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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Atmospheric CO2 levels rise despite Covid-19 lockdowns

This posting is taken from an article in The Guardian by Fiona Harvey on 4th June 2020.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/04/atmospheric-co2-levels-rise-sharply-despite-covid-19-lockdowns

Scientists find coronavirus crisis has had little impact on overall concentration trend.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen strongly to a new peak this year, despite the impact of the global effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 417.2 parts per million in May, 2.4ppm higher than the peak of 414.8ppm in 2019, according to readings from the Mauna Loa observatory in the US.

Without worldwide lockdowns intended to slow the spread of Covid-19, the rise might have reached 2.8ppm, according to Ralph Keeling, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He said it was likely they had played a small role, but that the difference was too small to show up against other factors causing year-to-year fluctuations.

 

Daily emissions of carbon dioxide fell by an average of about 17% around the world in early April, according to the a comprehensive study last month. As lockdowns are eased, however, the fall in emissions for the year as a whole is only likely to be only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. That will make no appreciable difference to the world’s ability to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and keep global heating below the threshold of 2C that scientists say is necessary to stave off catastrophic effects.

Environmental campaigners said the continued rise in emissions showed how urgently a green recovery from Covid-19 crisis was needed.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, called on the British government to do more as hosts of the next UN climate talks, Cop26, now postponed until 2021. “Just a few months of lower emissions were never likely to make a dent in the hundreds of billions tonnes of carbon that have built up over a century and a half of burning fossil fuels,” he said.

“That’s why the drop in emissions caused by the pandemic will remain just a blip unless governments get serious about building a cleaner, healthier and safer world.”

Muna Suleiman, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “ It’s clear that climate breakdown isn’t a distant idea, it’s here right now, and we have to treat it like the emergency it is.”

The complete article can be found by clicking the link at the beginning of this post.



 


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Kyoto Protocol’s second phase emissions on target – but don’t celebrate just yet!

This post is copied from the website of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is encouraging news, though do note the sentences below in bold, which sound a note of caution.  Please note also that several significant countries did not sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and these are some of the worst polluters (eg USA; Canada; Russia; Japan).

windfarm

The report from the UNFCCC (released June 2020):

https://unfccc.int/news/kyoto-s-second-phase-emission-reductions-achievable-but-greater-ambition-needed

A new UN Climate Change assessment shows that greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions of 18% compared to 1990 levels under the Kyoto Protocol’s second phase seem fully achievable and likely to be exceeded.

The Protocol’s second phase, called the second commitment period, was established by means of the Doha Amendment in 2012 and runs from 2013 – 2020. The Amendment strengthened quantified emission limitation or reduction commitments for developed countries and set a goal of reducing GHG emissions by 18% compared to 1990 levels.

The assessment of the latest information received from Parties with commitments under the Doha Amendment (Annex B Parties), based on data for the period 1990-2018, shows that total aggregate GHG emissions in 2018 were 25.3% lower than in 1990.

Annex 1 emissions trends

Moreover, if current annual average emissions of Annex B Parties (amounting to 5,696 Mt CO2eqin the period 2013–2018) remain at this level for 2019 and 2020, the emission reduction target of 18% could be further exceeded.

Assigned amount vs cumulative emissions

“While the results of this assessment are very encouraging, they only apply to a group of some 37 countries that agreed to emission reduction targets under the Doha Amendment,” said Ms. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change. “Globally however, emissions have been rising, which clarifies the urgent need for greater ambition,” she added.

This year is critical with respect to climate change ambition as 2020 is the year in which Parties will submit their new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

NDCs are at the heart of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Each NDC reflects the country’s ambition, taking into account its domestic circumstances and capabilities.

“The submission of new or updated NDCs represents an important opportunity for all countries to raise their ambition and to put the entire world onto a reduced emissions pathway,” said Ms. Espinosa.

“The current global emissions pathway would likely result in an increase of global average temperatures of 3C or more,” she explained. “This would be significantly higher than the temperature limits of less than 2C and as close to 1.5C as possible as contained in the Paris Agreement – hence the urgent need for greater ambition.” 

The assessment under the Doha Amendment revealed that the GHG reductions have generally been achieved through national mitigation actions.

“This shows the potential of consistently implementing climate change policies and actions at the national level. Through the NDC process, countries have the opportunity to further advance climate policies and actions, and to ratchet them up over time” Ms. Espinosa underlined.

The new figures present themselves without the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol having officially entered into force and the commitments thus having become legally binding. To date, 138 of the needed 144 instruments of acceptance to enter the amendment into force have been received.

Ms. Espinosa said: “The United Nations is actively engaging with countries to encourage governments to ratify the Doha Amendment as soon as possible. The amendment’s entry into force would be a valuable signal of a unified, multilateral commitment to the fight against climate change”.

The Kyoto Protocol, which took effect in 2005, sets binding emission reduction targets for developed countries. Its first commitment period ran from 2008-2012 and set an average reduction target of 5% compared to 1990 levels.

During this time, the emissions of the 37 developed countries that had reduction targets declined by more than 22% compared to 1990, far exceeding the initial target of 5% compared to 1990.

The Protocol thus clearly plays a key part in reaching the objective of the UN Climate Change Convention, namely to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations and reduce the consequences of climate change.



 


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Biodiversity loss and the European Parliament

Biodiversity loss: what is causing it and why is it a concern?

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20200109STO69929/biodiversity-loss-what-is-causing-it-and-why-is-it-a-concern

biodiversity

Plant and animal species are disappearing at an ever faster rate due to human activity. What are the causes and why does biodiversity matter?

Biodiversity, or the variety of all living things on our planet, has been declining at an alarming rate in recent years, mainly due to human activities, such as land use changes, pollution and climate change.

On 16 January MEPs called for legally binding targets to stop biodiversity loss to be agreed at a UN biodiversity conference (COP15) in China in October. The conference brings together parties to the 1993 UN Biodiversity Convention to decide on its post-2020 strategy. Parliament wants the EU to take the lead by ensuring that 30% of EU territory consists of natural areas by 2030 and considering biodiversity in all EU policies.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is traditionally defined as the variety of life on Earth in all its forms. It comprises the number of species, their genetic variation and the interaction of these lifeforms within complex ecosystems.

In a UN report published in 2019, scientists warned that one million species – out of an estimated total of eight million – are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Some researchers even consider we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Earlier known mass extinctions wiped out between 60% and 95% of all species. It takes millions of years for ecosystems to recover from such an event.

Why is biodiversity important?

Healthy ecosystems provide us with many essentials we take for granted. Plants convert energy from the sun making it available to other life forms. Bacteria and other living organisms break down organic matter into nutrients providing plants with healthy soil to grow in. Pollinators are essential in plant reproduction, guaranteeing our food production. Plants and oceans act as major carbon sinks.

In short, biodiversity provides us with clean air, fresh water, good quality soil and crop pollination. It helps us fight climate change and adapt to it as well reduce the impact of natural hazards.

Since living organisms interact in dynamic ecosystems, the disappearance of one species can have a far-reaching impact on the food chain. It is impossible to know exactly what the consequences of mass extinctions would be for humans, but we do know that for now the diversity of nature allows us to thrive.

Main reasons for biodiversity loss 
  • Changes in land use (e.g. deforestation, intensive mono-culture, urbanisation) 
  • Direct exploitation such as hunting and over-fishing
  • Climate change 
  • Pollution 
  • Invasive alien species 

What measures does the Parliament propose?

MEPs are calling for legally binding targets both locally and globally, in order to encourage more ambitious measures to ensure the conservation and the restoration of biodiversity. Natural areas should cover 30% of the EU territory by 2030 and degraded ecosystems should be restored. In order to guarantee sufficient financing, Parliament proposes that 10% of the EU’s next long-term budget is devoted to conservation of biodiversity.

The Parliament also wants a better protection of pollinators, such as bees. In December 2019, MEPs criticised the EU pollinators’ initiative presented by the European Commission as insufficient to tackle the root causes of the declines.

 



 


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COP 26: New date agreed for UN climate summit in Glasgow

COP 26, due to be held in Glasgow in November 2020, has now been postponed for a year.  The COP26 UN summit will now take place between 1 and 12 November next year.

It was originally supposed to take place in November 2020. However, it had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Dozens of world leaders will attend the gathering, the most important round of talks since the global Paris Agreement to tackle climate change was secured in 2015.

This year’s event was due to take place at the Scottish Events Campus in Glasgow, which has been turned into a temporary hospital in response to coronavirus.

‘Clean, resilient recovery’ from Covid-19

COP 26 President Alok Sharma said: “While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change.”

Mr Sharma, who is also the UK government’s business secretary, added: “With the new dates for COP26 now agreed we are working with our international partners on an ambitious roadmap for global climate action between now and November 2021.

“The steps we take to rebuild our economies will have a profound impact on our societies’ future sustainability, resilience and wellbeing and COP26 can be a moment where the world unites behind a clean resilient recovery.

The UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said: “If done right, the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis can steer us to a more inclusive and sustainable climate path.”

COP 26 will be the event at which countries are expected to come forward with stronger emissions cuts to meet the goals of the Paris 2015 deal.

Plans submitted so far put the world on a pathway towards more than 3C of warming, though the Paris Agreement commits countries to curb temperatures to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But with countries around the world grappling with coronavirus, and many putting citizens in lockdown, governments have prioritised the immediate global health crisis.

Since the pandemic took hold, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped sharply as industry and transport have been curtailed, but experts have warned that pollution will soon bounce back without climate action.



 


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COP26 (Glasgow November 2020) to be postponed due to Coronavirus pandemic

https://unfccc.int/news/cop26-postponed

This decision has been taken by the COP Bureau of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), with the UK and its Italian partners.

Dates for a rescheduled conference in 2021, hosted in Glasgow by the UK in partnership with Italy, will be set out in due course following further discussion with parties.

In light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible.

Rescheduling will ensure all parties can focus on the issues to be discussed at this vital conference and allow more time for the necessary preparations to take place. We will continue to work with all involved to increase climate ambition, build resilience and lower emissions.

COP26 President-Designate and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma said:

“The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting COVID-19. That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26.

“We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis and I look forward to agreeing a new date for the conference.”

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said:

“COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.

“Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient.

“In the meantime, we continue to support and to urge nations to significantly boost climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement.”

Italian Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea Protection, Sergio Costa, said:

“Whilst we have decided to postpone COP26, including the Pre-COP and ‘Youth for the Climate’ event, we remain fully committed to meeting the challenge of climate change.

“Tackling climate change requires strong, global and ambitious action. Participation from the younger generations is imperative, and we are determined to host the ‘Youth for the Climate’ event, together with the Pre-COP and outreach events.

“We will continue to work with our British partners to deliver a successful COP26.”

COP25 President, Minister Carolina Schmidt, said:

“The decision of the Bureau on the postponement of COP26 is unfortunately a needed measure to protect all delegates and observers.

“Our determination is to make sure that the momentum for climate ambition will continue, particularly for the preparation and submissions of new NDCs this year”.



An interfaith statement has been released about the postponement of COP26:

“An Interfaith Earth Day message in times of Covid 19 and Climate Emergency
Inter-faith group active at UNFCCC conferences response to the postponement of the COP26 – 22nd of April, Earth Day
As faith-based organisations and movements calling for fair and just policies able to tackle the climate emergency, we understand and support the UNFCCC decision to postpone COP26 in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting the whole of humanity. We nevertheless call on ourselves and on all stakeholders to not delay ambitious and urgent climate action.
We see the trauma, anxiety, vulnerability and loss of life around the world caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among already vulnerable communities. We are appalled by the increase in human rights violations, including racism, extreme surveillance, xenophobia, misuses of emergency powers and domestic violence.
We remain hopeful as we see people of all faiths and across all borders rising to a powerful call of solidarity, kindness, and support, adjusting our lives for the greater good, looking into creative and simple solutions to show care for one another. We also witness more time for reflection.
We proclaim loudly that we were already living in a state of emergency prior to COVID-19. We have a responsibility to ensure we do not return to behaviours which, as the current crisis has shown, leave the vast majority extremely vulnerable to hardship and suffering after only a few weeks of economic stagnation. Here we see the role of faith in learning from the COVID-19 crisis and to advocate for a just recovery to build a healthier future where the human family lives in a way that respects nature and Mother Earth on which we all depend.
The choices we now make will shape our society for years and it is crucial that efforts to rebuild economies put people’s health before profit. Governments have pledged extraordinary amounts of money to prevent economic disasters because of this pandemic, but that money must not be used to finance future environmental degradation. We must not return to relaunching fossil fuel subsidies and unhealthy consumption patterns. The plans for a just recovery from COVID-19 must take into account the necessary measures to tackle climate change with a managed, planned and fair approach. We call for a rebuilding which upholds the human rights, health and wellbeing of citizens as critical to the stability and security of all countries.
We are moved by our faiths to see beyond this moment of fear and call on solidarity, community action and moral courage. We call on the UNFCCC, all governments and all people, to build a sustainable, just and healthy society that is resilient in times of crises such as COVID-19 and climate change, and to act early enough to prevent greater hardship and suffering in the future. This is the time to create a healthier and more resilient society together.”

Interfaith Statement on Postponement of COP26



 


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Australia is burning: is this a portent of what is to come?

As our hearts go out to the people of Australia, as they battle with unprecedented and devastating fires across the country, with lives lost, as well as homes and a billion of their unique marsupial and other wildlife species being burnt to death, I have to ask the question:

Is this one of the first of many such events that we are going to witness over the next decades?  Is this going to be the face of the effects of climate change in the future?  Are we going to witness even more harrowing events and deaths across the world?

AustralianBushfire

koala

Photographs from Australia during the fires in recent weeks

wombat after fire

Animals that survive the fires, like this wombat pictured in New South Wales, will struggle to find food and shelter

How much more dreadful is it going to become globally, as we see multiple fires, floods, hurricanes, monsoons, high temperatures, coastal erosion and mass loss of species? Ecologists are already saying that they fear two rare species (found only on Kangaroo Island, to the south of Australia), may have been wiped out in the recent fires.  These include a small mouse-like marsupial, called a dunnart, and glossy black cockatoos. See:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/empowering-the-planet/australia-wildfires-entire-species-may-have-been-wiped-out-by-inferno-conservationists-say/ar-BBYDoQk?ocid=spartandhp

dunnart2

The endangered marsupial: Kangaroo Island Dunnart

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

An article in Nature, by an Australian ecologist Michael Clarke, describes the aftermath of such terrible fires.  He says,

“It is deathly silent when you go into a forest after a fire. Apart from the ‘undertakers’ — the carrion eaters like currawongs, ravens and shrike-thrushes — picking off the dead bodies, there’s nothing much left in the forest. It’s a chilling experience.

For survivors, it’s a perilous existence in the months that follow. Any animal that manages to make it through the fire uninjured faces three major challenges. One is finding shelter from climatic extremes — places they can hide from bad weather, like a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. The second is the risk of starvation. And third, they’ve got to avoid predators like feral cats and foxes. They’re exposed; there’s nowhere to hide in a barren landscape.

Even if an animal makes it to an unburnt patch, the density of organisms trying to eke out a living will be way beyond the area’s carrying capacity. After fires in 2007, one unburnt patch I visited in the Mallee [a region in the far north of Victoria] was literally crawling with birds, all chasing one another, trying to work out who owned the last little bit of turf. It was clearly insufficient to sustain them all.

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble. During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Some animals are more resilient to fire than others. The best adapted are those that can get underground. Termite colonies happily hum along underneath these all-consuming fires. Burrow-dwelling lizards are similar.”

See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00043-2

michaelClarke

Professor Michael Clarke



 

Australia is not alone in facing wildfires. In 2018, a similar thing happened in California.  The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha), the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of December 21. Through to the end of August 2018, Cal Fire alone spent $432 million on operations. As of May 2019, insurance claims related to this fire season had reached $12 billion, most related to the Camp Fire, in Butte County (see Wikipedia). And wildfires happened in Europe too.

In India, from June to September 2019, the country received the highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. According to the India Meteorological Department, those rains are not expected to retreat until at least October 10th, which would be the latest withdrawal of the monsoon in the country’s recorded history.

indian monsoon floods

2019 monsoon flooding in India

According to Wikepedia, climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment. The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Beijing-Smog

Photograph taken in Beijing, China, where smog pollution reaches 24 times the WHO recommended safe level and children are kept from attending school as a result.

I have chosen to mention these three countries – Australia, India and China – because they were exempted from the UN Kyoto Protocol agreement, because at that time, they pleaded that they were only just beginning to industrialise and needed to be given a chance to compete with industrialised countries. This chance was given and, now, they have become amongst the highest polluting countries in the world, with China in the lead, despite its intentions to tackle climate change.  Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but I believe the UNFCCC should have had the confidence to stand firm over the Kyoto Protocol.  Because of this, many countries (including the USA – another high polluter) did not ratify it.

I came across an interesting graph a few months ago, which shows that carbon emissions have continued to climb, despite UN efforts and agreements: Rio, Kyoto and Paris and beyond.  The dates of these initiatives is marked on an ever-upwardly climbing graph of global carbon emissions.

cemissionsgraph

As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.

There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.

Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.

 

However, I believe that global warming and climate change will have multiple effects across the world; some of it will be related to food scarcity but the other effects will be more random: fires, floods, hurricanes, heat stroke, coastal erosion and the loss of islands, as well as land in low-lying countries. And, of course, the disappearance of many iconic species of wildlife. And, as a Biologist and an animal lover, I feel enormous grief over this devastating loss – and I know that I am not the only one.

Unless huge co-operative efforts are made to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the future looks bleak for all of us, including some of the wonderful and unique species with whom we share this planet. If we are seeing these effects with just 1 degree of global warming, what will it be like at 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees or even higher?  Three degrees and above are predicted if carbon emissions do not start to fall in the very near future.



 


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New UN report states that 1,000 species are at risk of extinction

A UN Report launched in Paris yesterday (6th May 2019) is the result of 3 years of study of species across the world.  It concludes that up to 1,000 animal and plant species are at risk of extinction and that things are happening faster than we realised.

UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’

The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive ever completed. It is the first intergovernmental Report of its kind and builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, introducing innovative ways of evaluating evidence.

Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

Other notable findings of the Report include:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
  • Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.

The Report also presents a wide range of illustrative actions for sustainability and pathways for achieving them across and between sectors such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, finance and many others. It highlights the importance of, among others, adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.

Also identified as a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth.

The Chair of the panel launching the report, Sir Robert Watson is quoted as saying, “The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. “We have lost time. We must act now.”

BobWatson

Sir Bob Watson, Chair of IPBES

David Obura, one of the main authors on the report and a global authority on corals, said: “We tried to document how far in trouble we are and to focus people’s minds, but also to say it is not too late if we put a huge amount into transformational behavioural change. This is fundamental to humanity. We are not just talking about nice species out there; this is our life-support system.”

Three-quarters of all land has been turned into farm fields, covered by concrete, swallowed up by dam reservoirs or otherwise significantly altered. Two-thirds of the marine environment has also been changed by fish farms, shipping routes, sub-sea mines and other projects. Three-quarters of rivers and lakes are used for crop or livestock cultivation. As a result, more than 500,000 species have insufficient habitats for long-term survival. Many are on course to disappear within decades.

Further information can be found at:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/23/destruction-of-nature-as-dangerous-as-climate-change-scientists-warn



Since 1992, the world’s urban area has doubled – largely at the expense of tropical forests, wetlands and grasslands – a process that is decoupling our consumption habits from the means of production, and severing our understanding of our dependency on the natural world.

“There are people that really understand the linkage, although they don’t live it,” says Sebsebe Demissew, professor of plant systematics and biodiversity at Addis Ababa university. He has spent decades collecting and documenting plants across Africa, often working with indigenous and traditional peoples.

“But there are other people that don’t even think that nature’s contribution to people is so important, because sometimes if you are in town what you are really concerned about is what bread or something would cost, rather than its effect on a poor farmer.”

Prof. Sebsebe Demissew, of Addis Ababa University



 

In short, what is happening can be described by the subtitle of my book “Human Activity and the destruction of the planet.”

Is it too late to reverse the trend? Many of my colleagues in the climate action movement fear it is too late, though others are hopeful that we can turn the corner. But it needs a global realisation of the significance of climate change and loss of biodiversity.



Alan Simpson, a previous Labour MP and now advisor to the Labour party on environmental issues, has written the following in the Morning Star:

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/f/climate-jesus-versus-pharisees

It is entitled “Climate Jesus versus the Pharisees”, with the sub-heading:

We need to stop building more runways, motorways, or shopping malls and replant forests, green our cities and give pollinators places to feed, breed and shelter in.

Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson

“As political parties dust themselves down after the drubbing of local government elections, the good news is that all the answers are to be found in bigger, rather than smaller, issues.  Climate, not Brexit, is the key.

We live in revolutionary times. And we have our children to thank for still filling them with hope rather than despair.

The unthinkable is happening. Parliament, public institutions and the press are waking to the fact that climate change can only be constrained by systems change. This recognition is still in its infancy, but it is already unstoppable.

I recently came across an early version of what will have to be every (credible) party’s next election manifesto. Pasted up on a wall was a simple drawing of an elephant, with the words “climate change” on its back. It summed up what all future political choices revolve around: climate change is the elephant in the room.

Labour can pride itself for having introduced the world’s first Climate Change Act, and for passing the first “climate emergency declaration,” but we shouldn’t pretend that Parliament wasn’t “bounced” into doing so.

Since the 2017 general election, there have been ample opportunities for MPs to show real political leadership on the climate crisis. They never did. Instead, Parliament has preferred to play Trivial Pursuit with Brexit absurdities.

Social movements had to step into the vacuum; addressing the big picture issues politicians had been choosing to ignore. They, and they alone, have been the ones insisting that existential threat to human existence forms the centrepiece of political debate. Across the planet, this has been a debate shaped from outside parliaments, not inside.

We now know how much we owe to our children for doing so. But while the kids may have written the script, they weren’t alone. “One Planet” documentaries helped. So too did insightful journalism, climate physicists and church leaders. With the latest protests taking place over Easter it was really helpful for church leaders to have pointed out that, though protesters were undoubtedly breaking the law, Christ too had entered Jerusalem knowing he would face prosecution. Ultimately, however, it was the creative irreverence of Extinction Rebellion (XR) that has turned this into a movement that cannot be stopped.

In place of derision, Greta Thunberg is no longer the lonely child outside an indifferent parliament. Without vanity, she trailed an uncompromising challenge to every adult Establishment on the planet. The abuse she received from parts of the press that continue to be at the heart of the problem merely accelerated the growth of the movement.

Britain’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) would not have had the political space to bring forward their own “pull your finger out” report without the occupations that brought London streets to a halt. Nor would they have been listened to. The latest UN report on species extinctions now gets treated as evidence, not argument.
Politicians of all shades queue up, calling for a programme to deliver the CCC rescue plan.

Few grasp the upheavals involved (or that, in itself, this will still not be enough). Over 60 per cent of what the CCC calls for involves behaviour change; all of which is doable. What they duck is that you won’t get behaviour change without systems change.

The gap between Extinction Rebellion and the CCC may be one defined by climate physics, but it can only be delivered through transformative politics. This is precisely what Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have been calling for. For the party as a whole, though, this invitation is where the problems begin.

Internal battle-lines are already being drawn. How can Labour deliver climate stability if large parts of the party are still locked into airport expansions, fossil fuel subsidies, expanding road programmes and the illusion of a new era of global free-trade deals?
Physics tells us there are no “slow track’ survival options left.

Labour traditionalists insist they need longer timescales than the one (decisive) decade in which the science calls for transformation.
Those pushing for faster change already face criticisms of “trying to play Climate Jesus.”

What their critics fail to see is that the imagery puts slow-track traditionalists into the role of Pharisees; defenders of an order that is about to implode.

The Tories have made themselves almost irrelevant to this conversation. Conservative supporters no longer even look to their party for bigger answers. It is a party in free-fall disarray. Bless. But cross-party Brexit negotiations risk dragging Labour down too.

Theresa May should be left to sink on her own. The last thing Labour needs is a to be part of a suicide pact.

A better starting point lies somewhere between Extinction Rebellion and the CCC. To join in, Labour may need to tear up whatever has been its draft manifesto for the next election, replacing it with a new “climate emergency” one.

Tomorrow’s political stability will revolve around societal mobilisation and ecosystems repair. This requires a new economics that can live within contracting carbon budgets, give fresh life to abandoned localities (as key drivers in tomorrow’s sustainable, low-carbon economics) and offer an antidote to today’s obsessive, self-destroying consumerism.

Conventional pledges to fairness, inclusivity and rebooting an industrial economy don’t automatically answer this existential threat. Suggestions that Labour might do so by expanding production, consumption and world trade would be ridiculed by XR, scientists and schools climate strikers alike. In the ballot box, it would be a disaster. We all need a different script.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband was right in telling Radio 4 that the British economy must be “put on a war footing to tackle climate change.” This “footing” must begin with reversing the damage we’re currently doing. The latest UN report, Nature’s Dangerous Decline, details the risk of 1 million species — not types of plants, animals, birds or insects, but whole species — facing extinction within the coming decades.

The answer isn’t to go building more runways, motorways or shopping malls. What we need is to replant forests, green our cities, and give pollinators places to feed, breed and shelter in. And for the public, we need a national programme to green the nation’s habitat too; delivering warm homes that also produce more energy than they consume.

I don’t care if this gets denounced as “loaves and fishes” idealism. It’s what the science (and the kids) know is our only choice. Today’s Pharisees can protest as much as they like that “the system” needs more time — to cleanse the air, restore the seas and heal the soils.

But time is the one thing they no longer have.

Outside the parliamentary temple, a growing social movement understands that we can either save “the system” or save society, but not both. Like Corbyn and McDonnell, this movement calls out for transformative change. Anyone’s manifesto that offers less will not be seen as Old Testament, just old hat.

 

It’s what the science (and the kids) know is our only choice. Today’s Pharisees can protest as much as they like that “the system” needs more time — to cleanse the air, restore the seas and heal the soils.

But time is the one thing they no longer have.

Outside the parliamentary temple, a growing social movement understands that we can either save “the system” or save society, but not both. Like Corbyn and McDonnell, this movement calls out for transformative change. Anyone’s manifesto that offers less will not be seen as Old Testament, just old hat.”



And another article, published by phys.org, highlights the importance of plant species, and their loss, on human needs:

https://phys.org/news/2019-06-species-extinctionand-danger-poses-life.html

Up to 1 million species may go extinct due to human activity according to a recent report, some within decades. We all know the mammals in trouble—polar bears, giant pandas and snow leopards—but how many of us could name an endangered plant? A 2019 report assessed 28,000 plant species and concluded that about half of them were threatened with extinction.

 

Lost connections

Our lack of appreciation for plants is a fairly recent thing. Our history tells a very different story. The dawn of farming around 12,000 years ago was when people became obsessed with growing plants for food, changing the way we live and our planet forever. Starting with domesticating cereals such as barley, rice and wheat, humanity’s increasing population and sedentary communities depended on their ability to farm, leading to entire civilizations focused on agriculture.

Industrialisation and the more recent “green revolution” in agriculture led to incredible increases in cereal production and farming efficiency, allowing more people to live in cities rather than work on farms. Our agricultural success is a major reason why, for the first time in our history, most humans no longer farm, leaving people free to ignore our complete dependence on plants.

Tragically, our talent for farming has come at a huge cost to biodiversity. Right now, half of the habitable land on earth is used for agriculture, a major reason behind our current extinction crisis.

Should we care about losing the diversity of , as long as we are producing enough food? Absolutely. Plants are the major food producers in most ecosystems, providing nourishment and shelter to microbes, fungi, insects and animal species which themselves play key roles in ecosystems.

While some creatures eat one type of plant—such as the bamboo-dependent giant panda—micro-organisms which live in the soil and make land fertile by recycling plant nutrients, perform better the more different plant species there are growing. Plant diversity also improves how much carbon is pulled from the atmosphere and stored in the soil – vital for mitigating climate change.

Our health is also intimately connected with plant diversity. Just under half of all prescription medicines come directly from plants or by remaking plant chemicals. We’ve screened only a fraction of species for potential medicines—we don’t know how many useful plant chemicals and genes remain to be discovered. Even the most overlooked plants can be enormously important.

You might be surprised to learn that the species most studied to understand how plants work is a genus of tiny weeds called Arabidopsis. Most people have never heard of them and couldn’t identify them, even though they regularly pull them from their garden. By studying Arabidopsis, scientists learned how plants know when to flower, which is being used to improve our understanding of flowering in vegetable crops—key to improving their yield. They also learned how Arabidopsis defends itself from pathogens, which could be used to make crops resistant to disease.

We can cultivate an appreciation of plants and their importance by improving access to parks, botanic gardens and forests, as well as including plant biology throughout the science curriculum in schools. But we also need to ensure there is a future for the thousands of threatened with extinction. We need to produce more food on less land, so that natural habitats can thrive.

Plants could contribute even more to society’s needs in the future. Technologies already exist for making fuels and plastic from the agricultural waste of straw, grain husks and potato peel. These alternatives sadly won’t compete with cheap oil until we pay the full cost of our current lifestyles with a carbon tax. To avoid mass extinctions, we need transformative change in our politics, economics and technology to preserve and sustainably use the incredible natural resources that Earth provides.

A painless first step towards making this change is something you could do every day: our one minute cure for plant blindness. If we stop, think and appreciate how enrich our lives, we will learn to respect our agricultural heritage and natural habitats and better manage the trade-offs between them.




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Arctic is now locked into destructive climate change: new UN Report

According to a new commissioned UN Report, there is no chance now of saving the arctic from devastating destruction:

http://www.grida.no/publications/431

The report describes scenarios where arctic winter temperatures increase by 3-5 degrees by 2050, compared to 1986-2005 levels, and by 5-9 degrees by 2080.  It is expected to happen regardless of the success of measures introduced since the Paris climate change Agreement in 2015.

According to the report, even if global emissions were to stop overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic would continue to rise by up to 5 C by 2100 compared to average temperatures in the late 20th century. The temperature rise is described by the report as “locked in” because of greenhouse gases already emitted and heat stored in the ocean. This is because carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions have a delayed effect; the emissions being produced today (and which continue to be produced) will have effects for decades. The momentum of climate change is very strong in the Arctic.

According to the report, this would devastate the region and cause sea level rises across the world.

jan-dusik

Jan Dusic, author of the report

A massive melting of ice and a thawing of the permafrost is to be expected, threatening biodiversity and changing the living conditions of Arctic communities.

It appears that the thawing trend is now irreversible.

For further details, see:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/arctic-warming-locked-in-1.5056548?cmp=rss



And now, another report about changing Arctic temperatures from the Washington Post on 14th May 2019:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/it-was-84-degrees-near-the-arctic-ocean-this-weekend-as-carbon-dioxide-hit-its-highest-level-in-human-history/ar-AABlBAQ?fbclid=IwAR2zQVt-AncQSZMfLRquEWKScHGttqeTsqJMTzfboKoz0a8-zoguLE1sREk

“Over the weekend, the climate system sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius). Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.”

CarbonData

The recordings were taken in Arkhangelsk, Russia, where the average high temperature is around 54ºF this time of year. The city of 350,000 people sits next to the White Sea, which feeds into the Arctic Ocean’s Barents Sea.

The abnormally warm conditions in this region stemmed from a bulging zone of high pressure centred over western Russia. This particular heat wave, while a manifestation of the arrangement of weather systems and fluctuations in the jet stream, fits into what has been an unusually warm year across the Arctic and most of the mid-latitudes.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Saturday 11th May’s carbon dioxide measurement of 415 parts per million at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory is the highest in at least 800,000 years and probably over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.



 


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Tracking progress of the climate turning point: Mission2020

Mission2020, a global coalition of several climate analysis organisations, headed by Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who negotiated the Paris accord. Mission 2020 has calculated that if these milestones are achieved by 2020, it will make the longer-term Paris goals possible – because progress now on reducing emissions will make it easier and cheaper to reduce them in the longer term – and wants to spur sufficient progress on climate change to bring that about.  It was set up by the World Resources Institute.

Mission2020 has set milestones, to track whether climate targets are being reached, and tracked progress on each of them.  The milestones are:

  1.  Energy – renewables out-compete fossil fuels as new electricity sources worldwide.
  2. Infrastructure – cities and states are implementing policies and regulations, with the aim to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructure by 2050;
  3. Transport – zero emission transport is the preferred form of all new mobility in the world’s major cities and transport routes;
  4. Land use – large scale deforestation is replaced with large-scale land restoration and agriculture shifts to earth-friendly practices;
  5. Industry – heavy industry, including iron and steel, cement, chemicals and oil & gas commits to being Paris compliant;
  6. Finance – investment in climate action is beyond USD $1 trillion per year and all financial institutions have a disclosed transition strategy.

Now, it is reporting that insufficient progress has been made in the milestones to comply with the Paris 2015 target of keeping global warming within 1.5°C.

Removing coal from the global energy mix is taking too long, too many forests are still being destroyed, and fossil fuel subsidies are ongoing despite their distorting effect on the market, the study has found. Coal-fired generation is still increasing, with coal-fired power plants continuing to be built in some areas, while existing plants are not being removed from service fast enough. Electric vehicles, meanwhile, comprise 1.4% of overall sales, making a 2020 milestone of 15% of new car sales hard to reach.

There has also been insufficient progress in agriculture to stop harmful practices that increase carbon dioxide production, and heavy industry is not doing enough to use energy more efficiently.

But the analysis has found important steps forward, on renewable energy, curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, and public sector investment in reducing emissions. These suggest progress in other aspects of tackling climate change is also possible, with greater effort from the public and private sectors.

The Mission2020 website has produced a simple diagram to demonstrate what the targets are (or have been), in order to keep within 1.5°C and to monitor progress with them:

road-to-success

The most important one is 2020, as carbon emissions need to peak (i.e. not get any higher) by then if we are to keep within 1.5°C. If emissions continue to rise after 2020, then it will be too late to keep within 1.5 degrees, as carbon dioxide will have built up in the atmosphere and will take thousands of years to remove.

Further details about the Mission2020 analysis are reported in the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/22/analysis-warns-lack-progress-2020-global-emissions-target



An earlier blog I wrote on this website is also relevant to view in this context.  It is entitled “Three generations left – or is it only three years?  New report published in Nature.”



 


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What was agreed at COP24 in Katowice, Poland?

The latest United Nations talks (UNFCC) at COP24 seem to have been engulfed in controversy.  The main agenda item was to put together a framework for different countries to implement in working towards their Paris 2015 targets. This included how governments will measure, report on and verify their emissions-cutting efforts, ensuring all countries are held to proper standards, which they will find it hard to wriggle out of.  However, they seem to have got bogged down with disagreements, mainly to do with carbon credits and carbon sinks.

Carbon credits are awarded to countries achieving their targets. Carbon sinks relate to forests, which absorb carbon dioxide.  Brazil, with its large rain forest cover, insisted on a change of wording but critics of this said it would lead to a form of double counting.  The issue was postponed for another year.

All of this took place within the scenario of the IPCC-commissioned October report, which warned that, allowing warming to reach 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, would have grave consequences, including the death of coral reefs and loss of many species.

Four countries joined forces to weaken the conclusions of the report.  These were: USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who would only agree to the timing of the scientist’s report.  In addition, Brazil, with its new right-wing president, who is sceptical of climate concerns, withdrew its offer to host next year’s talks in Brazil.

However, 196 200 countries agreed to rules for how they’ll adhere to the Paris climate agreement. The rules define how nations will record their emissions and their progress toward climate goals.

Katowice

President Michal Kurtyka celebrating the final agreement in Katowice

The poorest and most vulnerable countries felt that the final agreement demanded too little of industrialized countries, whilst expecting developing countries to agree on common reporting requirements to bring their climate promises into line with those of more developed countries. However, the richest countries must now be more open about their financial support to those countries most affected by global warming.

One of the downsides to the COP24 event was the hosting of a pro-coal fringe meeting, during the proceedings by the USA.  The only other country attending this meeting was Australia.  Perhaps not surprising in view of other postings on this site over the last two years.

See: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/11/australia-only-nation-to-join-us-at-pro-coal-event-at-cop24-climate-talks

Further reports on COP24 can be found at:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/16/what-was-agreed-at-cop24-in-poland-and-why-did-it-take-so-long

https://www.politico.eu/article/5-takeaways-from-the-cop24-global-climate-change-summit-poland-katowice/

https://environment-analyst.com/72855/cop24-deal-to-put-paris-agreement-into-practice?view=print

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/cop24-climate-change-summit-live-latest-update-poland-katowice-global-warming-paris-agreement-a8663481.html

COP25 will be in Chile.