TBLI Weekly - August 1st, 2023


TBLI Weekly - August 1st, 2023

Your weekly guide to Sustainable Investment


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Indonesia Cracks Down on the Scourge of Imported Plastic Waste

By: BETH GARDINER - Yale Environment 360

When China banned plastic waste imports in 2018, exporters in wealthy countries targeted other developing nations. Faced with an unending stream of unrecyclable waste, Indonesia has tightened its regulations and has begun to make progress in stemming the plastics flow.

In 2019, at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, delegates from 187 countries approved the first-ever global rules on cross-border shipments of plastic waste. No longer could countries export contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastics without the recipient country’s informed consent. It was a landmark step aimed at reducing the flood of wealthy nations’ scrap that had been deluging poorer regions, particularly Southeast Asia, since China closed its doors to such imports the previous year.

Hopes were high that the agreement — enacted as a set of amendments to the Basel Convention, which sets rules for developed nations sending hazardous waste to less-developed ones — would help control abuses in the trade of discarded plastic, which was often ending up strewn in fields, clogging rivers, or burned in open heaps. In the two and a half years since the amendments came into force in 2021, though, the reality has largely failed to live up to that ambition.

But some countries on the receiving end of the developed world’s waste exports are acting on their own. Indonesia, like its neighbors Thailand and Malaysia, was hit by a tidal wave of foreign trash after China — long the top destination for rich nations’ discarded plastic — stopped accepting it, and exporters in North America, Europe, Australia, Japan, and South Korea scrambled to dispose of mountains of waste that quickly accumulated.

Pressured by outrage at home and abroad over images of that plastic piled in villages and swirling through waterways, Indonesia cracked down on dirty, unsorted imports, tightening its regulations and stepping up enforcement. But its experience offers a mixed picture of halting progress and continued challenges, vividly illustrating the complexities of trying to stem a global tide of plastic waste that grows larger every year.

US climate change reforestation plans face key problem: lack of tree seedlings

By: - The Guardian

US tree nurseries do not grow enough trees and lack the plant species diversity to meet ambitious plans, research says

In an effort to slash carbon emissions and provide relief from extreme heat, governments across the nation and globally have pledged to plant trees. But the US is not equipped with the tree seedlings to furnish its own plans, according to a new study.

US tree nurseries do not grow nearly enough trees to bring ambitious planting schemes to fruition, and they also lack the plant species diversity those plans require, according to research published in the journal Bioscience on Monday,

For the study, 13 scientists examined 605 plant nurseries across 20 northern states. Only 56 of them – or less than 10% – grow and sell seedlings in the volumes needed for conservation and reforestation.

The team, led by two scientists at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, also found that forest nurseries tend to maintain a limited inventory of a select few species of trees, with priority placed on trees valued for commercial timber production. As a result, nurseries suffer from an “overwhelming scarcity of seedlings” that are well-suited for climate plans, the authors write.

“Despite the excitement and novelty of that idea in many policy and philanthropy circles – when push comes to shove, it’s very challenging on the ground to actually find either the species or the seed sources needed,” said Peter Clark, a forest ecologist at the University of Vermont, who led the new study.

The research comes as swaths of the US face relentless heatwaves. Phoenix, which has experienced record-shattering heat this summer, has said it intends to plant 200 trees a mile in select areas, and has invested $1.5m into the plan. Many US municipalities have made similar tree planting pledges.

On the federal level, the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided money for the US Forest Service to plant more than 1bn trees in the next nine years. And the World Economic Forum also aims to help plant 1tn trees around the world by 2030.

Read full article

Lies at the nexus of business and policy

By: Bonnie Lorraine Smith - Opinion piece

Either the folks who wrote the web copy for the lobbying firm McLarty share my taste for mischief, or they are so steeped in their own world that they missed the Doublespeak in their promotional efforts.

“Our work lies at the nexus of business and policy,” they proudly declare. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee the word “lies” in that sentence. It provokes a true sense of wonder about what goes on in the Land of Lobbying. It’s the kind of wonder that pulls us deeper into the Matereal World.

What lies where exactly?

That which lies—in whatever form we take the verb—at the nexus of business and policy has the capacity to uplift or destroy human lives and the interdependent web that makes life possible. It’s important that we make the best possible decisions.

But to do that, we need to know what’s going on.

In this post I explore the connection between stated corporate purpose versus lobbying spend. I analyzed five years (2018-2022) of global mining company Glencore’s lobbying disclosures to understand where the money went. I also include a nugget from their peer mining company, Barrick Gold, with a splash of oil and gas major Chevron.

I only looked at these three companies. However most large companies lack consistency with what they claim as their purpose and how they actually impact the world.

Kinda sorta “public” disclosures

One concern this sharper focus highlights is that, although the data is *technically* public, it is excruciatingly hard to find.

It’s even more excruciating to make sense of how it relates to real life—to reality. The lobbying activities remain largely hidden from public view, tucked behind vague statements.

But find and sense-make I did. Below I include:

  • the data set I compiled, including five years of Glencore’s lobbying filings in the US, a five-year core sample of Barrick Gold specific to the sage-grouse “issue”, plus the relevant links to the US House of Representative’s Lobbying Disclosures;

  • a 15-minute video tutorial, using Chevron as a case study for those who would like guidance on how to wade through the dense woods in the Land of Lobbying;

  • five specific, actionable recommendations that any disclosing company can implement today if they so choose.

What I don’t share is much from the companies’ own disclosures since there isn’t much to show. It’s as if the internal corporate communications briefing on lobbying is: “Be vague. Otherwise legal won’t sign off on it.” Although I will shed some light on their public “reporting” on lobbying, such as it is.

Read full article

Australian climate science projects in Antarctica put on ice due to budget cuts

By: Henry Belot - The Guardian

Dozens of crucial climate science projects including studies of record low sea ice and rapidly declining penguin populations are set to be cancelled, delayed or restricted due to budget pressures at the Australian Antarctic Division.

Internal documents seen by Guardian Australia also reveal the “cleaner Antarctica program”, which remediates the damage caused by human activity including diesel spills, cannot be supported “due to budget constraints”.

Last year, the division described the remediation work as its “flagship science project” that would provide a “clean up strategy for Australia’s contaminated sites” and “enhance Australia’s scientific and environmental leadership in Antarctica”.

Multiple insiders, who asked to speak anonymously, have confirmed two of Australia’s research stations, Mawson and Davis, will not be fully staffed during the summer season, which is the peak period of science, due to budget constraints.

Workers were briefed on plans to reduce the stations’ staffing levels last week, but many remain unclear about the future of their research. Their frustration comes about 18 months after the Morrison government announced an $800m investment in the division to keep the continent “free from conflict”

Scientists based at universities, which rely on the AAD for logistics and transport, have also complained about “a domino effect” caused by division’s budget pressures, which are now affecting their research.

Others are concerned that research is being cancelled or delayed when responses to the climate crisis are urgently needed. Last week, Guardian Australia reported on fears a “shocking shift” in record low sea ice levels and concerns the beginning of a global heating-linked event could have alarming knock-on effects.

The internal document, dated 20 July, shows the list of projects the head of division considers possible when considering budget constraints, logistics and operational challenges. The list, which could still be revised before the summer research season begins, identifies 56 initiatives that cannot be supported.

Read full article

Investigating the Mechanisms Behind Antarctic Melt Season Delay


By Megan Craig, M.Sc. - AZO CleanTech

Antarctica, the ice-covered continent, suffers from climate change. A phenomenon known as the polar amplification effect causes temperature rise at high latitudes to be significantly stronger than that of the global mean temperature.

Prof. Huadong Guo of the International Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS) and the Aerospace Information Research Institute (AIR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) guided a research group that examined the region’s ocean-ice-atmosphere interaction mechanism.

Based on machine learning and passive microwave remote sensing data, alongside temperature observation data from automatic weather stations, the team created a method for detecting ice sheet surface snowmelt. They found a 40-year delay in the melting season of the Antarctic ice sheet from 1978 to 2020.

Researchers discovered that Antarctic summer is not only “coming late” but also “ending late.” The majority of Antarctic snowmelt regions have specifically experienced delays in the beginning and end of melt, with delays in onset occurring in 67% of snowmelt regions and delays in termination occurring in 65% of regions.

Over the course of the 40-year observational period, there have been accumulated delays in melt onset and end dates totaling 10–15% of the entire summer melt period.

The research group also clarified the factors that the cause the start of the Antarctic ice sheet melting to be delayed. Late spring and early summer in Antarctica saw a drop in surface temperature due to the movement of the westerly jet toward the poles. At the end of the Antarctic summer, the heat released from the ocean to the atmosphere increased as a result of the sea ice extent decreasing, delaying the end of ice sheet surface melting.

Researchers investigated how the delayed melting season of the Antarctic ice sheet surface affected changes in surface net solar radiation and discovered that the delayed melting season in the snowmelt region might change annual surface net solar radiation by -5 ± 3 × 1018 J/year (or -0.26 ± 0.14 W/m2).

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To Transition To Renewables, Enviros May Have To Become Imperialists

By: Daniel Markind - Forbes

One of the inconvenient truths about modern renewable energy, especially from non-consumptive sources like solar and wind, is that they need lots of rare earth metals to make them viable as a replacement to fossil fuels as a reliable energy source. Unlike gas or oil, which can create energy by burning on an as-needed basis provided that there are continuing supplies to replenish what has been consumed, renewable energy is not available 24/7 and needs to be stored after it has been created or captured so it can be transmitted from places where it is generated or captured to places where it is needed, even when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.

The most promising way to do that involves battery technology, but there are presently insufficient numbers of batteries at proper scale to match energy production with demand in a vibrant, modern economy. Assuming that problem can be overcome with better logistics and improvements to the energy grid, modern batteries also need rare earth metals like cobalt and lithium to work at all, which most decidedly are not renewable resources and are mostly found in certain inhospitable places around the planet.

More than 75% of the world’s known lithium reserves are found in salt flats high up in the Andes Mountains in South America. This region, known as the “Lithium Triangle,” is where the countries of Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile meet.

Aside from the enormous technical difficulties in extracting and then separating the lithium from its present location so it is collectable, transportable, and usable - a process that can take as much as two years - the countries that own the deposits now are all politically unstable. If that instability, which has hindered lithium development in the past, continues, it most decidedly could retard the world’s ability to transition away from fossil fuels at all.

That puts those in the environmental community who argue that we must take instantaneous action because we are in a global “climate crisis” in a real quandary. If we truly do need the lithium that fast, because there is no other way to save the planet, and if the lithium is in places where the host governments either cannot or will not facilitate its easy collection and retrieval , what would the environmental community suggest we should do in order to prevent imminent planetary disaster from occurring?

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