Monthly Environmental Round-up: August 2022

In an effort to raise awareness of global environmental issues, ESA will be providing a monthly issue of the previous month’s environmental headlines. 

Growth of exotic plants in the UK

The United Kingdom has experienced the growth of exotic plants, such as figs and avocados, due to a significant increase in temperature caused by global warming.  Furthermore, plants previously thought of as house plants are now successfully thriving outside, whereas plants traditionally grown outdoors are struggling.  Mr Chris Bower from East Anglia stated that “As climate change continues it becomes easier and easier” to grow plants such as yuzu, persimmons and jujube, all of which are non-native species. Further to this, Kew Gardens Botanist James Wong has noted a presence of avocados growing in London. He believes that their presence can be attributed to people discarding seeds which have since sprouted. London’s heat island effect (the presence of warmer temperatures in cities due to infrastructure) is further boosting the growth of these plants. 

Historic flooding in Pakistan

Pakistan is currently experiencing monsoon rains which have submerged some parts of the country underwater and resulted in homelessness and destruction of infrastructure.  Rainfall in both the Sindh region and Balochistan region has been 500% above average. According to the Pakistan Meteorological Office, this has been the wettest monsoon season on record since 1961. UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the situation as a “monsoon on steroids”. The flooding has led to the death of at least 1,100 deaths as well as having impacted 33 million people since mid-June.  Satellite imagery shows that a combination of rainfall and the overflowing Indus river has turned parts of the Sindh region into a 100Km wide lake. 

Pakistan’s Sindh province, taken on August 28 from NASA’s MODIS satellite sensor.

WasteAid receives funding to support the circular economy in South Africa

The charity WasteAid has received funding from Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to develop a circular economy for plastic waste in Mpumalanga in South Africa. The aim is to reduce waste generated from flexible plastics, understand where there are knowledge gaps through the processing of this waste and stimulate end-markets for recyclable materials.  Mpumalanga currently faces major issues regarding both environment and public health due to littering, with waste entering waterways and large amounts of it being burnt.  

Together with the University of Portsmouth and South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA), WasteAid will be testing participatory approaches to drive improved source segregation of waste at a household level, and offer support to increase the collection and processing of the segregated waste on the ground.

Australia and India to enhance their national climate goals

More than a year after the United Nations deadline to submit the updated emission reduction targets, India finally approved a new climate action plan.  The plan or the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) foresees emission reductions by 45% from 2005 levels by the end of the current decade. India also pledged to achieve 50% cumulative energy generation from renewable energy sources, increasing from the 40% pledge achieved in 2021. 

Just a day after India updated the NDCs, Australia’s Lower House of Parliament passed a bill that commits the government to reduce emissions by 43% from 2005 levels by 2030. While the pledge is not as ambitious as those set by the USA and the EU, it finally brings Australia forward in the race to net zero. That being said, new oil and gas projects have not yet been ruled out from future plans.

The state of California to prohibit the sales of gas-powered vehicles

The California Air Resources Board issued a bill that will be banning the sales of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, thereby pushing their manufacturers to speed up the production of electric vehicles beginning in 2026.  

The transportation sector represents the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the state. This change is expected to lead to a reduction in GHG emissions of 50% by 2040. 

This change is expected to reach beyond the state of California, and will most likely pave the way for other states to follow suit. Previous bills passed in California regarding vehicle standards have also been adopted in 15 other states, most notably New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Glaciers in Switzerland lost half their volume in less than a century

Historical imagery used to reconstruct a visual timeline of glaciers in Switzerland between 1931 and 2016, showed that half of the original volume has been lost. Further to that, in the past six years, a further 12% of the volume was lost. Prof Daniel Farinotti, a glaciologist, expects glacier loss to be worse still in 2022. Researchers expect to see a further 60% loss in glacier volume by the end of the century, regardless of whether or not each country meets the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Coral regeneration observed in the Great Barrier Reef

The Northern and Central regions of the Great Barrier reef currently play host to the largest amount of coral, since monitoring began 36 years ago.  After a fourth mass bleaching event within a span of six years was observed in March, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) raised concerns over the future of the reefs. This particular bleaching event was of even greater concern, given that it occurred during a La Niña event, a weather event which generally brings cooler water temperatures.

The newly grown coral, which is of the genus Acropora, is particularly vulnerable to the reef’s threats, these being bleaching, cyclones and damage caused by the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). Dr Mike Emslie from AIMS stated that “future disturbance can reverse the observed recovery in a short amount of time,”

Diplomats fail to reach United Nations treaty designed to protect marine life

Negotiations at the United Nations headquarter in New York were suspended, following diplomats having failed to reach an agreement on a treaty designed to protect marine life on the high seas. The proposed treaty would have set rules to protect biodiversity in two-thirds of the world’s oceans that do not fall under any national jurisdiction. As it currently stands, less than 1% of the high seas are protected. 

Campaigners expressed their disappointment at the lack of a deal, however, some progress was observed. Laura Meller, Greenpeace’s leader on the ocean protection campaign accused the USA and Russia of being slow to compromise and outright blocking negotiations on the matter respectively. 

Further talks on the matter will resume in 2023, unless an emergency meeting is called before then.

135 Tonnes of Dead fish found in the Oder River

Over 135 tonnes of dead fish have been found in the Oder river, which runs between Poland and Germany, creating an unexpected ecological disaster. Polish fishermen first noticed the issue in Oława back in late July. Polish authorities recovered some 100 tonnes of dead fish from the river, whereas a further 30 tonnes were recovered on the German side. 

Research teams investigating this disaster are pointing at algae toxins being the cause. Polish Environment Minister Anna Moskwa stated that “The results of the research of our experts from the Institute for Inland Fisheries indicate the presence of microorganisms (golden algae) in the water of the Oder,”. German researchers from the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) identified Prymnesium parvum as the likely algae causing the issue.  The IGB warned that if their theory is confirmed this issue could very well be a man-made problem and not a naturally occurring one.


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