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Our planet
Environment, natural resources, geopolitics

20 january 2022

Perfect reef
French researchers using special diving equipment have found a pristine reef off Tahiti that appears to be unaffected by climate change. Most coral reefs have suffered from warming waters, ocean acidification and bleaching events such as one that damaged large parts of the Great Barrier Reef in 2019. This one hasn’t, according to Laetitia Hédouin of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in French Polynesia. She first saw it on a Unesco-funded dive last year to a previously unexplored spot off the Tahiti coast. Unlike most reefs, which are close to the surface, this one is between 35 and 70 metres down, limiting the time divers with basic scuba equipment can spend there. Hédouin’s team has now spent 200 hours studying it and is confident it is in virtually perfect condition. Is it safe, or is it only a matter of time before water warms up even at this depth?

19 january 2022

Exxon aims low
Ever since a small group of activist investors succeeded in forcing Exxon to replace three of its directors last year, the big question has been what those directors would do. Part of the answer may be to have pushed the oil giant to publish a Net Zero target for the first time in its history. Exxon now says it’s aiming for Net Zero in its scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 2050. Axios calls this “a reversal of sorts” for one of the world’s least apologetic oil companies. Perhaps. But if you’re in the fossil fuel business leaving out scope 3 emissions – which cover those of the products you sell – is like a supermarket chain leaving out food waste when trying to cut what puts in its bins.

18 january 2022

What is a tsunami?
An underwater volcano eruption triggered tsunami waves causing “significant damage” to the Pacific island of Tonga. Waves up to four feet high hit the shore near the country’s capital, Nuku’alofa, on Saturday. Four feet may not sound like much, but six inches of fast-moving water can knock you off your feet and 12 inches can carry away a small car. This was also a particularly violent explosion: when Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted it sent a plume of ash 19 miles high, one of the highest ever observed. The sound of the explosion was heard as far off as Alaska, 5,800 miles away. This video from the Honolulu National Weather Service gives an idea of the scale of the event. For now, a key concern for Tongans will be getting their communications back online after an important undersea cable was damaged by the eruption. Thick ash clouds above the island are also hampering aid efforts by neighbouring New Zealand. 

17 january 2022

Oily Alberta
Oil production in Alberta, home to roughly 170 billion barrels of thick, tar-like bitumen, is set to continue for another two decades despite being the very opposite of what the planet needs. Alternative energy sources, though growing fast, are nowhere near meeting present demand, and extraction from the Canadian province’s oil sands remains profitable. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, an Exxon affiliate, extracted more crude from those fields in last year’s third quarter than in the same period a year earlier. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has at least said revenues from the country’s oil industry will fund its green energy transition.

14 january 2021

Cut and run
TK Maxx, Jimmy Choo and Versace, and the French makers of Président and Saint Agur cheese, are among firms failing to protect the world’s forests from deforestation, according to a report published today. Deforestation, largely driven by demand for palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper, creates 15 per cent of carbon emissions. Of the 350 companies that produce, use or sell the most of these goods globally, a third have no policies to ensure their supply chains aren’t driving deforestation. A further 38 per cent have policies that cover some but not all the commodities displacing forest cover. Almost two-thirds of the 150 financial institutions that back these firms don’t have policies to check whether specific goods they fund are linked to deforestation and all those that made net zero pledges nonetheless fund companies with no commitments to end deforestation at all. Companies in the UK, USA and EU could soon be legally required to ensure there’s no deforestation in their supply chains. The report, by Global Canopy, shows they’ll have a lot of work to do to comply.