Category Archives: Climate Change

‘This is just another low-paying job’ say overtaxed U.S. firefighters

Firefighters conduct a prescribed burn in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon, U.S., May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Ilie Mitaru

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON, – More than 17 years of fighting wildfires for the U.S. Forest Service has taken a toll on Brian Campbell.

He’s been homeless, once spending months sleeping in a van while fighting fires in the state of Idaho. He routinely is called to drive the engine he captains in Washington state across the country at a moment’s notice to support local crews.

During fire season he spends long stints in the forest without seeing his wife and young children.

Yet his salary is barely enough to get by on – $50,000 a year. Although he loves the job, he’s keeping his eyes open for other work.

“The seasons are longer, and we’re not being treated any better,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview – a view echoed by a half-dozen other current and former wildland firefighters.

As climate change strengthens, bringing hotter temperatures and worsening drought, the United States is entering what experts fear could be yet another devastating fire season.

But 20% of the federal government’s fulltime firefighting positions are currently vacant, according to Kelly Martin, president of the advocacy group Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.

Those vacancies, which Martin attributes to poor working conditions driving firefighters out of their jobs, are leaving communities around the United States more vulnerable, she said.

“With climate change, extreme heat, and drought, we’ve set ourselves up for something I’ve never seen in my career” – a depleting firefighting force at a time of worsening fires, said Martin, who retired in 2019 as chief of fire and aviation at Yosemite National Park.

“It’s too much for understaffed firefighters, with limited pay and benefits, to bear anymore,” she said.

Low pay is a big part of the problem, federal government officials admit, with President Biden calling the $13-an-hour minimum wage for federal firefighters “ridiculously low,” and promising to raise it to $15.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, admitted that “hiring and retaining firefighters has been complicated by our inability to offer competitive wages”.

But the agency is looking at options to “modernize” firefighter compensation, the spokesperson noted in emailed comments.

‘MONETIZED RISK TAKING’

Lawmakers from western states where the fires are fiercest have been eyeing broader changes to the federal government’s role in combating wildfires and say those on the front lines deserve proper safeguards.

“I do think we need to take a look at a range of issues on compensation, including what jobs need to be permanent jobs rather than temporary jobs and what we need to do for health care,” Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The federal firefighting force includes full-time firefighters as well as seasonal and temporary workers who are laid off during the off-season. Those firefighters are in turn supplemented by state and municipal fire crews and in some states jail and prison inmates who are paid as little as $2 a day to cut firebreaks.

For the bulk of federal firefighters, salaries tend to be lower than comparable work with other fire departments, Martin said – and only full-time workers have access to paid health benefits.

The way most firefighters make ends meet is by racking up significant hours of overtime, Martin said, setting up a perverse incentive to work too hard, and possibly get injured or burned out.

“If they pay more, firefighters wouldn’t need to be working overtime to get a livable wage,” she said. “In a perverted way we’ve monetized risk taking.”

One former federal firefighter in New Mexico, who recently left to join a municipal fire department, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the low pay and lack of benefits forced him out of his job

“I worked for five years as a seasonal firefighter, starting at $13 an hour, and ending at $15. In the end it was just too stressful to make ends meet, ” he said, asking for anonymity to speak freely about working conditions.

Like Campbell, the firefighter also spent some seasons sleeping in his car, unable to afford rent.

WARNING SIGNS

Firefighting services in the United States have become increasingly in demand in recent years, experts say, as a combination of limited wildland management and climate change has increased the duration, extent and ferocity of the fire season.

2020 study published by researchers at Stanford University found that 50 million U.S. homes are now located in zones that are threatened by fire.

But authorities have not invested in the manpower needed to protect them, despite repeated warnings, said Donovan Lee, who spent 22 years as a federal firefighter, most recently as deputy forest fire management officer at Mendocino National Forest in California.

Before Lee quit last year he served on a task force studying staff retention issues in California. He circulated a memo warning that the Forest Service was “currently losing employees at an alarming rate to employers offering better compensation and overall quality of life.”

“Every year for the last five years it’s getting worse and worse,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “You make more money at McDonalds”

One of the issues Lee spotlighted in his memo was the classification of federal wildland firefighters as “forestry technicians” which means they don’t get the same specialized healthcare provision as city and state firefighters.

In an effort to boost firefighter recruitment, a bipartisan group of U.S. federal lawmakers earlier this year introduced legislation that would require the Office of Personnel Management to reclassify the position from technician to “wildland firefighter.”

The year after Lee circulated his memo, in 2019, the United States experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, with firefighters stretched so thin they, unusually, had to abandon some residential areas to fire.

This year, Washington state – hit by drought and record heat – has already seen a 56% increase in fires compared to the same point last year.

Firefighting units, meanwhile, are still experiencing dramatic attrition.

One hotshot firefighter – the term for a member of an elite firefighting crew – described seeing 16 members of his 20-person team leave over the past three years.

“All of us are concerned about the breakdown of our bodies from carrying 80 pounds and a chainsaw all day,” he said. “After a while the glamour fades – and you realize: this is just another low-paying job.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210714093414-wpkb3/

EU unveils sweeping climate change plan

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

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

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

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

The proposals, however, could face years of negotiations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the key proposals include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Catholic Reporter board divests company from fossil fuels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada heatwave: How can cities adapt to rising temperatures?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s some of what they’ve learned:

Offer public cool spaces – but pay attention to the details

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

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

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

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

Making sure cooling centres are actually open is also key.

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

Mobile phones can give personalised advice

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

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

Look for shade and water

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

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

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

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

Cooler roads and roofs help too

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

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

Paying for cooling takes planning

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

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

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

Tracking the heat can help pinpoint risks

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

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

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

Name that wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winners of ‘Green Nobel’ fight deforestation, coal power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CUTTING COAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human destruction of nature is ‘senseless and suicidal’, warns UN chief

A sign protesting the IMF and World Bank investments in fossil fuels.
A sign protesting against investments in fossil fuels. The UN report says trillions of dollars of ‘perverse’ subsidies must be diverted to green energy. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty

Humanity is waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that is causing human suffering and enormous economic losses while accelerating the destruction of life on Earth, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said.

Guterres’s starkest warning to date came at the launch of a UN report setting out the triple emergency the world is in: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes many millions of early deaths every year.

Making peace with nature was the defining task of the coming decades, he said, and the key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all people. The report combines recent major UN assessments with the latest research and the solutions available, representing an authoritative scientific blueprint of how to repair the planet.

The report says societies and economies must be transformed by policies such as replacing GDP as an economic measure with one that reflects the true value of nature, as recommended this month by a study commissioned by the UK Treasury.

Carbon emissions need to be taxed, and trillions of dollars of “perverse” subsidies for fossil fuels and destructive farming must be diverted to green energy and food production, the report says. As well as systemic changes, people in rich nations can act too, it says, by cutting meat consumption and wasting less energy and water.

“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal,” said Guterres. “The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth.”

The triple emergency threatened our viability as a species, he said. But ending the war would not mean poorer living standards or an end to poverty reduction. “On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”

“This report provides the bedrock for hope,” he said. “It makes clear our war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safer place by providing a peace plan and a postwar rebuilding programme.”

Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Programme (Unep), said: “We need to look no further than the global pandemic caused by Covid-19, a disease transmitted from animals to humans, to know that the finely tuned system of the natural world has been disrupted.” Unep and the World Health Organization have said the root cause of pandemics is the destruction of the natural world, with worse outbreaks to come unless action is taken.

The report says the fivefold growth of the global economy in the last 50 years was largely fuelled by a huge increase in the extraction of fossil fuels and other resources, and has come at massive cost to the environment. The world population has doubled since 1970 and while average prosperity has also doubled, 1.3 billion people remain in poverty and 700 million are hungry.

It says current measures to tackle the environmental crises are far short of what is needed: the world remains on track for catastrophic warming of 3C above pre-industrial levels, a million species face extinction and 90% of people live with dirty air.

“We use three-quarters of the land and two-thirds of the oceans – we are completely dominating the Earth,” said Ivar Baste of the Norwegian Environment Agency, a lead author of the report.

Prof Sir Robert Watson, who has led UN scientific assessments on climate and biodiversity and is the other lead author of the report, said: “We have got a triple emergency and these three issues are all interrelated and have to be dealt with together. They’re no longer just environmental issues – they are economic issues, development issues, security issues, social, moral and ethical issues.

“Of all the things we have to do, we have to really rethink our economic and financial systems. Fundamentally, GDP doesn’t take nature into account. We need to get rid of these perverse subsidies, they are $5-7tn a year. If you could move some of these towards low-carbon technology and investing in nature, then the money is there.”

This meant taking on companies and countries with vested interests in fossil fuels, he said: “There are a lot of people that really like these perverse subsidies. They love the status quo. So governments have to have the guts to act”.

Financial institutions could play a huge role, Watson said, by ending funding for fossil fuels, the razing of forests and large-scale monoculture agriculture. Companies should act too, he said: “Proactive companies see that if they can be sustainable, they can be first movers and make a profit. But in some cases, regulation will almost certainly be needed for those companies that don’t care.”

Pollution was included in the report because despite improvements in some wealthy nations, toxic air, water, soils and workplaces cause at least 9 million deaths a year, one in six of all deaths. “This is still a huge issue,” said Baste.

The world’s nations will gather at two crucial UN summits in 2021 on the climate and biodiversity crises. “We know we failed miserably on the biodiversity targets [set in 2010],” said Watson. “I’ll be very disappointed if at these summits all they talk about is targets and goals. They’ve got to talk about actions – that’s really what’s crucial.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/18/human-destruction-of-nature-is-senseless-and-suicidal-warns-un-chief

Crafting COVID-19 recovery plans to recycle more could slash emissions

Workers makes a curtain with recycled bottles filled with plastic at Thabarwa meditation center in Yangon, Myanmar, September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Shwe Paw Mya Tin

COVID-19 relief and recovery plans aimed at recycling and reusing more of the billions of tonnes of materials consumed each year could slash planet-heating emissions and limit the impacts of climate change, researchers said on Tuesday.

By developing and promoting ways to reduce the amount of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass used in new products, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 39%, or 22.8 billion gigatonnes annually, said a report by Amsterdam-based social enterprise Circle Economy.

“Governments are making huge decisions that will shape our climate future,” CEO Martijn Lopes Cardozo said in a statement.

“They are spending billions to stimulate their economies after the COVID pandemic and they are committed to strengthening their climate commitments,” he added, referring to new national targets being submitted ahead of November’s U.N. climate summit.

Greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 59.1 gigatonnes in 2019, putting the world on track for an average temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, a U.N. report showed last year.

About 70% of emissions are generated by resource extraction, processing and manufacturing of goods to meet the needs of the world’s population, such as clothing, mobile phones and food, according to the fourth annual report by Circle Economy.

Only about 8.6% of the 100 billion tonnes of materials utilised annually are put back into service, added the report, published during the virtual “Davos Agenda” event organised by the World Economic Forum.

To reduce waste and emissions, and keep climate change in check, economies should seek to become “circular” by reusing and recycling products, green groups say.

“Ever since the beginning of the 1990s, countries have come out with climate pledges – but all of them combined have never even got close to deliver what we should deliver,” said Marc de Wit, director of strategic alliances at Circle Economy.

“Most of those options in those pledges look at incremental solutions – like squeezing another kilometre out of a litre of petrol – rather than moving to electrified transport and shared mobility concepts in urban areas,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

RESTORE BALANCE

The report identified strategies that can help achieve the goals adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2C (3.6F), and ideally to 1.5C, above pre-industrial times.

Housing, mobility and nutrition are responsible for almost 70% of global emissions, it noted, and are key areas where strategies to become “circular” could have the greatest impact.

Housing, which includes commercial and industrial buildings, should reuse and recycle construction and demolition waste to divert it from landfill, while office floor space could be shrunk, de Wit said.

Choosing low-carbon building materials, such as sustainable timber and agriculture waste, and powering heating and cooling systems with renewable energy are also key, he added.

Passenger and freight transport contributes most of the 17.1 billion gigatonnes of emissions from mobility each year, primarily from burning fossil fuels, according to the report.

New design to make vehicles lighter would cut consumption of raw materials, while car-sharing schemes can make their use more efficient, it added.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people have reduced air travel and commuting, replacing many physical meetings with video calls, which could continue, said de Wit, adding that public and electrified transport should also be promoted.

On nutrition, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture can reduce the environmental impact of fish, cattle and crop farming while still producing good yields, the report said.

The use of cleaner cooking fuels and switching to more locally sourced, plant-based diets would also reduce emissions, de Wit said.

Measures in the report could nearly double the proportion of materials that are reused to 17%, it said.

Martin Frick, a senior official at the U.N. climate change body, called for efforts to restore the planet’s balance.

“We need to eliminate waste and create products that last, can be repaired and ultimately can be transformed into new products,” he said in a statement.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210125230100-ow7hi/