Is it too late to change the course the world is on?
That’s a question that comes up more and more frequently. This week, I’ve heard reasons for hope, but also messages of urgency. That is, there’s still time, but we need to act now. And although the problem may look overwhelming, it can be broken down — like all the tasks on our to-do lists — into manageable chunks.
First, though, it’s important to understand where most of the greenhouse gases we humans produce come from and how we can set priorities for tackling them, with policies and our own actions. For an overview, check out this webinar by environmental scientist Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown.
“Drawdown” refers to the point at which humans’ greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing and begin to fall. That is the point at which we step back from the edge, and Foley says it’s within our grasp.
Which human activities cause the greatest greenhouse gas emissions? As it turns out, electricity and food account for nearly half.
Generating electricity produces 25% of total human-created emissions, while agriculture, food and land-use change (for instance, destroying forest for ranching or to grow crops like oil palm or soybeans) account for 24%. So doing those things more efficiently and less wastefully would go a long way toward reducing emissions, Foley reasons.
For energy, that means not only moving away from fossil fuels — something to which Illinois Catholic bishops lent their support late last month — and increasing our use of renewable sources like the sun, wind and waves, but also retrofitting the world’s buildings, so they use less energy.
For food, it means wasting less, at home and in supply lines, as well as decreasing consumption of beef and dairy products. That’s partly because cattle belch methane and partly because ranching drives tropical deforestation.
While climate solutions require policy changes, there are many things we can do, as individuals and communities, by making lifestyle changes, encouraging others — and, of course, voting.
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe — In the sweltering mid-October heat of Matobo, one of Zimbabwe’s hottest and driest districts, Spiwe Moyo tended her ripening tomato crop. Nearby, underneath a baobab tree, a few emaciated donkeys and a small herd of skinny cattle take shelter from the blazing sun.
Along with the onions, vegetables and green beans grown by other communal farmers as part of the Evergreen Community Market Garden, Moyo’s tomato crop is a virtual oasis of green, surrounded by bare red soil that receives little shade from the sparse leaves of the mopani trees and a few patches of dry grass long desolated by the high temperatures.
Despite the punishing heat, unfriendly surroundings and daily struggles for water for humans and domestic animals, she beamed a smile when she spoke of the prospects for her crop, which will ripen in the next week or so.
“I am just weeding out the crop and inspecting for pests and other diseases, because in this hot weather, crops can suddenly suffer diseases or pest attacks. We only water the crops in the morning or evening, to conserve the water,” Moyo told EarthBeat in an interview at the garden.
The water comes from a solar-powered well funded by Catholic Church organizations. Without it, she says, “there would be no green crops to talk about, as the rains are not sufficient.”
There has been practically no rain in the past two years in this arid part of Matebeleland South province, in southwestern Zimbabwe. This year, however, rains came suddenly, a month earlier than expected. Experts say that is one of the uncertainties caused by climate change, and it has combined with other climate-related disasters that have made food scarce in southern Africa.
Climate change has caused as many as 86 million people across sub-Saharan Africa to migrate from their land, according to a September UNICEF report. And drought and climate change are creating critical food scarcity for more than 11 million people in nine southern African countries, the report says.
In an effort to head off water wars and help farmers adapt to the changing climate, various Catholic agencies, including the Irish aid agency Trócaire, Britain’s Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, or CAFOD, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ aid and development agency, are funding agro-ecology learning centers and solar-powered community wells in southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.
At the centers, which blend sustainable agriculture techniques with indigenous farming practices, local farmers learn skills such as contour plowing, drip irrigation and organic pest control, as well as practices such as “intercropping,” or combining multiple crops in one plot.
As a result, communal oases of green are appearing in various areas, as “model” farmers share their new knowledge with their neighbors.
“The seasons are changing and we are seeing the impact of climate change, because we usually have the first showers in August and at the end of October we then get the first planting rains. But in the last two years, there have basically been no rains here,” said Felix Ncube, who is a member of the management committee of St. Joseph’s Agro-Ecological Center in Matopos.
Committee members run the learning center and also train other people in the community, passing along their new knowledge to other farmers.
The problems related to climate change are worsened by unemployment and food insecurity, Ncube said. Although Caritas and the World Food Program assist the community with relief kits, they distribute aid only to the elderly, leaving younger people desperate, he said.
“The youths here have nothing to do to feed themselves or take care of their families, so they end up cutting down trees as a source of energy [for brick-making kilns], and this is contributing to the arid conditions in the area,” he said.
Because deforestation can affect local rainfall, the Catholic groups working with farmers hope that slowing the loss of tree cover will also help ease some of those conditions.
Competition for farmland and demand for charcoal both lead to deforestation. In Zambia, the Mother Earth Center, a sustainable farming project run by Comboni Sisters, encourages farmers to reforest their land.
The center trains farmers to combine agriculture with forestry, as a means of diversifying the tree and plant cover on their farms. This helps promote preservation of native tree species and also makes the farmers better prepared to withstand drought and floods.
Because of the high cost of electricity, charcoal is commonly used for cooking and heating in low- and middle-income households, even in cities, Sr. Annes James, who runs the Mother Earth Center, told EarthBeat in an email.
“Little or no investment seems to be made fast enough in the area of solar energy, despite the abundant sunshine enjoyed in these parts all year-round,” she said.
In Zambia, the drying and shifting flows of rivers are evidence that the effects of climate change are already at play in the region, Jesuit Fr. Andrew Simpasa, director of the Kasisi Agriculture Training Center in Lusaka, Zambia, told EarthBeat.
“In Zambia, the Chongwe and Ngwerere Rivers, which were once a catchment area for providing irrigation water for farms located on the eastern side of Lusaka city, have now become perennial rivers,” Simpasa said.
“This has caused water access disputes between commercial farmers, who have the machinery and equipment to domesticate the water, and small-scale farmers who struggle to access irrigation water during the dry season,” he added.
In Zimbabwe, Gwinyai Chibaira, agri-livelihoods project manager for Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe, has seen successive droughts and floods wipe out farmers’ crops. Even so, when the agency launched an agricultural training center in 2013 in Beitbridge, near the border with South Africa, only four farmers signed up, he said.
Now about 100 households have participated in the training programs, learning to grow fodder for livestock such as cattle and goats. They can then sell the animals to support their families and reinvest in their farms.
Oscar Singo, 36, has gone a step further. Besides growing fodder and cabbages for his herd of cattle, he buys animals from others and fattens them before auctioning them off.
As the climate changes, experts recommend planting earlier to reduce the risk of heavy storms and flooding before they can harvest their crops. They also encourage farmers to plant trees and other vegetation to retain moisture and create additional windbreaks, and to ensure that cattle and goats do not devour newly planted trees and other vegetation.
In Beitbridge, farmers find that fodder crops serve as animal feed, help avoid erosion and provide an additional source of income.
Timothy Ngulube, a 60-year-old livestock farmer in Fula, a village near Beitbridge, hopes to earn enough to install his own solar pump to irrigate the fields where he grows crops to feed his animals on his landholding of less than four acres.
“I used to grow tomatoes and maize,” he said, “but it is getting dryer and hotter here, hence I have to focus on livestock, which is resilient to these dry weather patterns.”
A farmer for most of his life, Sam Stewart bought farmland in Montana about 35 years ago. Since then, he’s planted and harvested his wheat and other crops around 16 open oil wells on this land, which he estimates were dug in the 1920s.
Maneuvering around the wells is not an arduous process, per se, but it requires seeding the same area twice, which is wasteful and can slow his process. The real nuisance is the invisible methane wafting into the air—a greenhouse gas with an impact 10 times that of carbon dioxide. “You don’t want loose gas being just emitted,” Stewart says.
Unplugged wells in Montana and across the country leak thousands of metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. They can also leach toxins into groundwater and surface water systems, contaminating aquifers. More often than not, these wells simply aren’t being cleaned up. That’s in part because a lack of funding and political will has stymied the state’s cleanup efforts, and in part because there’s uncertainty around ownership. “I didn’t know they were actually abandoned,” Stewart says of the multiple orphaned wells on his property. “I thought the oil company was responsible.”
A foundation formed in 2019 could finally help clean up some of these abandoned oil wells, including those on Stewart’s property. “The operator who is responsible is long gone,” says Curtis Shuck, founder of the Well Done Foundation. “Our focus is doing the right thing, leaving it better than the way we found it.”
The first oil wells in Montana were drilled at the turn of the century, and the industry experienced its first boom in the 1920s. Energy demands of World War II spurred a second boom; between 1942 and 1945, oil production in the Elk Basin region increased from 16,000 to 940,000 barrels annually. When those wells no longer produced oil, companies could just leave. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of Montana, tasked with identifying and plugging abandoned wells, wasn’t created until 1954, and by that time an untold number of wells had already been drilled, produced, and abandoned.
As more companies moved into Montana, oil and gas production grew into an increasingly important part of local and state economies; by 2015, it made up 5.6% of the state’s general fund. But the industry that once was a cornerstone of Montana’s economy is now in a nosedive: a yearslong decline in global oil production and demand compounded by the pandemic-induced economic slowdown has produced some of the worst oil production conditions in recent years.
In 2016, the most recent year for which he was able to provide data, 4,713 oil and gas wells were in operation in the state and 204 had been abandoned, according to Allen Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, a trade organization that works on behalf of the businesses. But that’s a fraction of the tens of thousands that have been drilled in Montana in the past century.
Data on abandoned wells remain incomplete, which further complicates cleanup efforts. Plus, state legislatures have drastically different policies on how to address abandoned wells. One thing remains certain: The issue is enormous and far-reaching. A 2018 report from the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the country has 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells.
Abandoned wells in Montana—left by companies that filed for bankruptcy, for example, default to the state. Theoretically, a state-run fund pays for well adoption and closure, but even under state control, the wells often lay unplugged, because plugging abandoned wells and restoring the surface land is expensive. Olson believes that the “state regulatory agency here is doing an excellent job staying on top” of plugging wells. But the state’s plugging plan doesn’t explicitly address the issue of abandoned oil wells, and also neglects to lay out a time-bound plan for plugging wells.
It’s not just that states like Montana don’t have a legislative apparatus to hold corporations accountable, says Mitch Jones, the climate and energy program director at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that pushes for corporate and government accountability. He says that the lack of governmental action is by design. When wells are abandoned, Jones says, “the costs of doing business are passed on to the public instead of being paid by the shareholders in the industry.”
Nationwide, the federal government’s own agency in charge of plugging abandoned wells, the Bureau of Land Management, has openly acknowledged that it doesn’t have the financial resources to tackle the issue of plugging wells on federal land. There was no federal nationwide bond requirement to cover the cost of reclaiming wells until the 1950s, and the required value for bonds has not increased since then.
That’s right: the amount required to cover the cost of cleanup has not been increased or adjusted for inflation for nearly 70 years, so the federal amount is woefully ineffective. Bond standards of a couple thousand dollars often don’t address wells that cost tens of thousands to plug, another cause for wells to be abandoned.
Jones believes that extractive companies are harming the environment and then escaping culpability by declaring bankruptcy. “Not pointing fingers isn’t really an option in order to win this fight against climate change,” he says. Identifying the sources of harm holds polluting industries accountable for supporting solutions and provides a pathway for legislation that protects the planet, Jones says. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, for example, just proposed a $2 billion remediation program for orphaned wells in June, though given the political climate, that legislation has a rocky future.
Back in 1970, the earth’s biocapacity was more than enough to meet annual human demand for resources. But in the half century since, we have steadily outgrown our single planet. Humanity now consumes around 60% more than Earth can yield in a year, meaning we need 1.6 planets to sustain us.
In 2019, we had already spent our resource budget for the year by July 31, the earliest Earth Overshoot Day ever recorded by the Global Footprint Network, which has been calculating global and national ecological impacts for near three decades. In that time, humanity has overshot its biocapacity — defined as an “ecosystems’ capacity to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste material generated by humans” — by a few more days each year.
But due to the global coronavirus lockdown, 2020 has bucked the trend. This year, Earth Overshoot Day has moved back by more than three weeks to August 22.
Projections point to almost 15% reductions in CO2 emissions (around 60% of the total footprint) in 2020 as a result of the pandemic-related slowdown in fossil fuel use across the transport, power, industry, aviation and residential sectors. The global Earth Overshoot calculation, which uses data from the likes of the International Energy Agency, also includes forest production, which dipped nearly 9%, and our food footprint, which was steady.
One Planet Misery or Prosperity?
According to Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, this year’s contraction is welcomed. But he says the fact that it is accidental means it is not sustainable.
“The tragedy of this year is that the reduction of carbon emissions is not based on a better infrastructure such as better electricity grids or more compact cities,” he told DW. “We need to move the date by design, not by disaster.”
To meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) targets to limit warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celcius, the current decline in the emissions curve would have to continue at the same rate for the next decade, Wackernagel points out. At present, however, this is being achieved through economic and social suffering.
“Not doing anything, being stuck at home. That’s not the kind of transformation we need. It’s not lasting,” Wackernagel said.
The goal must be to “systemically adjust to the physical budget we have available,” added the Swiss-born Global Footprint Network founder and 2018 World Sustainability Award winner. “Do you want one planet misery or one planet prosperity?”
Wackernagel argues that the coronavirus is itself a reflection of ecological stress. “These pressures that we see like pandemics, like famine, like climate change, like biodiversity loss, they’re all manifestations of an ecological imbalance,” he said.
Lowering Emissions for the Benefit of All
A key side effect of disaster-driven emission reductions is the fact that “the pain is going to be unevenly distributed,” according Wackernagel. Marginalised groups, especially people of color, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic’s “huge economic impacts,” said Sarah George, a senior reporter with Edie, a UK media company that promotes sustainable business practices.
Edie conducted its first Earth Overshoot webinar in 2019, with the aim of educating organizations to reduce their resource footprint through business models that are sustainable for everyone in the long-term.
George says this year’s webinar on August 22 will also address the misnomer spread by some climate skeptics that a green, low-consumption future is only possible under the deprivations of a lockdown.
“They have used the situation to say that lockdown is ‘what green campaigners want,’ and that we cannot enjoy things like international travel, economic growth, etc. in a green future,” George told DW.
But post-lockdown, George says the goal is to create a one planet model through which businesses can couple “better economic and social outcomes” with “lower emissions and air pollution.”
BARCELONA, – From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work and greater risk of illness, women shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, a global aid group said on Tuesday.
Scientists expect forced displacement to be one of the most common and damaging effects on vulnerable people if global warming is not limited to an internationally agreed aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius, CARE International noted in a new report.
“This report shows us that climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities, with women displaced on the frontlines of its impacts bearing the heaviest consequences,” said CARE Secretary General Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro.
For example, women and girls uprooted by Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019, are still facing serious health threats due to poor access to basic services and sanitary products, the report said.
And in Ethiopia, where about 200,000 people were forced from their homes last year by drought and floods, women living in overcrowded shelters face higher levels of sexual violence there and on longer, more frequent trips to fetch water and firewood.
Sven Harmeling, CARE’s global policy lead on climate change and resilience, said displacement linked to climate stresses was already “a harsh reality for millions of people today”.
If global warming continues at its current pace towards 3C or more above pre-industrial times, “the situation may irrevocably escalate and evict hundreds of millions more from their homes”, he added.
Climate change impacts are likely to strengthen and “unfold over the next couple of years, and not only in the distant future”, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Failure to prepare for them will lead to more suffering and people having to abandon their land, he said. Many places already are affected by multiple climate shocks and rising seas, making it harder for those displaced to return, he added.
“(Climate extremes) may mean more men are leaving to try to find income elsewhere, and that puts additional burden on the women who stay back and have to try to earn (money) while taking care of the family,” he said.
MEANS TO ACT
The report said governments and aid agencies needed to gather more data on how women and girls are affected by climate-linked displacement and migration so they can better understand and try to alleviate their situation.
It also called for more women to lead efforts to respond to climate threats, including in their own communities.
And it said more funding should be allocated to help women adapt to changing conditions on a hotter planet, such as by choosing resilient crops or being able to access micro-credit, so that fewer will be uprooted from their homes.
In most countries, climate measures supported by public finance do not adequately prioritise women, CARE noted, calling for at least 85% of funding for adaptation projects to target gender equality as an explicit objective by 2023 at the latest.
But some projects are making women a priority, it said.
In two rural districts of India, CARE worked with 4,500 tribal women in 50 villages whose rice harvests were falling as rains became erratic, water scarcer and soils less fertile.
Over the past seven years, it helped them set up and run self-support groups that gave them greater confidence and financial skills to start addressing the problem.
They also received seasonal and weekly weather forecasts so they could plan farming activities.
The aid agency said agriculture production rose by a third, food insecurity declined and the number of days women had to work away from home to make ends meet more than halved.
In Somali villages, women were given business training and organised into groups that pooled and gradually built up savings that were then used to offer loans to their members.
The groups helped their communities ward off economic shocks and hunger during Somalia’s 2016 drought, the report said.
“CARE’s experience tells us that when women lead in crises, entire communities benefit, and more effective and sustainable solutions are found,” said Sprechmann Sineiro.
Months ago, before we were imagining months to come in lockdown, some experts predicted that summertime heat and humidity would ease the pandemic. Instead, rising temperatures have intensified the crisis, especially for the poor and for anyone in one of those long queues awaiting a COVID-19 test.
As the Washington Post reported, the south and southwestern U.S. were especially hard hit by the heat this week at the same time those regions were struggling with a surge of coronavirus cases. Heat warnings and advisories were in effect for 11 states from Southern California to the Florida Panhandle, and the National Weather Service was predicting the excessive heat would continue for another two weeks.
Citing this 2019 study, the Post reported: “In general, heat waves are one of the clearest manifestations of long-term human-caused climate change, with numerous studies showing that such events are becoming more likely to occur and more severe.”
Extreme heat is one of those things you need to experience to fully grasp. I got mine in Baghdad, where I spent a month reporting during the summer of 1991 in the aftermath of the First Gulf War. I can tell you that walking around in temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit is a lot more than 20 percent worse than doing so in 100 degree weather. Most nights, though, I was able to return to an air-conditioned hotel and never experienced what it’s like to face unrelenting heat with no relief in sight.
It’s difficult to imagine current conditions in Iraq, where the summer heat is accompanied by spiking coronavirus cases and dwindling medical supplies.
All of which brings me to the topic of integral ecology, the interconnectedness of so many of the circumstances fueling “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”
This sent me to chapter four of Laudato Si’ and to a couple of excellent explorations of integral ecology, one by columnist Thomas Reese and the other by contributor Samantha Panchèvre.
Written five years ago, shortly after Pope Francis issued his encyclical, Reese’s column takes on renewed relevance in our current circumstances.
He describes this section of the pope’s document as “flowing from his understanding that ‘everything is closely related’ and that ‘today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis.'”
Reese also points to Francis’ account of “indigenous communities being pressured to ‘abandon their homeleands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degration of nature and culture.”
By way of underlining the lasting wisdom of the pope’s message, the Trump administration this week dramatically weakened the role of local communities in determining whether environmentally dangerous projects can be built in their midst.
Integral ecology is at the heart of any discussion of environmental justice, and EarthBeat contributor Samantha Panchèvre examined Laudato Si”s fourth chapter in the course of exploring intergenerational solidarity. She points to Francis’ assertion that “the notion of the common good also extends to future generations,” quoting him further:
The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at this differntly…Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice…”
And in the meantime, the people most in need are also the hardest hit by the extremes of climate, as Maddie Kornfeld reports in this InsideClimate News article we published today as part of our collaboration with Covering Climate Now.
RAYONG/AYUTTHAYA, Thailand, – Thai fisherman Anan Jaitang used to pile tattered nylon fishing nets on the beach after hauls of wriggling crabs tore them beyond repair, but most of the nets wound up in the sea, threatening to entangle turtles and choke coral reefs.
Now, Anan and others have an alternative that’s not only lucrative and environmentally friendly but will help Thailand battle the coronavirus pandemic.
A new community-based project is paying small-scale fishermen 10 baht (32 cents) per kilogram of discarded nets, or about every one or two, to recycle them into items from push sticks to face shields and disinfectant bottles.
“If no one bought my fishing nets, they would just pile up like a mountain,” says Anan, who goes through about 36 nets every quarter, fishing in the east coast province of Rayong.
He is among more than 100 artisanal fishermen from four coastal villages in Thailand’s east and south to have joined the project, run by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
With 50,000 small fishing vessels and 10,000 commercial ships, Thailand has one of the world’s largest fishing industries, and is also one of its top marine plastic polluters.
Hundreds of endangered sea animals wash up on Thailand’s shores every year. About 74% of sea turtles and 89% of dugongs stranded on the beaches between 2015 and 2017 had been injured by nets left or lost in oceans, official Thai figures show.
About 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets end up in the ocean globally every year, becoming “ghost gear,” the United Nations says.
In addition to tackling Thailand’s stubborn pollution problem, the project offers a rare all-domestic solution to a global challenge.
Thai design company Qualy is buying most of the fishing nets being collected by EJF.
Its recycling and manufacturing operations are based in Thailand, unlike similar projects in other countries that ship nets abroad for recycling.
Workers at Qualy’s recycling factory in the central city of Ayutthaya wash the nets before feeding them into a shredder that yields blue nylon granules to be mixed with colourants and melted down in product moulds.
During the pandemic, Qualy has shredded 700 kg (1,500 lbs) of nets to make face shields, alcohol spray bottles and push sticks for elevator buttons and ATM machines to avoid contact.
“We’ve sold over 100,000 push sticks already during the coronavirus pandemic,” said marketing director Thosaphol Suppametheekulwat.
He declined to give financial details but confirmed the net recycling operation was profitable, with sales in Europe, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“Buying the nets supports the fishers’ livelihoods, and we can make new products out of them,” Thosaphol said. “It’s even better when it also helps save our environment.”
The Thai government has welcomed the initiative.
“Any efforts to remove the nets from the ecosystem is welcome,” said Ukkrit Satapoomin, the director of Thailand’s Office of Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation.
EJF said the project had collected more than 1.3 tonnes of used nets since a pilot phase two months ago, and plans to expand it to all seaside provinces by year-end.
“It’s really important and urgent that we tackle this problem,” said campaigner Ingpat Pakchairatchakul.
“Local communities are very environmentally-conscious already, but they just need helping hands from other sectors.”
For Anan, the fisherman, the project has not only brought extra income, but put a smile on his face at the thought that his trash contributes to a worthy cause.
“I’ve seen the products, and I’m proud of my materials,” he said, after seeing a push stick made from recycled nets.
“At least it helps the society and saves the environment.”
BARCELONA, – Companies that produce clean energy are crucial for curbing climate change – but they’re not always the “good guys”, according to a report that tracks their human rights record for the first time.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) says 16 of the world’s largest publicly-traded wind and solar producers are not doing enough to protect their workers and the local communities affected by their operations.
Here are the key takeaways:
What’s the bigger picture?
A push to use less fossil fuel and curb climate change has seen nearly $2.7 trillion invested in renewables – mainly in solar and wind power – in the past decade, and the sector employed 11 million people in 2018.
Many of the companies are seen as saviours when it comes to tackling global warming – but the same can’t be said of how they treat human rights, according to Phil Bloomer, BHRRC executive director
That is a particular concern for indigenous people whose land has in some cases been used for clean energy projects without their agreement or fair compensation.
Which companies have been assessed and what are the key results?
Spanish energy corporations Iberdrola and Acciona, followed by Denmark’s Orsted and Italy’s Enel, had the best human rights record overall, with French and German firms dominating the middle tier – but no company scores above 53% on the benchmark.
The worst performers are Chinese and North American companies, as well investors Brookfield and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which own many renewable projects.
Companies, on average, scored better on indicators covering the basic human rights responsibilities, including having policies and grievance mechanisms in place, similar to other high-risk industries like apparel, agricultural products and tech manufacturing.
But they scored zero across the board when it came to commitments such as respecting local land rights and relocating or compensating communities affected by renewables projects.
The companies scored well in some areas, including anti-corruption due diligence and health and safety disclosures.
So big renewable energy firms are doing the right thing for the planet but the wrong thing for people?
The centre has tracked allegations of abuse against renewables companies over the past decade, and says complaints increased 10 times between 2010 and 2018.
Since 2010, the centre has identified 197 allegations of human rights abuses related to renewable energy projects, and asked 127 companies to respond to those allegations.
They include: killings, threats, and intimidation; land grabs; dangerous working conditions and poverty wages; and harm to indigenous peoples’ lives and livelihoods.
Allegations have been made in every region and across the wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydropower sectors, with the highest number in Latin America.
BARCELONA, – The COVID-19 crisis has exposed how the health of people and nature is intertwined, and protecting the planet, its climate and ecosystems will be crucial to preventing further pandemics, the U.N. chief and political leaders said on Friday.
In a video statement for World Environment Day, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said humans had been harming the natural world “to our own detriment”.
“Habitat degradation and biodiversity loss are accelerating. Climate disruption is getting worse,” he said, noting more frequent and damaging fires, floods, droughts and super-storms.
Oceans are heating and acidifying, harming coral reefs, while the new coronavirus is “raging”, undermining health and livelihoods, he said.
“To care for humanity, we must care for nature,” he added, urging more sustainable consumer habits and decision-making centred around safeguarding the natural world.
The presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Switzerland, joined by ministers from a dozen other countries, on Friday launched a “High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People”, aimed at persuading governments to agree on a global goal to preserve at least 30% of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030.
This, together with retaining wildernesses and conserving biodiversity, is “a crucial step to help prevent future pandemics and public health emergencies, and lay the foundations for a sustainable global economy”, they said in a statement.
The World Health Organization has said the novel coronavirus probably has its “ecological reservoir” in bats, while scientists say 60% of the infectious human diseases that emerged from 1990 to 2004 came from animals.
The new nature coalition noted that illegal and non-regulated wildlife trade, deforestation and ecosystem destruction can increase the risk of disease transmission from wildlife to people, and urged tighter control.
“This pandemic provides unprecedented and powerful proof that nature and people share the same fate and are far more closely linked than most of us realised,” they said in a statement.
Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told a coalition event that protecting nature was “about security and health”.
The COVID-19 crisis was a predictable manifestation of what scientists branded a “planetary emergency” several months before the pandemic began, he added.
World Environment Day should be renamed “human safety day”, he proposed, adding “it’s no longer about nature – it’s all about humans and our equitable, prosperous future on Earth”.
‘RACE TO ZERO’
The U.N. climate change secretariat (UNFCCC), alongside Britain and Chile, meanwhile, launched a “Race to Zero” campaign, committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest and “a healthy, resilient and zero-carbon recovery” from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
“Net-zero” means producing no more climate-heating emissions than can be absorbed by planting carbon-sucking trees or using other methods to trap greenhouse gases.
A U.N. climate science panel has said global emissions need to be slashed by 45% by 2030 and to net-zero by mid-century to have a 50% chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.
The new climate campaign unites 120 countries with net-zero emissions initiatives backed by 992 businesses, 449 cities, 21 regions, 505 universities and 38 big investors, the UNFCCC said.
U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa said “Race to Zero” should also spur stronger national climate action plans due this year, including targets to cut emissions over the next decade.
The companies signed up to the net-zero goal have combined annual revenues of $4.72 trillion, the UNFCCC said, with new joiners including computer software giant Adobe, alcoholic drinks maker Diageo, fashion retailer Inditex and engineering firm Rolls-Royce.
According to analysis from the UK-based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) think-tank, 53% of global GDP is now produced in countries, states, regions and cities that have either set a net-zero target or intend to do so.
Alison Doig, international lead at the ECIU, said participants in the “Race to Zero” campaign would have to present plans to reach net-zero, including interim emissions targets for the next decade, by the time of the delayed COP26 U.N. climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
“This is not… about pushing climate action to some date in the future. No entity can reach net-zero in 2050 without starting now,” she said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into a river in the Arctic Circle.
The accident is the second largest oil spill in terms of volume in modern Russian history, the Word Wildlife Fund (WWF) told AFP, as BBC News reported. The oil spread around 7.5 miles from the fuel site, turning the Ambarnaya river bright red, and contaminated a total of 135 square miles.
“The incident led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come,” Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement reported by CNN. “We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals.”
Russia’s environmental ministry Rosprirodnadzor is already reporting contaminant levels in the water that are tens of thousands of times higher than the safe limit.
“[T]here has never been such an accident in the Arctic zone, ” former deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor Oleg Mitvol told BBC News.
Greenpeace compared the disaster to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The spill occurred last Friday when a fuel tank at a power plant near the city of Norilsk in Siberia collapsed. The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world’s No. 1 producer of nickel and palladium. Its factories are also the reason why Norilsk is one of the most polluted places on Earth, The Guardian reported.
The plant initially attempted to clean the spill on their own and did not tell authorities about the incident for two days, Ministry of Emergency Situations head Evgeny Zinichev said, according to CNN.
Alexei Knizhnikov of WWF said his group was the first to inform cleanup specialists of the spill, according to The Guardian.
“These are huge volumes,” he said. “It was difficult for them to cover it up.”
The governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, where the spill took place, told Putin he only learned of it Sunday from social media posts.
“Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact? Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Are you quite healthy over there?” Putin scolded Sergei Lipin, the head of NTEK, as the subsidiary that owns the plant is called.
Norilsk Nickel countered that NTEK had alerted authorities in a “timely and proper” fashion.