Trees for a desert and fish for a sea: Repairs from Oaxaca to Abu Dhabi

Our report this week features the alchemy of university-level experiments with algae in Turkey. And elsewhere in the world, including in Cleveland, Ohio, a rejection of the quickest and easiest path is producing results.   

1. United States

Cleveland is making headway toward a circular economy by recycling components of old buildings instead of simply tearing them down. Two recent projects in Cleveland – a MetroHealth hospital campus and the headquarters of manufacturing consultancy Magnet – illustrate the importance of “deconstruction,” or the careful dismantling of a building to reuse materials.
The city’s focus on a circular economy, along with considering the use of materials from “cradle to grave,” is one way of reaching its sustainability goals. The MetroHealth campus, for example, recycled 11,181 pounds of concrete and steel, and the Magnet headquarters kept over 19 tons of waste out of a landfill. “To reach [carbon neutrality], a building has to include reuse,” said Aurora Jensen of the sustainable building design firm Brightworks. “A new building cannot really bounce back from the carbon deficit of not reusing a building.”
The Land

Why We Wrote This

In our progress roundup, a forest-turned-desert that is being reclaimed by its Indigenous community is one example of how deliberate care, slow handiwork, and patience are improving environments on land, in the water, and in cities.

2. Mexico

Communities in Oaxaca have successfully revived land once lost to overgrazing and erosion. Before Spanish colonization, the Mixteca Alta region was covered with lush forest. Ample water and fertile soil supported a population of over 100,000, where today a mere 2,800 residents get by with scarce water and vegetation. But in the last 20 years, locals have transformed at least 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of barren land into forest.

In places, the ground was so hard that even machines couldn’t break through the rock. Community members began by restoring soil with the Gregg’s pine – one of the few trees capable of growing in such a degraded environment – and then added native species like the smooth-bark Mexican pine. In the rainy season, reforesting resembles a festival as adults and children gather to plant and share meals together. They have clashed at times with shepherds who rely on goat grazing, one of the causes of the desertification. But locals say most residents support the reforestation effort, which has earned international recognition: The site was chosen to host World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought in 2021. “Based on this work,” said forest technician Idalia Lázaro, “I fervently believe that restoration, even in the worst of cases, is possible.”

3. United Arab Emirates

Michael Owston/World Pictures/Photoshot/Newscom
Abu Dhabi’s new fishing regulations have helped reduce overfishing in the Persian Gulf.

Sustainable fishing is catching on in Abu Dhabi, with good news for threatened species. Following a 2019 report that brought to light extensive damage caused by overfishing, Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency introduced new regulations to protect fish stocks. The agency banned excessively harmful nets and cages, limited fishing seasons to protect breeding, created new marine reserves, specified minimum fish sizes eligible to catch, and coordinated information campaigns for fishers.

The percentage of fish stock assessed as sustainably caught, as measured by the sustainable exploitation index, jumped from 5.7% in 2018 to 62.3% in 2021. Meanwhile, the spawning biomass per recruit, a calculation of the fish in the sea that reproduce, tripled from 2018 to 2020. While overfishing continues to be a problem in the region, a wide range of fish populations have boomed in recent years, and two species – haqool and aifah – were deemed to be within the limits of sustainable exploitation in 2021.
The National, Abu Dhabi Government Media Office

4. Turkey

Europe’s first carbon-negative biorefinery converts algae into fuel, food, and fertilizer. The 2,500-square-meter demonstration project, which operates out of Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, uses macro- and microalgae from a marine farm on the nearby Black Sea. The algae make their way through a filtration and pasteurization unit, a desalination unit, and an aerobic digester to become biofuel, food supplements, pharmaceuticals, and animal feed. The byproducts from these processes are used to make biofertilizer and biogas.

Beyond contributing to a more sustainable “bioeconomy,” the project is meant to help wean Turkey from its dependence on foreign fuel. Lowering industrial emissions will also help the nation avoid export tariffs under a planned European Commission carbon tax. The project is mostly financed by the European Union (85%) in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Industry and Technology (15%).
EuroNews, Bio Market Insights

5. China

Chen Feibo/Imagine China/Reuters/File
A 2019 aerial view shows a tower meant to eliminate haze, in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China.

Shaanxi, one of China’s biggest coal-producing areas, achieved record air quality in 2021. The region met national air quality standards for the first time, including a 14.3% drop of PM2.5, particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or less, since 2020. In the 10 cities assessed across Shaanxi, there were 295.4 days of good air quality, 10.3 more than the national goal.

Last year, the province introduced an array of campaigns to fight pollution, such as limiting coal consumption to electricity production and enforcing penalties for companies that violate environmental guidelines. The push for cleaner air is part of a larger “war on pollution,” as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang put it in 2014, and a shift away from the priority of economic growth. On the whole, coal accounted for 56% of China’s energy consumption in 2021, down from 70% in the mid-2000s. Nevertheless, the end of coal remains far from sight as new coal power projects continue to be approved around the country.
Xinhua News Agency

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