Category Archives: Environment

Over 10 million displaced by climate disasters in six months – report

A boy holding a doll is carried on a man’s shoulders as they wade through mud on their way home to a destroyed village following Typhoon Vamco, in Rodriguez, Rizal province, Philippines, November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

SINGAPORE, March 17 (Reuters) – About 10.3 million people were displaced by climate change-induced events such as flooding and droughts in the last six months, the majority of them in Asia, a humanitarian organisation said on Wednesday.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said about 2.3 million others were displaced by conflict in the same period, indicating the vast majority of internal displacements are now triggered by climate change.

Though the figures cover only a six-month period from September 2020 to February 2021, they highlight an accelerating global trend of climate-related displacement, said Helen Brunt, Asia Pacific Migration and Displacement Coordinator for the IFRC.

“Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability,” Brunt said. “The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they’re slammed with another disaster.”

Some 60% of climate-IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the last six months were in Asia, according to IFRC’s report.

McKinsey & Co consulting firm has said that Asia “stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risks than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation”.

Statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) show that on average 22.7 million people are displaced every year. The figure includes displacements caused by geophysical phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the vast majority are displaced by weather-related events.

Globally, 17.2 million people were displaced in 2018 and 24.9 million in 2019. Full-year figures are not yet available for 2020, but IDMC’s mid-year report showed there were 9.8 million displacements because of natural disasters in the first half of last year.

More than 1 billion people are expected to face forced migration by 2050 due to conflict and ecological factors, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found last year.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210317073035-6jw9c/

After two devastating hurricanes, Honduran sisters help communities rebuild

Srs. Milena Vanegas, left, and Victoria Emérita in the mud-covered playground of the nursery school they operate in La Planeta, a neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, in late January.
Srs. Milena Vanegas, left, and Victoria Emérita in the mud-covered playground of the nursery school they operate in La Planeta, a neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, in late January. Hurricanes Eta and Iota in November 2020 flooded their facility and the adjacent church, forcing their evacuation from the second story of their convent home. (Gregg Brekke)

SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS — Watching the waters lap at the top of the stairs leading to the second story of their convent home in the La Planeta neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, Srs. Victoria Emérita and Milena Vanegas of the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana knew they were running out of time and options.

The protective levees surrounding the town had been breached earlier that day, Nov. 5, and a wave of water swept through town in an instant, brought to La Lima by Hurricane Eta, which made landfall the day before. Even after the initial surge from the broken levees, flooding worsened as heavy rains pelted their submerged neighborhood.

Now, with water rising as high as 12 feet, the sisters prepared to evacuate into their attic on a ladder set up next to the access door. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary: A rescue boat arrived around 6:30 that evening, and the sisters were able to pry apart two security bars on the second-floor balcony, slip through the narrow gap, and slide down the patio roof into a waiting boat.

“We could see everything had already been lost,” Emérita said, surveying the mud from the balcony of their home in La Planeta in late January. “We were worried for ourselves, yes, but when the boat came, we knew our prayers had been answered.”

The boat transported the sisters to the higher ground of the highway running through town. Because of the damage to their home, the sisters first relocated to a private home and now live in a retreat center dormitory in nearby San Pedro Sula.

However, Eta was only the first of two major storms: Hurricane Iota followed two weeks later, Nov. 18, as a Category 4 storm, soaking this low-lying town in northeastern Honduras next to the Chamelecón River and resulting in further damage to the Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School that the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana run and to the adjacent church.

The storms affected an estimated 4.7 million people and resulted in more than 100 deaths. At least $5 billion in property damages was sustained during the storms and subsequent flooding, one-fifth of Honduras’ gross domestic product. The total economic impact from the storms is estimated at $1.86 billion, including losses of 80% of the annual sugar cane, cacao and banana harvest.

Hondurans fortunate enough to return to their homes or construct makeshift shelters still face the ever-present threat of COVID-19, made worse by limited supplies of personal protective equipment. Large groups congregate at shelters and distribution centers when much-needed food and fresh water arrive. Few wear masks.

When Eta struck Honduras, there had been more than 98,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 2,700 deaths. As of March 1, confirmed total cases had risen to more than 170,000, with more than 4,100 deaths.

The sisters have tried to set a good example throughout the pandemic and hurricane recovery by wearing masks and encouraging others to do the same, observing distancing protocols, and advocating for testing and isolation from infected people. But for the poor residents of La Planeta struggling to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, these safety measures are often secondary to daily survival.

Providing help amid their own recovery

Months after the hurricanes, La Lima and the church property are marked by devastation. Although floodwaters receded by mid-December, the streets are still a muddy maze of makeshift paths and mud piles cleared from inundated homes. The mucking continues, shovelful by wheelbarrow. Some heavy machinery is present, with excavators and dump trucks clearing debris already removed from buildings where the deluge deposited 3 to 4 feet of mud.

At Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School, the flooding waterline is visible at nearly ceiling level, stopping at the neck of Jesus in a painting hanging over a doorway. Although the mud has been removed, the school’s rooms are piled full of salvaged equipment, such as cribs and toys. Most everything else at the school, church and convent is a total loss. The school’s kitchen and bathrooms will need to be redone, walls scrubbed and repainted, electric equipment and wiring repaired or replaced, and plumbing recertified for potable water.

The sisters continue to clean and prepare for an engineer’s evaluation on the soundness of the structures, which have several cracked walls, destroyed doors and buckled sections of flooring. They don’t yet know when their 35 students can return to the nursery school.

“At the moment, we don’t know the costs,” Emérita said. “The financing of the repairs is going to be quite difficult, and we will look for help since the nursery school by itself is not self-sustaining due to the type of population we serve.

“We are looking at the situation and asking God for his wisdom.”

Even as progress continues to restore the school, church and convent to their pre-hurricane states, the sisters are engaged in hurricane relief efforts for people affected in the area. Although displaced themselves, Emérita and Vanegas are coordinating efforts with local parishes to sort and distribute donated clothing, food and home furnishings to people who lost their homes and belongings in the storms.

Working out of two rooms piled floor-to-ceiling with donated goods at the Mhotivo Foundation in San Padro Sula, volunteers from nearby St. Peter and Paul Parish organize the items, preparing bags for Fr. Fredy Valdiviezo to pick up and distribute to local shelters housing hurricane victims. It’s a herculean effort, with thousands of items still coming through the doors each day: mattresses, bedding, cleaning supplies, food, propane tanks and more.

But the sisters know these physical provisions are only the beginning of the needs that have to be addressed in La Planeta.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/after-devastating-hurricanes-honduran-sisters-help-communities-rebuild

Stopping the last tar sands pipeline will take all of us

Protesters surround construction equipment used to drill a path for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline near Haypoint, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2021. (© Keri Pickett)
Protesters surround construction equipment used to drill a path for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline near Haypoint, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2021. (© Keri Pickett)

PALISADE, MINNESOTA — In normal times, about 100 souls live in this small Northern Minnesota town on the banks of the Mississippi River where we are making our stand against one of the largest tar sands pipeline projects in North America. Known as Line 3, it has the potential to carry 915,000 barrels a day of dirty oil over 1,000 miles, from Alberta in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Palisade is the kind of place where most people know one another a couple of generations back, a town with a tiny main street and just one café. Now there are about 400 workers here — most from out of state — rolling heavy trucks and equipment down icy, windy unfamiliar roads every day.

This small town is nestled in the deep woods and muskegs of Aitkin County, the lands of the Chippewa of the Mississippi, as my people are known. Akiing, the Anishinaabe word for “the land to which the people belong,” is half land and half water. Waters deep and shallow filled with wild rice, sturgeon and muskies, and all the mysteries of the deep waters. This is the only place in the world where wild rice grows. Each year in succession the manoomin returns, the only grain native to North America. This is the homeland of the Anishinaabe.

And here Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in the world, is hell-bent on jamming through their Line 3 Pipeline, the company’s most massive project, under the cover of this COVID-19 winter as fast as they can—before we can stop them and before the world takes notice.

From the Water Protector Center at the edge of the pipeline route, Water Protectors gather. We hear the pounding all day long. The constant roar of heavy machinery as it rips through the forest and the wetlands. It’s brutal work, and dangerous as hell. Last month, Jorge Lopez Villafuerte was killed in the Enbridge Pipeyard, run over by a forklift. He came here from Utah for work. Instead, he found death. Enbridge halted work in the area for less than four hours — and then the pounding began again.

Then there’s the armed forces, the sheriff’s office, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who have deployed here. Their wages are paid by Enbridge. That’s because Minnesota noted the $38 million bill for Standing Rock, and decided just to pay in advance. A Canadian corporation paying for the police in Minnesota.

It looks like an occupation. It feels like an occupation. With all the violence that entails.

First the big dozers came, then the excavators, backhoes and feller bunchers. That last one just sort of walks through the forest, beheads a tree, drops the top to one side, and then comes back for the rest of the tree. This is how Enbridge rolls through a forest. They are gunning for the rivers now, heading straight for them: the Mississippi, the Willow, the Shell, the Little Shell, the Crow Wing: 22 river crossings in all. They are coming with something called a High Directional Drill. So they can drill under the river, just like they did at Standing Rock, at the Cannonball River. It feels a lot like a rape.

They don’t want us to see what they are doing. Last week, they put up a fence around the drill site. They plan to shove in that 36-inch pipe, so it can move 915,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest oil in the world across 330 miles of Northern Minnesota to Lake Superior.

We have been fighting this pipeline for seven years. And so far we’ve held it off in the courts and through the permitting process. The carbon output would be equivalent to opening 50 new coal plants—more carbon emissions than the entire current Minnesota economy. And all this for a dying industry. Energy companies and investors are fleeing the tar sands. Keystone XL is doomed, Dakota Access is in a legal mess (federal courts have ruled that its Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate). Enbridge itself is putting 400,000 barrels a day less through its main lines than they did a year ago. But the company still wants to sell this last pipeline. The Last Tar Sands Pipeline. Our governor, Tim Walz, took the bait. Minnesota needs real infrastructure: water, sewer and bridges. But we’re getting a climate bomb pipeline instead.

Enbridge would like to start flooding the north country with oil, as quick as it can. The Red Lake and White Earth tribes and even the Minnesota Department of Commerce have filed suit in state courts to overturn all the permits on this pipeline. On Christmas Eve, we filed in federal court to overturn the Army Corps of Engineers’ permits to cross the rivers. There has been no federal Environmental Impact Statement. We have a pretty good chance of prevailing in court. So Enbridge wants to finish this dirty work before the law comes.

On the bank of the Mississippi in the pathway of the pipeline, there is a prayer lodge, a waaginoogan, a ceremonial teaching lodge, and we have been praying there. We’ve built lodges like this on the shores of the river for generations. We built the lodge before Enbridge.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Tania Aubid and I returned to our lodge and found a stake in it, an Enbridge pipeline right-of-way stake. That was a surprise. One of the conditions of Enbridge’s permits is that they are supposed to have cultural monitors out ahead of the pipeline. But of course they didn’t. They just put a stake in the middle of the lodge. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued an “exclusion order” on Dec. 5, excluding Minnesotans from public lands they had given to Enbridge. That’s public lands, handed over to a Canadian corporation. I was cited by Aitkin County for trespassing, as I left my lodge. We contend that our spiritual practice, guaranteed by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, supersedes the ordinance. The Creator gave us a right to pray, not Minnesota. We put up a “No Trespassing” sign with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act cited on it — USC 42. The lodge is still there. And so are we.

And not just in Palisade. Indigenous people and our allies are resisting across the whole pathway of this pipeline, from near the Red Lake Reservation in the Northwest, where a new camp just opened, to the Fond du Lac reservation on the eastern end, where Water Protectors have been disrupting the destruction everyday. This past month we’ve been praying by the river, and asking others to come. And they have answered the call: legislators, friends from the cities, people of all religious faiths, relatives from South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, water protectors from all four directions to sing those Water Songs, as Enbridge drills.

When the pipeline project was one month in, 44 people already had been arrested. Forty-four good people who put their bodies on the line because they believe in water more than oil. And more are coming every day.

We are digging in for the winter. After all, we’ve got good genes and warm clothes, and being outside during the pandemic is a good idea. But, really, we are looking to Washington now. This is the Pandemic Pipeline Project, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s the end of the tar sands era, and it’s time for a just transition. A new president says he will take action on climate change; the Army Corps of Engineers needs to do an environmental impact statement; and we want the court to stay the project, so we can have our day in court. In the meantime, the movement grows, to stand for the water.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/stopping-last-tar-sands-pipeline-will-take-all-us

Air pollution kills thousands in megacities despite COVID lockdowns

FILE PHOTO: A rickshaw puller waits for customers on a smoggy morning in the old quarters of Delhi, India, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

KUALA LUMPUR, – Air pollution caused tens of thousands of deaths in the world’s five most populous cities last year despite coronavirus lockdowns, researchers said on Thursday, urging governments to ditch fossil fuels and invest in a green recovery.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace Southeast Asia and air quality technology company IQAir measured pollution levels across 28 cities – chosen according to where data was available and with a geographical spread.

In the five most-populated cities – Delhi, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo – air pollution caused about 160,000 deaths and economic losses totalling about $85 billion.

“A few months of lockdown hasn’t really dented that long-term average of air pollution that people have been exposed to,” said Aidan Farrow, an air pollution scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at Britain’s University of Exeter.

“It is a little shocking to see how much upheaval there has been – and we still have work to do to improve air pollution,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Air pollution is the single largest environmental risk to human health globally, and kills an estimated 7 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO says nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air, which is linked to strokes, lung cancer and heart disease – and now equals the effects of smoking tobacco, health experts say.

The problem affects more cities in Asia than anywhere else in the world. Major causes include vehicle emissions, coal power plants, construction, festival fireworks, forest clearing, and burning of crops, firewood and waste.

Delhi had the highest death toll among the five biggest cities, with some 54,000 deaths – or one per 500 people – due to high levels of tiny pollution particles, known as PM2.5, which can cause lung and heart diseases, the study said.

Japan’s capital Tokyo suffered the highest financial cost with approximately 40,000 deaths and economic losses of $43 billion, it added.

Lockdowns to stem the spread of the new coronavirus in major cities have forced millions to work from home, while slowing economies have slashed carbon dioxide emissions.

“We have seen changes in road traffic, aviation as well … but the major (air pollution) sources have continued to operate largely as before,” Farrow said,

“The problem is vast and needs a big, multi-industry effort to address it,” he added, calling for more investment in cleaner technologies, renewable energy and electrified public transport.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210218005828-guujp/

Human destruction of nature is ‘senseless and suicidal’, warns UN chief

A sign protesting the IMF and World Bank investments in fossil fuels.
A sign protesting against investments in fossil fuels. The UN report says trillions of dollars of ‘perverse’ subsidies must be diverted to green energy. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty

Humanity is waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that is causing human suffering and enormous economic losses while accelerating the destruction of life on Earth, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said.

Guterres’s starkest warning to date came at the launch of a UN report setting out the triple emergency the world is in: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes many millions of early deaths every year.

Making peace with nature was the defining task of the coming decades, he said, and the key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all people. The report combines recent major UN assessments with the latest research and the solutions available, representing an authoritative scientific blueprint of how to repair the planet.

The report says societies and economies must be transformed by policies such as replacing GDP as an economic measure with one that reflects the true value of nature, as recommended this month by a study commissioned by the UK Treasury.

Carbon emissions need to be taxed, and trillions of dollars of “perverse” subsidies for fossil fuels and destructive farming must be diverted to green energy and food production, the report says. As well as systemic changes, people in rich nations can act too, it says, by cutting meat consumption and wasting less energy and water.

“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal,” said Guterres. “The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth.”

The triple emergency threatened our viability as a species, he said. But ending the war would not mean poorer living standards or an end to poverty reduction. “On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”

“This report provides the bedrock for hope,” he said. “It makes clear our war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safer place by providing a peace plan and a postwar rebuilding programme.”

Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Programme (Unep), said: “We need to look no further than the global pandemic caused by Covid-19, a disease transmitted from animals to humans, to know that the finely tuned system of the natural world has been disrupted.” Unep and the World Health Organization have said the root cause of pandemics is the destruction of the natural world, with worse outbreaks to come unless action is taken.

The report says the fivefold growth of the global economy in the last 50 years was largely fuelled by a huge increase in the extraction of fossil fuels and other resources, and has come at massive cost to the environment. The world population has doubled since 1970 and while average prosperity has also doubled, 1.3 billion people remain in poverty and 700 million are hungry.

It says current measures to tackle the environmental crises are far short of what is needed: the world remains on track for catastrophic warming of 3C above pre-industrial levels, a million species face extinction and 90% of people live with dirty air.

“We use three-quarters of the land and two-thirds of the oceans – we are completely dominating the Earth,” said Ivar Baste of the Norwegian Environment Agency, a lead author of the report.

Prof Sir Robert Watson, who has led UN scientific assessments on climate and biodiversity and is the other lead author of the report, said: “We have got a triple emergency and these three issues are all interrelated and have to be dealt with together. They’re no longer just environmental issues – they are economic issues, development issues, security issues, social, moral and ethical issues.

“Of all the things we have to do, we have to really rethink our economic and financial systems. Fundamentally, GDP doesn’t take nature into account. We need to get rid of these perverse subsidies, they are $5-7tn a year. If you could move some of these towards low-carbon technology and investing in nature, then the money is there.”

This meant taking on companies and countries with vested interests in fossil fuels, he said: “There are a lot of people that really like these perverse subsidies. They love the status quo. So governments have to have the guts to act”.

Financial institutions could play a huge role, Watson said, by ending funding for fossil fuels, the razing of forests and large-scale monoculture agriculture. Companies should act too, he said: “Proactive companies see that if they can be sustainable, they can be first movers and make a profit. But in some cases, regulation will almost certainly be needed for those companies that don’t care.”

Pollution was included in the report because despite improvements in some wealthy nations, toxic air, water, soils and workplaces cause at least 9 million deaths a year, one in six of all deaths. “This is still a huge issue,” said Baste.

The world’s nations will gather at two crucial UN summits in 2021 on the climate and biodiversity crises. “We know we failed miserably on the biodiversity targets [set in 2010],” said Watson. “I’ll be very disappointed if at these summits all they talk about is targets and goals. They’ve got to talk about actions – that’s really what’s crucial.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/18/human-destruction-of-nature-is-senseless-and-suicidal-warns-un-chief

Crafting COVID-19 recovery plans to recycle more could slash emissions

Workers makes a curtain with recycled bottles filled with plastic at Thabarwa meditation center in Yangon, Myanmar, September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Shwe Paw Mya Tin

COVID-19 relief and recovery plans aimed at recycling and reusing more of the billions of tonnes of materials consumed each year could slash planet-heating emissions and limit the impacts of climate change, researchers said on Tuesday.

By developing and promoting ways to reduce the amount of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass used in new products, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 39%, or 22.8 billion gigatonnes annually, said a report by Amsterdam-based social enterprise Circle Economy.

“Governments are making huge decisions that will shape our climate future,” CEO Martijn Lopes Cardozo said in a statement.

“They are spending billions to stimulate their economies after the COVID pandemic and they are committed to strengthening their climate commitments,” he added, referring to new national targets being submitted ahead of November’s U.N. climate summit.

Greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 59.1 gigatonnes in 2019, putting the world on track for an average temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, a U.N. report showed last year.

About 70% of emissions are generated by resource extraction, processing and manufacturing of goods to meet the needs of the world’s population, such as clothing, mobile phones and food, according to the fourth annual report by Circle Economy.

Only about 8.6% of the 100 billion tonnes of materials utilised annually are put back into service, added the report, published during the virtual “Davos Agenda” event organised by the World Economic Forum.

To reduce waste and emissions, and keep climate change in check, economies should seek to become “circular” by reusing and recycling products, green groups say.

“Ever since the beginning of the 1990s, countries have come out with climate pledges – but all of them combined have never even got close to deliver what we should deliver,” said Marc de Wit, director of strategic alliances at Circle Economy.

“Most of those options in those pledges look at incremental solutions – like squeezing another kilometre out of a litre of petrol – rather than moving to electrified transport and shared mobility concepts in urban areas,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

RESTORE BALANCE

The report identified strategies that can help achieve the goals adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2C (3.6F), and ideally to 1.5C, above pre-industrial times.

Housing, mobility and nutrition are responsible for almost 70% of global emissions, it noted, and are key areas where strategies to become “circular” could have the greatest impact.

Housing, which includes commercial and industrial buildings, should reuse and recycle construction and demolition waste to divert it from landfill, while office floor space could be shrunk, de Wit said.

Choosing low-carbon building materials, such as sustainable timber and agriculture waste, and powering heating and cooling systems with renewable energy are also key, he added.

Passenger and freight transport contributes most of the 17.1 billion gigatonnes of emissions from mobility each year, primarily from burning fossil fuels, according to the report.

New design to make vehicles lighter would cut consumption of raw materials, while car-sharing schemes can make their use more efficient, it added.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people have reduced air travel and commuting, replacing many physical meetings with video calls, which could continue, said de Wit, adding that public and electrified transport should also be promoted.

On nutrition, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture can reduce the environmental impact of fish, cattle and crop farming while still producing good yields, the report said.

The use of cleaner cooking fuels and switching to more locally sourced, plant-based diets would also reduce emissions, de Wit said.

Measures in the report could nearly double the proportion of materials that are reused to 17%, it said.

Martin Frick, a senior official at the U.N. climate change body, called for efforts to restore the planet’s balance.

“We need to eliminate waste and create products that last, can be repaired and ultimately can be transformed into new products,” he said in a statement.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210125230100-ow7hi/

Nigerian farming communities win landmark court ruling against Shell

Oil spill damage in the Niger Delta region, April 6, 2010 (Flickr/Sosialistisk Ungdom)
Oil spill damage in the Niger Delta region, April 6, 2010 (Flickr/Sosialistisk Ungdom)

Simon Ayafa has witnessed oil pollution in the Niger Delta region since he was 15. Now, at 35, he feels the region has been made uninhabitable by decades of oil spills.

“You to go the stream to fetch water and you get oil,” said Ayafa, who is a parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Bodo, a fishing village that has suffered from massive oil spills. “You go to the farm and the crops are damaged and cannot produce because of pollution. That is our fate here.”

A series of pipeline spills between 2008 and 2009 left the entire area flowing in oil. With support from Amnesty International, the community took legal action against Royal Dutch Shell. The case was settled out of court in 2015 for the equivalent of about $36.6 million, with part going to the community and the rest divided among the community’s residents.

Now a handful of farmers from two other communities, who stood up to the oil giant over spills that occurred between 2004 and 2007, has won another landmark case.

On Jan. 20, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) was liable for oil pollution in several farming and fishing communities in the Niger Delta region where many families are Catholic.

“This is a victory for the people and for a region which has been so badly affected by pollution,” said Fr. Paul Nsoka, a priest of the Portharcourt Diocese, which has over 1 million Catholics.

“The water, farmlands and other sources of livelihood of the people have been largely affected because of some cheap gains, and the government over the years has been paying lip-service to issues of pollution by multinational oil companies affecting its citizens,” he added.

Nsoka said that despite the cost and damage in the region, the ruling constituted “environmental justice.”

Besides holding the Nigerian subsidiary responsible, the Court of Appeals in The Hague ruled that Shell, which is based in Holland, had breached its “duty of care” in its operations abroad. It ordered the subsidiary to pay compensation to the farmers and begin cleanup of the polluted areas.

Now another lawsuit looms. On Feb. 12, the British Supreme Court ruled that a group of Nigerian farmers and fishermen can sue Shell in English courts, overturning lower court rulings that had blocked such suits.

The two villages covered by the Dutch court ruling, Oruma and Goi, in the Nigerian state of Rivers, have suffered for years from the environmental impact of the pollution. Shell claimed that the spills were caused by sabotage, but the court rejected that argument, saying the company had not provided enough evidence to support its claim.

A ruling in a third case involving an oil well in the village of Ikot Ada Udo is pending. In that case, the spill was caused by sabotage, but the court has not determined whether Shell can be held liable and has requested clarification about the extent of the pollution caused by the spill.

Details of the compensation in the cases of Oruma and Goi were not disclosed.

For the past 13 years, four Nigerian farmers who have become environmental activists from the region have been representing the affected communities and leading efforts to get justice for those affected by the pollution. With support from the nonprofit environmental group Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the four launched their lawsuit against Shell in 2008.

The four have sought compensation for damage and loss of livelihoods that they say they suffered from spills of crude oil from a well and pipelines. They demanded that Shell clean up the contamination more thoroughly and take measures to prevent a recurrence. The court also ordered Shell to build a better warning system in the affected villages to alert residents to possible leaks.

“Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil,” Eric Dooh of Goi, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement from Friends of the Earth Netherlands. “It is a bittersweet victory, since two of the plaintiffs, including my father, did not live to see the end of this trial. But this verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger Delta.”

In the same statement, Rachel Kennerley, climate campaign manager at Friends of the Earth Netherlands, called the court ruling “a fantastic victory.”

“For too long, companies like Shell have been shirking their responsibility for the impact of the dirty industry they push on communities around the world,” she said. “Thirteen years of fighting for justice has finally turned this around, and today’s judgment is a wakeup call for polluting companies and governments everywhere.”

She also called for the British government to end its investment in fossil fuel projects overseas “unless it wants to face legal challenges.”

Pollution from oil operations in the Niger Delta has been affecting local farmers since commercial production for export began in 1956. Contamination left multinational by oil companies and their subsidiaries — including U.S.-based Chevron Corp, Italy’s Agip and the Nigerian subsidiary of France’s Elf Aquitaine, now TotalFinaElf, as well as Shell — has fouled the waterways and destroyed farmlands of local communities that largely depend on fishing and small-scale farming and trading.

The decades of pollution have led to growing protests and the rise of militant groups opposing oil companies in the region. This has resulted in a series of abductions of foreign oil workers for ransom and bloody clashes with security forces. Indigenous communities, landless farmers, women, trade unions and fishers whose livelihood has been affected have often joined the protests.

The court ruling could mark a turning point. Catholics in the affected communities who spoke with EarthBeat welcomed the decision, but they said much must be done to clean up the pollution in the region.

Nnamdi Amaechi, who lives in Oruma, said residents often track oily residue into their homes after walking outdoors.

“This has been a natural injustice the people are facing, but with this [court ruling], the people will find some form of compensation to fall back on,” he said. “Our community has been rejoicing because of the outcomes.”

A U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) report commissioned by the Nigerian government found that pollution was deeper and more extensive than previously thought after an agency team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometers of pipeline rights-of-way, analyzed 4,000 soil and water samples, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and held community meetings attended by more than 23,000 people.

The report, which took 14 months to complete and was released in August 2011, proposed a project that would involve cleaning up the contaminated water, wells, soil and mangrove swamps, and establishing a soil management center with hundreds of mini-centers that would treat contaminated soil, creating hundreds of jobs.

The report projected that a thorough cleanup would take 25 to 30 years and proposed that Shell and the Nigerian government share the cost, which was estimated at some $1 billion for the first five years.

In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the government planned to begin the cleanup recommended by the UNEP report. Work was started that year in the village of Bodo, but progress has been slow. The agency overseeing the cleanup, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, says it has received only $180 million of the $1 billion supposedly earmarked for the cleanup.

Residents of the affected communities say they doubt that the government will ensure that the cleanup is completed. Questions have been raised about the qualifications of the coordinating agency’s subcontractors, and civil society groups have accused the agency of corruption and contract scams.

“Everyone thinks the government is not serious with this [clean-up] and only doing this for political gains,” Nsoka said. “It’s been about five years now since they started, and we are yet to see the impact.”

Meanwhile, oil pollution continues in the Niger Delta region, leaving much of the region uninhabitable. This has led to small-scale migration, as residents of affected communities have left their homes and livelihoods and moved to other areas with less impact.

“It will take a very long time before the region becomes the way it has been before oil exploration and, of course, pollution started taking place here,” Takai Dome, an environmental activist who has been following the court cases and developments in the region, told EarthBeat. “The impact will still be there and on the way people in affected communities lead their lives.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/nigerian-farming-communities-win-landmark-court-ruling-against-shell

Indian climate activist gets bail in sedition case over farm stir

Ravi's arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government [Disha Ravi/Twitter]
Ravi’s arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government [Disha Ravi/Twitter]

A court in the Indian capital has granted bail to a 22-year-old climate activist, saying there was “scanty and sketchy evidence” of sedition in her efforts to help farmers protest in a case that has drawn global attention.

Disha Ravi was arrested in the southern city of Bengaluru on February 13 and charged with sedition for her alleged role in the creation of an online toolkit that police said contained action plans used to foment violence during the farmers’ protest.

Tens of thousands have been camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi in the bitter cold since December to protest new agricultural laws they say will hurt them and benefit of large corporations. The government says the reforms will bring new investment in the vast and antiquated produce markets.

Judge Dharmender Rana on Tuesday said there was little to hold Ravi, a founder of the local chapter of Swedish climate crusader Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, in custody any longer and criticised the authorities for detaining anyone who differed with government policy.

“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of ‘Bail’ against a 22-year-old young lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail,” Rana said in a written order.

Ravi’s arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government which has been trying for months to end the farmers’ protest.

Ravi’s lawyers had said there was nothing in the toolkit to attract the charge of sedition, which carries a life term.

“Perusal of the said ‘Toolkit’ reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent,” the judge said in a written order.

The protests present one of the biggest challenges to Modi’s rule. Several rounds of talks between the farmers and his government have failed, and Modi has faced criticism for using heavy handed tactics to curb the movement.

Police had alleged that the toolkit was authored by Ravi and two others and had the backing of supporters of a Canadian-based group called the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF).

They also said Ravi had shared the toolkit with Thunberg, who is one of several international celebrities who have lent public support to the farmers’ cause.

The judge said he did not find Ravi’s link to the toolkit or PJF objectionable.

“We didn’t assemble the toolkit in question, although links to our materials were included in that document,” PJF founder Mo Dhaliwal told the Reuters news agency.

Dhaliwal also countered the police’s claim that the PJF was a group which held separatist views.

“We have only created space for open debate and dialogue,” he said, alleging it was under fire because Modi’s government was “fostering a culture of fear where dissent is equated with sedition”.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/24/indian-climate-activist-gets-bail-in-sedition-case-over-farm-stir

‘There is no vaccine for climate change,’ U.N. environment chief says

A sign in Medford, Oregon, advertises new homes amid the wildfire destruction Sept. 20, 2020. (CNS photo/David Ryder, Reuters)
A sign in Medford, Oregon, advertises new homes amid the wildfire destruction Sept. 20, 2020. (CNS photo/David Ryder, Reuters)
  • The planet is set to warm by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels just this century, but the world remains unprepared for climate change, a U.N. report says.
  • More than a quarter of countries still don’t have a single national-level adaptation plan, and financing for adaptation measures falls far short of what is needed.
  • By mid-century, adaptation costs could total up to $500 billion for developing countries, which will be disproportionately impacted by climate change despite contributing least to it.
  • Less than 5% of adaptation projects have yielded any real benefits in terms of boosting resilience to date, according to a survey of 1,700 projects cited in the report.

The world is not prepared for climate change, a new U.N. report warns, highlighting how far behind countries have fallen in implementing adaptation measures.

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), said at a press briefing Jan. 14. “Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest — even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Even the 2C (3.6F) goal enshrined in the global climate agreement may seem like wishful thinking at the moment. The planet is set to warm by 3C (5.4F) above pre-industrial levels just this century, with 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record.

Yet more than a quarter of the countries still don’t have a single national-level adaptation planning instrument.

There isn’t just a lack of adequate policies and planning, but also major financing shortfalls.

By mid-century, adaptation costs could total up to $500 billion for developing countries alone. Developed countries are responsible for a majority of the historical carbon emissions and should play a bigger role in mitigating the climate crisis, experts at the UNEP press briefing agreed.

Reports like UNEP’s “Adaptation Gap Report 2020” do more than raise alarm; they are also a call for action. The Paris climate treaty signed in 2015 is a voluntary agreement, which relies on global advocacy to pressure countries into honoring their commitments.

Adaptation financing is currently far short of what experts say is needed, at $30 billion per year, or only 5% of the total fund set aside to tackle climate change. The latter itself is deemed too little to ward off the risks posed by climate change.

COVID-19 has also pushed planning for climate change down the list of priorities for most countries. “There is no vaccine for climate change,” Andersen said.

Though some progress has been made, it has not translated into actual resilience against climate change impacts ranging from wildfires, droughts and floods to sea-level rise. Fewer than five out of 100 adaptation projects have yielded any benefits to date, a survey of 1,700 projects found.

While everyone agrees that climate change presents a global challenge, experts emphasize that adapting to these changes will have to happen at many levels. Adaptation measures include installing climate information and early-warning systems, safeguarding people in affected areas, and green investments.

At the same time, there is a growing emphasis on employing nature-based solutions that simultaneously improve the environment and human well-being.

Investing in adaptation initiatives could yield returns that are three times the cost, the Global Commission on Adaptation has estimated.

The new report complements UNEP’s “Emissions Gap Report 2020,” which tracks how countries are faring in keeping global temperature rise below 2C. “The more we mitigate, the less we have to adapt, and the costs of adaptation are going to be much, much lower,” said Henry Neufeldt, head of impact assessment and adaptation at UNEP.

However, unlike the emissions reduction targets that are part of the Paris Agreement, there are no comparable targets for adaptation.

“We don’t know exactly how much adaptation finance is needed because the goals are not clear, the targets are not clear, there is no agreed-upon goal on adaptation at national and global levels,” Neufeldt said.

Despite this, U.N. officials stressed there is a massive shortfall in funding and that there is a need to distribute the funds available to reflect the gravity of the threats.

“We need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year,” Andersen said. “This will allow a huge step up in adaptation — in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/there-no-vaccine-climate-change-un-environment-chief-says

Vatican Secretary of State calls for synergy in fight against poverty and climate change

Cardinal Pietro Parolin's video message to Climate Adaptation Summit Jan. 25, 2021. YouTube Screenshot.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s video message to Climate Adaptation Summit Jan. 25, 2021. YouTube Screenshot.

Vatican City, – The Vatican Secretary of State has called for a new model of development built on “the synergistic bond” between the fight against climate change and the struggle against poverty.

In a video message to the Climate Adaptation Summit taking place online Jan. 25-26, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that climate change is “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

“This is a moral and humanitarian imperative, especially since the greatest negative consequences of climate change often affect the most vulnerable: the poor and future generations,” the cardinal said.

“While the poor are the least responsible for global warming, they are the most likely to be affected, since they have the least adaptive capacity and often live in geographical areas which are particularly at risk.”

The Climate Adaptation Summit is a virtual international summit organized by the Netherlands aimed at outlining practical solutions for confronting climate change.

The summit’s list of speakers include French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry.

“On behalf of Pope Francis, I … wish to assure you of his closeness, support and encouragement in these days of intense effort for a fruitful outcome to this Climate Adaptation Summit,” Cardinal Parolin said in his video message.

The Vatican Secretary of State called for “stronger international cooperation committed to a low-carbon sustainable development” and an investment in “strengthening technologies and resilience and transferring them under fair conditions, particularly to the most vulnerable countries.”

“Complementarity mitigation and adaptation activities require coming up with a global and shared long-term strategy based on precise commitments, capable of defining and promoting a new model of development and built on the synergistic bond between the fight against climate change and  the struggle against poverty,” the cardinal said.

Parolin urged that there is “no alternative but to make every effort to implement a responsible, unprecedented collective response, intended to work together to build our common home.”

“May we make the response to climate change an opportunity for improving overall living conditions, health, transport, energy and security, and for creating new job opportunities,” he said.

“This task is difficult and complex, but we know that we have the freedom, intelligence and capacity to lead and direct technology and to put it at the service of another type of progress: one that is more human, social and integral.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-secretary-of-state-calls-for-synergy-in-fight-against-poverty-and-climate-change-55262