human activity and the destruction of the planet

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Droughts, heatwaves and water shortages in France and Germany

A recent report in the Financial Times draws attention to the consequences of three years’ of drought on the economies of these two European countries.

germany drought

A dried-up river bed in Germany

Parts of continental Europe have been struck by drought for the third year in a row, with desiccated pastures in France’s Loire valley, campsites near Marseille destroyed by a forest fire, hosepipe bans in western Germany and fish farms in Saxony running short of fresh water.

This year’s July was the driest in France since 1959 according to the national weather office, with less than a third of normal rainfall, while the average temperature between January and July was the highest since its records began.

Germany had one of its driest spring seasons in more than a century this year, and rainfall in July was nearly 40 per cent below normal.  There are fears that there will be a repeat of the low water levels on Germany’s major rivers, such as the Rhine, that happened two years ago, disrupting shipping and hitting the country’s economy.

“The heat has been roasting everything,” said Clément Traineau, a cattle farmer near Angers on the Loire. “We had not a drop of water in July.”

A report in Nature demonstrated that the drought over the two previous consecutive summers (2018-19) was unprecedented in the last 250 years.  The long dry summer of 2003 had been devastating for crops but their predictions suggested that drought, caused by climate change, is more likely to feature in the future.

Their data also suggested that there has been an increase in the area affected by drought in recent years (see figures below).



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Climate Action and Poverty Alleviation must go hand-in-hand

Following on from another recent post relating the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, this post from the editor of Nature makes the following contribution:

Editorial comments from Nature magazine

The coronavirus has shown what happens when there’s a large shock to the world economy. That’s why efforts to combat climate change must not slow down.

For the first time since its inception 50 years ago, this year’s Earth Day, on 22 April, will coincide with the fleeting prospect of a lower carbon footprint, as the fastest economic slowdown the world has ever seen has grounded transport and closed workplaces.

The ‘new normal’ — as some are calling it — also comes at huge social and economic cost. As Nature went to press, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus had taken more than 170,000 lives, a number that will continue to rise. And the pandemic has also precipitated an unprecedented economic shock. Worldwide, tens of millions have been made unemployed. For now, governments are rightly focusing on spending trillions of dollars to keep health-care systems functioning, to pay for rising welfare costs and to support companies to prevent more workers losing their jobs.

But, at the same time, many carbon-intensive industries in coal, oil and gas are queuing up for bailouts. Governments need to resist. Before the pandemic, momentum was building towards decarbonization — for example, through commitments from governments on net-zero emissions and through green new deals. This work must not be undone.

But a greener post-pandemic future cannot come at the expense of livelihoods — particularly those of the lowest paid and those in developing countries. The United Nations is forecasting that a drop in demand from high-income nations means that low- and middle-income countries will lose hundreds of billions of dollars in export earnings in 2020. Without urgent research and action, many of these countries are looking at vast numbers of their citizens staying out of work.

Polluter pays

Fortunately, there’s one action that could contribute to easing some of the coming hardships and, at the same time, ensure that development continues on a sustainable path. After the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations pledged to help developing nations with research and development and with green financing. This wasn’t aid so much as an application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Many of the richer countries had recognized that their actions had caused climate change. And they agreed that they had a responsibility to fund less-developed countries, both to help those nations become more resilient to the effects of global warming, and so that those countries could continue to develop, albeit in greener ways.

A decade ago, developed countries pledged to channel US$100 billion annually to developing nations in climate finance by 2020. But — as we reported in September (Nature 573, 328–331; 2019) — only $71 billion reached its destination in 2017, and this was mostly in loans, not grants. In the context of today’s bailouts, these are not onerous sums. Worldwide, some $2.4 trillion a year will be needed for the next 15 years just to transform energy systems to keep global temperatures from exceeding 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. As the economic crisis deepens, more loans are being offered by multilateral lending agencies. But loans are no substitute for the failure to keep past promises.

It’s unfortunate that the next Conference of the Parties to the UN’s climate convention — due to take place in Glasgow, UK, in November — has had to be postponed, because this is where developed nations would have been reminded of their obligations. However, in the spirit of current work-pattern adjustments, this meeting — or at least preparations for it — could still take place virtually. The coming economic stimulus packages must include finance for greener development. And long-promised funding for developing countries must also be made good.

The pandemic has taught the world a sharp lesson in what happens when there is a swift economic shock. A similar shock could lie ahead — as economists have long warned — if action is not taken to curb climate change. The International Monetary Fund is projecting that growth in most countries is likely to bounce back in 2021 if lockdowns do not persist. But the world might not be so resilient should such a shock result from extreme climate events, or rising sea levels.

That is why greener forms of growth must remain a priority. But development must be equitable, too.”

Nature 580, 432 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-01122-0
Magdalena Skipper

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More lost and endangered species are being reported

A new statistical analysis by Bird Life International has been reported by Patrick Barkham in The Guardian. It has confirmed that eight bird species are known to have become extinct this decade. Five species are from South America and their extinction has been caused by deforestation.  They include:

  • the Brazilian Spix’s macaw;
  • the poo-uli (black-faced honey creeper);
  • the pernambuco pygmy owl;
  • the cryptic treehunter;
  • Alagoas foliage gleaner.

Other extinctions have been small island species, vulnerable to hunting or invasive species.  90% of bird extinctions have been small-island species but now some species from large continents are disappearing.  See:


The Poo-uli, last seen in Hawaii in 2004

In another painstaking study, it has been found that hedgehog numbers in the UK have declined by 80% since the 1950s.  This is thought to be due to intensive farming methods and increasing badger populations (badgers eat hedgehogs but both species can co-exist in the same habitat).  The study has been published in Nature: Scientific Reports –

A number of rural sites were surveyed across England and Wales and, in many of them, no hedgehogs were found at all.  the South West of England seemed to be paricularly devoid of hedgehogs.

hedgehog map

The green dots in the map above show where hedgehogs were detected and the black dots where none were found; the large black spots identify the locations of badger setts.  The study was carried out by Ben M. Williams, Philip J. Baker, Emily Thomas, Gavin Wilson, Johanna Judge and Richard W. Yarnell.  Scientific Reports 8, Article Number 12156 (2018).

Damian Carrington of The Guardian has given a summary of this report:

Helping-hedgehogs-prepare-for-hibernation-min (2)

The endangered hedgehog

An article in Nature has shown that all widlife species have declined by 58% in the past four decades and predicts that by 2020, populations will have declined by two-thirds from 1970.

Activities such as deforestation, poaching and human-induced climate change are in large part to blame for the decline, with the main decline due to habitat loss.


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Three generations left? Or is it only three years? New evidence from climate experts in Nature magazine

Christiana Figueres, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Gail Whiteman, Johan Rockstrom, Anthony Hobley and Stefan Rahmstorff – all experts in climate change issues – have written an article in Nature magazine (28th June 2017) to warn that we have only three years to safeguard our climate. Figueres, a former UN climate chief and executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whom the Paris agreement was signed, and her colleagues, who also include prominent figures from the UNFCCC, set out a six-point plan for turning the tide by 2020.



Christiana Figueres is second from the left in the front row.  Photograph taken after the signing of the Paris agreement in December 2015 (COP21)

After rising for decades, global emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have levelled in the past three years – a sign that investment in climate mitigations are starting to pay off.  But there is still a long way to go to decarbonize the world economy.

For example, globally, the mean rate of sea level rise increased by 50% in the last two decades. In 2017, temperatures have already reached their highest levels in history in some areas, from California to Vietnam. And the past three years were the hottest on record.  And, two days ago, the highest ever recorded temperature (54˚C) was recorded in the city of Ahvaz, Iran, a city of 1.1 million people.
Due to increases in global temperatures, driven by human activity, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already losing mass at an increasing rate. Summer sea ice is disappearing in the Arctic and coral reefs are dying from heat stress — entire ecosystems are starting to collapse. The social impacts of climate change from intensified heatwaves, droughts and sea-level rise are inexorable and affect the poorest and weakest first. An American study recently published in Science and reported in the Financial Times, shows that poorer parts of the US stand to suffer damages of up to 20 per cent of their income if global warming continues unabated and that they will suffer disproportionately more than richer areas. 


The writers of the Nature article believe that the year 2020 is crucially important because if emissions continue to rise, or even stay level, the temperature goals set in Paris in 2015 will become unattainable and they set out the reasons for this.

The six-point plan includes milestones to be achieved in Energy (to 30% renewables worldwide); Infrastructure (decarbonising buildings); Transport (moving to 15% electric vehicles, fuel efficiences for heavy-duty vehicles and a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the airline industry); Land (reducing deforestation and a shift to reforestation, sustainable agricultural practices and healthy, well-managed soils); Industry (a goal of halving carbon emissions by 2050, especially in carbon-intensive industries, such as iron and steel, cement, chemicals, oil and gas); Finance (to rethink financial investments, the issuing of more green bonds to finance climate-mitigation efforts).

The authors have launched Mission 2020, a collaborative campaign to raise ambition and action across key sectors, so that the carbon emissions will start to go down.  See:

A 29-page report ‘2020: The Climate Turning Point’ can be accessed on the mission2020 website.  It gives the evidential basis for their conclusions that 2020 will be the point of no return, unless carbon emissions have started to drop by then. They suggest actions to bring down the emissions.  These are far-reaching and require a total commitment globally.


A report on this in the Guardian includes quotes from some of the authors:

Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, commented: “The maths is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence [before] 2020.”

Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre said: “We have been blessed by a remarkably resilient planet over the past 100 years, able to absorb most of our climate abuse. Now we have reached the end of this era, and need to bend the global curve of emissions immediately, to avoid unmanageable outcomes for our modern world.”

The authors hope that their 6-point plan will be adopted at the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7-8th July.