Mystery of banned CFCs resurgence may be solved

June 26, 2018 by  
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The world recently learned that chlorofluorocarbons ( CFCs ), an ozone-damaging industrial gas banned under the 1997 Montreal Protocol, have made an unexpected comeback, with significant emissions detected in the atmosphere. The source of these banned gases has remained unclear. Now, documents and research gathered by the New York Times and independent investigators suggest that the CFCs, specifically CFC-11, may be coming from factories in China that manufacture foam for buildings and appliances. “You had a choice: Choose the cheaper foam agent that’s not so good for the environment, or the expensive one that’s better for the environment,” factory owner Zhang Wenbo told the New York Times . “Of course, we chose the cheaper foam agent. That’s how we survived.” At the time of Zhang’s interview, local authorities were conducting inspections throughout town and citing those who violated regulations. When they arrived at his factory, they assessed that it was in violation of environmental codes and ordered it shut down. “They never told us until last year that it was damaging the atmosphere ,” Zhang said. “Nobody came to check what we were using, so we thought it was O.K.” Although some provinces in China have tightened enforcement of the CFC ban, the chemical still remains available online. “When nobody is watching, they can make some, or when they get an order — an underground order — they can also produce it,” local refrigeration expert Liu Le told the New York Times . “They produce for a while until they’re discovered, and then move on.” Related: Antarctic ozone layer shows “first fingerprints of healing” The U.S.-based Environmental Investigation Agency has determined that at least eight factories in four provinces are still using CFCs to create foam. “The scale of this environmental crime is devastating, with massive potential impact on the climate and the ozone layer,” executive director Alexander von Bismarck said. “We’re hoping for a strong response from a strong environmental agreement.” While the mystery is becoming more clear, there is much more that needs to be done to determine the full extent of the problem. Head of the United Nations Environment Program Erik Solheim said, “Based on the scale of detected emissions there is good reason to believe the problem extends beyond these uncovered cases.” Via New York Times Image via Depositphotos

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Solar power prices expected to drop further this year

June 12, 2018 by  
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The price of solar energy could further fall this year, experts say. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) analysis published by PV Magazine predicted a 34 percent drop in the price of multicrystalline solar modules in China, an event expected to influence prices around the world. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said a price drop could open up “further space for more ambition to tackle climate change , which is crucial to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement .” The 2018 solar panel price decline could be about the same as the drop in module prices in 2016, and would be exceeded only by 2011’s 40 percent drop in prices, PV Magazine said. BNEF’s benchmark monocrystalline module price was $0.37 per watt for 2017’s fourth quarter, and could be just $0.24 per watt by 2018’s close. BNEF experts predict module prices will drop another 10 to 15 percent next year. Related: The cost of high-efficiency solar panels fell 37% in 2017 The price decline is a result of withdrawn support for China’s photovoltaic market. Since China is the biggest solar market in the world, the price fall could emanate. PV Magazine cited a BNEF note saying, “Oversupply is universal.” The note predicted a market panic initially, and developers could halt installation in the third quarter and wait for cheaper module prices and release of new quotas. India and developing countries around the world could benefit from the panel price decline, according to the UNFCCC. The UNFCCC praised the International Solar Alliance (ISA), started by India and France in 2015 to focus on investment in large-scale solar power in developing countries. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said earlier this year, “Our globally agreed goals in the Paris Agreement and the Agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be achieved without your [ISA’s] effort to scale up solar power generation and support countries with great solar potential … This is our moment to deliver on the promise of a better future agreed in Paris.” + Bloomberg New Energy Finance Via PV Magazine and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Solar power prices expected to drop further this year

India plans to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022

June 6, 2018 by  
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Big news from India : the country aims to abolish single-use plastic in about four years. Prime minister Narendra Modi announced the goal on World Environment Day , and The Guardian said it’s the most ambitious commitment out of the actions to combat plastic pollution happening in 60 nations. The move could dramatically reduce the flow of plastic from 1.3 billion people. India is resisting plastic pollution with what United Nations Environment head Erik Solheim called a phenomenal commitment. The country’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Harsh Vardhan said single-use plastics will be banned in all of the country’s states by 2022. Solheim said the move would inspire the planet and “ignite real change.” Related: Kenya introduces world’s harshest law on plastic bags “It is the duty of each one of us to ensure that the quest for material prosperity does not compromise our environment ,” Modi said. “The choices that we make today will define our collective future. The choices may not be easy. But through awareness, technology and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can make the right choices. Let us all join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live.” UN Environment released  a report providing “the first comprehensive global assessment of government action against plastic pollution,” including case studies from over 60 countries. The report included a list of states and cities in India that have banned plastic bags or disposable plastic products, and the selected case study in the country highlighted beach cleanup efforts in Mumbai; Inhabitat covered the initiative started by local lawyer Afroz Shah earlier this year. Volunteers have cleaned up around 13,000 tons of trash, largely plastics , according to the case study, and this year people spotted Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings on the beach for the first time in more than 20 years. + United Nations Environment Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos and Juggadery/Flickr

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UN creates a new global climate change coalition

June 1, 2018 by  
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Earth has a “30-year window of opportunity” to tackle climate change, according to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) secretary-general Petteri Taalas. He called for greater urgency in carrying out the Paris Agreement as the leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) together with WMO launched a brand-new climate change coalition. Every year 12.6 million people perish due to environmental risks — air pollution in particular — and the group aims to lower that number. Average temperatures in 2017 were 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the UN, while global average concentrations of carbon dioxide were greater than 400 parts per million (ppm). Taalas said climate change is impacting developing countries — the cost of natural disasters reached a new record in 2017. The three UN organizations already work together, but under the new coalition will strengthen action on guarding health from climate change- and environment -related risks. Taalas, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and UNEP executive director Erik Solheim came together to form the coalition and spoke to delegates at the World Health Assembly about opportunities and challenges to come. Related: 95% of the world’s population breathes unsafe air Air pollution is one such challenge. Around seven million people die prematurely each year from diseases related to air pollution, such as respiratory illness, cancer, heart disease, or strokes. According to the UN, in many of the world’s major cities, air pollution is higher than WHO air quality standards. Pollutants which threaten human health also contribute to climate change and damage the environment — examples are waste incineration or black carbon from diesel engines. The UN said lowering what they called short-lived climate pollutant emissions coming from agriculture, traffic, industry, or cookstoves, for example, “could help trim the rate of global warming by about 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.” Solheim said, “If we speed up on renewable energy solutions, fewer people will die from air pollution. Let’s create a pollution-free environment.” One of the coalition’s first outcomes will be a Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health , which will take place at WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from October 30 to November 1. + United Nations Climate Change Images via Depositphotos

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California makes huge investment in ‘widespread transportation electrification’

June 1, 2018 by  
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Even as the U.S. turns away from clean energy, California continues to charge ahead. Empowering the largest investment in the U.S.  by the electric industry to transform a transportation system, the California Public Utilities Commission has approved a collective budget of $738 million for four utility companies to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification.” This move, required by a 2015 clean energy law in California, marks an important step toward developing comprehensive infrastructure to switch transportation from fossil fuels to clean electric power. The unprecedented investment follows the recent approval of 15 pilot programs that, with a collective budget of $43 million, aim to electrify transit buses , school buses, cranes, agricultural trucks, delivery trucks, airport equipment and other vehicles. The pilot programs will run over the course of a year, while the major initiative will unfold over several years. These programs specifically look to benefit communities that have historically suffered under hazardous levels of air pollution, a public health threat that the widespread adoption of electric vehicles will alleviate. The initiative will fund, among other things, new charging stations, related infrastructure and services for installing new charging stations in homes. Related: Southern California is losing its clouds, increasing the risk of more intense wildfires These new initiatives in California have received broad support from stakeholders in the state, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, General Motors and the Sierra Club. Although the link between transportation and utility companies may traditionally seem weak, the Commission under California state law determined that the electric vehicle programs serve the utility customer’s interests by offering more reliable, less expensive service. With its most recent investment in the future of transportation, California seems poised to be a leader in clean energy for many years to come. Via NRDC Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Solar outshined all fossil-fuels sources combined in 2017

April 19, 2018 by  
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Last year, the world invested more in solar power than all fossil-fuel sources combined. Investors and governments installed an all-time record of 157 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity, according to a new report from the United Nations (UN). In 2017, the world installed 98 W of solar capacity, nearly half of which was in China. The net new capacity from fossil fuels was only 70W in 2017. “We are at a turning point … from fossil fuels to the renewable world,” UN Environment head Erik Solheim told Reuters . “The markets are there and renewables can take on coal, they can take on oil and gas.” Although renewable energy is clearly the way of the future, fossil fuels remain the dominant source of energy on the planet. Only 12.1 percent of the world’s electricity came from renewable energy sources, an improvement on 5.2 percent in 2007. This boom in renewable energy has been backed by strong investment in recent years. In 2017, global investment in renewable energy rose by two percent. China invested $122.6 billion, 45 percent of global investment and the most of any country, into the industry in the same year. Related: World’s largest solar energy project will be 100 times bigger than any other on the planet Governments and investors have noticed a change in the fundamentals behind renewable energy. “Much lower costs … are the driver of solar investment worldwide,” said report lead author Angus McCrone told Reuters . For example, the cost of energy production through large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) decreased by 15 percent last year to $86 per megawatt hour. Even with an administration hostile to renewable energy in the White House, the drive towards renewable energy continues. “Trump can no more brake this than those who opposed the Industrial Revolution could stop the Industrial Revolution,” said Solheim. President Trump recently signed a government spending bill that retained many of the existing tax credits for renewable energy in the United States . Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos (1)

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This is how high NYC’s sea levels will rise if we don’t take climate action

March 26, 2018 by  
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Rising sea levels , precipitated by climate change , threaten to overwhelm the world’s cities if we do nothing — that’s the message Studio Roosegaarde vividly brought last week to the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York City . The studio’s light display, Waterlicht New York, showed the height of water levels during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy . Waterlicht, or water light, creates a virtual flood with technology, including  LED lighting , lenses, and software. First installed in the Netherlands in 2015 , Waterlicht has visually demonstrated water levels stemming from climate change around the world. Studio Roosegaarde brought what they call the dream landscape to New York City for World Water Day . Related: Daan Roosegaarde reveals vision for air-purifying Smog Free Drones Waterlicht lit up the North Lawn at UN Headquarters, employing artwork to underscore the idea that climate change could dramatically alter our cities as water levels increase. Studio Roosegaarde quoted Dutch Special Envoy for International Water Affairs Henk Ovink as saying, “The Sandys and Harveys of this world will not stop. On the contrary, they are the new normal, becoming more extreme year by year.” The National Hurricane Center listed Sandy and Harvey among the costliest United States tropical cylones ever ; Harvey is the second costliest storm on record for all US hurricanes with around $125 billion in damage. Sandy clocks in at fourth place with $65 billion in damage. Around 72 people died in the United States because of Hurricane Sandy; Harvey’s death toll was over 80 people . Waterlicht wasn’t meant to be just a warning, but to spark inspiration. Studio Roosegaarde founder and designer Daan Roosegaarde offered possibilities for how humanity might harness water in the studio’s press release: “Can we build floating cities ; how much power can we generate from the movement of water? Experience the vulnerability and the power of living with water.” + Studio Roosegaarde + Studio Roosegaarde Waterlicht Images courtesy of Studio Roosegaarde

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This is how high NYC’s sea levels will rise if we don’t take climate action

Winners of the 2018 Architecture at Zero competition announced

March 26, 2018 by  
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Boston-based architecture firm Arrowstreet has been named as the winner of the 2018 Architecture at Zero design competition. The winning design, Bay Area Transect, envisions a four-tiered complex embedded into the surrounding landscape in order to minimize its impact and provide educational experiences for the building’s visitors. The project also has multiple sustainable features, including passive ventilation, green roofs, on-site solar power , and a water counterbalancing funicular. Every year, the Architecture at Zero competition calls on students and professionals to submit a design proposal for a net-zero energy structure at a specific location. The challenge this year was to create a visitor and education center for San Francisco State University’s Center for Estuary and Ocean Science. All of the designs had to include an overall site plan that included two net-zero buildings and accommodated the program’s mission of marine research. Related: Rutz Architekten Wins the Architecture at Zero Competition with Their Zero-Net Energy Building Design The Bay Area Transect concept and design process was a collaboration between Arrowstreet, Copley Wolff Design Group , and HTM Office/Madrid . The team worked together for over two months to create a vibrant, site-sensitive concept that would allow visitors to explore the coastal ecosystem as well as the sustainable technologies that power its preservation. The resulting design incorporates not just buildings that mesh with the surrounding environment, but green roofs that double as walking space for the visitors. A funicular connects the waterfront with facilities at the top of the hillside, reducing vehicle traffic overall. Additionally, the open design would allow visitors to feel close to the function of the building’s research purposes, and the project would incorporate a protected tidal inlet to allow beginning kayakers to explore the local coastal ecosystem. The winning team, made up of Steve Zuber, Lee Robert, Cristina Desloges, and Kate Bubriski, is donating its winnings to Women’s Lunch Place in Boston, a homeless day shelter for women designed by Arrowstreet. + Arrowstreet + Copley Wolff Design Group + HTM Office/Madrid Via Archinect Images via Arrowstreet, Copley Wolff Design Group and HTM Office, as well as Architecture at Zero

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Winners of the 2018 Architecture at Zero competition announced

Orange snow covers the mountains across Eastern Europe

March 26, 2018 by  
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The mountains of Russia , Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine have been splashed with color, as the region’s snow has taken on an unusual orange hue. Although the snow may look more like orange sherbet, observers are advised to not eat it. The strange color has been added to the snow by way of the Sahara Desert. While the mountains may present an otherworldly aesthetic, the phenomenon is actually quite normal and occurs every five years, according to meteorologists. Sand turned up by storms in the Sahara Desert flows north and mixes with snow and rain, turning the subsequent precipitation orange. The orange tint has not been confined to the mountains. On its way towards the high-altitude locations of Eastern Europe, the orange dust passed through the Mediterranean, where it added an orange filter to the air in places like the Greek island of Crete. While this is not the first instance in which Saharan sand has affected European weather, it is one of the most intense examples of the phenomenon. The displaced dust can even be seen from space, appearing as a narrow brown streak amidst the usual white and grey clouds. Related: This is one of the hottest places on Earth – and it just snowed there “Looking at satellite imagery from [NASA], it shows a lot of sand and dust in the atmosphere drifting across the Mediterranean,” Steven Keates, a meteorologist with the U.K.’s National Weather Service, told the Washington Post . “When it rains or snows, it drags down whatever is up there, if there is sand in the atmosphere.” Previous incidents involving orange-tinted, dust-induced weird weather in Europe include a 2016 event in which northwest Europe experienced an orange sky. Visible in London, the phenomenon was exacerbated by wildfires raging in Spain and Portugal at the time. Now, those fortunate enough to be in the mountains can enjoy the emulated experience of “skiing on Mars.” Via Washington Post Images via  margarita_alshina/Instagram and  slivi4/Instagram

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One in four of world’s largest cities under water stress

February 15, 2018 by  
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Cape Town, South Africa is rapidly approaching what has been called “Day Zero,” the moment when the diverse metropolitan area of nearly 4 million runs out of clean drinking water . While Cape Town has taken drastic measures to conserve water , it is simply not enough to avoid the imminent crisis. And now, as government and residents prepare for the worst, it’s important to understand which other major cities around the world are also at risk. Lack of water is truly a global problem; one in four of the world’s largest cities are currently under “water stress,” with that number expected to rise due to climate change, human activity, and population growth. Water shortages have the potential to aggravate already unstable political and economic conditions, which is of particular concern in cities such as Cairo . Currently confronting violent extremism and managing ongoing political tension, Egypt is also rated by the World Health Organization as ranking high among middle-income countries on the number of deaths related to water pollution. This is tied to increasing pollution in the Nile River. The United Nations estimates that Egypt will suffer critical water shortages by 2025, exacerbating the potential for conflict. Similarly, São Paulo and Moscow are plagued by pollution due to poor public policy decisions. Fortunately, this means that the problem may be fixable, however entrenched it might be. Related: Venice’s canals go dry following weeks without rain Coastal cities like Jakarta and Miami are facing unique water problems as both attempt to pull freshwater from aquifers. Due to lack of public access to piped water, residents of Jakarta have dug illegal wells, draining the underlying aquifer and actually causing the land to sink. As a result, about 40 percent of Jakarta now lies below sea level. While Miami may not be sinking, its freshwater reserves are suffering from seawater contamination as a result of rapid sea level rise and wetland habitat destruction. Even cities like London are facing a water-scarce future, with severe shortages expected by 2040. Governments can make the necessary policy changes to solve this problem, but they must act quickly. The water crisis is already upon us in many cities. Via BBC News Images via Depositphotos (1) (2)

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