Category Archives: Environment

EU unveils sweeping climate change plan

Wind turbines are seen near the coal-fired power station Neurath, Germany
Renewable energy, like wind power, is gradually replacing coal in many EU countries

The European Union has announced a raft of climate change proposals aimed at pushing it towards its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

A dozen draft proposals, which still need to be approved by the bloc’s 27 member states and the EU parliament, were announced on Wednesday.

They include plans to tax jet fuel and effectively ban the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars within 20 years.

The proposals, however, could face years of negotiations.

The plans triggered serious infighting at the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm, as the final tweaks were being made, sources told the AFP news agency.

“By acting now we can do things another way… and choose a better, healthier and more prosperous way for the future,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

“It is our generational task… [to secure] the wellbeing of not only our generation, but of our children and grandchildren. Europe is ready to lead the way.”

The measures are likely to push up household heating bills, as well as increase the cost of flights in the EU. Financial assistance will be available for people to install insulation and make other long-term changes to their homes.

“We’re going to ask a lot of our citizens,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. “We’re also going to ask a lot of our industries, but we do it for good cause. We do it to give humanity a fighting chance.”

Opposition is also expected from some industry leaders, such as airlines and vehicle manufacturers, as well as from eastern member states that rely heavily on coal.

One EU diplomat told Reuters that the success of the package would rest on its ability to be realistic and socially fair, while also not destabilising the economy.

“The aim is to put the economy on a new level, not to stop it,” they said.

The measures, billed as the EU’s most ambitious plan yet to tackle climate change, have been named the Fit for 55 package because they would put the bloc on track to meet its 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 55% from 1990 levels.

By 2019, the EU had cut its emissions by 24% from 1990 levels.

Some of the key proposals include:

  • Tighter emission limits for cars, which are expected to effectively end new petrol and diesel vehicle sales by 2035
  • A tax on aviation fuel, and a 10-year tax holiday for low-carbon alternatives
  • A so-called carbon border tariff, which would require manufacturers from outside the EU to pay more for importing materials like steel and concrete
  • More ambitious targets for expanding renewable energy around the bloc
  • A requirement for countries to more quickly renovate buildings that are not deemed energy efficient

But corporate lobby BusinessEurope denounced the plan, saying it “risks destabilising the investment outlook” for sectors such as steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers and electric power “enormously”.

And Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association, said: “Aviation is committed to decarbonisation as a global industry. We don’t need persuading, or punitive measures like taxes to motivate change.”

At the same time, environmentalist campaigners have said the proposals don’t go far enough.

“Celebrating these policies is like a high-jumper claiming a medal for running under the bar,” Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said in a statement.

“This whole package is based on a target that is too low, doesn’t stand up to science, and won’t stop the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems.”

Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg said that unless the EU “tears up” its proposals, “the world will not stand a chance of staying below 1.5C of global heating”.

In September the EU Commission set out its blueprint for reaching the 55% reduction by 2030, and said at least 30% of the EU’s €1.8tn (£1.64tn; $2.2tn) long-term budget would be spent on climate-related measures.

The targets are part of a global effort to tackle climate change by cutting atmospheric pollution, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The Paris climate deal, signed in 2016, aims to keep global temperature rise well under 2C, and preferably within a maximum rise of 1.5C, to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57833807

National Catholic Reporter board divests company from fossil fuels

A banner celebrating the National Catholic Reporter’s 50th anniversary is seen on the company’s headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. (NCR photo/Teresa Malcolm)

The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company has separated its multimillion-dollar investment portfolio from financial holdings in the fossil fuel sector.

The decision to divest was approved unanimously by the NCR board of directors during its May 21 meeting, when the board for the 57-year-old independent nonprofit news publication ratified a revised investment policy statement for its $12.7 million endowment fund. The policy went into effect July 1.

Added to those guidelines was a new socially responsible investment screen against companies whose primary business involves the exploration or extraction of all forms of coal, oil and natural gas. It also stated the board’s finance committee will encourage its portfolio managers to pursue investments in renewable energy. Previously, the policy had included screens against investments in abortifacients, tobacco and weapons.

“I see the board’s decision as another ‘step’ in the journey that Pope Francis has invited all of us to take in the efforts needed to care for our common home, the Earth,” board chairman Jim Purcell told EarthBeat. He added it was part of a recognition by the board that climate change is among the major issues facing the world today, “if not at the top of the list.”

The policy screen against fossil fuels references both the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” and “Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home,” a document issued by several Vatican offices in June 2020 outlining ways to implement the encyclical, including a section on finances that recommends fossil fuel divestment.

“It was time for NCR to align itself, as an institution, with the growing number of Catholic organizations that have taken the step of refusing to invest money in fossil-fuel companies,” Bill Mitchell, NCR CEO and publisher, said in a press release.

While NCR has been a leader in its reporting on the environment, dating back to coverage under longtime editor Tom Fox in the 1980s of Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, as a company, “to be honest, we have not been out front on the question of divestment,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said that National Catholic Reporter, as both a news operation and an institution with “Catholic” in its name, has “a particular obligation to do our best to live up to the values and standards that our faith calls for.”

He added that the decision by the board, which is separate from the publication’s editorial operations, would not influence how NCR covers environmental issues, including reporting on the financial angle of climate change.

“As publisher, I leave the decision of how best to cover a story to the journalists charged with doing so. So I don’t envision in any way a decision on the part of the board influencing the way we cover this issue,” Mitchell said.

To date, roughly 250 Catholic institutions worldwide have publicly pledged to divest from fossil fuels or to avoid such investments. At 34%, faith-based organizations represent the largest number of the 1,300-plus groups who have joined the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has so far mobilized $14.5 trillion away from the fossil fuel industry.

In terms of media organizations, the majority of which are for-profit entities, such financial moves rejecting fossil fuels appear less common. In January 2020, The Guardian announced it would no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies. A Swedish newspaper made a similar move a year earlier.

“An enduring and sad fact of climate coverage is that many of the media organizations whose reporting seeks to hold Big Oil accountable are, at the same time, invested in fossil fuel companies and receive ad revenue from them,” said Andrew McCormick, deputy director of Covering Climate Now, a consortium of media outlets of which EarthBeat is a member.

“It’s a clear conflict of interest, as bad for journalism as it is for the planet,” he said in an email. “More outlets should step up to the plate and demonstrate leadership by breaking from the status quo.”

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said it is not uncommon for news outlets to make ethical decisions in the types of advertisements they accept or investments they may make; for instance, many publications do not accept advertising for cigarettes. He said “it sends a good signal” to readers when a publication gives attention to ethical considerations and takes steps to match its own operations with its editorial values.

The NCR board first began its discussions about fossil fuel divestment in May 2020. Around then, it learned approximately 2.4% of the endowment’s value at that time was invested in fossil fuels.

That dialogue included conversations with then-portfolio manager Christian Brothers Investment Services. The firm did not offer funds that omitted fossil fuels, and instead has been active in shareholder advocacy with fossil fuel companies, including introducing a resolution at ExxonMobil in May.

At its November 2020 meeting, the NCR board formed an ad hoc committee to further study the issue. Ultimately, it recommended adding a screen against fossil fuel companies to the investment policy document and that the endowment be moved to Catholic Investment Services. Both recommendations were approved at the May board meeting, and the funds were transferred on July 1.

Along with the ad hoc committee’s research, including consultation with the Chicago-based investment firm Meketa, Purcell said the full board reviewed several documents making arguments for and against fossil fuel divestment, among them the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ implementation guidelines.

A key concern for the board was maintaining its fiduciary responsibility for the financial health of the company. Purcell said board members felt confident that could be achieved after reviewing financial reports from Catholic Investment Services that showed strong performances in funds without fossil fuels.

Purcell added that a significant factor for board members was that a number of prominent Catholic organizations, including congregations of women religious, have included fossil fuel divestment as part of their responses to climate change. Some board members also expressed skepticism about the long-term effectiveness of shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies.

The board chair said it was important that the investment policy statement also include an emphasis on investing in clean energy, “because divestment by itself is not enough.”

“The board is very aware that the need for this transition into renewables has got to be a key piece of the strategy for combating climate change,” Purcell said.

The decision to divest from fossil fuels comes as National Catholic Reporter has expanded its coverage of environmental issues. In July 2020, the company received a $1.5 million gift from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to establish a Laudato Si’ Fund to support EarthBeat, NCR’s reporting initiative on faith, climate and environmental justice.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/national-catholic-reporter-board-divests-company-fossil-fuels

Canada heatwave: How can cities adapt to rising temperatures?

People look for ways to cool off at Willow’s Beach during the ‘heat dome,’ currently hovering over British Columbia and Alberta as record-setting breaking temperatures scorch the province and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Chad Hipolito

LONDON, – Seattle, Portland and other cities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Canada are blasting past heat records this week, facing sweltering temperatures more than 15 degrees Celsius (30 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal summer highs.

Portland hit 116F (46C) on Tuesday – and the regularly warm Canadian village of Lytton, in British Columbia, set an all-time national heat record: 49.6C, or 121F.

Globally, such cities better known for their cool or mild weather face the biggest risks from heatwaves, with residents rarely equipped with air conditioning and governments less used to offering advice or emergency cooling spaces.

In the northern state of Michigan, “structures are not well-adapted for heat – we built them for cold. But our world will be changing,” noted Patricia Koman, a research investigator at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. 

Globally, heat risks will hit 3.5 billion people by midcentury, almost half of them in urban centres, a 2020 study by climate scientists found. 

And by the end of the century, heat deaths globally could nearly equal those from all infectious diseases combined today, according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research.

But cities that have long dealt with dangerous heatwaves – from Ahmedabad in India to Athens in Greece – or those now preparing for them have strategies for dealing with worsening heat risk that could help the newly boiling cope.

Here’s some of what they’ve learned:

Offer public cool spaces – but pay attention to the details

Air-conditioned malls, libraries, churches, trains or community centres are great places to cool off for those too hot to stay at home, and city officials often coordinate with them and include them on lists of places to seek respite from heat.

But such cooling centres need to be close enough to safely access – particularly for the elderly or disabled – or transport to them needs to be provided, said Anouk Roeling, a sociology expert of crisis and disaster at The Hague, in the Netherlands.

“If you have to walk 30 minutes to get to a cool space, the health benefit kind of gets lost,” she said.

In the long term, planting more trees and creating shady street corridors to allow more people to walk safely can help, city experts said – but trees take time to grow and other short-term measures may be needed.

Making sure cooling centres are actually open is also key.

In some hot southern European cities, where many people go on holidays in August, volunteers that normally open community centres may not be around with the keys when they are most needed, city officials there said.

Mobile phones can give personalised advice

Mobile phone apps such as Extrema, now used in Athens and a range of other cities, offer users a range of personalised heatwave advice, from locations of the closest cooling centres to localised temperature forecasts.

For those willing to share more personal information, the Extrema app can also offer warnings about how various levels of heat could change the action of medications taken by the app user.

Look for shade and water

From Qatar’s steamy capital of Doha to Tel Aviv, hot cities are adding more sun-shading canopies, ensuring buildings have overhangs and creating other structures that can help hold down the heat for those who need to be out in it.

Tel Aviv has held competitions to design innovative and beautiful shading structures for sidewalks and public spaces.

In Cape Town, which also has struggled with water shortages, water-thrifty spray parks rather than swimming pools now help cool residents on hot days.

And in parts of India, families organise to provide ceramic containers of cool water outside their homes and businesses to help cool sweltering passersby.

Cooler roads and roofs help too

With the summer Olympic Games starting in July, Tokyo has laid 126 km (78 miles) of reflective pavements, in part to cool the marathon course. In other cities, simply ditching black tarmac for lighter coloured pavement can help keep road and sidewalk users safe. 

Painting more roofs white, to reflect heat, also is a relatively cheap way of lowering temperatures and risks in particularly poor areas with no money to pay for cooling, city experts say.

Paying for cooling takes planning

New York City has provided air conditioners and other cooling equipment to some low-income seniors – a group at high risk from heatwaves.

But poorer families in many cities may struggle to pay hefty utility bills and so will often try to struggle through without turning on their cooling devices, with deadly consequences, city officials warn.

In an effort to change that, New York hopes to persuade the state government to give poorer families financial aid to pay summer utility bills – just as some now receive help paying for winter heat, said Kizzy Charles-Guzman, deputy director of the city mayor’s resiliency office.

Tracking the heat can help pinpoint risks

Heat threats vary across a city and understanding where risks are highest – often in areas with little green space and high social deprivation – can be key to protecting lives.

Madrid is using real-time heat sensors – some mobile, mounted on bikes or backpacks – to give a clearer sense of where heat risks are highest. 

Other cities track areas of heat stress in real time by looking at social media posts and trying to adjust their response efforts accordingly.

Name that wave

Because most heat deaths happen indoors, the scale of risk from heat is often underestimated. To change that, members of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance want to begin giving heatwaves names and ratings, like hurricanes. 

The alliance, a coalition of 30 big-city mayors and insurance officials, as well as health, climate change and policy experts, think raising the profile of heatwaves is key.

“People do not understand this risk and we need to change that,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Washington-based Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, which works to cut climate change, migration and security risks.

“Extreme heat is, or will be, felt by everyone, everywhere at some point. We have to build awareness to this invisible threat – and we have to act.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210629114348-xbsaz/

EarthBeat Weekly: Record-breaking heat helps make climate change feel ‘real’

A digital sign in Seattle shows a temperature reading of 109 degrees Fahrenheit June 28, 2021. (CNS photo/Jason Redmond, Reuters)

This week, climate change was on many people’s minds in the U.S. because of the brutal heat wave that struck the country, especially the Pacific Northwest, where Portland, Oregon, set temperature records on three consecutive days, and Seattle set two in a row.

More than 60 deaths that may have been heat-related were reported in Oregon, along with 10 times that many visits to emergency rooms and urgent-care clinics. In western Canada, there were hundreds more deaths than usual during those few days, leading officials to suspect they were related to the extreme temperatures in the region.

Surveys show that exposure to hot, dry days tends to make people more likely to say that they have experienced the effects of climate change, so the convergence of events in the West, where heat is combining with drought, may lead to greater support for climate legislation.

Coinciding with the heat wave, environmental and Indigenous activists descended on Washington, D.C., chaining themselves to White House gates as they called on President Joe Biden not to weaken his infrastructure proposal that he has been negotiating with Republicans in Congress. Critics fear that the bipartisan agreement that was reached could water down measures aimed at combating climate change.

The heat wave certainly underscores the urgency of legislation aimed at strengthening the country’s infrastructure in the face of climate change, as power cables for Portland’s rapid transit system melted and electricity use strained power grids. It remains to be seen whether the extreme weather out west will move the needle in Congress, but it may become more and more difficult for skeptical lawmakers to deny the consequences of a warming climate.

This was also a momentous week for EarthBeat, as the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co. announced that it was divesting of fossil fuel stocks.

NCR environment correspondent Brian Roewe reported on the decision by the NCR board of directors, which unanimously approved adding to the company’s investment policy statement — the document that guides financial decisions related to its $12.7 million endowment — both a screen against fossil fuel companies and an endorsement of investments in renewable energies.

Roewe has been reporting for a number of years on the growing divestment movement in the Catholic Church. In some cases, students are pushing their universities to divest. In other cases, religious groups or organizations are making the decision based on faith, and financial, convictions.

Other groups, however, continue to hold just enough shares in fossil fuel companies that they can propose shareholder actions aimed at forcing the companies to be more accountable. In May, activist shareholders gained ground with efforts targeting ExxonMobil and Chevron.

This week, Claire Giangrave at Religion News Service takes a behind-the-scenes look at how faith groups and participants in the Vatican-promoted “Economy of Francesco” project played a key role in those shareholder actions.

Activist shareholders are not the only ones taking aim at fossil fuel companies. There is a growing wave of lawsuits by cities and states around the U.S. that are based on the growing evidence that oil and gas companies have known for decades that the burning of fossil fuels was causing Earth’s climate to warm abnormally, but covered up that research.

Chris McGreal at The Guardian provides a good overview of the issue. And Sarah DeWeerdt at The Anthropocene reports on a study that indicates that climate lawsuits could be more successful in linking government or corporate actions to harm from climate change if they made better use of scientific evidence.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/earthbeat-weekly-record-breaking-heat-helps-make-climate-change-feel-real

Winners of ‘Green Nobel’ fight deforestation, coal power

2021 Goldman Environmental prize winner Liz Chicaje paddles on the Ampiyacu River in Peru. Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize.

BOGOTA, – As a teenage mother and activist, Liz Chicaje would travel by boat and foot across Peru’s Amazon rainforest with her young daughter campaigning to protect the ancestral lands of the Bora indigenous people from illegal logging and mining.

To preserve the forest that the Bora and other indigenous people depend on for hunting and fishing in Peru’s northeastern region of Loreto, Chicaje spearheaded the creation of a two-million-acre (809,370-hectare) national park.

On Tuesday, Chicaje’s activism and leadership earned her a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize – known as the “Green Nobel” – which honors grassroots activism, along with five other winners.

“We live off the forest. It’s our wealth. If it wasn’t for the forests, we wouldn’t have the food and pure air that we breathe,” Chicaje, 38, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a Zoom interview.

“We all have to continue to advance in the protection of the environment and reforest areas,” she said.

Chicaje and other indigenous leaders worked with government officials, environmentalists and scientists, using satellite imagery to map areas that would be placed under protection.

Chicaje convinced other indigenous communities to endorse the park, and in January 2018 Peru’s government declared the creation of the Yaguas National Park.

With deforestation rates rising in parts of Peru’s Amazon, the national park is seen by environmentalists as vital in safeguarding ecosystems and carbon-storing peatlands and rainforest.

CUTTING COAL

Announced in San Francisco, California, during an online ceremony, the Goldman Environmental Prize provides each of the six winners with financial support to magnify their environmental activism and continue local campaigns.

Among this year’s other prize winners are Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, a Malawian anti-plastics campaigner; environmentalist Maida Bilal from Bosnia-Herzegovina; and American Sharon Lavigne, a campaigner against toxic waste and pollution.

They also include Thai Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese wildlife conservationist, and Japanese environmentalist Kimiko Hirata.

Hirata’s work has focused on eliminating Japan’s old and inefficient coal-fired power plants – a major contributor to carbon and other emissions that fuel global warming.

After Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was severely damaged in a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the government closed many of the country’s nuclear plants and ramped up coal power, Hirata said.

“We needed to start from zero. People didn’t really know anything about coal … they didn’t see it as a problem,” she said over Zoom.

“There was no knowledge among the Japanese people where coal power exists, how many coal plants exist and the risks it has,” said Hirata, who is the founding member of the Kiko Network, a local climate change nonprofit.

As part of a national anti-coal campaign Hirata began in 2011, a website was created to track new proposed coal plants, along with a network of activists living in areas where new coal stations were being planned, she said.

Working with scientists, academics, lawyers, journalists and local community leaders, Hirata sought to raise awareness in public meetings and hearings about the negative impact of coal power on the environment and Japan’s pollution levels.

The campaigning paid off. By 2019, Japan’s government had canceled 13 planned coal plants across the country, averting the emission of about 42 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, the Goldman Prize committee said.

“When I see the map of Japan, and where (coal) projects were canceled, those are mostly the areas where we mobilized local movements,” said Hirata, adding that there are currently no plans to build any new coal plants in Japan.

Hirata is now putting pressure on Japan to phase out the use of coal power altogether and to commit to only renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, by 2050.

But achieving this goal will be more difficult in a country where coal is seen as an important part of the energy mix, and where healthcare and economic issues often take priority over climate action, Hirata noted.

Japan’s energy policy aims to have renewable energy contribute 22% to 24% of total power by 2030. Currently, the country gets about 18% of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

“We can’t just shout, ‘Do not build more coal plants!’ We have to show a solution for the people who are involved in the coal business,” Hirata said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210615062001-dri19/

António Guterres on the climate crisis: ‘We are coming to a point of no return

‘To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.’
‘To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.’ Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/EPA

Wealthy countries risk an “unforgivable lost opportunity” by not emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic with newly green economies to address the climate crisis, the United Nations secretary general has warned.

Before meeting the leaders of the world’s major economic powers at the G7 summit in the UK, António Guterres said he was concerned that the richest nations have pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than clean energy since the pandemic, despite their promises of a green recovery.

“I’m more than disappointed, I’m worried about the consequences,” Guterres told the Guardian at the UN headquarters in New York, as part of a Covering Climate Now consortium of interviews alongside NBC News and El Pais. “We need to make sure we reverse the trends, not maintain the trends. It’s now clear we are coming to a point of no return.

“To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.”

A recent analysis showed the G7 countries – the UK, US, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan – have committed $189bn to support oil, coal and gas, as well as offer financial lifelines to the aviation and automotive sectors, since the outbreak of the coronavirus. This is over $40bn more than has been directed towards renewable energy.

Several leaders, including the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have stressed the need for the climate crisis to be central to the Covid recovery, with various cities around the world ushering in cyclists and pedestrians to streets previously dominated by cars.

But while the G7 countries have agreed to stop the international financing of coal, the world’s wealthiest nations are pouring billions of dollars into developing gas, another fossil fuel, in the global south at a rate four times that of finance supporting wind or solar projects. With economies starting to reopen, planet-heating emissions are expected to jump by the second biggest annual rise in history in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

Guterres said he welcomed the G7 commitment as “many countries are still addicted to coal” but that much more needed to be done in what he called a “make-or-break year” that will be rounded off by crucial UN climate talks in Scotland in November.

“We need to abolish subsidies to fossil fuels, this is a central question,” he said. “We have to look at the real costs that exist in the economy, which means a price on carbon. If we do these things, many of the investments made to fossil fuels in the recovery phase will obviously not be profitable. They will be stranded assets with no future.”

A key priority for the UN secretary general at the G7 summit will be to press leaders on the contentious issue of climate finance. As part of the landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015, rich countries agreed to provide $100bn a year to developing countries to help them adapt to the damaging flooding, drought, heatwaves and other impacts of the climate crisis.

This money has never been delivered in full, however, and Guterres said it will be “impossible” to effectively deal with the climate crisis without assistance for poorer countries. He said the G7 will need to deliver the money to “rebuild trust” with developing nations.

“The $100bn is essential,” said the secretary general. “Climate action has until now been centered on mitigation, on reducing emissions. But developing countries have huge problems in adaption from the existing impacts of climate change.”

Guterres said he was hopeful that Joe Biden will be able to mobilize other countries to meet commitments on climate aid as the US continues its reintegration into international climate diplomacy following the presidency of Donald Trump.

But the US has “a lot of catching up to do”, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. “Biden doesn’t get a free pass because it’s the US that caused the damage. If you fail to deliver for the rest of the world that will be our problem and it will come back to bite you.”

Scientists recently warned that the world could breach, albeit temporarily, the 1.5C average temperature increase limit set out in the Paris agreement within the next five years. Guterres, however, said it’s “not only possible, it’s necessary” to strive to avoid global heating above this threshold, beyond which disastrous climate impacts are expected.

“We still have time, but we are on the verge,” he said. “When you’re on the verge of the abyss, you need to make sure your next step is in the right direction.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/11/antonio-guterres-interview-climate-crisis-pandemic-g7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After two devastating hurricanes, Honduran sisters help communities rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Providing help amid their own recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping the last tar sands pipeline will take all of us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air pollution kills thousands in megacities despite COVID lockdowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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