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New phase of globalisation may well worsen CO2 pollution
by Agence France Presse, agencies
As Asia''s giants move up the globalisation food chain, many of the industries that helped propel their dynamic growth -- textiles, apparel, basic electronics -- are moving to Vietnam, Indonesia and other nations investing heavily in a coal-powered future.
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, global warming has been caused mainly by burning oil, gas and especially carbon-rich coal.
"This trend may seriously undermine international efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions," said Dabo Guan, a professor of climate change economics at the University of East Anglia in Britain and co-author of a study in Nature Communications.
"The carbon intensity of the next phase of global economic development will determine whether ambitious climate targets such as stabilising at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will be met," he told AFP.
The 196-nation Paris climate treaty, which goes into effect in 2020, calls for capping global warming at "well under" 2 C, and 1.5 C if possible.
Global temperatures have already risen a full degree Celsius since the mid-19th century, enough to disrupt weather patterns and boost deadly storms, droughts and floods.
The study, led by Jing Meng at the University of Cambridge, details a "new phase of globalisation" in which trade between developing countries expanded three times faster from 2005 to 2015 than international trade as a whole, which grew by 50 percent.
In 2014, this so-called "South-South" trade stood at $9.3 trillion (7.8 trillion euros).
This rapid growth "reflects a fragmenting of global supply chains," Guan said. "The early-production stages of many industries have relocated from China and India to lower-wage economies, a trend that has accelerated since the global financial crisis of 2008."
The ability to reign in global warming, he warned, may depend on curbing the growth in coal-based energy in countries poised to take off by filling this link in the supply chain.
"The future of climate change mitigation is, to an important degree, in the hands of South-South cooperation," he said by phone.
The point is driven home by a second study showing that the planned expansion of coal-fired energy in Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam and other 2nd-generation emerging economies could wipe out efforts in China and India to slow coal consumption.
Beijing and New Delhi have announced their intentions to cancel more than 50 percent of proposed coal-fired power plants, yet global coal investment continues to soar.
New coal-fired power in Turkey and Vietnam, for example, would see their CO2 emissions from coal increase four and ten fold, respectively, from 2012 to 2030, according to the study, published in Environmental Research Letters.
Money earmarked for coal development in Egypt has increased eightfold since 2016, while it has nearly doubled in Pakistan.
"Although the costs of renewables have recently fallen, they still can''t compete with cheap coal in many parts of the world," said co-author Jan Steckel, a researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin.
The study also notes that China is increasingly investing in coal-fired power plants abroad. http://go.nature.com/2Ij4aCb
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Soil pollution poses a serious threat to food safety and human health
by UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Soil pollution poses a serious threat to agricultural productivity, food safety, and human health, but far too little is known about the scale and severity of that threat, warns a new FAO report released this week at the start of a global symposium.
Industrialization, war, mining and the intensification of agriculture have all left a legacy of soil contamination across the planet, while the growth of cities has seen soil used as a sink for ever greater amounts of municipal waste, says Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality.
"Soil pollution affects the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the health of our ecosystems," said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo at the start of the symposium. "The potential of soils to cope with pollution is limited; the prevention of soil pollution should be a top priority worldwide," she added.
But even though agricultural intensification, industrial output, and urbanization continue at a rapid pace, no systematic assessment of the status of soil pollution at global level has ever been undertaken, FAO''s new report notes.
Studies conducted so far have largely been limited to developed economies, so there are massive information gaps regarding the full nature and extent of the problem, according to FAO''s survey of existing scientific literature.
What little we do know is cause for concern, the report adds.
For example, China has categorized 16 percent of all its soils — and 19 percent of its agricultural soils — as polluted. There are approximately 3 million potentially polluted sites in the European Economic Area and the West Balkans. In the United States, 1,300 sites appear on that country''s Superfund National Priorities list of pollution hot spots. In Australia, some 80,000 sites are now estimated to suffer from soil contamination.
Numbers like these help us understand the types of dangers pollution poses to soils, but "do not reflect the complete extent of soil pollution around the world, and highlight the inadequacy of available information and the differences in registering polluted sites across geographic regions," says Hidden Reality.
Danger to food and health
Soil pollution often cannot be visually perceived or directly assessed, making it a hidden danger — with serious consequences.
It impacts food security both by impairing plant metabolism and thus reducing crop yields, as well as by making crops unsafe for consumption. Pollutants also directly harm organisms that live in soil and make it more fertile.
And of course soil contaminated with dangerous elements (for example, arsenic, lead, and cadmium), organic chemicals like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) or pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics or endocrine disruptors pose serious risks to human health.
By far, most soil pollution is due to human activities. Industrial activities including mining, smelting and manufacturing; domestic, livestock and municipal wastes; pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers used in agriculture; petroleum-derived products that are released into or break-down in the environment; fumes generated by transportation — all contribute to the problem.
So-called "emerging pollutants" are also a growing concern. These include pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, hormones and biological pollutants; "e-waste" from old electronics; and the plastics that are nowadays used in almost every human endeavour.
(Almost no science on the fate of plastics in soils exists, observes Hidden Reality, while most e-waste continues to be disposed of in landfills rather than recycled.)
* A few noteworthy facts and figures from that research include:
Production of chemicals grown rapidly in recent decades and is projected to increase annually by 3.4 percent until 2030. Non-OECD countries will be much greater contributors in the future.
In 2015, the European chemical industry produced 319 million tonnes of chemicals. Of these, 117 million tonnes (MT) were deemed hazardous to the environment.
Global production of municipal solid waste was around 1.3 billion tonnes per year in 2012; it is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes annually by 2025.
In many world regions, levels of persistent organic pollutants in human milk are significantly above those considered safe, with a higher incidence in India and in some European and African countries.
A number of low and middle-income countries have notably increased their use of pesticides over the last decade. Bangladesh, for example, did so by four times, Rwanda and Ethiopia by over six times, and the Sudan by ten times.
Global manure production increased 66 percent between 1961 and 2016. Manure can contain high amounts of heavy metals, pathogen organisms and antibiotics.
Soils near roads have high levels of heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and other pollutants, posing a threat when food production occurs in adjacent areas or grazing on roadside soils takes place.
Approximately 110 million mines or other unexploded pieces of ordnance are scattered across 64 countries on all continents, remnants of wars that can have deadly consequences for farmers and which can release heavy metals through weathering.
Almost all soil in the northern hemisphere contains radionuclides in higher concentrations than the background level — even in remote areas, as a result of fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and radiological events like the Chernobyl accident. http://bit.ly/2jGSvyr
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