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A plan to stop plastic pollution: 3 stories you may have missed

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. The world’s nations agree to fix the plastic waste crisis

First-of-its-kind resolution tackles one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

The story: United Nations negotiators from 175 countries have agreed to develop a legally binding, global agreement aimed at ending plastic waste. Described as the most meaningful environmental treaty since the Paris climate agreement of 2015, the resolution addresses the full lifecycle of plastics — from production to disposal, Laura Parker reports for National Geographic.

The big picture: The resolution establishes an intergovernmental negotiating committee, which will begin meeting on the new plastic treaty later this year with the aim of finalizing it by the end of 2024 — a quick turnaround by U.N. standards. In the meantime, what can you do to prevent plastic from spilling into the seas? “Don’t buy it in the first place (but if you do, reuse it),” writes Conservation International’s Marine and Diving Safety Officer, Edgardo Ochoa. “This is my No. 1 recommendation for anyone who wants to help protect the sea.”

“Nearly 8 million metric tons of plastic and waste are dumped into the ocean every year, along with massive amounts of pollution from other sources such as oil and gas,” Ochoa adds. “Based on current trends, plastic is expected to triple within the next 20 years, adding up to 50 kg (110 pounds) of plastic waste along every meter of the world’s coastlines. While recycling is crucial, reducing your plastic use is the most effective way to prevent new plastic from entering the ocean. Wherever you can, try to buy products that can be reused many times.”


FURTHER READING:


2. Why does the UN’s latest climate report call out the injustice of climate change?

Report highlights the inequities inherent in the climate crisis.

The story: From hurricanes to heatwaves, the impacts of the climate crisis are everywhere — but they are not felt equally, highlights the latest report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Scientists from different fields painstakingly detail the many ways in which the poorest communities are being betrayed by the global community and its insistence on an economic order that ravages the planet,” writes Joe McCarthy for Global Citizen. It is the first report to explicitly discuss the role of colonialism in creating the conditions that led to the climate crisis, he adds.

The big picture: “The report takes a very clear position on the inequity of the climate crisis and how unfairly the impacts of climate change are affecting historically marginalized populations and countries disproportionately,” Conservation International’s Vice President of Climate Strategy, Shyla Raghav, told Global Citizen. She emphasized the need for industrialized countries — historically the largest greenhouse gas emitters — to boost financing and provide low-income countries with the resources needed to address the crisis.

“The first thing, immediately and with urgency, is to scale up our efforts to mitigate climate change,” Raghav said. “We have to adapt, we know that, but these impacts are just going to accelerate even more rapidly unless we quickly mitigate our emissions in line with the recommendations of the IPCC — moving toward net zero by mid-century and halving emissions every decade.”


FURTHER READING:


3. The Arctic seafloor is degrading and could be a climate time bomb

As permafrost thaws, it could release massive amounts of methane.

The story: Off the coast of Russia, a vast and little explored region of the Arctic seafloor known as the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) is estimated to sequester up to a trillion tons of methane, according to scientists’ calculations. But recent research shows the shelf’s permafrost, which has locked away this dangerous greenhouse gas for thousands of years, is degrading — potentially leaving large amounts of methane to bubble up into the atmosphere, writes Becky Ferreira for VICE News.

Methane can warm the atmosphere 80 times faster than carbon dioxide. For comparison, an estimated 570 million tons of methane are released into the atmosphere globally each year, “a number that is dwarfed by the reserves locked up in the ESAS,” Ferreira writes.

The big picture: As climate change accelerates, temperatures in the Arctic are heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet, causing permafrost to thaw. The ESAS, which belongs to Russia, is the widest and shallowest continental shelf in the world’s oceans — its shallow depths could make it easier for methane to escape when compared to deeper waters, which can better absorb emissions. Researchers are rushing to accurately measure the amount of methane that could be released in coming years.

Due in part to its massive land area, Russia contains the most “irrecoverable carbon” of any country in the world — that is, carbon that, if emitted into the atmosphere, could not be restored by 2050. Very little of this carbon is within protected areas, though over half is within recognized Indigenous and community lands, finds a recent study led by Conservation International scientists.



Vanessa Bauza is the editorial director at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: Plastic pollution in Brazil (© William Rodriguez Schepis, Instituto Ecofaxina/Marine Photobank)