Whale poop can help absorb carbon; President Biden’s day one to-do list; and new report reinforces that coal is SO 2019

Earth News|Collected: Your weekly summary of positive news stories for the planet

How whale poop can help absorb carbon.

Whales are amazing, beautiful, giant animals that deserve our respect and admiration. If you’re here, reading this, you’re probably already anti-whaling for that reason alone. But did you know that saving the whale can also be of huge benefit to the climate?

When whales return to the surface of the ocean to breathe and poop, they produce iron-rich faeces, which just happens to act as the perfect fertiliser for phytoplankton to grow. Phytoplankton are microscopic creatures that have an enormous influence on the planet’s atmosphere, as they can capture an estimated 40% of all CO2 produced – four times the amount captured by the Amazon rainforest.

“We need to think of whaling as being a tragedy that has removed a huge organic carbon pump from the ocean that would have been having a much larger multiplying effect on phytoplankton productivity and the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon,” Vicki James, policy manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), told the BBC.

Commercial whaling has been around for centuries, the earliest record of it was in 1000 CE. But by the 20th century, industrial-scale commercial whaling began to decimate whale populations. Scientists estimate that 2.9 million whales were killed between 1900 and 1999 and many species suffered catastrophic declines.

So, where’s the good news? I hear you ask. Well, the fact that whales can have such a big impact on CO2 levels means restoring whale populations could be an important tool in tackling climate change. And because it could be an important tool in tackling climate change, it means having more whales alive in the oceans has a monetary value, not just because of better fisheries and ecotourism, but now also because of the value of the carbon withdrawn by a whale during its lifetime. And what does putting a value to things do? It makes the people in power sit up and listen.

And that’s just what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did in 2019, with a report that found the entire global whale stock amounts to over $1trillion, concluding that protecting the whale must be a top priority in the global effort to tackle climate change.

Read more about this story at BBC Future Planet.

President Joe Biden took office this week and immediately rejoined the Paris climate agreement.

And you thought you had a hefty to-do list at the start of the week! President Joe Biden took office this week and immediately got to work, issuing a flurry of executive orders that covered revoking travel bans on several predominantly Muslim countries, extending pandemic-related limits on eviction and student loan payments, issuing a mask mandate for federal property and interstate travel, and instructing agencies to find a way to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.

Within just hours of being sworn in, President Biden had already made moves to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement, which will see the US rejoin the international effort to curb global heating, after a 30-day notice period.

The Paris Agreement is a “legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century. The Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.”

(Not, as Senator Ted Cruz suggested in a Tweet this week, an agreement based on the views of the people of Paris…)

On his first day in office, President Biden also issued an executive order to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was due to carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil nearly 1,900 km from the Canadian province of Alberta, down to Nebraska. Native American groups, activists and environmentalists have been fighting to stop the pipeline for more than a decade, as each barrel of oil extracted from the Alberta’s oil sands can emit up to 30% higher greenhouse gases throughout its life cycle than conventional oil. The pipeline also poses a danger to indigenous lands, water sources and the guaranteed rights of indigenous groups – who were not consulted about the work – to hunt, trap and fish on these traditional lands.

Read more at The Guardian, Times of India and unfccc.com.

Report finds demand for new coal-fired power stations is rapidly fading in developing Asian countries, reinforcing that coal is SO 2019.

Last year, we saw a host of countries turning their back on coal. The UK pledged to stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects, including thermal coal projects; New Zealand committed to a carbon-neutral government by 2025 and planned to replace the coal-fired boilers used in the public service’s buildings; and a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which found renewable energy to be the most resilient of all fuels in 2020, stated that almost 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 would be renewable, with just 10% powered by gas and coal.

Now, policy changes flagged by politicians and government departments in Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and a full moratorium on new coal plants in the Philippines, may result in just 25 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-power projects getting built this year – that’s a whopping 80 per cent reduction from the 125GW planned five years ago.

The findings – which were shared in the Australian Financial Review – come from a report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a not-for-profit organisation funded by philanthropic organisations such as the US based Ford Foundation, the German Corporation for International Coopeeration and the European Climate Fund, and are yet another indication that the world is moving away from fossil fuels and moving towards renewable energy. Yay!

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Charli Ferrand

Charli wrote her first novel at the tender age of 9, then dabbled in the idea of becoming a professional ballerina for a few years, before returning to her love of writing, acquiring a BA (Hons) in Journalism, Film & Broadcast from Cardiff University in the UK. A three-month holiday in Australia turned into a 11 year residency, during which Charli cemented her career in PR & Marketing Communications working with some of the biggest brands in the world. She also gained her citizenship, discovered her passion for sustainability and eventually ended up coming full circle, combining her professional skills with her love of the planet and oceans into her role as Editor-in-Chief of Earth Collective. A trained journalist, experienced communications professional and qualified Mental Health First Aider, Charli has her finger on the pulse of the latest political and environmental developments around the world. You can find her writing about current affairs, political activism and mental health.

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