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The Climate Win: Flatlining Emissions and an All-Inclusive Farewell to Single-Use Plastics

Sustainability News National Parks
by Tim Wenger Feb 14, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

What a great week in the news. Before you scoff, hear us out. This week saw some major announcements on the sustainability front, overshadowed by the normal dramatic headlines. This is particularly true for those who prefer to vacation beach-side with a cold cocktail in hand. In southern Mexico, it just got a lot easier to do just that without churning out a cluster plastic cups in the process. Here are this week’s top green-friendly stories.

The descent is real

We lead this week with a massive piece of news. Global energy-related carbon emissions flatlined in 2019 after two consecutive years of spikes, according to a report published by environmental consulting firm IEA. About 33 gigatons of total carbon emissions were spewed into the atmosphere last year to produce energy, on par with that of 2018 and — hopefully — signifying the increasing global consciousness of the climate crisis.

The reasoning behind this, according to the report, was the increased use of renewable energy in developed economies, and a corresponding decrease in power derived from burning coal. Globally, we’re nowhere near the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which calls for a 40 percent reduction in the total greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030 (in 1990 the total-gigaton-emissions calculator had yet to break double digits). But if this marker signifies anything, it’s that we’ve reached the next switchback in a much-needed steep descent over the next decade, and that 2020 could actually see carbon emissions finally fall.

I’ll have another (in the same cup)

If you’ve visited a resort along Mexico’s Riviera Maya in the past few weeks, you likely noticed something quite different from previous visits: the bartender asking for your cup back. The government of the state of Quintana Roo, which is home to both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen and is the most visited part of Mexico, voted in 2019 to ban single-use plastics.

The decision came into force on the state’s islands last year and is now in full effect up and down the mainland coast. It continues a trend of policies phasing out single-use plastics that have spread in various degrees across the country from the beaches of Baja California Sur to the megalopolis of Mexico City. You’ll see this change most readily in the lack of plastic beer cups at the all-inclusive resorts and in the glass water bottles in your hotel mini-fridge. Special shout-out to Hotel XCaret, which recently became the first Latin-American hotel to receive EarthCheck certification for its sustainability efforts. We’ll raise a toast to that.

Loop me in

How many times have you ordered something off the internet, only to be disappointed when it arrived wrapped in plastic, padded by styrofoam, or accompanied by single-use trash? A brand called Loop is out to change that, by inviting retail brands to use its reusable packaging solutions. The brand packages everyday items like shampoo or makeup — even the stuff from big-name brands — in zero-waste, reusable containers and sends them to your home in what the brand dubbed its “Loop Tote.” It gets even better: It also picks the packaging up when you’re done with it and returns it for reuse. Tests of the model performed in 2019 were so successful that the brand just announced that Loop-packaged products will also be available in retail stores later in 2020. For now, though, you can get your Häagen-Dazs fix delivered to your front door.

From developed winter resort to conservation area

A number of ski resorts around the world are taking bold steps to address their environmental impact. But on a swath of former indigenous land in British Columbia, it’s the absence of a resort altogether that is making headlines. Canadian newspaper The Star reported in early February that a 230-square-mile plot of land slated to be turned into a new ski area is instead returning to the hands of the Ktunaxa First Nation. What nearly became BC’s next destination ski resort will now become a designated conservation area about 120 miles southwest of Banff, Alberta. After facing years of protest, court hearings, and negotiations, the developer agreed to settle with the federal government and private interests for an undisclosed amount and relinquish the land to the Ktunaxa, creating Canada’s fourth indigenous-protected area.

Emission-free whale watching

Imagine seeing the northern lights, killer whales, or the vastness of Arctic icebergs in total silence and totally free of carbon emissions. That’s exactly what Brim Explorer, a Norwegian startup, is doing in the high Arctic. Its electric-and-battery-powered catamaran ships run entirely free of fossil fuels, the first such boats in the Arctic. This winter, the company is offering whale-watching tours in the Tromsø fjords. In the summer, the company will sail on a second ship around the Arctic Circle and to the islands of Svalbard, also in total silence and with zero emissions. And on Svalbard itself, as we already reported, you can ride on utterly silent electric snowmobiles, where the power to run them is wind-generated.

How’s that for a peaceful night under the stars? We’ll see you next week.

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