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Executive Summary for June 8th

In our weekly news roundup, we report on momentum to eliminate plastic waste, a new study showing that high seas fishing is largely unprofitable, and a creative experiment from Microsoft to build its latest data center underwater.

Published on June 8, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Global Momentum on Plastics in G7 Lead-Up

On World Environment Day on June 5, more nations and companies committed to actions to reduce consumption of single-use plastics – the kind that caused a whale to die in Thailand after ingesting 80 plastic bags, making headlines around the world.

According to United Nations Environment, which issued a progress report this week, the world currently produces 400 million tons of plastics a year and generates 300 million tons of plastic waste.

But momentum is growing to reduce both of these numbers. India set a new milestone by announcing the most ambitious pledge yet on Tuesday: completely eliminating all single-use plastics, such as bags and cups, in the country by 2022, though details were scant on how it will be achieved. It also launched a campaign to tackle marine plastic pollution along its lengthy coastline, according to the Guardian.

In Quebec, Canada worked to broker an international commitment to slash plastic waste among G7 nations as they meet on Friday and Saturday. But Canada’s goal of convincing nations to sign onto a zero plastics waste charter wasn’t a sure thing. According to the National Post, the positions of Germany, Japan and the United States were still unclear going into the meeting.

High Seas Fishing Is a Net Loss for Fish – and Profits

It’s expensive to send ships out hundreds of miles from the coast to extract fish from the vast, open and largely unregulated waters of the high seas. So how do these ships turn profits? A new study taking a detailed look at the economics of the industry found not many would – if not for government subsidies and, in some cases, slave labor.

The study, in Science Advances, reports an analysis of newly compiled satellite data allowing scientists to track activity of more than 3,600 high seas fishing vessels. They compared estimates of fishing activity to the costs and subsidies the industry receives.

Their verdict? Without subsidies, as much as 54 percent of high seas fishing would be unprofitable at current fishing rates. In particular, China, Taiwan and Russia, some of the biggest high seas fishing nations, would see losses, and so would ecologically destructive deep-sea, bottom-trawling activities.

Without success so far, nations have discussed trying to reduce or eliminate fishing subsidies at the World Trade Organization. In September, the United Nations will also begin treaty negotiations to better protect fish that live in international waters. “These results support recent calls for subsidy and fishery management reforms on the high seas,” the authors write.

A New Offshore Industry? Underwater Data Centers

To save energy and cooling costs, Microsoft has sunk one of its data servers to the bottom of the sea, off the coast of the Scotland.

It’s a small test – just 12 racks of servers that could store 5 million movies, according to the BBC – but if it’s a success, it could be scaled up elsewhere. The data center will sit on the seabed for up to five years, with an undersea cable delivering power and connecting its data.

Around the world, data centers are eating up more and more energy, raising environmental concerns, especially when powered by fossil fuels. But putting them underwater could simply transfer the excess heat generated by the servers to the ocean, one expert worried. Microsoft, however, said the heating to the ocean would be minimal and far outweighed by environmental benefits.

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