EU’s deposit refund scheme a ‘false solution’ for plastic pollution

The European Union in early March announced its goal of establishing deposit refund schemes for plastic bottles and aluminium cans across the bloc by 2029. While EU authorities boast of high recycling rates in member states that have already adopted the practice, environmental groups denounce it as a “false solution” that doesn’t “tackle the real problem”.

The EU aims to become a star performer in the fight against plastic pollution. The bloc’s 27 countries earlier this month announced measures to address packaging waste that aim to achieve 100 percent recycling rates by 2035 and a 15 percent reduction in waste volume by 2040. According to Eurostat, the average European citizen generated 188.7 kilograms of packaging waste in 2021, an increase of 32 kilograms over a decade. Only 64 percent of that amount is recycled today.

Among the various types of packaging filling trash bins in Europe, two make up the majority: plastic bottles and aluminium cans. In France alone, an estimated 340,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were produced for sale in 2022 and only 50 percent were recycled, according to France’s national agency for ecological transition.

To address this problem, the EU proposes to implement a bloc-wide deposit refund system by 2029. Plastic bottles and aluminium cans would be sold for a few cents more, around five to 10 percent of the product’s price, but the consumer could recoup the added cost by bringing the container to a collection point after use. The process is already well-established in 15 European countries including Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian states.

The EU reports record recycling rates in each country where a deposit system already exists. In Germany, all supermarkets have had machines dedicated to “Pfand” (deposits) for returned plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans since 2003. While consumers are not obligated to use them, the practice has become part of everyday life. “Pfandsammler” (deposit hunters) clear the streets of used containers to help make ends meet. Up to 98.5 percent of bottles and cans are recycled via the deposit system in Germany, according to the Centre for European Consumption.

A similar situation exists in the Nordic countries. In Sweden, aluminium cans have been returnable since 1984; plastic bottles since 1994. The country recycles more than two billion of these containers a year, according to the government. In Norway, the system is a little different: Beverage packaging is subject to an environmental tax, but its amount decreases as the waste collection rate increases. This measure encouraged producers and distributors to introduce a deposit system in 1999. The country’s recycling rate for glass and plastic bottles borders is close to 90 percent.

This graphic shows which European countries have already implemented deposit programmes for recycled materials. Dark blue = already implemented, blue = planned implementation, light blue = without a widespread programme, white = information unavailable. Red = glass, yellow = plastic, green = aluminium. © ENTR

A dangerous ‘rebound effect’

Deposit refund systems are not, however, “miracle solutions”, says Manon Richert, communications manager for the NGO Zero Waste France. “This system can certainly help improve recycling figures, but it doesn’t target the goal we need to have: drastically reducing our production of plastic.”

“By itself, it’s just another way to sort packaging … it won’t change anything that happens to plastic bottles,” says Richert. Once deposited, a bottle will have the same fate as one placed in a traditional recycling bin. It will be collected and sent to a waste treatment plant. Bottles made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a type of plastic) will be used to make new ones; other bottles will be transformed into flakes and resold to make polyester, especially in Asia. “These processes require a lot of water and energy and generate microplastics,” Richert says.

Read moreTackling plastic pollution: ‘We can’t recycle our way out of this’

According to the activist, a bloc-wide deposit system could above all produce a “rebound effect” that would encourage consumers to continue buying plastic bottles – the opposite of the EU’s goal. “For years, we have been fed a discourse that presents waste sorting and recycling as an easy green gesture, and we have spread the idea that buying plastic isn’t so bad if we recycle it. And now, we’re going to add a financial incentive,” she says. “This could have the perverse effect of boosting consumption of plastic bottles.”

This effect has already been seen in Germany. A law passed in 2003 aimed to reduce single-use containers to 20 percent of the market, but the opposite has happened: single-use plastic bottles now account for 71 percent of the market compared with 40 percent a decade ago, according to a 2021 University of Halle-Wittenberg study. “It seems that the introduction of a single-use deposit system promotes a narrow mode of thinking and a focus on recycling, which hinders the revitalisation of multi-use BC (beverage container) systems,” the authors found.

“Behind the recycling deposit, it’s more a battle of financial interests than an environmental issue that’s at stake,” says Richert. In recent years, politicians have done more to force manufacturers to use a growing proportion of recycled plastic in production. The demand for recycled plastic has thus grown, and the material has become more expensive.

Collecting and recycling more bottles would increase the quantity of recycled plastic available, therefore lowering its price – “not exactly what encourages manufacturers to reduce production,” says Richert. “In the end, this measure risks maintaining the plastic production cycle, when we need to break it.”

In France, where debate on a deposit system is lively, the collection and sorting of rubbish is currently managed by local and regional authorities, who sell the trash to recyclers. In moving to a deposit system, the management of used plastics would revert to manufacturers, who would recover a financial windfall.

“The manufacturers are not going to get rich” under such a system, retorts Hélène Courades, director general of beverage industry group Boissons rafraîchissantes de France, which includes Coca-Cola and Pepsi, told Le Figaro. “The resale of this material would make it possible to finance the system.”

Recycling vs reuse

Zero Waste France, like other environmental organisations, is actively campaigning for a different system: a deposit for reuse, mostly for glass. “This existed in France until the 1980s,” says Richert. “The idea is to collect the containers to wash them and reuse them as-is, in line with the principle of a circular economy.”

“If this were organised on a local scale with, for example, optimisation and pooling of transport, the environmental and social impact would be very beneficial,” she says. But while such local and voluntary initiatives have been increasing in recent years, the system has not yet been adopted by the political discourse. “It requires a real paradigm shift and a true effort on the part of the government,” says Richert. “But it’s this kind of measure that can really get us away from disposable packaging and our addiction to plastic.”

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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Should nations try to ban bitcoin because of its environmental impact?

Skull of Satoshi, a sculpture by Benjamin Von Wong highlighting the environmental impact of bitcoin

VonWong/Skull Of Satoshi/Greenpeace

The amount of electricity used to mine and trade bitcoin climbed to 121 terawatt-hours in 2023, 27 per cent more than the previous year. While other cryptocurrencies in the same position have made bold changes to cut their impact, bitcoin’s decentralised community of developers, miners and investors are showing little interest in changing course. If bitcoin cannot clean up its own house, should governments step in to shut it down?

The latest data from the University of Cambridge shows that bitcoin currently accounts for 0.69 per cent of all electricity consumption worldwide. It also requires vast amounts of water, both for electricity production and for cooling at data centres. A study last year found that a single bitcoin transaction uses enough water to fill a swimming pool.

To dispense with centralised control but to ensure security and reliability, bitcoin traders register transactions in a permanent record called the blockchain by carrying out vast numbers of calculations.

This protects the network because hackers would need to control more than half of that computer power to fake or undo a transaction. But it also sucks up resources and pumps carbon into the atmosphere – it is estimated that bitcoin accounts for 0.16 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Alex de Vries at VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands has studied bitcoin’s impact for years and believes it is indefensible. “The whole system is built to incentivise participants to waste as much resources as they can possibly afford on making computations of which the result is immediately discarded,” he says.

In 2022, another cryptocurrency, Ethereum, ditched this wasteful “proof-of-work” system altogether and replaced it with one where those who own currency control the network, rather than those who own and operate computing power. This slashed the network’s energy consumption overnight by more than 99.99 per cent. More than a year on, the experiment has proved successful, and Ethereum remains secure.

De Vries says the bitcoin community – a loose collection of miners, investors and companies – refuses to take the same step and remains wedded to proof of work despite its environmental impact.

“Such a system is just totally inappropriate at a time where human-induced climate change is making it more and more urgent to be more mindful about the way we use resources,” he says. “We would instantly reduce global electricity consumption by half a per cent and worldwide carbon emissions by a quarter per cent [if bitcoin ditched proof of work]. This may not sound like a lot, but this result would be achieved overnight. I don’t know of any other way to cut greenhouse gas emissions faster than this.”

New Scientist approached several of the world’s leading bitcoin mining companies for an interview on the issue. Argo, TeraWulf, Hut 8, Riot, Block Mining, Frontier Mining and HIVE Digital Technologies didn’t respond. The email address of the Bitcoin Mining Council, a members’ body set up to speak on behalf of mining companies, appeared to be no longer valid. A statement on the group’s website says: “The BMC believes that Bitcoin’s energy usage is a feature, not a bug, and provides tremendous network security.”

A campaign called Clean Up Bitcoin, backed by the US non-profit organisation Environmental Working Group and Greenpeace USA, aims to pressure the industry to reduce its environmental footprint, pointing out that the rapid turnover of powerful machines designed and built specifically to mine bitcoins also adds significantly to global e-waste, sending 30,000 tonnes of machines to landfill annually. The problem was highlighted last year by an art installation called the Skull of Satoshi, created by art activist Benjamin Von Wong.

“The growing climate and community impact of bitcoin mining is stark and heavily documented through scientific journals, investigative journalism and research by government and independent scientists,” says Erik Kojola at Greenpeace USA. “Even with this knowledge, bitcoin miners and investors continue to forge forward, growing their industry, showing a clear lack of concern for CO2 emissions, large water usage, support for fossil fuels and negative community impacts.”

Kojola says financial firms like BlackRock, Fidelity and JPMorgan Chase are looking to push mainstream adoption of bitcoin by creating new financial instruments that allow people to indirectly invest in it. “Our concern is that this will drive up bitcoin’s price, creating an explosion in the environmental and social footprint of this cryptocurrency,” he says.

BlackRock says it was unable to discuss its bitcoin fund because of US Securities and Exchange Commission rules on products being reviewed. The other companies highlighted by Kojola didn’t respond to a request for an interview from New Scientist.

With no sign of the bitcoin community or the finance industry working to fix the problems themselves, Rachael Orr at the charity Climate Outreach says governments will need to force changes through. “It’s really important that people are made aware of the environmental cost of trading in these currencies, so they can make informed choices,” she says. “Our research shows that people are willing to change their behaviours, but they need strong leadership from governments. This is why we need a proper government strategy on how everyone can be involved in successfully tackling climate change.”

However, bitcoin’s decentralised nature makes it next to impossible to enforce changes and the same is true of dismantling the technology. Countries can take individual stances to ban bitcoin mining, as China did in 2021 – but without global consensus, that is likely to lead to a game of whack-a-mole where miners hop from state to state to evade bans.


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People power must be at the core of all clean energy plans

By Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All; Co-Chair, UN-Energy

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Governments worldwide must put consumer empowerment into national energy plans, in a fair and inclusive manner, and help them understand how to benefit from clean energy consumption, Damilola Ogunbiyi writes.


In the race against climate change, the move to carbon-free energy has taken centre stage. To ensure everyone benefits from fair and affordable clean energy, people power must be at the heart of this transition.

Everywhere today, consumers face unprecedented price pressures caused by our continued dependence on fossil fuels. 

Tackling the climate crisis by enabling affordable clean energy is now more important than ever. The technology exists to put people in direct control of their energy, helping cut their costs and carbon emissions. 

Yet what is still needed is the political will of global leaders to empower consumers to drive this transition.

People have the right to know

Nearly 3 in 4 people in Europe, North America, and Asia Pacific are concerned about climate change. However, only half understand the actions and investments they can make to facilitate change. 

The global average energy-related carbon footprint is almost five tonnes of CO2 per person — the equivalent of two round-trip flights between Singapore and New York, or driving an average SUV for 18 months. This is a huge untapped potential for positive climate action.

To enable citizens to act, they need information on how they can best reduce emissions and cut costs; high-quality data about their energy consumption to help change behaviour; and policies designed to help them participate in and benefit from clean energy systems.

The demand for this is clear. Almost 50% of people say they could reduce their energy consumption with the right information and financial support — and the impact is already being proven. 

To give one example: in Malaysia, the leading utility gave home energy reports to 450,000 consumers with simple and actionable consumption data, resulting in a 3% average reduction in household energy demand without needing new technology or government incentives.

It is a matter of access

With the right guidance, people are able to adopt energy-saving practices, cut their costs and reduce their carbon emissions. 

However, only the European Union and Australia mandate such consumer access to energy data. This simple action by governments would make a massive positive impact – without cost.

The next step is to provide granular data about energy consumption to every household. When consumers have access to real-time insights on their energy usage, evidence shows they understand their environmental impact better and make conscious choices to reduce it — again, cutting costs and emissions.

The technology already exists. Smart metres equipped with real-time data monitoring provide consumers with detailed insights into their energy use. 

More importantly, they enable dynamic pricing, allowing consumers to take advantage of cheaper and cleaner electricity at different times of day.

Advanced economies such as China and the US are leading the way, with almost 100% and 70% of consumers using smart metres. Yet, this has not translated to developing economies, with only 3% of homes in Latin America or 2% in India having access to them. 

Progress is happening, but far more needs to be done to invest in smart metre rollouts for those who could benefit the most.

Those usually on the sidelines could finally take control

Putting the consumer at the heart of the clean energy transition gives every person a stake and opportunity to benefit, increasing social support and accelerating the decarbonisation of our energy systems. 

Making this a reality needs more than information and technology. Policies and incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies, and rewards for adopting renewable technologies, combined with innovative business models, are needed to give people greater access to clean energy, especially in developing economies.


The Rwanda Cooling Initiative’s Green On-wage financing mechanism is one example of a new business model which puts people in the driver’s seat. 

Consumers can take out interest-free loans, repaid through salaries, to purchase energy-efficient cooling technology, lowering the risk and cost of financing. 

By doing so, people who would otherwise be left on the sidelines are able to take control of their energy use, benefit from cheaper, cleaner energy and participate in the fight against climate change.

A system that’s fair and just for all

The climate crisis is an undeniable reality that demands immediate attention and collective action. We must urgently move away from fossil fuels to build a healthier and cleaner future for citizens everywhere. 

By empowering people to adopt energy-efficient practices and make informed choices about energy consumption, we can make a substantial positive impact on the transition to accessible and affordable 24/7 carbon-free energy in a way that is fair and just for all.


To make this happen, governments worldwide must put consumer empowerment into national energy plans, in a fair and inclusive manner, and help them understand how to benefit from clean energy consumption.

However, citizens alone taking action is not enough. To make the change at the scale and pace we need, governments worldwide must be bold and commit to achieving 24/7 carbon-free energy. 

Unlocking the benefits requires the right regulatory frameworks, investment in renewables and grid infrastructure, and commitment to phase out fossil fuels.

There is no time to waste. We must act now, and act together, to make clean energy work for all.

Damilola Ogunbiyi is CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy.


At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Why is reporting on the climate impact of meat off the menu?

By Nico Muzi, Managing director and co-founder, Madre Brava

Contrary to the popular saying, more bad news about meat production will be good news for people and the planet, Nico Muzi writes.

No news is good news for the meat industry, but it’s terrible news for people and the planet.

Despite the oversized role of livestock production in driving climate change, mainstream media ignores the issue. 

A new analysis by Faunalytics for Sentient Media revealed that 93% of climate-related news never mentions meat.

Researchers analysed 1,000 articles in 10 national US media outlets since September 2022 and found that within the very limited coverage that mentions animal agriculture, “much of the reporting covers climate impacts on livestock rather than how meat production is a source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Earlier research by our sustainable food advocacy group also shows that the topic of climate emissions from animal agriculture gets comparatively less media coverage than other climate problems. 

Almost 450 out of 91,180 climate articles in top-tier English-language media outlets in the EU, UK and US between 2020 and mid-2022 mention meat or livestock as a source of emissions — 0.5% of overall climate reporting.

This is problematic: media narratives help to set the political agenda and are precursors to political action. 

In other words, media coverage of the role of livestock in driving climate change is more likely to create political urgency, policy prioritisation and resource allocation.

Why are climate and environment reporters ignoring meat’s part in climate change?

For some, it’s a question of priorities

At least three main factors contribute to the underreporting of meat’s oversized climate impact by English-language media.

First, a lack of campaigning. Very few civil society groups are campaigning on the link between meat and climate change — compared to the sheer amount of public advocacy around fossil fuels extraction and emissions from cars, trucks, planes and ships. 

In part, this corresponds with the minimal climate philanthropy funding going to the food and agriculture sector — 8% of the total known foundation funding dedicated to climate mitigation in 2020.

But it also has to do with a matter of prioritisation. So far, and rightly so, the environmental movement has focused on reducing emissions from the energy systems and transport: two sectors with massive emissions (34% and 15% of total emissions in 2019, respectively) and with technological solutions — solar, wind and electrification of transport — available at scale to decarbonise these industries.

Food is the next frontier in the climate fight: it’s responsible for 37% of global emissions, of which animal agriculture takes the lion’s share. 

The sector’s size can be a stumbling stone

When presenting the latest IPCC report, Chairperson Hoesung Lee reminded the world that humanity needs to reduce livestock farming to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

We should now expect the attention of civil society (and climate philanthropists) to turn to the transformation of how and what food we produce to feed a growing population without frying the planet. 

This is crucial for creating media attention: as Madre Brava’s media analysis shows, investigations by NGOs and studies by think tanks and universities are the leading generators of climate stories around meat and livestock.

The second factor is corporate capture: the continuous attempts by the meat industry to meddle with science and policymaking. 

The global meat industry is a huge sector worth $1.3 trillion (€1.16tn) — three times the economic value of the smartphone industry. 

People like meat — and telling them not to eat it can turn them hostile

Borrowing heavily from the playbook of the oil industry, media reporting and exposés have shown that big meat processors and dairy corporations use their abundant financial resources to manipulate the facts and sow doubts about climate science on animal products.

For instance, research led by academics at New York University and published in the journal Climate Change show that the 10 largest animal agriculture companies in the US “have contributed to research that minimizes the link between animal agriculture and climate change.” 

In terms of lobbying efforts, the same researchers uncovered that “taken as a share of each company’s total revenue over those time periods, Tyson has spent more than double what Exxon has on political campaigns and 21% more on lobbying.”

Recently, the Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the Role of Livestock, a pro-livestock manifesto by scholars with close ties to the meat industry, also appear to further efforts to create a supportive scientific community around livestock and to downplay the impact of meat on climate change.

Also, many people love meat for its taste and for deeply held cultural reasons, which makes the topic contentious for reporting.

As Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel said when asked about the reasons why animal agriculture gets comparatively less coverage in climate stories than other sources of emissions: “The predominant one is that people like meat and … basically you end up telling people to eat less beef.”

“And that’s a message that people tend to be hostile to. When we’re talking about fossil fuels, we are giving people an alternative. But when we’re talking about meat, the alternative we give them is very unpalatable to a lot of people.”

Wrong framing can result in polarisation

How can we overcome the underreporting of meat’s role in climate change?

For one, to remove some of the key barriers to more climate coverage on meat production, the media needs a drumbeat of new content, which can be generated with more NGO campaigning and journalistic investigations. 

In this regard, it would be impactful if climate and environmental NGOs join forces with animal welfare groups and health experts to amplify messages around the climate, health and animal harms of industrial meat — supported by increased climate philanthropic funding. 

Likewise, audacious investigative journalists should dig deeper and unearth new episodes of corporate capture of science and policymaking in this realm.

Second, reworking how to frame narratives and where to place the burden of responsibility is critical in superseding the “contentiousness” of the topic for reporters. 

Campaigns — if not framed right — can also create polarisation and fuel culture wars.

The onus of changing how and what food is produced should be on food retailers and governments, not consumers. 

Instead of finger-pointing at people for not reducing their meat consumption, the call to action should be to improve the choice context so healthy and sustainable food is the easiest and most affordable option for consumers.

Bad news for some might be good news for people and the planet

Finally, like-for-like alternatives matter when trying to change deeply held cultural habits. 

Industry disruptors should deliver more palatable alternative proteins that are as tasty and as cheap as conventional industrial meat to meet consumers where they are in terms of taste and nutritional preferences.

More reporting on the oversized role of livestock in driving climate change will help create political urgency, policy prioritisation and resource allocation. 

Contrary to the popular saying, more bad news — about meat production — will be good news for people and the planet.

Nico Muzi is the managing director and co-founder of Madre Brava, a science-based advocacy organisation working to bring in line the food system with the 1.5C climate target.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Wonkette Book Club Part 6: A Future Up In The Air

This week we finish up our reading of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 climate change epic The Ministry for the Future, and we close out our visit to a possible world where humanity manages, just barely, to save itself from the climate change disaster it created. Or at least that’s the case, as the song says, for the people who are still alive.

Since the start of the novel, with Chapter 1’s horrific heat wave in India, untold hundreds of millions of humans have died in the climate-related disasters and economic shocks resulting from 40 to 50 years of continued warming, although near the end of the novel atmospheric carbon has not only stopped increasing, but is finally beginning to decline. Of course, there’s still no guarantee that humanity still won’t find wonderful new ways to wipe itself out.

Cagey bastard writer that he is, Robinson begins Chapter 89 with the confirmation that yes, CO2 in the atmosphere is really declining, and has been for several years, so it’s clearly not a seasonal or economic blip. He immediately follows that with the assassination of Tatiana, the tough Russian member of the Ministry team, whose death (we never find out who did it) is devastating to Mary Murphy, who throws herself into work, as she does.

That all leads up to the international COP (Committee of the Parties) meeting in Zurich in Chapter 94, which includes a “global stocktake” of progress on climate, and what still needs to be done. Fun fact: Out here in reality, this year’s COP28, to be held in December in Dubai, will include the conclusion of the first global stocktake, a two-year process that started at 2021’s COP26 in Glasgow.

In a turn that should only happen in fiction, COP28 will be presided over by the head of an oil company. Sigh.

Unlike the mostly-celebratory COP58 in the novel, this year’s delegates will be reporting that we’re far behind where we should be to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting warming since 1880 to below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), let alone the goal of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), which will still be quite bad enough. On average, the world is already at 1.1 degrees (1.9 degrees F) above 1880, and carbon emissions keep rising. That said, the rate of increase appears to finally be slowing as methane (“natural”) gas power generation increasingly replaces coal and as more renewables come online, so as David Wallace-Wells wrote last fall (NYT gift link), the worst-case scenarios projected just a few years ago are actually looking less likely.

But back to the novel: At COP58 (it’s an annual meeting, so the book is now up to 2053), there’s lots of good news to report, particularly that big banner showing a leveling off and decline in the Keeling Curve, the zigzag measurement of atmospheric carbon that today is still only going up, from preindustrial levels of 280 to 300 parts per million.

In case you were wondering, today’s reading is 422.97 ppm. The year I was born, it was 318.43 ppm. You can look up your birth year up here. The highest level mentioned in Ministry for the Future is 475.

In the closing chapters we read this week, Frank is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Mary visits him as often as possible in hospice, even working from his hospital room as he quickly declines and eventually dies. (I’m listening to Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” while writing this, because it’s always good to write to. Mary is right.) Climate refugees are released from camps and given the opportunity to relocate anywhere, with the costs being shared by the rich nations, and that’s some real science fiction there, I fear. But then, the world’s economy has been rearranged to make that more possible.

Mary eventually retires, nominating Badim as acting head of the Ministry, and she travels around the world with Captain Art Nolan, an airship pilot who ushers tour groups around to see the animals that are returning to newly depopulated parts of the world. Mary is ready for romance, but they don’t quite take the plunge.

Semi-spontaneously, the world Zeitgeists a new holiday, Gaia Day, into existence, so Badim’s dream of an environmentalism-based religion may have seen its first spark. Mary and Badim have a guarded conversation about the things his “black wing” of the Ministry did, and didn’t do. And Sky Captain Art returns for the last chapter, a literally carnivalesque Zurich festival celebrating the end of winter.

And in contrast to the novel’s first words, “It was getting hotter,” that’s no longer the case, except seasonally — there is no such thing as fate.

So let’s talk about this sucker! As always, these discussion questions are just a few of the things that occurred to me, but don’t feel limited to these. The other usual disclaimer: If you’re behind on the reading, or haven’t read the book at all, no problem, we’re not grading any of this. The conversation about climate is every bit as important. Also, no worries about spoilers, because hey, this is our last meeting!

1) How has the dynamic between Mary and Frank evolved over the course of the novel (if it has), and how does it relate to the book’s overall themes? Is Frank Mary’s Greek chorus or Jiminy Cricket, or something else?

2) After Badim meets with representatives of the Children of Kali to tell them that it’s time for the violence to stop (Chapter 78), terrorism does seem to largely vanish, at least from the plot of the novel, apart from reminders that the threat of being torpedoed has led shipping companies to retrofit container ships to run on solar, figuring the slower speed into their business model; by the time Mary takes her airship tour, most cargo ships are fully robotic, too. Again, I’m not sure that even effective, coordinated terrorism would have that effect, and the disappearance of the Kali groups from the final 30 or so chapters seems like a loose thread. Your thoughts?

3) Remember that terrific Wired profile of Jamie Beard, who’s doing everything she possibly can to get oil drilling companies to shift their expertise to enhanced geothermal? (We linked to it in Part 4 of the book club) My favorite climate-n-energy nerd David Roberts recently interviewed her on his Volts podcast, and she is exactly as brilliant, witty, and OMG even optimistic about the energy potential of geothermal as you’d expect from the profile. (If you’re not a podcast person, there’s also a transcript)

Why yes, this was more of a comment than a question. But it says a hell of a lot that Ministry doesn’t say much at all about using Earth’s own heat as an energy source, not because Robinson dropped the ball while researching the book, but because in the two and a half years since it was published, interest and investment in geothermal has accelerated to the point that it’s likely to be a huge part of the clean energy transition. As it happens, the very same month Ministry was published, October 2020, Roberts wrote that geothermal was “poised for a big breakout.” (He and Beard talk about that piece in the podcast, since it really did help shape much of the interest in geothermal.) The technology’s prospects are even more exciting now, with pilot projects in the works — another area Beard is helping with via a newly launched nonprofit, Project InnerSpace.

OK, fine, I’ll just embed Beard’s TED Talk too. It’s Saturday, so we can be a bit sprawling.

4) I really want to talk about how we can be optimistic about climate. Not in any Pollyannaish “Oh, they’ll figure it out” sense, but in the way I think Ministry for the Future encourages: very much aware of the challenges, and always on the lookout for ways to leverage existing systems to make significant advances. (One obvious example: the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which is already remaking American industrial and energy policy. We need a lot more like it, but combined with other Biden policies, it’s really very freaking impressive! How did Ministry for the Future — or our discussions of it here — affect your overall sense of what we can do about climate?

That’s plenty to start with, and please, add other questions and ideas as we discuss! I plan to come back to the discussion all weekend, too.

The one rule I am going to enforce strictly for this post is that, to keep the conversation focused, I will remove any off topic comments and ask you to move ’em to the open threads, either the Top Ten from this morning, or the late-afternoon Open thread later. I’d honestly like to keep the book & climate conversation going all weekend, and if you wanna come back and say more, please do so!

Here are our previous installments:

Book Club Part 1

Book Club Part 2

Book Club Part 3

Book Club Part 4

Book Club Part 5

Wonkette depends on your donations to keep going, so if you can, please give $5 or $10 monthly. And if you’re planning to shop at Amazon, the linky below gives Yr Wonkette a small cut

Do your Amazon shopping through this link, because reasons.

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Will travelling by plane ever be carbon neutral? Researchers have their doubts

The “decarbonisation” of air travel has become the driving question of the Paris Air Show, which opened its doors on June 19 outside Paris. Striving to build a game-changing “green plane”, the aviation industry is betting heavily on the development of sustainable fuels. From cooking oil to hydrogen planes, FRANCE 24 breaks down the possible pathways to carbon-neutral air travel – and why some may never make it off the ground.

How can millions of people keep travelling by plane every year without contributing to the climate crisis? That is the question at the heart of this year’s Paris Air Show aeronautical extravaganza which opened near Paris on Monday. Having set an objective of being carbon-neutral by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement, aviation companies have put forward a number of possible solutions to meet the challenge, from building more sustainable aircraft to finding greener fuels.

For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron showed himself ready to open the state’s coffers. Macron announced a package of €2.2 billion last Friday to help the sector’s flagship companies – Airbus, Safran, Thales and their subcontractors – to find a way to build a game-changing “green plane”.

The stakes are sky-high. 

“The aviation sector represents two to three percent of global CO2 emissions,” explained Isabelle Laplace, specialist in air transport sustainability issues at the National Civil Aviation School in Toulouse. “Add to that other emissions, the effects of which are relatively unknown. For example, condensation trails – those white clouds that form in the wake of planes – which cause a temporary greenhouse effect.”  

And these effects will continue to increase if nothing is done, with the International Air Transport Association projecting that air travel will more than double by 2050.

Lighter aircraft, more efficient engines 

To mitigate the aviation sector’s impact on climate, the first step is to maximise energy efficiency, Laplace explained, noting that work is being done on both the types of engines and the materials used by aircraft. “We’ve been working on this for 50 years. Today, a plane consumes 80 percent less fuel than in the 1970s,” she noted.    

But these technological advances haven’t stopped the sector’s carbon footprint from increasing with the explosion of air travel.

CFM, a joint venture between US conglomerate General Electric and France’s Safran aviation group, has been working on an engine that they hope will reduce fuel consumption by another 20 percent by 2035. But even if such advances were possible, Laplace said this alone “would not allow us to reach carbon neutrality”.

Biofuels, a limited solution 

Beyond technological improvements, the aeronautics industry is focusing on sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. 

“This is certainly the most readily available solution in the short term,” Laplace said. “Particularly as SAF has the advantage of being usable in the aircraft we have now. There is no need to change the planes’ structure.”

The term SAF covers several different types of fuels. The first are the biofuels, or agrofuels: these would allow a reduction of 80 to 85 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation sector, according to France’s minister for ecological transition. Traditionally made from wheat, canola, sugar beets or palm oil, the latter is often singled out by environmentalists who say its production causes deforestation, over-cultivation and damaging changes in land use. 

To counter such accusations, aviation companies say they use only “second-generation” biofuels – forestry and agricultural waste products like hay or cooking oil

“But all this is far from solving all the problems,” said Jérôme Du Boucher, aviation specialist for the European NGO Transport & Environment France, which researches solutions for decarbonising travel.

“The companies mostly use second-hand oil because it’s the cheapest solution,” Du Boucher said. “Unfortunately, there is a lack of transparency on the part of the sellers, particularly in Southeast Asia, and it’s suspected that some are fraudulently using palm oil instead, thereby contributing to deforestation.”

There is also the question of available resources. 

“We are not going to triple our consumption of oil or agricultural products to make waste products available for aviation,” Du Boucher said. “To supply the whole sector with fuel, we would have to have enormous volumes of biomass.”

Laplace agrees that biofuels are unlikely to be the answer.

“It seems impossible to me that biofuels will ever be enough to one day power every plane in the sky, especially since demand will certainly continue to increase in parallel across all sectors, notably in the automotive sector,” she said.

Other types of SAF are synthetic fuels, or e-fuels.

“They are made with green hydrogen and carbon monoxide,” Laplace explained. These have the advantage of emitting a lot less CO2 than kerosene, but they emit other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides. 

“This is not a technology that we have mastered yet, except on a small scale and in very small quantities,” she said. “We are only at the experimental stage.”

Despite these challenges, things are speeding up at the European level. At the end of April, the European Parliament agreed on a regulation called ReFuelEU Aviation which dictates that 2 percent of SAF will have to be mixed with the kerosene fuelling the planes in circulation between now and 2025. This number will increase to 6 percent by 2030, 20 percent by 2030, 34 percent by 2040 and will reach 70 percent by 2050.

The El Dorado of hydrogen

Another energy source that is fuelling hopes in the sector is green hydrogen. Airbus has promised to have an aeroplane equipped with a hydrogen engine by 2035. For its part, the small French company Blue Spirit Aero, founded in 2020, unveiled at Bourget its four-seater hydrogen plane, which is supposed to reach a cruising speed of 230km/h.

“Obviously, it seems like a miracle solution, as the plane would emit nothing except water vapour,” Laplace noted. But it has many limitations, she said. 

“Today, green hydrogen manufactured using a decarbonised source of electricity only exists on a small scale. More than 95 percent of this energy still comes from natural gas,” a fossil fuel, she noted. 

“And like with SAF, it raises the question of available resources,” Du Boucher added. “We know that the demand for clean electricity will grow considerably in the coming years. But we can’t install solar panels everywhere at the expense of biodiversity.”

Not to mention the many logistical challenges – unlike SAF, using hydrogen fuel would require renovating aircraft and therefore launching new production lines. 

There must also be a way to store it aboard planes – hydrogen is four times bulkier than kerosene and must be kept at -250°C (-418°F).

Electric short-hauls

The last solution the industry is considering is electricity. French start-up Voltaero, which develops small hybrid planes, presented its first aircraft on Sunday, a five-seater that the company hopes to mass produce by 2025 and which has already received more than 200 pre-orders.

Using only electricity during take-off and landing, the plane is also equipped with a small combustion engine that only turns on once in flight to recharge the plane’s batteries if necessary. They can also be plugged into the mains once the plane is on the ground. 

“It’s a promising aircraft, but one that will be limited to short-haul flights due to the weight of its batteries,” Laplace said. “It’s a solution that could make sense ecologically in certain parts of the world where there are no railways, or in archipelagos, but it is preferable to take a train whenever possible.”

Laplace and Du Boucher say that all of these fuels will likely be used over the next few years, but for different purposes. 

“In the end, the decarbonisation of air travel will only happen through a reduction in air travel overall,” Du Boucher said.

According to a September 2022 study by the French Agency for Ecological Transition, technological innovation in the aviation sector will fall short for one simple reason: it won’t come fast enough. 

The agency has outlined several ways to limit the number of planes in the sky, including capping the number of flights at airports or even introducing a tax on tickets – while noting that just 1 percent of the population is responsible for half of the greenhouse gas emissions from the planes that criss-cross the globe.

This article has been translated from the original in French

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NYC skyscrapers turning to carbon capture to lessen climate change

From the outside, the Manhattan high-rise looks like any other luxury building: a doorman greets visitors in a lobby adorned with tapestry and marble.

Yet the basement has a set of equipment seen almost nowhere else in the world. To reduce emissions, the owners have installed twisting pipes and tanks that collect carbon dioxide from the building’s massive, gas-fired boilers.

Explained | What is carbon capture and utilisation?

The goal is to stop carbon dioxide, a climate-warming gas, from entering the atmosphere. In such a vertical city, it’s impossible to address climate change without tackling emissions from buildings. So building owners must make dramatic cuts starting next year or face escalating fines under a new law which affects some 50,000 structures — more than half the buildings in the city. Other cities such as Boston and Denver passed similar laws.

To comply, some property managers are installing carbon capture systems, which strip out carbon dioxide, direct it into tanks and prepare it for sale to make carbonated beverages or soap. In this case, the carbon dioxide is sold to a concrete manufacturer in Brooklyn.

“Time is not on our side, and this type of solution can be installed quickly, cost-effectively and without a major disruption,” said Brian Asparro, chief operating officer of CarbonQuest, which built the system.

Critics say buildings should be switched to electricity instead.

Watch: The World’s Largest Carbon Capturing Plant

“Carbon capture doesn’t actually reduce emissions; it seeks to put them somewhere else,” said Anthony Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

It’s unclear whether carbon capture will be recognised by New York City as a qualifying emissions reduction; the city has not decided.

Capturing the culprit

In the Manhattan building’s basement, two 500-horsepower boilers rumble, burning natural gas and releasing carbon dioxide. The boilers produce roughly half the building’s emissions. The other half are generated at power plants where the building buys electricity. The carbon capture system, Mr. Asparro said, is trapping about 60% of the boilers’ emissions.

“Boilers like this are installed everywhere, in schools and hospitals around the world,” Mr. Asparro said.

Carbon dioxide and other gases flow from the boilers over a special material that separates out the carbon dioxide in a system that occupies two former parking spaces. Then it’s compressed and cooled to -10 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 degrees Celsius), turning it to liquid.

Also Read: Denmark hopes to pump some climate gas beneath the sea floor

Pipes lead to spigots outside the building, where a truck loads up with the liquefied CO 2 and takes it to a concrete manufacturer in Brooklyn.

The apartment building is trying to reduce energy in other ways, too, said Josh London, senior vice president at Glenwood Management Corp. It has computerized motors, fans and pumps, LED lighting and battery storage. The company plans to install carbon capture systems in five more buildings this year.

Nearly 70% of New York City’s large buildings have steam boilers like these that run on natural gas or oil, according to NYC Accelerator.

The city law requires all buildings over 25,000 square feet to reduce emissions. In Minnesota, Radisson Blu Mall of America, a hotel, has installed a system that captures carbon dioxide that’s eventually used to make soap.

Mineralising into concrete

Over in Brooklyn, the floor shakes as yellow machines churn at Glenwood Mason Supply Company Inc., a concrete maker unrelated to Glenwood Management Corp. Grey concrete blocks rattle down a conveyor under a din of metal gears and motors.

A truck arrives with liquefied carbon dioxide and then, using equipment provided by a company called CarbonCure, it’s compressed and turned into a solid.

As concrete ingredients churn, the carbon dioxide, now essentially dry ice, flows in like a mist. It reacts with calcium ions in cement, a main ingredients of concrete. This forms calcium carbonate, which becomes embedded in the concrete.

Also Read: Bendable concrete and other CO2-infused cement mixes could dramatically cut global emissions

Once carbon dioxide is in that mineral state, it’s secure and it won’t be released unless heated to about 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit), said Claire Nelson, a geochemist who specialises in carbon capture at Columbia Climate School.

“So unless a volcano erupts on top of your concrete building, that carbon is going to be there forever,” Ms. Nelson said.

Adding mineralised carbon dioxide to concrete can reduce its carbon footprint, though not by much. On average, concrete producers using CarbonCure technology reduce their carbon footprint by 5% to 6%, said Robert Niven, CEO of CarbonCure. But that is still meaningful, because making concrete contributes significantly to climate change.

Questions remain

Many environmental groups remain skeptical of carbon capture, favoring investments in renewable energy. They also fear it could be unsafe to store carbon dioxide in a residential dwelling.

After a carbon dioxide pipeline ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi, in 2020, 45 people sought medical attention at local hospitals, according to a report from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. People exposed to high concentrations of carbon dioxide, the report said, may experience rapid breathing, confusion, elevated blood pressure and increased arrhythmias. Extreme concentrations can lead to death by asphyxiation.

There’s also a risk of leaks, if a truck transporting carbon dioxide gets into an accident, Mr. Rogers-Wright said.

Proponents of carbon capture say there are safeguards and the technology installed in Manhattan was permitted by multiple city agencies.

Also Read: The ocean twilight zone could store vast amounts of carbon captured from the atmosphere – but first we need an internet of deep ocean sensors to track the effects

Ms. Nelson, the Columbia geochemist, who also started a carbon capture company, says storing natural gas in basements is more dangerous than storing carbon dioxide, and many people accept the risks posed by natural gas.

The biggest challenge, proponents say, is scaling this and other solutions fast enough to make a difference in climate change.

Back in Manhattan, the local utility doesn’t have enough renewable energy to sell to all New York customers, and “with solar, you need a bigger footprint than what we have in a building like this,” Mr. London said. He wants to buy wind power when it’s more widely available, but “we can reduce our emissions while we wait,” he said.

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If done right, carbon offsets could be vital to climate change

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The world is facing a climate emergency. Yet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions alone won’t be enough: we must also remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark report published earlier this month highlighted the urgent need for more ambitious action to address it, insisting on immediate actions to mitigate the unfolding climate crisis.

This is where market-based efforts to reduce carbon emissions come into play. 

Carbon offsets could indeed become meaningless

Through the use of nature-based carbon offsets, we can go some way to compensate for the hard-to-eliminate emissions of carbon dioxide. 

Offsets can support climate solutions such as the conservation and restoration of forests. But they shouldn’t be seen as a get-out-of-jail-free card for polluting industries — offsets need to be accompanied by actions to reduce emissions. 

Carbon offsets are bought and sold on carbon markets to incentivise emissions reductions, making it economically attractive for companies to invest in emission reduction solutions.

However, recent opinion articles and investigations, such as Euronews’ “Carbon offsets don’t work. It’s time for the EU to change its approach” and The Guardian’s “Revealed: more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by biggest certifier are worthless, analysis shows,” have exposed major issues regarding the integrity of nature-based carbon offsetting.

If market-based actions are not mitigating carbon emissions, the whole premise of using carbon offsets as a tool to reduce emissions becomes meaningless. 

In such a scenario, supporting market-based action would indeed be of little point, as it would not lead to any actual reduction in emissions.

There are legitimate offsetting projects, too

Nature-based carbon offsets were never intended to “save us”; instead, they represent one of a suite of actions needed to address emissions. 

Decades of research indicate that the conservation and restoration of forests are effective in increasing the capture and storage of carbon dioxide. 

Therefore, developing this into a market-based mechanism has the potential to be one of the actions to address climate change, with the added benefits of helping ecosystem conservation and recovery and transferring much-needed financial support to the Global South.

It is important to note that there have been instances of fraudulent or problematic nature-based carbon offsets sold in the past. However, there are also legitimate offsetting projects that effectively reduce and mitigate emissions.

Two shining examples from Kenya are the Mikoko Pamoja community-based mangrove conservation project, which along with its sister project Vanga Blue Forest, illustrate world-leading examples of how carbon offset initiatives can equitably and justly benefit communities. 

Companies such as Microsoft prioritise the purchase of carbon offsets with multiple benefits. In Kenya, these projects help people protect mangrove forests while also benefiting the community through the sale of carbon offsets. 

The building of freshwater wells and the purchase of hospital equipment and schoolbooks for local children have all been made possible thanks to the carbon revenue. 

Financial transparency and gender equity are core components of project oversight and organisation.

Countries around the globe are taking notice

A critical next step in developing high-integrity nature-based carbon offsetting is ensuring robust governance of the market. 

National governments are responsible for managing the benefits and risks to their citizens of engaging in the carbon market. 

Even with the positive Kenyan examples, the recent critical articles illustrate that a national approach may be needed to address issues such as additionality, leakage, and permanence and to truly upscale and sustainably manage benefits. 

In addition to improved governance, independent verification and standards may be required to help maximise and target carbon offset benefits for communities and countries rather than just conventional market players.

And countries are taking note. The need for high-integrity coastal and marine nature-based – or “blue carbon” – offsetting was a hot topic of discussion in an open session at the recent dialogue meeting of the International Partnership for Blue Carbon, for example.

National forums recognising the need for enhanced nature-based carbon market governance have also recently been held in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

From the Kenyan experience, we can envision high-integrity nature-based carbon offsets that can provide carbon, community, and biodiversity benefits in a way that is accountable and verifiable.

Criticism can only help the carbon market

The recent critiques of nature-based carbon offsetting provide us with an excellent opportunity for a sober reality check on what’s happening in the market. 

By all means, let’s review the current projects and see if they deliver on their carbon, community and biodiversity promises. 

Let’s also focus on making the market work specifically for communities and countries, creating a north-south revenue stream that values nature and where carbon offsets can play a role in its protection if done right. 

The Kenyan experience illustrates that community-based carbon offsetting can work, and governments are expressing their desire for action. 

For the market to flourish and make real progress in the fight against climate change, it needs to hear the criticism and evolve.

Steven Lutz is a Senior Programme Officer and Blue Carbon Lead for GRID-Arendal, a Norwegian foundation and collaborating centre of the United Nations Environment Programme.

_At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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‘Every tenth of a degree matters’: UN climate report is a call for action, not despair

The latest report by the UN’s climate advisory panel has once again highlighted the need for urgent action against human-induced climate change, noting that the tools to prevent climate catastrophe already exist. While hopes of limiting global warming at 1.5C are rapidly fading, climate experts stress that “every additional tenth of a degree matters” to mitigate the already dire consequences of our planet warming. 

The 36-page “summary for policymakers”, a synthesis of nine years of research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a stark reminder that the devastating impacts of climate change are hitting faster than expected – and that failure to take decisive action could make some of those consequences irreversible. 

“Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Monday as he presented the report’s key findings. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.” 

The IPCC report says our planet is on course to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – considered a safer limit to global warming – in little over a decade. Its dire warning comes just eight years after the COP21 climate summit in Paris made the 1.5C threshold a beacon for climate policies. 

“Since the Paris Accord, the stated objective of states has been to keep global warming well below 2C above pre-industrial levels – and to step up efforts to limit it to 1.5C,” says Wolfgang Cramer, a research director at the Mediterranean Institute of Marine and Terrestrial Biodiversity and Ecology (IMBE).  

“This overall objective provided a horizon and a specific target for climate policies,” adds Cramer, who co-authored the IPCC’s last major report in 2022. “But when you look at the current trajectories and the poor efforts mustered by governments, it does indeed appear highly unlikely that we can meet that second target.” 

The figures speak for themselves. The IPCC says greenhouse gas emissions would need to be slashed by 45% by 2030 for there to be any chance of capping global warming at 1.5C. That would mean annual cuts equivalent to the one witnessed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when the world’s economies ground to a halt. 

As things stand, humanity is well off the mark. According to the IPCC’s projections, our planet is on course for global heating of 2.5C by the end of the century if governments stick to their emissions pledges – and 2.8C if they stick to current policy. 

The planet’s ‘fever’ 

While the outlook is dire, it should not be cause for fatalism and inaction, experts caution.  

“Our actions right now will determine the extent of global warming in the long run. The objective is to ensure it remains as low as possible,” says Cramer, for whom the 1.5C target “is already too high” to avert major consequences for the planet. 

“We’re currently at 1.2C and already we are bearing the consequences, with an increase in heatwaves, droughts and flooding,” he explains. 



To understand the significance of each fraction of a degree, Cramer draws a parallel with a human suffering from fever. Add one degree Celsius to the normal body temperature of 37C and the person will feel unwell and have headache. Add 2C and the suffering increases. At 3C it becomes dangerous, particularly if the person is vulnerable. 

The same goes for our planet, Cramer adds.  

“The consequences will differ at each degree and in different parts of the world: they will be most severe in places that are most vulnerable,” he says. “1.5C will always be better than 1.6C, which will always be preferable to 1.7C. Every tenth of a degree matters.” 

Biodiversity under threat 

The consequences of this global “fever” are increasingly evident, starting with the extinction of biodiversity.  

In 2015, the year of the Paris Accord, the Bramble Cay Melomy, a small rodent that lived on a speck of land off the coast of Papua New Guinea, became the first known mammal to go extinct as a result of human-caused climate change. 

“Scientists have shown that its disappearance was caused by rising sea levels submerging its habitat,” Camille Parmesan, a climate and biodiversity expert at the CNRS research centre, told FRANCE 24 in an interview in December. 

“We have also documented the disappearance of 92 species of amphibians, killed because of the proliferation of a fungus that developed as a result of climate change modifying ecosystems,” Parmesan added.  

>> ‘Humanity is bullying nature – and we will pay the price,’ WWF chief tells FRANCE 24

Corals are another obvious casualty. At 1.5°C, 70% to 90% of reefs could disappear. At 2°C, the figure rises to 99%. 

Experts at the UN-backed biodiversity agency IPBES say more than a million species are currently threatened with extinction, with climate change becoming the “most significant” menace. “The more it increases, the more ecosystems are disrupted, with consequences for wildlife,” an agency report stated in 2021. 

Extreme weather 

“Each additional degree will translate into increasingly frequent and severe weather events, with ever greater consequences for the 3.3 billion people who live in vulnerable areas,” adds Cramer. 

For several years now, scientists have been investigating links between climate change and extreme weather events, a field known as “attribution science”. Their findings confirm that heatwaves, floods and hurricanes are increasing in intensity, magnitude and frequency as a result of global warming. Research has thus established that climate change made the devastating heatwave that hit India and Pakistan in March and April last year thirty times more likely. 

In this context, “decision makers should also focus their efforts on slowing down global warming” – in addition to curbing it, says glaciologist Gerhard Krinner, one of the authors of the latest IPCC report.  

“The faster climate change takes place the less time people will have to adapt,” he explains. “This in turn will increase the risk of severe shortages, famines and conflicts.” 

Tipping points 

Both experts flag the danger of reaching “tipping points” that would be extremely difficult to reverse, such as a destabilisation of the Antarctic ice cap.  

While the likelihood of catastrophic ice-sheet melting is currently still low, “it increases as the planet warms and there is a real risk of the rise in sea levels accelerating dramatically at between 1.5C and 2C”, Cramer warns.   

Should the Antarctic’s permafrost come to melt, it would release vast amounts of greenhouse gases trapped under the ice, in turn further warming the planet and accelerating ice melt. Other examples of tipping points include the Amazon rainforest turning to savannah and Greenland’s ice cap melting. 

Each of these scenarios can be avoided, the experts insist, provided there is a political will to do so. 

“We now have multiple solutions that are readily available to slow down and limit climate change,” says Cramer, for whom “the obstacle is no longer innovation – but politics”.  

“Today’s efforts will make all the difference in the long term,” adds Krinner. “We can still spare ourselves those extra tenths of a degree.” 

This article was translated from the original in French.

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‘A wake-up call for the industry’: Meat production in France under scrutiny amid climate change

As meat consumption remains the biggest contributor to food-related greenhouse gas emissions, developing more eco-responsible habits requires changes to our diets. For livestock farmers, this translates into a need to find new ways of production.

Following Neige (Snow), Idéale (Perfect) and Imminence, the new ambassador of the International Agriculture Show, which opened February 25 in Paris, isOvalie, a 5-year-old cow of the Salers breed. As usual, the star gets to have her photo printed on posters for this annual event and her official public presentation is also set to be one of the high points of the show. This tradition highlights the importance of animal husbandry in French agriculture. But as climate activists often decry the environmental impact of meat production, the show also serves as an occasion to rethink our methods of production as well as the steaks on our plates.

On a global scale, meat consumption continues to rise: It has multiplied by almost five over the past 60 years, growing from 71 million tonnes in 1961 to 339 million tonnes in 2021, according to statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This production has massive consequences for climate change: The livestock sector is responsible for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions derived from human activities and half of the emissions of the agricultural sector worldwide.

The main culprit of greenhouse gas emissions on our plates  

“In France, we eat an average of 100 to 110 grams per day per person, which is the equivalent of 85 kilograms per year. Twice the global average”, noted agricultural economist Carine Barbier, researcher for the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and The International Research Centre on Environment and Development (CIRED). A mere quarter of the population describes itself as flexitarian, eating meat only occasionally, while 2.2 percent describes itself as vegetarian.

“It’s the principal cause of dietary-related greenhouse gas emissions” Barbier added. “Ultimately, the whole food industry already represents 25 percent of French emissions, this includes the entire process, from the production to our plates as well as imports. Animal farming alone represents 9 percent of total emissions.”

Due to emissions of three types of greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane – into the atmosphere, animal husbandry is costing the planet dearly. “CO2 emissions come from the use of fossil fuel for transportation, namely imports, (and) the use of machinery in agriculture as well as in the food processing industry and large retail outlets,” the expert explained. Nitrous oxide (N2O), on the other hand, “comes from the use of mineral nitrogen fertilisers in fields”, and methane is produced by the digestive system of cattle. Although not as well known as carbon dioxide, the latter two gases are not less harmful: N2O reflects 300 times as much heat as CO2 while methane reflects 28 times as much.

“Therefore we have to differentiate between ruminants, swine and poultry”, Barbier said. “Due to their particular digestive system, ruminants have a larger impact on the climate.” According to the French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), a kilogram of beef represents around 14 kilograms of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), which includes CO2, nitrous oxide and methane, 10 times that of poultry.

On top of its climate impact, animal farming is also responsible for detrimental effects on the environment. According to a 2015 report by the Physics Institution, livestock production accounts for 78 percent of terrestrial biodiversity loss, 80 percent of soil acidification and atmospheric pollution as well as 73 percent of water pollution.

‘It’s a wake-up call for the industry’

Facing this situation, farmers envision several solutions to reduce their environmental impact. In a press release published at the opening of the International Agriculture Show, the national inter-professional association of cattle and meat (Interbev) says it aims to reduce the beef sector’s carbon footprint by 15 percent in 2025, compared to 2015.

“It’s a wake-up call for the entire industry to the urgency of climate change,” the president of Interbev’s beef sector Emmanuel Bernard said. “As animal farmers, we are the first to suffer from global warming and its consequences.”

Barbier suggested that farmers move “towards more extensive breeding with a higher consumption of grass, and thus limiting the production of cereal used in fodder. This in turn reduces the use of fertilisers and pesticides.”

“We also have to cut down on imports of animal feed. I’m thinking of, for example, soybean meal imported from Brazil that leans heavily on transport. Currently, transportation represents more than one-fifth of the food industry’s carbon footprint,” she continued. “Why not return to crop-livestock systems in which farmers grow most of what the animals need by themselves?”

Bernard tires to heed this advice as a farmer. Thirty years ago, he took over the family ranch located in Nièvre. Today, he is accountable for 110 charolais cows à vêler (to calve), meaning they are destined to give birth to calves to be fattened before being sent to slaughterhouses. For a few years now, he has also started adding installations to make his farm more eco-friendly.

“I don’t import any soy products. My cows and calves mostly feed on grass, fodder and cereal that I grow myself, on my land. Among the 220 hectares of land, 125 hectares are meadows while 25 hectares are used for growing cereal”, he said.

Three years ago, Bernard went even further and submitted his practices for evaluation to CAP2ER, which provides a diagnosis of gas emissions. It’s a five-year process that should allow him to explore new ways to reduce his carbon footprint. “I envision, for example, cultivating meslin, which is a mix of cereal and protein crop, instead of maize.”

Adjusting herd sizes

But to make further progress in transforming large-scale farming methods, “it’s absolutely necessary to start reducing herd sizes”, Barbier insisted. These practical changes would set into motion a virtuous cycle. “For example, by cutting back on meat in our diets and decreasing cereal fodder and oil and protein crops used in animal feed, we would increase the area of arable land that we can use to grow crops for human consumption,” she added.

France has already announced its aim to reduce herd sizes via the National Low-Carbon Strategy for agriculture published in June 2021, which targets a 13 percent reduction by 2030. The target is lower than what the scientific community recommends. Nevertheless, the trend is already growing among animal farms, as the total number of lactating and milk cows declined by 8 percent between 2000 and 2019 according to the Institut de l’élevage (IDELE). The same has been noted for sheep, which saw a decrease of 8.3 percent from 2011 to 2020 while the number of sows in the swine industry have dropped by 19 percent in 10 years.

“Initiating this transition towards more sustainable agricultural practices is nowadays indispensable in order to render the farming system more resilient against climate change all the while reinsuring our food sovereignty”, Barbier emphasised, pointing to the fact that the animal husbandry sector is already in a crisis. “But to do this, we need stronger support from the European Union. We have to ensure a steady stream of income during this transition period.”

“Currently we are producing a lot of diagnosis and observations on the problems surrounding animal farming, but we struggle to implant real methods of change”, the farmer Bernard added. “And the main reason behind this is tied to finances. If we had real political support, we would be ready to make the change.”

“Without all that, we risk becoming less competitive than other countries and this would drive imports”, he stressed. “It would neither be good for us, nor the climate.”

A revolution on our plates

Meanwhile, real changes in production cannot take place without consumers, according to Barbier, who authored a study published in October establishing multiple scenarios for a carbon neutral diet by 2050. “Above all else, we need to reduce our meat consumption. That’s what will prompt farmers to transition.” 

In addition to purely ecological thinking, she also advanced several nutritional arguments. “In any case, we consume too much protein, around 80 percent more than what we need,” the expert continued, pointing to oft-illustrated cardiovascular risks linked to overconsumption of meat. In 2019, a commission formed by the medical journal The Lancet estimated that Europeans should cut their red meat consumption by 77 percent while doubling fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes in order to respect the limits of Earth’s resources and to maintain their own health. “Reducing our consumption to reflect our real needs will considerably decrease the carbon footprint of our diets.”

“If we stick to the most moderate scenario, then we need to cut down two-thirds of our meat consumption and half that of mik products”, she explained. “By no means do we seek to remove meat completely from the entire population’s plates. It is a question of developing our diet and animal-farming practices to reach carbon neutrality.

Favour plant-based options

Numerous plant-based alternatives exist in order to help implement these changes to our dietary habits and progressively decrease meat portions on our plates. The first and the most obvious one is to consume more cereal and protein-rich legumes such as lentils and chickpeas.

In the last few years, supermarkets have started to push out more and more plant-based meat substitutes. Among them are “plant-based steaks”, “fake bacon bits”, and “plant-based meat strips” made from peas, tofu or soybeans that imitate the taste and texture of beef or chicken. “Nowadays, all of these options imitate meat quite well and can be a helpful way to change one’s habits”, said Tom Bry-Chevalier, an expert in alternative meats and a doctoral student at the University of Lorraine.

“This is all the better since we now know that these options have a lesser impact on climate than meat”, he said. According to a recent study, yhese plant-based substitutes emit 10 times less greenhouse gas than beef, and as much as 25 times less for tofu.

A report from Boston Consulting Group published in July estimates that the “investments in plant-based alternatives to meat” are “much more efficient in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than other green investments”. Each euro invested in these products has up to three times as much impact as it would have if placed in renovating buildings and 11 times as much as in the production of electric cars”.

“Another alternative could be the development of laboratory-grown meat, produced directly from animal cells”, Bry-Chevalier continued. Despite rapid growth with dozens of start-ups worldwide, the project remains for now at the laboratory stage.

“This option also has its limits. First of all, lab-grown meat is still tied to high emissions if the energy used to produce it is not carbon neutral”, Bry-Chevalier said. “But most importantly, we are still very far away from large-scale commercialisation while the climate crisis is an emergency. We can’t afford to wait for lab-grown meat to change our habits.”

According to Barbier, plant-based steaks and lab-grown meat – if they develop – must be seen as resources for transition. “We already have all the necessary ingredients for our daily protein needs thanks to vegetables,” she said. “Let us offer delicious vegetarian dishes in collective food halls, let people choose their meat portions there … It could really make a difference.”

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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