Each week we share the top sustainability news stories from around the world. Here’s this week’s round up:
This week we explore rare metals and the need for them to be recycled, how regeneration of forests is paying off in parts of the world, and how the Cop26 summit later this year could be a game changer for global net zero targets.
Experts Call for Mandatory Recycling of Products Containing Rare Metals:
Concern is growing over the future supply of rare earth elements and materials that are vital for the production of low-carbon technology. Elements like indium, yttrium, neodymium, cobalt and lithium are all elements that are helping drive activities like the electrification of vehicles, and creation of fluorescent lighting. However, many are being thrown away because of the lack of a requirement to recycle them, according to industry experts. This concern is only growing as the switch to green technology will only intensify during the race to net zero by 2050.
A recent report from Cewaste, a two-year project funded by the EU as part of its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, indicated that tougher rules must be enacted on recycling of critical raw materials. Other more common metals like copper, iron and sometimes platinum are frequently recycled. However, because rare metals are used in smaller quantities and are frequently recycled and EU regulatory targets are based on weight and volume, recyclers deem them too expensive to try and recover and have little incentive to seek out the metals despite their value.
Because of the uncertainties over the future supply of such materials and rapidly increasing demand, prices of rare metals could increase drastically and prove highly disruptive to creating a green economy. The International Energy Agency recently calculated that if the world is to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, demand for critical and rare minerals will be 6 times higher than today within 20 years. Lithium alone, which is commonly used for electric cars and phones will see its demand increase 40 times in the same time frame.
Forest the Size of France Regrown Worldwide Over 20 Years, Study Finds:
In some places, the idea of regeneration is paying off. An area of forest the size of France has regrown around the world over the past 20 years according to research. Nearly 59m hectares of forests have regrown in the past 2 decades according to research conducted. This provides the potential to soak up and store 5.9 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the annual emissions of the entire US.
While this is good news, the world is still experiencing an overall loss of forests at a much higher rate than current restoration schemes. Over the same period approximately 386m hectares of tree cover were lost worldwide during the same period, around seven times the area of regenerated forest.
William Baldwin-Cantello, director of nature-based solutions at WWF who commissioned the study stated that, “we’ve known for a long time that natural forest regeneration is often cheaper, richer in carbon and better for biodiversity than actively planted forests, and this research tells us where and why regeneration is happening and how we can recreate those conditions elsewhere. But we can’t take this regeneration for granted, deforestation still claims millions of hectares every year, vastly more than is regenerated.”
“Last Hope” over climate crisis requires end to coal, says Cop26 president
Alok Sharma, a former UK business secretary and now president-designate of Cop26 to be held in Glasgow this November has released a statement ahead of the climate summit regarding the need to end coal and embrace renewable energy. The Cop26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference with nations all around the world expected to commit to enhanced climate ambitions from 5 years prior.
In his speech, Sharma singled out coal as “a personal priority” and said he was working with governments and through international organisations to end the financing of fossil fuel. He states “If we are serious about 1.5C, Glasgow must be the Cop that consigns coal to history, the coal business, as the UN secretary-general has said, going up in smoke. It’s old technology”. Increased coal use after recent Covid-19 lockdowns around the world has been blamed by the International Energy Agency for rapidly rising carbon and methane emissions. Experts predict this year will be the second biggest leap in yearly emissions on record.
The UK, which is hosting this event, has come under fire as well over its perceived mismatch between the prime minister’s pledges on climate action and the policies in place. This has also been seen with other nations such as Russia who have stated that they are doing more to reach carbon targets but not actually changing much in policy. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, will ask other rich countries at the G7 meeting next month to provide much more financial assistance to poor countries to help them cut their emissions and cope with the impacts of climate breakdown as they are generally the most vulnerable countries with regards to climate change.
Tune in next week for another round of sustainability news from around the world.