Institute for Public Policy Research predicts an environmental breakdown

Posted Tuesday 19 Feb 2019 14:49 PM

Destabilising human impact on the environment is driving us to the environmental breakdown, warns a new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). “This is a crisis: Facing up to the age of environmental breakdown” report indicates that the unprecedented extent of human-induced environmental change has reached a critical stage. Human activity has led to the destabilisation of multiple natural systems, resulting in climate change, biodiversity loss,ocean acidification, land degradation, unsustainable biogeochemical flows, changes to ozone layer, and pollution.

If not addressed immediately and appropriately, theses changes may lead to socioeconomic instability, including such outcomes as conflict, famine, involuntary mass-migration and even possible collapse of economic and social systems. The extent of such disruption could be comparable to the global financial crisis of 2008.

The authors of the paper outline three main areas that require attention from politicians and policy makers: the pace and scale of environmental breakdown, the implications it has on societies, and the subsequent need for transformative change.

The unprecedented scale of environmental change is illustrated by the effects of rising average yearly temperatures. Since the records began in 1850, 20 out of 22 warmest years were the years leading up to 2019. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human activities have caused the global temperatures to rise by approximately 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels. At the current rate of temperature increase of 0.2°C per decade, we are on track to reach the current target of 1.5°C increase between 2030 and 2052. According to the science community, after this point the effects of climate change will become increasingly dangerous and irreversible. IPCC report has warned that warming of 2°C may lead to the extinction of many insects, plants and animals due to the transformation of ecosystems. Such event would leave humanity extremely vulnerable, as three-quarters of food supply depend on as little as 12 species of plants and five species of animals.

The impacts of climate change can already be seen across multiple domains. The IPPR report suggests that because of human impact on ecosystems, species extinction rates have grown by a factor of 100 to 1000 in comparison to the historic rates of extinction at normal conditions. With vertebrate populations having declined by around 60 per cent since 1970 and as many as 58,000 species being lost each year, the Earth is going through an extinction of the scale similar to one that eradicated dinosaurs. Three-quarters of Earth’s land in significantly degraded and it is predicted to get even worse, with crop yields declining by 10 per cent on a global level and up to 50 per cent in the most vulnerable regions. The statistics of extreme weather conditions and natural disasters are no less shocking. Since 1950, worldwide number of wildfires increased sevenfold, the number of floods grew by 15 times, and extreme temperature events increased by a factor of 20.

The findings relating to the United Kingdom specifically just as alarming. The report refers to the United Kingdom as one of the “most nature-depleted countries in the world”. The annual rate of topsoil erosion currently stands at 2.2 million tonnes, with nearly a fifth of arable land showing signs of erosion. Furthermore, the most threatened species populations have decreased by two-thirds in comparison to the 1970s.

The implications of such radical changes will be dramatic. The consequences ranging from extreme weather conditions to rising sea levels and soil infertility are likely to destabilise environmental systems on local and global levels. An interaction between destabilisation and class, ethnicity and gender inequalities may lead to a chaos resulting in a collapse of key social and economic systems, sparking one of the greatest environmental challenges inhuman history. Such crisis is likely to primarily affect the poorest populations of the world who do not have the resources to combat it. Soil infertility in some regions may lead to famine, which in turn can motivate populations to migrate. Migration and search for new resources can spark conflict, potentially leading to a large scale chaos.

The authors call for the action from politicians and policymakers to bring the human environmental impact to sustainable levels, in addition to increasing efforts on the preparation for the environmental crisis.

Recent report shows the UK to be one of the worst WEEE offenders

Posted Thursday 07 Feb 2019 16:11 PM

A recent report by Basel Action Network, an environmental watchdog, revealed that a number of European Union countries, including the United Kingdom, were illegally exporting their e-waste to the developing world. In an attempt to explore the extent of WEEE exports, a team of BAN researchers conducted a study spanning across 10 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom). Over a two-year period, the researchers deployed 314 GPS tracker-fitted electronic devices, including LCD and CRT monitors, printers and desktop PCs. Such equipment is qualified as hazardous electronic waste because it contains circuit boards, lead and mercury among other dangerous or toxic substances.

The study revealed that of the 314 tracked electronic units, 19 (or 6 per cent) were exported abroad by all but one of the countries where WEEE originated. The worst offender was the United Kingdom with five exports to developing countries: three to Nigeria, one to Tanzania and one to Pakistan. Denmark and Ireland came in as tied second with three shipments each, and only Hungary did not export any of its waste electronic equipment.

Eleven devices, or 58 per cent of all shipments, were sent to developing countries, with Nigeria being the leading recipient. According to the European Union’s Waste Shipment Regulations’ Article 36 Basel Convention’s Ban Amendment (Decision III/1), such shipments to non-EU countries are prohibited in most circumstances. This means that part or all of the United Kingdom’s e-waste was likely to be exported illegally.

Earlier research shows that such practices are not new. An investigation conducted by BBC Panorama in 2011 has found that 77% of e-waste generated in England and Wales was exported to West Africa, primarily Ghana and Nigeria. According to Margaret Bates, a sustainable waste management professor at the University of Northampton, illegal e-waste trade is the result of high costs associated with safe, responsible recycling.

While six percent of all e-waste being shipped away at first sight may not seem like a good enough reason to be concerned, it may in fact represent an enormous amount of WEEE dumped onto developing countries. The extrapolation of national export rates shows that 19 exported electrical waste units can mean as much as 421,603 tonnes of WEEE exports per year.

Jim Puckett, the Executive Director at Basel Action Network, criticised the use of the “Repairables” loophole in WEEE legislation, which, if passed, would allow exporting e-waste to developing countries making a claim of ‘export for repair’. “We are already hearing the EU and industry lobbyists using the term "circular economy" as a justification for allowing more toxic exports to move to disproportionately burden the global South with difficult-to-recycle toxic waste electronics,” said Puckett.

Lack of appropriate waste management systems in devel
oping countries is likely to lead to open burning of unrepairable residual electronic parts, which will in turn contaminate rivers and crops as well as expose local populations to toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury in addition to a number of cancer-causing substances.

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