Discover more from Future Proof
The first draft of a global plastic treaty is here
A focus on reducing plastic – not just recycling – is a promising start.
Kia ora, welcome to Future Proof. I’m Ellen, thanks for joining me this week.
We finally have our first peek at a global plastics treaty, a year and a half since 175 countries agreed something had to be done about our ballooning plastic problem. The “zero draft” – which is basically like a big brainstorm of potential ideas for the treaty – shows promise, especially when it comes to scaling back plastic production.
The draft, which aims to “end plastic pollution”, lays out a range of options for reining in this rampant plastic proliferation at different stages of the material’s life cycle. Ideas include setting reduction targets, implementing a plastic tax, and introducing extended producer stewardship schemes. Problematic plastics could be phased out – in fact New Zealand is already ahead of the curve in this space, banning tiny microbeads in 2018, plastic shopping bags in 2019 and a suite of other single-use items across 2022 and 2023.
However a powerful industry lobby will seek to keep the focus squarely on recycling and waste management, rather than winding down production of plastic. Shifting to a circular economy – with effective and efficient recycling – is part of the plastic puzzle, but we can’t just recycle our way out of this. Currently only 9% of plastic is recycled globally (or a marginally better 28% in New Zealand… maybe). Recycling is tricky and expensive – so instead, more cheap virgin plastic is manufactured from fossil fuels. If we maintain the status quo, plastic waste will triple by 2060.
The plastic industry is less-than-impressed with the zero draft, while environmental campaigners are cautiously pleased with the “ambitious” measures included.
But beyond sifting through the plethora of options in the draft, there are plenty of other details to figure out yet – like whether targets and standards will be set globally, or at a national level, and whether they’ll be binding or simply “encouraged”. Countries will head to negotiations in November, ultimately seeking to finalise a treaty in 2024.
At the talks, New Zealand has joined forces with a few other countries in a High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution. Our list of ideas submitted ahead of the zero draft supports reduced plastic production and consumption, as well as sustainable design criteria and systems that prioritise repair, reuse and refill. Fingers and toes crossed we’ll see some of these ideas in the final doc – followed up, of course, by action.
Join The Spinoff Members
"You guys do a great job of showing me another long form side to what’s going on in NZ. I look forward to each post." – David, Spinoff member since 2020
If, like David, you value our perspective and want to support us, please consider becoming a member today. Already a member? Ka nui te mihi, your support means the world to us.
Plant-based diet, technology could make agriculture carbon negative by 2050
What would happen if everyone in the world shifted to the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health diet, which includes only small amounts of meat and dairy? We’d save 8.2 billion tonnes of carbon, according to a new modelling study. When this is combined with technologies like seaweed farming and soil carbon sequestration, agriculture could end up sucking up more carbon than it emits by 2050, the model suggests.
Another new modelling investigation finds that substituting 50% of the pork, beef, chicken and milk we consume with plant-based alternatives could reduce emissions by 31% by 2050.
Cultivating food in the lab
Kiwi scientists are tackling the challenge of growing food in a petri dish. As climate change disrupts global food security, researchers are seeking alternative ways to grow food sustainably, ethically and efficiently in the lab. It’s a sector still in its infancy: the future of lab-grown meat is uncertain, Dr Laura Domigan of Opo Bio tells RNZ, but she’s still optimistic and the start-up is forging ahead with selling cells to the cultivated meat industry. Researchers are also investigating how to create fruit cells in the lab – a system that could sit alongside conventional growing.
Climate report card reveals we’re not on track
It’s been eight years since the world signed up to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, aiming to keep warming to within 1.5 degrees and well within 2 degrees. How are we faring? There is progress – we’re in a better position than if we’d taken no action at all – but we’re far from meeting the 1.5 degree goal, instead tracking towards 2.5 degrees of warming.
“The good news is that the report confirms around 20 countries have peaked their annual emissions that are now trending downwards,” says Professor Ralph E. H. Sims from Massey University. “New Zealand may have finally started on a downward trend but this will only be confirmed in the next year or two.” The report also emphasises that we already understand solutions – what’s missing is the political will to actually implement them.
“As an extremely wealthy country and supposed leader in the global community, we know what we need to do, the solutions are in front of us, but there is no easy path and so we require real leadership and political willpower,” says Dr Sebastian Gehricke from the University of Otago. “It is possible but the longer we kick the can down the road the more costly this challenge becomes.”
Two good news stories from the Amazon: the rate of deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rainforest continues to decline significantly, while a new municipal law in Brazil grants legal personhood to the Komi Memem river.
Prepare for a hot, dry summer, meteorologists warn: El Niño is coming.
Elizabeth Bell grew up listening to the booms of kākāpō on Maud Island; now her techniques to create predator-free zones are being implemented across the globe.
A group of nine Pacific and Caribbean island nations are arguing in international oceans court that excessive greenhouse gas emissions are pollutants that violate international law.
This distillery is using the pest plant gorse to make gin.
New Zealand’s domestic routes could be testing grounds for green hydrogen aviation fuel, a report from an aviation industry consortium suggests.
Biden bans oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – but the move feels hollow in the wake of his administration’s approval of the huge Willow oil drilling project in Alaska earlier this year.
Supermarket opposes cycleway in Wellington: Joel McManus chronicles the brave stand of a grocery giant against… children on bikes?
Skull and wing fossils (not to scale). Image credit: Paul Scofield/Canterbury Museum.
To finish this issue, this 62-million-year-old fossil unearthed in North Canterbury represents the oldest known tropicbird – and suggests that tropicbirds originated in Zealandia, not the northern hemisphere as previously thought. The fossil was discovered by a 10-year-old boy and his dad in 2020. Today, New Zealand has just one native tropicbird, the red-tailed tropicbird or amokura, which nests on the Kermadec Islands to the north of the mainland. Named for their long red tail plumes, amokura feature in the current Air NZ safety video. Next time you fly, spot them swirling around the waka as it lifts off from the water.
Got some feedback about Future Proof or topics you’d like covered? Get in touch with me at email@example.com