Using advanced computing methods and artificial intelligence, researchers have designed a clear window coating that lowers the temperature inside buildings. The coating could reduce the energy used to cool indoor spaces by 31 percent compared with normal glass windows in hot climates.
The material, reported in the journal ACS Energy Letters, lets visible light through, but blocks the sun’s warming infrared and ultraviolet rays. It also radiates heat from the window at a wavelength that passes through the atmosphere into outer space.
A French start-up has unveiled a urine-based fertilizer to limit the use of chemical ones and make use of valuable nutrients lost when we flush. Toopi Organics claims the solution has many environmental benefits and is cheaper for farmers.
Electric school buses are starting to appear in central Illinois, and more are on the way thanks to a $1 billion federal grant.
Producing zero emissions, the buses are a great choice for the environment and the health of children, but critics worry that the technology and infrastructure are not ready for electric to be adopted in a big way.
Administrators at a school district in Peoria County learned pretty quickly that electric has limitations. Hollis Consolidated School District got a brand-new electric school bus in 2020 with money from the settlement of the Edwards coal plant lawsuit. While the bus works great for the district’s daily 30-mile route, it left a group of children stranded during a field trip to Tanners Orchard in 2021.
The zero waste hierarchy from Zero Waste International Alliance is currently my favorite representation of the methods we can use to get from our current wasteful, linear economy to one where materials are being rethought upstream and intercepted downstream to keep them in use. In the model, we start at the top of the funnel by rethinking and redesigning our products to increase their potential for circularity. Next, and very important, we reduce our consumption. After those are all of the downstream activities that can keep materials in use longer. If all else fails, the hierarchy is instructive on how to dispose of products and materials in the best way possible. Representing upstream activities in the same hierarchy as downstream activities is one reason I’m drawn to this model.
The second layer of the hierarchy, reduction, is where I want to focus my attention today. I think reduction is both the most difficult and most important intervention that companies can participate in.
The single-use plastic retail bag is a highly visible symbol of our incumbent linear, take-make-waste system: these bags are used for an average of 12 minutes before they end up in landfills and waterways for hundreds of years. Transitioning this entrenched product into a circular system takes a concerted effort — one powered by unprecedented industry collaboration. That’s where Closed Loop Partners’ Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag comes in — working with some of the largest players in the retail industry, and accelerating some of the most forward-thinking innovators, to begin to move the needle.
You may be hearing the phrase “loss and damage” in the coming weeks as government leaders meet in Egypt for the 2022 U.N. Climate Change Conference.
It refers to the costs, both economic and physical, that developing countries are facing from climate change impacts. Many of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries have done little to cause climate change, yet they are experiencing extreme heat waves, floods and other climate-related disasters. They want wealthier nations – historically the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions – to pay for the harm.
The flooding turned Pakistan’s farm fields into miles-wide lakes that stranded communities for weeks. More than 1,700 people died, millions lost their homes and livelihoods, and more than 4 million acres of crops and orchards, as well as livestock, drowned or were damaged. This was followed by a surge in malaria cases as mosquitoes bred in the stagnant water.
Pakistan contributes only about 1% of the global greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. But greenhouse gases don’t stay within national borders – emissions anywhere affect the global climate. A warming climate intensifies rainfall, and studies suggest climate change may have increased Pakistan’s rainfall intensity by as much as 50%.
The question of payments for loss and damage has been a long-standing point of negotiation at United Nations climate conferences, held nearly every year since 1995, but there has been little progress toward including a financial mechanism for loss and damage in international climate agreements.
To deal with climate change, these countries – many of them among the world’s poorest – will have to invest in adaptation measures, such as seawalls, climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure that’s more resilient to high heat and extreme storms. The UN Environment Program’s Adaptation Gap Report, released Nov. 3, 2022, found that developing countries need five to 10 times more international adaptation finance than wealthier countries are providing.
When climate disasters strike, countries also need more financial help to cover relief efforts, infrastructure repairs and recovery. This is loss and damage.
The conversation on loss and damage is inherently about equity. It evokes the question: Why should countries that have done little to cause global warming be responsible for the damage resulting from the emissions of wealthy countries?
That also makes it contentious. Negotiators know that the idea of payments for loss and damage has the potential to lead to further discussions about financial compensation for historical injustices, such as slavery in the United States or colonial exploitation by European powers.
At COP26, held in 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland, negotiators made progress on some key issues, such as stronger emissions targets and pledges to double adaptation finance for developing countries. But COP26 was seen as a disappointment by advocates trying to establish a financial mechanism for wealthier nations to provide finance for loss and damage in developing countries.
What a formal mechanism might look like
The lack of resolution at COP26, combined with Egypt’s commitment to focus on financing for adaptation and loss and damage, means the issue will be on the table this year.
The V20 group of finance ministers, representing 58 countries highly vulnerable to climate change, and the G-7 group of wealthy nations also reached an agreement in October 2022 on a financial mechanism called the Global Shield Against Climate Risks. The Global Shield is focused on providing risk insurance and rapid financial assistance to countries after disasters, but it’s unclear how it will fit into the international discussions. Some groups have raised concerns that relying on insurance systems can overlook the poorest people and distract from the larger discussion of establishing a dedicated fund for loss and damage.
Two elements of developed countries’ reluctance to formalize a loss and damage mechanism involve how to determine which countries or communities are eligible for compensation and what the limitations of such a mechanism would be.
What would a threshold for loss and damage eligibility look like? Limiting countries or communities from receiving compensation for loss and damage based on their current emissions or gross domestic product could become a problematic and complicated process. Most experts recommend determining eligibility based on climate vulnerability, but this can also prove difficult.
How will world leaders respond?
Over a decade ago, developed countries committed to provide US$100 billion per year to fund adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. But they have been slow to meet that commitment, and it does not cover the damages from the climate impacts the world is already seeing today.
Establishing a loss and damage mechanism is considered one avenue to provide recourse for global climate injustice. All eyes will be on Egypt Nov. 6-18, 2022, to see how world leaders respond.
This article was updated Nov. 3, 2022, with the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report findings.
In September, I was invited to join a stakeholder consultation meeting organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Washington D.C. The objective was to assess the performance of the U.S. EPA in addressing the environmental – and, especially environmental justice – impacts of plastic, which pollutes our coasts and oceans worldwide. Participants were also asked to recommend initiatives that the EPA could take to further reduce impacts.
Keith Klepeis, Ph.D., professor of geology in the University of Vermont’s Department of Geography and Geosciences, recently partnered with colleagues from the Vermont Geological Survey (part of the Department of Conservation), the State University of New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh, and Middlebury College to lead 30 hydrogeologists to see a PFAS groundwater-contamination site beneath Rutland Airport. The trip was part of the National Groundwater Association Conference hosted in Burlington in September.
“Vermont, like all states, is facing a major PFAS groundwater-contamination crisis,” Klepeis says, “and we got the chance to highlight what we are doing about it.”
Provide free and equitable access to leading, peer-reviewed climate datasets to support analysis and data-driven planning for future climate risks.
Empower non-technical individuals, organizations, planners and decision-makers at state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to gain awareness of future climate conditions and to conduct climate risk-informed analyses to support decision-making and adaptation efforts.
Enable technical audiences to access to data and apply results to examine infrastructure design criteria, development plans, and other technical analyses that would benefit from the use of robust data for future climate conditions.
Contextualize how climate risks factor into equity considerations and barriers to community and infrastructure disaster resilience.
Provide near-nationwide assessments of the variables affecting future climate conditions and their potential impacts.
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