Category Archives: U.N

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s also not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate change to make world sicker, poorer: UN report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We just sleep and hope we don’t perish’: 2m in Tigray in urgent need of food – UN

A mother and child queue for food in the Tigray region, Ethiopia.
A mother and child queue for food in the Tigray region, Ethiopia. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters

At least 2 million people in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray are suffering from an extreme lack of food, with the 15-month conflict between rebel and government forces pushing families to the brink, the UN’s emergency food agency has found.

In the first comprehensiveassessment the World Food Programme (WFP) has carried out in Tigray since the start of the war, 37% of the population were found to be severely food insecure, meaning they had at times run out of food and gone a day or more without eating.

Families were found to be “exhausting all means to feed themselves”, with 13% of Tigrayan children under five and almost two-thirds of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from malnutrition.

“Before the conflict we were eating three times a day but now even once a day is difficult. I was borrowing food from my family but now they have run out. We just sleep and hope we do not perish,” Kiros, a single mother of six children living on the outskirts of the region’s capital, Mekelle, told researchers.

The assessment, which was based on face-to-face interviews with 980 households in accessible parts of Tigray, was carried out from mid-November until mid-December.

However, researchers were unable to travel to areas where fighting is impeding humanitarian access. Moreover, since the assessment was carried out, the needs of the region are thought to have become even more acute as no aid convoy has reached Tigray for about six weeks.

“This bleak assessment reconfirms that what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for eastern Africa.

“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines. But if hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger.”

Across northern Ethiopia, where fighting has raged in the regions of Afar and Amhara as well as Tigray, WFP estimates that 9 million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance, the highest number yet.

In Amhara, hunger has more than doubled in five months, it says. In Afar, where fighting has intensified in recent days between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and forces loyal to the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, recent health screening data showed malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28%, far above the standard emergency threshold of 15%.

Since the conflict erupted in November 2020, it has been difficult for the UN and other humanitarian organisations to gauge the level of need in Tigray due to a lack of on-the-ground access and telecommunications. The UN has accused the federal government of preventing food and essential medical supplies from coming into the region in a de-facto blockade. The government denies this.

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Mekelle since last September. The drugs are understood to have included enough insulin supplies to last about a month, after medics at the Ayder referral hospital raised the alarm over severe shortages.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, recently accused Abiy’s government of imposing a “hell” on Tigray by denying entry to medical supplies.

“It is a huge relief that this first shipment is reaching hospitals,” said Apollo Barasa, health coordinator at the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. “This assistance is a lifeline for thousands of people, and I can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is that these deliveries continue.”

‘Disastrous’ plastic use in farming threatens food safety – UN

Farmers cover a field with plastic films in Yuli county, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, northern China.
Farmers cover a field with plastic films in Yuli county, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, northern China. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

The “disastrous” way in which plastic is used in farming across the world is threatening food safety and potentially human health, according to a report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

It says soils contain more microplastic pollution than the oceans and that there is “irrefutable” evidence of the need for better management of the millions of tonnes of plastics used in the food and farming system each year.

The report recognises the benefits of plastic in producing and protecting food, from irrigation and silage bags to fishing gear and tree guards. But the FAO said the use of plastics had become pervasive and that most were currently single-use and were buried, burned or lost after use. It also warned of a growing demand for agricultural plastics.

There is increasing concern about the microplastics formed as larger plastics are broken down, the report said. Microplastics are consumed by people and wildlife and some contain toxic additives and can also carry pathogens. Some marine animals are harmed by eating plastics but little is known about the impact on land animals or people.

“The report serves as a loud call for decisive action to curb the disastrous use of plastics across the agricultural sectors,” said Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director general at the FAO.

“Soils are one of the main receptors of agricultural plastics and are known to contain larger quantities of microplastics than oceans,” she said. “Microplastics can accumulate in food chains, threatening food security, food safety and potentially human health.”

Global soils are the source of all life on land but the FAO warned in December 2020 that their future looked “bleak” without action to halt degradation. Microplastic pollution is also a global problem, pervading the planet from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest ocean trenches.

The FAO report, which was reviewed by external experts, estimates 12.5m tonnes of plastic products were used in plant and animal production in 2019, and a further 37.3m in food packaging.

Plastic is a versatile material and cheap and easy to make into products, the report says. These include greenhouse and mulching films as well as polymer-coated fertiliser pellets, which release nutrients more slowly and efficiently.

“However, despite the many benefits, agricultural plastics also pose a serious risk of pollution and harm to human and ecosystem health when they are damaged, degraded or discarded in the environment,” the report says.

Data on plastic use is limited, it says, but Asia was estimated to be the largest user, accounting for about half of global usage. Furthermore, the global demand for major products such as greenhouse, mulching and silage films is expected to rise by 50% by 2030.

Only a small fraction of agricultural plastics are collected and recycled. The FAO said: “The urgency for coordinated and decisive action cannot be understated.”

Prof Jonathan Leake, at the University of Sheffield in the UK and a panel member of the UK Sustainable Soils Alliance, said: “Plastic pollution of agricultural soils is a pervasive, persistent problem that threatens soil health throughout much of the world.”Advertisement

He said the impact of plastic was poorly understood, although adverse effects had been seen on earthworms, which played a crucial role in keeping soils and crops healthy.

“We are currently adding large amounts of these unnatural materials into agricultural soils without understanding their long-term effects,” he said. “In the UK the problems are especially serious because of our applications of large amounts of plastic-contaminated sewage sludges and composts. We need to remove the plastics [from these] before they are added to land, as it is impossible to remove them afterwards.”

As a solution, the FAO report cites “the 6R model” – refuse, redesign, reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover. This means adopting farming practices that avoid plastic use, substituting plastic products with natural or biodegradable alternatives, promoting reusable plastic products and improving plastic waste management.

UN launches record humanitarian appeal for 2022 as needs soar

OCHA chief Martin Griffiths named Ethiopia as one of the most concerning humanitarian crisis [Edmund Blair/Reuters]

The UN has warned that the need for humanitarian aid is skyrocketing worldwide and will reach an all-time high next year, as the pandemic, climate change and conflict push more people to the brink of famine.

The United Nations’ humanitarian agency OCHA on Thursday appealed for a record $41bn to help 183 million people who are the most in need of life-saving assistance – up from the $35bn requested for 2021 and double the amount sought four years ago.

The number of people in need “has never been as high as this”, Martin Griffiths, the head of OCHA, told a news conference on Thursday.

“The climate crisis is hitting the world’s most vulnerable people first and worst. Protracted conflicts grind on, and instability has worsened in several parts of the world, notably Ethiopia, Myanmar and Afghanistan,” Griffiths said.

In its Global Humanitarian Overview report, OCHA said 274 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year, up 17 percent from the figure for 2021, which was a record high.

It said one in 29 people will need help in 2022, marking a 250 percent increase since 2015 when one in 95 needed assistance.

The appeal, which pulls together needs from an array of UN agencies and their partners, is likely to fall short of its ambitions.

This year donors provided more than $17bn, less than half of what the UN requested.

“We’re aware that we’re not going to get the $41bn, much as we will try hard,” Griffiths said.

The UN humanitarian chief cited estimates by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization that 45 million people are at risk of famine in dozens of countries.

“Humanitarian aid matters,” Griffiths said, adding that the UN was able to stop famine affecting half a million people in South Sudan and delivered health care to 10 million people in Yemen.

Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan are the five extensive crises requiring the most funding, topped by $4.5bn sought for Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where “needs are skyrocketing”, the UN agency said in a report to donors.

In Afghanistan, more than 24 million people require life-saving assistance, a dramatic increase driven by political tumult, economic shocks, and severe food insecurity.

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic correspondent James Bays said an emergency appeal for Afghanistan in September was more than 100 percent funded, but the collapse of the economy coupled with the worst drought in decades meant that much more funding is now needed.

“UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths struggled when asked to name the worst crisis,” Bays said.

Griffiths eventually settled on Ethiopia, saying the capacity that would be needed to respond to the East African country’s implosion was “almost impossible to imagine.”

But he stressed there were many other dire situations, with violence and unrest continuing to force millions to flee their homes.

By 2050, as many as 216 million people could be forced to move within their own countries due to the effects of global warming, OCHA’s report estimated.

Climate change is contributing to rising hunger and food insecurity, with famine-like conditions remaining a “real and terrifying possibility for 45 million people in 43 countries around the world”, it warned.

UN special envoy on poverty visits Beirut blast survivors 

United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter alongside local research group Public Works, visited residents and survivors in Mar Mikhael and Geitaoui, two of the most severely damaged neighbourhoods in the Beirut port explosion [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

Beirut, Lebanon – United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter has told Al Jazeera during a visit to the Lebanese capital that survivors of the Beirut port blast last year “feel very much abandoned”.

On Monday, the UN expert, alongside local research group Public Works, visited residents and survivors in Mar Mikhael and Geitaoui, two of the most severely damaged neighbourhoods in the Beirut Port explosion.

It’s of course striking that many public services are difficult to provide,” De Schutter told Al Jazeera after visiting a family in Geitaoui.

Residents complained to De Schutter about the lack of viable government social protection programmes, inconsistent cash distribution from the army, and mismanagement after the blast where dozens of NGOs and individual initiatives scrambled to help residents.

“One NGO given to my area said they could only fix windows, even though what I needed was three doors to be fixed,” one resident told him.

On top of that, many are concerned about their inability to pay rent and skyrocketing utility costs, especially those who lost their businesses in the blast, or have significant medical costs for their injuries.

“We have zero trust in the government,” an elderly resident said.

More than 200 people were killed and 6,500 were wounded in the August 4, 2020, Beirut port blast when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated. The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

De Schutter landed in Beirut this weekend for a two-week assessment of how the Lebanese government has responded to the country’s critical economic crisis, and the role international organisations have played in trying to alleviate poverty.

About three-quarters of the population lives in poverty, and about a quarter of the population was not able to meet their “dietary needs” by the end of last year, the UN said at a recent press conference.

According to its Emergency Response Plan for Lebanon for the next year, the UN needs $383m in order to assist 1.1 million people in need of food, education, healthcare, sanitation and child protection.

Meanwhile, the majority of about one million Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in extreme poverty. At least two-thirds of Syrian refugees are now skipping meals, as food prices have gone up by about 628 percent.

The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic crisis is among the worst worldwide since the mid-nineteenth century.

Petrol price hikes and electricity outages paralyse much of public life, while the government struggles to implement emergency social programmes aimed at temporarily supporting millions of people.

De Schutter this week will also visit the northern city of Tripoli and the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp, and will speak with local and national government authorities, residents and civil society groups. He will present his findings at a press conference scheduled for November 12.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis growing as economy collapses: UN

A woman cooks inside a tent at a temporary camp for people displaced by the conflict, which has been inundated after heavy rains, in Yemen’s southwestern province of Taiz [File: Ahmad Al-Bash/AFP]

Yemen’s economy is collapsing, its humanitarian crisis is worsening, and the conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation is growing more violent, the United Nations’ deputy humanitarian chief has said.

The grim remarks by Assistant Secretary-General Ramesh Rajasingham came during a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday. More than 20 million Yemenis – two-thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance, but aid agencies, he said, “are, once again, starting to run out of money”.

Aid agencies are now helping nearly 13 million people across the country, about 3 million more than just a few months ago, Rajasingham added. “Our best assessment is that this expansion has considerably pushed back the immediate risk of large-scale famine.”

But he warned that aid agencies don’t have enough money to keep going at this scale and “in the coming weeks and months, up to 4 million people could see their food aid reduced” and “by the end of the year, that number could rise to 5 million people”.

“We are calling on everyone to do everything possible to sustain the momentum we’ve built over the last several months and keep famine at bay,” Rajasingham said.

Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital of Sanaa and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the internationally recognised government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015, backed by the United States, in an effort to restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power and threw its support behind his government.

Despite a relentless air campaign and ground fighting, the war has deteriorated largely into a deadlock and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The US has since suspended its direct involvement in the conflict.

In early 2020, the Houthis launched an offensive in the mostly government-held Marib province that has cost the lives of thousands of young people and left thousands of displaced civilians living in constant fear of violence and having to move again.

On Thursday, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials said that fighting over Marib in the last 24 hours killed at least 140 fighters on both sides. The clashes were taking place in the districts of Abdiya and al-Jubah, they said.

At the briefing to the Security Council, Rajasingham said the Houthis “intensified their brutal offensive in Marib, taking more territory there and in neighbouring parts of the southern province of Shabwa”.

Ongoing fighting

He also pointed to clashes between rival armed groups earlier this month in the southern city of Aden – where Hadi’s government set up headquarters after the Houthis pushed them out of Sanaa and the north – and continued fighting, shelling and airstrikes in northwest Saada and western Hajjah and Hodeida provinces.

In September, 235 civilians were killed or injured, the second-highest figure in two years, and fighting in Marib is taking “a particularly heavy civilian toll”, with almost 10,000 people displaced in September, the second-highest figure in two years, Rajasingham said.

The new UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, who took up the post last month, told the council that he has held meetings with government and Houthi officials, as well as key regional and international officials focused on how to move towards a political solution to restore peace in Yemen.

“The gap in trust between warring parties is wide and growing,” he said in a virtual briefing. Grundberg said he made clear that while progress should be made on urgent humanitarian and economic issues, urgent political talks without preconditions are essential to negotiate a settlement of the conflict.

“Let us not fool ourselves, this will be a laborious and complicated task that will take time but it must take place,” Grundberg said. “The past weeks have illustrated the tension between the pace of the war and the economic collapse on one hand, and the time needed to devise and consult on a feasible way forward, on the other.”

Rajasingham reiterated that Yemen’s economic collapse “is driving most needs in the country – including the risk of famine”.

Yemen imports almost everything, he said, and the Yemeni rial is trading around 1,270 rials to the dollar in Aden, nearly six times higher than before the war, and fewer goods are reaching the country’s ports. Commercial food imports to the key ports of Hodeida and Saleef were eight percent less than last year’s average in September, and “fuel imports were an alarming 64 percent lower,” he said.

He urged immediate steps to stem the country’s economic collapse, including injections of foreign exchange through the Central Bank which would quickly bring down prices, as they have done in the past, as well as fully opening all ports, lifting import restrictions at Hodeida and Saleef, and paying civil servant salaries.

U.N. climate report likely to deliver stark warnings on global warming

Children sit on a makeshift raft on a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song

LONDON, – Eight years after its last update on climate science, the United Nations is set to publish a report Monday that will likely deliver even starker warnings about how quickly the planet is warming – and how damaging the impacts might get.

Since the last report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013, both greenhouse gas emissions and the average global temperature have only continued to climb.

The new report will forecast how much more emissions can be pumped into the atmosphere before the average global temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. That revised carbon budget may serve as a guide to governments as they map out their own emissions-cutting plans before a major U.N. climate conference in November.

Scientists say the world must halve global emissions by 2030 and cut them to net-zero by 2050 in order to prevent global warming above 1.5C, which could trigger catastrophic impacts across the globe.

But climate change already is fuelling deadly and disastrous weather across the globe. Nearly all of the world’s glaciers are melting faster. Hurricanes are stronger. Just this year, unprecedented rains unleashed floods across parts of central China and Europe, while wildfires are tearing across Siberia, the U.S. West and the Mediterranean.

“The report will cover not only the fact that we are smashing record after record in terms of climate change impacts, but show that the world today is in unchartered territory in terms of sea level rise and ice cover,” said Kelly Levin, chief of science, data and systems change at the Bezos Earth Fund philanthropy.

Overall, the report “will underscore the urgency for governments to ramp up climate action,” she said.

And while the 2013 report said it was “extremely likely” that human industry was causing climate change – which suggests scientists were at least 95% confident in that statement – this year’s report will likely use even stronger language.

“Obviously, it is going to be stronger than what we had in the past because of the growing warming of the planet,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia who has contributed to previous IPCC assessments. “That’s going to be one of the main points. It will be discussed very, very carefully, and scrutinised,” Le Quéré told reporters.


Since its establishment in 1988, the IPCC has released five so-called Assessment Reports updating the established science on climate change, its impacts, future risks and ways to tackle the problems.

But the IPCC itself is not made up of scientists. The panel includes government representatives from 195 countries who commission assessments from experts and academics across the world.

In drafting those assessments, scientists consider thousands of individual studies published since the last IPCC report. To finalize their latest assessments for the upcoming report, scientists have been meeting virtually with policymakers since July 26, scrutinizing the details and language used in the draft.

Governments can suggest changes to the text, but those must be agreed by consensus. The scientists then must ensure the changes are consistent with the scientific evidence.

Monday’s report is actually just part of what will go into the final Sixth Assessment Report, or AR6, when it is released in 2022.

The AR6 synthesis report will also include two other major chapters coming out next year – one on climate change impacts on communities, societies and economies and how they might adapt to cope, and another on ways of curbing emissions and reining in climate change. And it will include findings from three special reports published since 2013, on the 1.5C threshold, on the world’s oceans and frozen regions, and on land use and degradation

But Monday’s chapter is one of the most highly anticipated, particularly after being delayed for months because of the COVID pandemic. Unlike the previous assessments, the chapter will use five possible emissions trajectories the world could follow rather than the previous four scenarios.

“Emissions scenarios are not intended to say: ‘This is the future: pick one’,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC. “Policies are being implemented all the time, and the science is changing all the time, so it is just not fair to say we are on a certain trajectory.”

U.N. climate report depicts fast-warming world where ‘nobody is safe’

Residents wade through a flooded road in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth in Pemba, Mozambique, April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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.