Your weekly round-up of good news for the planet

Earth News|Collected: coal defunded; China's afforestation efforts absorbing more CO2 than estimates; and pink dolphins return to Hong Kong waters

All of Australia’s Big Four banks will stop funding coal

ANZ is the last of Australia’s Big Four banks to set a date for exiting direct thermal coal investments. The bank announced on Thursday that it would not directly finance any new coal-fired power plants or thermal coal mines, or expansions, and would cease any existing direct financing of these assets by 2030, supporting the transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2050.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac have already made plans to stop coal financing by 2030 and National Australia Bank has said it will stop thermal coal funding by 2035, while mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP have also made pledges to exit thermal coal, in response to growing investor pressure over climate change.

ANZ will also increase lending to the renewables sector, introduce emissions reduction goals for financing provided to its 100 largest customers and cease providing services to any new business that makes more than 10 per cent of its revenue from thermal coal; however, they will continue direct lending to natural gas projects.

The news follows announcements from Australia’s three biggest customers for thermal coal – South Korea, Japan and China – which have all set dates by which to decarbonise their economies and achieve net zero emissions. Prices of high quality coal have dropped about a quarter since January.

Read more on ABC News, Financial Times and ANZ’s own newsroom bluenotes.

New study finds China’s afforestation activities could be absorbing more carbon dioxide than previously estimated

In a bid to tackle desertification and soil loss, as well as to establish vibrant timber and paper industries, China has planted billions of trees in recent decades. Now, a report published this week in Nature Journal has found this aggressive planting policy is likely to be playing a significant role in tempering the country’s climate impacts.

China is the world’s biggest source of human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2); however, it intends to peak emissions before 2030 and move to carbon neutrality by 2060. Although plans to achieve this have not yet been laid out, it’s likely those targets will be achieved via cuts in fossil fuel use and planting trees to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. This new analysis by an international team of researchers suggests the country may be further progressed towards its target than previously thought.

Using multiple sources of data, including forestry records, satellite remote-sensing measurements of vegetation greenness, soil water availability and observations of CO2 from space and from direct sampling of the air at ground level, the study has been able to refine previous estimates for how much CO2 the new trees could be removing from the atmosphere as they grow, identifying two previously under-appreciated carbon sink areas in China’s southwest and northeast.

A carbon sink is any reservoir, natural or otherwise, that absorbs more carbon than it releases, which in turn lowers the concentration of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a not-for-profit think-tank working on climate change and energy issues, commented that although this was an important study, it should not be mistaken as a “free pass” way to reach net zero, telling the BBC: “For one thing, carbon absorption will be needed to compensate for ongoing emissions of all greenhouse gases, not just CO2; for another, the carbon balance of China’s forests may be compromised by climate change impacts, as we’re seeing now in places such as California, Australia and Russia.”

Read more on BBC News and Nature Journal.

Rare pink dolphins return to Hong Kong waters after coronavirus pandemic halts ferries

The Chinese white dolphin (known locally as ‘pink dolphin’) population has been in trouble in the past 15 years, falling by 70-80 per cent in one of the world’s most industrialised estuaries between Hong Kong and Macau.

However, since the coronavirus pandemic caused ferries to be suspended in the area, local marine scientists have had an opportunity to study how the pink dolphins have adapted, revealing much larger groups, as well as more socialising and mating behaviour than has been seen in the last five years.

Because of their slow birth rate, slow growth rate and slow reproductive rate, the dolphins need very careful management. Conservationists are campaigning to expand an existing marine park to better protect the vulnerable species.

Read more on Prestige.



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