In a Victory for the Environment Germany Bans Single-Use Plastic and Styrofoam

Germany is making major strides towards trying to practice what she preaches in terms of environmentalism.

The country announcement yesterday that it will be implementing a ban on the sale of a multitude of single-use and disposable items in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic and polystyrene waste in the environment.

This includes things like plastic straws, polystyrene cups and boxes (think Cup-O-Noodles), single-use cutlery, plates, and stirring sticks.

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German Environmental Minister Schulze said the move was part of an effort to move away from “throw-away culture,” according to AP.

The government’s ban will go into effect next year on July 3, 2021.

The new plan also legislates the closure by 2022 of eight brown-coal operations—mostly located in economically depressed regions—as the number of jobs in renewable energy, which already generates 50% of Germany’s power, increase in those regions.

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(Photo by Swansea University)

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Unemployed Single Women Are Saving Fish and Making Money by Farming Sea Sponges

This article was reprinted with permission from World At Large—a news website which covers politics, nature, science, health, and travel.

In an area characterized by poverty, overexploitation of sea resources, and high rates of unemployment, these women from Zanzibar are beginning to farm sea sponges as a more reliable source of income.

Organized by Marine Cultures, a small Zanzibar-focused nonprofit headquartered in Zurich, 3 to 4 sea sponge farms are being launched every year to help unemployed and single mothers support their families.

Historically relying on seaweed for income, the people of Jambiani have been unable to rely on the trade because of disruptions in production from diseases and pests, and the crop’s low market price worldwide.

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Marine Cultures’s Christian Vaterlaus recently detailed how sponge farming became the primary idea for saving the livelihoods of these seaweed farmers in an article published in PANORAMA: a platform hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for nonprofits and other organizations to host solutions that benefit the natural world.

Trial and error

“When searching for alternative means of income, many aspects such as the know-how of the parties involved, eco-friendliness, market opportunities, investment requirements, general acceptance of the method, scalability, and availability of resources need to be considered,” wrote Vaterlaus. However, “aquaculture of sponges was identified to be a suitable alternative to seaweed farming promising substantially higher incomes.”

A research trip to Southeast Asia and the Pacific yielded this idea after the group witnessed an organization working with community members to farm sea sponges and invertebrates with materials and methods that were both sustainable and very cheap.

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Sea sponges are used around the world as shower luffas and sustainable methods for removing makeup and paint. Since the sponges are anti-allergenic, dermatologists often recommend them for washing infants or for those with sensitive skin.

After Marine Cultures opened up their first sea sponge farm in Zanzibar back in 2009, they started testing more than 120 species of sponges to find one that was not only suitable for use in the bath, but also sustainable and environmentally harmless.

“We had to invest a lot of time to figure out best farming methods,” writes Vaterlaus.

Photo by Marine Cultures

Acquaculturalist’s almanac

Since their sponge farming operation was slow to get off the ground, Marine Cultures also started coral farming for the international aquarium trade in 2014.

Vaterlaus says that aquaculture practices—such as sea sponge farming—is “like land-based agriculture where years of experience and trial and error are key to shape best practices.” That being said, the hard work can certainly pay off; one single farm can feed 2 to 3 large families while 3 new farms can be launched each year.

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In contrast to pearl or fish farming, a sponge farm can be started with little to no effort while simultaneously empowering local women to learn the skills of a fisherman, marine biologist, merchant, entrepreneur, swimmer, and farmer all at once.

“To save the created jobs in the long-term, the coastal communities of Zanzibar have to learn more about the sea, the importance of corals, sea grass, mangroves and biodiversity to manage their natural marine resources themselves sustainably,” added Vaterlaus.

Photo by Marine Cultures

Sponge farming 2020

A Marine Cultures update published in February 2020 says the sponge farming operations are going well. The older sponge farms managed by some of the Jambiani women are producing more sponges these days than in previous years, as ecological conditions improve and knowledge is shared among participants.

Shemsa is just one of the Zanzibar women who have found success in sea sponge farming. She told Marine Cultures: “We’ve always lived in the lagoon with sponges—but only now have we learned how they help us to improve our lives and those of our children.

“Sometimes something is very close to us without us knowing how to make money with it,” she added. “Thanks to my training as a sponge farmer, I can feed my family, build my own house and have electricity. We may never achieve all of our goals, but I have already achieved half of mine.”

Reprinted with permission from World at Large

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India’s Annual Carbon Emissions Fall for the First Time in Four Decades

With a population of 1.2 billion people, any news of renewable energy success in India is a cause for celebration. One would undoubtedly expect to see decreasing carbon emissions due to widespread travel reductions due to COVID-19 prevention measures, but a further analysis shows us that coronavirus doesn’t get to take all the credit, and the unholy trinity of oil, coal and gas seems to be on the downward slide.

In a report from carbonbrief.org, daily statistics on energy consumption and power plant activities demonstrate that India’s total year–over–year emissions has, for the first time in 4 decades, fallen.

The country’s CO2 emissions fell by 15% in March, and 30% in April, in what could primarily be attributed to COVID-19 measures. However for 12 months, the rate at which Indians were demanding more power slowed drastically, and it was the March shutdowns that capped the new growth of power generation from oil, coal and gas below zero for the first 12-month period in 30 years (falling 1%).

Moreover, in March, when coal-fired power generation fell by 15% it was married with a 6.7% increase in use of renewable energy. These were also joined by a year-by-year fall in total coal deliveries, both imported and domestic—the first of such demand drops in 20 years.

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This was despite the fact that more coal was mined in India this fiscal year than last year, indicating that the slowdown is not due to limited supply but a milder demand for coal as an energy source.

Production for other fossil fuel energy sources is also falling, with fiscal year 2019-20 seeing a drop in crude oil production of 5.9% and natural gas of 5.2%.

Twilight of Indian Coal?

Good News Network has reported extensively already this year about such market forces pushing coal use, and in some cases oil use, to the point of complete and total unprofitability—not just in countries like Sweden, but in the U.S. India, and China.

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Coal is becoming less and less profitable in India, and a recent energy contract auction—used by public sector planners to encourage private energy development, investment, and production—secured 2,000 megawatts per hour of solar energy at a price of $34 per hour. In contrast, oil over the same time period, when the contract was awarded, was costing $45 per hour.

According to a report from Carbon Tracker entitled “How to Waste Half a Trillion Dollars” economists warn that half a trillion in coal-plant investments around the world are at risk of becoming so unprofitable in the future as to totally impair the repayment of any investment dollars, as it is already 50% more expensive to operate an Indian coal-fired power plant than renewable sources. This number will rise to 100% by 2030.

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India recently began setting records for cleaner air, and now it seems the country is leaping on the opportunity to keep it going.

This is just one of many inspiring stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Pakistan Hires Thousands of Newly-Unemployed Laborers for Ambitious 10 Billion Tree-Planting Initiative

Although the novel coronavirus pandemic has driven thousands of workers into unemployment, the Pakistani government has found a way to provide jobs to their citizens while also reforesting the nation.

According to Reuters, Pakistan has created more than 63,000 jobs for unemployed day laborers by relaunching the nation’s ambitious 10 Billion Tree Tsunami campaign.

The 5-year initiative, which was started by Prime Minister Imran Khan back in 2018, was temporarily shut down in mid-March as a result of the country’s quarantine. With thousands of agricultural workers facing unemployment amidst the lockdowns, however, the program was relaunched earlier this month.

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The laborers, who are still required to wear face masks and respect social distancing guidelines, are now being given daily living wages as “jungle workers” planting saplings and protecting the trees from fires and illegal logging. The Pakistani government has reportedly been planting the majority of these trees in rural, low-income areas where locals can benefit from the work.

The nation’s environmental ministers go on to say they hope to hire three times as many workers as last year in order to meet their goal of planting 20 million saplings by the end of 2020, bringing the project’s total to 50 million trees.

This is not the first time that the nation has made headlines for planting trees; the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami is a continuation of another extensive tree-planting government effort which resulted in more than 300,000 new jobs and millions of saplings planted across the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province back in 2017.

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Now Malik Amin Aslam, who is the climate change adviser for the prime minister, told Reuters that legislators hope to continue using the pandemic as a tool to ramp up their efforts against climate change.

“This tragic crisis provided an opportunity and we grabbed it,” Aslam told the news outlet in a phone interview. “Nurturing nature has come to the economic rescue of thousands of people.”

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

File photo by Junaid Ali, CC

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Exciting New Data Says Renewables Accounted for Almost Three Quarters of New Energy Capacity in 2019

In an exciting reported victory for sustainability, new renewable power accounted for a whopping 72% of all global power expansion in 2019.

According to new data released last week by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the renewable energy sector added 176 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity globally in 2019, although this was notably lower than the (revised) 179 GW added in 2018.

However, IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2020 shows that renewables expanded by 7.6% last year with Asia dominating growth and accounting for 54% of total additions. While expansion of renewables slowed last year, total renewable power growth outpaced fossil fuel growth by a factor of 2.6, continuing the dominance of renewables in power expansion first established in 2012. Solar and wind contributed 90% of total renewable capacity added in 2019.

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“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility, supports economic stability and stimulates sustainable growth,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “With renewable additions providing the majority of new capacity last year, it is clear that many countries and regions recognize the degree to which the energy transition can deliver positive outcomes.

“While the trajectory is positive, more is required to put global energy on a path with sustainable development and climate mitigation—both of which offer significant economic benefits,” continued Mr. La Camera. “At this challenging time, we are reminded of the importance of building resilience into our economies. In what must be the decade of action, enabling policies are needed to increase investments and accelerate renewables adoption.”

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Renewables accounted for at least 70% of total capacity expansion in almost all regions in 2019, other than in Africa and the Middle East, where they represented 52% and 26% of net additions respectively.

The additions took the renewable share of all global power capacity to 34.7%, up from 33.3% at the end of 2018. Non-renewable capacity expansion globally followed long-term trends in 2019, with net growth in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and net decommissioning in Europe and North America.

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Solar added 98 GW in 2019, 60% of which was in Asia. Wind energy expanded by close to 60 GW led by growth in China (26 GW) and the United States (9 GW). The two technologies now generate 623 GW and 586 GW respectively—close to half of global renewable capacity. Hydropower, bioenergy, geothermal and marine energy displayed modest year on year expansion of 12 GW, 6 GW, 700 MW, and 500 MW respectively.

Asia was responsible for over half of new installations despite expanding at a slightly slower pace than in 2018. Growth in Europe and North America increased year on year. Africa added 2 GW of renewable capacity in 2019, half of the 4 GW it installed in 2018.

Want to learn more? Read the “Highlights of the key findings” or the full IRENA report.

Reprinted from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

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Newly-Developed Enzyme That Breaks Down Plastic Bottles in Hours is On Track to Change the Recycling Game

Utilizing an enzyme found within composted leaves, scientists are now breaking down plastic all the way into a recyclable form in a matter of hours.

Carbios, the French company responsible for the breakthrough, is already collaborating with Pepsi and L’Oréal to unleash industrial market-scale production of the new substance within five years.

“We are the first company to bring this technology on the market,” the deputy chief executive at Carbios, Martin Stephan, told The Guardian. “Our goal is to be up and running by 2024–2025, at large industrial scale.”

Their discovery, which sources described as a major advance, joins an arsenal of solutions for plastic pollution control that have appeared over the last decade.

Just like Boyan Slat who took on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the bracelet folks at 4Ocean who took on the problem of ocean pollution in rivers, the scientists from the University of Toulouse are applying their breakthrough to another part of the problem—the recycling of plastic.

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Plastic isn’t straightforward to recycle. There are common varieties of plastic made from multiple layers of different esters, each one requiring different equipment or temperature to breakdown. And, there are a lot of plastic esters that could be recycled but aren’t because the market value for the recycled material is so low it can’t financially sustain the operation.

In the scientist’s paper published in Nature, they detail how poly(ethylene terephthalate) PET, the most common polyester plastic, loses much of its mechanical utility when heated for recycling. Therefore, creating new material is preferred, and PET waste continues to accumulate.

Their new enzyme achieves a minimum of 90% de-polymerization in just 10 hours, meaning that the polymers—large complex particles, become monomers—small single particles in less than a day, and perhaps even more amazing, end up as biologically depolymerized plastic that can actually be reused to create things like plastic bottles.

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While manufacturing plastic bottles from recycled PET made by this enzyme would cost about 4% of the amount needed to make new bottles from fresh petroleum, the recycling infrastructure, including the grounding up and heating of the plastic bottles before the enzyme is added would still make it more expensive in the end.

Nevertheless, the future is bright for this technology. Co-enzymes could be synthesized, companies could produce more inexpensive recycling infrastructure—both of which could finally bring down the cost of producing recycled plastic goods.

Carbios has also begun tackling the normally unrecyclable plastic film problem. In an alliance with several other European companies under the name Carbiolice, they demonstrated a plastic film last year that can be compostable in home or municipal compost piles. Their objective will be to address the markets of plastic films and single-use bags—and later on, rigid packaging and disposable tableware.

“These milestones reinforce our ambition to offer the market circular economy solutions that are both competitive and eco-friendly, and which will revolutionize the end of life for plastics and textiles.”

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Free Market Forces Will Obliterate Global Coal Reliance Within 10 Years, Says Study

Contrary to the image of greedy fossil fuel billionaires lobbying politicians for favors, it is now the free market, not world governments, that are doing the most to advance the use of clean renewable energy.

In the most basic sense, it is no longer a lucrative business path to invest in carbon emission-heavy sources. Today, investing in coal projects is more expensive—across all world energy markets—than renewables. In as little as 10 years, it will be cheaper to build renewables than to run coal power resources, much less build new ones.

How much more expensive? Right now, the report estimates that the cost of operating and investing in coal—not in Europe, but in the U.S., India, and China—is about 50% more expensive than renewables. By 2030, that number doubles to 100% assuming market forces remain constant rather than intensify, which they are likely to do.

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“The market is driving the low-carbon energy transition, but governments aren’t listening,” writes Matt Gray, co-head of power and utilities for Carbon Tracker, and co-author of a new global economic report about coal investments entitled “How to Waste Half a Trillion Dollars.”

“Renewables are outcompeting coal around the world and proposed coal investments risk becoming stranded assets which could lock in high-cost coal power for decades.”

Indeed, the number of countries in which it is cheaper in invest and operate renewable energy assets could make someone optimistic about the future since most underdeveloped Asian energy markets, as well as the three biggest coal consumers on earth, would all save money switching to renewables, according to this helpful infographic from the report.

However, many of these countries still have nationally-planned coal power projects either in early investment stages, or already in production.

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As repeatedly demonstrated by the national debt of the US government, a stranded asset is manageable for most nations, but insufferable for a private firm that is unable to borrow more dollars every year than they invest.

It is an economic term for an asset—like a coal plant—which will cease to generate returns even before the end of its economic life. These carbon-heavy facilities not only have a slow rate of return and open the door for market competition from renewables, they also are becoming more expensive to invest in, build, and operate, than they are to make returns for those investors.

That is partially why free market economic forces are working where many governments are failing; it costs a lot of money to build electricity-generating resources, and since banks and financial institutions are the largest funders of energy projects, they simply aren’t willing to finance coal power projects, choosing instead to invest in solar and wind resources.

Vietnam: a Greenhouse Government

The government of Vietnam is currently considering backing away from 15 gigawatts of proposed coal power as financial constraints make it a harder to build new plants, which it wants to do in order to increase economic development.

The proposed projects would allocate 50% of energy production to coal-fired plants, but an end to the deal would see it drop to 37%, with others like hydroelectric and gas remaining stable, and renewable energy swooping in to cheaply meet the demand and fill the gap in supply.

Much of the nation’s energy projects are funded by investors in other coal-fired East Asian nations like Japan and South Korea, as well as powerhouse lender Singapore. After a recent aligning of principles with EU nations to restrict coal financing, however, many coal projects in Vietnam will be left stagnating with the government’s only options being to either finish the projects with taxpayer money or listen to market forces and move into cleaner energy production.

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On the other hand, private sector giants like Sir Christopher Hohn, who is the billionaire hedge fund manager and co-founder of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), threatened to sue British banks Barclays, Standard Chartered, and HSBC over the financing of new coal projects.

“Coal is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions globally and the risks of its continued use in the power sector are not being adequately addressed by regulators and the financial system,” he said in a statement on the CIFF website.

Irresistible Market Forces

A high price of carbon and significant investment in renewable energy has created a very unfriendly market for coal in the EU, while “How to Waste Half a Trillion Dollars” finds that today, even big coal consumers like China, India, and the U.S. are on the right path and “not far behind” the EU in terms of renewable energy investments.

“The report finds that market forces will drive coal power out of existence in deregulated markets, where renewable energy developers will take advantage of the growing price gap,” reads the report summary on Carbon Tracker’s website. Across the world, 6,700 coal plants produce 2,045 gigawatts of energy, and another 1,000 or so accounting for another 500gw are in early stages of production or investment.

As the cost of investment, production, and operation of coal plants continues to increase as market forces push investors further and further towards renewables, hundreds of billions of dollars in energy markets the world over will become available at a lower cost, and coal could become twice as expensive, and begin to rapidly vanish—even in large coal-consuming countries like China and India, within just 20 years.

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A report from Reuters found that coal power generation fell worldwide by 3% in 2019, while wind and solar power contributed 270 more terawatts, or an additional 15%, to grids. The research went on to illustrate how this growth would be needed every year for 15 years in order to meet the Paris Agreement targets. The power generation would have to continue to fall from 3% to 11% to prevent 1.5 degrees celsius of warming—the rough estimate of wiggle room needed to avoid the worst effects of global climate change.

Money talks—and if coal production will rise from from 50% to 100% in the U.S., India, and 60% to 100% in China, in just ten years, it means that far from unlimited growth targets being met for investors, coal barons will have to cope with a 5% yearly rise in capital requirements, as well as any future blows coal might be forced to absorb such as carbon taxes, coal embargoes, and other brutish legislative measures.

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Happy 60th Birthday to Madagascar! World’s Most Biodiverse Island Gets Gift of 60 Million Trees

To celebrate its 60th birthday, the nation of Madagascar held its largest ever tree-planting ceremony, with a million seedlings going into the ground in just a few hours after the speeches concluded. The country is preparing to plant a million trees for each year of its six decade history.

“The government has the challenge of making Madagascar a green island again. I encourage the people to protect the environment and reforest for the benefit of the future generations,” said President Andy Rajoelina at the January launch event in Ankazobe district, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the capital, Antananarivo.

According to two Madagascar writers published at Mongabay, the highly-publicized campaign comes one year after Rajoelina’s election on a platform that promised to “Make  Madagascar green again.” It is the culmination of months of hard work by many organizations amassing around 100 million seeds to place into cultivated nursery beds—with schools, NGOs, government ministries, and even the army lending a helping hand.

Some officials supporting the project worry there won’t be enough follow-up to ensure the trees make it to adulthood, but Madagascar’s environment minister vowed to provide support.

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“This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up,” said Alexandre Georget. “The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants.”

This is the world’s oldest island and a country of unparalleled biodiversity, but it is often scored as one of the worst nations for deforestation, with 40% of its forest cover lost since 1940. Most rural populations can’t make money from the incredibly unique forest ecosystem, so the trees are the first to go, when islanders need to make a living.

– Lemur, Mobile Library Project

That’s one of the reasons the environmental ministry and partners are planting trees that bear fruit and spices which can be harvested for export.

Recent movements turned to education, government protections of land, and the training of rural communities to regard themselves as forest protectors, which have all helped slow the decline of forests and exotic wildlife populations like the 100 species of lemur that are found only on this island.

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But rigorous reforestation is also needed to support these exotic creatures, so the country is stepping up. It is including some fast-growing non-native species which do pose a risk to the high bio-diversity of flora in the region, but also could go a long way towards achieving a financially stable relationship between the trees and the Malagasy who live under them.

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What Can One Person Do in 10 Years? This Man Planted 152 Million Mangrove Trees

“Here we have a burgeoning (mangrove) leaf. You take it and you plant the lower third in the mud, and then you take 2 steps—one, two, and then you plant another one,” said the retired politician, with a smile ear to ear, as he wades in the murky coastal waters of Senegal’s Casamance Delta.

Planting since 2009, Haidar el Ali’s efforts have produced one of the most stunning successes in the history of modern large-scale reforestation—the restoration of an entire Senegalese mangrove swamp.

Forests are one of the most resilient habitats on our planet while also being one of the most exploited. Ever since the scientific community began to encourage the planting of trees to ‘re-wild’ previously lost forest ecosystems to respond to climate change, some very determined members of the human race have rolled up their sleeves and produced remarkable results.

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As Senegal’s former Minister of Ecology (and later Fisheries), the 67-year-old was able to rally citizens from the local coastal population to help him plant 152 million mangrove buds by hand, and it created a truly beautiful coastal mangrove forest stretching hundreds of square miles—one of the largest of its kind in the world.

A Paradise for Crabs—and Environmental Ministers

Recently, Jean Francois Bastin et al. estimated that 2.4 billion acres of additional forest cover on the earth (1B hectares) would suck 25% of all the carbon currently being pumped into the atmosphere. Science like this was in large part responsible for the World Economic Forum’s launch of the Trillion Trees vision.

Because they store immense amounts of carbon in their submerged root systems, mangroves and other bodies of coastal vegetation are some of our planet’s most important ecosystems. They help filter river mud runoff from entering the sea, while absorbing the brunt of tidal waves and tsunamis. And they also provide some of the most valuable habitat for near-shore wildlife including birds, insects, invertebrates, crustaceans, reptiles, fish, and even monkeys.

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In a video interview with BBC, Haidar described how the original mangrove forest in Southern Senegal was disrupted in the 80s and 90s as the nation began to build roads which diverted or ended the flow of rivers. “At the time there were no environmental impact studies, of course.”

2008 photo of Haidar by Serigne Diagne, CC license

Next came the lumbermen who clear-cut the coastal mangroves. It wasn’t, as Haidar explains, until the salt from the sea water entering the delta poisoned the nearby rice fields that people began to think about replacing what had been lost.

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Though nearing his seventh decade of life, Haidar swims butterfly stroke through the water-borne forest of his and his colleagues’ making, pointing out the presence of returning wildlife as a boon to the local economy.

“The mangrove is a fantastic ecosystem that attracts rain—and it is well known scientifically that this mud captures methane, and that these leaves capture CO2,” he explains.

“I take a lot of satisfaction from this. I’m ready to do it every day, all evening, all my life.”

(WATCH the heartwarming BBC video below… [NOTE: BBC only has video, no full article)

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Wales is Building a National Forest That Will Span the Length and Breadth of the Country

As a particularly mystical part of Great Britain that is home to a rich collection of folkloric fables (they even have a dragon on their flag), Wales is exactly the place you’d want to go if you were looking to find an enchanted woodland.

Now, a new initiative led by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is set to turn a large part of Wales back into the kind of magical place described in their beloved history.

The Welsh government is now working to plant a national forest that would run the length and breadth of the land, connecting existing protected woodland environments with large scale tree-planting projects meant to restore natural Wales and fight climate change.

“We have a responsibility to future generations to protect nature from the dangers of our changing climate, but a healthy natural environment will also offer protection to our communities from the dangers we ourselves face,” Drakeford said.

Additionally, ancient hardwood forests of Europe provide other valuable ecosystem services like the storing of carbon from the atmosphere in their roots. These deep root systems also secure the soil and prevent erosion which can degrade local waterways and shorelines.

The forests will also provide habitat for endangered iconic Welsh animals, like the black grouse, Scottish wildcat, red squirrel, and the magnificent capercaillie.

Capercaillie by David Palmer, CC license

“The National Forest will be a Wales-wide asset, and communities across the country will be able to take part,” said Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn.

The inspiration for the project was drawn from a hiking trail that attracts millions of tourists every year called the Wales Coast Path—and the maps will be drawn up over the coming months by businesses, landowners, and other interested parties.

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£5 million ($5.7 million) has been allocated to complete the project, while another £10 million will go towards accompanied tree-planting programs through the Glastir farm grants program.

The Glastir Grants are one of a number of pieces of legislation meant to put a stop to diminishing natural wilderness, resources, and wildlife in the country while also attempting to modernize the agricultural sector in the face of a changing climate.

Farmers can apply for Glastir grants if they undertake tree-planting operations, or projects that prevent flooding, secure and regenerate soil quality or wildlife, or improve the farming and husbandry standards for domesticated animals and plants—and even when they restore heritage tourism opportunities.

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File photo by Chris Downer, CC

Getting Underway

Mr. Drakeford visited Gnoll Country Park in Neath, where the UK’s Woodland Trust is currently creating the largest new woodland in the charity’s history called the Brynau Wood, saying it will be an “amazing place for people to enjoy healthy outdoor exercise” as well as a mark towards a “healthier, more resilient environment”.

This is just one of a handful of large-scale projects aimed at restoring or protecting Welsh wilderness. Last week, work began on planting 1 million seagrass seeds off the Welsh coast in order to restore Welsh seagrass beds—a coastal marine plant that soaks up many times more carbon than trees.

“While the plan to create a National Forest for Wales is a Welsh government initiative, the Woodland Trust is very much in support of this,” Rory Francis, Communications Officer at Woodland Trust told GNN. “We were actually working to promote the idea even before the Welsh government and the First Minister personally, adopted the idea.”

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Brynau Wood is not Woodland Trust’s first foray into Welsh forests. In 2016 they purchased one of the country’s oldest woodlands, the Coed Felinrhyd rainforest in Snowdonia, an ancient oak forest dating from the last ice age and named in Mabinogion—the 12th century Welsh mythological story.

Woodland Trust also manages another forest called Coed y Felin, a new native-species woodland where announcement of the project was celebrated on March 12, as an example of what kind of forests will be included in the national forest.

Speaking to BBC, Prof. Mary Gagen, a climate scientist at the University of Swansea said that the national forest project was a genuinely positive announcement.

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“But what’s great is that this project also looks at habitat restoration, at retaining the trees we have at the moment, protecting our ancient forests and connecting areas so wildlife can use them,” she said.

Currently the government plans to start planting at a rate of 4,900 acres a year, increasing quickly to 10,000 acres per year.

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In Just 2 Years, Lithuania Steals The Crown For Best European Recycler By Using an Innovative Return Program

The small country of Lithuania is making big strides towards creating a seamless circular economy where each and every water bottle and aluminum tuna can is recycled and turned into an identical successor.

And, in two years they already have a recycling rate for plastic packaging of 74%—the highest of any European country, and 44% higher than the EU average.

They also reached a milestone of 91.9% for all bottles and cans after the introduction of a deposit-refund scheme for plastic, aluminum, and glass food and beverage containers—and the program is remarkably simple.

When the consumer buys a product packaged in a returnable recyclable container, they pay a €0.10 tax which is held in trust until the consumer returns the packaging to a special reverse-vending machine, whereupon the ten cents is repaid.

Any store that chooses to sell grocery items in designated recyclable containers are provided with reverse vending machines to place either inside the store or outdoors. Consumers are paid in vouchers that can be redeemed in store as cash or credit toward their shopping bill, which brings additional foot traffic into stores.

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The return rate for beverage containers reached a whopping 91.9% by the end of 2017.

USAD, the Lithuanian non-profit that designed the system, set a goal for a 55% return rate in 2016 but managed to reach 74.3% by the end of only one year—and people were mostly pleased with the system by the closing of 2017.

According to the European Union’s Circular Economy platform, 97% of the country’s consumers were satisfied with the deposit-return system, which has since collected over 2 billion returns and 56,000 tons of material since its deployment in 2016, a figure of mass equal to 6 Eiffel Towers.

File photo by Mr. Tin DC, CC

“We feel an obligation to take care of our country, society and nature. That is why we wanted to design a deposit return system that would work as well as possible for citizens, producers, importers and traders,” states Saulius Galadauskas, Chairman of USAD as well as Head of the Lithuanian Brewers Association.

“We can be proud of our deposit return system, which brings us closer to the Lithuania we want to see—a cleaner, more beautiful and more modern country.”

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India Makes History With All Gas Stations Officially Preparing to Supply World’s Cleanest Fuel

In an ambitious bid to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, India is now ensuring that all diesel and gas stations will only be supplying the cleanest fuel.

Starting on April 1st, India will join the ranks of the few world nations offering Euro-VI grade fuel, which only contains 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur in contrast to the 50 ppm in Euro-IV fuels.

India is reportedly the first country to ever transition directly from IV-grade fuels to VI-grade. Not only that, they managed to achieve the transition in just three years.

According to The Tribune, it took India 7 years to transition from Euro-III grade fuel with a sulphur content of 350 ppm to Euro-IV fuel. Reports also say that most of the nation’s gas stations were already distributing the new ultra-low fuel by the end of 2019.

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“We are absolutely on track for supplying BS-VI fuel from April 1. Almost all refineries have begun supplying BS-VI fuel and the same has reached storage depots across the country,” Sanjiv Singh, Chairman of Indian Oil Corp (IOC), told reporters. “It was a conscious decision to leapfrog to BS-VI as first upgrading to BS-V and then shifting to BS-VI would have prolonged the journey to 4 to 6 years. Besides, oil refineries, as well as automobile manufacturers, would have had to make investments twice—first to producing BS-V grade fuel and engines and then BS-VI ones.”

While the initiative is just one of the many ways that India is trying to keep up with the world’s shift towards renewable energy, the nation reportedly made history last week by becoming the first country to power all of its government-run seaports with solar and wind energy.

The “green port” infrastructure means that 12 of the country’s biggest seaports are exclusively using renewable energy to power their daily operations. Not only that, the ports can use the energy to electrically power ships as they are docked.

File photo by Bernard Gagnon, CC

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CO2 Emissions Stopped Rising Last Year Says IEA, Thanks to Growth in Renewables, Shunning of Coal

An exciting new study calculated that, contrary to expectations, global carbon dioxide emissions did not continue their increase in 2019, but actually flatlined as renewable energy sources, efficiency, and other factors, chipped away at worldwide CO2 levels.

The research, conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and published earlier this week, found that global emissions were unchanged at 33 gigatons in 2019 even as the world economy expanded by 2.9% over 2018.

This was primarily due to declining emissions from electricity generation in advanced economies, thanks to the expanding role of renewable sources (mainly wind and solar), shutting down coal plants, and higher nuclear power generation. Other factors included milder weather in several countries (to require less cooling or heating), and slower economic growth in some emerging markets.

“We now need to work hard to make sure that 2019 is remembered as a definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “We have the energy technologies to do this, and we have to make use of them all. The IEA is building a grand coalition focused on reducing emissions—encompassing governments, companies, investors and everyone with a genuine commitment to tackling our climate challenge.”

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A significant decrease in emissions in advanced economies in 2019 offset continued growth elsewhere. The United States recorded the largest emissions decline on a country basis, with a fall of 140 million tons, or 2.9%. US emissions are now down by almost 1 gigaton from their peak in 2000.

Emissions in the European Union fell by 160 million tons, or 5%, in 2019 driven by reductions in the power sector. Natural gas produced more electricity than coal for the first time ever, meanwhile wind-powered electricity nearly caught up with coal-fired electricity.

Japan’s emissions fell by 45 million tons, or around 4%—the fastest pace of decline since 2009, as output from recently restarted nuclear reactors increased.

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Emissions in the rest of the world grew by close to 400 million tons in 2019, with almost 80% of the increase coming from countries in Asia where coal-fired power generation continued to rise.

Across advanced economies, emissions from the power sector declined to levels last seen in the late 1980s, when electricity demand was one-third lower than today. Coal-fired power generation in advanced economies declined by nearly 15% as a result of growth in renewables, coal-to-gas switching, a rise in nuclear power and weaker electricity demand.

“This welcome halt in emissions growth is grounds for optimism that we can tackle the climate challenge this decade,” said Dr. Birol. “It is evidence that clean energy transitions are underway—and it’s also a signal that we have the opportunity to meaningfully move the needle on emissions through more ambitious policies and investments.”

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The Agency will also hold an IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit in Paris on July 9th, bringing together key government ministers, CEOs, investors and other major stakeholders from around the world to promote and support more real-world solutions.

Reprinted from the International Energy Agency – File photo by TVA Cumberland Power Plant, CC

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British Carbon Tax Leads to Whopping 93% Drop in Coal-Fired Electricity

A tax on carbon dioxide emissions in Great Britain, introduced in 2013, has led to the proportion of electricity generated from coal falling from 40% to 3% over six years, according to research led by University College London (UCL).

British electricity generated from coal fell from 13.1 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2013 to 0.97 TWh in September 2019, and was replaced by other less emission-heavy forms of generation such as gas. The decline in coal generation accelerated substantially after the tax was increased in 2015.

In the report, ‘The Value of International Electricity Trading’, researchers from UCL and the University of Cambridge also showed that the tax—called Carbon Price Support —added on average £39 to British household electricity bills, collecting around £740m for the Treasury, in 2018.

Academics researched how the tax affected electricity flows to connected countries and interconnector (the large cables connecting the countries) revenue between 2015—when the tax was increased to £18 per tonne of carbon dioxide—and 2018. Following this increase, the share of coal-fired electricity generation fell from 28% in 2015 to 5% in 2018, reaching 3% by September 2019.

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Increased electricity imports from the continent reduced the price impact in the UK, and meant that some of the cost was paid through a slight increase in continental electricity prices (mainly in France and the Netherlands).

Project lead Dr Giorgio Castagneto Gissey (Bartlett Institute for Sustainable Resources, UCL) said: “Should EU countries also adopt a high carbon tax, we would likely see huge carbon emission reductions throughout the Continent, as we’ve seen in Great Britain over the last few years.”

Lead author, Professor David Newbery (University of Cambridge), said: “The Carbon Price Support provides a clear signal to our neighbors of its efficacy at reducing CO2 emissions.”

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The Carbon Price Support was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales at a rate of £4.94 per tonne of carbon dioxide-equivalent and is now capped at £18 until 2021.The tax is one part of the Total Carbon Price, which also includes the price of EU Emissions Trading System permits.

Report co-author Bowei Guo (University of Cambridge) said: “The Carbon Price Support has been instrumental in driving coal off the grid, but we show how it also creates distortions to cross-border trade, making a case for EU-wide adoption.”

Professor Michael Grubb (Bartlett Institute for Sustainable Resources, UCL) said: “Great Britain’s electricity transition is a monumental achievement of global interest, and has also demonstrated the power of an effective carbon price in lowering dependence on electricity generated from coal.”

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The overall report on electricity trading also covers the value of EU interconnectors to Great Britain, measures the efficiency of cross-border electricity trading and considers the value of post-Brexit decoupling from EU electricity markets.

The report annex focusing on the Carbon Price Support was produced by UCL to focus on the impact of the tax on British energy bills.

The findings from UCL and the University of Cambridge were part of wider research to examine cross-border electricity trading between Great Britain and connected EU markets, commissioned by energy regulator Ofgem to inform its annual flagship State of the Energy Market report.

Reprinted from University of College London – Photo by Matthew Black, CC

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Revised Farm Payments Will Let UK Farmers Serve the Environment and Public Good

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, an ambitious new piece of agricultural legislation presented in Parliament last week is set to unleash an “agricultural revolution” that aims to restore forests and peatlands, wildlife and pollinator habit.

The lawmakers view the focus on ‘environmental and public goods’ as the best way to reform farm subsidies in the UK and Europe—giving 21st century goals a new seat at the table to replace the outdated EU ones that focus almost entirely on incentivizing production.

Much of this £3 billion ($3.9 billion) in annual UK agriculture spending will be refocused to help farmers take a little time away from food production to pause and focus on improving their ecosystems and the environment at large.

After the destruction Europe endured during World War II, farm subsidies were simple and direct. “It was just about production, it didn’t matter what you did to the environment,” Ian Bateman, an environmental economist at the University of Exeter tells Science Magazine.

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Erik Stokstad writing for Science details how land was being torn up by the plow all over the continent which led to massive soil erosion, and excessive use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides polluted rivers and coastlines.

While that post-WWII model still forms the basis for European farm legislation, the UK’s ambitious new plan aims to financially incentivize farms to provide “public goods” such as the tried and tested “payment for environmental service” (PES) model that has been so successful in countries like Costa Rica.

The new subsidies will be tested in England first, as the UK allows Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to determine their own farm policy.

File photo by Robert Graham, CC

Getting Paid for Being Stewards of the Environment

The Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England plans to prioritize public goods with the new legislation while phasing out existing EU payment programs over 7 years.

The public goods that DEFRA has in mind would include payments for sequestering carbon, replanting forests, and aiding the recovery of pollinator species, likely by utilizing marginal land for planting pollinator-preferred species of flowers. Marginal land, the acreage around the perimeter of a field or paddock, is a prime place for this activity as it doesn’t impact yields, and adds beneficial microbial diversity to the soil while reducing erosion.

According to Stokstad, 33% of the current UK farm subsidies are diverted to activities that benefit local environments and the nation’s climate change goals. As things stand now these include activities like maintaining hedgerows and other habitat which Stokstad writes will be expanded upon.

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Taking the example from certain UK water companies, DEFRA plans to use public auctions where farmers and land managers can bid for government contracts for PES opportunities. The water companies have been auctioning off PES contracts to farmers living and working around their major water sources to develop and manage land in ways that protect them, such as using less-harmful fertilizers and reducing runoff and soil erosion. “The impact has been amazing,” said Bateman.

In parts of England where farming is more difficult, certain producers like cattle and sheep herders rely more on the current form of direct payment subsidies than other farmers, and without them they may choose to move to other forms of production. Keeping this in mind, DEFRA has been looking at all manner of different PES opportunities for areas where ranching and herding are common, such as on moors and peatlands.

On peatlands, the potential for carbon sequestering in the soil is far greater than in forests, and so restoring and growing them, along with enhancing other landscapes and even restoring heritage buildings to help increase tourism, have all been hypothesized for utilization in some of the northern parts of the country.

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The National Farmers Union, the United Kingdom’s biggest agricultural trade group, was concerned about the lack of emphasis placed on farmers to produce. Agreeing with the union, DEFRA will “take regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England,” reads a clause in the final bill.

Satisfied, the trade union described the clause as a “robust starting point” to ensure the well-being of farmers who don’t have as many opportunities for PES on their land.

The rest of the UK, and—according to Alan Mathews, an agricultural economist at Trinity College Dublin—the rest of Europe will be watching closely.

“If it’s successful, that will be a very powerful argument for the Europeans to follow,” said Mathews.

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Thousands of Aussies Are Heartened by Photos of Charred Landscapes Already Recovering From Bushfires

Thousands of Australians are being heartened by these striking photos of greenery and plant life growing out of an area that was left charred and blackened by the bushfires last month.

The pictures were taken by Australian photographer Murray Lowe in the Kulnura area of the Central Coast in New South Wales.

“Ventured out into the fire grounds today to capture some images of how the Aussie bush responds to fire, and the way it regenerates itself and comes back to life,” Lowe wrote in a Facebook post. “Even without any rain, life bursts through the burnt bark from the heart of the trees and the life cycle begins again.

“It’s so heartening to see the bush coming back to life again,” he added.

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One Facebook user thanked Lowe for the photos, saying: “I think everyone is so happy to see your beautiful photos showing something positive after weeks of heartache—it gives us hope.”

Another commenter wrote: “Thank you for sharing these Mr Lowe! It’s so nice after all the tragedy to see the new growth in our bush.”

Since Lowe posted the photos to social media earlier this week, they have been shared more than 39,000 times.

Lowe is now selling prints of the photos so he can donate all of the proceeds to wildfire relief.

“I did not, in my wildest dreams, anticipate the overwhelming response to my photos that I’ve seen,” he wrote in an update. “It’s both humbling, and heart-warming.”

Lowe is not the only one shining a light on the landscape’s recovery; Koala Hospital Port Macquarie posted their own pictures of the steadily returning greenery in Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

Other social media users have posted additional photo updates on the region’s recovery while international groups and activists rally behind the Australian provinces still battling the bushfires.

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Oil-Dependent Canadian Province Launching New Solar Farm Next Year—One of the Largest in the World

Canada will soon be welcoming the largest operating solar energy project in the country—and it is also being hailed as “one of the largest in the world”.

Back in August, Greengate Power Corporation received approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to construct and operate its $500 million Travers Solar project with a total generating capacity of 400 MW.

The company now expects to begin construction of the project sometime during the first half of 2020, with full commercial operations targeted for 2021.

Greengate is an industry leading, privately-held Canadian renewable energy company based out of Calgary. Since 2007, Greengate has successfully developed close to 600 MW of operating—or near-operating—wind energy projects in Alberta and Ontario, including the 300 MW Blackspring Ridge Wind Project, which is currently the largest operating wind energy project in Canada.

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These projects represent well over $1 billion of investment and provide a clean source of power to more than 250,000 homes. Greengate is currently pursuing the development of close to 1,000 MW of new solar and wind energy projects as it continues to grow as an industry leading producer of clean renewable energy.

For perspective, the two biggest solar power facilities currently operating in Canada maintain a capacity of about 100MW. Since Alberta averages about 300 days of sunlight per year, the Travers Solar project is expected to power as many as 110,000 homes and offset 472 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

The project will utilize about 2.5 million PV modules across 4,700 acres (1,900 hectares) of land in Vulcan County, Alberta.

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The AUC conducted an extensive review of the project and found that its approval is in the public interest considering its social, economic, and environmental effects, particularly in accordance with the Alberta Hydro and Electric Act.

“We are very pleased to have received approval for what we expect will be Canada’s largest solar energy project and one of the largest in the world,” said Dan Balaban, President and CEO of Greengate. “This continues our successful track record, having already developed some of the largest renewable energy projects in the country. We anticipate that Travers Solar will bring significant investment, employment and clean renewable energy to Alberta while strengthening the province’s position as a global energy and environmental leader.”

Power Up With Positivity By Sharing The Good News With Your Friends On Social MediaFile photo by Intel Free Press, CC

Island Nation Becomes First Country in the World to Ban Sunscreens With Reef-Harming Chemicals

This week, the nation of Palau has officially banned ecologically harmful sunscreens, making it the first country in the world to ban the chemical-laden lotions.

The ban specifically targets sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals that are found in common sunscreens. Studies have found the ingredients cause coral DNA to mutate while its still in its larval stage, which prevents it from growing properly and makes it more susceptible to bleaching.

Palau is a diving hotspot for tourists located in the western Pacific Ocean between Australia and Japan. The country maintains a population of about 20,000 people spread across 340 islands, and its reefs are notoriously beautiful—one of its lagoons has even been named an official Unesco World Heritage Site.

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The nation approved the ban back in 2018 after they identified ten different chemicals that have been linked to coral bleaching and marine pollution. As of Wednesday, common sunscreens containing any of the chemicals are now prohibited from being used or sold within the country.

“We have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life,” Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau told the AFP news agency. “When science tells us that a practice is damaging to coral reefs, to fish populations, or to the ocean itself, our people take note and our visitors do too.

“We don’t mind being the first nation to ban these chemicals, and we will do our part to spread the word,” he added.

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Although Hawaii became the first region in the world to introduce legislation against toxic sunscreens back in May 2018, their ban will not go into full effect until 2021.

Thankfully, BBC reports that the number of sunscreens containing the toxins has been steadily declining since their environmental dangers became so widely publicized in 2018.

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