By Sharon Kimathi, Energy and ESG Editor, Reuters Digital
It looks like 2024 is starting with a real ‘plastic fantastic’ drama and not just because the Barbie movie won a Golden Globe. Scientists have found microplastics in
Antarctica, while millions of plastic pellets have washed up on Spain’s coast.
The amount of microplastics in the Antarctic is being analyzed by using nuclear science to study the region’s waters, sediment and even penguin droppings.
The new joint investigation launched by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency and the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) is part of the IAEA’s NUTEC Plastics Initiative that has looked at microplastic pollution around the world.
Women clean up the sand of Vilar beach after millions of plastic pellets washed up on the Spanish northwestern Galicia region in Ribeira, Spain. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal
Microplastics affecting the environment
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said that by using nuclear applications it was possible to determine the amount of pollutants on the seabed and where they had come from.
“The health of Antarctica is essential for the health of the planet,” Grossi told Reuters from the “white continent” during a visit with Argentina’s new President Javier Milei.
“Microplastics are affecting the environment and this place is no exception.”
The program will use an Argentine icebreaker and scientists will take samples from penguin guano, sediment from the seabed and from the water around the ice sheet to analyze at Argentina’s Carlini Base. Others will be sent to the IAEA research center in Monaco.
“We are paying special attention to the smallest fraction of microplastics and trying to identify their origins,” said Lucas Ruberto, researcher at the IAA, adding they would then identify how to clean them up and even prevent them in the first place.
Speaking of cleaning up plastics, hundreds of volunteers sifted through sandy beaches with colanders and shovels in Spain’s northwestern Galicia region after millions of plastic pellets washed up, triggering environmental concerns and a political blame game.
Sometimes known as mermaid tears or nurdles, the pellets are used to produce everyday items from water bottles to shopping bags and are known to add to the problem of plastic making its way into the world’s oceans and rivers.
The millions washed up in Spain came from at least one container that fell from a Liberia-registered vessel chartered by shipping giant Maersk, off the coast of neighboring Portugal last month, the pellets’ manufacturer Bedeko Europe.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Jesus Montero said the government was worried of possibly “serious repercussions” but did not yet know the exact impact and if it would affect fishing.
Waste dump in Bosnia
Elsewhere, visitors to the otherwise picturesque historic town of Visegrad in eastern Bosnia are first greeted by the sight of a huge floating waste dump caught in the deep turquoise waters of the Drina river canyon.
The tons of floating garbage, mostly plastic bottles, are a threat to the local tourism-based economy and there are also fears about the impact on people’s health when it is eventually burnt.
“There are about 5,000 cubic meters of different kinds of waste,” said Eko Center Visegrad’s Dejan Furtula. “It comes from all sides and this scene repeats each year, unfortunately.”
Furtula said toxic waste threatened the river’s delicate ecological system and when it is burnt it also affects the air Visegrad citizens and visitors must breathe.
Firefighters search for victims in the snow fall at a site which burned down due to a fire following an earthquake in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. Kyodo/via REUTERS
A week after a major earthquake struck the west coast of Japan, thousands of people are still without water and electricity and have yet to be told when plans to rebuild can begin.
Climate litigation: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a bid by major fossil fuel companies and an industry trade group to move a lawsuit filed by Minnesota accusing them of worsening climate change out of state court and into federal court, the energy industry’s favored venue. Click here for the full report by Clark Mindock.
Pro-Palestinian protesters blocked roads outside the British parliament in London this weekend, demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict and clashing with police who prevented them from marching across Westminster Bridge.
Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, storms in the United States and other natural disasters caused an estimated $95 billion in insured losses in 2023, down from the previous year but still above the long-term average, Munich Re said.
A former British energy minister said he would quit the ruling Conservatives and stand down as a lawmaker over the government climate record, rebuking plans to allow more North Sea oil and gas licensing.
Breakingviews: The world is full of danger. The planet starts 2024 with war in Gaza and Ukraine, superpower rivalry, climate change and slow growth. The possible return of Donald Trump as U.S. president is another risk. But there are more optimistic scenarios, and some silver linings in the pessimistic ones. Click here for the full comment piece by Commentator-at-Large for Reuters Hugo Dixon.
Jacob Duer, president and CEO of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a global non-profit, shares his thoughts on plastic pollution and the global treaty:
“The worldwide conversation to end plastic pollution kicked into high gear in 2022 when a United Nations resolution was passed to establish an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution by the end of this year.
“Such an instrument would serve a variety of purposes, including reducing the complexities of addressing plastic waste, creating a more coordinated policy framework, and harmonizing metrics and reporting.
“Additionally, it would help mobilize much needed capital via new financial mechanisms while accelerating solutions that address the plastic pollution challenge.
“With a spirit of shared responsibility and an openness to listen to different perspectives, the International Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution could yield an instrument that is robust with clear targets that can be swiftly ratified and implemented.”
India eyes doubling cash handout for women farmers ahead of vote. Ramkali Bhargav, a farmer, harvests paddy crop in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. REUTERS/Rajendra Jadhav
Today’s spotlight focuses on women farmers in India who are being wooed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government with an annual payment amid an upcoming election.
There are more than 260 million farmers in India and along with their families, they are a massive voting bloc in the country of 1.4 billion people. Women account for 60% of total farmers but less than 13% of them own the land they sow, according to government data.
Modi’s government is considering doubling the annual payout to landowning female farmers to 12,000 rupees ($144), three sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Under the “Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi” programme, the government transfers 6,000 rupees annually to both men and women farmers.
It has so far disbursed more than 2.81 trillion rupees to more than 110 million farmers in 15 installments until last November, according to government estimates.
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