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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Climate Change and Debt

September 30th 2018

This weekend, I attended a conference organised by the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC): “Breaking the Chains: from 1998 to the present day”.  JDC was set up in the 1990s to pressure Governments to act to cancel the unpayable debts that many developing countries held.  The situation was likened to the Biblical principle of “Jubilee” or restitution, in which debts would be cancelled every 50 years, to give an opportunity for everybody to start again at square one; not to be over-burdened with debt hanging over them.  A man called Martin Dent, a university professor raised the challenge about whether we could set the millennium as a date when the debts of developing countries could be cancelled. In 1998, in response to his, and others, Jubilee2000 campaign, 70,000 people came to Birmingham, where the G8 summit was being held, and they formed a human chain around the city to protest that so many poor countries were being held to ransom by the banks. As a result of this pressure and many thousands of signatures to petitions and postcards that were sent, $130 billion of debts was cancelled.

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The human chain around Birmingham in 1998

For the full story of this, see: 

https://jubileedebt.org.uk/blog/we-still-need-a-debt-jubilee-20-years-on-from-the-birmingham-human-chain

However, things did not go back to square one, as hoped. Due to the 2008 recession and the low-interest rates that were introduced in developed countries, to help them recover from the recession, banks looked again to the poorer countries to make money; they offered new loans to them with higher interest rates. Now, 31 of these countries are in debt again, unable to pay the high interest rates the banks have imposed, with another 82 countries on the brink of going into debt.  Some developing countries, such as Jamaica and Pakistan, never had their loans cancelled anyway, so are in double the difficulty.

In 1998, JDC had proposed the introduction of better controls over banks, to prevent them from offering loans to people who were unlikely to be able to repay them. Unfortunately, these controls were not introduced,  and so a similar situation has arisen again 20 years later.

Some relevant United Nations history:

At the 2009 UN Summit (COP 15), held in Copenhagen, it was recognised that some of the poorer countries were more vulnerable to climate change, as they did not have the resources to carry out preventative measures and some, such as island nations, were more prone to the disastrous effects of more devastating hurricanes, typhoons, as well as sea level rise.  So, it was agreed at the UN to set up a fund to help those countries which are vulnerable to climate change. It was called the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in 2010 and the world’s richest countries were asked to make $100 billion available to the fund.  It was acknowledged that, as the richer countries were the ones who had caused climate change (through industrialisation and the use of fossil fuels), they had an obligation to help those countries who were suffering most from the effects of it, yet who had done nothing to bring it about.  Further details of this fund can be found at:

https://unfccc.int/process/bodies/funds-and-financial-entities/green-climate-fund

Yet by 2018, this fund has been largely ineffectual.  There have been complaints that there have been too many hoops to jump through to access the money, that the grants were too small, with loans (yet again) being preferred to grants. There is also further criticism of the embattled GCF, which has struggled with management dramas, including the resignation of its executive director and the collapse of a crucial board meeting over the summer. Rich and poor countries on the board are divided over framing new processes to raise funds, and donors have expressed private frustration at the slowness of its processes.  Now it would seem that recent applications to the GCF include applications for megadams and, from Bahrain (an oil-rich country) to clean up waste water from its oil and gas industry. Are these within the guidelines originally set up for the GCF?

In another blog, I have described the Climate Vulnerable Forum of 48 countries, which has been vocal in stating that the GCF is not doing what was promised.  Some of these countries also threatened to pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement unless there were more assurances on finance, technology and compensation (see page 184 in my book).

How is debt linked to climate change?

At the JDC conference last weekend, there was a workshop on Climate Debt led by Clare Waldon (JDC) and Leon Sealey-Huggins from Warwick University, the latter having carried out studies on Climate Change in the Caribbean.

https://novaramedia.com/2017/09/11/3-ways-inequality-is-at-the-heart-of-hurricane-irmas-destruction/

Also, in another blog on this site, “Why climate change puts the poorest most at risk”, I cite an article by Martin Wolf in The Financial Times. in which he provides data to show that the economic impact of weather extremes is felt most strongly in tropical countries, nearly all of which are low-income countries.

In his workshop last weekend, Leon Sealey-Huggins gave evidence that the GCF is not working and is not being used to help countries adapt to climate change. As well as this, with last year (2017) seeing several powerful hurricanes in succession in the Caribbean, some countries fell into the situation of not receiving help from the GCF to repair damage but were expected to continue to pay off the debts they already held.

In contrast, €16 billion were given to The Netherlands by the EU to help them to build flood defences. And some Caribbean islands are Dutch protectorates but they received nothing.

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Damage done in St. Maarten by Hurricane Irma in 2017

This situation is unjust and requires urgent action.  The world must see how the banks are exploiting these islands who are the victims of climate change not the perpetrators.

Yet, it would appear that the IMF is resisting a moratorium on debt repayments from Caribbean islands.  Instead they are asking for them to take out climate-risk insurance.  In other words, they are being asked to insure their debts, so that the banks still get their money if there is a disaster.

Sealey-Huggins introduced the idea of “debt swaps”, in which debt repayments could be used to finance local climate change projects.

Others are calling Western countries to make reparations for slavery, as it is felt that most of the developed countries’ wealth is rooted in the slave trade.

As regards reparation, the Jubilee Debt Campaign is demanding debt relief for hurricane-hit islands.  And new initiatives are being developed to raise the profile of what has been happening.



19.10.18

Push for all Lenders to Take Responsibility

Tim Jones, of the Jubilee Debt Campaign wrote, in response to a letter in the Financial Times:

Zeng Rong ( Letters, October 17) may have got her decimal points in the wrong place when saying that China accounts for 1.8 per cent of Africa’s foreign debts, and 1.5 per cent of Ghana’s. Our recent analysis suggests that China is responsible for 20 per cent of African governments’ foreign debt, and 9 per cent of Ghana’s. 
Ms Zeng is, of course, correct to point out that there are lots of lenders to African governments, and the private sector lends at higher interest rates. Anyone concerned about preventing debt crises needs to push for responsibility from all lenders, whether governments, multilateral institutions or the private sector. 
 A key first step by lenders is a commitment to publicly disclose details on loans to governments in one place, alongside regulations to ensure all lenders comply. People across the world have the right to know about the debt being taken out in their name. 
 Tim Jones Economist, Jubilee Debt Campaign”  

 


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FT: Shinzo Abe has called on all countries to join Japan to “act now to save our planet”

This piece is copied with acknowledgments to both the Financial Times, for whom Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe wrote a recent groundbreaking article, and to the editor (BP) of

https://preparingforgovernment.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/ft-shinzo-abe-has-called-on-all-countries-to-join-japan-and-act-now-to-save-our-planet/

for giving me permission to use her piece taken from the FT article, to which she added illustrations and emphases:

In the Financial Times, he writes:

The summer of 2018 broke meteorological records, devastating entire regions along the coast of western Japan. There were unprecedented levels of rain, heat, landslides and hurricanes. 

The country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has called on all countries to join Japan and act now to save our planet. In the Financie writes:

This summer western Japan was battered by the strongest typhoon to hit the country in 25 years. Unprecedented torrential rain and landslides ravaged the residents of western Japan this summer, killing more than 200 people, and ruining hundreds of thousands of livelihoods.

Roads are cut off by a mudslide at a section of the Kyushu Expressway in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture (all pictures and emphases added)

Meanwhile, severe scorching heatwaves struck the country and resulted in approximately 160 deaths. Fierce heat also gripped North America and Europe, and hurricanes and typhoons hit the US and Philippines.

Global warming increases carbon dioxide and acidifies the ocean, damaging its ability to self-purify. Even worse, proliferating marine plastic pollution threatens marine ecosystems and eventually, our own health.

The international community has taken steps to address climate change with forward-looking and long-term goals. An agreement was adopted in Paris in 2015 with the participation of all major economies including China and India. The following year, I went a step further at the Ise-Shima summit in Japan, as G7 members committed to devising long-term strategies.

Climate change can be life-threatening to all generations, be it the elderly or the young and in developed and developing countries alike.

Rescuers help local residents to evacuate in the town of Saka, Hiroshima Prefecture

The problem is exacerbating more quickly than we expected. We must take more robust actions. And swiftly.

The way forward is clear. We must save both the green of the earth and the blue of its oceans.

Our goals must be firmly based on the latest scientific knowledge. As we learn more, through the work and expertise of the scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the entire world should take appropriate measures accordingly.

All countries must engage with the same level of urgency. Some are still increasing greenhouse gas emissions and emit more than 2bn tonnes annually according to the International Energy Agency. All countries must put promises into practice. Developed countries should provide support to developing countries for fulfilling their obligations.

As part of their long-term strategies, governments should promote innovation to drive new growth and spread the net widely for new ideas.

No alternatives should be excluded. Japan has goals such as creating ultra-high-capacity storage batteries, further decentralising and digitising automated energy control systems, and evolving into a hydrogen-based energy society. Countries should also rank the competitiveness of a company based on its development and dissemination of future-oriented technologies. This would encourage companies to invest for the long term.

Momentum is already growing in the private sector. The number of companies engaging in environment, social and governance-focused investment or issuing green bonds is rising dramatically. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund is one of them. Investors now require businesses to analyse environmental challenges and disclose potential risks as well as opportunities.

We must also focus on reducing emissions from infrastructure.

In Japan, our Shinkansen high-speed rail network prevents congestion and boosts the overall fuel efficiency of transportation nationwide. We also have set our carmakers a goal to cut the greenhouse gas emissions per vehicle they produce by 80 per cent by 2050 so as to realise “Well-to-Wheel Zero Emission”.

We must simultaneously boost economic growth and reduce the use of fossil fuels. That means cutting the costs and improving the reliability of renewable energy. In Japan, the volume of electricity generated from renewable sources has increased 2.5-fold in the past four years. Japan will host the world’s first ministerial meeting focused on hydrogen energy. We cannot overlook safe nuclear power generation and controls on emissions of methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

Manufacturers with large-scale greenhouse gas emissions should be encouraged to update their production methods. Countries should stop excessive steel production, which causes massive greenhouse gas emissions and creates imbalances in markets.

Finally we should tap data processing and communications advances to speed up the innovation cycle. Investing in energy transition and the sharing economy will ensure economic growth and dramatically reduce greenhouse gases.

Addressing climate change, marine pollution, and disaster risk reduction are critical pillars for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Japan will preside over the G20 next year and focus on accelerating the virtuous cycle of environmental protection and economic growth.

When the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development is held in Japan, we will extend support to African countries. We invite the rest of the world to join us in tackling this tough challenge.'”


 

PLEASE NOTE THAT IN ANOTHER BLOG ON THIS WEBSITE, “20 Countries Most At Risk From Sea Level Rise”, Japan features as having the 3rd highest risk in the world of exposure to sea level rise, with 10% of their population exposed by it.

 


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Global disaster insurance losses in 2017 double those of 2016

Oliver Ralph, insurance correspondent for the Financial Times reported on this on 20th December 2017.  His main source of information was Swiss Re, a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance, insurance and other insurance-based forms of risk transfer. See: www.swissre.com.

According to Ralph’s figures, natural and man made disasters caused $136 billion of insured losses in 2017, more than double the 2016 figure and well above the 19-year average of $58 billion.

Most of the losses have been as a result of hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes in the Caribbean, southern US and Mexico.

Insurers and reinsurers are currently negotiating premiums and many predict widespread increases. However, there are signs that prices are not rising as swiftly as many predicted, apparently because insurance companies are awash with capital. Investors believe that insurance companies will give a higher return than elsewhere.

Image from the Mexico earthquake in 2017


Lloyd’s of London will look to cut costs after a year of expensive natural catastrophes plunged the insurance market into a £2 billion loss, its first in six years.

Lloyd’s reported a pre-tax loss of £2 billion for the year to December 31 (2017), compared with a profit of £2.1 billion in 2016, after it paid out £4.5 billion in compensation to victims of a spate of natural disasters.

During one of the most expensive hurricance seasons on record last year, Hurricane Harvey ripped into Texas in late August, followed swiftly by Irma, which hit the Florida peninsula, and then Maria, which left devastation in its wake in Puerto Rico. There were also devastating wildfires in California, an earthquake in Mexico, monsoon flooding in Bangladesh and a mudslide in Colombia.

Lloyd’s of London is the world’s oldest insurance market, whose history dates back to coffee houses in the City in 1688. It is based in the renowned Lloyd’s building in the heart of the City. It acts as the umbrella organisation for the insurers and brokers who provide commercial cover in areas ranging from shipping and airlines to oil rigs and trains, often choosing to pool the risks they take on by forming syndicates of underwriters.

During the course of its existence, it has survived several near-death experiences, including the impact of a wave of asbestos-related claims during the 1990s and the seizure of the airline market after the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. It also fought, and won, a damaging battle with wealthy insurance investors, known as Names, who claimed they were misled over risky deals they bought into in the early 1990s.

As well as the London market, Lloyd’s operates in overseas markets from the US and China to emerging markets such as Africa. It has also got involved in new areas of insurance, including providing cover against cyberattacks.

The world’s insurers are estimated to face a collective bill for last year’s disasters of about $140 billion, according to experts at JLT Re, a unit of Jardine Lloyd Thompson. Lloyd’s paid out £18.3 billion in claims last year, including £4.5 billion in connection with natural disasters, more than double the previous year. The catastrophe-related losses wiped out the effect of a 12.4 per cent increase in gross written premiums to £33.6 billion during the year and a 38 per cent jump in the return that Lloyd’s generated from investing the premiums received, from £1.3 billion to £1.8 billion.

Inga Beale, who took charge of the Lloyd’s market four years ago, described 2017 as an “exceptionally difficult year” for the insurance market and the organisation wil now focus on a cost-cutting and efficiency drive. All of Lloyd’s members had been ordered to process 30 per cent of their insurance quotes and risk-related documentation electronically by the end of September to bring down their expenses.


 


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2017: the worst hurricane season on record

The following statistics are available from an article by Paul Simons in The Times on 27th December 2017:

Ten consecutive storms reached hurricane status; this is the first time it has happened since 1893.  These storms included two category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, the first time this has happened in ten years.

Hurricane Irma’s strongest winds (185mph) broke the record for wind-speed intensity for an Atlantic hurricane outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Irma also maintained its peak intensity for 37 hours, a record for a cyclone anywhere in the world; the previous record was 24 hours, set by Typoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.

Hurricane Harvey rained more heavily than any hurricane ever recorded in US history. About 1,640mm (64.6″) fell in one location in Texas and an estimated 127 billion tonnes of rain fell in total in the state — so much that it compressed the Earth’s crust by roughly 2cm.

Three of the largest hurricanes hit land at their peak intensity, causing huge devastation. Much of the Caribbean lies in ruins in the aftermath of both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria; the island of Barbuda was so devastated that it is uninhabited for the first time in 300 years. See:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/nov/20/the-night-barbuda-died-how-hurricane-irma-created-a-caribbean-ghost-town

Devastation in Barbuda after Hurricane Irma hit the island

Puerto Rica was hit by Hurricane Maria and the number of deaths there is estimated to be over 1,000.  It also affected power and water supplies.

The entire hurricane season in the US is reckoned to have been the most destructive in history, taking historical inflation into account, with damage totalling an estimated $206 billion (£154 billion).

Now, a recent article by Eleanor Ainge Roy in The Guardian reports that there are calls for a revision of the scale used to measure hurricanes.  Currently, a category 5 hurricane is the worst, describing near-total destruction. But climate scientists meeting at a conference in the New Zealand city of Wellington have floated the idea of creating a category six to reflect the increasing severity of tropical cyclones in the wake of warming sea temperatures and climate change.

New research, published in Nature, shows that rising global temperatures could be causing tropical storms to slow down, allowing them more time to unleash heavy rainfall once making landfall. The research found that the speed at which they travel across the Earth has slowed by an average of 10% over the past 70 years, with the speed of storms originating in the Western North Pacific falling by 30%. An example of this effect was seen during Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Houston, releasing 100cm of rain in just three days.


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More extreme weather events caused by climate change?

The US state of Texas has experienced some terrifying extreme winds and unprecedented flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey.  Photographs in the US press show homes destroyed, highways flooded and elderly people in an old people’s home sitting up to their waists in flood water.

Climate experts have been saying for a while that tornados, monsoons, tropical cyclones, hurricanes and flooding are becoming more extreme.  Climate change deniers are saying there is no evidence of a link between climate change and severe weather events but that these events are just due to natural variability.  However, I feel that the scientific evidence produced from studying 140 weather events around the world from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to the California drought shows a clear link. The result is mounting evidence that human activity is raising the risk of some types of extreme weather, especially those linked to heat.

Carbon Brief has mapped all of these events:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/mapped-how-climate-change-affects-extreme-weather-around-the-world

and their analysis suggests that 63% of all extreme weather events studied were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for nearly half of such events (46%), droughts make up 21% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 14%.

A recent article in The Guardian (28th August 2017) by Michael E. Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, has discussed whether Hurricane Harvey was caused by climate change. He concluded that climate change has worsened the impact of the Hurricane and other extreme weather events.  See:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/28/climate-change-hurricane-harvey-more-deadly?CMP=share_btn_tw

And where is Trump in all of this?

I wonder whether the current US devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will change Donald Trump’s mind about the reality of climate change. 

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Probably not, as he only seems to listen to the group of buddies he has gathered around him at the White House, most of whom have a vested interest in continuing to burn fossil fuels.  But will the swamped and bereaved residents of Houston and Florida allow him to continue on this blinkered course?

A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists has raised another problem arising from Hurricane Harvey: that more then 650 energy and industrial facilities may have been flooded as a result of the hurricane, with the Gulf Coast being home to many chemical industries as well, thus raising the risk of people living in the Houston area of being exposed to toxic chemicals.

http://blog.ucsusa.org/kristy-dahl/flooded-by-hurricane-harvey-new-map-shows-energy-industrial-and-superfund-sites

Meanwhile, Greenpeace have pointed out that the global media has focused on the disaster in Texas and ignored all the other tragic weather events taking place across the globe.  These include:

Flooding in South Asia:

In India, Nepal and Bangladesh 1200 people have also been recently killed by flooding, with 1.8 million children unable to go to school. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) estimates more than 41 million people have been affected by monsoon rains and severe flooding as of June this year. Whilst the numbers are massive, the stories to come out of this disaster are just as tragic. Several people are reported to have died from falling into open manholes, a two-year-old has lost her life to a wall collapse and many are reported to be missing.

Sierra Leone:

Two weeks ago a mudslide hit Sierra Leone, killing at least 499 people.

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Niger floods force thousands from their homes:

Serious flooding has led the authorities in Niger to order thousands of people to leave their homes in the capital Niamey. While many are sheltering in schools, others have nowhere to go. Already the torrential rains are reported to have killed at least 44 people in Niamey and other parts of the West African country since June, and has caused the destruction of hundreds of houses.

Storm Lidia

Tropical Storm Lidia hit the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula with heavy rain and high winds on Thursday evening. While not projected to reach hurricane strength, authorities in the state of Baja California Sur suspended classes and flights until conditions were deemed safe.

Hurricane Irma:

This powerful hurricane rapidly intensified in the open Atlantic, posing a major threat to the Caribbean and potentially the United States. Initially labelled a tropical storm, Irma strengthened into a large Category 5 hurricane in a process known as “rapid intensification”.  This has caused extreme damage to many of the Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless.  Full news of the devastation is yet to emerge.

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Mark Lynas of CNN has written, “this is what climate change looks like”. See:

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/31/opinions/climate-change-harvey-lynas-opinion/index.html?utm_source=Weekly+climate+roundup&utm_campaign=7733095a5f-Climate+Roundup+16_06_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_81339309ed-7733095a5f-141770409

He goes on to say:

“It is not politically opportunistic to raise this issue now. Instead we have a moral duty not to accept the attempted conspiracy of silence imposed by powerful political and business interests opposed to any reduction in the use of fossil fuels. We owe this to the people of Texas as much to those of Bangladesh and India, and Niger — which was also struck by disastrous flooding this week.

Climate disasters demonstrate our collective humanity and interdependence. We have to help each other out — in the short term by saving lives and in the longer term by cutting greenhouse gases and enhancing resilience, especially in developing countries.”