The latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the science of climate change, the sixth update of its ongoing research, begins by stating that the climate crisis is “unequivocally” caused by fossil fuel burning and forest destruction, among other human activities that have abruptly altered crucial Earth systems.
The IPCC cautions that possible collapse of Earth’s ecological systems, including major Atlantic Ocean currents, ice caps and the Amazon rainforest, “cannot be ruled out.”
Tempting as it may be, we need not resort to apocalyptic cynicism. We can literally sow seeds of life and hope, individually and communally, that renew Mother Earth’s regenerative powers. Sowing seeds, whether in one pot or a larger garden, is a way of practically living degrowth — pursuing an economic system based on policies that promote sustainability, rather than constant growth — and cultivating the radical abundance of God’s creation.
As I write, I stand on the unceded and occupied land of the Mohican people, “land of the waters that never run still,” or as white settlers here in Massachusetts call it, the Housatonic River. I believe we must begin individual change where we are and acknowledge how capitalism and colonization have divided us from Mother Earth and ourselves.
On recent walks along these “waters that never run still,” my partner and I have lamented how people fishing must throw the fish back into the river because the water and fish have been contaminated by the former General Electric plant that dumped PCBs into the water from 1932 through 1977.
Our greatest hope for the life of Mother Earth, however, is in our own individual and collective rootedness in her awesome regenerative life systems.
Vandana Shiva, the renowned physicist, ecological activist, mother and award-winning author, celebrates how “if we are part of the Earth, every being — it doesn’t matter whether they’re human beings or not — but every being, every tree, every animal, every microbe is part of an amazing Earth family. … There are no hierarchies in Earth democracy.”
Shiva summons us to see how we are Earth “interbeings” who are intricately interconnected with all other forms of life, and who need to claim our true common identity and power to live in harmony and reciprocity with Mother Earth.
Our greatest power, individually and communally, Shiva contends in the video “Saving Seeds at Home,” is in saving and sowing diverse seeds in our own homes and gardens. “The nature of seed,” she explains, is “to multiply, to be shared,” yet “all the new laws are designed to prevent us from saving seed to make seed uniform rather than diverse and to remove human intelligence from the reproduction and breeding of seed.”
She invites each of us to become “a scientist in service of life on Earth” to end the ways in which “colonization of this planet and life on it is taking place through seed, through genetic engineering and patenting.”
Discussing how agribusiness has created drought in California and does violence against the Earth and people, Shiva urges us to “get out of the supermarket, get out of the drought, get out of seed-slavery, get out of food slavery” and embrace “soil freedom by knowing your seed, saving it,” even “if it’s one pot on your windowsill, just a terrace in the city” or creating a garden in your yard or community.
In her book Who Really Feeds the World?: The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology, Shiva notes that 40% of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change are from fossil-fuel-based industrial agriculture. She adds that agribusiness is waging war on biodiversity — by eviscerating as much as 90% of agricultural biodiversity — and a war on humanity by creating a food system in which 1 billion people are “permanently hungry” and another billion suffer from “food-related diseases” like obesity.
By contrast, Shiva writes, local farming communities produce 70% of the world’s food and “reflect diverse agroclimatic features” that protect biodiversity while developing diverse food cultures at the same time.
The movement Shiva initiated in India, Navdanya, has created more than 150 seed banks and trained more than 1 million farmers in “chemical-free, biodiversity-based organic farming.” This kind of local organic farming has “increased nutrition twofold,” and organic farmers earn 10 times more than commodity growing farmers because they do not waste money on chemicals and commercial machinery, Shiva says.
Indeed, Shiva’s leadership of the Navdanya organization in India since 1987 demonstrates the power of Gandhian nonviolent transformation through cultivation of seed diversity, living soil and food sovereignty.
Rishi Kumar, a farmer who has helped create hundreds of gardens in Los Angeles and serves as executive director of the Sarvodaya Institute, promotes gardening as a way of individual and collective healing, offering tips for starting at home.
The Sarvodaya Institute also cultivates gardening through its mission to end “colonial aggression against communities of color as the underlying cause of damage and destruction to our body” and commits to the “disassembly and decomposition of colonial power structures through all of our work.” Struggles for racial and ecological liberation are one, as I argue in my forthcoming book.
As we take individual initiative to sow living seed and soil, may we recognize Jesus’ invitation to understand how the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows becomes a large bush where the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches, as Matthew’s Gospel says.
May all birds of the sky, bees, worms and grubs of the soil, and all creatures dwell in our gardens throughout Mother Earth, so all of our human and nonhuman kin may thrive. We are called to sow, share and multiply seeds of hope and healing for ourselves and all life.
In less than two months, global leaders will gather in Glasgow for COP26, the most critical meeting on climate change since Paris.
Ahead of the Glasgow meeting, the CVF has issued a manifesto for what the conference must deliver to keep the planet safe and protect the most vulnerable.
Environmental groups have suggested postponing the meeting, on the grounds that vaccine distribution is inequitable and that delegates from poorer countries face huge bills for quarantine hotels when they arrive in the UK.
However, the CVF member states insist the meeting must go ahead in person, and are calling for support and “facilitated access” to ensure inclusive participation.
The UK government has responded to these calls by agreeing to pay the quarantine hotel expenses of any delegate, observer or media from a developing country.
The vulnerable group says that progress on climate change has stalled and COP26 should move forward with what it terms a “climate emergency pact”.
This would see every country put forward a new climate plan every year between now and 2025.
At present, signatories of the Paris agreement are only obliged to put forward new plans every five years.
The vulnerable nations say that richer countries must fulfil their obligations to deliver $100bn in climate finance per year over the 2020-24 period.
The CVF nations want this money to be split 50-50 between cutting carbon and helping countries adapt to the threat posed by rising temperatures.
The countries also want the UK to “take full responsibility” for this aspect of the negotiations, saying it is vital to restore confidence in the Paris pact.
Among the other areas that the most vulnerable nations want to see progress on is the question of debt-for-climate swaps.
Many of the world’s poorest countries have large debt burdens, and these have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has stretched finances even further.
In a debt-for-climate swap, a country can reduce what it owes to international creditors by directing the debt service payments to fund renewable energy or greater protection for nature.
One such restructuring was recently announced by Belize where the debt money will now go to support marine conservation projects instead.
“Vulnerable countries have unique needs – and public-private collaboration will be key to addressing them,” said Nigel Topping, who’s the UK’s high-level climate action champion for COP26.
“Whether it is in debt for nature swaps such as the recent Belize announcement or in increasing public sector capability to structure investment projects to attract private finance, the aim is to accelerate progress in this area so that 2022 becomes the year of climate action solidarity.”
In response to the “grave threat” of climate change, heads of the world’s major religions united at the Vatican to issue an unprecedented joint appeal to government leaders at next month’s United Nations climate summit, calling for “urgent, radical and responsible action” to drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions and for the world’s wealthiest countries to lead in healing the planet.
The nearly 40 religious figures, among them Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu leaders, also pledged to increase awareness of the climate crisis and actions to address it within their own congregations.
“We are currently at a moment of opportunity and truth. We pray that our human family may unite to save our common home before it is too late,” the declaration read. “Future generations will never forgive us if we squander this precious opportunity.”
“We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children,” the faith leaders wrote.
The joint statement, issued Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, outlined the expectations of the world’s major religions — representing about half the global population — for the COP26 U.N. climate conference, set for Nov. 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland.
“We plead with the international community, gathered at COP26, to take speedy, responsible and shared action to safeguard, restore and heal our wounded humanity and the home entrusted to our stewardship,” the faith declaration said.
“We appeal to everyone on this planet to join us on this common journey, knowing well that what we can achieve depends not only on opportunities and resources, but also on hope, courage, solidarity and good will.”
A portion of the statement was read at a “Faith and Science Toward COP26” ceremony at the Vatican, where faith leaders, all wearing masks, signed the document. Francis, who signed last, handed the appeal over to Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Alok Sharma of Britain, president of COP26. Officials from embassies to the Holy See from both nations, which are co-hosting the climate conference, worked with the Vatican to organize the statement.
Sharma described the appeal as “a powerful call to action for the world.” He called for an alliance of faith leaders, scientists and youth to “turn the tide” on climate change.
“Doing so requires us all to play our part, every country in every part of society mounting a global effort led by those most human qualities, reason and morality, the head and the heart,” he said.
Each religious leader present spoke briefly about the need to protect the environment. Those unable to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic sent video messages. At the conclusion, each poured soil into a potted olive tree to be planted in the Vatican gardens. They met again in the afternoon to discuss how faith and science can work together to raise awareness and cooperate further.
In prepared remarks for the event, Francis said that the world’s religious and spiritual traditions and science both stress the interconnectedness of our world. Recognizing the interrelations among species, he said, reveals not only the harmful effects of human activity on ecosystems, but also possible solutions.
“COP26 in Glasgow represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations. We want to accompany it with our commitment and our spiritual closeness,” the pope said.
COP26 will be the first U.N. climate conference in two years. An abbreviated, virtual meeting was held in December 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s event is viewed as the most consequential climate summit since the 2015 COP21, which produced the landmark Paris Agreement in which the world’s nations committed for the first time to cut emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.
The faith leaders, who conferred throughout the year in multiple meetings with leading scientists, including Hoesung Lee, chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that “time is running out” and that this decade may be the last chance left “to restore the planet.”
Average temperatures already have risen by more than 1 C and are on track to reach 2.7 C by the end of the century, based on countries’ current greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments, according to a recent IPCC report.
“The degradation of our common home due to climate change is a symptom of deeper social ills,” Joachim von Braun, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences told the gathering. “For this reason, it is essential that in addressing these challenges, science and faith combine forces.”
Climate change solutions must include changes in consumption, technological breakthroughs and policies that recognize that human and ecosystem health are inextricably connected, the scientist said.
The religious leaders urged governments to “achieve net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.” Wealthier nations, which are the major emitters, must lead that effort, they said, as well as follow through on long-promised financing— $100 billion annually through the Green Climate Fund — to help less-industrialized nations curb emissions and adapt to climate change.
They also urged developed nations to commit to “loss and damage” payments to less-industrialized countries for climate-related destruction that has already occurred.
They advocated a new economic model that prioritizes human dignity, inclusivity, ecologically friendly practices over exploitation and excess, and “one based not on endless growth and proliferating desires, but on supporting life.”
The statement also called for special attention to the rights of Indigenous peoples, an end to biodiversity loss, responsible financing by banks and investors, and a just transition to a clean energy economy, with particular attention to employment for people working in the fossil fuel industry.
Calling climate change a moral issue, they stressed the importance of education and the “crucial” role of religious traditions in bringing about an “ecological conversion” among all people.
The faith leaders also pledged to more active political participation on environmental issues, and to take actions within their own communities to reduce emissions, pursue sustainability in their buildings and properties, encourage simpler lifestyles, seek out ethically produced goods and services, and apply environmentally and socially responsible standards to investments, including shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
An interfaith program called “Faith Plans for People and the Planet,” aimed at leveraging religious groups’ assets and investments, was also launched Oct. 4.
To involve Catholics, the Vatican is creating the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a seven-year roadmap to sustainability for all types of Catholic institutions, from families and dioceses to hospitals and schools.
Climate negotiators have said Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” along with statements from other faith leaders and the world’s bishops, had a positive influence on COP21 in 2015. The hope is that this new interreligious appeal will yield similar results in Glasgow.
Plans for the Oct. 4 faith appeal began in January. Since then, faith leaders have met eight times with scientists, including Lee of the IPCC and the heads of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences.
Before the event, von Braun told EarthBeat he was “pleasantly surprised” with the faith leaders’ openness to scientific advice and is optimistic the statement will deliver “a powerful message” to political leaders at COP26.
“This summit comes at a point in time when the world knows more, is concerned more and wants to see more action. And the people are moving together. That’s why this new alliance between science and faith will matter at the COP,” he said.
NAIROBI, – In the 30 years that Josephine Muthoni has lived in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum, she has never had a steady supply of clean water.
The only way to get water was from vendors dotted around the slum, who charge exorbitant prices for the often polluted water they buy from government water points or steal straight from the municipal pipes, the 62-year-old mother of nine explained.
Muthoni said filling a 20-litre (5-gallon) jerry can cost as much as 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.45) – a potentially crippling amount in a city where the majority of slum dwellers earn less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.
“We would sometimes walk five kilometres to get water. I thought that was how life should be until I worked for a family and saw water flowing full time from their taps,” the retired housekeeper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The more than 600,000 residents living in one of Nairobi’s largest slums have struggled with water access for years, a problem exacerbated by frequent bouts of city-wide water rationing, which has been ongoing since 2017.
But soon, Mukuru residents will be able to fill a jerry can with clean water for as little as 50 Kenyan cents, using token-operated vending machines that the city government is installing in an effort to ease the slum’s water stress.
With the new system, residents will receive plastic tokens – similar to key fobs – that they can charge using the M-Pesa mobile money platform.
They then insert the tokens into a machine at one of the 10 water stations being set up around Mukuru and select how much water they want dispensed.
Kagiri Gicheha, an engineer at the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), which is helping develop the system, said the project is in the final stages, only awaiting the installation of the vending machines.
The dispensers, each costing 200,000 shillings, mean Mukuru residents will no longer be at the mercy of the slum’s informal, exploitative water market, Gicheha said.
“This is a way of controlling the cartels that have long been stealing water in the slums because this is an automated system that is very easy to manage,” he said.
Until the system is operational, residents can fetch clean water for free from boreholes that have been dug for the project, each of which will feed up to four water dispensers.
Since starting the project in April 2020, the city government has drilled nearly 200 boreholes across five Nairobi slums and hopes to expand to more areas depending on funding and demand, Gicheha said.
CHEAP, CLEAN, RELIABLE
Officials decided to launch the system in Mukuru after seeing the success of a similar programme run by the local nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum.
Currently, there are 23 machines dispensing water to Kibera residents, who pay two shillings to fill a jerry can, said Johnstone Mutua, a programme officer at the grassroots group.
“The project is very efficient. Most residents now know how to use the system and we installed solar-powered lights for security at night,” said Mutua.
“This means someone can get water anytime they want.”
Maureen Adhiambo, a 28-year-old mother of three in Kibera, says the vending machines cost half of what she used to pay water vendors and finally offer her a reliable source of water.
“(Before), the queues were too long and water would come only once a week,” she said.
“Now, I can buy five 20-litre jerry cans of water per day … and there’s no queue.”
Mutua said the first attempt at setting up a water vending system was in Mathare slum in 2015.
But the machines were being fed from large tankers, not boreholes, he said, which meant during drought there was no water to fill them with – so now the machines in Mathare stand empty.
RISKY WALK FOR WATER
Fuelled by explosive population growth, demand for water in Kenya’s capital has shot up over the past decade, but broken municipal water pipes and frequent drought leave the city chronically thirsty.
While residents need more than 810,000 cubic meters daily, the city’s dilapidated water infrastructure can only supply 526,000 cubic metres, according to figures from the NCWSC.
Across Kenya, the water crisis hits hardest in slums, where nearly half the urban population lives, according to the World Bank, and where homes are not connected to the water grid.
Before the vending machine project came to Mukuru, Gideon Musyoka, an elder of one of the villages inside the slum, said the taps at the government water points rarely flowed and when they did the water was often tainted by raw sewage.
For women, the search for water was time-consuming, expensive and dangerous, exposing them to sexual assault or rape. “Women were almost getting used to being raped, even in broad daylight, as they went to water points to fetch water,” said Muthoni, the Mukuru resident.
Jamlick Mutie, an independent water and sanitation expert working in Nairobi’s slums, applauds the water dispensers as a safe, affordable and efficient solution.
Mutie noted that at the subsidized cost of 25 shillings per cubic metre, Mukuru residents will be able to buy water for less than half what other Nairobi residents pay to get it piped into their homes.
Efforts to get clean water to the slums are especially urgent during the coronavirus pandemic, with health experts pointing to handwashing as one of the best ways to curb the spread of COVID-19, he said.
“For the slum residents, it would be a disaster without water,” he said.
The price of the water is enough to cover the costs of maintenance and electricity to run the machines, making the project sustainable, he added.
The biggest challenge, Mutie warned, is protecting the machines from the cartels who see the project as a threat to their business.
Mutua at SHOFCO said Kibera residents are tackling that problem by having volunteers guard the water stations.
To discourage tampering with the vending machine pipes, the charity built an aerial water network, suspending the pipes overhead rather than burying them underground, and is encouraging the government to do the same in Mukuru, he said.
As the people in Mukuru wait for their water vending machines to arrive, Musyoka, the village elder, said having abundant, clean water is something many of them never could have imagined.
“Seeing so much water in Mukuru slums is what we call magic. Now, we can say that people are clean and healthy,” he said. ($1 = 109.7500 Kenyan shillings)
Environmental threats are worsening conflicts worldwide and will soon constitute the biggest challenge to human rights, the United Nations has warned.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday climate change, pollution, and nature loss are severely affecting human rights, while countries across the globe fail to take the necessary action.
“The interlinked crises of pollution, climate change and biodiversity act as threat multipliers, amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations,” Bachelet said.
“As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era.”
The comments came as part of a global update delivered by Bachelet at the opening session of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The former Chilean president said environmental threats were already “directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself”, hurting the poorest nations the hardest.
The UN rights chief cited “murderous climate events”, including the fires in Siberia and California, and floods in China, Germany and Turkey. Bachelet warned severe droughts could additionally force millions of people into misery, hunger and displacement.
Addressing the environmental crisis is therefore “a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative and a development imperative”.
“It is also doable,” she added.
Bachelet’s office is pushing for more ambitious climate commitments at the 12-day COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, set to begin on October 31.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic offering an opportunity to focus on environment-friendly projects, “this is a shift that unfortunately is not being consistently and robustly undertaken” because of the failure on the part of member states to fund and implement commitments made under the Paris climate accords.
“We must set the bar higher – indeed our common future depends on it,” the UN rights chief said.
Air pollution is cutting short the lives of billions of people by up to six years, according to a new report, making it a far greater killer than smoking, car crashes or HIV/Aids.
Coal burning is the principal culprit, the researchers said, and India is worst affected, with the average citizen dying six years early. China has slashed air pollution in the last seven years, but dirty air is still cutting 2.6 years from its people’s lifespan.
Fossil fuel burning is causing air pollution and the climate crisis, but nations have much greater power to cut dirty air within their own borders. The climate crisis is now also adding to air pollution by driving wildfires, completing a vicious circle, the scientists said.
“Air pollution is the greatest external threat to human health on the planet, and that is not widely recognised, or not recognised with the force and vigour that one might expect,” said Prof Michael Greenstone at the University of Chicago. Greenstone and colleagues developed the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which converts air pollution levels into their impact on life expectancy.
The average global citizen loses 2.2 years of life with today’s levels of air pollution and, if nothing changes, that adds up to 17bn lost years, Greenstone said. “What else on the planet is causing people to lose 17bn years of life?”
“Furthermore, we’re not just letting it happen, we’re actually causing it,” he said. “The most striking thing is that there are big countries where, effectively, a combination of the government and [societal] norms are choosing to allow people to live really dramatically shorter and sicker lives.” He said switching to cleaner energy and enforcing air quality measures on existing power plants have cut pollution in many countries.
The report estimated the number of additional years of life people would gain if air pollution levels in their country were reduced to World Health Organization guidelines. In India, the figure is 5.9 years – in the north of the country 480 million people breathe pollution that is 10 times higher than anywhere else in the world, the scientists said. Cutting pollution would add 5.4 years in Bangladesh and Nepal, and 3.9 years in Pakistan.
In central and west Africa, the impacts of particulate pollution on life expectancy are comparable to HIV/Aids and malaria, but receive far less attention, the report said. For example, the average person in the Niger delta stands to lose nearly six years of life, with 3.4 years lost by the average Nigerian.
China began a “war against pollution” in 2013 and has reduced levels by 29%. This is adding an average of 1.5 years on to lives, assuming the cuts are sustained, the scientists said, and shows rapid action is possible.
“Coal is the source of the problem in most parts of the world,” said Greenstone. “If these [health] costs were embedded in prices, coal would be uncompetitive in almost all parts of the world.”
Fossil gas is significantly less polluting than coal and Japan said in June that it would offer $10bn in aid for energy decarbonisation projects in southeast Asia, including gas power stations. But gas burning still drives global heating and Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief, said on Sunday: “Let’s be clear, gas is not an alternative to coal and nor is it a transition fuel. Investments in new gas must stop immediately if carbon neutrality is to be reached by 2050.”
The AQLI report is based on research comparing the death rates of people living in more and less polluted places, with heart and lung problems being the largest source of early deaths. The analysis is based on small particle pollution, but is likely to include the effects of other air pollutants as these all tend to be high in the same locations. The estimates of air pollution around the world were derived from satellite data at 3.7-mile (6km) resolution.
Almost a third of the world’s tree species are at risk of extinction, while hundreds are on the brink of being wiped out, according to a new report.
The landmark study, published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) on Wednesday, said some 17,500 tree species – or 30 percent of the total – are at risk of extinction, while 440 species have fewer than 50 specimens left in the wild.
Overall the number of threatened tree species is double the number of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined, the report said.
“This report is a wake up call to everyone around the world that trees need help,” BGCI Secretary-General Paul Smith said in a statement.
Among the most vulnerable trees are species including magnolias and dipterocarps – which are commonly found in Southeast Asian rainforests. Oak trees, maple trees and ebonies also face threats, the report said.
Trees help support the natural ecosystem and are considered vital for combating global warming and climate change. The extinction of a single tree species could prompt the loss of many others.
“Every tree species matters – to the millions of other species that depend on trees, and to people all over the world,” Smith added.
Thousands of varieties of trees in the world’s top six countries for tree-species diversity are at risk of extinction the report found. The greatest single number is in Brazil, where 1,788 species are at risk.
The other five countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Colombia and Venezuela.
The top three threats facing tree species are crop production, timber logging and livestock farming, the report said, while climate change and extreme weather are emerging threats.
At least 180 tree species are directly threatened by rising seas and severe weather, the report said, especially island species such as magnolias in the Caribbean.
Though mega-diverse countries see the greatest numbers of varieties at risk of extinction, island tree species are more proportionally at risk.
“This is particularly concerning because many islands have species of trees that can be found nowhere else,” the report added.
LONDON, – Eight years after its last update on climate science, the United Nations is set to publish a report Monday that will likely deliver even starker warnings about how quickly the planet is warming – and how damaging the impacts might get.
Since the last report https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013, both greenhouse gas emissions and the average global temperature have only continued to climb.
The new report will forecast how much more emissions can be pumped into the atmosphere before the average global temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. That revised carbon budget may serve as a guide to governments as they map out their own emissions-cutting plans before a major U.N. climate conference in November.
Scientists say the world must halve global emissions by 2030 and cut them to net-zero by 2050 in order to prevent global warming above 1.5C, which could trigger catastrophic impacts across the globe.
But climate change already is fuelling deadly and disastrous weather across the globe. Nearly all of the world’s glaciers are melting faster. Hurricanes are stronger. Just this year, unprecedented rains unleashed floods across parts of central China and Europe, while wildfires are tearing across Siberia, the U.S. West and the Mediterranean.
“The report will cover not only the fact that we are smashing record after record in terms of climate change impacts, but show that the world today is in unchartered territory in terms of sea level rise and ice cover,” said Kelly Levin, chief of science, data and systems change at the Bezos Earth Fund philanthropy.
Overall, the report “will underscore the urgency for governments to ramp up climate action,” she said.
And while the 2013 report said it was “extremely likely” that human industry was causing climate change – which suggests scientists were at least 95% confident in that statement – this year’s report will likely use even stronger language.
“Obviously, it is going to be stronger than what we had in the past because of the growing warming of the planet,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia who has contributed to previous IPCC assessments. “That’s going to be one of the main points. It will be discussed very, very carefully, and scrutinised,” Le Quéré told reporters.
WHAT IS THE IPCC?
Since its establishment in 1988, the IPCC has released five so-called Assessment Reports updating the established science on climate change, its impacts, future risks and ways to tackle the problems.
But the IPCC itself is not made up of scientists. The panel includes government representatives from 195 countries who commission assessments from experts and academics across the world.
In drafting those assessments, scientists consider thousands of individual studies published since the last IPCC report. To finalize their latest assessments for the upcoming report, scientists have been meeting virtually with policymakers since July 26, scrutinizing the details and language used in the draft.
Governments can suggest changes to the text, but those must be agreed by consensus. The scientists then must ensure the changes are consistent with the scientific evidence.
Monday’s report is actually just part of what will go into the final Sixth Assessment Report, or AR6, when it is released in 2022.
The AR6 synthesis report will also include two other major chapters coming out next year – one on climate change impacts on communities, societies and economies and how they might adapt to cope, and another on ways of curbing emissions and reining in climate change. And it will include findings from three special reports published since 2013, on the 1.5C threshold https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15, on the world’s oceans and frozen regions https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc, and on land use and degradation https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl.
But Monday’s chapter is one of the most highly anticipated, particularly after being delayed for months because of the COVID pandemic. Unlike the previous assessments, the chapter will use five possible emissions trajectories the world could follow rather than the previous four scenarios.
“Emissions scenarios are not intended to say: ‘This is the future: pick one’,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC. “Policies are being implemented all the time, and the science is changing all the time, so it is just not fair to say we are on a certain trajectory.”
When Royal Dutch Shell published its annual environmental report in April, it boasted that it was investing heavily in renewable energy. The oil giant committed to installing hundreds of thousands of charging stations for electric vehicles around the world to help offset the harm caused by burning fossil fuels.
On the same day, Shell issued a separate report revealing that its single largest donation to political lobby groups last year was made to the American Petroleum Institute, one of the most powerful trade organizations in the United States, and the one that drives the oil industry’s relationship with Congress.
Contrary to Shell’s public statements in support of electric vehicles, API’s chief executive, Mike Sommers, has pledged to resist a raft of Joe Biden’s environmental measures, including proposals to fund new charging points in the US. He claims a “rushed transition” to electric vehicles is part of “government action to limit Americans’ transportation choice.”
Shell donated more than $10 million to API last year alone.
And it’s not just Shell. Most other oil conglomerates are also major funders, including ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, although they have not made their contributions public.
The deep financial ties underscore API’s power and influence across the oil and gas industry, and what politicians describe as the trade group’s defining role in setting major obstacles to new climate policies and legislation.
Critics accuse Shell and other major oil firms of using API as cover for the industry. While companies run publicity campaigns claiming to take the climate emergency seriously, the trade group works behind the scenes in Congress to stall or weaken environmental legislation.
Earlier this year, an Exxon lobbyist in Washington was secretly recorded by Greenpeace describing API as the industry’s “whipping boy” to direct public and political criticism away from individual companies.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and strident critic of big oil’s public relations tactics, accused API of “lying on a massive industrial scale” about the climate crisis in order to stall legislation to combat global heating.
“The major oil companies and API move very much together,” he said.
Whitehouse said the oil and gas industry now recognizes it is no longer “socially acceptable” to outright deny climate change, and that companies are under pressure to claim they support new energy solutions that are less harmful to the environment. But that does not mean their claims should be taken at face value.
“The question as to whether they’re even sincere about that, or whether this is just ‘Climate is a hoax 2.0,’ is an unknown at this point,” he added.
Shell has defended its funding by saying that while it is “misaligned” with some of API’s policies, the company continues to sit on the group’s board and executive committee in order to have “a greater positive impact” from within. The petroleum firm claims that its influence helped maneuver API, which represents about 600 drilling companies, refiners and other interests such as plastics makers, toward finally supporting a tax on carbon earlier this year.
With Biden in the White House and growing public awareness of global heating, there are signs API’s influence may be weakening as its own members become divided on how to respond.
The French oil company Total quit the group earlier this year over its climate policies. Shareholder rebellions are pressing Exxon and Chevron to move away from dependence on oil. Top clean energy executives at Shell quit in December over the pace of change by the company.
API is also fighting a growing number of lawsuits, led by the state of Minnesota, alleging that the trade group was at the heart of a decades-long “disinformation campaign” on behalf of big oil to deny the threat from fossil fuels.
But despite threats to API’s lasting influence, Whitehouse argues the trade organization represents the true face of the industry. Instead of using its considerable power to push for environmentally friendly energy laws, API is still lobbying to stall progress, with the oil industry’s blessing.
“Their political effort at this point is purely negative, purely against serious climate legislation. And many of them continue to fund the fraudulent climate denialists that have been their mouthpieces for a decade or more,” Whitehouse said.
Banking on disinformation
Since API was founded in 1919 out of an oil industry cooperation with the government during the first world war, it has evolved into a major political force with nearly $240 million in annual revenue.
Its board has been dominated by heavyweights from big oil, such as Rex Tillerson, the Exxon chief who went on to become U.S. President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, and Tofiq Al Gabsani, the chief of Saudi Refining, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco oil giant. Al Gabsani was also registered as a lobbyist for the Saudi government.
API also hired professional lobbyists, including Philip Cooney, who went on to serve under George W Bush as chief of staff of the Council on Environmental Quality until he was forced to resign in 2005 after tampering with government climate assessments to downplay scientific evidence of global heating and to emphasize doubts. Shortly afterward, Cooney was hired by Exxon.
API came into its own as the realities of the climate crisis crept into public and political discourse, and the industry found itself on the defensive. The trade group, which claimed to represent companies supporting 10 million jobs and nearly 8% of the U.S. economy, played a central role in efforts to combat new environmental regulations.
In many cases, API was prepared to carry out the dirty work that individual companies did not want to be held responsible for. In 1998, after countries signed the Kyoto Protocol to help curb carbon emissions, API drew up a multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign to ensure that “climate change becomes a non-issue”. The plan said “victory will be achieved” when “recognition of uncertainties become part of the ‘conventional wisdom'”.
Much of this is the basis of several lawsuits against API. The first was filed last year by the Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison, who accuses the group of working alongside ExxonMobil and Koch Industries to lie about the scale of the climate crisis. The suit alleges that “previously unknown internal documents” show that API and the others well understood the dangers for decades but “engaged in a public-relations campaign that was not only false, but also highly effective” to undermine climate science.
The city of Hoboken in New Jersey is also suing API, claiming that it engaged in a conspiracy by joining and funding “front groups” that ran “deceptive advertising and communications campaigns that promote climate disinformation and denialism.”
The lawsuits allege that API funded scientists known to deny or underplay climate changes, and gave millions of dollars to ostensibly independent organizations, such as the Cato Institute and the George C. Marshall Institute, which denied or downplayed the growing environmental crisis.
“API has been a member of at least five organizations that have promoted disinformation about fossil-fuel products to consumers,” Ellison alleges in Minnesota’s lawsuit. “These front groups were formed to provide climate disinformation and advocacy from a seemingly objective source, when, in fact, they were financed and controlled by ExxonMobil and other sellers of fossil-fuel products.”
A turn toward denial
It wasn’t always this way.
When Terry Yosie joined API in 1988 as vice-president for health and environment, the trade group had spent years funding scientists to research climate issues after hearing repeated warnings. In 1979, API and its members formed the Climate and Energy Task Force of oil and gas company scientists to share research.
Yosie, who moved to API from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, controlled a $15 million budget, part of which he used to give workshops on climate change by EPA officials and other specialists.
“I brought them together in front of oil industry senior-level executives for the sole purpose of making sure this industry had some understanding as to what other significant stakeholders thought about climate change, where they saw the issue evolving, what information they were relying on,” he said.
When Yosie left API in 1992, he believed the oil lobby group was still serious about addressing the growing evidence of climate change. But a year later, it disbanded the task force at the same time that Exxon abandoned one of the industry’s biggest research programs to measure climate change.
Yosie believes that confronted with the true extent of the looming disaster, API and the oil companies ran scared, choosing instead to pursue an agenda informed by climate denialism.
“As the climate issue began to move from the periphery to the center stage, I think there was a collective loss of confidence in the entire industry, a fear that this was not a debate that was winnable,” he said.
API and its financial backers founded a front organization, the deceptively named Global Climate Coalition, to drum up purported evidence that the climate crisis was a hoax. In the late 1990s, the GCC’s chairman, William O’Keefe, was also API’s executive vice president, a man who falsely claimed that “climate scientists don’t say that burning oil, gas and coal is steadily warming the earth”.
API and the GCC led attacks on Bill Clinton’s support for the Kyoto protocol with a “global climate science communications plan” that misrepresented the facts about global heating.
The relationship between API and big oil remained exceptionally close throughout. Exxon’s chief executive served on the lobby group’s executive committee for most of the past three decades, and the two worked together in promoting denialism over the climate crisis.
The focus of API’s efforts was on Congress, where it led the industry’s opposition to policies, such as the 2009 cap-and-trade legislation to control carbon emissions.
“Most of the funding for the Republican party, and probably a very considerable amount of the big dark money funding behind the Republican party, comes out of the fossil fuel industry,” said Whitehouse. Last year, API indirectly gave $5 million to the conservative Senate Leadership Fund to back Republican candidates — many of whom question climate science — for election, and to the campaigns of members of the energy committees in both houses of Congress.
Growing public disquiet, and the departure of oil-friendly Trump from the White House, shifted the ground for API. In March it launched a Climate Action Framework, which for the first time endorsed policies such as carbon pricing. It also stated its support for the Paris climate agreement.
API called the plan “robust,” but others noted the lack of specifics, and its sincerity was called into question when an Exxon lobbyist was caught on camera earlier this year saying that a carbon tax will never happen and that support for the measure was a public relations ploy intended to stall more serious measures.
And between API’s lost support from Total, and the Shell executives who resigned in December over what they regarded as the company’s foot-dragging on greener fuels, there are signs of shifting attitudes within the industry itself.
Shell and BP have said they will continue to review their support for API. Shell said that where it disagrees with API’s position, the company “will pursue advocacy separately”.
However, Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is skeptical that there has been any significant change in direction.
“I think it’s fair to say that API and its prominent member companies have a broadly shared goal, which is to keep the social license of the oil and gas industry operating, and therefore enabling them to continue to extract oil and gas for as long as possible, as profitably as possible,” he said.
A future of rising temperatures and extreme weather — stronger and more frequent storms and heat waves, combined with intense drought — is unavoidable in the coming decades, according to a new report by an international panel of scientists. But the direst outlooks can still be averted, the experts said, if the world’s countries stop burning fossil fuels and take other immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
The report, released Aug. 9 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the group’s first review of climate science research since 2013. The IPCC provides periodic assessments on the science behind and risks related to climate change, as well as reports on possibilities for mitigation of and adaptation to impacts.
No region of the Earth has escaped the effects of climate change, and even if emissions were immediately reduced to no more than the amount that the Earth’s soil, plants and oceans could absorb naturally, some of the impacts already set in motion would be irreversible within centuries or millennia, the report says.
Although the scientists did not analyze the heat waves, flooding and wildfires that have struck the United States, Europe and Siberia in recent weeks, the events are consistent with their findings about Earth’s warming climate.
“The report clearly shows that we are living the consequences already of climate change everywhere, but furthermore, that we will experience further and concurrent and multiple changes” with each fraction of a degree of additional warming, Argentinian meteorologist Carolina Vera, one of the report’s authors, said at the virtual press conference where the report was presented.
Coming less than three months before the next U.N. climate summit, COP26, to be held Nov. 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland, the report adds even more urgency to the already critical international climate negotiations.
“The grim and disturbing findings of the … report only reinforce the message of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ — we must do everything we can, and now, to protect and defend Our Common Home,” Bishop John Arnold, chair of CAFOD, the Catholic Church’s aid agency for England and Wales, said in a statement.
Neil Thorns, CAFOD advocacy director, added that the report “is clear it’s an urgent fight to keep below 1.5 degree warming and avoid the destruction that entails, especially for those living in poverty.” He urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lead nations at the climate summit to commit to radical actions to change the planet’s course of warming.
In preparation for COP26, countries were given until July 30 to submit revised targets for greenhouse gas emissions, but only 110 of the 197 countries that are parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change met that deadline. Several major emitters, such as China, Saudi Arabia and India, were among those that did not submit new targets, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Nevertheless, delegates from all countries signed off on the new IPCC report, indicating that they accept not only the dire warnings, but also the “unequivocal” conclusion that the sharp rise in temperatures and in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution is due to human activities.
“It is indisputable that human activities have caused and are causing climate change,” Chinese climate scientist Panmao Zhai, co-chair of the working group that prepared the scientific report, said at the press conference. “What’s new in this report is that we now have a much more advanced understanding of the connections between the emissions we release and the rise in global surface temperature, and the change to weather and the climate we are seeing around the world.”
Nevertheless, he said, humans still have “a chance to stop the negative climate trend [by] the middle of the century,” especially by curbing the use of fossil fuels and stopping deforestation, which is a major source of emissions in tropical countries.
Episodes of extremely hot weather have become more frequent and intense since the 1950s, Zhai said. Oceans are also warming, resulting in lower oxygen concentrations and increased acidity, which is already affecting fisheries in some parts of the world. And glaciers, Arctic Sea ice, and ice sheets like those blanketing Greenland are melting.
The report provides a more detailed look at regional impacts of climate change than earlier IPCC assessments. That’s partly because of advances in climate science, French climate scientist Valérie Masson-Delmotte, who co-chairs the scientific working group with Zhai, said at the press conference.
Since the working group’s last report in 2013, “climate scientists filled in gaps in observations of past climate. They improved climate models and developed new ways to combine many types of evidence,” she said. “As a result, today we have the clearest picture of how the Earth’s climate functions and how human activities affect it. We know better than ever how the climate has changed in the past, how it is changing now and how it will change in the future.”
Since the middle of the last century, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released as a result of human activities have trapped heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, raising the average temperature on land by approximately 1.1 degree Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
An initial target of limiting the rise to no more than 2 C by the end of this century was revised downward to 1.5 C as part of the Paris Agreement, but at current emission levels the world is on track to overshoot both those figures, and could surpass the 1.5 C goal within the next two decades.
The new report offers five possible scenarios for future warming, based on at what point in this century, and by how much, humans dial back greenhouse gas emissions. In the scenario that assumes a 1.5 C increase in average global temperature, extreme heat waves that occurred once every decade at the beginning of the 20th century would likely occur four times. With a 4 C increase, the most extreme scenario, they would be almost annual events.
Droughts affecting natural ecosystems and agriculture also increase in frequency and intensity under the various scenarios. Although it seems contradictory, so would the frequency of days of heavy rainfall, because of the effect of warmer ocean temperatures.
The report’s review of regional climate impacts covers all parts of the globe, including continental and subcontinental breakdowns as well as the warming effects on small islands, oceans, polar regions and urban areas. It also includes an interactive atlas that allows users to look at past, present and projected future climate conditions and download data.
Besides the detailed scientific report, the scientific working group published a technical report meant to help engineers design infrastructure to withstand the impacts of a warming climate, and a summary for policymakers. This report will be followed in early 2022 by assessments from the IPCC working groups studying means of mitigating the impacts of climate change and adapting to a warming world.
Although it does not make policy recommendations, the scientific report underscores the urgency of this year’s international climate summit.
“COP26 is very critical,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said at the press conference. “Obviously, the scientist does not tell the politicians what to do, but they provide the very basis for people to have an understanding. And I would encourage that all [people] recall that, as citizens, we have a role in requesting and ensuring that our governments are aware of that science.”