Australia: plastic bag use cut by 80% over three months

In the last three months, plastic bag use in Australia has dropped by 80%. An estimated 1.5 billion bags have been prevented from use, after two of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths banned them from their stores this summer.

Although the decision was initially met with public backlash, it was a decision quickly accepted, with some retailers “reporting reduction rates as high as 90 percent”, according the National Retail Association’s David Stout. The Australian public seemingly haven’t found it to difficult to adjust to the change, which requires them to either bring their own bags to shop with, or to purchase a reusable one for a certain fee.

It is estimated that there is 5.25 trillion pieces of trash in our oceans, the majority of that number being made up of plastics of various sizes, and bans such as these do a little to weaken the environmental blow caused by plastics. That being said, plastics pollution is still a very real problem and will be for a long time to come.

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Image taken from ‘Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea‘.

There have been calls for the Australian government to promote a nationwide ban on plastic bags after pressure from environmentalists. The most populous state, New South Wales, is the only state that has no legislation in place currently ensuring it would phase out single-use plastic bags.

This news from Australia is not alone. According to reusable bag company ReuseThisBag, at least 32 countries have some form of ban or taxation in place, in an effort to limit the use and pollution of single-use plastic bags.

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Image taken from ReuseThisBag.com.

“We’re still seeing a lot of small to medium bags being used, especially in the food category, and whilst I get some comfort that the majors have done this voluntarily I think there still needs to be a ban in place,” Said Stout. “For business, for the environment, for the consumer and of course even for councils which have to work to remove these things from landfills, there’s a multitude of benefits on a whole to doing this.”

The United Kingdom currently has a tax on plastic bags which has resulted in more use of stronger, more durable reusable bags. Some parts of the United States also operate either partial bans or taxes, but legislation is not yet countrywide.

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Image taken from ReuseThisBag.com.

The average lifespan of a plastic bag is around 12 minutes, then it is discarded in a variety of ways. When discarded, they inevitably find their ways into green areas, or more likely, are washed into waterways. They are estimated to kill around 100,000 marine mammals every year, and when they do eventually break down, simply become smaller and smaller particles known as microplastics, which circulate the oceans and lie in landfills for anywhere up to 1,000 years.

Some may say that banning plastic bags doesn’t work. There hasn’t been a large amount of studies done on plastic pollution in relation to bans, but progress seems to have been made in some parts of the world. For example in San Jose, California, there has been an 60% reduction in plastic bags found in creeks and rivers since a ban was put in place in 2012. Similarly, in Seattle there has been a 76% decline in plastic bag waste since their banning five years ago.

While things are looking a little brighter in terms of plastic bag use, it is still crucial that each an every country introduces measures to limit all kinds of single-use plastic from being used. Every second, as many as 160,000 plastic bags are used globally, and unfortunately, only 1-3% of them are recycled. Click that link to see the amount of plastic bags being produced, the number currently stands at 4.6 trillion. This is neither sustainable or environmentally-friendly.

 

 

 

 

US donations to climate science denial organisations threatens UK environmental protection

During 2017, the United Kingdom’s major climate-science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, (follow the link for an accurate description by DeSmog), recieved $177,001 in ‘grants and gifts’. At the time of writing, this is worth £137,900. These numbers were shown in the tax returns filed by the GWPF’s US-fundraising group, American Friends of the GWPF.

Another right-wing thinktanks, the Taxpayer’s Alliance, recieved around £223,300 from US-based donors within the last five years. An article published by the Guardian described the Taxpayer’s Alliance as “an “independent grassroots campaign” that speaks “for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste, increasing taxation, and a lack of transparency in all levels of government”. It keeps its donors secret, saying it respects their privacy.”

These two organisations, along with seven other right-wing thinktanks, were allegedly coordinating amongst themselves in order to push for a hard Brexit, a ruling that would have spelled disaster for UK environmentalists.

All this raises the concerns surrounding the influence of foreign money on issues surrounding environmentalism, such as when lobby groups push to cut regulations in order to implement trade deals with countries that have been named as major polluters. This was part of an alternative ‘Plan A+’ Brexit plan published in September backed by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary David Davis. The report singled out environmental protection regulation as one that is “damaging to growth” and is “moving in an anti-competitive direction”.

Those behind the alternative Brexit plan see themselves as “supportive of environmental protection”, yet see aspects of the protection, the regulations that enforce that protection themselves as leading to the “increases in costs for many companies”. We see this as direct and willing hypocrisy. The plan describes environmental regulations as “somtimes valid attempts to deal with real environmental problems”, and that “frequently they are disguised methods of protectionism”.

The donations that the GWPF received are seen as a significant increase since the previous year. The tax regulations set up in the US require that the organisation declare how much it received, but holds no rules set up that require the source of the donations be included.

In an article recently published by  DeSmog, it was revealed just how much the network of US libertarian climate science denial campaign groups pushing for environmental derergulation post-Brexit, including the Heartland Institute and the Cato Institute, had increased their European activities coinciding with the time of the Brexit referendum.

“Brexit negotiations have created a policy vacuum at the very top of the UK government” stated the article, which in turn allows the space for the policies and ideas of these right-wing thinktanks to gain traction, pushing their ideologies through the donations of rich investors.

“As a result, powerful private lobbies have strived to fill that vacuum and advocated to slash regulation and environmental protection post-Brexit in order to strike trade deals. This includes the Koch brothers, the Mercer family and the Atlas network”.

It was estimated by Greenpeace that the Koch brothers had “sent at least $100,343,292 directly to 84 groups denying climate change science since 1997.”.

The prospect of the Brexit deal, recently put in place by Theresa May, has seemingly increased the amount of lobbying these organisations have been doing. Greenpeace’s Unearthed recently exposed the extent of influence this group, a group which in the UK bases itself in Tufton Street in London, has on cabinet members, including current environment minister Michael Gove.

The UK government has been warned that its environmental laws could be left suffering with “gaping holes”, allowing “polluters to go unpunished and depriving wildlife of vital protection after Brexit”. MPs from the Environmental Audit Committee found that the government had still not committed to replacing roughly a third of all environmental rules that cannot be transferred from the EU into UK law after Brexit. These laws cover air, water, chemicals, and waste disposal. While this gap remains, right-wing thinktanks use the aforementioned donations to weaken environmental regulation in the UK.

It is unfortunate that, as the contributors of these amounts are not obligated to reveal themselves, huge private interests are disguised, and will carry on presenting themselves as proponents and defenders of free-market ideology, all the while justifying the fore-planned dismantling of the United Kingdom’s environmental protection policies.

 

 

 

 

 

Fossil fuel subsidies from G20 countries risk 3.2C of global heating

According to research on progress towards the goals and deadlines of the Paris Climate Agreement, the emissions of 15 G20 nations have increased since last year. The Brown to Green Report, published by Climate Transparency, is the world’s most comprehensive review of G20 climate action. It shows that climate action is deeply lacking in all but one of the world’s largest economies.

Within these 15 countries, energy produced by coal, oil, and gas, still makes up 82% of all energy consumed. These industries have relied heavily on subsidies within the last 10 years, in a last ditch effort to compete with the increasingly cheaper and cleaner renewable energy sources.

The Paris Climate Agreement stipulated that countries would agree to work towards the goals set, phasing out fossil fuels, and yet their net contributions in the form of subsidies to those industries spent £114bn on subsidies in 2016, with current trends showing that the global temperatures will rise by 3.2C, in contrast to the 1.5C lower threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

The 1.5C threshold represents that line by which coral reefs will be able to survive, a threshold that will limit the damage to Arctic ecosystems, and hopefully prevent the displacement of hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased drought, flooding, forest fires, or dangerous summer temperatures. While a 1.7C gap does not seem very big, this actually represents countless changes to the way our modern societies function.

The Brown To Green Report allows you to compare and contrast the goals, policies, and actions of different countries. India is the only country within the G20 to be on course with staying below the upper limit threshold of 2C set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Other countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are on track with taking the world well past 4C of warming.

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The first page of the report on the United Kingdom’s Paris Agreement progress. You can see that while the energy intensity of the UK is well below the G20 average, the UK government has also cancelled several emission-reducing policies.

Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina have promised to cut deforestation but the destruction rate of forests shows no sign of reversing.

The UK has made the fastest transition amongst G20 countries, seeing a 7.7% decline in fossil fuel use between 2012 and 2015, yet both looming Brexit uncertainties and the cutting of several energy efficiency and zero-carbon home policies makes it likely that this progress could stall in the coming years.

The world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China, reduced its dependency on coal, which stabilised its carbon emissions for a number of years, but this trend was broken as it increased its coal consumption during 2017. Deforestation has also been a key topic for some countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, as forests are a major instrument in the sequestration of carbon. These countries promised to cut deforestation, but rates show no signs of dropping, and in fact, in Brazil research shows a 52% increase in deforestation rates from 2012 to 2017.

Yet all the good work being done is coming up against a brick wall, the subsidies given to fossil fuel companies from G20 countries. One of the Brown To Green Report authors, Jan Burck, said “There is a huge fight by the fossil fuel industry against cheap renewables. The old economy is well organised and they have put huge lobbying pressure on governments to spend tax money to subsidise the old world,”.

To avoid more than 1.5C of global heating (The term George Monbiot prefers us to use), emissions from G20 need to begin declining in the next two years, and be halved by 2030. Not one country has set a target credibly enough to see this through, and with the leaders of the US and Brazil, Trump and Bolsonaro, are hostile towards tackling climate breakdown, there seems to be little hope. On the brighter side, what inaction we see at a federal level, we see much action happening at a public, community level, with groups such as Greenpeace, the WWF, and even smaller organisations such as Extinction Rebellion leading the way.

“Global emissions need to peak in 2020. The Brown-to-Green report provides us with an independent stock-take on where we stand now. This is valuable information for countries when they declare their contribution in 2020.” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Below are links to each specific country within the Brown To Green Report. Click through them to see your country’s data.

Argentina
Australia
Brazil
Canada
China 
The European Union
France
Germany
India
Indonesia
Italy
Japan
Mexico
Russia
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
South Korea
Turkey
United Kingdom
United States