What we’re reading: good news edition

Rhino cow and baby in South Africa

Rhino cow and baby in South Africa. New advancements in forensics technology could make it easier to track where seized illegal wildlife products came from. (© South African Tourism/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world. 

  1. World CO2 emissions stay flat for third year, helped by China falls: study

The story: In 2016, global emissions are projected to rise 0.2 percent from 2015 — a negligible amount, particularly when compared with 3 percent growth rates in the 2000s. Much of this is due to reduced economic growth and coal consumption in China; the country’s carbon emissions are projected to fall 0.5 percent this year. In the United States, emissions will likely fall 1.7 percent in 2016, also due to reduced coal use.

What’s next: As scientists reported at the U.N. climate talks in Marrakech, it’s too soon to tell whether this reflects a peak in global emissions, partially because emissions in developing countries continue to rise. Much will also depend on continued emissions reductions in China, which accounts for almost 30 percent of emissions worldwide, as well as continued clean energy development in the U.S.

Read more here. 

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  1. Where are all those plastic bags? California voters decided to get rid of them

The story: Earlier this month, California voters narrowly approved the U.S.’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, about 15 billion plastic bags are given out to the state’s consumers each year. By requiring customers to bring their own bags or purchase a recycled paper bag or sturdier reusable plastic bag at stores, this ban aims to reduce plastic pollution that is clogging our oceans and impacting the health of people and wildlife alike.

What’s next: This ban is the boldest step yet in California’s fight to reduce plastic pollution; at least 150 Californian cities and counties had already passed their own plastic bag restrictions. Elsewhere, plastic bag bans have reportedly been effective at reducing plastic bag use. As the first American state to ban the bags, California could set an example for other states aiming to reduce plastic pollution.

Read more here.

  1. How forensics are aiding the fight against illegal wildlife trade

The story: Until recently, wildlife crime investigators focused on seizing illegal shipments, identifying the species and prosecuting those directly implicated. Now, genetic, chemical and other state-of-the-art tests can provide more information on the source of the plant or animal product, its age and how it is connected to other seized shipments.

According to The Guardian, “Sometimes, forensic scientists can even shed light on the structure of the criminal networks behind the trade by showing where poached animals and plants are killed, and what ports are used to transport them.” A 2015 study found that based on genetic samples from ivory seized between 1996 and 2014, most African elephants were killed in four areas of the continent.

What’s next: In the face of a global extinction crisis that has been exacerbated by an uptick in poaching of elephants, rhinos and other iconic species, progress on forensics is slow, with little coordination or standardization of methods between forensics labs. However, countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are beginning to invest more in wildlife forensics labs, and the recent Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species conference in Johannesburg included several training sessions for airport officials and police. The continuing march of technology promises further advancements that will make it easier for investigators to address the problem further up the chain — hopefully before it’s too late.

Read more here.

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.

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