Category Archives: General

Climate migrants still face ‘immense disaster’

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Ultra-fast computers could avert global disaster

The world can be saved. It needs global co-operation, careful research and the building of ultra-fast computers.

LONDON, 13 December, 2019 – The way to steer the planet safely away from overwhelming climate crisis may sound familiar, though it’s staggeringly ambitious: just use incredibly powerful and ultra-fast computers.

Studies in two separate journals have called for new thinking about global change. One warns that only a genuine accommodation with nature can save humankind from catastrophic change. The other argues that present understanding of the trajectories of global heating is so uncertain that what is needed is a global co-operation to deliver what scientists call exascale supercomputer climate modelling: exascale means calculations at rates of a billion billion operations a second.

There’s a snag: nobody has yet built a working exascale computer, though several groups hope to succeed within a few years. But when it’s done it could transform the prospects of life on Earth.

“We cannot save the planet – and ourselves – until we understand how tightly woven people and the natural benefits that allow us to survive are,” said Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University, one of the authors of a paper in the journal Science.

“We have learned new ways to understand these connections, even as they spread across the globe. This strategy has given us the power to understand the full scope of the problem, which allows us to find true solutions.”

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”

And Tim Palmer of Oxford University, an author of a perspective paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has called for a new and international investment in sophisticated climate modelling, exploiting a new generation of computers, in much the same way that physicists at CERN in Geneva co-operated to explore the sequence of events in the first microsecond of creation.

“By comparison with new particle colliders or space telescopes, the amount needed, maybe around $100 million a year, is very modest indeed. In addition, the benefit/cost ratio to society of having a much clearer picture of the dangers we are facing in the coming decades by our ongoing actions, seems extraordinarily large,” he said.

“To be honest, all is needed is the will to work together across nations, on such a project. Then it will happen.”

The point made by authors of the Science study is that humankind depends acutely on the natural world for at least 18 direct benefits: these include pollination and the dispersal of seeds, the regulation of clean air, and of climate, and of fresh water, the protection of topsoils, the control of potential pests and diseases, the supplies of energy, food and animal fodder, the supplies of materials and fabrics and yields of new medicines and biochemical compounds.

Massive change

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”, the authors warn.

“Human actions have directly altered at least 70% of land surface; 66% of ocean surface is experiencing cumulative impacts; around 85% of wetland area has been lost since the 1700s and 77% of rivers longer than 1000 km no longer flow freely from source to sea.”

There was a need for “transformative action” on a global scale to address root economic, social and technological causes and to avert catastrophic decline of the living world. “Although the challenge is formidable, every delay will make the task harder”, they warn.

But in a world of rapid change – with species at increasing risk of extinction and global heating about to trigger catastrophic climate change – there is still the challenge of working out what the implications of any change might be.

The argument is that human society must change, and so too must the scientific community. Climate modelling might deliver broad answers, but researchers would still need to be sure what might work best in any particular circumstances, and that would require new and vastly more complex levels of mathematical calculation and data interpretation.

Space-race urgency

Professor Palmer and his colleague Bjorn Stevens of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg call for better understanding of the need for change.

“What is needed is the urgency of the space race aimed, not at the Moon or Mars, but rather toward harnessing the promise of exascale supercomputing to reliably simulate Earth’s regional climate (and associated extremes) globally”, they argue.

“This will only be possible if the broader climate science community begins to articulate its dissatisfaction with business as usual – not just among themselves, but externally to those who seek to use the models for business, policy, or humanitarian reasons.

“Failing to do so becomes an ethical issue in that it saddles us with the status quo: a strategy that hopes, against all evidence, to surmount the abyss between scientific capability and societal needs.” – Climate News Network

The world can be saved. It needs global co-operation, careful research and the building of ultra-fast computers.

LONDON, 13 December, 2019 – The way to steer the planet safely away from overwhelming climate crisis may sound familiar, though it’s staggeringly ambitious: just use incredibly powerful and ultra-fast computers.

Studies in two separate journals have called for new thinking about global change. One warns that only a genuine accommodation with nature can save humankind from catastrophic change. The other argues that present understanding of the trajectories of global heating is so uncertain that what is needed is a global co-operation to deliver what scientists call exascale supercomputer climate modelling: exascale means calculations at rates of a billion billion operations a second.

There’s a snag: nobody has yet built a working exascale computer, though several groups hope to succeed within a few years. But when it’s done it could transform the prospects of life on Earth.

“We cannot save the planet – and ourselves – until we understand how tightly woven people and the natural benefits that allow us to survive are,” said Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University, one of the authors of a paper in the journal Science.

“We have learned new ways to understand these connections, even as they spread across the globe. This strategy has given us the power to understand the full scope of the problem, which allows us to find true solutions.”

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”

And Tim Palmer of Oxford University, an author of a perspective paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has called for a new and international investment in sophisticated climate modelling, exploiting a new generation of computers, in much the same way that physicists at CERN in Geneva co-operated to explore the sequence of events in the first microsecond of creation.

“By comparison with new particle colliders or space telescopes, the amount needed, maybe around $100 million a year, is very modest indeed. In addition, the benefit/cost ratio to society of having a much clearer picture of the dangers we are facing in the coming decades by our ongoing actions, seems extraordinarily large,” he said.

“To be honest, all is needed is the will to work together across nations, on such a project. Then it will happen.”

The point made by authors of the Science study is that humankind depends acutely on the natural world for at least 18 direct benefits: these include pollination and the dispersal of seeds, the regulation of clean air, and of climate, and of fresh water, the protection of topsoils, the control of potential pests and diseases, the supplies of energy, food and animal fodder, the supplies of materials and fabrics and yields of new medicines and biochemical compounds.

Massive change

“Human actions are causing the fabric of life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people”, the authors warn.

“Human actions have directly altered at least 70% of land surface; 66% of ocean surface is experiencing cumulative impacts; around 85% of wetland area has been lost since the 1700s and 77% of rivers longer than 1000 km no longer flow freely from source to sea.”

There was a need for “transformative action” on a global scale to address root economic, social and technological causes and to avert catastrophic decline of the living world. “Although the challenge is formidable, every delay will make the task harder”, they warn.

But in a world of rapid change – with species at increasing risk of extinction and global heating about to trigger catastrophic climate change – there is still the challenge of working out what the implications of any change might be.

The argument is that human society must change, and so too must the scientific community. Climate modelling might deliver broad answers, but researchers would still need to be sure what might work best in any particular circumstances, and that would require new and vastly more complex levels of mathematical calculation and data interpretation.

Space-race urgency

Professor Palmer and his colleague Bjorn Stevens of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg call for better understanding of the need for change.

“What is needed is the urgency of the space race aimed, not at the Moon or Mars, but rather toward harnessing the promise of exascale supercomputing to reliably simulate Earth’s regional climate (and associated extremes) globally”, they argue.

“This will only be possible if the broader climate science community begins to articulate its dissatisfaction with business as usual – not just among themselves, but externally to those who seek to use the models for business, policy, or humanitarian reasons.

“Failing to do so becomes an ethical issue in that it saddles us with the status quo: a strategy that hopes, against all evidence, to surmount the abyss between scientific capability and societal needs.” – Climate News Network

60-year drought ended ancient Assyrian empire

It took only a 60-year drought to lay low one of the first superpowers. It crumbled when harvests withered over two millennia ago.

LONDON, 25 November, 2019 − One of the great ancient empires, the neo-Assyrian world of what is now northern Iraq, flourished in years of plentiful rain, but buckled and collapsed when beset by a 60-year drought.

The biblical city of Nineveh fell in 612 BC, weakened by climate change, never to be occupied again. Chroniclers blamed political instability, the might of Babylon, and the invasions of Medes and Persians.

But climate scientists who have reconstructed the evidence of annual weather records have set the record straight: like the rings of a tree or the sediments in a lake, the isotope records in stalagmites in the floor of the Kuna Ba cave tell a story of a mega-drought that underlay the collapse of one of ancient history’s earliest superpowers.

Stalagmites or speleothems are built up by the steady drip of water through rock and onto the floor of a cave. The scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they used carbon and oxygen isotopes in the layers of stone to reconstruct the climate throughout a 3800-year sequence of rainfall patterns.

The measures of uranium and thorium trapped in the same speleothems provided precise dates for the entire sequence, and these could then be checked against surviving records from an empire that at its height, under King Sennacherib, extended into parts of what are now Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

“These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them”

“We now know that the Assyrian droughts started decades earlier than we had previously thought, and also that the period prior to the onset of drought was one of the wettest in the entire roughly 3800-year sequence.

“It changes some of the other hypotheses we have made”, said Adam Schneider, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who first proposed a climate link to imperial collapse in 2014.

“For example: King Sennacherib, who ruled from 705 to 681 BC, was well-known for building massive canals and other structures. In our earlier work on the question of drought in ancient Assyria, I and my colleague Dr. Selim Adali had initially viewed him as a short-sighted ruler who had pursued short-term political goals at the expense of long-term drought resilience, and set in motion a catastrophic chain of events as a result.

“But with this new data, we now think that Sennacherib probably was already experiencing drought when he was king, and in fact he may well have been trying to do something about the environmental calamity during that time.”

And a co-author, Harvey Weiss of Yale University, said : “Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians.”

New theory

“This fits into a historical pattern that is not only structured through time and place, but a space and time that is filled with environmental change,” said Professor Weiss. “These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them.”

The climate change theory of history is relatively new, but has already been used to provide new explanations for the collapse of the Bronze Age empire in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago, the downfall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the rise of Genghis Khan’s nomadic hordes  and the fall of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

There have been arguments that contemporary conflict can be matched to climate stress in many parts of the modern world.

“The French Revolution is one example. In the two years prior to the French Revolution poor weather led to a series of bad harvests, which alongside other factors helped cause the price of bread to skyrocket, especially in Paris,” said Professor Schneider.

“The question is not ‘Did climate have an impact?’ It’s ‘How, why and how important was climate alongside the other factors?’” − Climate News Network

It took only a 60-year drought to lay low one of the first superpowers. It crumbled when harvests withered over two millennia ago.

LONDON, 25 November, 2019 − One of the great ancient empires, the neo-Assyrian world of what is now northern Iraq, flourished in years of plentiful rain, but buckled and collapsed when beset by a 60-year drought.

The biblical city of Nineveh fell in 612 BC, weakened by climate change, never to be occupied again. Chroniclers blamed political instability, the might of Babylon, and the invasions of Medes and Persians.

But climate scientists who have reconstructed the evidence of annual weather records have set the record straight: like the rings of a tree or the sediments in a lake, the isotope records in stalagmites in the floor of the Kuna Ba cave tell a story of a mega-drought that underlay the collapse of one of ancient history’s earliest superpowers.

Stalagmites or speleothems are built up by the steady drip of water through rock and onto the floor of a cave. The scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they used carbon and oxygen isotopes in the layers of stone to reconstruct the climate throughout a 3800-year sequence of rainfall patterns.

The measures of uranium and thorium trapped in the same speleothems provided precise dates for the entire sequence, and these could then be checked against surviving records from an empire that at its height, under King Sennacherib, extended into parts of what are now Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

“These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them”

“We now know that the Assyrian droughts started decades earlier than we had previously thought, and also that the period prior to the onset of drought was one of the wettest in the entire roughly 3800-year sequence.

“It changes some of the other hypotheses we have made”, said Adam Schneider, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who first proposed a climate link to imperial collapse in 2014.

“For example: King Sennacherib, who ruled from 705 to 681 BC, was well-known for building massive canals and other structures. In our earlier work on the question of drought in ancient Assyria, I and my colleague Dr. Selim Adali had initially viewed him as a short-sighted ruler who had pursued short-term political goals at the expense of long-term drought resilience, and set in motion a catastrophic chain of events as a result.

“But with this new data, we now think that Sennacherib probably was already experiencing drought when he was king, and in fact he may well have been trying to do something about the environmental calamity during that time.”

And a co-author, Harvey Weiss of Yale University, said : “Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians.”

New theory

“This fits into a historical pattern that is not only structured through time and place, but a space and time that is filled with environmental change,” said Professor Weiss. “These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them.”

The climate change theory of history is relatively new, but has already been used to provide new explanations for the collapse of the Bronze Age empire in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago, the downfall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the rise of Genghis Khan’s nomadic hordes  and the fall of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

There have been arguments that contemporary conflict can be matched to climate stress in many parts of the modern world.

“The French Revolution is one example. In the two years prior to the French Revolution poor weather led to a series of bad harvests, which alongside other factors helped cause the price of bread to skyrocket, especially in Paris,” said Professor Schneider.

“The question is not ‘Did climate have an impact?’ It’s ‘How, why and how important was climate alongside the other factors?’” − Climate News Network

India builds homes to resist climate-linked floods

floods

Bamboo, lime and mud are traditional materials being used innovatively in southern India to rebuild homes that can withstand the impact of recurring floods.

Chennai, October 18, 2019 – The southern India state of Kerala, having lost almost a million homes in two disastrous floods in 2018 and 2019, is trying to adapt to climate change by building homes for the poor that are flood-resistant.

In two years, one-sixth of the state’s 35 million population was affected by the floods, and 1.4 million of those had to abandon their homes. Many flimsy houses were destroyed and are being rebuilt from scratch.

Realising that floods are going to be an increasingly regular occurrence in the future as climate change continues to make the weather more extreme, the state’s plan is to design and build homes that can withstand the floods. And, according to pioneering architects, they should be built of local materials such as bamboo, lime and mud.

Severe rains

These new houses will be sited, where possible, in places that will avoid inundation, but even if they are flooded in severe rains they are designed to survive the impact of the water.

The Kerala government has announced it has signed a loan agreement with the World Bank for $250 million to enhance resilience against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority is spreading awareness of the need to construct flood-resistant houses.

Award-winning architect Gopalan Shankar is one of those building a variety of innovative new homes from traditional local materials that will withstand the floods.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century. We construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters”

He says his aim is to help the fishermen, slum dwellers and the marginalised and tribal people who suffer most from the floods a mission that has already earned him the nickname “the people’s architect”.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century,” he says. “Our organisation is involved in constructing climate-resistant shelters, residential colonies and individual houses. People can pay through the nose for a house, but we construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters.

“Interlocking mud bricks, pillars made out of treated bamboo, mud and concrete are used. For plastering, we have used coconut shells, treated bamboo and mud tiles. Bamboo is a significant replacement for steel and would match its strength.’’

Shankar started his not-for-profit business, the Habitat Technology Group, in Kerala in 1987 as a one-man band.

It took him six months to get his first commission, but he now works with 400 architects, engineers and social workers, and has 34 regional offices and 35,000 trained workers across India.

In Kerala, he has just completed construction of 250 climate-resilient homes for flood victims.

Prone to floods

“Cost-effective buildings are the need in areas prone to floods,” he says. “Construction starts with good planning and choosing the place where the house would be constructed.

“In flood-prone areas, when there is necessity to reside there, we build the house with locally-available material that would be efficient. Damage from floods would not affect the resident, physically and financially, in a big way.’

The government has a scheme giving people a subsidy to repair their homes after a flood, but encourages them to build in ways that make the homes more able to withstand future impacts.

Sandhini Gopakumar is among many house-owners who, under this scheme, are repairing and rebuilding their homes as climate-resilient structures.

He had not fully recovered from the 2018 floods before the next one came. “Even before we could cope with the damage, flood waters occupied our house next year also,” he says. “We were worried about investing in the house. As of now, we have raised the frontage of our house to avoid floodwaters next year.”

He consulted experts to help make the house strong enough to resist floodwaters in the future, so saving money on future repairs if it happens again. Now, he says, his house would withstand the onslaught even if they suffered floods and disasters every year. – Climate News Network

Bamboo, lime and mud are traditional materials being used innovatively in southern India to rebuild homes that can withstand the impact of recurring floods.

Chennai, October 18, 2019 – The southern India state of Kerala, having lost almost a million homes in two disastrous floods in 2018 and 2019, is trying to adapt to climate change by building homes for the poor that are flood-resistant.

In two years, one-sixth of the state’s 35 million population was affected by the floods, and 1.4 million of those had to abandon their homes. Many flimsy houses were destroyed and are being rebuilt from scratch.

Realising that floods are going to be an increasingly regular occurrence in the future as climate change continues to make the weather more extreme, the state’s plan is to design and build homes that can withstand the floods. And, according to pioneering architects, they should be built of local materials such as bamboo, lime and mud.

Severe rains

These new houses will be sited, where possible, in places that will avoid inundation, but even if they are flooded in severe rains they are designed to survive the impact of the water.

The Kerala government has announced it has signed a loan agreement with the World Bank for $250 million to enhance resilience against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority is spreading awareness of the need to construct flood-resistant houses.

Award-winning architect Gopalan Shankar is one of those building a variety of innovative new homes from traditional local materials that will withstand the floods.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century. We construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters”

He says his aim is to help the fishermen, slum dwellers and the marginalised and tribal people who suffer most from the floods a mission that has already earned him the nickname “the people’s architect”.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century,” he says. “Our organisation is involved in constructing climate-resistant shelters, residential colonies and individual houses. People can pay through the nose for a house, but we construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters.

“Interlocking mud bricks, pillars made out of treated bamboo, mud and concrete are used. For plastering, we have used coconut shells, treated bamboo and mud tiles. Bamboo is a significant replacement for steel and would match its strength.’’

Shankar started his not-for-profit business, the Habitat Technology Group, in Kerala in 1987 as a one-man band.

It took him six months to get his first commission, but he now works with 400 architects, engineers and social workers, and has 34 regional offices and 35,000 trained workers across India.

In Kerala, he has just completed construction of 250 climate-resilient homes for flood victims.

Prone to floods

“Cost-effective buildings are the need in areas prone to floods,” he says. “Construction starts with good planning and choosing the place where the house would be constructed.

“In flood-prone areas, when there is necessity to reside there, we build the house with locally-available material that would be efficient. Damage from floods would not affect the resident, physically and financially, in a big way.’

The government has a scheme giving people a subsidy to repair their homes after a flood, but encourages them to build in ways that make the homes more able to withstand future impacts.

Sandhini Gopakumar is among many house-owners who, under this scheme, are repairing and rebuilding their homes as climate-resilient structures.

He had not fully recovered from the 2018 floods before the next one came. “Even before we could cope with the damage, flood waters occupied our house next year also,” he says. “We were worried about investing in the house. As of now, we have raised the frontage of our house to avoid floodwaters next year.”

He consulted experts to help make the house strong enough to resist floodwaters in the future, so saving money on future repairs if it happens again. Now, he says, his house would withstand the onslaught even if they suffered floods and disasters every year. – Climate News Network

Vineyards battle to keep the Champagne cool

Champagne

As rising temperatures threaten the vines that produce Champagne, concerned growers are fighting to adapt to the very real threat of climate change.

LONDON, October 15, 2019 – With the average temperature already having risen 1.1C in the last 30 years in the Champagne region of France, the 5,000 producers of the world famous vintages fear for their future.

Earlier springs and heatwaves are affecting harvest times and, more importantly, the characteristics of the grapes – for example, less acidity and more alcohol threaten the distinctive taste of the wine.

But realising that a 2C to 3C rise in temperature could cause “catastrophic changes” to the region, and that the famous wine could eventually disappear altogether, the vintners are breeding new vines and adapting growing methods to suit the new climate in a bid to preserve their industry.

“We feel we are under very high pressure from climate change and are very concerned that we must adapt to preserve our industry,” Thibaut Le Mailloux, director of communications for the growers of the champagne region, Comité Champagne, told Climate News Network.

At the same time, he said, realising the havoc that climate change will bring, the growers have become intensely environmentally aware, dramatically changing old habits to make their industry sustainable.

With the grape harvest now beginning at the end of August, 18 days earlier than the traditional picking time, the growers have been aware for some time that serious change was under way.

At first, the better weather, earlier springs and less frosts, together with warmer summers, helped producers, and there have been more vintage years. However, champagne is a cool wine region and, as the characteristics of the grapes began to change, it was clear that maintaining the quality of the wines could be a problem.

New Champagne varieties

The growers began an intense 15-year vine-breeding programme. They planted thousands of seeds and, using modern technology as well as traditional plant breeding methods, are selecting new varieties that produce the right grapes but are also resistant to diseases so that pesticides are now longer needed.

They hope to produce five new Champagne varieties from the original 4,000 seeds.

In addition to new vines, the growers are changing the methods of tending their vines, growing them further apart and leaving more leaves on the plants to shade the grapes and so preserve the quality.

With strict rules in place banning irrigation of the limestone soils that give Champagne its character, the growers are relieved that the average rainfall in the region appears so far to be unaffected by climate change.

However, to make the most of the available moisture, new methods of growing grass between the rows of vines and ploughing between them are helping.

Apart from the efforts to save the vintages, the growers are working hard on their environmental impact, said Le Mailloux.

“Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now”

“With a high-end product like this, consumers expect that you take care of the planet. Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now. They are also, as growers, scientifically literate too, so they understand the problem and what needs to be done.”

With a total of 16,000 growers in the Champagne region, the statistics of their achievements so far are impressive. They have set up what they call an industrial ecology programme.

They produce 120,000 tons of vine wood a year, of which 80% is ground up and returned to the soils with humus as natural fertiliser, and the rest is burned for energy to save fossil fuels.

So far, 90% of waste is sorted and recycled or used to create energy, and 100% of by-products such as industrial alcohol are used in cosmetics, healthcare and food sector.

A 7% reduction in bottle weight of champagne has an emissions reduction of 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Carbon footprint

Le Mailloux said the industry is keenly aware that the largest part of its carbon footprint is in the packaging, shipping and delivery of its bottles all over the world.

Since delivery is not time-sensitive, the industry has already experimented with delivering champagne by sailing ship across the Atlantic. They hope eventually to use a combination of sail and electric boats.

The organisation already claims to have cut their carbon footprint by 20% per bottle, and aims to reduce it by more than 75% by 2050. They have already cut herbicide use by 50% and aim to stop altogether by 2025. All champagne growers should qualify for environmental certification by 2030 – from 20% now.

“Our industry is under threat and so is the whole planet, so we want to show that we are doing our best to keep the temperature from exceeding the 1.5C threshold,” Le Mailloux said. – Climate News Network

As rising temperatures threaten the vines that produce Champagne, concerned growers are fighting to adapt to the very real threat of climate change.

LONDON, October 15, 2019 – With the average temperature already having risen 1.1C in the last 30 years in the Champagne region of France, the 5,000 producers of the world famous vintages fear for their future.

Earlier springs and heatwaves are affecting harvest times and, more importantly, the characteristics of the grapes – for example, less acidity and more alcohol threaten the distinctive taste of the wine.

But realising that a 2C to 3C rise in temperature could cause “catastrophic changes” to the region, and that the famous wine could eventually disappear altogether, the vintners are breeding new vines and adapting growing methods to suit the new climate in a bid to preserve their industry.

“We feel we are under very high pressure from climate change and are very concerned that we must adapt to preserve our industry,” Thibaut Le Mailloux, director of communications for the growers of the champagne region, Comité Champagne, told Climate News Network.

At the same time, he said, realising the havoc that climate change will bring, the growers have become intensely environmentally aware, dramatically changing old habits to make their industry sustainable.

With the grape harvest now beginning at the end of August, 18 days earlier than the traditional picking time, the growers have been aware for some time that serious change was under way.

At first, the better weather, earlier springs and less frosts, together with warmer summers, helped producers, and there have been more vintage years. However, champagne is a cool wine region and, as the characteristics of the grapes began to change, it was clear that maintaining the quality of the wines could be a problem.

New Champagne varieties

The growers began an intense 15-year vine-breeding programme. They planted thousands of seeds and, using modern technology as well as traditional plant breeding methods, are selecting new varieties that produce the right grapes but are also resistant to diseases so that pesticides are now longer needed.

They hope to produce five new Champagne varieties from the original 4,000 seeds.

In addition to new vines, the growers are changing the methods of tending their vines, growing them further apart and leaving more leaves on the plants to shade the grapes and so preserve the quality.

With strict rules in place banning irrigation of the limestone soils that give Champagne its character, the growers are relieved that the average rainfall in the region appears so far to be unaffected by climate change.

However, to make the most of the available moisture, new methods of growing grass between the rows of vines and ploughing between them are helping.

Apart from the efforts to save the vintages, the growers are working hard on their environmental impact, said Le Mailloux.

“Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now”

“With a high-end product like this, consumers expect that you take care of the planet. Our members are more aware than most people of the impact of climate change because they feel it now. They are also, as growers, scientifically literate too, so they understand the problem and what needs to be done.”

With a total of 16,000 growers in the Champagne region, the statistics of their achievements so far are impressive. They have set up what they call an industrial ecology programme.

They produce 120,000 tons of vine wood a year, of which 80% is ground up and returned to the soils with humus as natural fertiliser, and the rest is burned for energy to save fossil fuels.

So far, 90% of waste is sorted and recycled or used to create energy, and 100% of by-products such as industrial alcohol are used in cosmetics, healthcare and food sector.

A 7% reduction in bottle weight of champagne has an emissions reduction of 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Carbon footprint

Le Mailloux said the industry is keenly aware that the largest part of its carbon footprint is in the packaging, shipping and delivery of its bottles all over the world.

Since delivery is not time-sensitive, the industry has already experimented with delivering champagne by sailing ship across the Atlantic. They hope eventually to use a combination of sail and electric boats.

The organisation already claims to have cut their carbon footprint by 20% per bottle, and aims to reduce it by more than 75% by 2050. They have already cut herbicide use by 50% and aim to stop altogether by 2025. All champagne growers should qualify for environmental certification by 2030 – from 20% now.

“Our industry is under threat and so is the whole planet, so we want to show that we are doing our best to keep the temperature from exceeding the 1.5C threshold,” Le Mailloux said. – Climate News Network

Scientists back global climate strike

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network

UN Secretary General Urges Public Pressure Against Climate “Emergency”

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change “emergency.”

19 September, 2019 − “Governments always follow public opinion, everywhere in the world, sooner or later,” Antonio Guterres said Tuesday in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, added: “We need to keep telling the truth to people and be confident that the political system, especially democratic political systems, will in the end deliver.”

Guterres refused to comment on US president Donald Trump and the Trump administration’s hostility to climate action, but a CBS News poll released on September 15 found that 69 percent of Americans want the next president to take action, while 53 percent say such action is needed “right now.” Guterres said that “it would be much better” if the US was “strongly committed to climate action,” just as it would be better if Asian countries [notably, China and Japan] stopped exporting coal plants. Until then, he said, “what I want is to have the whole society putting pressure on governments to understand they need to run faster. Because we are losing the race.”

With six days remaining before the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, the Secretary General cited the “fantastic leadership” of young activists as a leading example of how civil society can pressure governments to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5˚C. Recent election results across Europe − in which green parties gained significant public backing − also left Guterres optimistic that at next Monday’s summit the European Union will announce that it promises to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, as the Paris Agreement mandates.

“Nature is angry,” said Guterres, who recently returned from a visit to the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian unleashed what he called “total destruction.” He further cited ferocious drought in Africa, melting glaciers, bleaching coral reefs, the hottest month in recorded history last July, and potential future sea level rise of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) as evidence that “you cannot play games with nature. Nature strikes back.”

“Don’t bring a speech − bring a plan,” Guterres famously told heads of state and government in the months leading up to this summit, and it appears that only leaders who followed his instructions will be allowed to speak at the plenary session. To gain a slot, a country had to commit to doing one of three things, said UN officials: be carbon neutral by 2050; “significantly” increase how much it will cut emissions (or, in UN jargon, significantly strengthen its Nationally Determined Contribution); or make a “meaningful” pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a pool of money provided by wealthy countries to help developing countries leave fossil fuels behind and increase their resilience against climate disruption. UN officials expect that 60 to 70 countries will have made sufficiently solid commitments by next Monday that their leaders will be invited to outline their country’s plans from the dais, with each leader granted a mere three minutes to speak.

While emphasizing that he had no desire to intervene in the 2020 US presidential election, Guterres spoke positively about a proposal by a leading Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, for a Green New Deal that would be global. Most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates endorse one form or another of the Green New Deal, a program in which the US government would create millions of jobs by investing in solar power, energy efficiency, and other measures to reduce heat-trapping emissions. But a new report by The Nation pointed out that only Sanders’ Green New Deal meets the scientific imperative of cutting global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. Sanders’s Green New Deal does this by pledging not only to slash emissions in the US but to help developing countries cut their emissions as well.

“The Paris Agreement was very clear,” said Guterres. “There was a commitment by the developed countries to mobilize $100 billion per year, from private and public sources, to support the developing world both in mitigation [i.e., reducing emissions] and adaptation [preparing against impacts]. Obviously, it is essential that all countries, including the United States, play a role in relation to this.”

Rich and poor countries have wrestled with the question of whether and how much financial assistance the rich should give the poor ever since governments first began debating the climate problem at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. The poorer countries argue that the rich countries’ emissions are the foremost cause of global warming and climate disruption, while poor countries are the ones that suffer most from that disruption. Rich countries generally do not dispute those facts and have paid lip service to providing assistance, but actual contributions have been modest. The US, for example, has contributed only $1 billion, and the Trump administration blocked any additional contributions.

Guterres said in the interview Tuesday that “of course” he was aware of the global dimensions of Sanders’ Green New Deal, and he added that “any attitude from a country like the United States to increase… finance to the developing world would be of course welcome.” As required by UN protocol, the Secretary General was careful to add: “That doesn’t mean that we want to interfere in the American election.”

As a former elected official himself, Guterres also emphasized the need for governments to show the public that climate protection need not mean economic hardship. The Secretary General advocates in particular for climate-smart tax reform: reducing taxes on people’s incomes while increasing taxes on heat-trapping emissions. “If I [as a politician] take money from you with an increased carbon tax but I give you nothing in return, people will be against [it],” said Guterres. Although rarely described this way, corporate subsidies for production of fossil fuels are also a form of tax. “Let’s be clear: Subsidies are paid with taxpayers’ money,” he said, adding with a smile, “I really do not like to see my money as a taxpayer going to bleach corals and melt glaciers.”

Guterres disputed a common criticism of a Green New Deal − that it will cost too much − by turning the question around. “What is the cost of the consequences of taking no action?” he asked. Depending on what governments do at the Climate Action Summit next Monday, and are pressured to do by civil society in the weeks and years to come, the world may learn the answer to that question soon enough.

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change “emergency.”

19 September, 2019 − “Governments always follow public opinion, everywhere in the world, sooner or later,” Antonio Guterres said Tuesday in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, added: “We need to keep telling the truth to people and be confident that the political system, especially democratic political systems, will in the end deliver.”

Guterres refused to comment on US president Donald Trump and the Trump administration’s hostility to climate action, but a CBS News poll released on September 15 found that 69 percent of Americans want the next president to take action, while 53 percent say such action is needed “right now.” Guterres said that “it would be much better” if the US was “strongly committed to climate action,” just as it would be better if Asian countries [notably, China and Japan] stopped exporting coal plants. Until then, he said, “what I want is to have the whole society putting pressure on governments to understand they need to run faster. Because we are losing the race.”

With six days remaining before the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, the Secretary General cited the “fantastic leadership” of young activists as a leading example of how civil society can pressure governments to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5˚C. Recent election results across Europe − in which green parties gained significant public backing − also left Guterres optimistic that at next Monday’s summit the European Union will announce that it promises to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, as the Paris Agreement mandates.

“Nature is angry,” said Guterres, who recently returned from a visit to the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian unleashed what he called “total destruction.” He further cited ferocious drought in Africa, melting glaciers, bleaching coral reefs, the hottest month in recorded history last July, and potential future sea level rise of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) as evidence that “you cannot play games with nature. Nature strikes back.”

“Don’t bring a speech − bring a plan,” Guterres famously told heads of state and government in the months leading up to this summit, and it appears that only leaders who followed his instructions will be allowed to speak at the plenary session. To gain a slot, a country had to commit to doing one of three things, said UN officials: be carbon neutral by 2050; “significantly” increase how much it will cut emissions (or, in UN jargon, significantly strengthen its Nationally Determined Contribution); or make a “meaningful” pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a pool of money provided by wealthy countries to help developing countries leave fossil fuels behind and increase their resilience against climate disruption. UN officials expect that 60 to 70 countries will have made sufficiently solid commitments by next Monday that their leaders will be invited to outline their country’s plans from the dais, with each leader granted a mere three minutes to speak.

While emphasizing that he had no desire to intervene in the 2020 US presidential election, Guterres spoke positively about a proposal by a leading Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, for a Green New Deal that would be global. Most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates endorse one form or another of the Green New Deal, a program in which the US government would create millions of jobs by investing in solar power, energy efficiency, and other measures to reduce heat-trapping emissions. But a new report by The Nation pointed out that only Sanders’ Green New Deal meets the scientific imperative of cutting global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. Sanders’s Green New Deal does this by pledging not only to slash emissions in the US but to help developing countries cut their emissions as well.

“The Paris Agreement was very clear,” said Guterres. “There was a commitment by the developed countries to mobilize $100 billion per year, from private and public sources, to support the developing world both in mitigation [i.e., reducing emissions] and adaptation [preparing against impacts]. Obviously, it is essential that all countries, including the United States, play a role in relation to this.”

Rich and poor countries have wrestled with the question of whether and how much financial assistance the rich should give the poor ever since governments first began debating the climate problem at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. The poorer countries argue that the rich countries’ emissions are the foremost cause of global warming and climate disruption, while poor countries are the ones that suffer most from that disruption. Rich countries generally do not dispute those facts and have paid lip service to providing assistance, but actual contributions have been modest. The US, for example, has contributed only $1 billion, and the Trump administration blocked any additional contributions.

Guterres said in the interview Tuesday that “of course” he was aware of the global dimensions of Sanders’ Green New Deal, and he added that “any attitude from a country like the United States to increase… finance to the developing world would be of course welcome.” As required by UN protocol, the Secretary General was careful to add: “That doesn’t mean that we want to interfere in the American election.”

As a former elected official himself, Guterres also emphasized the need for governments to show the public that climate protection need not mean economic hardship. The Secretary General advocates in particular for climate-smart tax reform: reducing taxes on people’s incomes while increasing taxes on heat-trapping emissions. “If I [as a politician] take money from you with an increased carbon tax but I give you nothing in return, people will be against [it],” said Guterres. Although rarely described this way, corporate subsidies for production of fossil fuels are also a form of tax. “Let’s be clear: Subsidies are paid with taxpayers’ money,” he said, adding with a smile, “I really do not like to see my money as a taxpayer going to bleach corals and melt glaciers.”

Guterres disputed a common criticism of a Green New Deal − that it will cost too much − by turning the question around. “What is the cost of the consequences of taking no action?” he asked. Depending on what governments do at the Climate Action Summit next Monday, and are pressured to do by civil society in the weeks and years to come, the world may learn the answer to that question soon enough.

Carbon emitters face higher legal risks

This story originally appeared in newsroom. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Climate change risk for big companies − and their investors − is often seen in terms of physical risk: sea level rise, temperature increases, or extreme weather events. But a spate of court cases around the world has highlighted a different kind of risk. Carbon emitters, and the big investors that support them, could find themselves on the wrong end of the law if they don’t take action on climate change.

18 September, 2019 − When, two weeks ago, a New Zealand environmental activist started court action against our top carbon emitters, Kiwi companies became just the latest to find themselves under fire for not doing enough to stop climate change.

Mike Smith, chair of the Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group, hopes to force Fonterra, Genesis Energy, NZ Steel, NZ Refining, Z Energy, Dairy Holdings and BT Mining to reduce their total net greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2030. Then he wants them to get them to zero by 2050.

Smith’s action follows a case in Australia last year where a 23-year-old ecology graduate is suing his superannuation provider − $A50 billion fund REST − for not telling him what it’s doing to protect his savings from the impact of climate change.

The year before, two Commonwealth Bank of Australia shareholders launched court action against the bank for not adequately disclosing climate change risks in its 2016 annual report.

In the US, a group of fishing companies are suing oil giant Chevron and others for their contribution to climate change. And the state of New York is suing Exxon Mobil for misleading investors over the company’s climate change risks.

And these are not isolated cases.

In its climate change litigation update, released earlier this year, the US’ second largest law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, said the number of climate change-related cases has now reached more than 1300.
The majority of these are against governments, and so affect business only indirectly.

But increasingly, companies are also being taken to court.

There hasn’t yet been a decision in any of these cases – the wheels of justice grind slow. But judgments, particularly if they go against the big companies, could set precedents the corporate world can’t ignore.

Simon Watt, who leads the climate change team at NZ law firm Bell Gully, says the REST superannuation case shows it’s not just corporates that are at risk from climate change litigation, but the funds that invest in them.

“The legal risks will be around the sorts of disclosures made to investors at the point they invest in funds, as well as the degree of risks associated with the investments themselves.

“If they invest in companies which have material carbon exposure, how should those investments be classified in terms of the risk they carry? For trusts, there may be the potential for legal testing around the fiduciary duties of trustees.

“New Zealand won’t necessarily lead the way in testing these types of issues, but if a claim is successful overseas there is the potential for that to have knock-on effects locally.”

A Bell Gully climate change report released in February includes a UNDP map of climate change cases based on 2017 figures.

And litigation risks aren’t the only problems for corporates and investors, Watt says. There are also “transition risks” as companies shift away from a carbon-based economy. That could be anything from consumer backlash, to expensive changes in production, to increased prices for insurance and carbon.

Super Fund costs carbon

Matt Whineray, chief executive of the NZ Super Fund, is taking these risks seriously. He says traditionally, environment-related risks have been considered “non financial” and therefore, irrelevant to decision-making for a fund manager.

That’s rubbish, he says.

“It’s true they are hard to stick into a model, but these things become financial because they are part of the risk of doing business. If you think about the long-term value of the company, it is the cash flows you expect from that company and the discount rate. And the discount rate reflects the riskiness of those cash flows.”

That’s where climate change risks come in, Whineray says.

“These issues are either going to affect that stream of cash flow that you expect from that business, or affect the discount rate that you apply to it.”

The Super Fund, which had $41 billion under management as of March this year, first started thinking about climate change risk more than a decade ago when it joined the international Carbon Disclosure Project (now known as CDP), a group of 525 institutional investors around the world trying to get companies to report on their climate emissions and what they are doing to mitigate risk.

In 2015, the Super Fund and a group of other investors commissioned investment consultants Mercer to provide an analysis of climate change scenarios on portfolio risks and returns out to 2050, based on different scenarios – for example 2, 3 or 4 degrees of warming.

The results were sobering.

Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context

“There was a lot of variation of impact across different sectors, but almost regardless of the path you take, there will be negative impact on the returns to global equities from climate change over a 30-year period,” Whineray says.

“So we had to think about it at the asset allocation level, not just at an individual investment level.”

Over the next few months, the Super Fund developed a climate change investment strategy and by June 2017 it started putting its plan into action, selling out or down of a number of stocks and funds which they thought had unacceptable risk.

The basis of the new Super Fund thinking may shock many economists: Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context.

“Generally we think markets are pretty good at pricing risk,” Whineray says, but climate change is different. The timeframe is too long for most market analysts and the way the risks will play out are too uncertain.

There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

No one knows how much hotter the world will get, or when, and what governments will do to counter it, or when. No one knows what technology will be available.

“You have risks that depend on the path you go down, and you don’t know how long it’s going to be. There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

“We’re saying there’s risk in there and we don’t think we are being paid for that risk, so we should reduce our exposure to a risk that we aren’t being compensated for.”

The Super Fund’s initial targets involve a 20 percent reduction in the “carbon emissions intensity” of the fund (as measured by tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US millions of company sales) by 2020, and a 40 percent reduction in the fund’s carbon reserves (tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US million invested) by the same time.

Whineray says reducing the fund’s climate change risk in the equity part of its portfolio was relatively simple, and the fund has already got its emissions intensity down 50 percent and reduced its fossil fuel-related potential emissions by 70 percent in terms of equities.

“We took out a lot of companies from the mining and oil sectors, though not all. Some significant emitters are very active in adaptation or development of alternative energy sources.”

Still, almost anything with the word “coal” in the company title is out, Whineray says, both in terms of being a high carbon-emitting fuel, and also because of the risk from companies’ coal reserves.

Now the Super Fund’s analysis, engagement and investment focus has shifted to more difficult parts of the portfolio, he says, including real estate, rural assets, and manufacturing.

“In most cases we don’t have majority stakes in the company, but we are using our influence with boards and management teams to put in place climate change strategies.”

If it sounds simple, it isn’t. In many companies you are starting from Climate Change 101.

“To begin with, companies have to actually begin measuring their footprint,” Whineray says. “That can be quite new to the organisation.”

This story originally appeared in newsroom. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Climate change risk for big companies − and their investors − is often seen in terms of physical risk: sea level rise, temperature increases, or extreme weather events. But a spate of court cases around the world has highlighted a different kind of risk. Carbon emitters, and the big investors that support them, could find themselves on the wrong end of the law if they don’t take action on climate change.

18 September, 2019 − When, two weeks ago, a New Zealand environmental activist started court action against our top carbon emitters, Kiwi companies became just the latest to find themselves under fire for not doing enough to stop climate change.

Mike Smith, chair of the Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group, hopes to force Fonterra, Genesis Energy, NZ Steel, NZ Refining, Z Energy, Dairy Holdings and BT Mining to reduce their total net greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2030. Then he wants them to get them to zero by 2050.

Smith’s action follows a case in Australia last year where a 23-year-old ecology graduate is suing his superannuation provider − $A50 billion fund REST − for not telling him what it’s doing to protect his savings from the impact of climate change.

The year before, two Commonwealth Bank of Australia shareholders launched court action against the bank for not adequately disclosing climate change risks in its 2016 annual report.

In the US, a group of fishing companies are suing oil giant Chevron and others for their contribution to climate change. And the state of New York is suing Exxon Mobil for misleading investors over the company’s climate change risks.

And these are not isolated cases.

In its climate change litigation update, released earlier this year, the US’ second largest law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, said the number of climate change-related cases has now reached more than 1300.
The majority of these are against governments, and so affect business only indirectly.

But increasingly, companies are also being taken to court.

There hasn’t yet been a decision in any of these cases – the wheels of justice grind slow. But judgments, particularly if they go against the big companies, could set precedents the corporate world can’t ignore.

Simon Watt, who leads the climate change team at NZ law firm Bell Gully, says the REST superannuation case shows it’s not just corporates that are at risk from climate change litigation, but the funds that invest in them.

“The legal risks will be around the sorts of disclosures made to investors at the point they invest in funds, as well as the degree of risks associated with the investments themselves.

“If they invest in companies which have material carbon exposure, how should those investments be classified in terms of the risk they carry? For trusts, there may be the potential for legal testing around the fiduciary duties of trustees.

“New Zealand won’t necessarily lead the way in testing these types of issues, but if a claim is successful overseas there is the potential for that to have knock-on effects locally.”

A Bell Gully climate change report released in February includes a UNDP map of climate change cases based on 2017 figures.

And litigation risks aren’t the only problems for corporates and investors, Watt says. There are also “transition risks” as companies shift away from a carbon-based economy. That could be anything from consumer backlash, to expensive changes in production, to increased prices for insurance and carbon.

Super Fund costs carbon

Matt Whineray, chief executive of the NZ Super Fund, is taking these risks seriously. He says traditionally, environment-related risks have been considered “non financial” and therefore, irrelevant to decision-making for a fund manager.

That’s rubbish, he says.

“It’s true they are hard to stick into a model, but these things become financial because they are part of the risk of doing business. If you think about the long-term value of the company, it is the cash flows you expect from that company and the discount rate. And the discount rate reflects the riskiness of those cash flows.”

That’s where climate change risks come in, Whineray says.

“These issues are either going to affect that stream of cash flow that you expect from that business, or affect the discount rate that you apply to it.”

The Super Fund, which had $41 billion under management as of March this year, first started thinking about climate change risk more than a decade ago when it joined the international Carbon Disclosure Project (now known as CDP), a group of 525 institutional investors around the world trying to get companies to report on their climate emissions and what they are doing to mitigate risk.

In 2015, the Super Fund and a group of other investors commissioned investment consultants Mercer to provide an analysis of climate change scenarios on portfolio risks and returns out to 2050, based on different scenarios – for example 2, 3 or 4 degrees of warming.

The results were sobering.

Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context

“There was a lot of variation of impact across different sectors, but almost regardless of the path you take, there will be negative impact on the returns to global equities from climate change over a 30-year period,” Whineray says.

“So we had to think about it at the asset allocation level, not just at an individual investment level.”

Over the next few months, the Super Fund developed a climate change investment strategy and by June 2017 it started putting its plan into action, selling out or down of a number of stocks and funds which they thought had unacceptable risk.

The basis of the new Super Fund thinking may shock many economists: Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context.

“Generally we think markets are pretty good at pricing risk,” Whineray says, but climate change is different. The timeframe is too long for most market analysts and the way the risks will play out are too uncertain.

There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

No one knows how much hotter the world will get, or when, and what governments will do to counter it, or when. No one knows what technology will be available.

“You have risks that depend on the path you go down, and you don’t know how long it’s going to be. There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

“We’re saying there’s risk in there and we don’t think we are being paid for that risk, so we should reduce our exposure to a risk that we aren’t being compensated for.”

The Super Fund’s initial targets involve a 20 percent reduction in the “carbon emissions intensity” of the fund (as measured by tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US millions of company sales) by 2020, and a 40 percent reduction in the fund’s carbon reserves (tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US million invested) by the same time.

Whineray says reducing the fund’s climate change risk in the equity part of its portfolio was relatively simple, and the fund has already got its emissions intensity down 50 percent and reduced its fossil fuel-related potential emissions by 70 percent in terms of equities.

“We took out a lot of companies from the mining and oil sectors, though not all. Some significant emitters are very active in adaptation or development of alternative energy sources.”

Still, almost anything with the word “coal” in the company title is out, Whineray says, both in terms of being a high carbon-emitting fuel, and also because of the risk from companies’ coal reserves.

Now the Super Fund’s analysis, engagement and investment focus has shifted to more difficult parts of the portfolio, he says, including real estate, rural assets, and manufacturing.

“In most cases we don’t have majority stakes in the company, but we are using our influence with boards and management teams to put in place climate change strategies.”

If it sounds simple, it isn’t. In many companies you are starting from Climate Change 101.

“To begin with, companies have to actually begin measuring their footprint,” Whineray says. “That can be quite new to the organisation.”

How extreme weather threatens people with disabilities

This story originally appeared in Yale Climate Connections. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

“Any single disastrous event can really endanger people with disabilities.”

17 September, 2019 − It took Kathlean Wolf a few extra minutes to get ready. She had to put the braces on her feet that allow her to walk. But once ready to go, she was winding through tall grasses of the marshy stormwater swale [ditch] across from her apartment on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin. As she walked, Wolf, a certified master naturalist, pointed out edible plants and called out a hello to a butterfly.

Seeing her walking outside in the evening, one might not realize the challenges Wolf and her neighbors face during a heatwave. The community is outside of downtown Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin; it doesn’t get the extreme impacts of the urban heat island.
There’s a large park across the way from Wolf’s neighborhood, a good collection of shade trees around the buildings, and a breeze coming off nearby Lake Mendota. But Wolf lives in a low-income neighborhood long vulnerable to the whims of weather – from flooding to temperature extremes.

In late July 2019, southern Wisconsin experienced a four-day heatwave with heat index values of more than 100°F [38°C]. In the middle of that heatwave, Wolf’s apartment – where she lives with her college-student daughter – was 85°F at 2 a.m. She fished ice packs out of the freezer to try to cool down enough to sleep.

For anyone, that’s an uncomfortable night. For others, it’s unsafe as overnight heat prevents the body from getting a much needed cool-down. Climate change disproportionately threatens the health of vulnerable groups. According to the 2016 Climate and Health Assessment, vulnerable groups include “those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.”

For Wolf, who lives with a physical disability affecting her joints and also a bipolar disorder, the heat left her lacking energy. “There’s a point at which, you know, if I had to put up with too much heat, that could physically kill me, or it could just make life so not worth living,” Wolf said.

“The only way I keep my bipolar level and steady is, besides the medication, I have to go out in the woods. I have to go out in the marsh. I have to go out in nature.”

Wolf, who regularly leads educational programs around the nearby park, said that if the heat prevents her from getting outside, life would be unbearable. “I’m not equipped for that,” she said.

Climate change is hard on people with disabilities

According to the CDC, one in four American adults, or 61 million people, live with a disability. For many, high temperatures can be a major challenge. Alex Ghenis, a policy and research specialist at the World Institute on Disability, manages New Earth Disability, a project addressing the ways that climate change affects people with disabilities.

There are physical effects for some. Ghenis, for example, has a spinal cord injury that inhibits him from sweating, the body’s primary way of minimizing overheating. Additionally, there are societal aspects, like being more likely to live in poverty, having a harder time accessing transportation, and being more likely to be socially isolated than able-bodied people.

“Climate change – and natural disasters in general – threatens the stability of the built environment, that accessible built environment that supports independent living,” Ghenis said. “Any single disastrous event can throw that out of whack and really endanger people with disabilities.”

Wolf’s apartment has one window air conditioning unit in the living room, and she’s rigged a series of fans to try to get more air circulating. “I have box fans that are on the top of the doorways that blow hot air back to the living room where the A/C unit is, and then four box fans that blow it back towards the back,” she said. But it’s rare that she runs her A/C too much. “As an environmentalist, I can’t bring myself to do that,” she said. “I also can’t afford it. I add my bills up right now and it’s like, ‘Oh my bills exceed my available income.’”

Poverty makes people more vulnerable to weather extremes
Wolf’s neighborhood is one of the few affordable spots (“If $825 [£665] a month is affordable,” Wolf said) left in the increasingly sprawling metro area.

According to the city of Madison’s Neighbourhood Indicators Project, annual median household income in Wolf’s area trails that in the city overall by more than $13,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Wolf’s area is 10.2%; in the city as a whole, it’s 4.1%.

“For low-income and vulnerable groups, they’re typically in the poorest housing conditions,” said Jenna Tilt, an associate professor at Oregon State University who teaches geography, environmental sciences, and marine resource management and often works with emergency planners on best practices.

Low-income communities are more likely to find affordable housing in flood plains or in older or cheaply built buildings that may not be equipped to handle temperature extremes.

There has been some effort to shore up vulnerabilities in Wolf’s area. When she first moved in, in 2013, flooding was a major issue. In the past, the street in front of her apartment building flooded regularly as stormwater raced down a concrete channel into nearby Lake Mendota.

During one storm, the water was so deep that Wolf and her daughter kayaked up and down the street, and in another, floodwaters destroyed Wolf’s car. After the concrete ditch was replaced with native plants and a more pond-like system, flooding has been much less of an issue.

Additionally, earlier this year, a local nonprofit called Project Home installed new insulation in the attic of her building to help bring some relief from both hot and cold days. “How much worse would it have been if there hadn’t been as much insulation in the attic, I don’t know,” Wolf said.

When emergencies hit

In Dane County, where Madison is located, emergency managers are having to put more resources into heat-related planning. John McLellan works with the county’s department of emergency management as a population protection planner.

“In terms of the amount of staff time our office is doing to ensure we’re being vigilant and we can stay ahead of the curve, yeah we’re spending a lot more time doing that,” he said. “Whether you attribute it to climate change or not, we’re spending a lot more time doing these things than we were five, 10 years ago.”

During heatwaves, McLellan’s office coordinates with area service providers to ensure that there are available places people can go to get cool – libraries, for example, are cooling centers which Wolf has taken advantage of – and transportation to get people there.

The county primarily relies on broadcast news to provide notifications about risks and resources, but McLellan acknowledges that approach is not perfect – particularly, he noted, as many people leave traditional broadcast media sources, like local TV and radio stations, for streaming services. So his team is also active on social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, McLellan said his office tries to reach particularly vulnerable populations through organizations that work within those communities like homeless shelters and libraries, and their listservs.

Wolf is pretty plugged in, but she still wasn’t totally sure what resources were available during that heatwave. “The disability resource center over there,” she said, while pointing down the street, “seems like that’s a really good outreach point, but I’ve never heard a word from them.”

Ghenis said it would be helpful for those providing risk warnings to do so specifically for the disability community, and to also provide advance information about when the power grid may be at risk of being overwhelmed, and information about accessible shelters. Tilt, the Oregon State professor, acknowledged that preparing for climate change requires dedicating more resources to emergency planning and managing.

“All those things take money. It can be a huge constraint, but I think we have to start thinking about it as an opportunity,” she said. “The cost of doing nothing is not zero, right, in terms of health, in terms of community well-being, and who’s suffering.”

The need to build resilience before an emergency

Tilt said that planning for climate change on a more long-term scale can ease some of the burden when an emergency does happen. For dangerous heat waves, that can mean planting more trees to reduce urban heat, ensuring that affordable housing is built to standards that keep some of the heat out, and installing air conditioning when necessary.

“These are larger systemic issues in terms of planning that have to be addressed or we’re always playing catch up,” she said. “That’s a really important thing that we have to start moving the needle forward with climate change and adaptation – that we’re really thinking about everything from our transportation planning, our housing policies, our land use policies.”

Tilt said that integrating community leaders into the planning process and leaning on their expertise is also important. She said it’s best to reach people where they already are – where they work, where they worship, and where their kids go to school. Ghenis echoed this point and said it’s critical that people with disabilities be involved in developing emergency plans.

Beyond official plans, individuals can also work to build connections to help their community withstand emergencies better. Ghenis said that establishing relationships with neighbors before someone needs to ask for help can be invaluable. “Any sort of people doing more to get to know their neighbors, to understand what needs are, to build networks of mutual support and communication,” Ghenis said. “I think people with disabilities being OK with asking for help and viewing that as a normal part of life, instead of admitting some excess level of vulnerability and feeling shame around that, is important. And then on the flip side, able-bodied folks that are helping out to just accept it as a neighbor who might need a hand, as opposed to a burden on them or some societal duty.”

In her community, Wolf works to build that neighbor-to-neighbor connection. She says hello to those who pass by – humans and animals alike – and just added two blueberry bushes she found on discount to the community garden she tends to.

“I don’t worry about me so much,” she said. “It’s other people.”

This story originally appeared in Yale Climate Connections. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

“Any single disastrous event can really endanger people with disabilities.”

17 September, 2019 − It took Kathlean Wolf a few extra minutes to get ready. She had to put the braces on her feet that allow her to walk. But once ready to go, she was winding through tall grasses of the marshy stormwater swale [ditch] across from her apartment on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin. As she walked, Wolf, a certified master naturalist, pointed out edible plants and called out a hello to a butterfly.

Seeing her walking outside in the evening, one might not realize the challenges Wolf and her neighbors face during a heatwave. The community is outside of downtown Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin; it doesn’t get the extreme impacts of the urban heat island.
There’s a large park across the way from Wolf’s neighborhood, a good collection of shade trees around the buildings, and a breeze coming off nearby Lake Mendota. But Wolf lives in a low-income neighborhood long vulnerable to the whims of weather – from flooding to temperature extremes.

In late July 2019, southern Wisconsin experienced a four-day heatwave with heat index values of more than 100°F [38°C]. In the middle of that heatwave, Wolf’s apartment – where she lives with her college-student daughter – was 85°F at 2 a.m. She fished ice packs out of the freezer to try to cool down enough to sleep.

For anyone, that’s an uncomfortable night. For others, it’s unsafe as overnight heat prevents the body from getting a much needed cool-down. Climate change disproportionately threatens the health of vulnerable groups. According to the 2016 Climate and Health Assessment, vulnerable groups include “those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.”

For Wolf, who lives with a physical disability affecting her joints and also a bipolar disorder, the heat left her lacking energy. “There’s a point at which, you know, if I had to put up with too much heat, that could physically kill me, or it could just make life so not worth living,” Wolf said.

“The only way I keep my bipolar level and steady is, besides the medication, I have to go out in the woods. I have to go out in the marsh. I have to go out in nature.”

Wolf, who regularly leads educational programs around the nearby park, said that if the heat prevents her from getting outside, life would be unbearable. “I’m not equipped for that,” she said.

Climate change is hard on people with disabilities

According to the CDC, one in four American adults, or 61 million people, live with a disability. For many, high temperatures can be a major challenge. Alex Ghenis, a policy and research specialist at the World Institute on Disability, manages New Earth Disability, a project addressing the ways that climate change affects people with disabilities.

There are physical effects for some. Ghenis, for example, has a spinal cord injury that inhibits him from sweating, the body’s primary way of minimizing overheating. Additionally, there are societal aspects, like being more likely to live in poverty, having a harder time accessing transportation, and being more likely to be socially isolated than able-bodied people.

“Climate change – and natural disasters in general – threatens the stability of the built environment, that accessible built environment that supports independent living,” Ghenis said. “Any single disastrous event can throw that out of whack and really endanger people with disabilities.”

Wolf’s apartment has one window air conditioning unit in the living room, and she’s rigged a series of fans to try to get more air circulating. “I have box fans that are on the top of the doorways that blow hot air back to the living room where the A/C unit is, and then four box fans that blow it back towards the back,” she said. But it’s rare that she runs her A/C too much. “As an environmentalist, I can’t bring myself to do that,” she said. “I also can’t afford it. I add my bills up right now and it’s like, ‘Oh my bills exceed my available income.’”

Poverty makes people more vulnerable to weather extremes
Wolf’s neighborhood is one of the few affordable spots (“If $825 [£665] a month is affordable,” Wolf said) left in the increasingly sprawling metro area.

According to the city of Madison’s Neighbourhood Indicators Project, annual median household income in Wolf’s area trails that in the city overall by more than $13,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Wolf’s area is 10.2%; in the city as a whole, it’s 4.1%.

“For low-income and vulnerable groups, they’re typically in the poorest housing conditions,” said Jenna Tilt, an associate professor at Oregon State University who teaches geography, environmental sciences, and marine resource management and often works with emergency planners on best practices.

Low-income communities are more likely to find affordable housing in flood plains or in older or cheaply built buildings that may not be equipped to handle temperature extremes.

There has been some effort to shore up vulnerabilities in Wolf’s area. When she first moved in, in 2013, flooding was a major issue. In the past, the street in front of her apartment building flooded regularly as stormwater raced down a concrete channel into nearby Lake Mendota.

During one storm, the water was so deep that Wolf and her daughter kayaked up and down the street, and in another, floodwaters destroyed Wolf’s car. After the concrete ditch was replaced with native plants and a more pond-like system, flooding has been much less of an issue.

Additionally, earlier this year, a local nonprofit called Project Home installed new insulation in the attic of her building to help bring some relief from both hot and cold days. “How much worse would it have been if there hadn’t been as much insulation in the attic, I don’t know,” Wolf said.

When emergencies hit

In Dane County, where Madison is located, emergency managers are having to put more resources into heat-related planning. John McLellan works with the county’s department of emergency management as a population protection planner.

“In terms of the amount of staff time our office is doing to ensure we’re being vigilant and we can stay ahead of the curve, yeah we’re spending a lot more time doing that,” he said. “Whether you attribute it to climate change or not, we’re spending a lot more time doing these things than we were five, 10 years ago.”

During heatwaves, McLellan’s office coordinates with area service providers to ensure that there are available places people can go to get cool – libraries, for example, are cooling centers which Wolf has taken advantage of – and transportation to get people there.

The county primarily relies on broadcast news to provide notifications about risks and resources, but McLellan acknowledges that approach is not perfect – particularly, he noted, as many people leave traditional broadcast media sources, like local TV and radio stations, for streaming services. So his team is also active on social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, McLellan said his office tries to reach particularly vulnerable populations through organizations that work within those communities like homeless shelters and libraries, and their listservs.

Wolf is pretty plugged in, but she still wasn’t totally sure what resources were available during that heatwave. “The disability resource center over there,” she said, while pointing down the street, “seems like that’s a really good outreach point, but I’ve never heard a word from them.”

Ghenis said it would be helpful for those providing risk warnings to do so specifically for the disability community, and to also provide advance information about when the power grid may be at risk of being overwhelmed, and information about accessible shelters. Tilt, the Oregon State professor, acknowledged that preparing for climate change requires dedicating more resources to emergency planning and managing.

“All those things take money. It can be a huge constraint, but I think we have to start thinking about it as an opportunity,” she said. “The cost of doing nothing is not zero, right, in terms of health, in terms of community well-being, and who’s suffering.”

The need to build resilience before an emergency

Tilt said that planning for climate change on a more long-term scale can ease some of the burden when an emergency does happen. For dangerous heat waves, that can mean planting more trees to reduce urban heat, ensuring that affordable housing is built to standards that keep some of the heat out, and installing air conditioning when necessary.

“These are larger systemic issues in terms of planning that have to be addressed or we’re always playing catch up,” she said. “That’s a really important thing that we have to start moving the needle forward with climate change and adaptation – that we’re really thinking about everything from our transportation planning, our housing policies, our land use policies.”

Tilt said that integrating community leaders into the planning process and leaning on their expertise is also important. She said it’s best to reach people where they already are – where they work, where they worship, and where their kids go to school. Ghenis echoed this point and said it’s critical that people with disabilities be involved in developing emergency plans.

Beyond official plans, individuals can also work to build connections to help their community withstand emergencies better. Ghenis said that establishing relationships with neighbors before someone needs to ask for help can be invaluable. “Any sort of people doing more to get to know their neighbors, to understand what needs are, to build networks of mutual support and communication,” Ghenis said. “I think people with disabilities being OK with asking for help and viewing that as a normal part of life, instead of admitting some excess level of vulnerability and feeling shame around that, is important. And then on the flip side, able-bodied folks that are helping out to just accept it as a neighbor who might need a hand, as opposed to a burden on them or some societal duty.”

In her community, Wolf works to build that neighbor-to-neighbor connection. She says hello to those who pass by – humans and animals alike – and just added two blueberry bushes she found on discount to the community garden she tends to.

“I don’t worry about me so much,” she said. “It’s other people.”

Why Next Monday’s UN Climate Action Summit Matters

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The media and climate activists must “name and shame” laggards, says the UN special envoy.

16 September, 2019 − As world leaders converge on New York City for the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23, they enter what may be the most consequential week in climate politics since Donald Trump’s surprise election as president of the United States in 2016. Trump, of course, announced soon after taking office that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, the landmark treaty signed at the last big UN climate summit in 2015. UN Secretary General António Guterres convened this week’s summit precisely because the United States and most other countries remain far from honoring their Paris pledges to reduce heat-trapping emissions enough to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. The events of the coming days − including a global climate strike on September 20 by the activists whose protests in the past year have pushed the term “climate emergency” into news reports around the world − may help answer a question that has loomed over humanity since Trump’s election: Can the rest of the world save itself from climate breakdown if the richest, most powerful nation on earth is pulling in the opposite direction?

Signed in December 2015 by every government on earth except North Korea and Costa Rica, the Paris Agreement stands as the strongest achievement of climate diplomacy since governments first debated the issue at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. In a shock to climate insiders, the agreement not only committed signatory governments to limit temperature rise to the relatively less dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius. It also obliged governments to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, in a major victory for the most vulnerable countries, to strive for 1.5 degrees. That half-degree may not sound like much, but it spells the difference between life and death for low-lying coastal nations such as Bangladesh and island states such as the Maldives − two of many places that, science says, would literally disappear beneath the waves with more than 1.5 degrees of warming.

The announced US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was big news, but also widely misunderstood. Despite Trump’s bluster, the US withdrawal still has not happened. Precisely to guard against such capriciousness, the negotiators in Paris stipulated that every signatory was legally bound to remain in the agreement until four years after the treaty took effect, which would only happen after countries responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratified it. Thus, the Paris Agreement did not take effect until November 4, 2016. That means the United States cannot leave until November 4, 2020 − which, not by accident, is one day after the US 2020 presidential election. If Trump loses that election, his successor almost certainly would move to remain in the Paris Agreement.

Trump is not expected to attend this week’s summit; the US delegation will instead be led by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist who is now the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In keeping with Trump’s denial of climate science and his administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations and accelerating of fossil fuel development, Wheeler testified to the US Senate last January that he would not call climate change “the greatest crisis” facing humanity.

Which highlights a question that may shape whether this summit turns out to be a success, a failure, or something in between: What role will the United States play? Will it be a spoiler, actively seeking to disrupt progress? Will it be a braggart claiming to, as Wheeler boasted (inaccurately) in that testimony, represent “the gold standard for environmental progress”? Or will it be more like the addled uncle at the family reunion whose babblings provoke eye-rolls and are ignored?

“Don’t bring a speech, bring a plan!” For months now, that’s what Secretary General Guterres has been telling heads of state and government. Instead of the endless blah-blah-blah heard at most UN meetings, Guterres wants this summit to be more like “show-and-tell,” a meeting where governments share concrete and replicable examples of how they are cutting emissions and boosting resilience to the climate impacts already unfolding. As such, the summit aims to address a glaring deficiency of the Paris Agreement. In part, because the agreement made emissions cuts voluntary, global emissions have continued to increase since 2015. On current trends, the earth is heading towards 3 to 5 degrees C of temperature rise − enough, scientists warn, to destroy civilization as we know it.

“The secretary general has very clearly demanded that all participants identify very concrete measures that can be implemented immediately,” Luis Alfonso de Alba, Guterres’s special envoy for the summit, said in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of 250 news outlets around the world to strengthen coverage of the climate story. “What we need is for all actors to put in practice their commitments [and to] recognize that whatever they had in mind before, they need to do much more − because climate change is running faster than we are, the situation is much more serious than we thought.”

Asked how the world can meet the “well below 2 degrees C” target when the current US government is doing all it can to increase global warming, Alba, a career diplomat from Mexico, steered clear of criticizing the Trump administration. “We need higher political will not only in one country but in a number of them,” he said, before pivoting to add, “We’re very much impressed by what states, cities, and businesses are doing in the US to move into renewables…. We are quite confident that the US will contribute to solutions, even if the decision to withdraw by the current administration is maintained.”

Indeed, then-Governor Jerry Brown announced at a climate summit last September that he signed an executive order committing California, the world’s fifth-biggest economy, to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045. This summer, New York state, whose economic output is roughly equivalent to Russia’s, passed a law requiring the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. The Under2 Coalition, a group of more than 220 state and local governments around the world representing 43 percent of the global economy, is likewise committed to keeping temperature rise well below 2 degrees.

The climb remains very steep, however. Scientists with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared last October in their landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C  that humanity had to slash emissions by 45 percent by 2030, on the way to net-zero by 2050, to hit the 1.5 degree Celsius target. Failure to do so would condemn many millions of people, particularly in poor and vulnerable countries, to destitution and death and make irreversible global warming more likely. Such dramatic emissions reductions, the scientists added, would require the transformation of the global energy, agricultural, transportation, and other sectors at a speed and scale without precedent in human history.

China, the other climate superpower along with the United States, will therefore have to do better as well. China won plaudits in the lead-up to the Paris summit in 2015 by closing many of its coal-fired power plants. But coal burning in China has recently crept back up, and Beijing has also financed construction of coal plants in other nations, particularly in support of its massive “Belt and Road” initiative to construct ports, railways, and other infrastructure across Asia to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Alba commends China for promising to go beyond the emissions reductions it pledged in Paris, but he adds, “We are asking them to do much more and in particular to green the Belt and Road initiative. It’s quite important because of the scale of that initiative that they do not support coal plants but instead renewable energy.”

When Secretary General Guterres gavels the summit’s plenary session to order next Monday, the 12-year deadline outlined by the IPCC scientists will have shrunk closer to 11. Meanwhile, the burning of the Amazon, Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas, this summer’s heat waves across much of the Northern Hemisphere, and countless less-heralded disasters illustrate that climate disruption is no longer a worrisome future specter but a punishing current reality.

Alba nevertheless draws hope from the heightened public concern and activism against the climate threat. “Compared to 10 years ago, the level of public involvement is very different,” Alba said, “and that’s to a large extent because the news media is talking about it more and young activists are demanding action.”

In the United States, activists with the Sunrise Movement and other groups have protested against Democratic and Republican politicians alike and demanded that the government implement a Green New Deal. Championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive rock star congresswoman from New York, and modeled on the New Deal jobs and investment programs President Franklin Roosevelt implemented to pull the country out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Green New Deal calls for the government to kick-start the transformations of energy and other sectors the IPCC says are needed. Such a massive investment program will also, the activists say, create millions of jobs and reduce economic inequality. Central to the plan is “climate justice,” the notion that poor and nonwhite individuals and communities have suffered the worst from climate change and therefore should get precedence for the jobs and opportunities flowing from a Green New Deal.

Activist pressure has helped make the Green New Deal the de facto position of the US Democratic Party, while also spreading the idea overseas. Each of the leading Democratic candidates in the race to replace Trump has endorsed one version or another of a Green New Deal. Bernie Sanders proposes a particularly robust program that will, he promises, “end unemployment” by creating 20 million new jobs and also help developing nations dump fossil fuels in favor of renewables.

Guterres has gone out of his way to boost the visibility of the climate youth, most notably Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is the best-known face of the climate movement. Thunberg’s “School Strike for Climate,” begun a year ago in her hometown of Stockholm, spread like wildfire around the world, inspiring hundreds of thousands of students to skip classes and take to the streets to demand that governments, in Thunberg’s words, “act like the house is on fire − because it is.” Guterres has invited Thunberg to keynote a special one-day youth climate summit on September 21 and also to address world leaders at the plenary session on September 23.

Alba recognizes that the public is sometimes skeptical of UN conferences, and he acknowledges that the UN “does not have the means to enforce” the commitments made by governments in the Paris Agreement. Instead, he puts his faith, again, in the ability of public pressure to compel governments to do the right thing. “As in many other parts of international law,” he says, “the enforcement rests in the follow-up and the ‘name and shame’ role of civil society − to expose that a country is not complying with what they’ve committed to. The media plays an important role there, and so do activists.”

Meanwhile, Alba’s own teenage son has given him advice on how to make the case for action: Don’t talk so much about the future that youth will inherit but rather about the climate disasters happening now. “He had a point,” says Alba. “This is an emergency we need to deal with today, not tomorrow. Talking about 2030 and 2050 is important because science gives us those dates for achieving certain objectives, but there’s the danger that it tells people that we have time to make these changes. And that is a mistake.”

* * * * * * *

Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, has covered climate change since 1989. His books include On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency, Earth Odyssey, and HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The media and climate activists must “name and shame” laggards, says the UN special envoy.

16 September, 2019 − As world leaders converge on New York City for the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23, they enter what may be the most consequential week in climate politics since Donald Trump’s surprise election as president of the United States in 2016. Trump, of course, announced soon after taking office that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, the landmark treaty signed at the last big UN climate summit in 2015. UN Secretary General António Guterres convened this week’s summit precisely because the United States and most other countries remain far from honoring their Paris pledges to reduce heat-trapping emissions enough to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. The events of the coming days − including a global climate strike on September 20 by the activists whose protests in the past year have pushed the term “climate emergency” into news reports around the world − may help answer a question that has loomed over humanity since Trump’s election: Can the rest of the world save itself from climate breakdown if the richest, most powerful nation on earth is pulling in the opposite direction?

Signed in December 2015 by every government on earth except North Korea and Costa Rica, the Paris Agreement stands as the strongest achievement of climate diplomacy since governments first debated the issue at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. In a shock to climate insiders, the agreement not only committed signatory governments to limit temperature rise to the relatively less dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius. It also obliged governments to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, in a major victory for the most vulnerable countries, to strive for 1.5 degrees. That half-degree may not sound like much, but it spells the difference between life and death for low-lying coastal nations such as Bangladesh and island states such as the Maldives − two of many places that, science says, would literally disappear beneath the waves with more than 1.5 degrees of warming.

The announced US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was big news, but also widely misunderstood. Despite Trump’s bluster, the US withdrawal still has not happened. Precisely to guard against such capriciousness, the negotiators in Paris stipulated that every signatory was legally bound to remain in the agreement until four years after the treaty took effect, which would only happen after countries responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratified it. Thus, the Paris Agreement did not take effect until November 4, 2016. That means the United States cannot leave until November 4, 2020 − which, not by accident, is one day after the US 2020 presidential election. If Trump loses that election, his successor almost certainly would move to remain in the Paris Agreement.

Trump is not expected to attend this week’s summit; the US delegation will instead be led by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist who is now the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In keeping with Trump’s denial of climate science and his administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations and accelerating of fossil fuel development, Wheeler testified to the US Senate last January that he would not call climate change “the greatest crisis” facing humanity.

Which highlights a question that may shape whether this summit turns out to be a success, a failure, or something in between: What role will the United States play? Will it be a spoiler, actively seeking to disrupt progress? Will it be a braggart claiming to, as Wheeler boasted (inaccurately) in that testimony, represent “the gold standard for environmental progress”? Or will it be more like the addled uncle at the family reunion whose babblings provoke eye-rolls and are ignored?

“Don’t bring a speech, bring a plan!” For months now, that’s what Secretary General Guterres has been telling heads of state and government. Instead of the endless blah-blah-blah heard at most UN meetings, Guterres wants this summit to be more like “show-and-tell,” a meeting where governments share concrete and replicable examples of how they are cutting emissions and boosting resilience to the climate impacts already unfolding. As such, the summit aims to address a glaring deficiency of the Paris Agreement. In part, because the agreement made emissions cuts voluntary, global emissions have continued to increase since 2015. On current trends, the earth is heading towards 3 to 5 degrees C of temperature rise − enough, scientists warn, to destroy civilization as we know it.

“The secretary general has very clearly demanded that all participants identify very concrete measures that can be implemented immediately,” Luis Alfonso de Alba, Guterres’s special envoy for the summit, said in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of 250 news outlets around the world to strengthen coverage of the climate story. “What we need is for all actors to put in practice their commitments [and to] recognize that whatever they had in mind before, they need to do much more − because climate change is running faster than we are, the situation is much more serious than we thought.”

Asked how the world can meet the “well below 2 degrees C” target when the current US government is doing all it can to increase global warming, Alba, a career diplomat from Mexico, steered clear of criticizing the Trump administration. “We need higher political will not only in one country but in a number of them,” he said, before pivoting to add, “We’re very much impressed by what states, cities, and businesses are doing in the US to move into renewables…. We are quite confident that the US will contribute to solutions, even if the decision to withdraw by the current administration is maintained.”

Indeed, then-Governor Jerry Brown announced at a climate summit last September that he signed an executive order committing California, the world’s fifth-biggest economy, to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045. This summer, New York state, whose economic output is roughly equivalent to Russia’s, passed a law requiring the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. The Under2 Coalition, a group of more than 220 state and local governments around the world representing 43 percent of the global economy, is likewise committed to keeping temperature rise well below 2 degrees.

The climb remains very steep, however. Scientists with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared last October in their landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C  that humanity had to slash emissions by 45 percent by 2030, on the way to net-zero by 2050, to hit the 1.5 degree Celsius target. Failure to do so would condemn many millions of people, particularly in poor and vulnerable countries, to destitution and death and make irreversible global warming more likely. Such dramatic emissions reductions, the scientists added, would require the transformation of the global energy, agricultural, transportation, and other sectors at a speed and scale without precedent in human history.

China, the other climate superpower along with the United States, will therefore have to do better as well. China won plaudits in the lead-up to the Paris summit in 2015 by closing many of its coal-fired power plants. But coal burning in China has recently crept back up, and Beijing has also financed construction of coal plants in other nations, particularly in support of its massive “Belt and Road” initiative to construct ports, railways, and other infrastructure across Asia to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Alba commends China for promising to go beyond the emissions reductions it pledged in Paris, but he adds, “We are asking them to do much more and in particular to green the Belt and Road initiative. It’s quite important because of the scale of that initiative that they do not support coal plants but instead renewable energy.”

When Secretary General Guterres gavels the summit’s plenary session to order next Monday, the 12-year deadline outlined by the IPCC scientists will have shrunk closer to 11. Meanwhile, the burning of the Amazon, Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas, this summer’s heat waves across much of the Northern Hemisphere, and countless less-heralded disasters illustrate that climate disruption is no longer a worrisome future specter but a punishing current reality.

Alba nevertheless draws hope from the heightened public concern and activism against the climate threat. “Compared to 10 years ago, the level of public involvement is very different,” Alba said, “and that’s to a large extent because the news media is talking about it more and young activists are demanding action.”

In the United States, activists with the Sunrise Movement and other groups have protested against Democratic and Republican politicians alike and demanded that the government implement a Green New Deal. Championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive rock star congresswoman from New York, and modeled on the New Deal jobs and investment programs President Franklin Roosevelt implemented to pull the country out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Green New Deal calls for the government to kick-start the transformations of energy and other sectors the IPCC says are needed. Such a massive investment program will also, the activists say, create millions of jobs and reduce economic inequality. Central to the plan is “climate justice,” the notion that poor and nonwhite individuals and communities have suffered the worst from climate change and therefore should get precedence for the jobs and opportunities flowing from a Green New Deal.

Activist pressure has helped make the Green New Deal the de facto position of the US Democratic Party, while also spreading the idea overseas. Each of the leading Democratic candidates in the race to replace Trump has endorsed one version or another of a Green New Deal. Bernie Sanders proposes a particularly robust program that will, he promises, “end unemployment” by creating 20 million new jobs and also help developing nations dump fossil fuels in favor of renewables.

Guterres has gone out of his way to boost the visibility of the climate youth, most notably Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is the best-known face of the climate movement. Thunberg’s “School Strike for Climate,” begun a year ago in her hometown of Stockholm, spread like wildfire around the world, inspiring hundreds of thousands of students to skip classes and take to the streets to demand that governments, in Thunberg’s words, “act like the house is on fire − because it is.” Guterres has invited Thunberg to keynote a special one-day youth climate summit on September 21 and also to address world leaders at the plenary session on September 23.

Alba recognizes that the public is sometimes skeptical of UN conferences, and he acknowledges that the UN “does not have the means to enforce” the commitments made by governments in the Paris Agreement. Instead, he puts his faith, again, in the ability of public pressure to compel governments to do the right thing. “As in many other parts of international law,” he says, “the enforcement rests in the follow-up and the ‘name and shame’ role of civil society − to expose that a country is not complying with what they’ve committed to. The media plays an important role there, and so do activists.”

Meanwhile, Alba’s own teenage son has given him advice on how to make the case for action: Don’t talk so much about the future that youth will inherit but rather about the climate disasters happening now. “He had a point,” says Alba. “This is an emergency we need to deal with today, not tomorrow. Talking about 2030 and 2050 is important because science gives us those dates for achieving certain objectives, but there’s the danger that it tells people that we have time to make these changes. And that is a mistake.”

* * * * * * *

Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, has covered climate change since 1989. His books include On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency, Earth Odyssey, and HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.