Marking World Environment Day, the United Nations on Tuesday named plastic one of the biggest environmental threats facing the world.
The report, Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability, said while government regulation on the use of plastic has made some impact on reducing waste, it is not enough, and more urgent action is needed.
“Our world is swamped by harmful plastic waste,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech. “Microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy.”
“From remote islands to the Arctic, nowhere is untouched. If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish,” he said.
The report noted that by some estimates, as many as 5 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year.
While acknowledging that combating plastic waste is different for every country, the U.N. report suggested 10 universal steps that policymakers can follow, including use of more eco-friendly alternatives to plastics and the promotion of reusable products.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the Earth’s oceans every year, which adds to the estimated 150 million metric tons already in the marine environment.
A 2017 report by the Ocean Conservancy said China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are dumping more plastic than the rest of the world combined.
But the advocacy group warned that the problem is not Asia’s alone. It noted the United States tosses out more than 33 million tons of plastic, of which less than 10 percent is recycled.
For years, environmentalists have warned of the deadly effect plastic trash has on marine wildlife. This week, a pilot whale died in Thailand after struggling for five days to stay alive. Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources announced that the whale had 80 plastic bags lodged in its stomach.
A multipronged crackdown on the press continued throughout 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists concludes in a report published Thursday.
Imprisonment, intimidation and allegations that journalists produce “fake news” surged in 2016, when U.S. President Donald Trump won the election, CPJ found.
Trump has been a vocal critic of the press, often chastising journalists as “very dishonest people.”
The number of journalists in jail dipped 8 percent, from 272 in 2017 to 251 this year. But that doesn’t mean the situation has improved, Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, told VOA.
The numbers fluctuate and may not reflect every imprisoned journalist. They also remain markedly higher than just a half decade ago.
More importantly, targeting a single journalist can have far-reaching repercussions.
“The effects are not only, obviously, [on] the journalists themselves and their families and their colleagues, but we really are talking about the effect on citizens as a whole,” Quintal said.
CPJ’s report highlighted several bright spots.
In Ethiopia, which has experienced dramatic reforms under new leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, no journalists are currently known to be imprisoned, for the first time in 14 years.
Improvements in some countries, however, don’t necessarily rub off on others.
“Unfortunately, neighboring Eritrea remains the highest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 journalists in jail as we speak,” Quintal said.
Worldwide, report author Elana Beiser, CPJ’s editorial director, singled out China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as troublespots, highlighting how wide-ranging efforts to silence journalists have become.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Quintal’s region of focus, Cameroon, where seven journalists are in jail, is a new country of concern. At least four of those journalists faced false news charges in what Quintal called “a huge, huge setback.”
Overall, more than two dozen journalists have been charged with publishing false news, mainly in Africa.
Accusations and imprisonments can propel self-censorship, with profound effects on citizens’ right to information.
“When you see your colleagues being put in jail, when you see them accused of so-called fake news, when they’re being arrested on false news charges,” Quintal said, “it does, obviously, have a chilling effect.”
Quintal herself was targeted, along with colleague Muthoki Mumo, in Tanzania last month.
Despite having an invitation letter from the Media Council of Tanzania, the two, both former journalists, were detained and interrogated.
Quintal, from South Africa, and Mumo, from Kenya, were kept in custody for five hours.
“We were lucky because we were able to leave Tanzania,” Quintal said, contrasting her experience to journalists in the country who have gone missing or continue to face intimidation.
“The abusive nature of what happened to us showed the world the true nature of what is going on in Tanzania at the moment,” she added.
Quintal and Mumo’s case was unusual. Governments tend to target their own citizens, and journalists imprisoned by their governments make up 98 percent of cases, CPJ concluded. They also found that 13 percent of journalists in jail are women, an 8 percent increase from 2017.
Despite worrying signs, there is room for optimism, Quintal said.
When new leaders come to power, she said, human rights and press freedoms can improve very quickly.