Blog

Your Weekly Sustainability News Roundup

Each week we share the top sustainability news stories from around the world. Here’s this week’s round-up:

This week we explore how carbon-storing peatlands in Ireland and across the world are drying out and the consequences of this, an anti-logging protest that has been going on in western Canada and a liquid natural gas project in western Ireland.

Carbon storing Peatlands are Drying Out:

Peatlands such as fens, bogs, marshes and swamps around the world are running out of water, and the amount of greenhouse gases this could set loose could be detrimental to our efforts to halt climate change. New research in Nature Climate Change found that drying peatlands could release an additional 860 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, by 2100. To put this into perspective, Australia emitted 539 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019.

When peat isn’t covered by water, it could be exposed to enough oxygen to fuel aerobic microbes living within, which allows them to grow extremely fast and release carbon dioxide into the air. Some peatlands are also a natural source of methane gas which is a more potent greenhouse gas but has a much shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide. However, generating methane actually requires the opposite conditions to generating carbon dioxide. Methane is more frequently released in water-saturated conditions, while carbon dioxide emissions are mostly in unsaturated conditions. This means that if our peatlands are getting drier, we would have an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, but a reduction in methane emissions.

While peatlands cover just 3% of Earth’s total land surface, they store over one-third of the planet’s soil carbon. In Ireland, over 16% of the land is covered in peatlands, that's 134 million hectares. Bogs specifically makeup 5% of the Irish landscape and are home to many rare plants and animals. Last year, Bord na Móna began the phasing out of peat extraction from bogs and will continue on for the next few years among other restoration projects. The Irish government has given over €100 million in funding for peatland conservation projects.

Anti Logging Protesters Arrested In Canada:

Police in western Canada have arrested more than 270 people as a conflict over old-growth logging in British Columbia’s ancient rainforests continues to grow. At the protest blockades in the remote woodland, hundreds of activists have been chaining themselves to giant tripods made from the trunks of felled trees, suspending themselves in trees for days or more at a time. The movement is an attempt to pressure the British Columbia government to halt the cutting of what activists and experts say is the last 3% of ancient trees left standing in the province.

The BC government has promised to defer logging for two years in two of the five areas that blockaders are trying to protect, but the activists don’t believe this is enough to ensure that rare and ancient old-growth ecosystems were permanently protected. The deferral was requested by the elected leadership of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, which say they want to take back control over how their traditional territories are managed. In a joint statement, three chiefs of the First Nations said they would use the deferral to develop their own forest stewardship strategies.

The Pacheedaht has previously had a revenue-sharing agreement with the logging company Teal-Jones Group. Outside of the deferral zones, logging activities are expected to continue along with protests. Solidarity protests have popped up around the country as well with high profile Canadians including former prime minister Brian Mulroney getting involved as well.

Shannon LNG Project Seeking Planning Permission:

Developers of the controversial Shannon LNG (liquid natural gas) are reapplying for planning permission for the construction of the Shannon Liquified Natural Gas Terminal on the Shannon Estuary in the southwestern part of Ireland. The terminal was initially given ten-year planning permission back in March 2008, however, it still hasn’t been completed. In 2018 An Bord Pleanala granted it a five-year extension in 2018 in order to allow for its completion. Activist group “Friends of the Irish Environment” challenged the extension and argued that both the Irish state and the European Union did not conduct independent sustainability, climate and cost-benefit analyses of the terminal before it was added to the European Union’s Forth Project of Common Interest.

Liquid natural gas is a fossil fuel. Through injecting sand, pressurised water and various chemicals into shale rock, gas is then forced out of the ground and up to the surface. A number of studies have linked it to health issues, earth tremors and carbon and methane emissions. Proponents of fracked gas argue that the fuel itself emits less carbon dioxide compared to oil or coal when burned, and therefore argue it could work as a “bridge fuel” as energy systems transition to renewables. However, a 2019 report from Oil Change International disputed the claim and called it a “bridge to climate disaster”.

Alongside health and local environmental impacts, methane leaks throughout the extraction and production of LNG. While methane emissions have a much shorter lifespan in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, it’s estimated warming potential is much higher in the short term. The United Nations recently highlighted that reducing methane in the atmosphere would rapidly reduce the rate of temperature increase globally given its short lifespan.

Tune in next week for another round of sustainability news from around the world.