As of July 2018, the United States and China became embroiled in a trade war, imposing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tariffs on one another. While the immediate environmental effects of the trade war have yet to be seen, it is very likely that the environment will end up being a victim.
Executive Director Erik Solheim of the UN Environment Program warned that the impending trade war would be “very bad for the environment because you waste resources rather than using them effectively”. With additional tariffs enacted both sides this month, a settlement seems less possible than ever before. And so Solheim’s ominous prediction now seems increasingly possible.
Chinese Soybean Tariffs Threaten Amazonian Rainforests
Chinese tariffs on American soybean exports have cut them in half. Brazil, already a supplier of about half the soybean exports, is the most likely candidate to replace the gap left by slashed American exports. Experts estimate 13 million more hectares of Amazonian forest land would be needed to accommodate increased demand.
In the context of the recent Brazilian presidential elections, the future of Amazonian forestlands is bleak. Increased Chinese demands for Brazilian soybean exports would likely have the full cooperation of newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro, a strong supporter of Brazil’s agricultural industry a vocal critic of the country’s environmental agency.
Rare Earth Metals
With the United States’s recent blows to China’s tech giant Huawei, China’s response is still in the cards. Many fear that China could turn to restrictions on rare earth exports. In fact, China’s state-run newspaper The Daily threatened to cut off rare earth exports to the United States. With 70% of global rare earth production and 80% of US rare earth imports coming from China, restrictions would leave American companies hard-pressed find new sources.
The environmental consequences of Chinese rare earth mining have garnered notoriety worldwide. Cutting off imports from China would lead to an inevitable growth of global rare earth mining. This could lead to an increase in global environmental effects not unlike those seen in China.
With the US-China trade war disrupting the world’s supply chains, Solheim’s predictions don’t look too far off. The trade war has unequivocally drifted the world away from efficient production and distribution of resources. Additionally, it seems inevitable that the trade war will end up having a dire impact on the global environment.
With the trade war’s end far in sight, we can only wait and see to what it extent it goes.
Russia, the world’s fourth largest polluter, finally joins Paris Agreement
After four years of deliberation, Russia has finally signed the Paris Agreement. On Monday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave formal support for the agreement and ordered that Russia’s laws adapt to fit its regulations.
A new brand for Russia
Hours after signing the decree, PM Medvedev brought the news to a government meeting. There, he outlined a new climate strategy for Russia.
“The threat of climate change is (the) destruction of the ecological balance, increased risks for successful development of key industries… and most importantly, threat to safety of people living on permafrost and increase of natural disasters,” Medvedev said.
Indeed, by joining the accord, Russia has taken a long overdue stance on climate control. As the fourth largest global emitter of greenhouse gases, Russia’s entrance into the agreement can serve as a call to action for other countries not yet committed.
Notably, Russia has chosen to join the accord merely weeks before US President Donald Trump plans to withdraw from it in November.
Does Russia even want the Paris Agreement
Yet despite the seemingly good news, Russia’s decision to join the agreement may have had an ulterior motive.
The decision came just hours before the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. At the summit, Putin’s climate adviser, Ruslan Edelgeriev, broke the news. “The Russian Federation has accepted the Paris Agreement and is becoming a full-fledged participant of this international instrument,” he said.
Russia may be attempting to gain more international support. Its decision to ratify came at a good time, as belief in the accord’s effectiveness is at an all-time low. By finally ratifying, Russia has boosted morale for international climate cooperation.
In an attempt to further garner support for Russian environmental efforts, Edelgeriev explained his country’s progress. “Our total emissions [since 1990] have decreased almost by half. This represent 41 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent which on the planetary scale has allowed to cumulatively hold global warming for an entire year.”
Edelgeriev also mentioned that Russia plans to create a law on emissions by 2020.
This may all be for show
Joining the Paris Agreement means very little for Russia, whose current carbon targets are laughable.
Since the Paris Agreement allows countries to develop their own, non-binding targets for reducing CO2 emissions, Russia chose a very weak target. By 2030, Russia pledges to reduce its emissions to 25-30% less than its emission rates in 1990.
But due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s industries have severely slowed down. So, in 2017, Russia actually polluted 32% less than it did in 1990. Meaning Russia is already below its target.
In other words, Russia can actually increase its pollution while still staying within its target.
Noticing this furtive maneuver, the NGO Climate Action Tracker declared Russia’s targets “critically insufficient.” According to them, if every country followed Russia’s emission rules, global warming could increase 4 degrees.
To make matters worse, Russia is actually increasing coal production and opening new gas and oil plants.
So if Russia seriously wants change, it will need to reevaluate its climate plan.
Australia urged to move towards a circular economy on recycling
Australia should take its cue from the circular economy on recycling, reusing its waste rather than sending it to landfill, says a recent report by business advisory firm EY. It added that Australians need to have confidence in their country’s recycling system and should look upon it as a resource rather than waste.
The accounting firm affirmed a combined approach to waste which included households, local councils and the private sector is needed to “restore faith” in the country’s recycling system. This would lead to the start of a win-win circular economy.
Such an economy can be achieved when “people minimize waste and make the most of resources. Shifting to a more circular economy will grow the economy, increase jobs and reduce impacts on the environment,” according to the Victorian State Government.
China recycling ban
Australia’s strategy of dealing with its waste by sending it to China for processing was thrown into confusion in 2017. It was then when China decided to tighten the restrictions on contamination for accepting foreign waste. The new standards effectively banned all Australian paper, plastics and textiles because of their high contamination rate.
Before the Chinese ban, it had been sending 619,000 tonnes of recycling waste to China every year.
A “lost opportunity”
Terence L. Jeyaretnam, an environmental and sustainability expert who is also a partner at EY in Melbourne, described the present methods as an example of a “lost opportunity”.
“Through better sorting of recyclables, reducing contamination and developing markets for our recycled waste, Australia could take advantage of this lost opportunity sitting in our kerbside bins,” he said.
He added that Australians were missing out on up to $324 million of value in our waste bins and needed to change to adapt to the future.
“The old way of sorting our waste is not the right fit for 21st century Australia,” he said in the study, adding that “not only does it lead to poor environmental outcomes, it’s preventing us from grasping an opportunity worth hundreds of millions per year.”
Restoring belief in the system
The report underlined the need for Australia to view waste as a valuable resource saying it “will only be realized if households take a more diligent approach to sorting, councils assist though education and infrastructure and there is a greater focus on waste as a resource.”
It points to a lack of confidence currently amongst households with the country’s recycling methods.
“Instead of ‘waste’ we need consumers to see a tradable asset, a commodity with a market value. The first step in changing consumers behavior is restoring their belief that what they are putting in the recycling bin is actually being recycled,” said the discussion paper.
Restoring the customer’s faith in the broken recycling system would be the first step towards creating a viable circular economy and finding a solution to the recycling crisis in Australia, summarized the report.
Kamala Harris’s climate plan: How does it hold up against the competition?
In the third Democratic debate last Sunday, 2020 presidential candidates did not spend much time on climate change. However, candidate Kamala Harris made sure to use her time to make a strong stance about acting on climate change now. Harris also released a climate plan earlier this month, her own version of the Green New Deals many other candidates have released.
During her allotted 45 seconds to summarize her stance on climate policy, Harris focused on the effect of inaction on future generations. In reference to the Republican stance on denying or minimizing the topic, Harris accused them of having a “lack of courage.” She also stated that as president she would “lead as president on this issue because we have no time, the clock is ticking.” However, during the debate time, Harris did not mention many specific details about her plan to take on climate change, besides her history of “[taking] on the big oil companies.” So what specific actions would Harris take as president to fight rising temperatures?
Kamala Harris has a history of advocating for the environment
Harris released a plan detailing her goals as president to act on climate change earlier this month, but even before that, she has backed several pieces of legislation to not only act on the emissions of big companies, but also to protect the Americans who suffer the most from pollution. In July, she joined forces with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to create the “Climate Equity Act.” Covered at length in this article from The Rising, this piece of legislation aimed to first identify and then give assistance to the communities which would suffer climate-related consequences.
Harris has also referenced taking on big oil companies in her previous job as the attorney general of California. She held this role from 2011 through 2016. While the claim that she has sued oil companies herself is controversial, statements from her campaign spokesman Ian Sams support her claims of more general action against them. Sams stated that she “obtained $50 million in settlements from oil companies she took on like BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66. She also announced criminal indictments against Plains Pipeline for the massive oil spill they caused off the coast (of) Santa Barbara. The case continued after Harris left the AG’s office and resulted in conviction.”
The 2020 presidential candidate also supported a carbon tax at a CNN forum on climate change. As this was common among the other democrats who attended the event, Harris took a step to set herself apart even further and voiced support for even more aggressive policy, including an outright ban on offshore drilling for oil and hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking).
Harris’s $10 trillion plan
Following the trend of other presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders releasing plans of action for a presidential term specifically pertaining to environmental policy, Harris also released her own, right before the climate forum. While the general ideas of her plan was similar to those in Green New Deals already released, there are certainly notable differences.
First, the presidential candidate sets a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2045, five years faster than the United Nation’s recommended date of 2050. She would invest $10 trillion into reviving and overhauling infrastructure to achieve this. Possible methods of raising this money could come from the carbon tax backed by nearly all democratic candidates and even some of the republican candidates.
Other goals from Kamala Harris that are less common among the Green New Deals currently circulating are to pass new fuel economy standards by 2035 to ensure that all new passenger vehicles would emit zero emissions. She would also expand the clean energy tax credit program beyond its current reaches to achieve total carbon-neutral electricity in 10 years.
Perhaps the thing that Kamala Harris stresses most in her plan, though is that it is for the people of the world, not against big companies. While it certainly does aim to put legislation in place against these companies to achieve set goals, the focus is always brought back to protecting those that cannot protect themselves from big company carbon emissions. Harris frequently references her Climate Equity Act in the plan, making it a central component. Many believe that this feature allows her plan to be more well-rounded; it is not just about punishing the companies who hurt the environment, but also about supporting those who are and will suffer the most from the pollution.
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