name of Johan Galtung – also known as “the father of peace studies” today – published a paper called Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. It was an ambitious attempt at developing a systematic framework for understanding the many dimensions of violence. While Galtung’s work was not specifically written in consideration of the potential existential challenges brought about by climate and environmental changes, the various dimensions that Galtung outlines is still relevant half a century later. We may identify several takeaways from his paper for climate change:

1. Violence that causes, or is driven by, climate change, is not only direct but also psychological.

War is destructive to both people and nature. Not only are bombings directly harming wildlife and biodiversity, the energy consumed – and hence the levels of greenhouse gases emitted – to develop existing military capacities in peacetime is huge. It is not just direct warfare that damages the environment; human activities (agricultural, industrial, and commercial) place an immense burden on the environment in the long run and lead to desertification, rising temperatures, hazardous pollution levels, and sea levels rise, just to name a few.

In either case, the security of goods essential to the fulfilment of basic human needs becomes jeopardised. As war-torn and forcibly displaced communities flee to find new homes,  competition over scarce resources intensifies. While not everyone is as unfortunate to have experienced these direct impacts in their most extreme forms, it is also worth noting that climate change has profound mental health impacts as a result of conflict, heightening socioeconomic precarity or perceptions of a world that is falling apart day by day. It is not hard to see how these factors, in turn, can be key drivers of violent conflict.

2. Climate-related violence is not always intentional but rather symptomatic and intertwined with forms of structural violence.

While countries of the Global South are often blamed for their incapability in combating climate change. Yet, the narrative is very different from reality. Developing nations, which are the ones experiencing the most devastating effects of climate change first hand, are not intentionally trying to dismiss climate change as a real issue. The reality is that massive structural, political, and economic impediments erected and reproduced for long periods of their histories make climate action so challenging to tackle.

While this view certainly does not to justify the brutalities and atrocities that occur today when warring parties compete for scarce resources and land, as highlighted in a report published by the UK’s International Development Committee in October 2022, it sheds an important light on the mess that colonialism and capitalism –a far more pervasive kind of ideology and system which world leaders and international institutions today less eager to admit –have left on the soil of many countries in the Global South.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. COP27 decisively marks the beginning of a new phase for an ongoing countermovement against such simplistic narratives of blameworthiness. For the first time, the issue of climate reparations was finally included in the climate summit agenda. The idea of reparations is no longer only an idea in public discourse; it is beginning to inform action at the diplomatic level. The overarching message is clear: it is time rich states, in particular Western states, take responsibility for the contemporary legacies of colonialism on climate change.

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3. Violence that emerges from climate change can take “manifest” (actual) and “latent” (potential) forms.

This is one of Galtung’s more under-appreciated analytical contributions to the field of Peace and Conflict Studies: just because violence does not seem to be, or has yet to become, apparent, this does not mean its seeds have not been planted.

Take the fact that climate change exacerbates violence against women and girls as an example. It is a view well-rehearsed by the UN and as well as a recurrent topic in Egypt. By reflecting on Galtung’s point of view, however, it becomes apparent that it is not enough – and also too late – to analyse violence only when it has happened. Instead, when considering its “latent” forms, we may begin to realise that laws are not enough.

As much as COP27 has pledged to finance and promote women’s empowerment schemes across the globe, these institutional developments are only the tip of the iceberg. The inequalities in cultural and economic domains of society, when unaddressed, continue to disproportionately put women at greater precarity and risk of violence, be it in the context of climate-change or not. Even when violence has not happened – at least to a life-threatening extent – many women live under the fear that it will eventually happen.

As the intensity of discussions taking place among world leaders in COP27 and elsewhere demonstrate, we might also add, on top of the reflections from Galtung’s paper, that:

4. The issue of climate change itself can become a discursive tool of violence.

Discourses in climate change have been employed by countries to vilify rivals in pursuit of certain political agendas that have little to do with climate change and even stifle ongoing collaborative efforts to tackle climate change. To deflect accusations of incompetence or insincerity, they call out hypocrisy or frame accusations as inaccurate and dismiss them as politically motivated.

Today, the US and China are still engaged in a diplomatic row about each other’s alleged empty promises, lies and failures. Yet, everybody knows that nothing good really comes out of these petty quarrels. In the end it is the most vulnerable – domestically and globally – that suffer the most from their ineptitudes and finger-pointing.

As Galtung himself would also argue, there are many more lessons to draw. Moreover, complicating our view of violence only makes it harder for us to feel like we can ever do the right thing. However, this is only an excuse for perfunctory and unambitious action. 

In sensitising ourselves to the complex forms, origins, intertwinings and effects of climate-related violence is essential, we realise that tackling climate violence is not just a task performed by the powerful, but a responsibility that everyone shares. What can we do to prevent further escalation of conflict or unnecessary spillovers to other fronts? And more importantly, beyond containment and prevention, what can we do to transform these cycles of violence?

Climate Change and Peace

Galtung’s most significant contribution to the field of Peace and Conflict Studies has not been his analysis of violence, but rather his commitment to an idea of peace. Galtung was not just interested in a “negative” peace that sought only the reduction of violence, but he also envisioned a “positive” peace which would encompass constructive actions and sustainable relationships.

While Galtung’s work was not exactly environmentally-driven, many of his antecedents have endeavoured to draw on his ideas to develop a kind of peace relevant to climate change. Just as violence fuels climate change and environmental degradation – and vice versa, peace and climate and environmental justice are also intertwined.

This idea gained traction after the end of the Cold War. As the USSR was no longer what was once considered the biggest threat to global security, security threats were being redefined around the world, in which “the environment” came to the forefront of peace research, and later influencing global policy discourses and agendas, the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 in particular. Throughout the years, it has been somewhat implied that sustainability and peace depend on each other; however, as the recent re-realisation of their interdependence suggests, we may have forgotten this, assuming that they are two distinct fields in need of deliberate bridging.

It is difficult to give a clear definition to what it means to have an environmentally-informed notion of peace. Nonetheless, Peace Ecology, written by director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University Randall Amster in 2015, offers an interesting perspective, which sees “peace among ourselves [as] contingent upon and necessarily related to our ability to live peacefully on earth”.

While Amster also does not provide a blueprint for peace, his concept of “peace ecology” demands us to develop a “vision of interconnectedness” between “self, society and nature”, as a counterpoint to violence: “apathy, isolation and despair”.

This is to say, societies can only be peaceful if they are sustainable; and sustainable if they are peaceful. Put differently, the factors that fuel war or climate change might be those that drive both; and perhaps similarly, the things that contribute to peace or sustainable transformation, might also be those that promote them.

Global measurements on peace and environmental performance might also indicate so. Briefly looking at the performances of 154 countries on the Global Peace Index 2022 (GPI) published by the IEP and the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) jointly created by Yale and Columbia, we see that:

There are always exceptions. For example, Ukraine’s ranking on the GPI has gone down by 17 places (because of Russia’s aggression) while its environmental performance remains consistent. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to suggest that peaceful societies tend to also be focused on sustainable development, and “green” countries tend to also be invested in fostering domestic and global peace.

Of course, there is always great value in “learning from the best”. However, the point is not that countries ought to implement in their respective societies whatever the best have implemented in theirs; rather, it is to encourage actors (governments, businesses, NGOs and local communities etc.) to see how similar lines of action might be possible and how strategies can be “re-tailored” to their immediate circumstances.

As Amster also argues, our visions must also be connected to the “past, present and future”; the best countries for sure did not get things right the first time round. Reflecting on their journeys, how might other countries learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating them?

Altogether, interdisciplinary exploration is needed. Why and how might initiatives conducted in the name of sustainability, also foster peaceful interactions? What are the animating principles within existing peacebuilding efforts that might “coincidentally” also encourage sustainable development?

Are Humans Wired for Peace or Violence, Conservation or Destruction?

Wars and atrocities have been as long as the history of humankind. Hence, some argue that human beings are fated to be at war with one another and (at the expense of) the environment. The possibility of a global ecological peace lies in the surrenderance of individuals’ capricious freedoms to a powerful central governing body that will organise us.

Others more optimistic argue that human beings are selfless and peace-loving. Indeed, throughout history, humans have demonstrated the capacity to respect others and devise peaceful and environment-loving arrangements for coexistence. Hence, we are called upon to harness the peace-making potentials of ecology: to acknowledge intimate connections and interdependence with nature to pursue a “good” life and create a “good” world democratically.

Which view is truer remains up for debate. But the answer is irrelevant to whether we should promote ecological peace. Just because humans might be inherently violent, it doesn’t mean that humans have never worked things out peacefully. That international cooperation activities like the COP have managed to not break down for decades shows that humans do believe that peace can and should be pursued. And even if humans are wired to be peaceful and to love the environment, it does not mean peace will exist, and it does not mean we already know how to love our environment. These things need to be learned regardless of human nature.

How can we develop the passion and efficacy to concretely transcend and transform our existing circumstances? Nobody knows for sure. After all, we do not have access to “ultimate” principles for what laws to implement, structures to build or relationships to nurture.

At least, as we recognise the interconnectedness between certain things, we might be able to get those who are determined to put an end to war and those who are adamant on tackling climate change to join hands to make this world more peaceful and sustainable. Rather than “killing two birds with one stone”, perhaps this is what we mean by “feeding two birds with one scone”.

You might also like: The Environmental Implications of the War in Ukraine

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