This year has been another big year for the environment. We’ve seen plastics and plastic pollution hit the headlines multiple times, and a rise in plastic-free shops and aisles in supermarkets as consumers demand better. We saw the world panic as scientists described Hothouse Earth and the ‘inevitable’ doom of our planet (note: despite what Twitter suggested, it isn’t actually doomed). And more recently we saw world leaders come together once again to discuss climate change at COP24 in Poland.
As 2018 comes to an end, I wanted to share some of my ‘favourite’ environment stories from the year – the ones that give me hope for 2019. So forget the 12 Days of Christmas; here are my 12 ‘days’ of positive environmental news!
1. Free water bottle refill points in every major UK town by 2021
In January 2018 it was announced that shops, cafes and businesses will offer free water refill points in every major city and town in England by 2021. This news came not long after Blue Planet 2 aired at the end of 2017, sparking outrage by the public who were horrified to realise the extent to which plastic pollution was impacting our oceans. The scheme is expected to cut disposable plastic bottle use by tens of millions each year.
Companies such as Costa and Premier Inn are already offering these refills, but if you find yourself stuck looking for somewhere to refill your bottle check out this handy interactive map.
2. 94 brands sign up to the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment
By June 2018, 94 fashion brands (12.5% of the global fashion market) had signed up to the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment. The Commitment was launched at the 2017 Copenhagen Fashion Summit by Global Fashion Agenda, who want brands to look at moving away from using synthetic and mixed-fibre fabrics which are hard to recycle at end of life.
Big brands such as Adidas, Asos, Nike and GAP have signed up to the commitment and many have already made additional commitments since signing up such as Adidas who have committed to only use recycled plastic in their shoes by 2024, or H&M who hope to use only sustainable fabrics in production by 2030.
3. 100+ businesses join the UK Plastics Pact
This year over 100 business signed the UK Plastics Pact; an initiative by WRAP that aims to create a circular economy for plastics by bringing businesses from across the country together with government and NGOs to tackle plastic waste. UK supermarkets Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose are amongst those who have joined the initiative.
In the months following this announcement, we saw many supermarkets make their individual plastic pledges. If they stick to their word, in the coming years we’ll see:
- Tesco ban non-recyclable plastic packaging by 2019
- Waitrose remove all single use 5p carrier bags and fruit and veg bags from stores in 2019
- Asda switch polystyrene pizza bases to cardboard, plastic straws in cafe to paper, and more
- Lidl and Aldi stop using black plastics (mostly non-recyclable) to package fruit and vegetables.
- M&S continue to phase out plastic following switch to paper straws and more glass bottles
- Morrisons continue to phase out plastic packaging (they’re already welcoming customers who bring their own tupperwares to the deli/butchers counters, and selling more loose fruit and veg)
4. Study finds that no cars on roads causes 89% drop in air pollution
In April, London’s roads were closed for the London Marathon. This year a phenomenal 40,000 runners took part in the annual event. With cars off the roads for the day so that runners could compete, charity Global Action Plan seized the opportunity to find out what impact road closures would have on air quality. They discovered that there was a huge 89% drop in NOx emissions compared to the average Sunday in April.
With cities such as Paris already hosting Car Free Days in a bid to improve air pollution, these findings really put forward the case of what a huge impact it would have if we had more car free days, pedestrianised areas of London, or just took some cars off the road!
5. Sweden opens world’s first electrified road
This is awesome. In the year that the UK government announced its ambition to see at least half of new cars be ultra low emission by 2030, Sweden unveiled the world’s first electrified road; a stretch of road that will charge electric vehicles as they drive along it. Sweden plans to expand the scheme nationally, in a bid to increase the number of electric cars on the roads. This year was a particularly big year for electric and ultra low emission vehicles as awareness of them continues to increase, prices begin to drop, energy companies launch special tariffs for those with electric vehicles, and some of the UK’s largest van fleets pledged to move to electric vans by 2020.
6. Thousands of people take part in Clean Air Day
A double mention for Global Action Plan in here (probably because I worked for them and was super proud of the above research and of this day!) On 21 June 2018, thousands of people took part in Clean Air Day; a day of action on air pollution. With over 550 events around the UK and 2000 organisations involved, 2018’s Clean Air Day was a huge success. Opinion polls conducted before and after the day indicate that public understanding of air pollution issues increased during the campaign, and that more people started doing things to reduce air pollution.
You can read the full report from Clean Air Day here (check out the social media stats, that was me!).
7. Ireland becomes the first country to divest from fossil fuels
In July 2018 the Republic of Ireland became the world’s first country to fully to divest from fossil fuels. The country’s national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to be within the next 5 years. Even countries considered to be ‘green’ – Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden – haven’t taken the bold move to fully divest. It’ll be interesting to see how this goes for Ireland, and if their decision triggers other countries to follow suit.
8. Scientists warn of Hothouse Earth
So in hindsight, maybe this isn’t a ‘positive environmental news story’ as such, but it is an important one. In 2018, new research suggested that a global temperature rise of just 2C could result in irreversible changes to our climate; a phenomenon scientists are dubbing ‘Hothouse Earth’. I wrote about this in more detail for curious.earth.
The reason I include this research in this news round-up is simple. Amongst all the panic that followed this research, I felt hope. There were people on Twitter refusing to be defeated, people sharing their climate achievements, and one of the scientists behind the research tweeting a very important message in response to all the doom and gloom:
Our efforts to reduce carbon emissions are already moving us to a more stable earth AKA WHAT WE’RE DOING IS WORKING AND WE SHOULD KEEP AT IT!
9. UN report finds that ozone layer is healing
A UN report released in November 2018 has found that the ozone layer is healing, and could fully heal by 2060. This is huge news, and demonstrates that when we take action we can solve environmental crises. I can remember the ozone layer being a big deal in GCSE Geography (and remember my frustration when people thought ozone and climate change were the same thing, sigh!). It gives me hope that if now, 10 years on from my GCSE days I can read that we’ve solved ozone… maybe in 10 years time my sister who’s currently doing her GCSEs will be reading reports on how we’ve solved climate change.
10. 31 fashion brands pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050
At COP24 in Katowice, Poland, 31 big-name fashion brands made their pledges to become carbon neutral by 2050 – the date by which the UN believes it’s possible to fully decarbonise the fashion industry. Brands such as adidas, H&M, Burberry and Hugo Boss signed a new UN charter which outlines the steps that the fashion industry must take to help limit global temperature increases in line with the Paris Agreement.
This is a significant step towards achieving the Paris Agreement, with the global fashion industry accountable for a whopping 10% of global carbon emissions.
11. World leaders agree ‘rulebook’ for tackling climate change
Elsewhere at COP24, we saw representatives from around the world reach agreement on how they would implement the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which officially comes into force in 2020. Countries created a ‘rulebook’ as such, which outlined how governments will measure, report on and prove their emission-cutting efforts. It is hoped that the Paris Accord will be much more successful than its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol.
A Carbon Brief round-up of COP24 noted that the 133-page document ‘uses legally-binding language (“shall”) in 260 places, compared to only 110 uses of the looser “should”’ which will perhaps make it much harder for countries to avoid their commitments.
12. World leaders are ripped a new one by 15 year old Greta Thunberg at COP24
I had to finish with the story of Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old student from Sweden who addressed leaders in Katowice and quite frankly ripped them a new one. Speaking on behalf of Climate Justice Now, Greta was frank and honest in her address as she said what many of us think, and asked some important questions of world leaders. After telling them they were not ‘mature enough to tell it like it is’ she then questioned their lack of action and commitment to tackling climate change.
If you haven’t already, watch her full speech – it is incredible! And she powerfully ended with these words: “We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”
And that’s it – the 12 stories that have given me hope for the planet in 2019! If they’ve given you hope too, please share and help spread the hope around! Feel free to download any of the above graphics to share alongside your tweets and posts, and you can also tag me (@abiialdridge) in your tweets if you’d like to! 🙌
Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!