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Brazil faces economic pain as Amazon forest destruction dries up water supplies

A crushed bottle is seen on the dry ground of the Jaguari dam, which is part of the Cantareira reservoir system, during a drought in Joanopolis, near Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

AO PAULO, – Recurring drought, regular power outages and a devastated farming industry – these are the problems scientists say Brazil could face as research suggests the rainforest-rich country is drying out at an alarming rate.

Several studies in recent months have pointed to deforestation, a warming climate and weak governance as the main drivers of drier conditions in Brazil’s midwest and southeast, leaving farms parched and hydro-power plants struggling to meet electricity demand.

According to research released in August by deforestation mapping initiative MapBiomas, Brazil has lost nearly 16% of its surface water over the past three decades.

Using historical satellite images, researchers identified parts of the country that have changed from water areas to soil or vegetation and vice versa, said Carlos Souza Jr., a geologist at Imazon (the Amazon Institute of Man and Environment).

“I expected some (images) would show impacts on the environment, but I didn’t think they would be this clear and evident,” said Souza, whose 2018 research on aquatic ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest provided data for the MapBiomas study.

“This means we will have less water for basic activities, such as industrial needs, energy production, (supplying) urban centers and traditional communities, and more,” he said.

The National Electric System Operator has said Brazil, which holds 12% of the planet’s freshwater reserves, is experiencing its worst drought in more than 90 years.

With reservoir water levels dropping fast, especially in the southeast where big cities Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are located, the nation’s electricity supplier said in August it would add a “water scarcity flag” to the power tariff system.

National electricity rates are determined by colored flags representing water levels at hydropower plants.

Green means they are running at sufficient capacity, while yellow, red and the new “scarcity” flag signal low or critical levels, triggering a price rise to cover the costs of activating thermal energy plants and other measures to avoid blackouts.


Climate change is already cutting into the volume and variety of crops Brazil’s farmers can grow, according to a September report by Planet Tracker, a nonprofit financial think-tank.

Its researchers said increasingly erratic weather is hitting the double-cropping system Brazil relies on to maintain its status as a major soy and corn exporter.

Double-cropping is when farmers use the same land twice in one year – and to do that successfully, they need stable rainfall patterns to know what to plant and when.

The report predicted that by 2050, the net loss to Brazil’s export revenue could be $701 million-$2.1 billion per year.

Brazil’s farmers are now caught in what Planet Tracker calls a “negative feedback loop” – changing rainfall patterns result in lower crop yields, leading farmers to clear forest to grow more crops, which further impacts rainfall patterns.

From August 2019 to July 2020, the Amazon lost more than 10,850 sq km (4,190 sq miles) of trees, a jump of more than 7% compared to the previous 12 months, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Forests in the Amazon basin play an important role in generating rainfall – about 20 billion tons of vapor evaporate from the region every day, later coming down as rain in the rainforest and other parts of Brazil.

But climate change is shifting rains that have historically fallen in central Brazil to the south, said physicist Paulo Artaxo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a lead author on its last three assessment reports.

At the same time, as global temperatures rise, the amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold increases, meaning less is released as rainfall, he explained.

“All IPCC climate models show that central and northeast Brazil will become drier and the south will have more precipitation. It’s already happening today,” Artaxo said.


Lack of governance and environmental oversight are exacerbating Brazil’s water troubles, said Angelo Lima, executive secretary of the Water Governance Observatory, a network of researchers, public institutions, private sector and civil society groups.

Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has been weakening the environment ministry’s authority over forestry and water agency services, while promoting development of the Amazon.

“The dismantling of environmental management in Brazil … has a direct impact on the water and on the climate,” Lima said.

Brazil should have learned lessons from past water crises, he said, such as the rain shortage in 2001 that resulted in planned blackouts across the country, and the severe drought that hit Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, in 2014.

Lima would like to see the government apply an existing law that allows it to charge residents and businesses to use untreated water.

Officials also should focus on ending deforestation across Brazil and invest more in rehabilitating water basins and riverbanks, which would stop – or at least ease – its water crisis, he added.

Simone Santana, owner of the Pontal do Lago inn at the edge of a lake created by the Furnas hydropower dam in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, said she had been feeling the impacts of Brazil’s water crisis for the past 10 years.

Last month, the water level in Furnas reached its lowest point in two decades, leaving the dam with less than 15% of its usable volume.

Once a popular spot for water activities and fishing, the fast-emptying dam no longer attracts the same number of tourists. Between 2014 and 2019, just before the pandemic, the inn saw bookings dive, said Santana.

“Our business was very affected. We used to have 11 employees, now we have only four. We have gone through a very rough time,” she said.

A private well ensures a steady water supply to the inn even in times of drought, and Santana protects her business from fluctuating electricity prices with a mini solar-power system she installed two years ago.

“Companies have to invest in (solar) to have more tranquility and be less affected by the water crisis,” she said.

Vietnam sisters offer scholarships to keep students in school during pandemic 

Children and their parents play in a park in Nha Trang, Vietnam, after a COVID-19 lockdown was lifted on Oct. 17. (Joachim Pham)

Nguyen Duy Phuong, a 12th-grader, thought he could not afford to go to school this year as his father, who used to work as a day wage earner in Ho Chi Minh City and became jobless during the delta variant phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, returned home and still has no work.

His mother died years ago at a young age.

Phuong said he received 1.5 million dong ($66) in early October from Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Hoa to get books and other basic supplies for his studies.

Phuong lives with his grandparents, one of whom has leprosy.

“I am walking on air about the generous gift. My family is deeply grateful to the nun and benefactors,” Phuong said, adding that he is trying to overcome difficulties to finish high school.

Hoa, a member of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Cai Mon Congregation based in Ben Tre Province, said, “We offered scholarships to 33 students, including Phuong, so that they could buy school uniforms and books, and share Internet service fees with one another as they gather in groups to learn online lessons.”

She said scholarship students are in third through 12th grades in the two southern provinces of Ben Tre and Tra Vinh. They receive 500,000-2 million dong ($22-88) each, depending on their situations.

Hoa said she also offered her own laptop to a group of students so they could attend online classes together. 

Their parents have been left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months and could not afford to get computers and other supplies for their studies.

As of Nov. 5, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health had recorded 953,547 infections that include 22,412 deaths since the coronavirus hit in early 2020.

As of Oct. 26, 25 out of the country’s 63 cities and provinces had to hold remote classes through the Internet and television so as to limit COVID-19 infection among students.

All schools in Tra Vinh still provided online courses while in Ben Tre some have reopened and others still held online classes due to the coronavirus since the new school year started in September.

Hoa said most of the scholarship recipients have relatives who work in industrial zones in Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Dong Nai and Binh Duong.

“Those students will surely drop out of school or perform poorly at school if they are not given financial support. They will take manual jobs with low wages to support their families and be caught in the poverty trap like their parents,” Hoa said.

The nun said she tries to support students in need regardless of their backgrounds as all people are God’s children. Most of the scholarship children are from families of other faiths who have been badly affected by the contagion.

She donated 6 million dong ($265) to Khmer ethnic Venerable Thach Da Ra, who leads Kachakkarama Thlot, a Buddhist pagoda based in Hiep Hoa Commune, to provide drinking water, disinfectants, food and other basic needs for 200 migrant workers at an isolated center in Cau Ngang District of Tra Vinh Province. The province is home to the Khmer ethnic group and Buddhists.

The workers and their children returned from Ho Chi Minh City and neighboring provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai, which are the country’s COVID-19 epicenters.

Hoa, who has been vaccinated with one dose, asked volunteers to deliver gifts to beneficiaries as she could not go out of her convent due to social distancing measures.

The nun said benefactors of Vietnamese origin abroad make donations to her to forward to those in need.

As of Nov. 5 in Vietnam, 59.4 million people aged 18 and above have been administered COVID-19 vaccines, but only 27 million of them were given two doses since mass inoculation was rolled out on March 8.

The Southeast Asian country has so far used eight brands of COVID-19 vaccines — Comirnaty, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Janssen, Vero Cell, Hayat-Vax, Sputnik V and Abdala.

Lovers of the Holy Cross of Cho Quan Sr. Therese Nguyen Thi Kim Dung said this year more than 100 students from Ho Chi Minh City and four other provinces have been given financial support by sisters. They are offered school fees, clothes, books, school supplies, bikes and food.

Dung, who is in charge of scholarships for poor students, said their families are badly affected by the pandemic due to loss of jobs and incomes. Parents of some have died of COVID-19, while many others had to bring their children home from Ho Chi Minh City because they could not support their studies.

On Oct. 4, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Ho Chi Minh City, called on local congregations, parishes and associations to provide material and emotional support to 1,500 students who were orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic in the city.

Ho Chi Minh City started to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 12-17 on Oct. 27. An estimated 8 million children of the same age will be vaccinated nationwide.

The Ministry of Education and Training reported that some 1.2 million students from poor families need computers and Internet services to attend online classes.

A Dominican sister from a convent based in Bien Hoa, the capital of Dong Nai Province, said the nuns work with benefactors in the country and abroad to provide students in second to 10th grades 500,000 dong ($22) each so that they can buy textbooks and other supplies.

They are children in more than 100 migrant families who are from the southern provinces of Ca Mau, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang and Can Tho. Families have one to three children each.

The nun, who asked not to be named, said those families, followers of other faiths, are given 120,000 dong each to cover one month’s cost of Internet services for their children’s studies. Students use computers and smartphones to attend online lessons.

She said their parents work at local markets and construction sites, sell lottery tickets and food on the streets, and drive motorbike taxis for a living but they have become jobless since June because of the coronavirus outbreak. They were not given financial support by the government because they have no personal papers.

She said the nuns regularly provide them with rice, instant noodles, cooking oil and other basic food. They are also offered money to pay their rent and fees for running water and power.

“Many people are moved to tears when they receive food from us. They are really depressed about being in small rooms, having no jobs, and lacking food for months,” she said, adding that many told her that they had thought of attempting suicide.

The nun said local people were injected with one dose of vaccines from Europe, North America and China.

Filles de Marie Immaculée Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Ha from Thua Luu convent in Thua Thien Hue Province said the nuns provide 40 bicycles for students whose families are stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ha said parents of many students suffer from the coronavirus and lost their jobs so they could not afford their children’s school fees and bicycles to go to school. Many students had to collect used items at dump sites, work at bakeries and do other work to save money to support their families and pay for their studies last summer.

She said many students have to drop out of schools due to financial problems caused by the pandemic.

A female teacher from Dien An Elementary School in Phong Dien District said 182 of the school’s 700 students have had to drop out for financial reasons.

Nuns from St. Paul de Chartres and Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation in Hue also have given scholarships to hundreds of students from first grade to college age whose parents were left unemployed in recent months. Without the scholarship help, college students were staying home to support their families and unable to stay in school.

“We go to great lengths to create favorable conditions for students to pursue their studies under the circumstances and encourage their families to overcome this hard time. We all have to hope for the best,” Ha said.

Bridging Africa’s digital divide: The rise of community internet

Students gather around a computer during ICT training for South Sudanese refugees in the West Nile region in Northern Uganda. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Handout courtesy of BOSCO

JOHANNESBURG,- As a child growing up in war-torn northern Uganda, Daniel Komakech’s education was interrupted every time he had to flee rebels and hide in the bush for days to avoid being abducted.

Today, Komakech, 34, helps run a locally owned internet network that ensures villagers in the former conflict zone can study and stay in touch with each other – without unwanted interruptions.

“Accessing the internet was a turning point in my life,” said Komakech, programme coordinator for the non-profit Battery Operated System for Community Outreach (BOSCO), one of a growing number of community-led internet and phone networks in Africa.

“I study courses online, found jobs online … I even learned how to bake cakes for my children. That is the power of the internet, it is my teacher,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Decentralised networks – where internet or communication services are localised rather than monopolised by government or corporate giants – give users more control over their data and privacy, researchers say.

Such networks could play a significant role in Africa where internet access is scant and censorship and internet shutdowns pose an increasing risk of “digital authoritarianism”, they say.

About 80% of Europe’s population is connected to the internet, but in many parts of Africa access remains the preserve of a minority, according to the International Finance Corporation.

In Uganda, only 26% of people have online access – one of the lowest rates in sub-Saharan Africa, according to research site DataReportal.

BOSCO, which has grown using a solar-powered system linking satellites to portable computers and internet phones, is funded by donors, but hopes to start selling internet access in the future and becoming a revenue source for communities.

“Decentralised networks are helpful in allowing people to communicate at a local level and they are less prone to surveillance,” said Hanna Kreitem, a senior advisor at the Internet Society, a U.S.-based digital rights nonprofit.

In a report by the Internet Society, 37 community networks initiatives were identified in 12 African countries, from South Africa to Somalia.


Digital rights campaigners say there is space for many more local networks – from rural Africa to internet surveillance hotspots in Australia.

But local groups wanting to launch one face many challenges including cost, policy and regulatory barriers as well as a general lack of awareness about them, according to the Internet Society report.

Getting a commercial licence can be costly and time-consuming, said Sol Luca de Tena, acting chief executive of Zenzeleni Networks NPC, a South African organisation supporting community-owned wireless internet service providers.

“We have shown that community networks can bridge the digital divide but it is difficult to navigate the current regulatory framework,” said Luca de Tena.

“A licence is not easily accessible to rural, lower-income communities,” she added, citing the rural Eastern Cape province where her organisation is based.

Despite the challenges, Zenzeleni has grown each year, serving tens of thousands of devices with each device likely used by multiple family members, she said.

It is also supporting several communities to design and strengthen their networks in different provinces across the country.


Another benefit of community networks is that users can be more confident that their data is not being sold or used by big tech companies without their consent or knowledge, said Komakech.

“We have no intention of monetising our users’ data … we don’t want to lose the trust we have built over 14 years or take advantage of them,” he said.

Growing concern about how tech firms use personal data partly explains the growth of community networks in more developed cities around the world including Barcelona or New York City, digital rights groups say.

Local networks are also less likely to be targeted by surveillance operations, and mesh Wi-Fi messaging apps could allow users to keep talking even if there is a total internet shutdown.

Understanding the legal risks of attempting to bypass shutdowns through tools like VPNs is important in ensuring the safety of citizens, Kreitem told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference on Thursday.

“In Sudan, within the latest shutdown, people who were active online were targeted offline and imprisoned for being able to bypass restrictions,” he said on a panel about the human impact of internet shutdowns.

In Cape Town’s Ocean View township, the iNethi platform uses mesh routers, open-cellular base stations and open-source software to allow residents free access to study material, file sharing and chat rooms.

Local servers in community networks allow people to access and share content even when they have no internet connection – a valuable resource when the cost of data and a fiber connection is prohibitive for many, said Luca de Tena.

Accessing offline content could become more relevant across the continent as internet blackouts increase, researchers say.

There were 25 internet shutdowns in Africa last year, up from 21 a year earlier, according to the African Digital Rights Network (ADRN) think-tank.

In one of the most recent, in the landlocked Kingdom of eSwatini, a government-ordered internet slowdown took hold following pro-democracy protests in July.

Melusi Simelane, a consultant working with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), recently took the government to court for shutting down the internet.

He said lifting regulatory barriers was key to fostering more community internet initiatives.

“We need governments to ease up regulation so people can create local, independent network lines, then no one can infringe of people’s rights to express themselves or access information,” Simelane said.

Brazil: Amazon sees worst deforestation levels in 15 years

Smoke billows from a patch of forest in the Amazon
Image caption, Deforestation increased in the Amazon by 22% during the 2020-21 period

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has hit its highest level in over 15 years, official data shows.

A report by Brazil’s space research agency (Inpe) found that deforestation increased by 22% in a year.

Brazil was among a number of nations who promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 during the COP26 climate summit.

The Amazon is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

It is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

According to the latest data, some 13,235 sq km (5110 sq miles) was lost during the 2020-21 period, the highest amount since 2006.

Environment Minister Joaquim Leite said the data represents a “challenge” and said: “We have to be more forceful in relation to these crimes.”

He added that the data “does not exactly reflect the situation in the last few months”.

Deforestation of the Amazon has increased under President Jair Bolsonaro. who has encouraged agriculture and mining activities in the rainforest.

He has also clashed with Inpe in the past over its deforestation, accusing the agency in 2019 of smearing Brazil’s reputation.

But at November’s climate conference in Glasgow, Brazil was among a number of nations who signed a major deal to end and reverse the practice.

The pledge included almost £14bn ($19.2bn) of public and private funds. Some of that will go to developing countries to restore damaged land, tackle wildfires and support indigenous communities.

Close links have previously been uncovered between the deforestation of the Amazon and international supply chains.

Last year, a Greenpeace investigation discovered links between the mass deforestation of the region and food sold in British supermarkets and restaurants.

The investigation found that Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Nando’s and McDonalds were selling meat, sourced from a UK supplier, which had been fed on soy grown on farms built in deforested areas.

Just this week, Jair Bolsonaro, on tour in Dubai, told investors that attacks towards Brazil on deforestation were “unfair”.

“We want people to know the real Brazil,” he said, adding that 90% of the forest is still preserved.

Well, these latest figures reveal the real Brazil – a country whose government has from the very beginning talked up the opportunities in developing the Amazon and at the same time, belittled environmental concerns.

Not only that, these figures were actually dated 27 October – it appears they were held until after COP26.

Jair Bolsonaro didn’t turn up to COP26, but his delegation wanted to go to Glasgow and convince the world that people were wrong about Brazil – it even said it would move forward its commitment to ending deforestation by 2028.

But with numbers like these, who can believe Jair Bolsonaro now?

Ohio congregation looks to martyred nun Stang as guide to implementing Laudato Si’

Mural of Dorothy Stang in chapel in Anapu, Brazil (Barbara Fraser)
Mural of Dorothy Stang in chapel in Anapu, Brazil (Barbara Fraser)

Even before the official launch of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, the global program for putting Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical into practice throughout the Catholic Church, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Ohio had chosen their guide for the journey: martyred Sr. Dorothy Stang, who was murdered in Brazil in 2005.

The Dorothy Stang Initiative for Laudato Si’ Action “is our response to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, the call from Pope Francis to the global church,” said Teresa Phillips, who heads the Ohio province’s Justice, Peace and Care for Creation Commission.

The sisters have been laying the groundwork for a Laudato Si’ action plan since early this year, Phillips told EarthBeat.

“It was very clear from beginning that Dorothy Stang’s legacy was forefront in our minds. She had such a love for the environment and she was very concerned and very vocal about protecting the rainforest, so it was a natural inclination to name this in honor of Sr. Dorothy Stang,” she said.

Stang, who worked with small farmers near Anapu, Brazil, was murdered Feb. 12, 2005, by hit men hired by wealthy landowners. Other sisters from her congregation still work in the state of Pará, one of the most violent in Brazil, helping smallholders defend their land rights.

“I feel like every sister I’ve spoken to feels that … Dorothy is a shining light in these issues,” Phillips said. “And because the pope’s plan includes cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth, that cinched the deal for us. Dorothy’s passion was people who live in poverty.”

The Laudato Si’ Action Platform is a seven-year process that encourages all sectors of the church — individuals and families, parishes and dioceses, religious congregations, schools and universities, healthcare facilities, farms and businesses, and other church groups — to implement the principles of integral ecology as articulated in Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

The process, officially launched Nov. 14, sets goals in various areas, including responding to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor; ecological economics, spirituality and education; sustainable lifestyles; and community engagement.

For the Ohio Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the first year will focus on involving everyone in the province — sisters, staff, associates, volunteers, donors and a health center — in planning actions for the years ahead.

“We will be talking to everyone about what their concerns are. We really see this as a province-wide journey to changing the way we live so that the Earth can live,” Phillips said.

Ideas so far include installing solar panels or wind turbines on congregation property, reviewing investments and incorporating the principles of Laudato Si’ into the sisters’ work in education, their principal charism.

Recalling Stang as a person who “had a passion and a presence that was gentle but firm,” Phillips said, “I think part of her legacy is due to the fact that she knew that she was on a death list. She knew her life was in danger, and she chose to stay with her people, with the people that she loved and with whom she worked.”

She added, “For me, part of her legacy was her passion for those people who lived in poverty, who were marginalized, who were just trying to make a living, just trying to feed themselves and have shelter, and were so neglected by the world — not just the people in Brazil who were getting rich off logging and cattle ranching, but the people in world who don’t see those who live in poverty as having meaning and worth.”

Stang saw how people’s health and livelihoods depended on the Earth “and how the changing climate was going to affect them first, and hardest,” Phillips said. “She was passionate about that. She knew that could get her killed, and she chose to stay anyway. I think that’s what speaks to so many people.”

Naming the congregation’s Laudato Si’ initiative after Stang was a way of commemorating her after the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 disrupted plans for marking the 15th anniversary of her death, Phillips said.

“We feel like Dorothy is our guide on the path,” she added. “She’s over there saying, ‘This is the way, this is our path, we need to follow it.’ “

People of faith are not waiting for politicians to act on climate change 

Environmental activists march to the U.S. Capitol during a climate change protest Oct. 15 in Washington. (CNS/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Over the past weekend, two contrasting events brought us both despair and hope as we race to find solutions to the climate crisis.

On the one hand, COP26, the annual meeting of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, wrapped up in Glasgow on Nov. 13. While some additional progress was made, most observers — including us — feel the conference did not rise to the urgency of the moment.

What was missing was decisive action and a global commitment to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a pace needed to avoid ecological catastrophe. Missing, too, was a strong commitment to assist developing countries, which are least responsible for climate change and yet most vulnerable to its impacts.

The one bright moment came when the agreement included annual new commitments to reduce emissions each year, rather than five years from now. But the honest truth is that we have fewer than 100 months to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half.

That’s the target we need to meet to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. Every fraction of a degree past that means an even greater risk of stronger storms, growing deserts and rising seas. This leads to more risk of hunger, sickness, conflict and migration.

We are acutely aware that the climate crisis is not a “someday” event. It is already with us. We already have stronger storms. We already have growing deserts. We already have the sickness, hunger, conflict and migration that scientists told us to expect. The simple truth is that we don’t have even one more year to find solutions.

Which leads us to hope. Catholics in the United States and around the globe are standing together in faith to develop the tools we need.

On Nov. 14, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development officially launched the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which Pope Francis has invited the universal church to join. The Laudato Si’ Action Platform offers concrete tools for all institutions, communities and people to assess their practices and take meaningful action together. Information about the concrete progress achieved through the Laudato Si’ Action Platform will be shared publicly. This transparency and accountability are signs of our commitment to real action.

The Laudato Si’ Movement and Catholic Climate Covenant are grateful to support this project. It is a way that we can come together, within the U.S. and beyond, to stand with the church in Rome as it steps up to take action that political leaders won’t. The Laudato Si’ Movement provides facilitation support for the platform as a whole, and Catholic Climate Covenant has created the God’s Planet website to share resources, tools and expertise to help boost the platform in the U.S. 

One of the most deeply moving days in Scotland was a discussion of an upcoming documentary film about Laudato Si’. The documentary features a teenage climate activist from India, a girl named Radhima.

Radhima has lived her entire life under the threat of a looming environmental disaster. Unlike those of us who are older, Radhima has never lived in a world of hope for our planet. She only knows that things will get either worse or much worse.

Radhima is sure that she will not solve the climate crisis on her own. But, she said, she has to do something.

Radhima puts things so simply. We cannot solve this crisis on our own. But we will, we must, do something.

We earnestly pray that policy makers will hear us. Until then, we are stepping up together, acting in faith to protect our planet and its people.

COP26 climate summit made progress but came up short, Catholic agencies say 

COP26, the United Nations climate change summit, held in Glasgow, Scotland, concluded Nov. 13, a day past the scheduled timeframe. Delegates representing nearly 200 countries agreed to the Glasgow Climate Pact that for the first time stated the need to move away from fossil fuels. (EarthBeat photo/Brian Roewe)

The United Nations climate summit known as COP26 took some steps forward in the global effort to rapidly limit dangerous levels of warming, but not nearly enough or fast enough, say Catholic groups who were present in Glasgow throughout the two-week conference.

COP26 came to a close late on Nov. 13, a day after its scheduled end. Its final document, the Glasgow Climate Pact, showed signs of progress, with countries asked to deliver new plans to cut greenhouse emissions by next year, movement on “loss and damage” and the first-ever mention — in 26 years of these proceedings — of the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

But for many, the ambition exhibited by nations, near the start of a decade scientists say is critical to avoid catastrophic climate change, was less than expected and overall disheartening.

“This COP has yet again failed to deliver real ambitious action and transformation,” Josianne Gauthier, secretary general of CIDSE, a network of Catholic development agencies, said in a statement. “This is a missed opportunity to change course and reach an inclusive economic system that supports healthy and thriving ecosystems and protects human rights and dignity for all.”

The summit in Glasgow had been billed as the most important U.N. meeting on climate since COP21, where in 2015 nearly 200 countries adopted the Paris Agreement. The U.N. conference was seen as a vital checkpoint for nations to demonstrate progress in achieving the key goal set out six years earlier: holding average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming.

Alok Sharma, the British diplomat acting as COP26 president, stated at its conclusion, “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”

Along with the final text, countries made commitments to slash methane, end deforestation, mobilize private investments toward net-zero targets and billions of dollars in new pledges. The United States, participating for the first time since rejoining the Paris Agreement, worked to reestablish a leadership role in the international climate arena, and a late agreement reached with China to take joint “enhanced climate actions” and raise ambition this decade, though short on details, was welcomed by many.

“COP26 has not been a disaster — but not a success either. Some would call it a ‘compromise’ [or] a ‘balanced outcome,’ ” Lorna Gold, board chair of the Laudato Si’ Movement, told EarthBeat. “Sadly, a rapidly changing climate does not react to such human excuses. Climate reacts only to action — scientifically verifiable reductions. We are still a long way off from that.”

Added Rodne Galicha, executive director of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, “The longer we delay meaningful climate action and the more time and resources we invest in false solutions, the more suffering vulnerable communities would continue to have from climate change impacts.”

Pope calls for ‘courage’

Throughout the two weeks, Catholic and other faith-based organizations, along with countless more from the frontlines of climate change, pressed government diplomats to deliver results that help rather than harm the communities most vulnerable to climate change.

While officials from the United Kingdom, which hosted the conference, sought for COP26 to be inclusive, youth and Indigenous groups railed against the lack of access, not just for those who made it to Scotland but for the many more who could not travel because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Interventions came from the highest levels of the church, with Pope Francis sending a message at the start and issuing others during the proceedings. An unprecedented joint appeal from the pope and nearly 40 other world religious leaders hung in frames outside the major plenary halls. And people of faith were present everywhere, from the halls and negotiating sessions to marches of more than 100,000 people through Glasgow’s streets, braving Scottish rains and gales to demand more urgent action.

After the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 14, a day after COP26 ended, Francis said that the “cry of the poor, combined with the cry of the Earth, resounded” during the Glasgow summit.

“I encourage those who have political and economic responsibilities to act immediately with courage and foresight,” Francis said. “At the same time, I invite all people of good will to exercise active citizenship for the care of the common home,” the pope added, as he announced that registration had opened for the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform.

In a statement issued ahead of COP26’s conclusion, the Holy See delegation said that while some commitments made by nations “are promising,” gaps remained in the key areas of mitigation, adaptation and financing.

“The resources made available for these three aspects, which are fundamental for achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement, will need to be strengthened and renewed in order to achieve these goals,” the statement read.

Partial progress on faith priorities

The two-week COP26, originally scheduled for December 2020, was delayed a year by the pandemic. But while the summit was put on hold, global warming did not stop, with 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reaching record levels despite pandemic lockdowns.

Scientists have called the 2020s a critical decade for dramatically slashing emissions, which must be cut by at least 45% to have a chance at meeting the 1.5 C target. A major report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in August showed that the planet could cross the 1.5 C threshold sometime in the 2030s.

Catholic organizations came to Glasgow with several priorities in hand. Along with holding countries to the 1.5 C target, they sought for COP26 to deliver long-promised funding of $100 billion annually from developed nations to developing countries to adapt to climate change and reduce their own emissions. They also pressed for a new fund to cover losses and damages already caused by climate change, and for the conference to consign the use of fossil fuels to history.

On each of these fronts, COP26 saw some progress, but not enough to satisfy many of the Catholic and other civil society organizations present and following from afar.

“Climate change is our fierce urgency of now and the Glasgow Climate Pact does not rise to the moment,” said Chloe Noel, faith economy ecology project coordinator of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, referring to a phrase used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

National pledges brought to Glasgow or updated there place the world on track to warm by 2.4 C by the end of the century, according to Climate Action Tracker. Further complicating the climate math, a major investigation by The Washington Post found that most countries are underreporting their emissions, with a “giant gap” between what they report to the U.N. and the amount they actually release into the atmosphere.

The Paris accord requires countries to submit new pledges, called nationally determined contributions, every five years. That placed added importance on COP26, since the next updates wouldn’t come until the mid-2020s. Recognizing the lack of progress, the Glasgow Climate Pact calls for countries to submit new emissions reduction plans by the end of next year.

While some saw that ramped-up timeline as a victory, it comes as “a major disappointment” for communities already suffering from increased drought, heatwaves and flooding, said Neil Thorns, director of advocacy for CAFOD, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

“For some this will be too late, which is simply not acceptable,” he said.

Adding in other commitments made at the summit — among them, cutting methane emissions by 30% and ending deforestation, both by 2030 — could lower the warming trajectory to 1.8 C, according to several studies issued during the conference, though with the caveats that all pledges must be implemented fully and on time.

A past promise from developed nations to provide $100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020 remains unmet, despite early optimism that it would be reached in Glasgow. It is now expected by 2023. The final text acknowledges failure on this front and urges countries to double financing for adaptation by 2025. On loss and damage, the final document directs countries to provide additional support, but does not establish a financing mechanism.

Some advances, but plans fall short

In response to drafts of the final text, Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, bishop of the Pacific island Diocese of Tonga and Niue and president of Caritas Oceania, bemoaned the lack of concrete financing for loss and damage and the “overdue” $100 billion pledge.

The cardinal said that Oceania is already experiencing droughts, sea level rise and salinization of water, and called on world leaders to deliver a document with specific actions “that places those living on the frontline of the climate crisis at its heart.”

The final document did break new ground on fossil fuels. For the first time in the history of climate negotiations, it directly states the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, though not as forcefully as activists and some delegations had hoped or as strongly as it was stated in the earliest drafts.

In a key shift, the wording was changed from “phase out” to “phase-down” of “unabated coal power” and “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” — a revision backed by China and India, which rely significantly on coal for energy.

A last-minute petition from more than 40 Catholic organizations pressed delegates to include in the final agreement “a clear and ambitious timeline” for a just transition away from fossil fuels. While the “phase-down” language survived the final document, it did not specify a timeframe for that to happen.

Lindlyn Moma, advocacy director for the Laudato Si’ Movement, said the language change was “incredibly disappointing … in what could have been a historic agreement on the end of coal.” As it stands, she said, the text “does not even come close to Pope Francis’ recommendation that coal should be replaced without delay.”

Delegates also completed the rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement, which sets out guidelines for how carbon markets and controversial offset programs will operate.

Elsewhere, COP26 made strides in moving the world’s socioeconomic structures away from the burning of fossil fuels, which is the primary driver of global warming. More than 20 countries, including the U.S., committed to end financing of overseas fossil fuel projects, although that pledge was weakened by the failure of major emitters like the U.S. and China to agree to end their own domestic use of coal.

Nearly 50 nations, including Poland, Chile and South Korea, agreed to wind down use of coal-fired power, and a dozen countries formed a coalition called the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. 

Despite those advances, however, Catholic development officials said that national plans still fall well short of the 1.5 C target, belying any declarations of the summit as a success.

“The COP26 talks have come up short,” Thorns said. “We are on a road with no turning back now. The question is are we travelling ‘far enough, fast enough and fairly enough’ — to which the answer is no.”

Holding out for hope

Despite shortcomings at the climate summit, Catholics and others say it’s the role of people of faith not to lose hope in the face of climate change.

Writing at Global Sisters Report, Beth Blissman, the U.N. representative for the Loretto Community, sought to counter narratives of despair from Glasgow and highlighted some of the positives that emerged there. Going forward, she said, the challenge will be “to maintain hope and embrace stubborn optimism.”

Striking a similar chord, Carmody Grey, an assistant professor of Catholic theology at Durham University in England, said during a “Catholics at COP26” webinar Nov. 10 that it has become clear “that narratives of hopelessness don’t inspire action,” and that the church can draw on its own history of times when situations looked dark. In the present, she said, people of faith must stand up and say that failure on climate change is not an option. 

“Every single Christian community needs to say, ‘We will not accept this.’ And I would like to hear the Catholic Church be absolutely front and center,” she said. 

A number of climate activists have already turned their attention to COP27, scheduled for November 2022 in Egypt. That the summit will take place in Africa has raised some hopes that the priorities of countries that stand to suffer most from climate change, while contributing the least, will gain more traction.

“For us in Zambia, climate change is a reality, it is happening,” said Musamba Mubanga, a climate change specialist for Caritas Zambia. “People have lost their farmlands and livelihoods to drought and floods, yet we have contributed the least to this crisis. It is crucial to keep 1.5 C alive.” 

Noel of Maryknoll said it was essential that nations ensure that Africa has wide and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and testing in the coming year. “It would be a shame to have an African COP when most people on the African continent cannot yet access a vaccine,” she said.

Francisca Dommetieru Ziniel, a Ghananian member of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, told EarthBeat that COP26 “was expected to be an action COP with a lot of decisions, but unfortunately a lot of dialogue is happening.”

“Is there hope for tomorrow?” she asked. “The answer is dependent upon whether rich countries are really ready and committed to the fight against climate change. Developing countries have demonstrated their readiness even though their contributions to climate change is negligible, but they are ready and willing with the support and commitment from rich countries to fight.”

Youth, Indigenous people bring climate frontlines to the forefront at COP26 

Members of the Minga Indígena, a collective of Indigenous communities throughout the American continents, address the media in the Blue Zone, the main arena for negotiations at the COP26 U.N. climate summit on Nov. 3. (NCR photo/Brian Roewe)

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — Standing on the Squinty Bridge above the River Clyde, Ruth Miller, a Dena’ina Athabaskan, described how climate change has already altered her homeland near Bristol Bay in Alaska.

“We are in deep crisis when it comes to our food systems already,” the 24-year-old told EarthBeat, stating that warming waters have left salmon and other fish dead in streams. With fewer fish in the watersheds, subsistence fishers struggle to fill their freezers and smokehouses for winter months.

Farther north in the Arctic, she said melting sea ice has exposed other communities to stronger sea storms. In some cases, it has led to some of the first environmental refugees in the United States.

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a Dënesųłiné woman and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Canada’s Alberta province, has witnessed the impacts of climate change. She also has seen how its primary driver, the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, has devastated the land that is home to boreal forests and free-roaming bison, but also to tar sand pits mined for heavy crude.

“For one barrel of oil, they have to use four barrels of clean water from our river systems,” she told a crowd of onlookers at a press event organized by the Indigenous Environmental Network during the United Nations climate conference, COP26, here.

Extracting and transporting that oil across the North American continent in pipelines destroys waterways, she added, including some where she swam and drew drinking water as a child. And the related pollution has led to increased rates of cancer, autoimmune diseases and respiratory illnesses among her people, she said.

Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, said that while climate change proposals such as net-zero targets and carbon offset markets are debated in the nearby Scottish Event Campus, the main COP26 venue, the voices of those who stand to bear the brunt of climate impacts, but who also offer some solutions, are largely shut out.

“They say, ‘We will save parts of the Amazon here, we will save parts of the Great Bear Rainforest [in British Columbia] over here. But your land and territory, that is the land we will sacrifice so that corporations and governments can continue business as usual,’ ” Deranger said.

Demonstrations from the frontlines of climate change have been on display throughout the halls, side events and protests in and around COP26. Less visible, say Indigenous leaders and their allies, are the solutions they have championed and see as crucial, not only to stem global warming but to do so in ways that won’t destroy their lands and livelihoods.

Throughout COP26, faith-based organizations, including various Catholic development agencies that are part of Caritas Internationalis, have sought to use their platforms to lift up the voices of those most impacted by climate change, especially because the pandemic has made it difficult for many to attend the event. Catholic organizations have brought partners from countries like Malawi, Zambia and Colombia.

That’s a main reason why Benson Makusha and Innocent Odongo of the International Young Catholic Students movement, or IYCS, came to Glasgow.

Odongo, the group’s secretary-general, said young people and Indigenous communities are among the populations that will be most affected, “so there is urgent need for them to be part of this.”

That’s especially true in Africa. The world’s second-largest continent is responsible for just roughly 4% of present-day greenhouse gas emissions, but is expected to feel some of the greatest impacts of rising temperatures. Women, who in many households but particularly in rural areas are responsible for gathering water, fuel needs and farming, are especially vulnerable to climate change.

That poses serious challenges for a continent where more than one-third of the population, some 490 million people, live in poverty, and which has the world’s largest youth population — 200 million people between ages 15 and 24, many of whom are unemployed, said Allen Ottaro, executive director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa.

“And so this vicious cycle of poverty and climate change is only going to worsen,” he told EarthBeat.

Makusha, who is IYCS regional coordinator for Africa, said the decisions made in COP26’s early days gave reason for optimism, particularly commitments to support less-developed countries with resources and funding to respond to climate change, not only by mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, but also by adapting and increasing resilience to the impacts of global warming.

Faith communities have joined other environmental groups in pushing for an even 50-50 split between mitigation and adaptation financing through the Green Climate Fund, and as spelled out in the Paris Agreement. So far, wealthier countries have fallen short on their initial pledge of $100 billion annually to the fund, and adaptation currently represents around a quarter of pledged funding.

Those groups have also pressed governments to commit financing for losses and damage already caused by climate change.

More than $230 million in new pledges were made to an adaptation fund Nov. 8 to assist the most vulnerable countries.

“But it still then remains to be seen how this commitment is going to be delivered and how swift it’s going to be,” Makusha said.

That concern is shared by many of the civil society representatives at COP26, and has been for decades. But skepticism is particularly acute among people in developing countries, where promises of funding can be plentiful, but there is less certainty about whether it will reach the communities that need it most, or whether fossil fuel extraction will continue.

Odongo said it is difficult for groups like his to access those promised resources, and that has been a focus of his discussions at the climate conference.

“I am sometimes amazed by the figures, but I just wonder where they end up,” Odongo said.

Many people say financing must get into the hands of Indigenous and other local communities. A common statistic cited at COP26 has been that 80% of the world’s biodiversity is protected by Indigenous people, who represent just 5% of the global population. With a centuries-long track record of living in harmony with nature, they say the true solutions to climate change must start there, as well.

During a Nov. 8 webinar on climate change in Africa co-hosted by Pax Christi Scotland and the University of Scotland, speakers stressed that the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, in which decision-making involves those most affected, is essential.

Fr. Robert Sowa, of the Bo Archdiocese in Sierra Leone, said Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of subsidiarity in both the church’s response to the dual crises of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic and his call “to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Sowa said he is “disappointed” that the voices of those most impacted have not been given greater priority at COP26, where a study found that fossil fuel companies have more than 500 representatives, more than any country.

He said the signs of climate change are present in Sierra Leone. Within the past two decades the once-distinct dry season (November to April) and rainy season (May to October) have been replaced by more frequent dry spells and irregular rainfall, which has hurt farmers and the subsistence agriculture on which much of the country’s population depends.

In 2017, powerful rainstorms triggered major landslides and flooding near the capital of Freetown, leaving more than 1,100 people dead or missing. Sowa’s brother was among the victims, many of whom lived in shantytowns outside the capital city.

“It is imperative on the local church of Sierra Leone, in dialogue with other Christian and religious traditions in the country, to be at the forefront in providing prophetic voice and leadership for tackling this climate crisis. This demands listening to the voice of the poor themselves,” he said.

Ottaro said a major focus at COP26 for African countries is for climate solutions, particularly those involving a transition toward a green economy, to invest in jobs and opportunities that can help lift people from poverty while eliminating emissions.

One project his group supports is the Great Green Wall, which aims to plant millions of trees in the Sahel region to stop desertification.

Back on the bridge outside the blue zone, the main COP26 meeting area, Miller said that pledges to end deforestation, like the one made by more than 100 countries during the first week of the conference, raise suspicion among Indigenous people that they will lead to future land grabs by governments in an effort to meet those targets.

“What we need is repatriation of lands to Indigenous communities,” she said. “We need land back and oceans back, because we know those methods of exploitation, of profiteering, will never be on the table for our communities.”

Deranger added that studies have shown that biodiversity, which is critical for stabilizing the climate, improves under the care of Indigenous communities, as does their own quality of life.

“And yet we think that we need electric cars and economic solutions and carbon markets. That is not the solution,” she said. “Our communities have always driven the solution.”

UN special envoy on poverty visits Beirut blast survivors 

United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter alongside local research group Public Works, visited residents and survivors in Mar Mikhael and Geitaoui, two of the most severely damaged neighbourhoods in the Beirut port explosion [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

Beirut, Lebanon – United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter has told Al Jazeera during a visit to the Lebanese capital that survivors of the Beirut port blast last year “feel very much abandoned”.

On Monday, the UN expert, alongside local research group Public Works, visited residents and survivors in Mar Mikhael and Geitaoui, two of the most severely damaged neighbourhoods in the Beirut Port explosion.

It’s of course striking that many public services are difficult to provide,” De Schutter told Al Jazeera after visiting a family in Geitaoui.

Residents complained to De Schutter about the lack of viable government social protection programmes, inconsistent cash distribution from the army, and mismanagement after the blast where dozens of NGOs and individual initiatives scrambled to help residents.

“One NGO given to my area said they could only fix windows, even though what I needed was three doors to be fixed,” one resident told him.

On top of that, many are concerned about their inability to pay rent and skyrocketing utility costs, especially those who lost their businesses in the blast, or have significant medical costs for their injuries.

“We have zero trust in the government,” an elderly resident said.

More than 200 people were killed and 6,500 were wounded in the August 4, 2020, Beirut port blast when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated. The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

De Schutter landed in Beirut this weekend for a two-week assessment of how the Lebanese government has responded to the country’s critical economic crisis, and the role international organisations have played in trying to alleviate poverty.

About three-quarters of the population lives in poverty, and about a quarter of the population was not able to meet their “dietary needs” by the end of last year, the UN said at a recent press conference.

According to its Emergency Response Plan for Lebanon for the next year, the UN needs $383m in order to assist 1.1 million people in need of food, education, healthcare, sanitation and child protection.

Meanwhile, the majority of about one million Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in extreme poverty. At least two-thirds of Syrian refugees are now skipping meals, as food prices have gone up by about 628 percent.

The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic crisis is among the worst worldwide since the mid-nineteenth century.

Petrol price hikes and electricity outages paralyse much of public life, while the government struggles to implement emergency social programmes aimed at temporarily supporting millions of people.

De Schutter this week will also visit the northern city of Tripoli and the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp, and will speak with local and national government authorities, residents and civil society groups. He will present his findings at a press conference scheduled for November 12.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

Climate activists decry ‘false solutions, fairy tales’ at COP26 

Extinction Rebellion activists hold a banner during a protest outside COP26 in Glasgow [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Glasgow, Scotland – Activists criticised plans by corporations and governments to solve the climate change emergency through opaque carbon-trading schemes instead of urgently shutting down fossil fuel production as many scientists recommend.

About 50 demonstrators rallied on Tuesday inside the COP26 venue as negotiators from around the world continued to hammer out deals to halt global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) – a level that if surpassed will lead to devastating effects around the planet.

The activists said promoting the concept of net-zero carbon emissionsdecades down the road to halt climate disasters already happening was “pure fantasy”. The burning of fossil fuels needs to stop now, and “trading carbon” does not achieve that, they said.

“Corporations will be allowed to continue polluting and it’s a fairy tale to think that the trade in carbon gets us out of this crisis,” said Ozawa Bineshi Albert, and Indigenous activist and member of the Climate Justice Network.

While corporations and the governments of fossil-fuel rich nations are promoting carbon trading – or swapping one’s gas emissions in return for carbon-reduction credits from others – critics say it is just a scheme to keep profiting from burning dirty energy sources.

Bolivia, for example, has described carbon-trading as a method to create “business-climate millionaires”. The other chief criticism of carbon-trading is the inability to monitor if the carbon-reduction efforts are actually real.

‘Feed us lies’

Pascoe Sabido from Corporate Europe Observatory noted 500 oil-and-gas lobbyists were attending COP26.

“What are they here to do? Pollute the process. They have been brought in here to feed us lies,” Sabido told the crowd.

Over the next 10 years, fossil fuel companies plan to ramp up production, he said, highlighting deals recently made by big corporations to drill more than 800 new oil and gas wells around the globe.

“They want to continue to make as much money as they can, but that spells climate disaster,” said Sabido.

Big hydrocarbon corporations and governments with vast fossil fuel resources say carbon-trading and net-zero emissions plans are needed to buy time for renewable energy sources to fully come online to power global economies in the coming decades.

However, climate activists point out the Earth’s atmosphere cannot withstand any more greenhouse gasses without devastating effects around the planet, such as catastrophic superstorms, uncontrollable wildfires, huge sea-level surges, and massive flooding.

“We want real zero [emissions], not net zero,” said Sabido. “I don’t think this will be achieved here [at COP26]. But the place we’re going to see real change is on the streets.”