World leaders including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have called the report a “wake-up call to the world”.
But some of the strongest reaction to its findings has come from countries that are set to be the worst hit.
“We are paying with our lives for the carbon someone else emitted,” said Mohamed Nasheed, a former Maldives president who represents almost 50 countries that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
The Maldives is the world’s lowest-lying country and Mr Nasheed said the projections by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would be “devastating” for the nation, putting it on the “edge of extinction”.
According to the latest IPCC report, heatwaves, heavy rainfall and droughts will become more common and extreme. The UN’s chief has labelled it a “code red for humanity”.
The report says there is “unequivocal” evidence that humans are to blame for increasing temperatures. Within the next two decades, temperatures are likely to rise 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, it adds.
That could lead to sea levels rising by half a metre, but a rise of 2m by the end of the century cannot be ruled out.
That could have a devastating impact on low-lying coastal countries, said Diann Black-Layne, ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, and lead climate negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States.
“That is our very future, right there,” Ms Black-Layne said.
The report comes less than three months before a key climate summit in Glasgow known as COP26.
A flagship U.N. science report on Monday showed no one is safe from the accelerating effects of climate change and there is an urgent need to prepare and protect people as extreme weather and rising seas hit harder than predicted.
The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written by 234 scientists, said global warming of about 1.1 degrees Celsius has brought many changes in different regions – from more severe droughts and storms to rising seas.
Those will all increase with further warming, but it is not too late to cut climate-heating emissions to keep temperature rise to internationally agreed goals of “well below” 2C and ideally 1.5C – which would help stop or slow down some of the impacts, the report said.
U.N. officials said the IPCC had increasingly sounded the alarm in its regular reports over the past three decades, but that had not spurred adequate policy responses.
“The world listened but didn’t hear; the world listened but it didn’t act strongly enough – and as a result, climate change is a problem that is here now,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme.
“Nobody is safe and it’s getting worse faster,” she told journalists at the online report launch.
IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said the report provided an improved understanding of climate change and how it is already playing out around the world.
“It tells us that it is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change and making extreme weather events more frequent and severe,” he said, describing it as a “valuable toolbox” for negotiators at November’s COP26 climate talks.
All parts of the world are being affected, he added, noting the report contains detailed information on impacts by region, as well as fast-developing knowledge on attributing extreme weather events to climate change.
It also offers an interactive atlas allowing people to check climatic changes where they live.
Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which hosts the IPCC, said current plans by governments to cut their emissions could, if confirmed and implemented, limit global warming to 2.1C.
But that level of temperature rise would still bring many problems, including food shortages, extreme heat, forest fires, sea level rise, a potential “refugee crisis” and negative impacts for the global economy and biodiversity, he added.
As well as slashing emissions, “it is essential to pay attention to climate adaptation since the negative trend in climate will continue for decades and in some cases for thousands of years”, he told the report launch.
One powerful way to adapt, he said, is to invest in early warning services for threats like droughts and floods – but only half of the WMO’s 195 member countries currently have those, fuelling human and economic losses.
There are also severe gaps in meteorological and weather forecasting systems in Africa, parts of Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, he noted.
Youba Sokona, vice-chair of the IPCC and special advisor for sustainable development at the South Centre think-tank, said the report would help policy makers in Africa improve their ability to understand climatic changes and anticipate what may come.
That would allow them to design more resilient infrastructure, such as larger dams in drought-prone areas or more robust flood defences in cities, and seek finance for such projects, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by video call from Bamako, the capital of Mali.
The report includes specific scientific information on the polar regions, saying it is very likely the Arctic has warmed at more than twice the global rate over the past 50 years.
That has led to more extreme heat events, permafrost thawing and longer fire seasons, while the Arctic could be ice-free in summer at least once by 2050, it said.
IPCC report lead author Dirk Notz, who heads research on sea ice at Germany’s University of Hamburg, said the Arctic was “the early warning system of our planet”, with climate change manifesting earlier and stronger there.
He said policy makers should use the new report to plan for sea levels potentially topping earlier projected ranges.
For example, if building a coastal dyke to protect against 1-metre higher waters this century, it would be sensible to allow for it to be raised to cope with a 2m increase if needed.
“I hope … that both society and policy makers really understand what is at stake here – that we are leaving the comfort zone of our climate system that we’ve been living in for the past thousands of years and moving into completely uncharted territory,” he added.
After a century of wielding extraordinary economic and political power, America’s petroleum giants face a reckoning for driving the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes.
An unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the US, aim to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels — and covering up what they knew along the way.
Coastal cities struggling to keep rising sea levels at bay, midwestern states watching “mega-rains” destroy crops and homes, and fishing communities losing catches to warming waters, are now demanding the oil conglomerates pay damages and take urgent action to reduce further harm from burning fossil fuels.
But, even more strikingly, the nearly two dozen lawsuits are underpinned by accusations that the industry severely aggravated the environmental crisis with a decades-long campaign of lies and deceit to suppress warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and dupe the American public.
The environmentalist Bill McKibben once characterized the fossil fuel industry’s behavior as “the most consequential cover-up in US history.” And now for the first time in decades, the lawsuits chart a path toward public accountability that climate activists say has the potential to rival big tobacco’s downfall after it concealed the real dangers of smoking.
“We are at an inflection point,” said Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.
“Things have to get worse for the oil companies,” he added. “Even if they’ve got a pretty good chance of winning the litigation in places, the discovery of pretty clear-cut wrong doing — that they knew their product was bad and they were lying to the public — really weakens the industry’s ability to resist legislation and settlements.”
For decades, the country’s leading oil and gas companies have understood the science of climate change and the dangers posed by fossil fuels. Year after year, top executives heard it from their own scientists whose warnings were explicit and often dire.
In 1979, an Exxon study said that burning fossil fuels “will cause dramatic environmental effects” in the coming decades.
“The potential problem is great and urgent,” it concluded.
But instead of heeding the evidence of the research they were funding, major oil firms worked together to bury the findings and manufacture a counter narrative to undermine the growing scientific consensus around climate science. The fossil fuel industry’s campaign to create uncertainty paid off for decades by muddying public understanding of the growing dangers from global heating and stalling political action.
The urgency of the crisis is not in doubt. A draft United Nations report, leaked last week, warns that the consequences of the climate crisis, including rising seas, intense heat and ecosystem collapse, will fundamentally reshape life on earth in the coming decades even if fossil fuel emissions are curbed.
To investigate the lengths of the oil and gas industry’s deceptions — and the disastrous consequences for communities across the country — the Guardian is launching a year-long series tracking the unprecedented efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry to account.
The legal process is expected to take years. Cities in California filed the first lawsuits back in 2017, and they have been tied down by disputes over jurisdiction, with the oil companies fighting with limited success to get them moved from state to federal courts where they think the law is more favorable.
But climate activists see opportunities long before verdicts are rendered in the U.S. The legal process is expected to add to already damning revelations of the energy giants’ closely-held secrets. If history is a guide, those developments could in turn alter public opinion in favor of regulations that the oil and gas companies spent years fighting off.
A string of other recent victories for climate activists already points to a shift in the industry’s power.
Earlier this month, developers of the Keystone XL pipeline cancelled the project after more than a decade of unrelenting opposition over environmental concerns. And although a federal court last year threw out a lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans who say the US government violated their constitutional rights by exacerbating climate change, the Biden administration recently agreed to settlement talks in a symbolic gesture aimed to appease younger voters.
For all that, American lawyers say the legal reasoning behind foreign court judgements are unlikely to carry much sway in the U.S. and domestic law is largely untested. In 2018, a federal court knocked back New York City’s initial attempt to force Big Oil to cover the costs of the climate crisis by saying that its global nature requires a political, not legal, remedy.
Other regional lawsuits are inching their way through the courts. From Charleston, South Carolina, to Boulder, Colorado, and Maui, Hawaii, communities are seeking to force the industry to use its huge profits to pay for the damage and to oblige energy companies to treat the climate crisis for what it is — a global emergency.
Municipalities such as Imperial Beach, California — the poorest city in San Diego county with a budget less than Exxon chief executive’s annual pay — faces rising waters on three sides without the necessary funding to build protective barriers. They claim oil companies created a “public nuisance” by fuelling the climate crisis. They seek to recover the cost of repairing the damage and constructing defences.
The public nuisance claim, also pursued by Honolulu, San Francisco, and Rhode Island, follows a legal strategy with a record of success in other types of litigation. In 2019, Oklahoma’s attorney general won compensation of nearly half a billion dollars against the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson over its false marketing of powerful prescription painkillers on the grounds it created a public nuisance by contributing to the opioid epidemic in the state.
Other climate lawsuits, including one filed in Minnesota, allege the oil firms’ campaigns of deception and denial about the climate crisis amount to fraud. Minnesota is suing Exxon, Koch Industries, and an industry trade group for breaches of state law for deceptive trade practices, false advertising, and consumer fraud over what the lawsuit characterises as distortions and lies about climate science.
The midwestern state, which has seen temperatures rise faster than the U.S. and global averages, said scorching temperatures and “mega-rains” have devastated farming and flooded people out of their homes, with low income and minority families most at risk.
Minnesota’s attorney general, Keith Ellison, claims in his lawsuit that for years Exxon orchestrated a campaign to bury the evidence of environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels “with disturbing success.”
“Defendants spent millions on advertising and public relations because they understood that an accurate understanding of climate change would affect their ability to continue to earn profits by conducting business as usual,” Ellison said in his lawsuit.
Farber said cases rooted in claims that the petroleum industry lied have the most promising chance of success.
“To the extent the plaintiffs can point to misconduct, like telling everybody there’s no such thing as climate change when your scientists have told you the opposite, that might give the courts a greater feeling of comfort that they’re not trying to take over the U.S. energy system,” he said.
Fighting the facts
Almost all the lawsuits draw on the oil industry’s own records as the foundation for claims that it covered up the growing threat to life caused by its products.
Shell, like other oil companies, had decades to prepare for those consequences after it was forewarned by its own research. In 1958, one of its executives, Charles Jones, presented a paper to the industry’s trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), warning about increased carbon emissions from car exhaust. Other research followed through the 1960s, leading a White House advisory committee to express concern at “measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate” by the year 2000.
API’s own reports flagged up “significant temperature changes” by the end of the twentieth century.
The largest oil company in the U.S., Exxon, was hearing the same from its researchers.
Year after year, Exxon scientists recorded the evidence about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. In 1978, its science advisor, James Black, warned that there was a “window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategy might become critical.”
“The 1980s revealed an established consensus among scientists,” the Minnesota lawsuit against Exxon says. “A 1982 internal Exxon document … explicitly declares that the science was ‘unanimous’ and that climate change would ‘bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate.’ “
Then the monitoring on the Esso Atlantic was suddenly called off and other research downgraded.
What followed was what Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the report America Misled, called a “systematic, organised campaign by Exxon and other oil companies to sow doubt about the science and prevent meaningful action.”
The report accused the energy companies of not only polluting the air but also “the information landscape” by replicating the cigarette makers’ playbook of cherry picking data, using fake experts, and promoting conspiracy theories to attack a growing scientific consensus.
Among them is a 1988 Exxon memo laying out a strategy to push for a “balanced scientific approach,” which meant giving equal weight to hard evidence and climate change denialism. That move bore fruit in parts of the media into the 2000s as the oil industry repositioned global heating as theory, not fact, contributing to the most deep-rooted climate denialism in any developed country.
The company placed advertisements in major American newspapers to sow doubt. One in The New York Times in 2000, under the headline “Unsettled Science,” compared climate data to changing weather forecasts. It claimed scientists were divided, when an overwhelming consensus already backed the evidence of a growing climate crisis, and said that the supposed doubts meant it was too soon to act.
Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, Lee Raymond, told industry executives in 1996 that “scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate.”
“It’s a long and dangerous leap to conclude that we should, therefore, cut fossil fuel use,” he said.
Documents show that his company’s scientists were telling Exxon’s management that the real danger lay in the failure to do exactly that.
In 2019, Martin Hoffert, a professor of physics at New York University, told a congressional hearing that as a consultant to Exxon on climate modelling in the 1980s, he worked on eight scientific papers for the company that showed fossil fuel burning was “increasingly having a perceptible influence on earth’s climate.”
Hoffert said he “hoped that the work would help to persuade Exxon to invest in developing energy solutions the world needed.” That was not the result.
“Exxon was publicly promoting views that its own scientists knew were wrong, and we knew that because we were the major group working on this. This was immoral and has greatly set back efforts to address climate change,” said Hoffert.
“They deliberately created doubt when internal research confirmed how serious a threat it was. As a result, in my opinion, homes and livelihoods will likely be destroyed and lives lost.”
Exxon worked alongside Chevron, Shell, BP and smaller oil firms to shift attention away from the growing climate crisis. They funded the industry’s trade body, API, as it drew up a multimillion dollar plan to ensure that “climate change becomes a non- issue” through disinformation. The plan said “victory will be achieved” when “recognition of uncertainties become part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’ “
The fossil fuel industry also used its considerable resources to pour billions of dollars into political lobbying to block unfavourable laws and to fund front organisations with neutral and scientific sounding names, such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). In 2001, the U.S. state department told the GCC that President George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “in part, based on input from you.”
Exxon alone has funded more than 40 groups to deny climate science, including the George C. Marshall Institute, which one lawsuit claims orchestrated a “sham petition” denying man-made global climate change. It was later denounced by the National Academy of Science as “a deliberate attempt to mislead scientists.”
To Sharon Eubanks the conspiracy to deny science sounded very familiar. From 2000, she led the U.S. justice department’s legal team against nine tobacco firms in one of the largest civil cases filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act, which was designed to combat organised crime.
In 2006, a federal judge found that the industry had spent decades committing a huge fraud on the American public by lying about the dangers of smoking and pushing cigarettes to young people.
Eubanks said that when she looked at the fossil fuel industry’s strategy, she immediately recognised big tobacco’s playbook.
“Big Oil was engaged in exactly the same type of behaviour that the tobacco companies engaged in and were found liable for fraud on a massive scale,” said Eubanks. “The cover up, the denial of the problem, the funding of scientists to question the science. The same pattern. And some of the same lawyers represent both tobacco and big oil.”
The danger for the fossil fuel industry is that the parallels do not end there.
The legal process is likely to oblige the oil conglomerates to turn over years of internal communications revealing what they knew about climate change, when and how they responded. Given what has already come out from Exxon, they are unlikely to help the industry’s case.
Eubanks, who is now advising attorneys general and others suing the oil industry, said a turning point in her action against big tobacco came with the discovery of internal company memos in a state case in Minnesota. They included language that talked about recruiting young people as “replacement smokers” for those who died from cigarettes.
“I think the public was particularly stunned by some of the content of the documents and the talk about the need for bigger bags to take home all the money they were going to make from getting people to smoke,” said Eubanks.
The exposure of the tobacco companies internal communications shifted the public mood and the politics, helping to open the door to legislation to curb smoking that the industry had been successfully resisting for decades.
Farber, the Berkeley law professor, said the discovery process carries a similar danger for the oil companies because it is likely to expose yet more evidence that they set out to deceive. He said that will undercut any attempt by the energy giants to claim in court that they were ignorant of the damage they were causing.
Farber said it will also be difficult for the oil industry to resist the weight of U.S. lawsuits, shareholder activism, and shifting public and political opinion. “It might push them towards settlement or supporting legislation that releases some from liability in return for some major concessions such as a large tax to finance responses to climate change.”
The alternative, said Farber, is to take their chance on judges and juries who may be increasingly inclined to take the climate crisis seriously.
“They may think this is an emergency that requires a response. That the oil companies should be held responsible for the harm they’ve caused and that could be very expensive,” he said. “If they lose, it’s catastrophic ultimately.”
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.
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.
A 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.”
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”.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”