Category Archives: Climate Change

Catholic groups call for rapid climate action as UN report warns window is closing fast

A coal power plant in Neurath, Germany, is seen reflected in a puddle of water Feb. 5, 2020. (CNS/Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay)

Many of the technologies and tactics to avert the worst impacts of climate change exist today. While still a major challenge, what’s missing mostly is the political and financial will to wield them at full force.

So says the latest major report from the world’s foremost scientific body on climate change. The report, focusing on mitigation efforts to limit rising temperatures, and with it the fallout from increasing heat, was issued Monday, April 4, by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report reiterated that immediate, rapid and massive societal shifts this decade are required to meet the world’s goal under the Paris Agreement to limit average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a threshold that climate scientists say will expose millions of people to increasing droughts, heatwaves and extreme storms, and with it, result in greater rates of poverty, migration and health issues, all consequences expected to harm already vulnerable communities the most.

The nearly 3,000-page IPCC report, compiled by 278 authors from 65 countries, is the third issued by the international scientific group in the past nine months as part of the sixth assessment. The first updated the physical science of climate change, and the second, issued in March, detailed how climate change is impacting our world and efforts to adapt. A final synthesis report will be released in the fall.

At current emissions rates, the world will burn through its remaining carbon budget to meet the 1.5 C target within approximately eight years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Catholic development groups operating across the world said the latest IPCC report was “a clarion call” and made clear that countries must focus on “transformative solutions” with no time to waste.

“Its message is crystal clear: we need climate action now in the form of deep and urgent emissions reductions, and well before 2030, to stay below 1.5°C,” said CIDSE, a network of Catholic international justice organizations, in a statement. “As Catholic Development agencies, we are inspired by Pope Francis to call for urgent action on the climate emergency.”

Salesian Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of the ecology and creation sector of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told EarthBeat that the IPCC report makes clear that the time to act is now, and the next few years are “crucial” in shaping a habitable world for people today and generations to come. He said it was encouraging that the report documented signs of a renewable energy transition, including renewable energy making up the vast majority of new energy sources in recent years.

“All this is doable if we are willing to change our behavior, if our political leadership is able to step in. But we don’t want to wait for others to lead. We think we should be leading our communities,” he said.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future,” Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, said in a statement. “We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming.”

In a joint statement, U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa and Alok Sharma and Sameh Shoukry, the heads of the COP26 and upcoming COP27 U.N. climate conferences, respectively, said the latest IPCC report “makes it clearer than ever that the window of opportunity to achieve [the 1.5 C goal] is rapidly closing.”

“Despite the urgency of our task, there is hope. The window for action has not yet closed. … There is also clear evidence that — with timely and at scale cuts to emissions — countries can pursue a mitigation pathway consistent with limiting global warming” to 1.5 C, they said.

The new mitigation report concluded that the decade from 2010-2019 saw the highest average annual greenhouse gas emissions on record, and were 54% higher than 1990 levels. The carbon emissions released from 2010-2019 accounted for 17% of historical emissions since 1850. While overall emissions dropped slightly in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, they rebounded by year’s end. And since 2010, global emissions have increased across all major sectors.

“Human-induced climate change is a consequence of more than a century of net GHG emissions from unsustainable energy use, land-use and land use change, lifestyle and patterns of consumption and production,” the IPCC report authors wrote. “Without urgent, effective and equitable mitigation actions, climate change increasingly threatens the health and livelihoods of people around the globe, ecosystem health and biodiversity.”

The report reinforced that the release of emissions is uneven. Developed countries are responsible for 57% of historical carbon emissions, compared to .4% from the world’s least developed nations, and the richest 10% of households account for between 36% and 45% of emissions.

“Richer countries must urgently kick their addiction to fossil fuels and mass consumption,” said Alistair Dutton, director of Scotland Catholic International Aid Fund. “This is the only way to stop the world overheating and leaving a planet that is habitable for future generations. If we don’t, our children and grandchildren will never forgive us.”

Global temperatures have risen an average of 1.1 C since the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 18th century. Countries under the 2015 Paris accord agreed to work to hold temperature rise “well below” 2 C and to strive to limit it to 1.5 C.

So far, the national climate pledges countries issued ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, held in November, would result in 3.2 C warming, according to the IPCC, or well short of both Paris Agreement targets. At the end of COP26, countries agreed to reassess and submit new climate targets before COP27 later this year in Egypt.

The urgency of climate change has yet to be matched by an equivalent political response. For decades, the fossil fuel industry and its political allies have sowed doubt about the science and sought to delay attempts to phase out the use of coal, oil and gas. And recent global events, from Donald Trump’s election in the U.S. to the coronavirus pandemic to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have drained momentum and drawn political attention away from the global threat posed by climate change and the need to transition away from fossil fuels.

Despite that, the IPCC report stressed that a pathway to 1.5 still exists.

It pointed to positive signs, such as the rapidly declining costs of solar and wind energy, along with lithium-ion batteries, and the rapid expansion of solar energy and electric vehicles. As of 2020, more than 20% of global emissions fell under carbon taxes or emissions trading systems, and 56 countries representing 53% of emissions had passed climate laws to slash greenhouse gases.

But it’s also not enough.

The IPCC said that global emissions have to peak no later than 2025 to keep 1.5 C in range, and emissions need to be cut nearly in half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. Even then, the report estimates that average temperature rise will likely overshoot 1.5 C temporarily.

Limiting warming to 1.5 C or 2 C will “involve rapid and deep and in most cases immediate GHG emissions reductions in all sectors,” the report stated.

Models in the report achieving the 1.5 target show the world rapidly transitioning from fossil fuels to low- or zero-carbon energy sources. Nearly all electricity would need to come from such sources by midcentury, while the use of coal would fall to near zero, and oil and gas slashed dramatically, with up to $4 trillion in stranded fossil fuel infrastructure. Further rollout of energy efficiency, especially in buildings, and conservation efforts, through reforestation and ecosystem restoration, are also key facets to cutting emissions, as is designing cities in ways that encourage public transit, reduce energy demand and enhance access to green spaces.

The IPCC said that taking such steps can have co-benefits, including reducing exposure to pollution, improved health and less congestion, and that mitigation tactics are “a necessary part of development,” including meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. It added that “individual behavioral change is insufficient for climate change mitigation unless embedded in structural and cultural change.”

Susan Gunn, director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, said that each of those strategies are “essential for a global just transition” to a world powered by renewable and emissions-free energy.

One area the Catholic organizations disagreed with the report was on the use of carbon capture and storage technologies to pull emissions from the atmosphere, which the IPCC said would be necessary to offset emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors. The technology’s inclusion was part of debates that delayed the report’s release by several hours.

CIDSE and its members called carbon capture and other negative emissions technologies “false solutions.” They have joined environmental groups in saying fossil fuel companies will seek to use those technologies as a means to continue burning more coal, oil and gas. Instead, they have advocated expansive rollouts of renewable energy and agroecology, and for ending all government subsidies for fossil fuels.

“It is never a solution to rely on risky technologies that have not yet developed or proven effective, nor is it a solution to continue accepting more risks already posed to the environment and people because of following mitigation models that rely on such technologies,” CIDSE said in its statement.

Another major area for increased activity is investments. Currently, public and private investments for fossil fuels continue to outpace those for climate mitigation and adaptation measures. The report said that financing for clean energy will need to increase 3 to 6 times over current levels.

The good news, the IPCC report said, is that “there is sufficient global capital” to close the investment gaps. The bad news? There are barriers to doing so, such as inadequate assessments of climate-related risks and investment opportunities. The IPCC said that governments can help alleviate risk concerns through “clear signaling” they are aligning state funding with strong climate policies.

The IPCC report said that while the costs of addressing climate change appear high — roughly 2.6%-4.2% losses in global GDP, and in the electricity sector alone, an estimated $2.3 trillion annually between 2023 and 2052 — inaction will cost far more, both monetarily and the toll of human and other life. “The economic benefits on human health from air quality improvement arising from mitigation action can be of the same order of magnitude as mitigation costs, and potentially even larger,” the report said.

In its statement, CIDSE said it was encouraging that the IPCC report highlighted how investor-state dispute settlements can hinder more ambitious climate action by governments over fears that corporations or investors could sue over the impacts on their businesses.

Josianne Gauthier, CIDSE secretary general, said that “corporate power is hindering climate justice” and that a full response to climate change must involve addressing current economic systems.

“As Pope Francis has said, we cannot live within an economy based on insatiable and irresponsible growth. We are motivated to challenge the system based on the direct experiences of people at the forefront of climate change, who need mitigation urgently,” she said.

Kureethadam told EarthBeat it’s understandable if people find climate reports like the latest from the IPCC disturbing, because it’s from that point that they can become aware and mobilized to act. He said that people can also draw hope through the actions that are happening, including through the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform that Francis has invited Catholics across the world to join as a way to embrace sustainability and an ecological conversion.

“People are coming together, so I see that as an element of hope. We don’t need to get discouraged,” Kureethadam said. “It’s urgent, so we cannot afford to postpone. That time is over. The report is so clear.”

Marquette University bars direct fossil fuel investments with its $929 million endowment

The Church of the Gesu can be seen on the Milwaukee campus of Marquette University in this winter 2020 photo. (CNS/Courtesy of Marquette University)

Student climate activists at Marquette University celebrated after the Jesuit school in Milwaukee moved last week to prohibit direct investments in fossil fuels through its $929 million endowment.

Marquette announced an update March 24 to its university investment policy that bars investments in public securities whose primary business involves the exploration and extraction of coal, oil and gas. The move was approved by its board of trustees.

In addition, the new policy formalizes measures the endowment office has been practicing for several years, including monitoring funds for indirect exposure to fossil fuels and moving to “wind down” other private investments in fossil fuel-related holdings “in accordance with the terms of the partnership agreements.” A spokeswoman told EarthBeat the university retains the ability to maintain fossil fuel exposure “on a case-by-case basis,” particularly with companies adapting their business models toward solutions to climate change.

In a statement, Marquette president Michael Lovell connected the new policy to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” and the Society of Jesus’ four universal apostolic preferences, which also includes “care of our common home.”

“Our Catholic, Jesuit mission calls on us as an institution to invest in our students’ futures in ways that are positive for our world. By prohibiting direct investments in fossil fuels and following best practices in responsible investment, Marquette is heeding Pope Francis’ call to ‘reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals,’ ” Lovell said, adding “I am proud that Marquette University is taking this important stance.”

Maddie Kuehn, a junior and member of Fossil Free Marquette that pushed for divestment, told EarthBeat the move was “really exciting” and an “incredible first step.”

“I personally was really surprised. We had no idea that this was even on Marquette’s radar or something that they were even talking about,” she said.  

Marquette becomes the seventh U.S. Catholic university to publicly announce plans to eliminate holdings in the fossil fuel sector from its endowments and investment portfolios. The others are University of Dayton (2014), Seattle University (2018), Georgetown University (2020), Creighton University (2020), Loyola University Chicago (2021) and University of San Diego (2021). Of the seven, five of them are Jesuit schools.

In 2019, the Society of Jesus adopted four universal apostolic preferences for the next decade. On “caring for our common home,” the Jesuits called for ecological conversion in the face of today’s environmental crisis that particularly harms poor and vulnerable people, and they directed their educational institutions to raise awareness and identify ways to act.

The emissions released from the burning of coal, oil and gas are the primary driver of global climate change. Along with that, excavation of fossil fuels often destroys ecosystems and threatens the lives of communities and creatures native to the land.

A report from the International Energy Agency stated that for the world to meet the Paris Agreement goals of max 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise and net-zero emissions by 2050 there cannot be any new oil, gas and coal development.

“There is no need to invest in oil, gas or coal. The existing [power plants] are enough to meet the declining demand for these fossil fuels. There is no need for that,” Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, said in an August webinar hosted by the Laudato Si’ Movement.

In its press release, Marquette stated that its current investment portfolio is free of direct public investments in fossil fuels.

Roughly a year ago, the university told EarthBeat it estimated direct investments in oil and gas amounted to 1% to 2% of its total endowment, at the time roughly $693 million in market value.

In April 2021, students passed a nonbinding resolution with 87% of voters in support of the university implementing a five-year fossil fuel divestment plan. The vote came after a series of meetings between student group Fossil Free Marquette, Lovell and chief investment officer Sean Gissal.

Several months after the vote, Fossil Free Marquette presented a complaint letter in October to Lovell and the board of trustees alleging that the board was violating its fiduciary responsibility by investing in fossil fuels. The students pointed to Wisconsin law that stipulates nonprofit organizations must consider its “charitable purposes” in its investment decisions.

“As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, Marquette commits itself to upholding and promoting the Catholic Church’s teachings on and guidelines for care of the environment,” the student letter read. But despite repeated calls from Francis for the world to rapidly move away from fossil fuels, “the Trustees have remained steadfast in their support of an industry whose business model is based on environmental destruction and social injustice,” the letter stated.

Lynn Griffith, university spokesperson, told EarthBeat “there was zero attention given” to the allegations of violations of the board’s fiduciary duties, and that the updated policy “reflects investment practices that have been in place for several years.” That includes partnering with investment managers who follow the Principles of Responsible Investment and engage in impact investing.

While Fossil Free Marquette celebrated their school’s divestment decision, they hope to see more transparency about how the endowment is invested. That’s especially important, Kuehn said, for private schools where information about investments is not public and harder to access.

“We would like to see the university engage in discussions with students and have opportunities for them to ask questions about this issue, because I know that a lot of people care about it,” she said.

Campaigns to cut financial ties with the fossil fuel industry have been ongoing within faith communities for over a decade, and they represent the largest sector within the wider movement. While the vast majority of Catholic institutions have not divested, attention to the idea has gained traction in the wake of the release of Laudato Si’. The Vatican Bank has stated it does not hold investments in fossil fuels, and the Vatican, through messages, documents and initiatives, including the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, has increasingly recommended divestment as a viable option and “moral imperative” for Catholic institutions.

At their November meeting, the U.S. bishops approved new socially responsible investment guidelines. The revised guidelines, which many Catholic institutions in the country utilize, include an expanded section on environmental concerns, with more than a half-dozen citations of Pope Francis.

On divestment, the new guidelines say the U.S. bishops’ conference will consider that option with companies that consistently fail to initiate policies intended to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, and points to a footnote citing the Vatican’s 2020 Laudato Si’ implementation guidelines that recommend “evaluating progressive disinvestment from the fossil-fuel sector.”

Activist shareholders raise alarm about climate change in corporate filings

Activists protesting climate change and pushing for green jobs are seen near the White House in Washington June 4, 2021. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)

For the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Aberdeen, South Dakota, the prairie has been home since 1880.

They were invited from Dublin by Bishop Martin Marty of St. Cloud, Minnesota, to what was then the Dakota Territory to teach the children of the Lakota people and French settlers.

Since those early days, the order has developed an “inner awareness that we depend on the land and we’re saved by the land,” Presentation Sister Pegge Boehm told Catholic News Service.

“We’re formed by the prairie. We know that the prairie land is fragile and we’ve come to know it’s a fragile ecosystem,” said Sister Boehm, socially responsible investment coordinator for the congregation.

That connection to the prairie is guiding an effort by the sisters to encourage one of the world’s largest corporations, Inc., to become more transparent in its lobbying efforts in regard to climate change and adherence to the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The sisters have joined Seattle-based Newground Social Investment as lead filers of a shareholder resolution ahead of Amazon’s annual corporate general meeting that asks the firm to report if and how its lobbying aligns with the landmark 2015 accord’s goal of limiting average global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

The filing was meant to help shareholders better understand how Amazon is in “right relationship or not in right relationship with the land and its people,” Sister Boehm explained.

“Once we identify maybe where there’s not a right ordering, we are to be the moral voice to bring to their awareness that somebody out there is watching them and make them accountable,” she said.

The resolution seeks more information than what Amazon already provides annually about its contributions of $10,000 or more to political candidates, trade associations, social welfare organizations and nonprofit groups.

“The report should address direct and indirect lobbying … and what actions Amazon has or will take to mitigate the risks associated with misalignments that may be found,” the resolution said.

A spokeswoman for Amazon declined to specifically address the Presentation sisters’ resolution.

She pointed, instead to “sustainability activities” that support the Paris agreement. Among them are investments in wind and solar farms and more efficient machinery; plans to power all operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025; a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040; and ordering more than 100,000 fully electric delivery vehicles.

Amazon is among dozens of companies at which Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility members have filed climate- and environment-related resolutions. ICCR said there were 103 such filings by Feb. 16.

Oblate Father Seamus Finn, director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for his order and former ICCR board chairman, said that shareholders in many companies see an urgent need for corporate leaders to more rapidly adopt practices that mitigate climate change, leading to more resolutions being filed this year.

Shareholders are learning from failed attempts in years past and now are fine-tuning resolutions to address specific, rather than broad, concerns, he explained.

It’s expected that some of the resolutions will be withdrawn as conversations begin between activist investors and corporate representatives, but many will be debated during the annual meetings in the weeks ahead.

ICCR reported during a webinar in February introducing its 2022 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide that a record 436 resolutions at 246 companies have been filed. In 2021, 244 shareholder resolutions were filed.

Last year also saw a record number of ICCR member resolutions — 23 — gaining majority support from shareholders. And in a move that sent shockwaves through corporate boardrooms, other activist investors elected three of their own to oil giant Exxon Mobil’s board of directors in the hope of quickening the pace of the company’s response to climate change.

That success has raised hope among investors such as religious congregations, labor unions and progressive asset management firms for more of the same this spring.

The South Dakota congregation’s resolution is just one of 17 filed with Amazon by ICCR members. Other resolutions address such concerns as employee rights, racial and gender pay gaps, surveillance technology and tax transparency.

Similar issues have been raised with other companies as shareholders seek greater accountability and actions that promote justice.

Still, concerns about climate change top the list this season. Overall, 20 resolutions have been filed on Paris-aligned climate lobbying. Other environment-related concerns include disclosure about greenhouse gas emissions and financing for fossil fuel development.

Mary Minette, director of shareholder advocacy at Mercy Investment Services, credited women religious for staying the course on the environment for years, long before many investors recognized the growing threats to people and creation.

“The sense of urgency is growing. We keep hearing reports and reports and reports and reports that our time is getting shorter to act,” Minette said.

The Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, Texas, were among the co-filers of a resolution with San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp. seeking disclosure of near- and long-term greenhouse gas reduction targets. It said the company’s exposure to climate risks can endanger its business and thus negatively impact investors.

Benedictine Sister Susan Mika, director of the Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment, told CNS the resolution is the latest in a yearslong campaign to engage the company’s leaders about environmental issues.

“We are concerned about climate change and everything happening to Earth. These are some of the reasons we would be filing with any of the oil and gas companies and refineries,” Sister Mika said.

Conversations can get technical, especially when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in drilling operations, but Sister Mika said she and other shareholder institutions want to continue to engage with corporate officials to protect the planet.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” she said.

ICCR was buoyed for greater success this year, especially after the Securities and Exchange Commission March 21 proposed a rule to enhance climate-related disclosures to investors.

The landmark rule, which will go out for public comment in the coming weeks, would require companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and the risks they face from climate change.

In a statement, Christina Herman, program director for climate and environmental justice at ICCR, welcomed the rule, which will standardize for the first time how companies report emissions.

The proposal “will be critical in setting a floor to ensure that investors of all sizes will have access to data about corporate and portfolio-level climate risk, vital to making investment decisions as the economy pivots to a clean energy future,” Herman said.

The rule, which is not expected to take effect until December once it is finalized, does not affect this year’s shareholder actions, but it will go a long way to address investors’ environment-related concerns into the future.

New UN report ‘rings the latest alarm bell’ about climate change effects on nature and people

A man collects water from the Athi River near Yathui, Kenya, Oct. 27, 2021. He will use the water to irrigate crops on dry farmland. Erratic climate patterns across the African continent, including droughts and typhoons, are disrupting people’s lives, especially the poor and most vulnerable. (CNS/Fredrick Nzwili)

The picture emerging from this week’s major scientific report on climate change reaffirmed what Catholic development agencies have observed across the globe for years and they say supports their calls for transformational measures to reverse course and limit the suffering.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, on Feb. 28 issued a sweeping report on the present and future impacts of climate change, which it said “has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability.” Those impacts have disproportionately impacted the world’s most vulnerable people and systems, it added, and has pushed some beyond their ability to adapt.

Still, the report emphasized that humanity has the ability to change course, and that greater efforts to adapt to rising temperatures can blunt suffering. Each degree of warming avoided can lower the loss of lives and economic and social costs.

“Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” the report authors said.

Prepared by 270 authors, the 3,600-page report reviewed thousands of scientific studies on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. It is the second issued by the IPCC in the past six months; the first focused on the physical science of climate change. A third report, on climate mitigation, will be released in April. All three are part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, prepared to guide governments in their responses to climate change.

The report found that nearly every part of the globe and every facet of society has been impacted by climate change. It estimated more than 3 billion people live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, and millions now face food insecurity due to rising temperatures.

In a statement, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns said the report “rings the latest alarm bell” for urgent action to curb global warming but also respond to mounting loss and damages.

“With a report like this, world leaders cannot say they didn’t know a deadly future is at hand,” said Chloe Noel, the faith, economy and ecology project coordinator for Maryknoll. She added it “exposes what the world can no longer deny — the incalculable loss of life, culture, livelihoods and biodiversity from the climate crisis.”

“How many crystal-clear red alerts on the climate crisis do we need before we take the urgent and meaningful action?” Neil Thorns, director of advocacy for CAFOD, the overseas development agency for the bishops in England and Wales, said in a statement.

Already, the planet has heated roughly 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Government plans to reduce emissions project to hold average temperature rise to 2.7 C — well above the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, which are “well below” 2 C and ideally 1.5 C. Some parts of the globe have already seen temperatures exceed the 1.5 C threshold.

Regions especially vulnerable to climate impacts — such as vast parts of Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, and island nations — are often parts of the world facing development constraints and where poverty, governance challenges and limited access to resources are prevalent, the report said.

The authors added that actions in the next two decades to hold temperature rise to 1.5 C “would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems” though not fully eliminate them. For instance, the difference between 1.5 C and 2 C could be 65 million fewer people exposed to extreme heat events every five years.

While effective adaptation is occurring, it’s often uneven, the report said, and more often efforts have prioritized reducing immediate risks over more transformational changes necessary to bend the curve in greenhouse gas emissions downward.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the report “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

CAFOD and other Catholic development agencies said the report reinforces the need to meet the 1.5 C goal in the Paris Agreement, and also for governments to prioritize adaptation measures and financial compensation for loss and damages that have occurred.

“Climate change is real for us,” said Bishop Peter Kihara Kariuki of Marsabit, Kenya, in a press release from CAFOD.

Parts of his north Kenyan region face severe drought, he said, and some people walk miles to the nearest water source.

“Suffering from the impacts of climate change, they are now dependent on aid from the church, the government, and NGOs for the basics of life: to be able to eat and drink clean water,” Kariuki said.

The IPCC report stated that Africa, while responsible for just 3% of global greenhouse emissions, faces disproportionate risks, including more than half of excess deaths from climate-related illnesses and far greater exposure to extreme heat compared to other continents.

More erratic climate patterns across the African continent, including droughts and typhoons, are “creating so much havoc on many people’s lives, especially the poor and most vulnerable,” Fr. Germain Rajoelison of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar said in a press release issued by CIDSE, a network of mostly European-based Catholic development agencies.

“Many of them are reaching the limits of adaptation,” he added.

CIDSE called on governments to adopt “urgent and transformative measures” to combat climate change, including greater use of agroecology techniques, increased climate finance and for nations to submit new climate pledges in line with the 1.5 C target.

Noel of Maryknoll said that the U.S., as the largest historical emitter and richest nation, has particular responsibility to lead not just in mitigating climate change by rapidly transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy but also by helping communities and countries that are facing increasing droughts, flooding and extreme weather now.

She added that remaining dependent on burning fossil fuels for energy — the primary driver of climate change — not only puts the 1.5 C target further out of reach but “will continue to fuel violent conflicts, as we are seeing play out around the world today.”

The Laudato Si’ Movement said the IPCC report shows that addressing climate change must go hand in hand with efforts to safeguard biodiversity. The coalition of nearly 800 Catholic organizations encouraged Catholics to sign onto its Healthy Planet, Healthy People petition, a copy of which was delivered to world leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and which will also be shared at the upcoming COP15 U.N. biodiversity conference scheduled for the spring in Kunming, China.

The IPCC report noted that less than 15% of land, 21% of freshwater and 8% of oceans are considered protected areas, and even in those locations, “there is insufficient stewardship to contribute to reducing damage from, or increasing resilience to, climate change.”

The report found that between 3% and 14% of species face “very high risk of extinction” under a 1.5 C scenario, with more at risk as temperatures rise. The authors wrote that “safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems is fundamental to climate resilient development, in light of the threats climate change poses to them and their roles in adaptation and mitigation.”

In a press release issued by Laudato Si’ Movement, Salesian Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of the ecology and creation sector for the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the IPCC report “makes painfully clear that the cry of the Earth is at its highest pitch yet.”

“God’s creation is groaning for our help, and God’s creation is ready to help us, but only if we are able to look beyond ourselves and care for our common home as Pope Francis calls us to do in Laudato Si’,” he said.

Climate change to make world sicker, poorer: UN report

The report warns if warming exceeds a few more tenths of a degree, it could lead to some areas becoming uninhabitable [Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP]

Climate change is likely going to make the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and way more dangerous by 2040 with an “unavoidable” increase in risks, a new United Nations science report has said, warning that there remained only “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) study on Monday said if human-caused global warming was not limited to just another couple tenths of a degree, an Earth now struck regularly by deadly heat, fires, floods and drought in future decades will degrade in 127 ways – with some being “potentially irreversible”.

Delaying cuts in heat-trapping carbon emissions and waiting on adapting to warming’s impacts, it warns, “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.

Children today who may still be alive in the year 2100 are going to experience four times more climate extremes than they do now even with only a few more tenths of a degree of warming over today’s heat. But if temperatures increase nearly two more degrees Celsius from now (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit), they would feel five times the floods, storms, drought and heatwaves, according to the collection of scientists at the IPCC.

Already, at least 3.3 billion people’s daily lives “are highly vulnerable to climate change” and 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather, the report said.

Large numbers of people are being displaced by worsening weather extremes. And the world’s poor are being hit by far the hardest, it said. More people are going to die each year from heatwaves, diseases, extreme weather, air pollution and starvation because of global warming, the report added.

How many people die depends on how much heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas gets spewed into the air and how the world adapts to an ever-hotter world, the scientists said.

“Climate change is killing people,” said co-author Helen Adams of King’s College London. “Yes, things are bad, but actually the future depends on us, not the climate.”

By 2050, a billion people will face coastal flooding risk from rising seas, the report said. More people will be forced out of their homes from weather disasters, especially flooding, sea level rise and tropical cyclones.

If warming exceeds a few more tenths of a degree, it could lead to some areas becoming uninhabitable, including some small islands, said report co-author Adelle Thomas of the University of Bahamas and Climate Analytics.

And eventually in some places it will become too hot for people to work outdoors, which will be a problem for raising crops, said report co-author Rachel Bezner Kerr of Cornell University.

Following the release of the report, UN chief Antonio Guterres blasted world powers for a “criminal” abdication of leadership.

“Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now,” said Guterres.

“This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”

Philippine bishops urge church finances to disconnect from fossil fuels

Residents walk through mud in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 14, 2020, after flooding caused by Typhoon Vamco. (CNS/Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)
Residents walk through mud in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 14, 2020, after flooding caused by Typhoon Vamco. (CNS/Reuters/Eloisa Lopez

In one of the strongest declarations on climate change to date from the Catholic Church, the bishops of the Philippines have called for the local church to decline any donations with ties to the fossil fuel and extractive industries as part of a full-scale effort to disconnect church finances from the production of coal, oil and gas.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines delivered the directive, along with calling for church institutions to press their banks to phase out fossil fuel holdings, in a pastoral statement issued Jan. 28, the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Titled “A Call for Unity and Action amid a Climate Emergency and Planetary Crisis,” the statement also outlines a plan for a national program to implement Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” — including participation in the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform — and places church support behind a legislative proposal to recognize the legal rights of nature.

“The cries of the earth and the poor have only grown louder in recent years due to the economic, environmental, and social losses and damages inflicted by both crises” of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, “which were created from exploitative human activities,” the Philippine bishops said in a press release.

Signed by conference president Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, the pastoral statement laments that even as the pandemic has upended life, killed more than 5.6 million people globally and paused much economic activity, many past polluting practices have restarted.

“This is concerning as, while suffering from the impact of the pandemic, climate-vulnerable nations have also experienced intensifying calamities due to the instability of our biosphere,” the bishops wrote, a reference to multiple deadly tropical storms, including Super Typhoon Rai in December, that have battered the island nation in the past decade.

Home to nearly 110 million people, the Philippines is one of the countries most at risk to the impacts of climate change, including more severe storms and storm surges, rising sea levels and ocean acidification that affects fishing. The capital of Manila is one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world.

That vulnerability, the bishops’ conference said, places upon the country “the moral imperative of pursuing the most sustainable development pathway possible for the sake of current and future generations,” particularly through its national elections in May.

While early on it appeared the pandemic may mark a turning point on global warming, the years 2020 and 2021 rank as the second and fifth hottest years on record, respectively. And after a small decline in 2020, global emissions rebounded nearly 5% to pre-pandemic levels in the past year.

The Philippine bishops said that despite Francis’ encyclical and their earlier ecological pastoral letter, in 2019, “we continue to suffer an increasingly warming world and ailing biosphere triggered by exploitative practices that benefit the wealthy few but cause poverty and hunger to many.”

In that 2019 pastoral letter, the Philippine bishops directed Catholic institutions to cease investments in coal-fired power plants, mining companies and other extractive projects, becoming one of at least a half dozen national bishops’ conferences so far to join the fossil fuel divestment movement.

Their latest pastoral statement pushes further.

In it, the bishops reaffirmed their support of the Paris Agreement goal of holding average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to achieve that by achieving deep and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. They urged the Philippines to peak its own emissions “much earlier,” and said key to that will be rechanneling finances to “disable the coal industry” as well as ending “fossil gas,” an alternative term some environmental activists use for natural gas.

In that vein, the bishops urged parishes and church organizations to review their banks’ activities for social and environmental issues, and where there’s financial exposure to fossil fuels, to press for the phase out of such investments. Absent a divestment policy, the bishops directed Catholic institutions to withdraw their finances from those banking centers no later than 2025.

“We are now all the more aware that many of the financial institutions in whom we place our trust have been instrumental in the rise of fossil fuels, as well as other destructive and exploitative industries like mining and logging. It is unacceptable that finances so graciously provided to us are used for such industries. Financial resources must be used solely for the Common Good, Integrity of Creation, and the Glory of our Creator,” they said.

Instead, the bishops said that finances should be steered toward investments in renewable energy and ecological restoration and protection projects, and church groups should “lead by example” by adopting renewable energy and other sustainability systems in their own facilities and communities. They also encouraged the development of education campaigns to promote divestment within congregations, schools and communities.

The bishops also asked that church organizations adopt a “non-acceptance” policy regarding donations of any kind from owners, operators and representatives of extractive industries, listing specifically coal, natural gas, mining, quarrying and logging.

In a statement, Fr. Antonio Labiao, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said that with the financial guidance “the Catholic Church has drawn the line. We will ensure that our due-diligence policies are in place. It is not anymore business as usual.”

Christina Leaño, associate director of Laudato Si’ Movement, told EarthBeat that the document’s specifics make clear that the church intends “to pull the moral license from the fossil fuel industry.”

She added that the bishops’ proposal to deny donations from owners and operators of fossil fuel and extractive companies is a “pretty drastic” statement, especially in a country that is the most dangerous in Asia for environmental defenders that has only increased during President Rodrigo Duterte’s time in office.

While other bishops’ conferences have encouraged divestment, as did the bishops’ final document from the 2019 Amazon synod, Leano said that none have been as explicit as what the Philippine bishops’ conference has now put forward.

“They’re taking it to the next level. And they’re being very specific as opposed to kind of a broad statement,” she said.

Explaining their directives on finances, the Philippine bishops cited the Laudato Si’ implementation guidelines released by the Vatican in June 2020, which recommended fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment in renewable energy and sustainability initiatives.

Since Laudato Si’ was issued, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has been a leader in responding to the pope’s call in that papal document to “protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”

Beyond finances, the new pastoral statement builds upon that work by expanding its National Laudato Si’ Program, which grew out of the 2019 pastoral letter.

The bishops’ conference recommitted to creating an ecology desk within each of its 78 dioceses and archdioceses, with 15 already established, and directed bishops and religious superiors to prioritize support in their budgets for their work.

The conference also said it will institutionalize annual celebrations of the Season of Creation, in September, and Laudato Si’ Week “to nourish our spirituality and awaken our identity as members of a single, sacred-Earth community called to care for our Common Home and all life in it.”

The bishops’ conference also lent their support to a rights of nature campaign around legislation currently in both houses of Congress. In addition, they called for government departments to involve local and Indigenous communities in all decisions around ecologically and socially hazardous projects, and for increased protections for environmental defenders and the lands they seek to protect.

The rights of nature bill, the bishops said, “can push forward a Philippine society where mining, fossil fuels, development aggression, and other forms of ecological destruction are cast away.”

Leano said that for the bishops to include such language around biodiversity “and even to recognize that non-human [creatures] have rights is a huge thing.”

She told EarthBeat the pastoral statement reinforces the Philippines as a leader on climate and ecological justice, and represents a call to action to the rest of the church, including in the United States.

“It’s really a call to go inward and say, how are we going to respond? How are we going to respond to the climate crisis? How are we going to respond to what our brothers and sisters in the Philippines are doing?”

New climate classes seek to teach Indian students green habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Climate danger grows in ‘vulnerable’ Myanmar after military coup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource exploitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazil: Amazon sees worst deforestation levels in 15 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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