Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A Year In Review

This past year saw many changes and newsworthy stories in regards to environmentalism and the green movement. Sustainability was front and centre as new environmental initiatives were announced, however, the green aspects of 2012 were most defined by the environmental stories that made the news. The Keystone pipeline dominated the airwaves in North America and throughout the globe, while environmentalism was a large part of other events such as the London Summer Olympics and the largest Earth Day celebrations yet. The United States saw their year culminate in their national and presidential elections where the environment was a hot topic, and  Canada had its own environmental showdown as provinces pulled away from the federal government to pursue their own options as Canada decided on its own future.  There are many noteworthy stories and events that could make up our list, however, here are a few that caught our attention:

The US State Department announced that it would not approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States. TransCanada, the entity applying for the deal, was told that they can re-apply once they submit a new route that ensures protection of vulnerable ecosystems. TransCanada has begun to re-examine their proposal and plans to re-apply by 2014. 

The Government of Ontario released the now infamous Drummond Report, a 668 report outlining recommendations to reduce Ontario’s growing debt. Several key recommendations involved environmental legislation, including the increase of environmental protection stewardship, and a more accurate system to value environmental protection projects. It also advocated for the creation of a national transit strategy where all provinces and territories actively work together towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in vehicles.

Swedish car manufacturer, Volvo, introduced the first ever hands free driving technology. This was hailed as the first step in true road train technology, where roads are able to function as trains for individual travelling cars, removing the need for fossil fuels and lessening the occurrence of accidents due to long distance travel.

The TEEB Conference 2012 – Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: Challenges for Science and Implementation conference happened in Leipzig, Germany. More than 250 scientists and economic experts from all over the world met to discuss the importance of biodiversity and its economic value. The main focus of the conference was on how to get international environmental agreements implemented at the national level. 

Earth Day, held on April 22, was special this year. The celebrations were used to mark the increases in awareness and the pieces of legislation passed since the first one in 1970, including the Clean Air Act. However, this party also occurred as a precarious time as Congress debated whether the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should all be dismantled.

Nike International created a new way to choose factories to conduct business with.  The Source & Manufacturing Sustainability Index is now used to measure labour and environmental sustainability standards in choosing where they will have their goods manufactured.

Nike also announced a partnership with Dutch company DyeCoo Textile Systems, who have created the first commercially viable waterless textile dyeing machines. They use recycled carbon dioxide instead of water, thereby greatly reducing the amount of pollution placed into waterways.

The EPA had its mandate upheld by the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia over how they regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The judicial vote was unanimously in favour of the EPA regulating all emissions that if finds harmful as per the Clean Air Act. This included vehicles and all stationary sources, such as buildings.

UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon announced that three of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals have been achieved three years ahead of schedule; those in regards to poverty, slums, and water.  The levels of drinkable water have increased drastically due to environmental initiatives to clean up required water sources. The portion of people with access to clean water has now risen to 89%, up from 76% in 1990.

The 2012 London Olympic Summer Games brought athletes, dignitaries, and supporters from all over the world. The Games were hailed as the “greenest ever” due to sustainability efforts in place. The Olympic Games required 35 million kilowatt hours of energy to run, the same amount of electricity required to power a city of 150,000 for a year. Energy requirements were able to be reduced by 20% and the Games achieved their goal of zero waste to landfills and over 70% of waste being re-used, recycled, or composted.

Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest levels ever recorded. At the time of recording, it was not even finished as it shrunk an additional 500,000 sq. km beyond this point. Scientists have begun to push even more adamantly for climate control conditions as there were no erroneous weather patterns or unusual conditions that could explain the drastic shift other than unprecedented climate change.

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference and its member states pledged to double the amount of resources available for biodiversity protection by 2015. Among areas queued for special protection are the Saragasso Sea, the Tonga archipelago, and certain coral sites off the Brazilian coast. The conference also created new measures for how to gauge levels of biodiversity protection. India, the country with the second highest population and many areas in need of biodiversity protection, was targeted to lead the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for the next two years.

The United States Presidential election occurred with Barack Obama winning a second term. His first term included executive orders that increased fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and regulatory initiatives to control air pollution from coal power plants. The second term looks to be more of the same. Obama’s victory speech stated a goal to be “free from foreign oil,” a long-standing desire of both political parties. To make this desire closer to a reality, President Obama has outlined a plan that includes increasing shale gas output and tax credits for alternative energy projects. Other initiatives that have been discussed are a carbon tax and ending subsidies corporations that extract, refine, and distribute fossil fuels; however, these two may be difficult as the Republican controlled Congress has spoken out against them.

Canada became the first nation to formally pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol was originally passed in 1997 and asked for developed nations to reduce their carbon emissions by 5% lower than 1990 levels, which was to occur by 2012. Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol occurred as recent polls showed Canadians in favour of British Columbia’s new carbon tax and with the majority stating that the Canadian government should be showing leadership on environmental issues.

This past year can be marked as one of transition; the majority of people are seeing a world worth protecting and finally, governments are slowly coming to the same realization. While some governments are more proactive than others, the shift has been noticeable, from small municipalities right up to the United Nations.

It is important to note that not all of these stories were able drastic change or new technologies that will change the world; they are about perceptions, how people are changing the way they think. The swell of people from around the world who are demanding global action for a better and greener future and beginning are showing their influence and governments are beginning to realize the economic value of environmentalism. We hope that you continue to join us in 2013 to see what the New Year brings for environmental action, green technology, and global awareness!