Environmental News’ Digest, January 11, 2021

Socio-Ecological Union, International

This digest covers the various environmental problems in different countries with focus on biodiversity, forest restoration, cooperation in Arctic and waste management.

Aral Sea Restoration
Digest, January 11
The view on Aral Sea from a space.

Kazakhstan was able to increase the water surface of the Aral Sea by 40% within the framework of restoration program. As a result, the water surface increased by 870 square kilometers. This work will continue, trees will be planted on the dried-up territory. Over the past 20 years, about 270 thousand hectares of Halóxylon forest have been planted on the dried-up territory of the Aral Sea, and another 160 thousand hectares of forest will be planted in the next five years.

Activism

An unprecedented and innovative legal mechanism is making its way through Latin America in an effort to protect social leaders in the world’s deadliest region for environmental activists. The Escazú Agreement, approved in March 2018 after a six-year negotiation under the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, guarantees access to environmental information, ensures public participation in the approval process for environmental projects, and requires states to take measures to protect environmental and human rights defenders. The treaty, signed by 24 out of 33 countries in the region, needed 11 ratifications to enter into full force. With Mexico’s ratification on Nov. 5, countries can now enter the implementation phase. The agreement is the first of its kind in Latin America, and stands out both for the content of the treaty and the deep involvement of civil society groups through every phase of the process https://news.mongabay.com/2021/01/for-latams-environmental-defenders-escazu-agreement-is-a-voice-and-a-shield/.

Environmentalists and journalists from Russia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland announced the creation of the international organization “Briz” (BRIES) to jointly monitor the state of nature in the Barents region and combat harmful industries. Members of the association noted that the Scandinavian countries have no less environmental problems than Russia. In their opinion, now the environmental institutions of the region, working separately, do not cope with the situation in European Arctic.

Biodiversity

A new study shows that global conservation action has reduced the effective extinction rate of birds by an astonishing 40%. A paper, co-authored by BirdLife’s Chief Scientist Dr. Stuart Butchart, has developed a more thorough measure of extinction rates by taking into account changes in extinction risk category on the IUCN Red List https://www.iucnredlist.org/ rather than just measuring extinction over time [see “How we worked it out” https://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/new-study-conservation-action-has-reduced-bird-extinction-rates-40]. Thanks to conservation over the last three decades, Critically Endangered species are now twice as likely to improve in status and move to a lower threat category as they are to deteriorate and become extinct. Without such conservation efforts, the opposite would be true.

Aichi Target 12 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) contains the aim to ‘prevent extinctions of known threatened species’. To measure the degree to which this was achieved, we used expert elicitation to estimate the number of bird and mammal species whose extinctions were prevented by conservation action in 1993–2020 (the lifetime of the CBD) and 2010–2020 (the timing of Aichi Target 12). We found that conservation action prevented 21–32 bird and 7–16 mammal extinctions since 1993, and 9–18 bird and two to seven mammal extinctions since 2010. Many remain highly threatened and may still become extinct. Considering that 10 bird and five mammal species did go extinct (or are strongly suspected to) since 1993, extinction rates would have been 2.9–4.2 times greater without conservation action. While policy commitments have fostered significant conservation achievements, future biodiversity action needs to be scaled up to avert additional extinctions https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/conl.12762.

Efforts to conserve the critically endangered Philippine eagle, one of the rarest raptors in the world, soared high even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the global havoc wreaked by the health crisis, the year 2020 ended on a high note for eagle conservationists, with at least two eagle families sighted in the Davao region of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The Philippine eagle (Pithecopaga jefferyi) enjoys a special status as the national bird of the Southeast Asian nation, but faces extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat. Growing the population is difficult, as the birds are slow to reproduce. It takes them five to seven years to mature sexually, after which the female lays a single egg every two years https://news.mongabay.com/2021/01/a-good-year-for-the-philippine-eagle-in-2020-but-not-for-its-supporters/.

Wastes

Plastic dishes have been banned in Belarus. The National Legal Internet Portal published Resolution No. 14 of the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade of the Republic of Belarus dated February 19, 2020 “On the list of disposable plastic tableware”, which establishes a list of disposable appliances prohibited for use and sale in cafes, canteens and cookeries. According to the document, from January 2021, tubes (straws), sticks for stirring drinks, plastic glasses, cups, plates, plastic packaging for public catering products and food products (containers, trays, boxes, lunch boxes, boxes, cans, bottles) should disappear from public catering facilities, with the exception of packaging for culinary semi-finished products and confectionery products. Plastic cutlery (spoons, forks) are not included in this list.

China has launched a plan to reduce plastic pollution. It was unveiled in January 2020, and it details steps to reduce pollution from 2020 to 2025. The first stage touched the straws. While enjoying the New Year 2021 holidays, many Chinese residents noticed that they had to say goodbye not only to 2020, but also to convenient disposable plastic dishes and appliances in supermarkets, grocery stores and cafes. First of all, it affected plastic straws, which were almost indispensable for Chinese youth who are fond of milk tea. In Beijing, supermarkets offer recyclable bags and baskets for rent as a replacement for plastic packaging.