Category Archives: Environment

Thai farmers fear loss of land to mega industrial zone

Ubon Chansoi and her daughter Sunee Thongwong stand in their kitchen where they make traditional Thai sweets for sale in eastern Chachoengsao province, Thailand. December 17, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rina Chandran

BAN PHO, Thailand, – U bon Chansoi has lived in a modest wooden home in rural Thailand for about 60 years, farming and rearing fish for a living that is now threatened by an ambitious plan to turn agricultural land in her village in Chachoengsao province into an industrial zone.

Chachoengsao is one of three provinces covered by the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project that includes several industries, a high-speed railway line, an airport and upgrades to two deep-sea ports in an area of about 1.3 million hectares.

The $45 billion EEC project is a centrepiece of the Thai government’s efforts to boost economic growth and encourage investment with speedier approvals, tax breaks and special visas for investors, as well as land leases for up to 99 years.

But for tens of thousands of villagers who have lived in the three EEC provinces of Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong for generations, there are few benefits, and many will lose their land and homes, activists warn.

“The government only cares about business – it is giving away our land to big companies,” said Ubon, 73, gesturing to the trees and the ponds teeming with tilapia and catfish.

“For us, this is our life and our livelihood, and it will be very difficult to adjust to a new place and a new life if we have to leave,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy, Southeast Asia’s second largest, suffered its deepest slump in over two decades last year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and authorities are keen to lure back local and foreign investors.

The EEC is a key part of the plan, with authorities expecting at least $10 billion in investments this year.

But residents say authorities did not consult with them on the plans, and that the project will damage the environment and livelihoods that rely largely on farming and fishing.

“There were some public hearings, but many were held far away, or were online, or we were not informed. Some had a lot of police, making it difficult for us to voice our concerns,” said Sarayut Sonraksa, 40, a farmer in Ban Pho village in Chachoengsao.

“We are already seeing more flooding, more coastal erosion, and waste being dumped, and we are worried it will get worse and affect the land and water even more,” said Sarayut, who has taken the lead in campaigning against the EEC in his village.

More than 40 public hearings were held to seek residents’ opinions, said Tasanee Kiatpatraporn, a deputy secretary general in the Eastern Economic Corridor Policy Committee (EECPC), a state agency.

Further, forested areas and “good agricultural land” are being maintained, and the EEC promotes industries engaged in “activities which employ advanced and modern technologies, innovations, and are environmentally friendly,” she added.

‘SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS’

Across Asia, governments have embraced so-called special economic zones (SEZs) to spur growth and generate jobs. These are generally governed by special laws related to land use and environmental clearances, and offer tax incentives.

Many SEZs have, however, fallen short of targets on investment, revenue and jobs, and have instead caused mass displacements, as well as social and environmental impacts, according to researchers.

Thai SEZs date back to the 1970s, and the country has more than 50 large industrial estates, with a majority located in the eastern region, including local and foreign auto manufacturers, petrochemical and electronic companies.

The military-led government that took charge after a coup in 2014 has made SEZs key to its economic policy, even as protests over evictions from farms and forests have risen.

The Eastern Economic Corridor bill was passed in 2018, with provisions to allow industrial development on agricultural land, and with less rigorous environmental-impact assessments and waste management rules, according to activists.

“The project has a top-down approach that minimised public participation and engagement of local people, who do not get any benefits from the project,” said Somnuck Jongmeewasin, research director at EEC Watch, an advocacy group.

“EEC projects are being developed without respect for community rights and are leaving local communities, especially poor people, behind,” he said, adding that people who live in the EEC zone are “downgraded to being second-class citizens, alienated in their own homeland.”

An administrative court last year ordered officials to follow local town planning and zoning regulations.

But authorities have continued to ignore public participation requirements in meetings on town planning and re-zoning, Somnuck said.

YOUNGER GENERATION

In the three provinces of the EEC, land prices have surged as agricultural land is designated for industry, and the project is promoted as a key part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s massive global infrastructure push.

Some residents have sold their land and moved away as it becomes harder to farm and rear fish. Villagers on leased land risk becoming landless and being left without any compensation.

Ubon, who has leased her land for several decades, says her landlord is supportive of her, but she cannot be sure for how long. Her daughter has set up a small business making traditional Thai sweets as a backup plan.

“I’m already old; I won’t live very long. But what about the younger generation – where will they go if we lose our land?” said Ubon.

Ubon and others are encouraged by a victory earlier this month for campaigners against an industrial zone in Thailand’s southern province of Songkhla.

Authorities agreed to put the project on hold to do a strategic environmental assessment, and set up a new panel to look into concerns after protests.

“What they have achieved is remarkable – the entire community came together, and never gave up. We have a lot to learn from them,” said Sarayut.

Sarayut has received death threats for his opposition, and a village headman was killed some years ago. A lawsuit against the EEC is being heard in court.

“It is our last option,” said Sarayut.

“It’s not that we don’t want development, but we want it to be done in a way that does not hurt us or the environment.”

http://news.trust.org/item/20211231005721-qslam/

Companies race to stem flood of microplastic fibres into the oceans 

About 700,000 microplastic fibres are shed from synthetic fabrics during every wash cycle in a standard washing machine. Photograph: a-ts/Alamy

From filters to bags to balls, the number of products aimed at stopping the torrent of microplastic fibres being flushed out of washing machines and into rivers and oceans is increasing rapidly.

Grundig recently became the first appliance manufacturer to integrate a microfibre filter into a washing machine, while a British company has developed a system that does away with disposable fibre-trapping filters.

Entrepreneurs are also tackling the problem at source, by developing biodegradable fabrics from kelp and orange peel, and tweaking a self-healing protein originally discovered in squid tentacles.

Microplastic pollution has pervaded the entire planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. People are known to consume the tiny particles via food and water, as well as breathing them in. Microplastics have been shown to harm wildlife but the impact on people is not known, though microplastics do damage human cells in the laboratory.

Fibres from synthetic fabrics, such as acrylic and polyester, are shed in huge numbers during washing, about 700,000 per wash cycle, with the “delicates” wash cycle actually being worse than standard cycles. An estimated 68m loads of washing are done every week in the UK.

New data from 36 sites collected during The Ocean Race Europe found that 86% of the microplastics in the seawater samples were fibres. “Our data clearly show that microplastics are pervasive in the ocean and that, surprisingly, the major component is microfibres,” said Aaron Beck, at the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.

Grundig, which launched its fibre-catching washing machine in November, said the system caught up to 90% of synthetic fibres released during wash cycles. The filter cartridges are made from recycled plastic and last for up to six months, after which they can be returned free of charge.

A system that can be retrofitted to existing washing machines and does not need replacement cartridges has been created by the British company Matter, and was recently awarded £150,000 from the British Design Fund. The device, called Gulp, is connected between the outflow pipe and the drain and traps the fibres in a container that is emptied every 20 washes.

The company’s founder, Adam Root, a former Dyson engineer and keen scuba diver, said the idea had started with a £250 grant from the Prince’s Trust. “I used it to take apart a washing machine and that’s when I had my ‘eureka’ moment.”

In the UK, Alberto Costa and other MPs are campaigning for a new regulation requiring all new washing machines to be fitted with plastic microfibre filters from 2025, backed by the Women’s Institute and others. France has introduced the requirement for filters to be fitted from 2025. The EU, Australia and California are considering similar rules.

There are already a range of microfibre-catching devices on the market, but they have produced a mixed performance in independent testing. Research from the University of Plymouth in the UK examined six different products.

One stood out, Xfiltra, which prevented 78% of microfibres from going down the drain. The company is focused on providing the technology to manufacturers to integrate into washing machines. The scientists tested two other devices that can be retrofitted to machines – the Lint LUV-R and Planet Care filter systems – but these trapped only 25% and 29% of fibres respectively.

The three other products tested were used in the washing machine drum. The Guppyfriend washing bag, into which clothes are placed, collected 54% of microfibres, while a prototype washing bag from Fourth Element trapped only 21% of fibres. The last product tested was a single Cora ball, the stalks of which ensnared 31% of the fibres, though more than one ball could be used.

An earlier report from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency found significantly better performances from the Planet Care and Guppyfriend products, although it was not peer reviewed.

Prof Richard Thompson, who works at the University of Plymouth and was part of the testing team, cautioned that filters would not solve the problem of plastic microfibres alone. “We have also shown that around 50% of all fibre emission occurs while people are wearing the clothing,” he told the Guardian. “Also, most of the human population don’t have a washing machine.

“As with nearly all the current problems associated with plastic [pollution], the problem is best fixed by more comprehensive consideration at the design stage,” he said. “We need to design these in order to minimise the rate of emission, which should also make the clothing last longer and hence be more sustainable.”

A dozen groups working on better fabrics were recently shortlisted as finalists in a $650,000 (£482,000) microfibre innovation challenge being run by Conservation X Labs. AlgiKnit is creating biodegradable yarns from kelp, a type of seaweed, while Orange Fiber in southern Italy is making fabrics from the byproducts of citrus juice production.

Another finalist, Squitex, has developed a protein originally found in the tentacles of squid. The company says it is the world’s fastest self-healing material and can be made into fibres for textiles and coatings that reduce microfibre shedding.

Other finalists are taking a different approach. Nanoloom is creating non-shedding fabrics using graphene and another group is using high-powered lasers to treat the surface of fabrics to make fibres less likely to be lost.

Cotton, as a natural material, is biodegradable, but its production often involves the overuse of water and pesticides. The Better Cotton Initiative, which covers more than 20% of global cotton production, recently announced a target of cutting carbon emissions per tonne of cotton by 50% by 2030, compared with 2017. Further additional targets covering pesticide use, soil health, smallholder livelihoods and women’s empowerment are expected by the end of 2022.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/dec/30/companies-race-to-stem-flood-of-microplastic-fibres-into-the-oceans

New climate classes seek to teach Indian students green habits

MUMBAI,- Students in Maharashtra will start learning about worsening droughts, floods and storms on a hotter planet, and find out how to map and reduce their carbon footprint under the first climate-change school curriculum introduced by an Indian state.

The lessons in English and Marathi for grade 1 to 8 pupils seek to spark conversations in homes on extreme weather and rising seas, said officials, as efforts ramp up globally to raise awareness that climate change is not a far-off threat.

Better climate education is a key concern for young people, with representatives of the growing youth movement taking centre-stage at the COP26 U.N. climate talks last month to present their demands for a greener, fairer world.

Maharashtra officials said the western Indian state was experiencing extreme rainfall, recurring droughts and cyclones.

About 14 million students in more than 100,000 schools will learn what is fuelling these and other climate shifts, in classes likely to be introduced during the next academic year that starts in June.

“The current curriculum doesn’t cover all this. We want students to understand how climate change is impacting us,” said Sudhakar Bobade, head of Majhi Vasundhara, a state initiative to create awareness on climate change.

“Our aim is to make them understand what they can do to mitigate the impact and create awareness among parents through them,” he said.

The new curriculum will also cover fuels consumed by planes, trains, buses and cars – and help students understand why public transport is the most climate-friendly option, officials said.

The new curriculum of more than 100 lessons will end with “green habits”, aimed at shrinking the carbon footprint of students’ households through behaviour changes such as switching off lights and adopting solar power.

In an October report, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water identified Maharashtra, India’s third largest state, as one of the country’s most climate-vulnerable areas.

The state has over the last year paid out $2 billion in compensation to those impacted by extreme weather, Maharashtra environment minister Aaditya Thackeray said at the COP26 summit.

Yusuf Kabir from the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Maharashtra, who helped design the new curriculum, said climate change “is real and we can’t deny it any further”.

“We want students to understand how the lives we lead are dependent on fossil fuels, why solar panels are now being used to boil water in tribal schools, why the Arabian Sea is more turbulent and so on,” Kabir told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

‘MORE RESPONSIBLE’

One in five young people across the world think they can no longer do anything to prevent climate change, a poll by a creative agency showed last month.

Techniques such as advertising campaigns and computer games have been used to better communicate the threat of climate change to the general public.

In India, youth activists believe including global warming in school lessons could help expand much-needed awareness.

Tenth-grade climate activist Ridhima Pandey, 14, said she had not studied climate change in her school in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, but had gained an understanding from talking to her parents and reading news publications.

“We don’t discuss climate change or global warming in school. There would be one paragraph on it and the teacher would just skim through,” said Pandey.

She welcomed the new curriculum in Maharashtra but said it needed to teach children knowledge they can use in their lives.

“If they learn in school, the next generation would be more responsible, unlike our older generation. Also they will not have the same attitude as them that has led to so much destruction,” she said.

The Maharashtra curriculum is aiming to get at least some of that right: It includes farm visits to identify crops and how much water they consume, activities such as gauging rainfall and video screenings on rising seas and cyclones.

The lessons will also shine a light on changes being made locally to switch from coal to solar power, as well as on global goals for climate action including the warming targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement, nature protection and air quality.

“If we learn, we will be able to conserve,” said Pandey.

http://news.trust.org/item/20211217154018-e0sc6/

As eco-anxieties mount, Africa’s young people urge action on climate

Young activists gesture as they take part in a demonstration during a global day of action on climate change in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa, September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

DURBAN, – As climate change takes a heavy toll on Africa, about two-thirds of the continent’s young people are pushing for bolder policy action or trying to reduce their own carbon footprint, a new survey has found.

From locust infestations in the east to devastating droughts in the south, the impacts of climate change are being felt across the continent, which is responsible for only 3% of global carbon emissions.

Africa has the world’s youngest population – 60% of its 1.25 billion people are aged 25 or younger – and youth activists from Sudan to South Africa were vocal in demanding bigger emissions cuts by rich nations at last month’s U.N. climate talks.

New data compiled from 4,500 face-to-face interviews with 18- to 24-year-olds across the continent by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, an African charity, shines a light on the concerns of young people in 15 countries.

From Angola to Gabon, Uganda to South Africa, here are some of the main concerns highlighted by the African Youth Survey:

TAKING ACTION

While 70% of Africa’s youth are concerned about climate change, less than half are satisfied with how their leaders are tackling it, the survey found.

Among those polled, 85% said their governments should be more proactive in addressing climate change, led by 99% of Rwandans, 95% of Ethiopians and 95% of Malawians.

Besides wanting bolder policy action, about two-thirds said they actively support, participate in or donate to environmental causes, while 64% are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

As climate campaigners such as Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate become known in Africa and beyond, the survey shows Africa’s youth want to be “global actors in environmental activism”, said Ineza Umuhoza Grace, founder of Rwandan eco-group Green Fighter.

CROP INFESTATION

More than three-quarters of those surveyed said they were concerned that climate change would lead to an increase in infestation and crop destruction from insects such as locusts, with most worry in Ethiopia (91%), Malawi (91%) and Kenya (88%).

East Africa has been battling locust infestations in recent years that have ravaged crops and triggered food insecurity.

Hundreds of millions of locusts swept across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya last year in what the United Nations called the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, with Uganda, Eritrea and Djibouti also affected.

Warmer seas have resulted in a rise in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and heavy downpours along the Arabian peninsula have created ideal conditions for locust breeding in the deserts of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

It is estimated that a locust swarm of one square km (0.38 square mile) can eat the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

AIR POLLUTION

About 78% of the young people polled said they were worried about increasing air pollution, with the most concern found among those in countries including Ghana (92%), Ethiopia (89%) and Rwanda (88%).

Air pollution from sources such as vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions, fires and domestic heating and cooking causes the early death of nearly 16,000 Ghanaians each year, the World Bank has said.

Across the continent, such contamination led to about 1.1 million deaths in 2019, according to The Lancet medical journal.

EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

In 2020, about 1.2 million Africans were driven from their homes by floods and storms – more than double the number of people displaced by conflict, according to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report.

Even if global warming is kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate experts project that heatwaves in eastern and southern Africa will become more severe.

From floods to cyclones to heatwaves or long cold spells, 72% of young Africans said they were concerned about the increasing frequency and severity of extreme environmental events.

Among young Rwandans, 90% said they were worried about the impact of floods and cyclones.

Over the years, torrential rain and landslides have killed hundreds in Rwanda and disrupted agricultural activities where 90% of the population depend on the land for survival. 

https://news.trust.org/item/20211206171212-mjznt

Illegal gold mining booms in Brazilian Amazon, harming environment, health

An illegal miner shows gold extracted from the Madeira River, in Nova Olinda, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Nov. 26. (AP/Edmar Barros)
An illegal miner shows gold extracted from the Madeira River, in Nova Olinda, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Nov. 26. (AP/Edmar Barros)

Hundreds of illegal mining dredges converged on Brazil’s Madeira River in November, creating a floating city near the town of Autazes in the state of Amazonas. The rush — involving as many as 600 vessels, by some estimates — apparently began after news spread that a miner operating illegally there had found gold.

Although the unprecedented event attracted the attention of environmentalists around the world, illegal mining in the Madeira River and other Amazonian waterways is nothing new. Politicians — who sometimes are involved in the ventures — tend to downplay the environmental and social damage caused by illegal mining.

The problem has intensified since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, partly because of his public support for the miners. In addition, a top government official recently authorized seven mines in protected areas, including Indigenous reserves.

Several Catholic Church organizations have spoken out about illegal mining and its impacts, but the complexity of its causes and the great financial interests behind it transform their effort into a David-and-Goliath kind of struggle.

“Illegal mining in the Amazonian rivers requires great investment. Those organizations use helicopters, airplanes and heavy machines in their operations. There’s evidence that they rely on local politicians’ support,” Italian-born Comboni Fr. Dario Bossi, a founding member of the Brazilian bishops’ Mining and Integral Ecology Commission, told EarthBeat.

Indeed, a delegation of local mayors traveled to Brasilia Dec. 1 to meet with Brazil’s defense minister and with legislators from Amazonas, in an effort to pressure them to suspend a police crackdown on the mining boats.

Several members of Congress from Amazonas told the press that although they lamented the environmental impact of mining, people — especially the poor — should be allowed to continue working.

“Every time an operation against mining is launched in the Amazon, local politicians show their support to miners and claim that it’s an activity that generates income,” Danicley de Aguiar, an activist with the environmental group Greenpeace, told EarthBeat. “No doubt it does, but that’s a shortsighted idea. The price we’ll have to pay later is much higher.”

Miners help bankroll the election campaigns of Amazonian politicians, de Aguiar said, adding, “And many times, the politicians themselves are miners — not the ones working in the mud, but those who profit” from the mining.

Amazonian rivers wash vast amounts of sediment from the Andes Mountains in western South America to the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side of the continent. The sediment contains minerals, including gold. Early miners panned for gold along the rivers, but their modern counterparts use large dredges, suction hoses and sluices.

In rivers, the operations churn up huge amounts of mud, increasing the turbidity of the water, which affects aquatic fauna. When miners move inland, dredging along smaller rivers or in forested areas where rivers used to flow, the destruction is compounded, leaving a denuded landscape pocked with water-filled craters.

A longer-lasting impact comes from mercury used to separate tiny flecks of gold from fine sediment. Typically, workers mix mercury with the gold-bearing sand to form a lump, then blast it with a torch, vaporizing the mercury and leaving behind a lump of gold.

Direct exposure to mercury can cause health problems for workers, including lung, kidney and neurological problems. This kind of unregulated or poorly regulated small-scale mining is also the largest source of atmospheric mercury, which can enter the food chain when it settles onto the land and oceans.

And although miners claim that they don’t use mercury when mining in rivers, de Aguiar has his doubts.

“If the government is unable to minimally control the flux of mining boats, how can we be sure they are not using mercury and dumping it in the river?” he asked.

Dredging in riverbeds also stirs up heavy metals — including mercury that occurs naturally in some Amazonian soils — or pollutants deposited in the past, re-contaminating the water and its plant and animal life, de Aguiar said.

When mercury in rivers or streams comes into contact with bacteria, it changes into a form that accumulates in the flesh of fish. The toxic metal becomes more concentrated higher up the food chain, as smaller fish are eaten by larger fish, which are consumed by humans, not only in rural areas but also in large cities like Manaus and Belém.

Consuming large amounts of mercury can cause neurological problems, especially in children, and in pregnant women the mercury can affect the developing fetus.

But mercury is not the only health hazard posed by illegal gold mining in Brazil. For decades, church workers have denounced the presence of illegal miners in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, an area that borders Venezuela and is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Indiana.

Some Yanomami continue to shun contact with wider Brazilian society, making them especially vulnerable to diseases introduced by miners, even common ones like colds or flu. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the danger is great even for Yanomami who have resistance to common diseases.

“Mining produces gold and death — death caused by mercury emissions, but also by COVID-19. There are more than 20,000 miners operating in the Yanomami territory. Those invaders have taken the novel coronavirus to the indigenous communities,” Bossi said.

Violent encounters also occur between miners and the territory’s Indigenous inhabitants, including some in the past year that have been related to the pandemic.

Earlier this year, there was a wave of attacks against Yanomami villages by miners angry that the Indigenous communities had put up barriers to keep outsiders away, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. In one assault caught on camera, miners in boats shot at residents of a Yanomami village, causing women and children to flee.

“There has always been illegal mining in the Yanomami land, but now it has assumed a gigantic proportion. It has been impacting their lives in various ways,” said Luis Ventura, a lay missionary working with the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council, known as CIMI.

Ventura said villagers who are closest to mining areas avoid contact with the miners, but as a result, they are gradually displaced by the invaders.

“They also feel the impact of mining on their daily lives. They see the water is more turbid, that there are fewer fish,” he said.

Júnior Hekurari, a Yanomami health worker, agreed.

“The water became mud. Even the great rivers are now yellow. We cannot fish anymore in several places where we used to fish,” he told EarthBeat.

Hekurari also said the invaders brought malaria with them.

“They destroyed forest areas and brought the disease,” he said, adding that as many as 1,500 malaria cases have been diagnosed every month among the Yanomami in recent months.

“We see and hear planes and helicopters flying all day long in our territory,” he said. “They move tons of materials and equipment every day.”

In October, two Yanomami children, ages 4 and 5, who were playing by a riverbank were killed when a mining dredge swept them into the river’s deeper water and swift current. The circumstances are not clear, but observers believe they were pulled into deeper water by the dredge’s suction hose.

“Yanomami kids learn how to swim as soon as they can walk. Those kids knew how to swim. They were killed by a machine. It was not an accident,” Hekurari said of the case, which is still being investigated by the police.

Hekurari fears the effects of mercury on his people’s health. A recent study by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a governmental health research agency, showed that 60% of the Munduruku people, in the state of Pará, have higher levels of mercury in their blood than the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization.

Franciscan Sr. Laura Vicuña Manso, a member of CIMI in the state of Rondônia, said mining also creates internal conflicts in indigenous territories, pitting anti-mining and pro-mining members of the communities against each other.

“Mining is always a source of conflict,” she told EarthBeat. “And it also impacts the indigenous groups living in isolation.”

The impacts of illegal mining stretch far beyond the areas where the miners work, Greenpeace’s de Aguiar said, as some successful miners invest their money in cattle ranches in the Amazon — leading to more deforestation and emission of greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, people living in communities in the mining areas do not reap benefits.

“The city of Itaituba, in the state of Pará, has been a center of mining for 50 years. If mining really brings progress, it should be a city comparable to London,” de Aguiar said. “But it’s not — it’s a rather poor city.”

Church organizations like the Mining Commission and the Pastoral Land Commission not only denounce the illegal miners operating in the Amazon, but they also try to promote economic alternatives in the region.

“With the high international prices of gold, many traditional communities suddenly became mining communities. We have been trying to stimulate other forms of production that will allow good living conditions, based on agroecology and local production,” Bossi said.

Meanwhile, the bishops’ Mining and Integral Ecology Commission has been campaigning to raise awareness among people who purchase gold about the impacts of mining in the Amazon — much like campaigns aimed at stopping the purchase of “blood diamonds” from Africa. Bossi and Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese raised the issue during the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon region in October 2019, when they suggested that the church stop using liturgical vessels made of gold.

But with the international price of gold driven higher by the pandemic, illegal mining in the Amazon basin is unlikely to end soon. And even if it did, the land devastated by mining will be slow to recover, scientists say.

Even if mining stopped today, the mercury pollution would linger for decades, de Aguiar said, adding, “Decontamination takes a long time.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/illegal-gold-mining-booms-brazilian-amazon-harming-environment-health

Climate danger grows in ‘vulnerable’ Myanmar after military coup

Myanmar is among the countries most at risk from the climate crisis, according to the Global Climate Risk Index [File: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]

Yangon/Taipei – There is increasing concern that Myanmar is at risk of a serious environmental crisis, as the generals who seized power in a coup on February 1 focus on cementing their control and shoring up their position by stepping up lucrative but devastating policies of exploiting the country’s vast natural wealth.

The Global Climate Risk Index puts Myanmar among the countries most at risk from the climate crisis, frequently experiencing devastating floods and landslides as well as drought, exacerbated by decades of uncontrolled deforestation and mining of minerals and gems.

Over the past 20 years, the Southeast Asian country has experienced the highest weather-related losses alongside Puerto Rico and Haiti.

But tentative efforts to pursue more renewable energy projects and develop climate resilience under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government have been derailed since the military overthrew her National League for Democracy’s elected administration on February 1, suspending aid programmes and leading to the departure of private investors.

Developers who were awarded a solar power tender last year — totalling more than 1GW or one-third of Myanmar’s current dry season available capacity of 3.1GW — were unable to deliver, partly because of the coup.

The military in May launched its own solar power tender but was forced to extend the bidding deadline three times due to a lack of bidders. The latest deadline passed in mid-October but no official results have been announced to date.

Difficulties facing solar power companies mirror the broader risk of Myanmar missing out on climate finance opportunities post-coup.

“There are good investable projects in Myanmar which would build climate resilience such as natural reforestation and renewable energy projects,” said Vicky Bowman, director of Yangon-based Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business and former British ambassador to Myanmar. “But development partners seem frozen since the coup, and private sector investors instinctively now view Myanmar as high risk and look to alternatives in Southeast Asia, even though climate investments there may have as many problems in practice as Myanmar.”

Investors should see that there are still opportunities to work with local communities and companies to invest in natural capital and climate resilience, Bowman told Al Jazeera. “Otherwise the Myanmar people are hit with a double whammy of military rule and international neglect.”

Myanmar’s absence from the world’s top climate negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow this month reflected the country’s coup-induced international isolation, and the ongoing battle for recognition between the coup leaders and the National Unity Government (NUG), the parallel administration including officials from the elected government that was overthrown.

Isolation

COP26 hosts, the UK, left Armed Forces Chief Min Aung Hlaing off the summit guestlist, while the event organisers, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), disinvited Myanmar military government representatives, according to two sources involved in the matter.

Chit Win, the military-appointed chief diplomat in London who had evicted the removed government’s ambassador from the embassy after the February 1 coup, did manage to register temporarily on the event page with three associates. But they were denied entry and were subsequently taken off the system following a backlash from people in Myanmar.

Al Jazeera has seen copies of both nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — climate action plans and policy commitments — submitted by the NUG and the State Administration Council, as the coup leaders have dubbed their ruling body.

Both NDCs estimate the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario for coal to be about 30 percent of the country’s total power generation, which was what the NLD deputy energy minister Tun Naing reaffirmed in 2019.

The NUG claimed that they plan to decrease the share of coal from 33 percent (about 7940MW) to between 20 percent (3620MW) and 11 percent (2120MW) by 2030. The SAC gave the same figures.

But coal’s share of power generation is currently less than 1 percent, 30 times less than the higher-end estimates provided by the NUG and SAC. Sources attributed the discrepancy to efforts by some producers to encourage Myanmar to use more coal.

“The NLD government’s deputy minister [Tun Naing] at the time was being egged on by Japanese, Chinese and Indian coal interests, which no longer would be interested both for policy reasons and because it’s Myanmar post-coup,” an industry source in Yangon told Al Jazeera.

The NUG said it stuck with the overthrown NLD administration’s NDC for COP26 because they felt it had legitimacy from being drawn up by the government elected by the people, according to two senior officials at the NUG’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation who requested anonymity due to security reasons.

“Considering the legitimacy provided by the Myanmar people to the ousted administration, we [NUG] submitted the NLD government’s NDC to COP26,” said a senior official at the NUG’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Another senior NUG official said that there had not been enough time for them to redraft the NDC.

“We have received some comments from Indigenous groups and will take their input into account as we revise the NDC,” the official said when asked about the role of ethnic communities in protecting forests.

NUG Deputy Electricity and Energy Minister Maw Htun Aung acknowledged the criticisms and said that the coal policy would be “reconsidered” and the energy master plan reviewed, although it is currently the SAC rather than the NUG which is in the capital, Naypyidaw.

“It does not make sense to focus on coal power. Even China is phasing out coal financing. We do not plan to scale up coal projects, and will work with ethnic communities to draft an energy policy on a federal level,” Maw Htun Aung told Al Jazeera.

According to government estimates last year, electricity in Myanmar comes from 20 gas-fired power stations, 62 hydropower facilities and a single coal-fired plant.

Resource exploitation

In addition to the slowdown in climate-related action and investments, environmental activists and analysts fear that the military will scale up logging, the teak trade, palm oil plantations and the exploitation of natural resources, such as jade, which supported the long-term survival of previous military regimes even under international sanctions.

The generals have also long profited from gem sales, and local media report a gem fair is due to take place in Naypyidaw this month.

Military-appointed agriculture minister Tin Htut Oo in November spoke about expanding palm oil plantations, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar. The official paper said “implementations are underway” to make Tanintharyi Region, a major region in southern Myanmar bordering the Andaman Sea and Thailand, “a big oil pot based on palm oil”.

Mary Callahan, a Myanmar expert at the University of Washington in the United States, says the proposal is “disastrous for fragile ecosystems and endangered species”. Promoting palm oil plantations could lead to a new wave of land confiscation and more deforestation, she told Al Jazeera.

Weeks after seizing power and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies, Min Aung Hlaing also talked about developing hydropower dams.

This has sparked fears that the military might decide to restart the controversial China-backed Myitsone Dam in northern Myanmar, a pet project of former strongman Than Shwe that was halted by then-president Thein Sein in 2011 in the face of significant public protests. The generals have not mentioned Myitsone directly.

“We are very concerned that the military will fall back on old policies like large-scale hydropower, which could spell disaster for the country’s two major rivers – the Ayeyarwady and Thanlwin – the last two remaining large free-flowing rivers in tropical Asia,” said a senior staff member at an environmental NGO working on Myanmar, who declined to be named for security reasons.

Ethnic communities along the borders, coasts and hilly regions are also concerned about the climate risks.

“Of course we are worried about climate change. We are working on forest management and climate issues,” said a senior official of an ethnic armed group in northern Myanmar, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. Even though most of the territories controlled by his group are mountainous and protected from flooding, other climate-induced disasters such as cyclones, drought and landslides remain a threat to the local population. Since the coup, his group, which has long sought autonomy, has renewed fighting against the armed forces.

“Because of the coup and political crisis, it has become more difficult to address environmental challenges. For one, more and more international investors and partners have withdrawn from Burma,” he said. A key reason, he added, is that “the Burmese military leader will rely on natural resources to resolve their finances problem. Not only this junta but also successive regimes in the previous State Peace and Development Council [SPDC] era.”

The SPDC was the official name for the military government that seized power in 1988.

“Forests in the border areas controlled by ethnic groups are more secure than those in government-held regions,” the staff member from the environmental NGO said. “To help protect these forests, we need neighbouring countries and economic blocs like ASEAN and the EU to be on high alert for illegally-traded timber. Tackling demand is key.”

Still, in his written remarks submitted to COP26, the military-appointed Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Minister Khin Maung Yi pledged to achieve 50 percent net emissions reductions by 2030 “if adequate international assistance is received”.

“Similarly, by 2030, the share of new renewable energy targets (solar, wind) will be increased from 2000MW to 3070MW,” Khin Maung Yi wrote.

But as long as the political crisis continues its downward spiral, neither the foreign assistance nor the energy investments on which the military is banking — with the possible exception of China — is likely to be forthcoming, according to diplomats and investors in Yangon.

Experts say environmental exploitation risks pushing more into poverty and increasing food insecurity, but as the generals focus on crushing any resistance to their rule, few have any confidence they will have the will to address Myanmar’s impending climate nightmare.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/1/myanmar-climate

Brazil: Amazon sees worst deforestation levels in 15 years

Smoke billows from a patch of forest in the Amazon
AFP
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?

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-59341770

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.’ “

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/environment/news/ohio-congregation-looks-martyred-nun-stang-guide-implementing

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.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/people-faith-are-not-waiting-politicians-act-climate-change

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.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/cop26-climate-summit-made-progress-came-short-catholic-agencies-say