This Week in Sustainability News – 15.07
This past week was filled with interesting sustainability and climate news, we’ve summarised the top stories below.
Climate adaptation costs to soar in Africa – dwarfing health expenditure
Analysis of the expected costs of climate adaptation for 11 African countries has shown that, despite being least responsible for the climate crisis, the countries will have to spend up to 22% of their GDP on dealing with the effects of global heating.
Climate adaptation involves setting up systems that allow for life to continue despite fundamental changes to temperature, precipitation, sea levels, and extreme weather. Such measures can include building higher sea walls, growing drought-resilient crops, and using rainwater for irrigation.
The 11 countries analysed were Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, and Sudan. Eritrea was estimated to face the highest climate adaptation costs in terms of percentage of their GDP, followed by Madagascar, Mauritania, and Cameroon.
Climate adaptation costs for all countries analysed were higher than their healthcare expenditures. For Eritrea, these costs were five times higher than healthcare expenditure.
Scientific basis found for climate liability claims
Researchers have examined the economic impacts that individual countries have caused to other countries through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, marking a sound scientific basis for climate liability claims.
The study found that just five countries were responsible for $6 trillion of global economic losses due to the warming effects their GHG emissions had from 1990 to 2014.
The world’s leading emitters, the US and China, were responsible for over $1.8 trillion of economic damage each. This was followed by Russia, India, and Brazil, whose impacts each exceeded $500 billion.
The researchers found that the economic impacts from GHG emissions were highly unequal, with two thirds of global economic losses being caused by the top 10 highest emitting countries.
The study’s senior researcher, Justin Mankin, said: "the responsibility for the warming rests primarily with a handful of major emitters, and this warming has resulted in the enrichment of a few wealthy countries at the expense of the poorest people in the world."
Nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging thrown away annually in the UK
The Big Plastic Count, a survey by Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic, studied the plastic waste outputs from almost 100,000 households across the UK.
On average, each surveyed household disposed of 66 pieces of plastic packaging waste a week, amounting to 3432 pieces across a year.
Using this data, the researchers were able to conclude that across the UK, 96.6 billion pieces of plastic packaging are disposed of annually.
Within the households studied, only 12% of single-use packaging was recycled and 83% of all the plastic came from food and drink packaging.
Experts have argued that the massive plastic waste problem in the UK cannot be solved by recycling alone, commenting that the government, big brands, and supermarkets must “rise to the challenge right now – there is no time to waste.”
Cows and sheep key to meeting UK methane emissions target
Cutting methane (CH4) emissions is crucial to the mitigation of climate change. One tonne of methane emitted is equivalent to 28 tonnes of carbon dioxide in terms of its impact on global warming (1 tCH4 = 28 tCO2e).
At COP26 in Glasgow, the UK pledged to reduce its methane emissions by 30% of their 2020 levels by 2030. This means the UK must cut its annual methane emissions by 15.5 million carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes (15.5 MtCO2e).
Currently, over 50% of UK methane emissions come from agriculture, with the majority of these emissions coming from enteric fermentation (belching and flatulence) by cows and sheep.
Technological improvements in agriculture may help to reduce dairy and beef emissions by 10% by 2030; however, to meet emissions reduction targets, cuts will have to be made to dairy, beef, and sheep populations.
Experts suggest that consumers need to alter their diets to reduce consumption of meat and dairy and that the prices of these foods should also be increased to reflect their environmental toll. This may also provide incentives for farmers to lower their emissions.
Additional to methane reductions, limiting livestock populations could have further environmental benefits and increase the UK’s food security, as it would allow for more land devoted to growing food for humans.