Chinese researchers discover plastic waste chemically bonded to rocks

Read the full story at Packaging Insights.

Chinese researchers at Tsinghua University, Beijing, have found plastic films chemically bonded to rocks, marking a discovery of a new type of plastic material in the environment. 

Deyi Hou, one of the study’s authors and soil and groundwater scientist, said the research is the first to uncover chemical bonds between plastic and rocks in the environment. 

The plastic rock complexes form when debris irreversibly absorbs into a rock after a flood. The complexes comprise LDPE or PP films stuck onto quartz-dominated mineral matrices.

The study writes that “future research should evaluate this phenomenon regarding ecosystem fluxes, fate and transport and impacts of plastic pollution,” indicating that more research is needed to draw concrete conclusions about the plastic rocks. 

The study was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The source of the plastic waste was accumulated around a creek in Hechi City, China. The plastics discovered were PP and PE films.

How China, the world’s top polluter, avoids paying for climate damage

Read the full story from the Washington Post.

In 1992, the United Nations classified China as a developing country, as hundreds of millions of its citizens lived in poverty.

A lot has changed since then: China is now the world’s second-largest economy and the biggest annual emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases. Average Chinese today are 34 times richer and nearly four times more polluting. But the classification has stayed the same for the past three decades, frustrating diplomats from developed nations who say it has allowed Beijing to avoid paying its fair share to help poor countries cope with the ravages of climate change.

World’s largest compressed air energy storage project goes online in China

Read the full story at pv magazine.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has switched on a 100 MW compressed air energy storage system in China’s Hebei province. The facility can store more than 132 million kWh of electricity per year.

China’s Sinopec starts first carbon capture, storage facility, plans another two by 2025

Read the full story from Reuters.

China’s Sinopec Corp said on Monday it has put into operation the country’s largest carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) facility in east China, and plans to build two more plants of similar size by 2025.

It’s getting harder for scientists to collaborate across borders – that’s bad when the world faces global problems like pandemics and climate change

International scientific collaboration has boomed since the end of the 20th century. Yuichiro Chino/Moment via Getty Images

by Tommy Shih, Lund University

The United Nations and many researchers have emphasized the critical role international collaborative science plays in solving global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemics. The rise of non-Western countries as science powers is helping to drive this type of global cooperative research. For example, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa formed a tuberculosis research network in 2017 and are making significant advancements on basic and applied research into the disease.

However, in the past few years, growing tensions among superpowers, increasing nationalism, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have contributed to nations’ behaving in more distrustful and insular ways overall. One result is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for researchers to collaborate with scholars in other nations.

The near-global cessation of collaboration with Russian scholars following the invasion of Ukraine – in everything from humanities research to climate science in the Arctic – is one example of science being a victim of – and used as a tool for – international politics. Scientific collaboration between China and the U.S. is also breaking down in fields like microelectronics and quantum computing because of national security concerns on both sides.

I am a policy expert who studies international research collaboration as it relates to global problems and geopolitical polarization. I understand the need for democratic countries to respond to the the growing strength of authoritarian countries such as China and acute crises like the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But reducing or stopping international research comes with its own risks. It slows down the production of knowledge needed to address long-term global problems and reduces the potential for future scientific collaboration.

Growth of non-Western science

Since the 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union, global collaboration in science has increased dramatically. There are several reasons for this development.

First, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to an increased openness in global scientific exchange. In particular, there was growth in the number of students from developing and non-Western countries going to universities in the West. This movement formed networks of researchers from many countries. Second, massively collaborative scientific efforts – such as the Human Genome Project – as well as the ever-growing importance of expensive, large research laboratories and instruments have fueled international collaboration. Finally, the digital revolution has made it much easier to communicate and share data across borders. This all resulted in collaborative and fruitful research in many fields including gene technology, climate science and artificial intelligence.

While Western countries dominated the scientific landscape of the 20th century, globalization has benefited many non-Western countries.

In the latter half of the 20th century, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many other nations all significantly improved their scientific capabilities. In doing so they have greatly contributed to human knowledge. China in particular has invested heavily in its scientific capabilities and today is the world’s largest producer of scientific publications.

The development of scientific capacity in many parts of the world and the building of academic ties is critical when it comes to responding to a new virus or tracking changes in climate. The more countries that share data and coordinate policy responses, the easier it should be to contain a virus or understand global warming.

Western concern of a rising China

Generally speaking, there are three global superpowers competing for scientific and technological leadership today: the U.S., China and the European Union.

The U.S. government and the European Union frame the loss of scientific and technological leadership as not only about diminished economic opportunities, but also as a threat to fundamental values of democracy, free market competition and rule of law.

In May 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it. Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”

China’s rise in science and technology has been met with stern responses from the West. Australia passed legislation in 2020 that gave the federal government veto power over foreign agreements in research. In the U.S., the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 was designed to reduce dependence on China for emerging and foundational technologies.

The International Space Station in space.
Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western-imposed sanctions, Russia threatened to pull out of the International Space Station. NASA/Flickr

Science as a tool of politics

Given this framing of research as a part of international competition between China and the West, it is not surprising that science is increasingly being used as a political tool.

The U.S. government has taken significant steps to try to limit China’s scientific progress and international influence. In 2018, the U.S. launched a large-scale anti-espionage effort called the China Initiative. Under this initiative, the FBI broadly investigated U.S.-Chinese links within the corporate and academic sectors. The China Initiative failed to find any Chinese spies. But three U.S.-based scholars were convicted for failing to disclose Chinese ties.

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping facing away from each other in a room.
Both the U.S. and Europe have taken steps to slow down China’s scientific rise, and these efforts have dampened research collaboration. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The China Initiative has faced heavy criticism from researchers, university leaders and civil rights organizations because of claims of ethnic profiling. The Biden administration officially canceled the initiative in February 2022. But efforts to curtail China’s science and technology industries through trade sanctions on companies like Huawei restrict American companies from doing business with Chinese tech firms. The China Initiative and sanctions have also made researchers on both sides wary of collaboration.

The European Union has taken a similar stance. It calls China simultaneously a partner, competitor and systemic rival. The EU has outlined goals of increasing European scientific and technological autonomy to reduce reliance on other countries, especially China, and started to implement the strategy in 2021.

China is also using science, technology and scholarly research generally to serve national interests. The government has explicitly pushed the idea that research shall primarily serve national needs, and Chinese scholars are increasingly under political control. In 2021 there were 18 research centers devoted to studying and promoting Xi Jinping’s ideas on matters such as rule of law, economics and green development.

Global consequences

Many researchers in the U.S., Europe and China have voiced concerns that geopolitical rivalries are curtailing international research collaboration at a time when the world needs it the most.

There is a major risk that the impediments to international scientific collaboration will further increase, further harming data sharing, the quality of research and the ability to disseminate results that contributing to solving problems. I often hear researchers, university leaders and funding agencies in Europe, the U.S. and China vent their frustration with the current situation. Many in the research community would like to see a more open and global science landscape.

It is possible to work toward a future where science is more separate – but not naively isolated – from changing power dynamics. As issues like climate change increase in severity, it will become only more important that researchers build international relationships that are responsible, reciprocal, transparent and equitable.

Tommy Shih, Associate Professor in Business Administration, Lund University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Texas A&M shut down a major climate change modeling center in February after a ‘default’ by its Chinese partner

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in February mailed letters to 22 U.S. universities: Cut ties with Chinese institutions that have previously “ensnared” scholars in schemes to steal valuable information, he wrote. China’s military, he said, is attempting to acquire and develop cutting-edge technology, sometimes through theft under the guise of academic collaboration.

Texas A&M University and its governing system responded one day later with a letter to the Florida senator. They had already “mitigated” or eliminated 200 A&M “instances of activity” with evidence of foreign influence, including a climate modeling center called the International Laboratory for High-Resolution Earth System Prediction, according to the letter written by administrators.

The university system coordinates with the FBI on a “near daily basis,” the administrators said. And one affiliation that Rubio specifically questioned—Ocean University in Qingdao—is being severed, according to the letter.

The correspondence provides the clearest picture to date on the Texas A&M University System’s attempts to extensively monitor other countries’ involvement in its research. But more broadly, it raises questions about the conflict between universities’ research goals and policymakers’ concerns about foreign interference in U.S. research and technology.

China’s surprisingly robust system of marine protection

Read the full story in Hakai Magazine.

China, as the world’s largest producer and consumer of seafood, is well known for its voracious international fishing fleet. But a comprehensive understanding of the country’s efforts on marine protection, at least in its domestic waters, has remained elusive—even to many experts within China. Now, an international group of researchers has compiled the first database of marine conservation efforts in the country, and it is more extensive than many expected.

In the fight against climate change, China is doing more than you think – but still not enough

China has more solar power capacity than any other country and makes many of the world’s solar cells, but coal is still its top energy source. Yang Min/Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

by Phillip Stalley, DePaul University

When it comes to climate change, no nation is more important than China. It consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined, and it is the leading emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for nearly 30% of global emissions.

Unless China takes rapid steps to control its greenhouse gas emissions, there is no plausible path to achieving the Paris climate agreement aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F), or even the less ambitious target of “well below 2 C” (3.6 F).

So, what is China doing to help the world avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and is it doing enough?

China’s record is mixed. Over the past year, China has signaled that it intends to continue on its well-worn path of making modest, incremental contributions to combat climate change, an approach inadequate for achieving the Paris goals. Yet, as an expert in environmental diplomacy who has followed China’s actions for years, I see reasons to think China might increase its efforts in the coming years.

China’s measured approach to climate change

A common misconception is that China either lacks climate policies or fails to implement them. The reality is that China has a robust set of climate and energy policies and a strong track record when it comes to fulfilling its pledges to the international community.

Driven by a desire to reduce air pollution, enhance energy security and dominate the industries of the future, China has been the world’s leading investor in renewable energy since 2013, and it has been buying up raw materials those industries need, such as cobalt mines in Africa. It has three times more renewable energy capacity than any other country, and its electric vehicle use is growing. As of 2019, about half the world’s electric vehicles and 98% of electric buses were in China.

Overall, China achieved nine of the 15 quantitative targets in its 2015 climate commitments ahead of schedule. Over the past decade, coal has fallen from about 70% to 57% of its energy consumption.

In September 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated that China will stop financing overseas coal power plants. This is likely to lead to the cancellation of much of the 65 gigawatts of coal power plants it had planned in Asia, roughly three times the annual emissions of Bangladesh. And unlike the U.S., China has also established a national emissions trading system for the electricity sector, though it lacks a hard cap on emissions.

When it comes to China’s approach to climate change, the problem is not lack of policy implementation but rather a lack of policy ambition. China’s climate policies are admirable for a middle-income country that only recently escaped the ranks of the poor, but, like most of the world’s nations, it is still not doing enough.

This is evident both in China’s revised commitments presented at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021 and in its current Five-Year Plan (2021-2025). Both represent piecemeal improvements but will make it difficult to keep global warming well below 2 C.

For instance, China aims to have its carbon dioxide emissions peak before 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060. These soft targets reflect a Chinese tendency in international negotiations to underpromise so that it can overdeliver. To be consistent with the Paris Agreement aims, China will need to set a cap on emissions and move forward its peak dates. [View a graph of China’s electricity production by source]

Current policy and recent history have also raised concerns that China’s coal use will not decline fast enough over the 2020s to achieve the 1.5 C target.

Three times in the past four years China responded to either an energy shortage or economic slowdown by allowing coal production and consumption to surge. In 2020, it added almost 40 gigawatts of new coal capacity, roughly equal to the entire coal fleet of Germany, the world’s fourth-largest industrial power.

Reasons for cautious optimism

There is still a chance that China will enhance its contribution to the fight against climate change.

It is worth noting that China is still developing the policies that will guide its approach to climate change over the next decade. It has released two overarching documents for reaching carbon neutrality and an emissions peak in 2030. Over the next year or so, it intends to release 30 sector- and province-specific documents to guide industries such as steel, cement and transportation.

A man in a hardhat stands under three large solar panels
Most solar manufacturing is in China, and the country is a leader in installations. Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Two key developments at Glasgow could also nudge China to do more.

First, a considerable number of countries increased their climate pledges, which ratchets up pressure on China.

More than 100 nations pledged to cut emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, by 30% by 2030. India pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2070 and, more importantly, indicated it would potentially get half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. There were also multicountry pledges to end deforestation, phase out coal and cut international funding for fossil fuels.

Like any country, China’s climate actions are driven primarily by domestic political considerations. However, over the past three decades Chinese policy has responded to – and been shaped by – external forces including diplomacy, advocacy and scientific exchange.

Developing countries, in particular, can influence China’s approach to climate change. Because China has long positioned itself as a leader of the developing world and is sensitive to its international image, it can be hard for Beijing to resist pressure from other developing countries. The fact that several countries, such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam, made bolder-than-expected pledges at Glasgow could induce Beijing to offer more aggressive targets for controlling emissions.

The second key development is that the United States and China achieved a much-needed thaw in their relationship at Glasgow and laid a foundation for future cooperation.

US and Chinese negotiators walk down a hall with reporters behind them.
China’s lead climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, and U.S. climate official John Kerry announced an agreement to work together toward net-zero emissions. AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Although there is some debate about whether the climate benefits more from Sino-American competition or cooperation, there was concern that hostility between China and the U.S. could derail the talks.

Therefore, it was a welcome relief when late in the summit China and the U.S., the second largest greenhouse gas emitter, released a joint declaration outlining their shared commitment to combating climate change.

They agreed to establish a “working group on enhancing climate action in the 2020s” and to meet early in 2022 to address methane emissions. China also indicated it would release a national action plan for methane. This is significant because China did not sign the Global Methane Pledge and has not traditionally included noncarbon greenhouse gases – about 18% of China’s total emissions – in its commitments.

Will developing country pressure and U.S.-China cooperation be enough to persuade China to take more aggressive action? Only time will tell, but Glasgow may have been the crossroad where China and the rest of the world chose a more sustainable path.

Phillip Stalley, Endowed Professor of Environmental Diplomacy & Associate Professor of Political Science, DePaul University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Study reveals first-time data on protection of China’s marine habitats

Read the full story from Stonybrook University.

A new study by an international team of scientists led by Ellen Pikitch, PhD, of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), provides the first comprehensive and publicly available database of area-based marine conservation in China’s waters. Published in Science Advances, the study provides insight into the country’s progress toward meeting global commitments to protect marine waters. Because of China’s global economic and political influence and its status as the world’s top producer and consumer of seafood, the findings could serve to inform broader international dialogue around management of marine biodiversity.

A novel way to reduce emissions? China tries confiscating coal from households.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

In recent weeks in Tangshan, officials have urged residents to go green by ditching their coal stoves for electric heaters, according to local government announcements. Climate researchers say such measures will have limited impact on emissions, because households use a lot less coal than factories do.