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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The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

The receiving dock at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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Norway’s government wants to show the world it is possible to safely inject and store carbon waste under the seabed, saying the North Sea could soon become a “central storage camp” for polluting industries across Europe.

Offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to a range of technologies that seek to capture carbon from high-emitting activities, transport it to a storage site and lock it away indefinitely under the seabed.

The oil and gas industry has long touted CCS as an effective tool in the fight against climate change and polluting industries are increasingly looking to offshore carbon storage as a way to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics, however, have warned about the long-term risks associated with permanently storing carbon beneath the seabed, while campaigners argue the technology represents “a new threat to the world’s oceans and a dangerous distraction from real progress on climate change.”

Norway’s Energy Minister Terje Aasland was bullish on the prospects of his country’s so-called Longship project, which he says will create a full, large-scale CCS value chain.

“I think it will prove to the world that this technology is important and available,” Aasland said via videoconference, referring to Longship’s CCS facility in the small coastal town of Brevik.

“I think the North Sea, where we can store CO2 permanently and safely, may be a central storage camp for several industries and countries and Europe,” he added.

Storage tanks at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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Norway has a long history of carbon management. For nearly 30 years, it has captured and reinjected carbon from gas production into seabed formations on the Norwegian continental shelf.

It’s Sleipner and Snøhvit carbon management projects have been in operation since 1996 and 2008, respectively, and are often held up as proof of the technology’s viability. These facilities separate carbon from their respective produced gas, then compress and pipe the carbon and reinject it underground.

“We can see the increased interest in carbon capture storage as a solution and those who are skeptical to that kind of solution can come to Norway and see how we have done in at Sleipner and Snøhvit,” Norway’s Aasland said. “It’s several thousand meters under the seabed, it’s safe, it’s permanent and it’s a good way to tackle the climate emissions.”

Both Sleipner and Snøhvit projects incurred some teething problems, however, including interruptions during carbon injection.

Citing these issues in a research note last year, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a U.S.-based think tank, said that rather than serving as entirely successful models to be emulated and expanded, the problems “call into question the long-term technical and financial viability of the concept of reliable underground carbon storage.”

‘Overwhelming’ interest

Norway plans to develop the $2.6 billion Longship project in two phases. The first is designed to have an estimated storage capacity of 1.5 million metric tons of carbon annually over an operating period of 25 years — and carbon injections could start as early as next year. A possible second phase is predicted to have a capacity of 5 million tons of carbon.

Campaigners say that even with the planned second phase increasing the amount of carbon stored under the seabed by a substantial margin, “it remains a drop in the proverbial bucket.” Indeed, it is estimated that the carbon injected would amount to less than one-tenth of 1% of Europe’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2021.

The government says Longship’s construction is “progressing well,” although Aasland conceded the project has been expensive.

“Every time we are bringing new technologies to the table and want to introduce it to the market, it is having high costs. So, this is the first of its kind, the next one will be cheaper and easier. We have learned a lot from the project and the development,” Aasland said.

“I think this will be quite a good project and we can show the world that it is possible to do it,” he added.

Workers at an entrance to the CO2 pipeline access tunnel at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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A key component of Longship is the Northern Lights joint venture, a partnership between Norway’s state-backed oil and gas giant Equinor, Britain’s Shell and France’s TotalEnergies. The Northern Lights collaboration will manage the transport and storage part of Longship.

Børre Jacobsen, managing director for the Northern Lights Joint Venture, said it had received “overwhelming” interest in the project.

“There’s a long history of trying to get CCS going in one way or another in Norway and I think this culminated a few years ago in an attempt to learn from past successes — and not-so-big successes — to try and see how we can actually get CCS going,” Jacobsen told CNBC via videoconference.

Jacobsen said the North Sea was a typical example of a “huge basin” where there is a lot of storage potential, noting that offshore CCS has an advantage because no people live there.

A pier walkway at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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“There is definitely a public acceptance risk to storing CO2 onshore. The technical solutions are very solid so any risk of leakage from these reservoirs is very small and can be managed but I think public perception is making it challenging to do this onshore,” Jacobsen said.

“And I think that is going to be the case to be honest which is why we are developing offshore storage,” he continued.

“Given the amount of CO2 that’s out there, I think it is very important that we recognize all potential storage. It shouldn’t actually matter, I think, where we store it. If the companies and the state that controls the area are OK with CO2 being stored on their continental shelves … it shouldn’t matter so much.”

Offshore carbon risks

A report published late last year by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based non-profit, found that offshore CCS is currently being pursued on an unprecedented scale.

As of mid-2023, companies and governments around the world had announced plans to construct more than 50 new offshore CCS projects, according to CIEL.

If built and operated as proposed, these projects would represent a 200-fold increase in the amount of carbon injected under the seafloor each year.

Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program at CIEL, struck a somewhat cynical tone on the Norway proposition.

“Norway’s interpretation of the concept of a circular economy seems to say ‘we can both produce your problem, with fossil fuels, and solve it for you, with CCS,'” Reisch said.

“If you look closely under the hood at those projects, they’ve faced serious technical problems with the CO2 behaving in unanticipated ways. While they may not have had any reported leaks yet, there’s nothing to ensure that unpredictable behavior of the CO2 in a different location might not result in a rupture of the caprock or other release of the injected CO2.”

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Air pollution a factor in spiking cancer cases, report says

New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) predict a 77% increase in cancer cases globally by 2050. The report points to air pollution as one of the factors driving the expected increase in cancer rates, even though it does not have the same effect on everyone.

As a global health watchdog, the WHO rarely has good news. It stayed true to its mission ahead of World Cancer Day, when its International Agency for Research on Cancer released a report on February 1 predicting an increase of some 35 million new cases of cancer by 2050. This represents an increase of 77% compared to 2022, noted WHO.  

Among the factors driving the expected increase in cancer rates was air pollution.

Fine particles lead to cell dysfunction

“This mainly concerns fine particle pollution”, said Dr Emmanuel Ricard, a spokesperson for the French League Against Cancer.

Diesel exhaust is one of the main sources of these particles, he said. The finest of these particles can descend into the lungs, all the way down to the alveoli. These are the tiny air sacs located at the end of the respiratory tree-like structure of the lung, where the blood exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide during the process of breathing in and breathing out.

The body’s defence cells will “want” to remove these particles, and inflammation follows. This ends up disrupting the cells which, instead of continuing to replicate in a healthy way, will begin to “dysfunction”, becoming cancerous. “These cancer cells will multiply, and form a tumour,” Ricard said.

More people, and older 

At least several factors indicated by the study are unrelated to pollution. The rapidly growing global cancer rate reflects population growth: as the number of human beings on the planet continues to increase, the total number of cancer cases will also increase.

And while humans are becoming more numerous, the species is also living longer. “Cancer is a problem of immunity, and immunity declines the older we get. As a result, the longer the population’s life expectancy, the more it will be at risk of getting cancer,” said Ricard.

Another classic illusion in the epidemiological data is linked to the improvement of cancer diagnosis itself. These are cases that already existed in the past, but which escaped medical radars. Now, as they are being detected, they contribute to an increase in overall cancer cases.

There are also situations of “overdiagnosis”, in which the presence of cancer cells is confused with cancer as such, said Catherine Hill, a French epidemiologist.

A classic case is prostate cancer. According to the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVs), 30% of 30-year-old men and 80% of 80-year-old men have cancer cells in their prostate. “This is extremely common. It’s obvious that not all of these cancer cells give rise to symptomatic cancers,” said Hill.

Mental health

More and more studies are establishing – although it has yet to be confirmed – a link between pollution and the deterioration of health, including mental health. Pollution even supposedly aggravates depression.

These are “trends” full of scientific estimations, said Hill. After tobacco, alcohol consumption is the leading cause of cancer in France according to WHO, said Hill. “Pollution causes 50 times less cancer in France than tobacco, and 20 times less than alcohol,” she added, quoting a study by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Yet it would be wrong to consider the factors of cancer as isolated, said Ricard. An individual exposed to several factors will have a higher risk of getting cancer. The knowledge that exists on the effect that tobacco and alcohol together can have on cancer rates can be applied elsewhere, he said. “We were thus able to find, in the case of lung cancer, genes that were just as impacted by cigarettes as by atmospheric pollution,” said Ricard.  

The dangers of the world’s ‘dumping ground’

Yet the pollution factor is not the same for everyone, since humans do not breathe the same air. “In the big cities of China, India, South America, Antananarivo [in Madagascar], and even Cairo, clouds of particles form out of the pollution. Under this ‘smog’, people develop lung cancer, just like in England during the industrial revolution,” said Ricard.

There is now a transfer of pollution towards the “South”, which is used as a “dumping ground for the world”, Ricard added. “Besides the ‘at-risk’ factories that industrialized countries prefer to relocate, developing economies are sold low-cost oil derivatives of inferior quality.”

Those who have visited the megacities of developing countries will agree: the pollution seems stronger there. This is indeed because it is more aggressive: “The diesel fuels used there are even richer in sulphur and nitrogen than those emitted in Europe,” said Ricard.

For Richard, WHO’s report highlights an epidemiological transition. The countries previously impacted by infectious diseases, which are declining, will soon face a surge of diseases, like cancer, common to Western countries.

An ecological wake-up call?

In France, for instance, air quality has improved over the past 30 years. In the Toulouse metropolitan area, the presence of fine particles and nitrogen oxide fell respectively by 40% and 17% between 2009 and 2019. This has had a positive impact on cardiovascular diseases, strokes, heart attacks and cancers, said Ricard.

Less encouraging is the study carried out in the Toulouse region, which concludes that the economically disadvantaged population is more exposed to air pollution, and more concerned by deaths attributable to long-term exposure.

Beyond these socio-economic disparities, Xavier Briffault, a researcher working in social sciences and epistemology of mental health at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) saw potential for an ecological wake-up call. By demonstrating a direct correlation between health and environmental degradation, science could take us from environmental protection, driven by ethics, to ecological awareness, driven by public health concerns. 

Health is not an end in itself but also a means in our fight for a greener world, said Briffault. By mobilizing our fears, the health issue also allows citizens to put pressure on politicians with the message: “Not only are you killing the planet, but you are killing us.”

The rallying cry that “polluting is bad” is bound to disappear, to be replaced by a new logic: Pollution is killing us.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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The state of the planet in 10 numbers

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM.

The COP28 climate summit comes at a critical moment for the planet. 

A summer that toppled heat records left a trail of disasters around the globe. The world may be just six years away from breaching the Paris Agreement’s temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, setting the stage for much worse calamities to come. And governments are cutting their greenhouse gas pollution far too slowly to head off the problem — and haven’t coughed up the billions of dollars they promised to help poorer countries cope with the damage.

This year’s summit, which starts on Nov. 30 in Dubai, will conclude the first assessment of what countries have achieved since signing the Paris accord in 2015. 

The forgone conclusion: They’ve made some progress. But not enough. The real question is what they do in response.

To help understand the stakes, here’s a snapshot of the state of the planet — and global climate efforts — in 10 numbers. 

1.3 degrees Celsius

Global warming since the preindustrial era  

Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been driving global temperatures skyward since the 19th century, when the industrial revolution and the mass burning of fossil fuels began to affect the Earth’s climate. The world has already warmed by about 1.3 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of that warming has occurred since the 1970s. In the last 50 years, research suggests, global temperatures have risen at their fastest rate in at least 2,000 years.  

This past October concluded the Earth’s hottest 12-month span on record, a recent analysis found. And 2023 is virtually certain to be the hottest calendar year ever observed. It’s continuing a string of recent record-breakers — the world’s five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015. 

Allowing warming to pass 2 degrees Celsius would tip the world into catastrophic changes, scientists have warned, including life-threatening heat extremes, worsening storms and wildfires, crop failures, accelerating sea level rise and existential threats to some coastal communities and small island nations. Eight years ago in Paris, nearly every nation on Earth agreed to strive to keep temperatures well below that threshold, and under a more ambitious 1.5-degree threshold if at all possible. 

But with just fractions of a degree to go, that target is swiftly approaching — and many experts say it’s already all but out of reach.

$4.3 trillion  

Global economic losses from climate disasters since 1970  

Climate-related disasters are worsening as temperatures rise. Heat waves are intensifying, tropical cyclones are strengthening, floods and droughts are growing more severe and wildfires are blazing bigger. Record-setting events struck all over the planet this year, a harbinger of new extremes to come. Scientists say such events will only accelerate as the world warms. 

Nearly 12,000 weather, climate and water-related disasters struck worldwide over the last five decades, the World Meteorological Organization reports. They’ve caused trillions of dollars in damage, and they’ve killed more than 2 million people.  

Ninety percent of these deaths have occurred in developing countries. Compared with wealthier nations, these countries have historically contributed little to the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming – yet they disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change.  

4.4 millimeters  

Annual rate of sea level rise

Global sea levels are rapidly rising as the ice sheets melt and the oceans warm and expand. Scientists estimate that they’re now rising by about 4.4 millimeters, or about 0.17 inches, each year – and that rate is accelerating, increasing by about 1 millimeter every decade.

Those sound like small numbers. They’re not.  

The world’s ice sheets and glaciers are losing a whopping 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year. Those losses are also speeding up, accelerating by at least 57 percent since the 1990s. Future sea level rise mainly depends on future ice melt, which depends on future greenhouse gas emissions. With extreme warming, global sea levels will likely rise as much as 3 feet by the end of this century, enough to swamp many coastal communities, threaten freshwater supplies and submerge some small island nations.  

Some places are more vulnerable than others. 

“Low-lying islands in the Pacific are on the frontlines of the fight against sea level rise,” said NASA sea level expert Benjamin Hamlington. “In the U.S., the Southeast and Gulf Coasts are experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world and have very high future projections of sea level.”  

But in the long run, he added, “almost every coastline around the world is going to experience sea level rise and will feel impacts.”

Less than 6 years

When the world could breach the 1.5-degree threshold

The world is swiftly running out of time to meet its most ambitious international climate target: keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Humans can emit only another 250 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and maintain at least even odds of meeting that goal, scientists say. 

That pollution threshold could arrive in as little as six years.

That’s the bottom line from at least two recent studies, one published in June and one in October. Humans are pouring about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, with each ton eating into the margin of error.  

The size of that carbon buffer is smaller than previous estimates have suggested, indicating that time is running out even faster than expected.  

“While our research shows it is still physically possible for the world to remain below 1.5C, it’s difficult to see how that will stay the case for long,” said Robin Lamboll, a scientist at Imperial College London and lead author of the most recent study. “Unfortunately, net-zero dates for this target are rapidly approaching, without any sign that we are meeting them.”

43 percent 

How much greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 2030 to hit the temperature target

The world would have to undergo a stark transformation during this decade to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement’s ambitious 1.5-degree cap. 

In a nutshell, global greenhouse gas emissions have to fall 43 percent by 2030, and 60 percent by 2035, before reaching net-zero by mid-century, according to a U.N. report published in September on the progress the world has made since signing the Paris Agreement. That would give the world a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 

But based on the climate pledges that countries have made to date, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to fall by just 2 percent this decade, according to a U.N. assessment published this month

Governments are “taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis,” U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell said in a statement this month. “This means COP28 must be a clear turning point.” 

$1 trillion a year 

Climate funding needs of developing countries

In many ways, U.N. climate summits are all about finance. Cutting industries’ carbon pollution, protecting communities from extreme weather, rebuilding after climate disasters — it all costs money. And developing countries, in particular, don’t have enough of it. 

As financing needs grow, pressure is mounting on richer nations such as the U.S. that have produced the bulk of planet-warming emissions to help developing countries cut their own pollution and adapt to a warmer world. They also face growing calls to pay for the destruction wrought by climate change, known as loss and damage in U.N.-speak. 

But the flow of money from rich to poor countries has slowed. In October, a pledging conference to replenish the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund raised only $9.3 billion, even less than the $10 billion that countries had promised last time. An overdue promise by developed countries to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures was “likely” met last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said this month, while warning that adaptation finance had fallen by 14 percent in 2021. 

As a result, the gap between what developing countries need and how much money is flowing in their direction is growing. The OECD report said developing countries will need around $1 trillion a year for climate investments by 2025, “rising to roughly $2.4 trillion each year between 2026 and 2030.”

$7 trillion 

Worldwide fossil fuel subsidies in 2022

In stark contrast to the trickle of climate finance, fossil fuel subsidies have surged in recent years. In 2022, total spending on subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal reached a record $7 trillion, the International Monetary Fund said in August. That’s $2 trillion more than in 2020. 

Explicit subsidies — direct government support to reduce energy prices — more than doubled since 2020, to $1.3 trillion. But the majority of subsidies are implicit, representing the fact that governments don’t require fossil fuel companies to pay for the health and environmental damage that their products inflict on society. 

At the same time, countries continue pumping public and private money into fossil fuel production. This month, a U.N. report found that governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5-degree target. 

66,000 square kilometers

Gross deforestation worldwide in 2022

At the COP26 climate summit two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, nations committed to halting global deforestation by 2030. A total of 145 countries have signed the Glasgow Forest Declaration, representing more than 90 percent of global forest cover. 

Yet global action is still falling short of that target. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment, produced by a collection of research and civil society organizations, estimated that the world lost 66,000 square kilometers of forest last year, or about 25,000 square miles — a swath of territory slightly larger than West Virginia or Lithuania. Most of that loss came from tropical forests. 

Halting deforestation is a critical component of global climate action. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that collective contributions from agriculture, forestry and land use compose as much as 21 percent of global human-caused carbon emissions. Deforestation releases large volumes of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, and recent research suggests that carbon losses from tropical forests may have doubled since the early 2000s.  

Almost 1 billion tons

The annual carbon dioxide removal gap 

Given the world’s slow pace in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, scientists say a second approach is essential for slowing the Earth’s warming — removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The technology for doing this is largely untested at scale, and won’t be cheap.  

A landmark report on carbon dioxide removals led by the University of Oxford earlier this year found that keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less would require countries to collectively remove an additional 0.96 billion tons of CO2-equivalent a year by 2030.

About 2 billion tons are now removed every year, but that is largely achieved through the natural absorption capacity of forests. 

Removing even more carbon will require countries to massively scale up carbon removal technologies, given the limited capacity of forests to absorb more carbon dioxide. 

Carbon removal technologies are in the spotlight at COP28, though some countries and companies want to use them to meet net-zero while continuing to burn fossil fuels. Scientists have been clear that carbon removal cannot be a substitute for steep emissions cuts. 

1,000 gigawatts 

Annual growth in renewable power capacity needed to keep 1.5 degrees in reach  

The shift from fossil fuels to renewables is underway, but the transition is still far too slow to meet the Paris Agreement targets. 

To keep 1.5 degrees within reach, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that the world needs to add 1,000 gigawatts in renewable energy capacity every year through 2030. By comparison, the United States’ entire utility-scale electricity-generation capacity was about 1,160 gigawatts last year, according to the Department of Energy.

Last year, countries added about 300 gigawatts, according to the agency’s latest World Energy Transitions Outlook published in June. 

That shortfall has prompted the EU and the climate summit’s host nation, the United Arab Emirates, to campaign for nations to sign up to a target to triple the world’s renewable capacity by 2030 at COP28, a goal also supported by the U.S. and China.

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” International Energy Agency boss Fatih Birol said last month. “It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us.”

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.

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A big climate change stress test is coming for Amazon sellers and suppliers

As Amazon and other big businesses ramp up efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, they’re putting pressure on their suppliers to do the same, and those who don’t may pay a big price.

Starting in 2024, Amazon will require suppliers to share their emissions data, set emissions goals, and report on their progress, the e-commerce giant said in its recently released sustainability report. With that move, it joins Microsoft, Walmart, Apple, and others in saying that suppliers must step up decarbonization efforts. 

The mandates come as big businesses face more demand than ever to adopt eco-friendly practices. Consumers, investors, regulators, and governments are pushing firms for more progress and transparency.

“The pressure is coming at companies, who are then putting pressure on suppliers,” said Bob Willard, a corporate consultant and author of six books on sustainability. 

And in a cascade, those suppliers are leaning on their suppliers.

Businesses typically track three levels of emissions. Scope 1 come directly from operations. Scope 2 are from purchased energy such as electricity. And scope 3 relate to a company’s activities but come from indirect sources such as supplier emissions and emissions from customers using their products. An analysis of major industries by the non-profit CDP found that, on average, scope 3 accounts for about 75% of all emissions. 

Companies have much more control over their suppliers than many other areas of indirect emissions, says Andrew Winston, author of several sustainability-related business strategy books.

For instance, while a consumer goods company can’t force a detergent buyer to wash in cold water, it can be selective in working with eco-conscious suppliers. 

“The supply chain is where there’s going to be continued rising pressure and transparency because companies have a direct impact over that,” Winston said.  

Decarbonization mandates are getting tougher

Salesforce now requires suppliers to disclose scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, deliver products and services on a carbon-neutral basis, and fill out a supply scorecard each year. AstraZeneca suppliers are expected to annually report emissions data to the CDP and set science-based goals. 

While Amazon doesn’t include suppliers in its scope 3 accounting, it’s effectively dealing with this in the way many other firms have started doing, by forcing suppliers to report emissions to them and set goals which emissions levels can then be tracked against. “We know that to further drive down emissions, we must ensure those in our supply chain make the operational changes necessary to decarbonize their businesses,” Amazon said in the sustainability report. 

Third-party sellers and suppliers — especially smaller ones — face a paradox as the climate mandates arise and become increasingly tougher. Even if they’re eco-conscious, many say they don’t have the resources to meet the tracking and reporting demands. 

Eight in ten small and medium-sized business owners say reducing emissions is a high priority, yet 63% also say they don’t have the right skills, and 43% say they lack the funds, according to a survey from the non-profit SME Climate Hub. In a survey from Intuit QuickBooks, two-thirds of small business owners said they were taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, such as recycling and using renewable materials. Businesses that weren’t acting cited a lack of money, time, and resources. 

“Tracking emissions data is no easy feat,” says Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. 

She says compliance costs can vary, but upfront expenses can be considerable, which is challenging for the many firms with a tight cash flow.

The information is out there to start getting a handle on the task. Yet, one of the first things that business owners will learn is that it is going to be time consuming, says small-business owner Chaitali Patel, who founded the sustainability advisory firm Evergood. She points to a 152-page document on scope 3 supply chain accounting and reporting from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which provides standards for measuring and managing emissions. 

“If you look at the process of data collection and recordkeeping alone to comply with these requirements, it will take up significant resources,” Patel said. 

Small businesses already under economic stress

Amid ongoing fears of recession, higher interest rates cutting into sources of capital, signs of weaker consumer demand, and labor market challenges, small businesses have focused more on employees and their bottom line than sustainability. When asked what issues matter most to them, nearly 40% said jobs and the economy, while 10% said the environment, according to the CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey for the third quarter. 

Yet ready or not, suppliers big and small will have to step up soon. “This is coming,” he said. “The procurement arm of the business community is reaching into their supply chains and is starting to ask more pointed questions.”

In addition to the pressure from investors and politicians, another reason big companies will be looking farther down the supply chain is because they are currently coming up short in their emissions reduction goals. Amid the boom in consumer demand and global growth post-pandemic, many of the world’s largest corporations are producing more carbon emissions than they can reduce.

A recent review by the New York Times of climate documents for 20 major food and restaurant companies found that over half have made no progress in reducing emissions or are increasing emissions. The report found, as previous climate accounting has typically shown, that the majority of emissions come from suppliers.

A recent Just Capital report found that more companies than ever before are making carbon reduction commitments, but the results aren’t there yet in the disclosures. Of companies with existing science-based targets, only 26 out of 123 in the Russell 1000 disclosed emissions reductions. Meanwhile, among companies without specific targets — just general net zero targets — emissions have gone up.

Companies that want to retain high-quality suppliers are apt to help partners meet any sustainability requirements, says Mark Baxa, the present and CEO of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.

Corporate giants are offering assistance that ranges from direct funding and better terms to training and access to clean tech.

For its part, Amazon said in its sustainability report that it will use its “scale, investment, and innovation to date to provide our suppliers with products and tools that will help them reach their goals — whether that’s transitioning to renewable energy or having more access to sustainable materials.”

But the retail giant also made clear that there may be consequences for partners that don’t measure up. “We will continue to look for suppliers that help us achieve our decarbonization vision as we select partners for business opportunities,” Amazon said in its report.

Amazon spokespeople declined to comment beyond its publicly available materials.

In the end, it comes down to suppliers choosing what works for their business.

“The suppliers themselves and the suppliers of suppliers have to come to their own independent decision on how they’re going to approach this,” Baxa said.

At the same time, companies have to address scope 3 emissions. “Often, they’ll go with a supplier who can comply,” he said. And for those that don’t, “Eventually, the hard conversation will take place.”

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Why the hydrogen tax credit has become a lightning rod for controversy

A rendering of a hydrogen energy storage gas tank for clean electricity solar and wind turbine facility.3d rendering

Vanit Janthra | Istock | Getty Images

One of the most generous tax credits in Biden’s landmark climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, is the production tax credit for making hydrogen, which is worth as much as $100 billion.

When hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to generate electricity, water is the only by-product. Generating energy from hydrogen this way does not create carbon dioxide, one of the primary greenhouse gases that causes global warming. Also, hydrogen is a vehicle for storing energy over long periods of time.

Hydrogen is already produced at scale for use in making fertilizer and in the petrochemical industry. But more recently, hydrogen is being seen as a way to decarbonize industries like maritime shipping, long-haul trucking, steel-making, industrial heating, and aerospace. Also, its capacity as an effective way of storing energy makes it attractive for renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, which are inherently intermittent — wind turbines make energy when the wind blows, and solar panels make energy when the sun shines.

However, the only way hydrogen can be a viable solution for reducing carbon emissions is if it can be produced without releasing greenhouse gas emissions. By and large, that’s not the case today.

The proposed tax credit, 45V, is meant to turbocharge the production of low-emissions hydrogen. It’s now up to the Treasury to figure out how to implement it — and that’s the tricky part. The debate centers around how best to write rules that make sure that the hydrogen produced is actually clean so that it can be used as a climate-mitigation tool.

“The IRA’s section 45V production tax credit is the most generous clean hydrogen subsidy in the world,” Jesse Jenkins, professor of macro-scale energy systems at Princeton University, told CNBC.

“But without proper implementation, 45V could backfire, wasting a tremendous opportunity for the United States to become a global leader in new clean industries and causing a significant increase in domestic emissions that imperil U.S. climate goals.”

An Hydrogen prototype GenH2 truck of the Daimler Truck Holding AG arrives at his destination in Berlin, on September 26, 2023, after completing 1047kms with one liquid hydrogen full tank.

John Macdougall | Afp | Getty Images

The adjudication of the hydrogen tax credit has become about more than just the hydrogen tax credit, too. It could also set important precedents for how the government decides electricity used from the grid is really “clean.”

“The hydrogen debate is at its surface level about defining clean hydrogen production, but more fundamentally it’s about what an individual actor needs to do to credibly claim that their electricity consumption is clean,” Wilson Ricks, who works in Jenkins’ Zero-carbon Energy systems Research and Optimization research lab at Princeton, told CNBC.

“Hydrogen is the first time the US government has been forced to directly address the question of verifying clean electricity inputs, so whatever framework it endorses here could set a very strong example for other emissions accounting systems going forward,” Ricks said.

There’s a lot of money on the line and while the details of the debate get a bit wonky, the debate itself represents a larger and more ideological fault line about how the United States should built its clean economy: One side says we should focus on emissions reductions from the outset, while the other says the foundation should be built and scaled quickly and perfected later.

“We have now entered a new phase in the clean energy transition, whereby new solutions and operational paradigms are necessary to accommodate an increasingly renewable grid and catalyze decarbonization. The clean hydrogen tax credits are a major opportunity, and juncture, to start shaping that new phase in the right way,” Rachel Fakhry, the policy director for emerging technologies at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told CNBC.

How clean is ‘clean,’ and how is that decided?

Hydrogen is the simplest element and the most abundant substance in the universe, but hydrogen atoms do not exist on their own on Earth. Hydrogen atoms are generally stuck to other atoms — like for example in water, H2O — and so creating sources of pure hydrogen on Earth requires energy to break those molecular bonds.

In the energy business, people refer to hydrogen by an array of colors to as shorthand for how it was produced. The different methods produce varying amounts of CO2.

The amount of the hydrogen tax credit, which is available for 10 years, depends on the emissions generated in making hydrogen. If hydrogen is produced without releasing any carbon emissions, the tax credit is maxed out at $3 per kilogram of hydrogen. The tax credit scales down proportionally based on the quantity of emissions released.

One way of making hydrogen is with a process called electrolysis, when electricity is passed through a substance to force a chemical change — in this case, splitting H2O into hydrogen and oxygen. To make hydrogen with electrolysis, hydrogen producers may use electricity from the larger energy grid. The electricity on the grid comes from many sources, some clean, like a solar farm, and some dirty, like from a coal-fired plant. On the electric grid, all that electricity gets mixed together.

So the debate over the 45V tax credit has become acutely focused on accounting for how the electricity hydrogen producers use from the grid is accounted for. If the energy used to make hydrogen is not actually clean, then hydrogen is not really a climate solution.

Some hydrogen industry stakeholders want the Treasury to implement strict electricity accounting standards to maximize the likelihood that the tax credits only go to hydrogen that is produced with the least possible amount of emissions.

Others want the Treasury to implement very flexible standards so the hydrogen industry can grow as fast as possible as quickly as possible, then focus on emissions reduction once it’s scaled.

Energy used from the grid to power electrolysis to make clean, “green hydrogen” must meet three accounting standards in order to ensure that it is actually produced in a clean way, according to Jenkins from Princeton. These standards have become known as the “three pillars:”

  • Additionality. The electricity has to come from newly-built sources of clean electricity, meaning it is additional clean energy being added to the grid for the purpose of making hydrogen.
  • Regional deliverability. The clean electricity added to the grid has to be able to physically travel from the additional clean energy source to the electrolysis facility, meaning it is regionally deliverable electricity.
  • Hourly matching. The additional and deliverable clean electricity that powers electrolyzers has to be accounted for on an hourly basis. If the electricity is accounted for on an annual basis, then electrolyzers used to generate hydrogen could be running when additional clean energy is not regionally available — when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, for example. That means those electrolyzers could be powered by fossil fuels.

“We call these requirements ‘pillars’ because all three are structurally critical: remove any one and the whole ‘clean’ hydrogen house comes tumbling down,” Jenkins told CNBC.

Peer-reviewed modeling work by our group and follow-up studies by other academics have shown that simply plugging electrolyzers into the grid would produce hydrogen with embodied emissions twice as bad as ‘grey’ hydrogen produced from fossil methane. In fact, even an electrolyzer getting just 2% of its electricity from natural gas plants or less than 1% from coal would violate the strict statutory emissions requirements to claim the $3 per kilogram subsidy,” Jenkins said.

Taking sides

Some companies in the hydrogen industry, including electrolyzer producer Electric Hydrogen, clean energy company Intersect Power, industrial heat and power company Rondo, and grid carbon data provider Singularity have publicly pleaded for the Treasury to adopt these “three pillars” of strict electricity accounting for the 45V hydrogen tax credit.

Digital generated image of wind turbines, solar panels and Hydrogen containers standing on landscape against blue sky.

Andriy Onufriyenko | Moment | Getty Images

Air Products, an 80-year old company that sells gases and chemicals for industrial uses, also supports the three pillars of additionality, regional deliverability and hourly matching for the 45V tax credits. Air Products operates in about 50 countries around the globe, has over 200,000 customers, over 110 production facilities around the globe for hydrogen, and already has over 700 miles of dedicated hydrogen pipelines.

“We’ve been producing, distributing, dispensing hydrogen for over 60 years,” Eric Guter, a vice president of hydrogen production at Air Products, told CNBC in a video interview at the end of August.

“If we don’t deliver on the emissions reduction, we will lose the confidence of society in hydrogen and the energy transition. And as a long-term provider of hydrogen, it’s important to us that we get it right and preserve the integrity of the energy transition and the hydrogen industry.”

Josef Kallo, founder and chief executive officer of H2FLY, beside the HY4 liquid hydrogen powered electric aircraft at Maribor airport in Slovenia, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. The aircraft, developed by H2FLY and partners, uses liquid hydrogen to power a hydrogen-electric fuel cell system.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Air Products already has two projects under construction that will be compliant with the three-pillars approach. Air Products is part owner of the NEOM Green Hydrogen Company, which is currently building a plant at Oxagon, Saudi Arabia, and which will be three pillars complaint. It’s also part owner of a mega-scale renewable-power-to-hydrogen project in Wilbarger County, Texas.

The European Union will need to import hydrogen, and has already decided to institute the “three pillars” in its hydrogen accounting, Guter told CNBC. So Air Products wants hydrogen produced in the United States to meet international standards.

“Otherwise our products won’t qualify or they will be taxed at the EU border for imports,” Guter said. “We’re talking about a global liftoff, not just U.S. liftoff, of the hydrogen market.”

On the other side of the debate, utility company and energy giant NextEra wants the Treasury to accept annual — as opposed to hourly — matching RECs as sufficiently specific.

“Starting with annual matching would boost green hydrogen investment and lead to greater overall decarbonization potential, allowing the industry to develop the first wave of hydrogen projects and build industry knowledge. If an hourly matching is enacted too early, it will limit U.S. green hydrogen investment, production and the country’s ability to lower emissions, and stifle innovation,” Phil Musser, vice president of federal government affairs at NextEra Energy, told CNBC in a written statement from.   

So, too, does the Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition, which is a trade group representing a diversity of stakeholders from BP to Duke Energy, Exxon Mobile, General Electric, Siemens Energy, American Clean Power, Shell and more. The Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition also says that no additionality should be required for companies looking to produce clean hydrogen, meaning companies do not have to be responsible for putting “additional” clean energy on the grid to get access to the tax credit.

“We’re not suggesting that we should do this indefinitely,” Shannon Angielski, president of the Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition, told CNBC in a video interview at the end of August. “Rather, let the industry start to make investments in that full ecosystem, send signals throughout that supply chain to make investments, and enable an industry to get seeded with the tax credits, and then over time, become more restrictive.”

The Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition proposes becoming more restrictive in those electricity accounting standards starting in 2030. The electricity accounting systems for monitoring electricity usage on a more granular level is not robust and standardized enough on a federal level, Angielski said, for hourly matching electricity accounting to be required.

But technology does exist to allow hourly matching, Wenbo Shi, the CEO of Singularity, told CNBC. His company makes that technology.

“Hourly and even sub-hourly clean energy matching is not only technologically feasible, but it is already being implemented and used by many. The barrier to adoption is not technology, but policy,” Shi told CNBC.

There are also barriers to getting additional sources of clean energy on the electric grid, Angielski told CNBC. For example, interconnection queues, which are the lines power generators have to wait on to apply to get new sources of clean energy connected to the grid, are years long and make the additionality requirement a barrier for the hydrogen industry.

“What we don’t want to do is wait to be able to actually start investing in low-carbon hydrogen,” Angielski said.

But Ricks doesn’t think there needs to be such a rush.

“The ‘order of operations’ for the energy transition has always been a subject of debate in the policy world: should we use our resources to push rapid near-term decarbonization, or instead support scale-up of nascent technologies that we think we’ll need in the future? Supporters of lax rules for hydrogen subsidies have sought to frame the debate in this way, but in this case it is a false choice,” Ricks told CNBC. “The hydrogen subsidies are large enough to support scale-up even with strict rules, and the absence of these rules would likely drive significant excess emissions for decades — hardly a near-term impact.”

Fakhry from the NRDC says it’s very possible that the IRA is going to incentivize more hydrogen than needed for the clean energy transition, especially depending on how the Treasury dictates the rules.

“It’s really hard to say if there will be excess or not. What we can say for sure is if the rules are very, very lax and hydrogen production can happen anywhere without any guardrails, then yes, we will have a lot of hydrogen production that will go to fairly bad end uses,” Fakhry told CNBC.

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Fast fashion is our generation’s nuclear bomb

When it comes to fashion, we need to stop the radioactive fallout caused by our own ingenuity before it’s too late, Shelley Rogers writes.

This summer people rushed to see the movie Oppenheimer, a portrait of the inventor of the atomic bomb.


On the one hand, it reminded the viewers of the fact that humankind’s genius is to continually advance the boundaries of science and technology and invent new ways to defend ourselves, lengthen lives, and improve communication and convenience — in short, change things for the better. 

The atomic bomb ended World War II and, the usual argument goes, many lives were saved as a result. 

At the same time, the device was used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, horrifically killing and injuring many thousands of people. It also ushered in the nuclear age, the existential threat we see ever looming on the horizon. 

But the ultimate question is: how often have we invented things without really considering the future and how lethal they might ultimately prove to be? Even those that seem quite harmless — at first.

Every time we wash our clothes, we are dumping tonnes of fibres into our oceans

For example, clothes made of plastic. Introduced to the public in 1951, one of the selling points of polyester clothes was that they could be worn for 68 days straight without any care at all and still look fresh. 

No one foresaw that it would prove so inexpensive to make that it would one day be drastically overproduced or what the consequences of the material itself would be.

Today, 69% of the fabrics we wear are made of oil-based plastics: polyester’s chemical name is polyethylene terephthalate, acrylics are polyurethane, nylon is polyhexamethylene adipamide, and spandex is a polyether-polyurea copolymer.

But with the explosive growth and ever-enlarging volume of clothing manufactured since the early 2000s — 100 billion garments annually, with the production of polyester fibre projected to exceed 92 million tonnes in the next 10 years, an increase of 47% — it’s actually clothing’s tiniest fractions that are the most insidious.

Every time we wash our clothes, thousands of tiny particles of fabric (5 mm or less in length) are discharged into the water. 

Globally, 500,000 tonnes of these microfibres are deposited in oceans every year from our washing machines. Of the 171 trillion microplastics floating in oceans, the microfibers from clothing are responsible for 35%.

If the bottom of the food chain suffers, we suffer too

While we are familiar with the image of a sea turtle choking on plastic bags or dead fish snared in nylon drift nets, we are less familiar with the role microfibers play in the rest of the marine world. 


Once in oceans and seas, they get trapped in the guts of zooplankton, bivalves, crustaceans, and coral polyps — the myriad essential aquatic life forms at the bottom of the food pyramid that affect the entire chain. 

Studies point to the accumulation of these fibres in marine life affecting feeding and growth, causing genetic damage, oxidative stress, impacts on behaviour, reducing fertility and reproduction and mortality.

Added to the dilemma are the toxic chemicals microfibres are coated with: the azo dyes and the formulations to make clothes wrinkle-free, stain-resistant, and water-repellant such as toxic fluorinated compounds (PFCs), BPA, and phthalates. 

It only gets worse

Worse, microfibres are also vectors for free-floating toxic chemicals in the ocean that readily attach to microfibres such as POPs, persistent organic pollutants, including DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — as well as heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium.

Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) trap many microfibres in “bio-solid” sludge and these solids are transferred to agricultural lands where they are used as fertiliser. 


There, evidence shows that microfibres and the toxic chemicals they carry can adversely impact terrestrial ecosystems, drawing water away from plants, harming soil biota, rooting ability, soil nutrient cycling — and on and on.

In March 2022, scientists at the Free University in Amsterdam discovered that the microfibres known to exist in our body (deep in our lungs, our intestines where they appear to cause inflammation, in our hearts, in placentas and breast milk), are also in our bloodstreams.

What kind of damage are we doing to ourselves?

Now we’re scrambling. Although relatively few scientific papers were written following the first study on microplastics and health in 2009 — in the last few years there have been hundreds. 

Hopefully, they will answer the questions: do microfibres pass the brain barrier in babies? Do white blood cells attack them and cause chronic inflammation? Do they contribute to cardiovascular disease by attaching to red blood cells, or affect fertility? What is it exactly that they do? 

The microplastics shed from our clothes and the “forever chemicals” they carry cannot be reclaimed, but there is hope. 


In France, a law passed in 2020 has made it mandatory that all new washing machines have a microfiltration device installed by 2025. 

If AB 1628 is passed, California will follow suit and all washing machines will have microfilters installed by 2029. The idea is in development in other states.

Gargantuan fallout of our own ingenuity must be stopped

There is no question that all domestic and industrial washing machines must have microfibre filters installed. 

These filters have been estimated to capture upward of 90% of microfibres from our clothing, thereby dramatically reducing microfibres sent to WWTP and thence the world.

Filters are not the only answer — the industry must redesign clothes to prevent fibre shedding in the first place; we need to label garments to reflect how much they shed and how to prevent that, educating the consumer. 

We also need to pass laws such as The Fashion Act in New York that seek to regulate fast fashion’s vast overproduction and consumption and its gargantuan waste. 

But before it’s too late, when it comes to fashion, we need to stop the radioactive fallout caused by our own ingenuity.

Shelley Rogers is Fashion Director at EARTHDAY.ORG, the global organiser of Earth Day and the largest recruiter of the environmental movement worldwide.

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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Oil giant led by COP28 boss to spend an ‘eyewatering’ $1 billion a month on fossil fuels this decade, Global Witness says

Sultan Al Jaber, chief executive of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and president of this year’s COP28 climate summit gestures during an interview as part of the 7th Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA) in Brussels on July 13, 2023.

Francois Walschaerts | Afp | Getty Images

UAE oil giant ADNOC — run by the president of the COP28 climate conference — is expected to spend more than $1 billion every month this decade on fossil fuels, according to new analysis by international NGO Global Witness.

This is nearly seven times higher than its commitment to decarbonization projects over the same timeframe, the research says.

ADNOC, which recently became the first among its peers to bring forward its net-zero ambition to 2045, disputes Global Witness’ analysis and says the assumptions made are inaccurate.

It comes ahead of the COP28 climate summit, with Dubai set to host the U.N.’s annual conference from Nov. 30 through to Dec. 12. Viewed as one of the most significant climate conferences since 2015’s landmark Paris Agreement, COP28 will see global leaders gather to discuss how to progress in the fight against the climate crisis.

The person overseeing the talks, Sultan al-Jaber, is chief executive of ADNOC (the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) — one of the world’s largest oil and gas firms. His position as both COP28 president and ADNOC CEO caused dismay among civil society groups and U.S. and EU lawmakers, although several government ministers have since defended his appointment.

Global Witness’ analysis, provided exclusively to CNBC, found that ADNOC is planning to spend an average of $1.14 billion a month on oil and gas production alone between now and 2030 — the same year in which the U.N. says the world must cut emissions by 45% to avoid global catastrophe.

It means that ADNOC is forecast to spend nearly seven times more on fossil fuels through to 2030 than it does on “low-carbon solution” projects.

By 2050, the year in which the U.N. says the entire world economy must achieve net-zero emissions, ADNOC is projected to have invested $387 billion in oil and gas. The burning of fossil fuels is the chief driver of the climate emergency.

A spokesperson at ADNOC told CNBC via email: “The analysis of, and assumptions made, regarding ADNOC’s capital expenditure program beyond the company’s current five-year business plan (2023 to 2027) are speculative and therefore incorrect.”

The Abu Dhabi energy group announced in January this year that it would allocate $15 billion for investment in “low-carbon solutions” by 2030, including investments in clean power, carbon capture and storage and electrification projects.

High-rise tower buildings along the central Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai on July 3, 2023.

Karim Sahib | Afp | Getty Images

Global Witness arrived at its projections by analyzing ADNOC’s forecasted oil and gas capital expenditure, exploratory capital expenditure and operational expenditure for the period from 2023 to 2050. The data was sourced from Rystad Energy’s UCube database.

Rystad’s data is not available to the public, but is widely used and referenced by major oil and gas companies and international bodies.

“Fossil fuels companies like to burnish their green credentials, yet they rarely say the quiet part out loud: that they continue to throw eyewatering amounts at the same old polluting oil and gas that is accelerating the climate crisis,” said Patrick Galey, senior investigator at Global Witness.

“How [al-Jaber] can expect to lecture other nations on the need to decarbonise and be taken seriously is anyone’s guess, while he continues to provide vastly more funding to oil and gas than to renewable alternatives,” he added.

“He is a fossil fuel boss, plain and simple, saying one thing while his company does the other,” Galey said.

Established 30 years ago, Global Witness is a campaign group that receives funding from donors that include The Foundation to Promote Open Society, which is backed by liberal financier and billionaire George Soros, the European Climate Foundation, and the Quadrature Climate Foundation.

Among six campaign promises published last year, Global Witness says it seeks to “stop the oil and gas industry escalating global warming by making us dependent on gas” and to “ensure that the current energy transition is fair and responsible, serving people and the planet.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the analysis conducted by Global Witness. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC.

Main priority for COP28

Al-Jaber was the founding CEO of Abu Dhabi state-owned renewable energy firm Masdar, which works in more than 40 countries worldwide and has invested in or committed to invest in renewable energy projects with a total value of over $30 billion.

Speaking earlier this year, al-Jaber said the main priority for the COP28 summit will be to keep alive the fight to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond the critical temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, it becomes more likely that small changes can trigger dramatic shifts in Earth’s entire life support system.

The International Energy Agency says no new oil, gas or coal development is compatible with the goal of curbing global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In response to a request for comment from CNBC, an ADNOC spokesperson said that energy demand is increasing as the world’s population is expanding. “All of the current energy transition scenarios, including by the IEA, show that some level of oil and gas will be needed into the future,” the spokesperson said.

“As such, it is important that, in addition to accelerating investments in renewables and lower carbon energy solutions, we consider the least carbon intensive sources of oil and gas and further reduce their intensity to enable a fair, equitable, orderly, and responsible energy transition. This is the approach ADNOC is taking,” they added.

The spokesperson said its 2022 upstream emissions data confirmed the energy group as one of the least carbon-intensive producers worldwide. The company will seek to further reduce its carbon intensity by 25% and target near zero methane emissions by 2030, they added.

“As we reduce our emissions, we are also ramping up investments in renewables and zero carbon energies like hydrogen for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

A separate report published in April last year by Global Witness and Oil Change International found that 20 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies were projected to spend $932 billion by the end of the decade to develop new oil and gas fields.

At that time, Russian state company Gazprom was estimated to spend the most on fossil fuel development and exploration projects through to 2030 ($139 billion), followed by U.S. oil majors ExxonMobil ($84 billion) and Chevron ($67 billion).

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London’s plan to charge drivers of polluting cars sparks protests

London’s traffic cameras are under attack. Police say hundreds of license plate-reading cameras have been damaged, disconnected or stolen by opponents of an anti-pollution charge on older vehicles that came into force across the metropolis on Tuesday.

The vandalism by vigilantes calling themselves the Blade Runners shows that emotions are running high over the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. 


London’s mayor says the measure will cut air pollution that is linked to about 4,000 deaths a year in the British capital. Critics say it’s a cash grab that will penalize suburban residents who depend on their cars for work and essential travel.

“The cameras are going to keep coming down,” predicted Nick Arlett, who has organized protests against the clean-air charge and says he neither condones nor condemns the sabotage “People are angry.”

Moves in the UK to cut air pollution and reduce car use have become a political flashpoint. Supporters say cynical politicians and conspiracy theorists are exploiting opposition to the plans. The Conservative government has attacked London’s vehicle levy, leading to allegations it is backing down on green pledges.

London’s plan, known as the ULEZ, levies a £12.50 daily charge on most gas cars and vans built before 2006 and on pre-2015 diesel vehicles. Introduced in central London in 2019, it was expanded in 2021 to the city’s inner suburbs. From Tuesday it covers all of Greater London, including the sprawling outer suburbs where more than half the city’s 9 million people live.

Mayor Sadiq Khan says the expansion means “5 million more Londoners being able to breathe cleaner air.”

“It was a difficult decision, but it’s a vital one and a right one,” he said Tuesday.

But some suburbanites say it will be an unbearable new expense, amid a cost-of-living squeeze that saw inflation top 11 per cent late last year. Outer London has higher levels of car ownership and less public transit than the city centre.

“It’s going to make poor people poorer,” said Anna Austen, who says she relies on her 15-year-old diesel car to get to work and take her children to school.

“I have no money to pay the fines, I have no money to replace my car,” said Austen, who joined a recent protest by several dozen ULEZ opponents beside a busy road in south London. Some passing drivers honked loudly when encouraged to “beep for freedom.”

The issue shot up the national political agenda in July when the governing Conservatives unexpectedly won a special election in the outer London district of Uxbridge by campaigning against the levy introduced by Mayor Khan, a member of the opposition Labour Party.

Since then, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has asked for a review of Low Traffic Neighborhoods – often locally controversial zones where cars are banned from some residential streets – and slammed Labour as hostile to motorists. He has also approved new North Sea oil and gas drilling, sparking accusations the U.K. is backsliding on its climate commitments.


Sunak’s government says it remains committed to banning the sale of new gas and diesel cars by 2030 and reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Sunak said Tuesday that the new car charge “is going to hit working families. I don’t think that’s the right priority.”

Labour points out that the ULEZ was originally announced in 2015 by then-Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative. But Labour was rattled by the Uxbridge result, despite its big lead in opinion polls nationwide. Leader Keir Starmer urged London’s mayor to “reflect” on the ULEZ expansion. Khan refused to delay but expanded a scrappage program that offers London residents up to £2,000 to replace old vehicles. Opponents say the money is nowhere near enough.

The air in London, a city once nicknamed the Big Smoke, is getting cleaner¸ though the impact of the ULEZ is debated. A 2021 study by Imperial College London suggested the zone had a relatively small effect on air pollution in the 12 weeks after its central London launch. But research published by the mayor’s office in February found that emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides were 26 per cent lower in the ULEZ area since 2019 than they would have been without it, and emissions of particulate matter were 19 per cent lower.

“We know that low emission zones work,” said Simon Birkett, director of the campaigning group Clean Air in London, arguing that “big problems need big solutions.”


ULEZ opponents include trade unions and ordinary Londoners, but backers of the plan claim the issue is also being exploited by extremists. Khan told radio station LBC last week that opposition had been “weaponized” by “people who believed in conspiracy theories.”

At a recent demonstration, protesters chanted “Get Khan out,” and many placards attacked the city’s first Muslim mayor personally, sometimes in crude terms. Several protesters referred to Khan as a puppet of larger forces, including the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, that they alleged sought to control society. Some also expressed doubt about the extent of human-caused climate change.

One group involved in the protests¸ Together, was created in 2021 to campaign against coronavirus lockdowns and vaccine mandates. It has since turned its attention to low-traffic neighbourhoods, clean-air schemes and plans for central bank digital currencies.

Co-founder Alan Miller says he’s no conspiracy theorist but that over all those issues the public feels “ignored and treated with contempt” by politicians and bureaucrats.

Other European cities have had varied results with plans to tackle air pollution. Madrid has a similar low-emission zone to London, while Paris’s plan to ban all diesel and older petrol cars has faced delays.


Supporters of the London plan hope the opposition will fade over time. But Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics, said he expects to see politicians exploit this “classic political wedge issue” in next year’s national election.

“The use of cars and freedom to use them and where people can drive have great cut-through, in a way that many other issues don’t,” Travers said. “Could pro- and anti-motorists be turned into a theme for the general election? I think it will be.”

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Japan’s Fukushima water release plan fuels fear despite IAEA backing

Japan plans to release more than 1 million metric tonnes of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean by the end of August. After years of debate, and despite a green light from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the plan continues to stoke fears among the local population and in nearby countries. 

Twelve years after the triple catastrophe – earthquake, tsunami, reactor meltdown – that struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2011, Japan is preparing to release part of the treated wastewater from the stricken plant into the Pacific Ocean this month. A recent article from the daily Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun revealed the upcoming release without specifying a date. 

The release of contaminated water by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has been on the cards since 2018 but it was repeatedly postponed until it finally received endorsement from the International Atomic Energy Agency in early July. After a two-year review, five review missions to Japan, six technical reports and five missions on the ground, the international nuclear watchdog said the discharges of the treated water were consistent with the agency’s safety standards, with “negligible radiological impact to people and the environment”. The green light, which cleared the path for the completion of the project, was greeted with scepticism by some members of the scientific community and with animosity by many local fishermen who fear that consumers will shun their products. 

Storage capacities reaching their limit 

On March 11, 2011, the three reactor cores of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant experienced a meltdown, leaving northeast Japan devastated and adding a nuclear emergency to the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Since then, massive quantities of water have been used to cool down the nuclear reactors’ fuel rods every day, while hundreds of thousands of litres of rainwater or groundwater have entered the site.  

Japanese authorities initially decided to store the contaminated water in huge tanks, but are now running out of space. Some 1,000 tanks were built to contain what is now 1.3 million tonnes of wastewater. Japanese authorities have warned that storage capacities are nearing their limit and will reach saturation by 2024. The power plant is also located in a region with a high earthquake risk – meaning that a new tremor could cause the tanks to leak. 

Read moreFukushima fallout: A decade after Japan’s nuclear disaster

Filtering the contaminated water 

To avoid such an accident, the Japanese government has decided to gradually discharge millions of tonnes of water into the Pacific Ocean over the next 30 years. The process is simple: the water is set to be released one kilometre away from the coast of Fukushima Prefecture via underwater tunnel. 

Releasing treated wastewater into the ocean is a routine practice for nuclear plants all over the world. Water is usually made to circulate around a nuclear reactor to absorb heat, making it possible to trigger turbines and produce electricity. In the process, the water becomes loaded with radioactive compounds, but it is then treated before being released into the sea or rivers. 

“In Fukushima, however, the situation is very different since it is a damaged plant,” said Jean-Christophe Gariel, deputy director in charge of health and the environment at France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). 

“This time, part of the stored water was poured directly onto the reactors in order to cool them,” Gariel added. “Unlike the water from our [French] nuclear plants, [theirs] became loaded with many radioactive compounds, known as radionuclides.” 

Before discharging the water into the sea, the challenge is therefore to remove most of the radioactive materials. To do this, Fukushima’s operator, Tepco, uses a powerful filtration system called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System). “This makes it possible to eliminate a large part of these radioactive substances, which are only present as traces,” said Gariel. 

“On the other hand, as in our own power plants, one component remains: tritium, which cannot be eliminated,” he added. This substance is routinely produced by nuclear reactors and released by power plants around the world. While it is considered relatively harmless, it is often blamed for increasing the risk of cancer. “To limit the risks even further, the water will be diluted in a large quantity of seawater to lower the concentration of tritium as much as possible,” Gariel explained. 

During the most recent test of the water tanks in March, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency detected 40 radionuclides. After treatment, the concentration in the water was lower than accepted standards for 39 – all of them, except for tritium. The level of the latter reached 140,000 becquerels per litre (Bq/L) – while the regulatory concentration limit for release into the sea is set at 60,000 Bq/L in Japan. After the final dilution step, however, the tritium level was reduced to 1,500 Bq/L. 

“To put it simply, while the water from the Fukushima reservoirs is more contaminated than the water from [French] power stations, after treatment and dilution, it is the same as anywhere else,” said Jean-Christophe Gariel. 

It’s like diluting whiskey in Coke 

Yet these standards and figures must be nuanced and taken with caution, with set thresholds varying greatly from one country to another. For example, France sets its tritium limit at 100 Bq/L, while the WHO sets it at 10,000 Bq/L. 

When it comes to diluting tritium, some environmentalists argue that it is like “diluting whiskey in coke”: the presence of coke does not mean there is less alcohol. Similarly, the quantity of tritium in the ocean remains the same; it is simply distributed in a greater quantity of water. 

Within the scientific community, the validity of the safety of Japan’s planned water release is thus widely debated. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), based in the United States, has regularly voiced concerns about the project’s impact on the environment. The Institute expressed its opposition once again to Japan’s project in December 2022, lamenting the failure to measure concentration rates in all the the reservoirs of the plant.

Yet for Jim Smith, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, releasing the wastewater into the ocean “is the best option”. The professor, who studies the consequences of radioactive pollutants, argued in an article published on The Conversation that “on the grand scale of the environmental problems we face, the release of wastewater from Fukushima is a relatively minor one.” 

An eminently political subject 

“This subject is eminently political. It reflects the desire of the Japanese government to make the Fukushima region an example of resilience after a nuclear accident,” said Cécile Asanuma-Brice, a researcher at the CNRS in France and co-director of the MITATE Lab, which studies the consequences of the Fukushima disaster.  

“This is the background of the Japanese government’s reconstruction policy, which includes dismantling the plant and reopening the area to housing,” Asanuma-Brice explained. “The plant can only be dismantled once they have got rid of these contaminated waters, according to the latest statements by the Minister of Economy and Industry, Yasutoshi Nishimura.” 

To carry out the project, the government must also deal with persistent opposition from the local population, especially that of the fishermen’s unions. “For [the fishermen’s unions], who represent an important part of the country’s economy, the question is not so much whether their concerns are justified or not,” said Asanuma-Brice. “After the accident, they suffered from a negative image for years, both in the region and internationally. They had just started recovering and regaining a dynamic economic activity. With the project to release the contaminated water, they fear their image will be damaged again and their products shunned by consumers.” 

Over the years, several alternative solutions have been examined with varying degrees of attention by the authorities. “One of them seems to have gained approval from the local population – that of building new reservoirs or even installing them underground and continuing to store contaminated water until it loses radioactivity in the coming years,” said Asanuma-Brice. The idea was rapidly dismissed by the government, which deemed it too expensive. 

In addition to the local opposition, the Japanese government will also have to deal with mistrust from other Pacific countries, particularly from China. Following the green light granted by the IAEA in early July, Beijing announced a forthcoming ban on the import of food products from certain Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, for “security reasons”. 


This article has been translated from the original in French

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