News Digest

April 5, 2024

India to experience more heat waves this summer

This year, around 10 to 20 days of heat waves are expected in various parts of the country against the usual four to eight days. Experts attributed the hotter summer to the El Nino phenomenon. The heat wave-prone areas are in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, north Karnataka followed by Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, north Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, said the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Parts of Peninsular India are already recording extreme heat. Maximum temperatures are in the range of 40-42 degrees Celsius at a few places over Rayalaseema and at isolated pockets over western Madhya Pradesh, Gangetic West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Vidarbha, Telangana, Coastal Andhra Pradesh, Yanam and Maharashtra. “We can expect extreme temperatures this summer mainly because of the impact of El Nino. Models are also indicating the development of La Nina conditions during the monsoon season, which may mean that we will have a good monsoon,” said M Mohapatra, IMD’s director general.

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Re-examining William Whyte’s take on small urban spaces

Writing in the 1960s and ’70s, William Whyte, an urbanist and writer who died in 1999, focused on those making the most of their city as they kibitzed, ate and relaxed in the often tiny patches they found in plazas, sidewalks and ledges. Relying on data and a keen eye, he sought to understand why some places foster vibrant urban life, while others seem to erode it. Whyte was adamant that crowded spaces were the healthiest, saying it was “encouraging that the places people like best of all, find least crowded, and most restful, are small spaces marked by a high density of people.” He extolled the virtues of removable chairs, “a wonderful invention” that allowed people to align their seating arrangement to reflect the size of their group as well as their desire for sunlight and interpersonal proximity. Whyte’s book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces urged cities to leverage the full power of open space by providing ample, pleasant places to sit, ensuring that private plazas provide genuine public benefit and reallocating street space from cars to pedestrians.

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Greenwashing allegations against Australian airlines

Last month, a Dutch court ruled that airline KLM misled customers with vague environmental claims, and that its affirmation to the goals of the Paris Agreement was “misleading and therefore unlawful”. After this ruling, Climate Integrity, a new Australia-based advocacy group, has claimed that Australian airlines could also have misled consumers in presenting their net zero goals and market offset options during flight bookings. Claire Snyder, director of Climate Integrity, said: “The ruling is a timely wake-up call to airlines with public net-zero commitments, that they must put forward concrete and credible decarbonisation plans or face the legal risk of misleading consumers and investors.” The analysis that her group conducted found Qantas’s decarbonisation plans featured “a number of low integrity practices”. Qantas and Virgin Australia, like most global airlines, have announced emission reduction agendas that heavily rely on offsets, including buying credits from projects in Australia and overseas.

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Cambridge university stops donations from fossil fuel firms

After a report in July last year recommended that the University of Cambridge disengage from oil and gas producers in favour of renewable energy companies, it has temporarily stopped accepting donations from fossil fuel companies. A moratorium on new funding from oil and gas companies had been formally adopted, lasting until the process for accepting donations is reviewed, the university said. “Accepting funding from fossil fuel companies validates the industry at a time when it is threatening the future viability of life on earth, including by developing new oil and gas infrastructure,” said Jason Scott-Warren, a Cambridge professor of early modern literature who backed the moratorium. The student group Cambridge Climate Justice said the proposal marked the first time a university in the UK had decided to halt research partnerships with the fossil fuel industry. British oil and gas giants Shell and BP have jointly given at least £19.7mn to the university in philanthropic and research funding between 2016 and 2023, according to FT analysis of university data, which did not list any other donors in the energy sector.

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Researchers discover Canada’s only known living coral reef

For generations, members of the Kitasoo Xai’xais and Heiltsuk First Nations, two communities off the Central Coast region of British Columbia, had noticed large groups of rockfish congregating in a fjord system. In 2021, researchers and the First Nations, in collaboration with the Canadian government, deployed a remote-controlled submersible to probe the depths of the Finlayson Channel, about 300 miles north-west of Vancouver. The team made a startling discovery. “When we started to see the living corals, everyone was in doubt,” says Cherisse Du Preez, head of the deep-sea ecology program at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Then, when we saw the expansive fields of coral in front of us, everybody just let loose.” The following year, the team mapped Lophelia Reef, or q̓áuc̓íwísuxv, as it has been named by the Kitasoo Xai’xais and Heiltsuk First Nations. It is the country’s only known living coral reef and is the northernmost ever discovered in the Pacific Ocean. It offers researchers a new glimpse into the resilience – and unpredictability – of the deep-sea ecosystems.

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Why Texas is tearing down highways

In this excerpt from City Limits: Infrastructure, Inequality, and the Future of America’s Highways, by journalist Megan Kimble, is the story of urban highways in US cities. Once symbols of growth and prosperity, some of these roadways have been removed even as multi-billion-dollar expansion projects proceed for others. This excerpt focuses on Interstate 345, a 1.4-mile elevated highway on the eastern edge of Dallas’ downtown loop. In 2011, the City of Dallas’ master plan concluded that it was “a significant barrier to surrounding neighbourhoods”. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), while announcing plans to rebuild every other highway that circled downtown, worked on tearing down I-345. Architect Patrick Kennedy led the effort, talked to landowners, did the math and figured that “tearing out the highway will reconnect downtown with East Dallas, revitalise what’s now 245 acres of vacant, wasted land . . .make better use of the surrounding streets on the grid, bring in some 20,000 new downtown residents and result in new walkable urban housing and high quality public space,” according to Dallas Morning News.

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March 22, 2024

Delhi remains worst capital city in air quality

India has emerged as the world’s third most polluted country and Delhi as the world’s most polluted capital city – for the fourth consecutive year – according to the World Air Quality Report 2023 by Swiss organisation IQAir. Ten out of the top 11 most polluted cities in the world are from India. India’s air quality, with an average annual PM2.5 concentration of 54.4 micrograms per cubic metre, was better than only two countries — Bangladesh and Pakistan – last year. These two, among 134 countries, beat India to become the most polluted and the second most polluted country in the world, respectively. Meanwhile, Bihar’s Begusarai was termed the world’s most polluted metropolitan area. It had an average PM2.5 concentration of 118.9 micrograms per cubic metre. In the previous year, India ranked much lower at the eighth position with an average PM2.5 concentration of 53.3 micrograms per cubic metre.

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It’s summer after winter in India; where’s spring?

A new study by Climate Central says that spring is disappearing across India because of human-caused climate change. It examined temperature trends from 1970 to 2023 and found that every region has experienced net warming during the winter months December through February, with the southern states showing the largest increases. The analysis shows that many parts of northern India are experiencing an abrupt transition from winter to summer-like conditions as February warming rates have increased sharply in recent decades. The findings support widespread reports from India that spring feels like it has disappeared. “The cooling in northern and central states during January was followed by very strong warming in February, creating a potential for a quick jump from winter to spring-like conditions,” said Dr Andrew Pershing, vice president (climate science) at Climate Central.

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New Zealand’s amended environmental laws sideline biodiversity

The coalition government in New Zealand introduced a bill to speed up consenting processes – without commissioning new ecological surveys — for projects of national or regional significance. The Fast-track Approvals Bill, urgently introduced on March 7, takes precedence over several current environmental laws and empowers ministers to skirt the existing approval processes. Leaders of ten scientific societies that conduct biodiversity research, representing thousands of members, have called on the government to slow this down. The country’s economy relies on the environment in many ways. A study estimated its land-based ecosystem services contributing NZ$57 billion 27 percent of the country’s GDP in 2012. The fast-track bill requires expert panels to provide recommendations to the relevant ministers within six months of a project referred to them – the time frame is unsuitable for proper assessments of environmental impacts.

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New York’s living lab to explore climate tech ideas

New York City plans to turn Governors Island, near the Statue of Liberty, into a living laboratory where scientists and inventors can tinker and entrepreneurs can showcase ideas. The six pilot projects are all focused on water, reflecting the city’s range of water problems, including rising tides, storm surges, industrial pollution, and aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. “We hope the island can be a jewel box for what a truly sustainable and adaptable urban environment can look like,” said Clare Newman, president of the Trust for Governors Island. Central to the plan is that the public should be able to see and interact with the technology. “We want to make sure that this work doesn’t happen just in labs… it happens in full view of, and in concert with the public,” said Maria Torres-Springer, New York’s deputy mayor. Visitors will be able to interact with compact water treatment devices, giving them a feel for how they might fit in their own homes.

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Germany on track to meet 2030 climate targets

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) said Germany was on track to meet its 2030 climate targets after emissions fell to 673 million tons last year, confirming preliminary projections. Germany aims to cut emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 and become carbon neutral by 2045. It is currently at around 46 percent. Berlin hopes emissions will fall further with companies encouraged by recently launched “climate protection contracts” that compensated for extra costs of green production. Germany’s industrial production emissions fell by 7.7 percent though industrial output fell by only 1.2 percent last year. When asked if the drop in emissions was due to a weaker economy rather than a sustainable decline, Climate Action and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said that, while 2023 had been an exceptional year and the government expected a “complete economic recovery”, further planned measures would help maintain the progress made.

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Kenyan firm turns plastic waste into solar-powered freezers

A youth-led company based in Mombasa, Kenya, has used plastic waste to build freezers. The plastic waste is sold to Kuza Freezer where employees first break it down into pellets before moulding it into cold storage units. Each freezer comes with a battery that can be charged using a solar panel. A two-hour charge means up to 7 hours of operating time. “We are focused on providing cold storage solutions to small-scale businesses in the fish value chain and enabling them to sustainably improve their income and reduce post-harvest losses,” says Purity Gakuo, CEO Kuza Freezer which has delivered more than 350 machines to customers, including fish traders, poultry and milk vendors and ice salespeople. Gakuo says a variety of products are being produced including a freezer that can be mounted to the back of a motorbike with a 70-litre capacity which is especially useful for the smooth delivery of fish.

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New constructions for Paris Olympics eye sustainability

Paris 2024 wants to make sustainability a buzzword while hosting the 2024 Summer Games. Overall, 95 percent of the venues will be facilities that either existed or will be dismantled for reuse after the Games. The new constructions will use advanced wood components known as mass timber. In the Olympic Village, north of Paris, will be an eco-quarter where all buildings under eight floors will be made from wood and glass, and all energy will be sustainably sourced from heat pumps and renewables. An 8,000-capacity arena at Porte de la Chapelle, consisting of a recycled aluminum façade around a wooden structure, will be the home for Paris basketball team. This make-do-and-mend approach could, organisers hope, help the green transformation of France’s construction industry. France hopes to cut carbon in the building sector as the European Union strives to reduce the bloc’s overall emissions by 55 percent by 2030.

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March 8, 2024

Global gender gap far bigger than before: Report

The 10th edition of the ‘Women, Business and the Law’ report published by the World Bank found that 95 countries enacted laws on equal pay but only 35 had measures in place to ensure the pay gap was addressed. Many sub-Saharan African countries had seen rapid progress in the reform of laws in recent years, but had the largest gap between legislation and implementation. “… this year the report highlights Togo and Sierra Leone that had really big shifts in the last three to four years,” said Tea Trumbic, who wrote the report. “But the supportive frameworks are largely lacking. So that’s why the implementation gap is even larger in countries that reformed recently because they’ve raised the standard in their laws, but they don’t have the supportive mechanisms to implement them.” Closing the gap could raise global gross domestic product by more than 20%, said the report.

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There’s water crisis but no one’s talking about it

Comment writer George Monbiot scathingly drew attention to a paper published in 2017 which estimated that water use for irrigation would have to increase by 146 percent by the middle of this century but water has already maxed out. Agriculture accounts for 90 percent of the world’s freshwater use. “We have pumped so much out of the ground that we’ve changed the Earth’s spin. The water required to meet growing food demand simply does not exist. That 2017 paper should have sent everyone scrambling. But as usual, it was ignored by policymakers and the media. Only when the problem arrives in Europe do we acknowledge there’s a crisis,” he stated. But while there is understandable panic about the drought in Catalonia and Andalusia, there’s an almost total failure among powerful interests to acknowledge that this is just one instance of a global problem, a problem that should feature at the top of the political agenda, he added.

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Monitors show pollution levels off the charts in three cities

Lahore is the most polluted city in the world, according to Swiss air quality monitoring platform IQAir. In November, the air was so poisonous that authorities issued a citywide lockdown to close schools, markets, and parks for four days, and advised people to stay indoors. Other cities in South Asia have similarly alarming levels of air quality: Eight out of the top 10 most polluted cities globally are in the region. The causes include rapid urbanisation, construction, vehicular pollution, coal-fuelled power plants, crop burning, and the operation of brick kilns. To understand air quality exposure among gig workers in South Asia, Rest of World gave three gig workers — one each in Lahore, New Delhi, and Dhaka — monitors to wear throughout a regular shift in January. The air quality monitors continually tracked their exposure to carcinogenic pollutants — specifically PM1, PM2.5, and PM10 (different sizes of Particulate Matter), and volatile organic compounds such as benzene and formaldehyde.

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Sea levels around NYC could surge up to 13 inches in 2030s

The assessment by the state Department of Environmental Conservations (DEC) claims that sea levels surrounding New York City are expected to rise at least 6 to 9 inches in the 2030s – potentially up to 13 inches in some areas – due to climate change. It also says that levels in the lower Hudson River could swell by 23 inches in the 2050s. “Sea level rise is one of the most direct and observable effects of climate change in New York and DEC is required by law to develop science-based sea level rise projections to guide decision making and permitting in the areas most at risk,” it said in a statement. It posted its projections of water levels in the New York State Register, based on studies of global climate models. “New York is leading the nation to address the impacts of climate change, which include heatwaves, floods, more frequent storms, and sea level rise,” it said.

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Belgium adds ecocide to its penal code

Belgium, the seat of the European Union (EU), has become the first in the European continent to recognise ‘ecocide’ as a national as well as an international crime. The ecocide law makes it possible to convict and punish serious, large-scale and irreversible crimes against nature with 20 years in prison and a fine of €1.6 million, making Belgium the first EU member state to bring domestic law in line with the EU’s revised Environmental Crimes Directive. “A crime against nature is by definition a crime against all of us. The recognition of ecocide in criminal law is a milestone in the recognition of nature’s rights,” said Ruth-Marie Henckes, biodiversity campaigner, Greenpeace. Ecocide, adding a nature-centred element to its criminal law, aims at preventing and punishing the most severe cases of environmental degradation, such as large oil spills, and it will be applied to individuals in the highest positions of decision-making power and to corporations.

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Young takers for Japan’s revamped old housing complexes

The country’s iconic homeware company, Muji, is working with a developer to lure new business and younger residents back to Japan’s aging housing complexes. Vast housing complexes, known as Danchi, were built to provide affordable yet modern dwellings during Japan’s post-war recovery. Some of the existing complexes are publicly owned while others are managed by semi-public entity UR. As the country grew richer and population growth slowed, they gradually fell into disrepair and emptied out. The government is now looking for ways to reinvigorate the complexes with the popular household goods maker Muji and its parent company on board. Muji has widened its remit to broader Danchi neighbourhoods, working with UR to tackle social isolation. The idea is that Muji’s fans will be drawn to live in Danchi. The brand’s 2012 push to renovate apartment units was a success, it hopes this too will be.

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Women in Uganda opt for eco-friendly alternative to firewood

Women in Uganda’s Mabira Forest are learning to craft and cook with charcoal briquettes made from organic waste – part of a grassroots conservation effort aimed at protecting the country’s last standing forest. Women leaders have developed the alternative from organic waste – mostly food scraps – instead of wood, to make charcoal briquettes. These waste briquettes offer a realistic alternative to wood charcoal. Women used to walk long distances looking for firewood. Moreover, wood from trees is scarce. The availability of charcoal in Uganda puts additional pressure on its forests, as non-Ugandan loggers cross borders to cut trees. Unlike neighbouring countries Kenya and Tanzania, which have stricter conservation laws, Uganda “is such an open market that you can do anything, you can trade in anything,” says Godliver Businge, the Women’s Earth Alliance Uganda program lead and a co-founder of the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative.

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February 23, 2024

Contrary trends in air quality of cities in India

A study, published in the Elsevier Journal, reveals that the air quality worsened in peninsular Indian cities in the 2022-23 winter season but improved in the northern part of India, contrary to the trends seen in recent decades. Among the north Indian cities, Ghaziabad registered the most significant improvement with a reduction of 33 percent, followed by Rohtak (30 percent) and Noida (28 percent). Delhi, though landlocked, showed an improvement of around 10 percent. On the contrary, Mumbai, which used to have cleaner air, recorded the highest deterioration with a 30 percent increase in PM2.5 levels, followed by other peninsular Indian cities like Coimbatore (28 percent), Bengaluru (20 percent), Chennai (12 percent). “The winter of 2022-23 coincided with the last phase of an unusual triple-dip La Niña event…This phenomenon, influenced by climate change, impacted the large-scale wind pattern, playing a decisive role in preventing stagnation conditions in north Indian cities and thus improving air quality,” said R H Kripalani, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and co-author of the report.

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‘We have little time left to act on climate’

I listened to the Gates interview sitting in a hotel ballroom in San Diego on January 23, surrounded by hundreds of attendees of the cleantech conference, writes Molly Taft, a Brooklyn-based climate journalist. The conference was partially sponsored by an arm of Breakthrough Energy, the venture fund Gates founded in 2015 to invest in climate innovation. “I felt the familiar pit of despair in my gut that I get when I think about just how little time we have left to act on the climate: of how quickly our world seems to already be spinning out of control, even at less than 1.5 degrees of warming, let alone the 2 degrees Gates seems to be hand-waving away. Outside the ballroom, San Diego was in shambles after nearly three inches of rain had fallen the day before, making for the city’s fourth-wettest day in history. For climate advocates, the tech world can seem like a pleasant but murky unknown: a well-dressed distant cousin who brings gifts at Christmas but sometimes doesn’t show up to family reunions.”

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How to build 15-minute cities in America?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reflected on whether America — the land of the free and the home of the sprawl — can re-weave its urban fabric according to the 15-minute city model and achieve greater walkability. Their study, published in the scientific journal Nature Human Behavior, found that a majority of Americans have never experienced anything resembling a 15-minute city; it may have a serious consequence such as segregation too as residents of low-income 15-minute neighbourhoods were less likely to spend time in physical spaces with people of other economic classes. This could imply a tradeoff between local living and social mobility. To overcome this, they recommended that the 15-minute city must be paired with strong investments to improve economic opportunity and reduce residential segregation. If implemented correctly, a 15-minute city can be an agent of freedom: freedom from traffic jams, freedom to live in a healthy environment and freedom to be outside.

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Europe farmers’ protests threaten environmental progress

Rising energy costs, competition from lightly regulated foreign imports, and supermarket profit-gouging have driven angry farmers off the land and into the streets of capitals. But in these disputes, there is a growing danger that the EU’s green deal takes the rap for a crisis that began elsewhere. Ahead of European elections in which they aspire to make major gains, radical right parties such as AfD in Germany and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France are using opposition to environmental reforms as a recruiting agent and campaign theme. In Brussels, and in national capitals, a degree of green backtracking is already under way. As the momentum of the farmers’ protests grew, European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, shelved plans to reduce the use of pesticides and softened targets on cutting non-CO2 emissions. Announcing those concessions, she argued that farmers “deserve to be listened to”.

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Car-choked Brussels makes way for bicycles

In 2014, Brussels was described as lying in the centre of “a spider web of highways that is impossible to evade.” Twenty years ago, 75 percent of households here owned at least one car but times are changing. Brussels’ transportation network has been reconfigured, shifting trips away from cars and toward bikes, transit and walking. The share of bike commuters has tripled in just four years, and transit ridership has already bounced back to pre-Covid levels. In 2017, cars accounted for 64 percent of the miles travelled within the city; by 2021, the figure had fallen under 50 percent. If car-choked Brussels can transform itself in less than a generation, it’s unclear why other cities cannot. Those who want to reduce the automobile’s stranglehold over urban America should look to the Belgian capital for inspiration and guidance.

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Dublin plans no-entry of vehicles in urban centre

Ireland’s largest city, Dublin, is replanning central streets so that private cars and commercial trucks will be allowed access only if their final destination is downtown. The goal: a 60 percent traffic reduction in the urban centre. By displacing vehicles merely passing through on their way to beltways further out, the plan promises to ease current traffic congestion and allow for the creation of new pedestrian streets and plazas that will make Dublin’s heart a more pleasant place. Through-traffic may end up being displaced to inner beltways that weave through residential areas. Other positive effects cited include cuts in vehicle emissions and pollution, as well as the public health benefits from walking and cycling which would be notably easier. Dublin’s modal share for cars is projected to still be 42 percent in 2042. Though a marked improvement from the 52.4 percent in 2016, it is well behind larger cities like Amsterdam, Brussels and London.

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Los Angeles’ sponge infrastructure helps collect water

Like other urban areas around the world, Los Angeles has been transforming into a “sponge city” in recent years, replacing impermeable surfaces like concrete with permeable ones like dirt and plants. It has also built out “spreading grounds” where water accumulates and soaks into the earth. The trick to making a city more absorbent is to add more gardens and other green spaces that allow water to percolate into underlying aquifers which a city can then draw from in times of need. Engineers are also greening up medians and roadside areas to soak up the water that would normally rush off the streets into sewers, and eventually out to sea. More green spaces and urban gardens improve the mental health of residents too. Plants here also “sweat,” cooling the area and beating back the urban heat island effect—the tendency for concrete to absorb solar energy and slowly release it at night. The reduced summer temperatures also help to improve people’s health.

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February 9, 2024

What's Mona Lisa got to do with food sustainability?

On January 28, two environmental activists entered the Louvre museum in Paris and sprayed pumpkin soup on the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting. The two women then shouted: “What is more important? Art or the right to healthy and sustainable food?” They belong to a group called Riposte Alimentaire — Food Counterattack. In this opinion piece, Sandipan Deb writes that we live in strange times and Mona Lisa is attacked because she may be in danger from fossil fuels, but actually the painting has remained in great shape because of technology that employs fossil fuels at some point or the other. She is illuminated by an LED lamp specially developed to minimise ultraviolet radiations and enhance the colours of the painting; a state-of-the-art system enables air to circulate through the glass case that protects her and helps to maintain the right relative humidity and temperature levels.

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US will pay to add solar panels to hospitals

The United States of America’s Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay to install solar panels on schools, hospitals and other public buildings that are rebuilt after disasters, making them more resilient against future disasters while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The change reflects the agency’s decision to fund renewable energy as it copes with worsening climate shocks. The number of billion-dollar weather disasters keeps rising, straining the country’s ability to respond, as well as the ability of local officials to keep offering basic services to residents. “If you’re installing solar panels, you are creating more energy independence,” said Deanne Criswell, FEMA’s administrator. If a school or other community building has solar panels to generate electricity and batteries to store it, that building could serve as a respite for people whose homes lose electricity, said Alisa Petersen, the federal policy manager for RMI’s United States programme team.

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India’s union budget pushes for renewable energy

India’s interim budget for 2024-2025 discussed climate resilience and blue economy. In line with this, a scheme for restoration, adaptation, coastal aquaculture and mariculture with a multi-sectoral approach will be launched, said India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The concept of Blue Economy 2.0 is interconnected with the Blue Revolution, which focuses on the productivity of the fisheries sector. The budget estimate for the Blue Revolution has been increased to Rs 2,352 crore in 2024-25 from Rs 1,500 crore in 2023-24. Last year’s budget had allocated Rs 35,000 crore for priority investments in energy transition and Net Zero. Of this amount, Rs 30,000 crore was designated to provide capital support to oil marketing companies for undertaking projects for energy transition, energy security and achieving Net Zero emissions by 2070. This year, there was no such announcement for energy transition. However, budgetary estimates for the central sector scheme on grid-based solar power have more than doubled to Rs 10,000 crore in 2024-25 from the revised estimates of about Rs 4,757 crore in 2023-24.

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New Zealand to ban forever chemicals in cosmetics from 2026

New Zealand will ban so-called “forever chemicals” in cosmetics from 2026, amid increasing concerns about the health and environmental risks posed by the virtually indestructible chemicals. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said it has banned the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in cosmetics to protect people and the environment from the chemicals. PFAS are added to cosmetics to smooth the skin, or to make cosmetic products more durable, spreadable and water resistant. They are a class of about 14,000 chemicals often used to make products resistant to water, stains and heat and are called “forever chemicals” because they are virtually indestructible. Some states in the US have already proposed legislation to ban or limit PFAS ahead of federal regulations. California was the first major jurisdiction to ban all PFAS in cosmetics, in September 2022, while the states of Maine and Minnesota recently passed a law prohibiting products. The European Union is working on a broader ban on the chemicals.

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Clean energy boosted China’s economic growth in 2023

Solar power, along with manufacturing capacity for solar panels, electric vehicles and batteries, were the main focus of China’s clean-energy investments in 2023. An analysis found that clean energy contributed a record 11.4tn yuan ($1.6tn) to China’s economy in 2023, accounting for all of the growth in investment and a larger share of economic growth than any other sector. Clean-energy investment rose 40 percent year-on-year to 6.3tn yuan ($890bn), with the growth accounting for all of the investment growth across the Chinese economy in 2023. China’s $890bn investment in clean-energy sectors is almost as large as total global investments in fossil fuel supply in 2023 – and similar to the GDP of Switzerland or Turkey. Clean-energy sectors, as a result, were the largest driver of China’ economic growth overall, accounting for 40 percent of the GDP expansion last year. This means the industry is now a key part of China’s wider economic and industrial development.

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Caribbean nation’s nature-based solutions to achieve water security

Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, has been facing a severe water crisis and drought. Decades of deforestation to make way for cattle grazing, natural disasters like hurricanes destroying already-fragile sewer systems and infrastructure, and mismanagement of water resources have resulted in the country experiencing an unprecedented water crisis, says Francisco Núñez, the Central Caribbean director of The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organisation. Núñez, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, spearheaded two water funds in his home country – one restoring three river basins in the Santo Domingo region, and one high in the mountains, in the watershed of the Yaque del Norte, the longest river in the country. The aim of the water funds is “to focus on nature-based solutions contributing to achieve water security for the future”. The projects have been increasing tree canopies, ensuring water is managed efficiently, delivering clean water to local communities, and bringing sustainable and long-term economic empowerment to rural areas – through environmentally beneficial industries.

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Beauty firms will have to pay more to clean up micropollutants

The European Union said that companies that sell medicines and cosmetics will have to cover at least 80 percent of the extra costs needed to get rid of tiny pollutants that are dirtying urban wastewater. Governments will pay the rest, members of the bloc said, in an effort to prevent vital products from becoming too expensive or scarce. By 2035, European Union member states will have to remove organic matter from urban wastewater before releasing it into the environment in all communities with more than 1,000 people. By 2045, they will have to remove nitrogen and phosphorus in all treatment plants covering more than 10,000 people, if there is a risk to the environment or health. They will also have to add an extra step to remove a “broad spectrum” of micropollutants, according to the European parliament. Officials said the steps would safeguard citizens from harmful discharges of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics in water bodies.

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January 26, 2024

Pahalgam records warmest January

On January 15, Pahalgam in Jammu and Kashmir recorded the highest January temperature at 14.1 degrees Celsius. Such daytime temperatures in the region were at least 6 degrees Celsius above normal. Mukhtar Ahmad, director of the meteorological department’s J&K unit, said that the previous all-time high in Pahalgam during January was 13.8 degrees Celsius on January 14, 2018. The change in Kashmir’s weather could be linked to global warming that has shortened the winter, he said. The Valley is witnessing a snowless winter after seven years, said Irfan Rashid, faculty member at the University of Kashmir’s geoinformatics department. This is likely to hurt winter tourism, agriculture and electricity generation. A snowless winter will also affect the flow of water in Kashmir’s rivers during the summer and have a long-term impact on the ecosystem.

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After outrage, 12 women added to COP29 panel

The 28-men composition of the COP29 global climate summit, to be held later this year in Azerbaijan, finally got 12 women after flak from various groups who objected to the “regressive” move. “Climate change affects the whole world, not half of it,” a group said. However, Azerbaijan president, Ilham Aliyev, also added a man to the committee while naming 12 women. Among the women are Umayra Taghiyeva, the deputy minister of ecology and natural resources, human rights commissioner Sabina Aliyeva, and Bahar Muradova, the chair of the state committee on family, women and children’s problems. “This is positive progress but we are still far from a 50:50 gender balance,” said Elise Buckle, co-founder of She Changes Climate. Almost all members of the COP29 committee are government ministers or officials. COP29 will be the second year in a row that the UN’s most important climate talks will be hosted by a petrostate heavily reliant on fossil fuel production.

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The idea of “overshoot” important in climate change discussions: Study

“Overshoot” refers to how many Earths human society is using up to sustain – or grow – itself. Humanity would currently need 1.7 Earths to maintain consumption of resources at a level the planet’s biocapacity can regenerate. Where discussion of climate often centres on carbon emissions, a focus on overshoot highlights the materials usage, waste output and growth of human society, all of which affect the Earth’s biosphere. “Essentially, overshoot is a crisis of human behaviour,” says Joseph Merz, lead author of a new research paper which proposes that climate breakdown is a symptom of ecological overshoot, which in turn is caused by the deliberate exploitation of human behaviour. Merz and colleagues believe that most climate “solutions” only tackle symptoms rather than the root cause of the crisis which leads to increasing three “levers” of overshoot: consumption, waste and population. “We can deal with climate change and worsen overshoot,” says Merz.

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2023: Warmest year since records began in the mid-1800s

The year 2023 was the warmest on record for both the world’s land and ocean regions. It was also the first year where global average land temperatures exceeded 2 degrees Celsius and the first year in which global ocean temperatures exceeded 1 degree Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. Global land regions – where the global human population lives – has been warming around 70 percent faster than the oceans – and 40 percent faster than the global average in the years since 1970. The year 2023 started off a bit cooler, with the first few months of the year failing to set any new records. However, from June onward each month was warmer than the same month in any prior year since records began. In the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world agreed to work to limit global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to “limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. 

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Good news digest

Green corridor effect: Heat level down by 2 degrees Celsius

The Colombian city of Medellín has cut its average temperature by 2 degrees Celsius through “green corridors” – lines of trees and plants that cost a total of $16.3 million and $625,000 a year to maintain. Green corridors – areas that are landscaped to promote more biodiversity – provide natural shade for urban areas. They also reduce heat levels through a process called evapotranspiration, which introduces water vapour into the environment. Colombia’s second-largest city has been warmer than surrounding rural areas because of an increase in buildings and roads. The green corridor initiative in Medellín not only helped reduce temperatures but also cut air pollution. Medellín is not alone – other cities around the world are turning to natural solutions to reduce temperatures, which have been driven higher by the climate crisis and a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect, where city areas heat up more than rural ones due to building and road materials retaining heat.

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Pleasant London plan gives more space to pedestrians

A quiet revolution in the financial district of London will rip out roadways and install wider sidewalks, new bike lanes and more public squares and open spaces friendly to pedestrians. A recently widened walkway at Bank junction, a chaotic meeting of nine streets, now has three benches. “When you came out of Bank station 20 years ago, the first thing you wanted to do was get out. It smelled, with traffic and fumes everywhere,” says Shravan Joshi, the chair of the City of London’s Planning and Transportation Committee. “We’ve tried to make it a place where you can come and sit, and you can wayfind.” Many areas are improving public spaces, and Joshi hopes visiting the city will be more pleasant and encourage workers to come back to offices. “It’s giving people a reason to come and be there as a destination, as opposed to as transiting through,” says Joshi, who imagines a City of London where “students, schoolchildren, tourists, visitors, workers and residents are all intermingling”.

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Modern ‘Sabbath’ day may slow climate change

A shared day of rest, at a minimum, might slow the pace of consumption, curb emissions or ease the burden of so many people working weary weekends. But slowing down, even for a day, may also help convince people that a sustainable way of life is not only good for the planet, it’s good for them. In 2019, Schorsch founded the Green Sabbath Project as a “mass movement to observe a weekly day of rest” for the secular and religious alike. This is not a spa day, but a modern version of what the ancients practiced: avoiding work in factories and offices, or even on our laptops, opting out of driving or flying, or engines of any kind for the day, putting off shopping, preparing food in advance and so on. The immediate effect among millions of people, he calculates, could dial back emissions for at least one day a week with no new technology or spending.

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January 12, 2024

Proposed museum will displace Warli tribals in Mumbai

The Maharashtra Department of Tourism has announced the construction of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj War Art Museum across 136 acres of land in Gorai with a budget of Rs 50 crore. The museum will affect six tribal hamlets: Babar Pada (3 acres), Jamazad Pada (6 acres), Mothadongari Pada (5 acres), Chotadongari Pada, Birsa Munda Pada, and Borkhal Pada (all 3-4 acres). In 2011, the Bombay High Court had rejected the department’s proposal to construct hotels and resorts in and around Gorai and Manori villages. The court had declared that these places were ecologically sensitive, and had disallowed construction, said Gayatri Singh, senior advocate, Bombay HC, who had filed a public interest litigation then. Last year, the state government had declared the hamlet as a gaothan, an area protected by the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code that disallows any development without the consent of those who reside on it. However, that has not been updated in the land records. Babar Pada is Gorai’s only government-declared gaothan.

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Las Vegas’ Sphere is the ‘greatest architectural spectacle’ of 2023

Sphere is the building of the year 2023, the decade, possibly the century, reportedly visible from space. The world’s largest spherical object stands at 366 feet tall and 516 feet wide. It is the world’s largest video screen, with 580,000 square feet (54,000 square metres) of LED displays on its exterior. It is a visual experience measured in incomprehensibly geeky numbers (18K resolution, 160,000 speakers, capable of projecting film weighing in at a half-petabyte in size). James Dolan, New York entertainment mogul behind Madison Square Garden, spent nearly a decade working to realise his vision for an immersive 17,500-seat amphitheatre. At $2.3 billion, Sphere is by far the most expensive entertainment venue ever built in Vegas, and possibly the first to lose nearly $100 million in just three months. What sets apart Sphere is its scale, not just one installation but an ever-changing series of experiences. As spectacles go, the structure is like a leap from the steam engine to nuclear fusion: the world’s first piece of streaming architecture.

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China redesigns its malls, with spaces to interact

From 1990 through 2020, large and shiny shopping malls embodied China’s spectacular economic growth. Many Chinese malls are being re-imagined by owners and users as palaces of experience – civic areas for communities to meet and interact, with new configurations of public and private space. The Chinese are making creative use of excess mall space. New users are filling non-retail areas, such as indoor walkways and atriums that now house café tables. Others have become children’s play spaces filled with giant inflatable figures. The Raffles City Mall in Shenzhen has a rooftop pet playground, a stage, an art display area and a sun-shaded lawn. China’s informal economy of food stalls and sidewalk merchants is also filling the void. Empty store spaces are also being repurposed. Some have been converted into electric vehicle showrooms, art museums and children’s play centres with dance studios, paddling pools, small skating rinks, gyms and yoga centres. Others have been redesigned as sites for art or cooking classes, or for multiplayer electronic gaming and virtual reality experiences.

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Watch out for these big climate stories this year

The New York Times lists some of the climate stories it will be chasing this year. The naturally occurring El Niño will push up temperatures and humans will continue pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That will very likely mean more extreme heat. It will mean more wildfires, like the ones that torched Canada, Europe and North Africa. And it will mean more unusually hot ocean temperatures that threaten coral reefs and melt glaciers. The US elections are to watch out for. If Donald Trump returns to the White House, much of Joe Biden’s work on climate change could be in jeopardy. For the U.S. to come close to achieving Biden’s goal of 100 percent renewable power generation by 2035, a lot will have to go right. Also, pressure has been building on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to overhaul the way they help developing countries adapt to climate change. Expect the action and activism around climate issues to keep going strong in the year ahead.

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Sheffield looks at creating new industrial revolution

Sheffield is known as England’s “Steel City”, thanks to those historical roots. It’s the largest city in a region known as South Yorkshire, but the days of industrial dominance are long gone. Today, the region is grappling with the impacts of deindustrialisation that have plagued parts of developed economies around the world. Its 42-year-old mayor, Oliver Coppard, wants to revive the region’s past by attracting business and making South Yorkshire the epicentre of advanced manufacturing. In this interview, Coppard spoke about his vision. “The transition to net zero is an opportunity to do that. We know what it’s like to go through an energy transition… we’re running a citizens’ assembly in South Yorkshire, which is essentially 100 people who are demographically representative of the whole region, who will now work with us to understand what trade-offs could or should look like and how we can all benefit from that transition. I’m determined to make sure that we’re doing this with our community, not to our community,” he said.

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Climate crisis: Great Lakes are virtually ice-free

Since record-keeping began in 1973, researchers have found the Great Lakes have been experiencing a massive decline in ice, with the peak coverage dropping by about 5 percent each decade. This year’s missing ice in the Great Lakes — lowest in at least 50 years — adds to a growing trend of winter ailments plaguing the US, from dwindling snowpacks in the West to an ongoing snow drought in the Northeast, all becoming more common due to warming temperatures from the climate crisis. The eastern side of the lakes have a similar story with Cleveland; Erie, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York, all seeing one of the warmest Decembers on record. As a result, Lake Erie is currently completely ice-free. Low ice cover in the Great Lakes has serious ramifications for industries and the environment. Ice cover also protects the shorelines of the lakes. Without it, high waves can cause severe flooding, coastline erosion and damage.

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‘Global heating will push temperatures to 1.5C by May’

James Hansen, the former Nasa scientist credited for alerting the world to the dangers of climate change in the 1980s, said that global heating caused by the burning of fossil fuels, amplified by the naturally reoccurring El Niño climatic event, will by May push temperatures to as much as 1.7 degrees Celsius (3 Fahrenheit) above the average experienced before industrialisation. This temperature high, measured over the 12-month period to May, will not by itself break the commitment made by the world’s governments to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius of the pre-industrial level. Scientists say the 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling cannot be considered breached until a string of several years exceeds this limit, which is most likely to happen in the 2030s. In a bulletin issued with two other climate researchers, Hansen states that “the 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming ceiling has been passed for all practical purposes because the large planetary energy imbalance assures that global temperature is heading still higher”.

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