Category Archives: Governance

Amazon fires are rising threat to Brazil’s great rainforest

Brazil’s great rainforest is a reservoir of global richness. Its government has reduced that wealth and burned a resource.

LONDON, 9 September, 2021 − For at least 12,000 Amazon species, extinction has just got a little closer. In this century alone, more than 100,000 vital square kilometres of Brazil’s great rainforest have been damaged by fire.

In the course of that burning and degradation, up to 85% of all those Amazon plants and vertebrates already listed as threatened have lost precious habitat.

The Amazon basin is home to at least 40% of the planet’s remaining rainforest. It is a vital functioning part of the planetary climate machine. It is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: a tenth of all known species on the planet live under its canopy. In just one square kilometre of forest, there could be 1,000 species of tree.

And although Brazilian government policies since 2001 have slowed the rate at which forest habitat has been destroyed, since 2019 and a change of government this trend has been reversed, say 23 scientists in a new study for the journal Nature.

They generated maps of the region’s astonishing biodiversity and catalogued the ranges of 11,514 plant and 3,079 animal species. They then imposed on this map their satellite-based observations of fire and damage since 2001.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control”

They calculated that in the last two decades, somewhere between 103,079 and 189,755 sq kms of rainforest have caught fire or been harmed by it. This adds up to somewhere between 2.2% and 4.1% of the total. They calculated that for every 10,000 sq kms of forest torched, somewhere between 27 and 37 different plants and two or three vertebrates must have been affected.

That adds up to an estimated total of between 12,064 and 12,801 plants and animals that have lost range and become increasingly threatened.

Since 1960, around 20% of the Amazon forest has been scorched and cleared. By 2050, Brazil’s great rainforest could have lost 40%. And the point the researchers make is that what happens to the forest is a matter for the people, and for the government of Brazil which notoriously in 2019 started to dismantle some of the region’s protection.

“We show how policy has had a direct and enormous influence on the pace at which biodiversity across the entire Amazon has been affected. Even with policies in place, which you can think of as a brake slowing the rate of deforestation, it’s like a car that keeps moving forward, just at a slower speed. But in 2019 it’s like the foot was let off the brake, causing it to accelerate again,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona in the US, one of the authors.

Spiral of decline

“This is important in light of the fact that biodiversity goes hand in hand with ecosystem functioning. Species can become virtually extinct even before they lose their entire range of habitat.”

Researchers have addressed these themes before and warned repeatedly of the potential calamity already facing one of the planet’s most important ecosystems, as forest destruction drives climate change and climate change in turn begins to dry up what was once rainforest, to make it even more vulnerable and intensify climate change even further.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control,” said Patrick Roehrdanz of Conservation International, another of the authors.

“One way is to recommit to strong anti-deforestation policies in Brazil, combined with incentives for a forest economy, and replicate them in other Amazonian countries.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s great rainforest is a reservoir of global richness. Its government has reduced that wealth and burned a resource.

LONDON, 9 September, 2021 − For at least 12,000 Amazon species, extinction has just got a little closer. In this century alone, more than 100,000 vital square kilometres of Brazil’s great rainforest have been damaged by fire.

In the course of that burning and degradation, up to 85% of all those Amazon plants and vertebrates already listed as threatened have lost precious habitat.

The Amazon basin is home to at least 40% of the planet’s remaining rainforest. It is a vital functioning part of the planetary climate machine. It is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: a tenth of all known species on the planet live under its canopy. In just one square kilometre of forest, there could be 1,000 species of tree.

And although Brazilian government policies since 2001 have slowed the rate at which forest habitat has been destroyed, since 2019 and a change of government this trend has been reversed, say 23 scientists in a new study for the journal Nature.

They generated maps of the region’s astonishing biodiversity and catalogued the ranges of 11,514 plant and 3,079 animal species. They then imposed on this map their satellite-based observations of fire and damage since 2001.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control”

They calculated that in the last two decades, somewhere between 103,079 and 189,755 sq kms of rainforest have caught fire or been harmed by it. This adds up to somewhere between 2.2% and 4.1% of the total. They calculated that for every 10,000 sq kms of forest torched, somewhere between 27 and 37 different plants and two or three vertebrates must have been affected.

That adds up to an estimated total of between 12,064 and 12,801 plants and animals that have lost range and become increasingly threatened.

Since 1960, around 20% of the Amazon forest has been scorched and cleared. By 2050, Brazil’s great rainforest could have lost 40%. And the point the researchers make is that what happens to the forest is a matter for the people, and for the government of Brazil which notoriously in 2019 started to dismantle some of the region’s protection.

“We show how policy has had a direct and enormous influence on the pace at which biodiversity across the entire Amazon has been affected. Even with policies in place, which you can think of as a brake slowing the rate of deforestation, it’s like a car that keeps moving forward, just at a slower speed. But in 2019 it’s like the foot was let off the brake, causing it to accelerate again,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona in the US, one of the authors.

Spiral of decline

“This is important in light of the fact that biodiversity goes hand in hand with ecosystem functioning. Species can become virtually extinct even before they lose their entire range of habitat.”

Researchers have addressed these themes before and warned repeatedly of the potential calamity already facing one of the planet’s most important ecosystems, as forest destruction drives climate change and climate change in turn begins to dry up what was once rainforest, to make it even more vulnerable and intensify climate change even further.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control,” said Patrick Roehrdanz of Conservation International, another of the authors.

“One way is to recommit to strong anti-deforestation policies in Brazil, combined with incentives for a forest economy, and replicate them in other Amazonian countries.” − Climate News Network

UK says a failure to act on the climate ‘is justified’

Three months before hosting the UN conference, COP-26, the UK says a failure to act on the climate treaty can be justified.

LONDON, 6 August, 2021 − In a remarkable challenge to the global consensus that the climate crisis is an urgent threat to the planet, the  United Kingdom has argued that a failure to act on the climate treaty agreed in 2015 can be justified.

Its stance is all the more bizarre as in less than three months the UK government is to host the crucial United Nations climate conference, COP-26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, starting on 1 November.

The government’s case set out in its response to a legal action brought in May by three young Britons, Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who said their human rights were being breached by the government’s failure to act decisively on the climate crisis.

The action is also being brought by Plan B, the legal charity behind a failed attempt to block the expansion of Heathrow airport, and its director, Tim Crosland.

The government claims that it is doing enough to comply legally with the Paris Agreement, concluded six years ago in the French capital. Even if it is not, it argues, there are no grounds for the courts to intervene: it is for it alone to weigh the economic and environmental arguments.

In its reply to the claimants’ case, it says of its climate policies: “Any inadvertent and indirect discriminatory impacts would fall well within the UK’s margin of appreciation, and be objectively and reasonably justified, if they could be established by the claimants.

“I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage”

Tim Crosland said: “The Government’s real position is that the devastating, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts for the younger generation and for whole regions of the world − those who have contributed least to the crisis − can be ‘objectively and reasonably justified’.

“Presumably, that means it considers our young people ‘collateral damage’ in its pursuit of vast short-term profits for the few. But I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage.”

The government claims to be responding to the advice it has received from the Climate Change Committee, an independent body advising it on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The joint foreword to the Committee’s latest report, however, tells a different story. It says: “It is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen [from the government] in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities  . . . We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.

“Our planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments.”

Bid for recognition

The Glasgow conference will be an acutely anxious occasion for the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is committed to making good on the UK’s attempts to be recognised as a world leader on the climate crisis.

The meeting’s main aim is to put flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement, reached with the backing of 195 of the world’s governments. That planned a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions progressively: Glasgow’s task is to make the real progress which Paris did little more than foreshadow.

If Johnson can leave Glasgow with substantial progress assured, he will be able to lay claim to success of a sort which has eluded his predecessors for 20 years or more. If he fails, he will struggle to be taken seriously again either at home or in most foreign capitals

The United Kingdom has a record that deserves at least qualified praise, notably for its commitment, announced in April, to cut carbon emissions by 78% before 2035. That date is 15 years earlier than the target date already in place, and if the government ensures that it is achieved it really will count for something. But that is a massive “if”.

Leadership material?

There are questions too over its commitment to ending the exploitation and use of fossil fuels fast enough and to improving adaptation to rising temperatures.

It is easy to criticise Johnson for the deficiencies in his climate policies, and for his patchy record in implementing many of them. He is not alone in his failure so far to act with the vision and energy the crisis demands.

But that’s what we reasonably expect from genuine leaders: an ability to be different, to step beyond business-as-usual to something so radically different that few of us can even imagine it.

If Johnson can show that sort of world-leading ability in Glasgow he will confound his critics, and make the world a little safer too. The “ifs” grow more demanding with every repetition. − Climate News Network

Three months before hosting the UN conference, COP-26, the UK says a failure to act on the climate treaty can be justified.

LONDON, 6 August, 2021 − In a remarkable challenge to the global consensus that the climate crisis is an urgent threat to the planet, the  United Kingdom has argued that a failure to act on the climate treaty agreed in 2015 can be justified.

Its stance is all the more bizarre as in less than three months the UK government is to host the crucial United Nations climate conference, COP-26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, starting on 1 November.

The government’s case set out in its response to a legal action brought in May by three young Britons, Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who said their human rights were being breached by the government’s failure to act decisively on the climate crisis.

The action is also being brought by Plan B, the legal charity behind a failed attempt to block the expansion of Heathrow airport, and its director, Tim Crosland.

The government claims that it is doing enough to comply legally with the Paris Agreement, concluded six years ago in the French capital. Even if it is not, it argues, there are no grounds for the courts to intervene: it is for it alone to weigh the economic and environmental arguments.

In its reply to the claimants’ case, it says of its climate policies: “Any inadvertent and indirect discriminatory impacts would fall well within the UK’s margin of appreciation, and be objectively and reasonably justified, if they could be established by the claimants.

“I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage”

Tim Crosland said: “The Government’s real position is that the devastating, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts for the younger generation and for whole regions of the world − those who have contributed least to the crisis − can be ‘objectively and reasonably justified’.

“Presumably, that means it considers our young people ‘collateral damage’ in its pursuit of vast short-term profits for the few. But I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage.”

The government claims to be responding to the advice it has received from the Climate Change Committee, an independent body advising it on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The joint foreword to the Committee’s latest report, however, tells a different story. It says: “It is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen [from the government] in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities  . . . We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.

“Our planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments.”

Bid for recognition

The Glasgow conference will be an acutely anxious occasion for the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is committed to making good on the UK’s attempts to be recognised as a world leader on the climate crisis.

The meeting’s main aim is to put flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement, reached with the backing of 195 of the world’s governments. That planned a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions progressively: Glasgow’s task is to make the real progress which Paris did little more than foreshadow.

If Johnson can leave Glasgow with substantial progress assured, he will be able to lay claim to success of a sort which has eluded his predecessors for 20 years or more. If he fails, he will struggle to be taken seriously again either at home or in most foreign capitals

The United Kingdom has a record that deserves at least qualified praise, notably for its commitment, announced in April, to cut carbon emissions by 78% before 2035. That date is 15 years earlier than the target date already in place, and if the government ensures that it is achieved it really will count for something. But that is a massive “if”.

Leadership material?

There are questions too over its commitment to ending the exploitation and use of fossil fuels fast enough and to improving adaptation to rising temperatures.

It is easy to criticise Johnson for the deficiencies in his climate policies, and for his patchy record in implementing many of them. He is not alone in his failure so far to act with the vision and energy the crisis demands.

But that’s what we reasonably expect from genuine leaders: an ability to be different, to step beyond business-as-usual to something so radically different that few of us can even imagine it.

If Johnson can show that sort of world-leading ability in Glasgow he will confound his critics, and make the world a little safer too. The “ifs” grow more demanding with every repetition. − Climate News Network

Ailing Earth can’t cope as human demands soar

Climate physicians who have re-checked global heating say the Earth’s condition is critical, worsening as human demands soar.

LONDON, 4 August, 2021 − Just 20 months after warning the world that climate change threatens “untold suffering” for millions, a team of scientists has checked the data and issued an even more urgent warning: all the evidence is that the climate emergency will get worse as human demands soar.

In 2019, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries examined what they called the planet’s “vital signs” and warned that, without action, disaster threatened.

Since then, another 2,800 researchers have signed their declaration and authorities in 34 nations have declared or recognised a climate emergency. And since then, 11 of those signatories have identified an “unprecedented surge in climate-related disasters”.

Among these have been devastating floods in South America and south-east Asia, record-shattering heat waves and wildfires in Australia and the western United States, an extraordinary Atlantic hurricane season, and devastating cyclones in Africa, South Asia and the western Pacific.

“Policies to combat the climate crisis should address the root cause: human over-exploitation of the planet”

“There is also mounting evidence that we are nearing or have already crossed tipping points associated with critical parts of the Earth system, including the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, warm-water coral reefs, and the Amazon rainforest,” they warn in the journal Bioscience.

The year 2020 was the second hottest in history. The five hottest years on record have all happened since 2015. Three greenhouse gases − carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide − set records for atmospheric concentration in 2020 and again in 2021: in April of this year carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a ratio of 416 parts per million. This is the highest monthly global average ever recorded. Governments need to act urgently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We also need to stop treating the climate emergency as a stand-alone issue − global heating is not the sole symptom of our stressed Earth system”, said William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University in the US, who led the 2019 initiative and the latest study.

“Policies to combat the climate crisis or any other symptoms should address their root cause: human over-exploitation of the planet.”

Growing urgency

The researchers tracked 31 variable measures to find new record highs and lows in 18 of them. These included:

  • Forest loss rates in the Brazilian Amazon. These have increased in the last two years, reaching a 12-year high in 2020 with the loss of 1.11 million hectares of tree cover.
  • The global count of ruminant livestock. This has now gone past 4 billion: on the scales, the mass of sheep, cattle and so on would outweigh all humans and all wild mammals combined.
  • Global gross domestic product: this dropped by 3.6% in 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is heading again to an all-time high.
  • Fossil fuel energy consumption fell during the pandemic months, along with carbon dioxide emissions: on present signs, these will rise and go on rising.
  • Solar and wind power consumption rose by 57% between 2018 and 2021 but is still 19 times lower than fossil fuel consumption.
  • Greenland and Antarctica: these went on losing record quantities of ice, while Arctic sea ice continues to fall to near all-time low levels each summer.
  • Glaciers are now losing 31% more snow and ice per year than they did 15 years ago.
  • The oceans: these continued to become ever more acid. Combined with higher sea temperatures, this threatens coral reefs upon which more than 500 million people depend for fisheries, tourism and storm surge protection.

The Bioscence study is only the latest in a series of increasingly urgent warnings from scientists, and from groups of scientists, who have looked at climate trends, the degradation of the planet’s ecosystems and the transformation of the Earth’s surface by human numbers and human demand.

Priority for basics

Separate studies have examined the so-called “tipping points” that could precipitate catastrophic climate change; have assessed the likelihood of an irreversible trend towards a “hothouse” Earth; and have identified a “ghastly” future for humanity in a world of ever-greater heat extremes, more violent storms and ever-rising sea levels.

And these too have all called for concerted international action to contain demand, alter economies and share resources more fairly. The latest study warns that the analysis reflects “the consequences of unrelenting business as usual”, and calls for profound changes in human behaviour, including a switch away from fossil fuels and the protection of the planet’s biodiversity − and of the wildernesses that absorb atmospheric carbon.

“All climate actions should focus on social justice by reducing inequality and prioritising basic human needs,” Professor Ripple said. “And climate change education should be included in school core curriculums around the world − that would result in greater awareness of the climate emergency and empower learners to take action.” − Climate News Network

Climate physicians who have re-checked global heating say the Earth’s condition is critical, worsening as human demands soar.

LONDON, 4 August, 2021 − Just 20 months after warning the world that climate change threatens “untold suffering” for millions, a team of scientists has checked the data and issued an even more urgent warning: all the evidence is that the climate emergency will get worse as human demands soar.

In 2019, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries examined what they called the planet’s “vital signs” and warned that, without action, disaster threatened.

Since then, another 2,800 researchers have signed their declaration and authorities in 34 nations have declared or recognised a climate emergency. And since then, 11 of those signatories have identified an “unprecedented surge in climate-related disasters”.

Among these have been devastating floods in South America and south-east Asia, record-shattering heat waves and wildfires in Australia and the western United States, an extraordinary Atlantic hurricane season, and devastating cyclones in Africa, South Asia and the western Pacific.

“Policies to combat the climate crisis should address the root cause: human over-exploitation of the planet”

“There is also mounting evidence that we are nearing or have already crossed tipping points associated with critical parts of the Earth system, including the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, warm-water coral reefs, and the Amazon rainforest,” they warn in the journal Bioscience.

The year 2020 was the second hottest in history. The five hottest years on record have all happened since 2015. Three greenhouse gases − carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide − set records for atmospheric concentration in 2020 and again in 2021: in April of this year carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a ratio of 416 parts per million. This is the highest monthly global average ever recorded. Governments need to act urgently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We also need to stop treating the climate emergency as a stand-alone issue − global heating is not the sole symptom of our stressed Earth system”, said William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University in the US, who led the 2019 initiative and the latest study.

“Policies to combat the climate crisis or any other symptoms should address their root cause: human over-exploitation of the planet.”

Growing urgency

The researchers tracked 31 variable measures to find new record highs and lows in 18 of them. These included:

  • Forest loss rates in the Brazilian Amazon. These have increased in the last two years, reaching a 12-year high in 2020 with the loss of 1.11 million hectares of tree cover.
  • The global count of ruminant livestock. This has now gone past 4 billion: on the scales, the mass of sheep, cattle and so on would outweigh all humans and all wild mammals combined.
  • Global gross domestic product: this dropped by 3.6% in 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is heading again to an all-time high.
  • Fossil fuel energy consumption fell during the pandemic months, along with carbon dioxide emissions: on present signs, these will rise and go on rising.
  • Solar and wind power consumption rose by 57% between 2018 and 2021 but is still 19 times lower than fossil fuel consumption.
  • Greenland and Antarctica: these went on losing record quantities of ice, while Arctic sea ice continues to fall to near all-time low levels each summer.
  • Glaciers are now losing 31% more snow and ice per year than they did 15 years ago.
  • The oceans: these continued to become ever more acid. Combined with higher sea temperatures, this threatens coral reefs upon which more than 500 million people depend for fisheries, tourism and storm surge protection.

The Bioscence study is only the latest in a series of increasingly urgent warnings from scientists, and from groups of scientists, who have looked at climate trends, the degradation of the planet’s ecosystems and the transformation of the Earth’s surface by human numbers and human demand.

Priority for basics

Separate studies have examined the so-called “tipping points” that could precipitate catastrophic climate change; have assessed the likelihood of an irreversible trend towards a “hothouse” Earth; and have identified a “ghastly” future for humanity in a world of ever-greater heat extremes, more violent storms and ever-rising sea levels.

And these too have all called for concerted international action to contain demand, alter economies and share resources more fairly. The latest study warns that the analysis reflects “the consequences of unrelenting business as usual”, and calls for profound changes in human behaviour, including a switch away from fossil fuels and the protection of the planet’s biodiversity − and of the wildernesses that absorb atmospheric carbon.

“All climate actions should focus on social justice by reducing inequality and prioritising basic human needs,” Professor Ripple said. “And climate change education should be included in school core curriculums around the world − that would result in greater awareness of the climate emergency and empower learners to take action.” − Climate News Network

UK’s ‘really shocking’ climate record is damned

Britain, host of November’s UN talks, COP-26, is pilloried by its own advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

LONDON, 17 June, 2021 − In a searing indictment of its failure to act fast enough to prepare for the onslaught of rising heat, there is condemnation of the British government by its independent advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

The latest science says the world could warm by an average of 4°C over historic levels by 2100, an increase which would prove devastating to human life and the natural world.

The advisers’ assessment says the UK’s plans are inadequate to cope even with a 2°C temperature rise, a risky limit which exceeds the 1.5°C maximum most of the world’s nations agreed to aim for as the maximum tolerable rise in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The report is the work of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

“Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored”

The CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said CCC members were so frustrated with the lack of progress on climate-proofing the UK that they deliberately made this report “spiky”. He said: “It’s really troubling how little attention the government has paid to this.

“Overall, the level of risk that we are facing from climate change has increased since five years ago. Our preparations are not keeping pace with the risks that we face. That is a very concerning conclusion.”

Dr Stark told BBC News: “The extent of planning for many of the risks is really shocking. We are not thinking clearly about what lies ahead.”

The CCC’s assessment examines risks and opportunities affecting every aspect of life in the UK. It concludes that action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a hotter planet and the growing climate risks the UK faces.

Threat to net zero

The UK is already committed to a legally-binding goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century. This  CCC assessment focuses, not on mitigation emissions cuts but on adaptation preparing to live with the inevitable. The government’s failure to act on adaptation is putting its net zero goal in jeopardy, the New Scientist reports.

Since the CCC’s last assessment five years ago, more than 570,000 new homes have been built in the UK that are not resilient to future high temperatures; since 2018 over 4,000 heat-related deaths have been recorded in England alone.

Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, said: “Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, still sitting in rags by the stove: under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored. A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”

UK-wide, nearly 60% of the risks and opportunities assessed in the 1500-page report have been given the highest urgency score. Among the priority risk areas identified by the CCC as needing immediate attention, within the next two years at the most, are:

  • Terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards
  • Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought
  • Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees
  • Risks to supplies of food, goods and vital services from climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks
  • Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system
  • Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings
  • Multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas

The changing climate will create some opportunities for the UK, the CCC acknowledges, but these are massively outweighed by the risks.

It says the government must deliver a much better action plan to support good adaptation planning across the UK and integrate this into all relevant government plans and policies. The government has to date not heeded the CCC’s advice on the importance of this plan or on funding it adequately, and this needs to change, the Committee says.

In response, a government spokesman commented: “We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations closely as we continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change ahead of COP-26 [the UN climate summit to be hosted by the UK] in November.” − Climate News Network

Britain, host of November’s UN talks, COP-26, is pilloried by its own advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

LONDON, 17 June, 2021 − In a searing indictment of its failure to act fast enough to prepare for the onslaught of rising heat, there is condemnation of the British government by its independent advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

The latest science says the world could warm by an average of 4°C over historic levels by 2100, an increase which would prove devastating to human life and the natural world.

The advisers’ assessment says the UK’s plans are inadequate to cope even with a 2°C temperature rise, a risky limit which exceeds the 1.5°C maximum most of the world’s nations agreed to aim for as the maximum tolerable rise in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The report is the work of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

“Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored”

The CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said CCC members were so frustrated with the lack of progress on climate-proofing the UK that they deliberately made this report “spiky”. He said: “It’s really troubling how little attention the government has paid to this.

“Overall, the level of risk that we are facing from climate change has increased since five years ago. Our preparations are not keeping pace with the risks that we face. That is a very concerning conclusion.”

Dr Stark told BBC News: “The extent of planning for many of the risks is really shocking. We are not thinking clearly about what lies ahead.”

The CCC’s assessment examines risks and opportunities affecting every aspect of life in the UK. It concludes that action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a hotter planet and the growing climate risks the UK faces.

Threat to net zero

The UK is already committed to a legally-binding goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century. This  CCC assessment focuses, not on mitigation emissions cuts but on adaptation preparing to live with the inevitable. The government’s failure to act on adaptation is putting its net zero goal in jeopardy, the New Scientist reports.

Since the CCC’s last assessment five years ago, more than 570,000 new homes have been built in the UK that are not resilient to future high temperatures; since 2018 over 4,000 heat-related deaths have been recorded in England alone.

Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, said: “Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, still sitting in rags by the stove: under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored. A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”

UK-wide, nearly 60% of the risks and opportunities assessed in the 1500-page report have been given the highest urgency score. Among the priority risk areas identified by the CCC as needing immediate attention, within the next two years at the most, are:

  • Terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards
  • Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought
  • Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees
  • Risks to supplies of food, goods and vital services from climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks
  • Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system
  • Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings
  • Multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas

The changing climate will create some opportunities for the UK, the CCC acknowledges, but these are massively outweighed by the risks.

It says the government must deliver a much better action plan to support good adaptation planning across the UK and integrate this into all relevant government plans and policies. The government has to date not heeded the CCC’s advice on the importance of this plan or on funding it adequately, and this needs to change, the Committee says.

In response, a government spokesman commented: “We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations closely as we continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change ahead of COP-26 [the UN climate summit to be hosted by the UK] in November.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s environmental licences face near-abolition

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

Biden’s climate summit faces challenge by Brazil

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

UK court urged to respect 1.5°C climate limit

The UK faces growing pressure not to expand Heathrow airport but to respect the 1.5°C limit agreed on global heating.

LONDON, 1 April, 2021 − In a significant challenge to the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, several leading climate scientists have said a recent ruling it made on the expansion of London’s main airport, Heathrow, will cause serious damage to the global environment, urging it to rule that the government must respect the 1.5°C limit internationally agreed to rein in  global heating.

Almost 150 lawyers, academics and policy-makers from around the world have written to the court, urging it “to mitigate the profound harm” which they say will be caused by its judgement allowing the government to go ahead with its plans to expand Heathrow.

They add: “Recklessly ignoring the spirit and letter of the law of the Paris Agreement sends a message to the world that the UK has joined the ranks of the climate wreckers, betraying the world’s vulnerable countries and communities.”

Signatories include the government’s own former chief scientist, Sir David King; Dr James Hansen, the former NASA scientist once hailed as one of the “true giants” of climate science; and Dr Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and former advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General.

“The Heathrow case was about much more than the third  runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth”

The Paris Agreement on climate change, reached in 2015, “aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C while pursuing means to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C.”

Although the UK is a signatory to the Agreement, and was a keen supporter of it six years ago, the present government appears unwilling to give it effect. At several points it has faced challenges from the charity Plan B, set up to support strategic legal action against climate change.

In February 2020 the Court of Appeal considered a case brought by Plan B, appealing against a previous High Court decision to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow, an argument advanced by the then Transport Minister, Chris Grayling. The Court of Appeal heard evidence from a range of witnesses and ended the hearing by finding unanimously in favour of Plan B’s challenge to the government’s plans, setting a precedent with global implications.

It has emerged subsequently that Mr Grayling’s argument to the High Court had hinged on reliance (which Plan B says was not disclosed to the court at the time) on the higher tolerable temperature increase agreed in Paris, 2°C, which the charity says would condemn many millions of people to an intolerable future,  rather than the less disastrous 1.5°C figure.

Prime ministerial assurance

There appeared at this point to be solid government backing for Plan B. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said he accepted the court’s ruling, telling Parliament on 4 March: “We will ensure that we abide by the judgment and take account of the Paris convention on climate change.”

But the government told Plan B in August 2020 that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. So it argued that it was entitled to rely on the 2°C figure which Plan B insisted would mean global disaster.

The government’s critics argue that this argument is a strange one to use when the UK is poised to host the annual UN climate conference, COP-26, being held this year in Glasgow in November.

In December 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s plans to expand Heathrow were lawful, upholding the government’s assertion  that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant, and despite uncontested evidence that the expansion would result in emissions of 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, by 2050 from UK aviation alone. This would be clearly inconsistent with the more stringent and safer 1.5°C Paris temperature limit.

Facing prison

The director of Plan B, Tim Crosland, a professional lawyer, already faces court action and a possible two-year prison sentence for revealing the decision of the Supreme Court while it was still under embargo in other words, not yet authorised for publication.

In a personal statement published on 15 December 2020 he said he had decided to break the embargo “as an act of civil disobedience. This will be treated as a ‘contempt of court’ and I am ready to face the consequences.

“I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the Court’s ruling … The Supreme Court’s judgment, which has legitimised Mr Grayling’s use of the deadly 2˚C threshold, has betrayed us all.”

Mr Crosland said: “The Heathrow case … was about much more than the third runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth. It can’t keep telling us it’s committed to the Paris Agreement temperature limit, if its actions say the opposite.” Climate News Network

The UK faces growing pressure not to expand Heathrow airport but to respect the 1.5°C limit agreed on global heating.

LONDON, 1 April, 2021 − In a significant challenge to the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, several leading climate scientists have said a recent ruling it made on the expansion of London’s main airport, Heathrow, will cause serious damage to the global environment, urging it to rule that the government must respect the 1.5°C limit internationally agreed to rein in  global heating.

Almost 150 lawyers, academics and policy-makers from around the world have written to the court, urging it “to mitigate the profound harm” which they say will be caused by its judgement allowing the government to go ahead with its plans to expand Heathrow.

They add: “Recklessly ignoring the spirit and letter of the law of the Paris Agreement sends a message to the world that the UK has joined the ranks of the climate wreckers, betraying the world’s vulnerable countries and communities.”

Signatories include the government’s own former chief scientist, Sir David King; Dr James Hansen, the former NASA scientist once hailed as one of the “true giants” of climate science; and Dr Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and former advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General.

“The Heathrow case was about much more than the third  runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth”

The Paris Agreement on climate change, reached in 2015, “aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C while pursuing means to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C.”

Although the UK is a signatory to the Agreement, and was a keen supporter of it six years ago, the present government appears unwilling to give it effect. At several points it has faced challenges from the charity Plan B, set up to support strategic legal action against climate change.

In February 2020 the Court of Appeal considered a case brought by Plan B, appealing against a previous High Court decision to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow, an argument advanced by the then Transport Minister, Chris Grayling. The Court of Appeal heard evidence from a range of witnesses and ended the hearing by finding unanimously in favour of Plan B’s challenge to the government’s plans, setting a precedent with global implications.

It has emerged subsequently that Mr Grayling’s argument to the High Court had hinged on reliance (which Plan B says was not disclosed to the court at the time) on the higher tolerable temperature increase agreed in Paris, 2°C, which the charity says would condemn many millions of people to an intolerable future,  rather than the less disastrous 1.5°C figure.

Prime ministerial assurance

There appeared at this point to be solid government backing for Plan B. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said he accepted the court’s ruling, telling Parliament on 4 March: “We will ensure that we abide by the judgment and take account of the Paris convention on climate change.”

But the government told Plan B in August 2020 that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. So it argued that it was entitled to rely on the 2°C figure which Plan B insisted would mean global disaster.

The government’s critics argue that this argument is a strange one to use when the UK is poised to host the annual UN climate conference, COP-26, being held this year in Glasgow in November.

In December 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s plans to expand Heathrow were lawful, upholding the government’s assertion  that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant, and despite uncontested evidence that the expansion would result in emissions of 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, by 2050 from UK aviation alone. This would be clearly inconsistent with the more stringent and safer 1.5°C Paris temperature limit.

Facing prison

The director of Plan B, Tim Crosland, a professional lawyer, already faces court action and a possible two-year prison sentence for revealing the decision of the Supreme Court while it was still under embargo in other words, not yet authorised for publication.

In a personal statement published on 15 December 2020 he said he had decided to break the embargo “as an act of civil disobedience. This will be treated as a ‘contempt of court’ and I am ready to face the consequences.

“I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the Court’s ruling … The Supreme Court’s judgment, which has legitimised Mr Grayling’s use of the deadly 2˚C threshold, has betrayed us all.”

Mr Crosland said: “The Heathrow case … was about much more than the third runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth. It can’t keep telling us it’s committed to the Paris Agreement temperature limit, if its actions say the opposite.” Climate News Network

Science warns world of ‘ghastly’ future ahead

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network

Laughing gas rise leaves climate science anxious

Atmospheric levels of laughing gas are on the increase, thanks to agriculture. This is no joke for climate change.

LONDON, 14 October, 2020 − If humans are to meet the global heating limits set by international agreement in 2015, they will have to think very hard about the effect of the supper table menu on laughing gas, more formally known as nitrous oxide.

That is because food production depends heavily on nitrogen fertilisers. But greenhouse gas emissions driven by agriculture are increasing atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide (N2O).

This is a greenhouse gas − popularly known as “laughing gas” − that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it tends to stay in the atmosphere, driving up the thermometer, for at least 100 years. And in the 200 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide have risen by 20%, and are still rising.

Nitrous oxide is one of the six greenhouse gases identified in the Kyoto Protocol, the pioneering global climate agreement, as a danger whose emissions should be reduced by all its signatories.

The ratio of N2O to other gases is tiny, a thousand times lower than carbon dioxide, for instance, but an increase can still make a significant difference. In 1750 the ratio stood at 270 parts per billion. In 2018 it had reached 331 ppb, with the fastest growth all in the last 50 years, thanks to humankind’s demand for food.

“There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate”

And this, say 57 scientists from 14 nations in a report in the journal Nature, now threatens to eliminate any hope of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by the year 2100. This is the target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015 by 195 nations.

Right now, the world has already warmed by 1°C in the last century and on all the evidence so far it is heading by the end of the century to be at least 3°C hotter than the average for most of the last 10,000 years of human history.

“The dominant driver of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture, and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous oxide emissions,” said Hanqin Tian, of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences in Alabama in the US. “There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate.”

He and his colleagues call their research an inventory of the traffic in nitrous oxide from human and from natural sources. The most significant human source is the fertiliser added to croplands.

They found that the highest growth in nitrous oxide emissions came from emerging economies in East Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America, from synthetic fertilisers and from livestock manure. In the course of the next few decades global population will soar, and so will the demand for food.

Total rethink

Researchers have consistently argued for a new approach to agriculture,  with ever-greater emphasis on plant-based diets, as a way to help contain climate change on a scale that is likely to actually threaten global food security.

“Europe is the only region in the world that has successfully reduced nitrous oxide emissions over the past two decades,” said Robert Jackson,  of Stanford University in the US, who chairs the Global Carbon Project.

“Industrial and agricultural policies to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution and to optimise fertiliser use efficiencies have proven to be effective. Still, further efforts are required, in Europe as well as globally.”

And another author, Josep Canadell of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said: “This new analysis calls for a full rethink in the ways we use and abuse nitrogen fertilisers globally and urges us to adopt more sustainable practices in the way we produce food,  including the reduction of food waste.” − Climate News Network

Atmospheric levels of laughing gas are on the increase, thanks to agriculture. This is no joke for climate change.

LONDON, 14 October, 2020 − If humans are to meet the global heating limits set by international agreement in 2015, they will have to think very hard about the effect of the supper table menu on laughing gas, more formally known as nitrous oxide.

That is because food production depends heavily on nitrogen fertilisers. But greenhouse gas emissions driven by agriculture are increasing atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide (N2O).

This is a greenhouse gas − popularly known as “laughing gas” − that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it tends to stay in the atmosphere, driving up the thermometer, for at least 100 years. And in the 200 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide have risen by 20%, and are still rising.

Nitrous oxide is one of the six greenhouse gases identified in the Kyoto Protocol, the pioneering global climate agreement, as a danger whose emissions should be reduced by all its signatories.

The ratio of N2O to other gases is tiny, a thousand times lower than carbon dioxide, for instance, but an increase can still make a significant difference. In 1750 the ratio stood at 270 parts per billion. In 2018 it had reached 331 ppb, with the fastest growth all in the last 50 years, thanks to humankind’s demand for food.

“There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate”

And this, say 57 scientists from 14 nations in a report in the journal Nature, now threatens to eliminate any hope of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by the year 2100. This is the target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015 by 195 nations.

Right now, the world has already warmed by 1°C in the last century and on all the evidence so far it is heading by the end of the century to be at least 3°C hotter than the average for most of the last 10,000 years of human history.

“The dominant driver of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture, and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous oxide emissions,” said Hanqin Tian, of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences in Alabama in the US. “There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate.”

He and his colleagues call their research an inventory of the traffic in nitrous oxide from human and from natural sources. The most significant human source is the fertiliser added to croplands.

They found that the highest growth in nitrous oxide emissions came from emerging economies in East Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America, from synthetic fertilisers and from livestock manure. In the course of the next few decades global population will soar, and so will the demand for food.

Total rethink

Researchers have consistently argued for a new approach to agriculture,  with ever-greater emphasis on plant-based diets, as a way to help contain climate change on a scale that is likely to actually threaten global food security.

“Europe is the only region in the world that has successfully reduced nitrous oxide emissions over the past two decades,” said Robert Jackson,  of Stanford University in the US, who chairs the Global Carbon Project.

“Industrial and agricultural policies to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution and to optimise fertiliser use efficiencies have proven to be effective. Still, further efforts are required, in Europe as well as globally.”

And another author, Josep Canadell of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said: “This new analysis calls for a full rethink in the ways we use and abuse nitrogen fertilisers globally and urges us to adopt more sustainable practices in the way we produce food,  including the reduction of food waste.” − Climate News Network

Lessons of Covid-19: Taking stock for next time

The lessons of Covid-19 are stark: tragedy, horror and loss for millions. They are eloquent on the climate crisis ahead.

LONDON, 29 September, 2020 − The lessons of Covid-19 are still sinking in. The pandemic isn’t over yet: far from it. No-one knows even whether it’s here to stay.

It erupted at a time when chronic inequality and the climate emergency both demand action. But there are already specific life-saving lessons we can learn, says the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

This highly abridged summary by the Climate News Network singles out a few highlights from the Alliance’s three published briefings on Covid’s lessons, with possible policy responses to help the benefits to last beyond the crisis.

Looking after each other better

This briefing shows some of the ways people around the world are looking after others in the pandemic, often with meagre resources and how they might do in the future .

Governments have – to varying degrees – paid the wages of millions of working people and provided help in kind. Togo introduced a mobile telephone-based cash transfer scheme for workers earning around 30% of the minimum wage. Others have tackled street homelessness and temporarily suspended evictions for those unable to pay rent.

Across Europe health workers have been heartened by regular sessions of public applause, thanks and support during the peak of the crisis. Delivery drivers and front-line care workers are finding their social status far above that of hedge-fund managers.

Working hours and practices have been radically adapted. Communities have acted together where necessary: Belarussians bypassed their president by implementing a people’s quarantine. Britons supported health workers by making protective masks and scrubs, providing hot meals and tutoring children. In Germany refugees joined in mask-making.

Spanish workers volunteered to clean care homes before elderly residents returned. In the US the World Central Kitchen has supplied up to six million meals to nurses, the sick and the homeless.

For the future, there is evidence from many countries of growing support for the idea of a Universal Basic Income and for encouraging (and enabling) more people to volunteer to help others, perhaps by paying them.

More space for people and nature

Responses to Covid show we can quickly make more urban space for people and nature. This briefing looks at how we do that, an increasingly important question as people learn more about the global plunge in plant and animal numbers, and about how habitat loss drives the spread of viruses between animals and humans, with ecological decline creating prime conditions for pandemics as human activities push climate breakdown and usurp the last wild spaces on Earth.

Covid-19 has driven a growing realisation that a simpler life can offer unexpected gains. A lot of travel proved unnecessary. Guaranteeing cleaner air and more room for nature demands big but possible changes, including greener public transport and streets designed for people, not just cars.

Older and simpler solutions are helping, like cycling in the UK, for example, Germany and (with new technology) further afield. A flexi-time approach has seen staggered starting times for schools and offices introduced in parts of Israel and the Netherlands. It’s often possible to avoid travelling by making contact online − when you can get the hardware installed. Frustrated villagers in Wales couldn’t, so they installed their own broadband instead.

There’s abundant evidence of the sheer good that green surroundings can do to people, ailing or not. They can improve air quality and even offset the heat island effect. And strengthening our relationship with nature can provide other severely practical benefits  − as the Cubans discovered several decades ago.

The Rapid Transition Alliance offers several suggestions for trying to ensure that we go on cherishing nature long after Covid-19 has been tamed:

Living with less stuff

This briefing examines how we’re adapting to live less wastefully and more thoughtfully. We’re learning to eat better, to waste less when we buy, and to enjoy making more with what we have already. (There have been and still are many people struggling financially and using foodbanks to keep themselves going. This briefing focuses specifically on those not in this situation.)

One implicit theme is that what we want and what we need may often differ. So mending, sewing and doing-it-yourself are regaining popularity, and some people are working their way out of debt: UK households were able to pay back more than £7 billion (US$8.9 bn) of consumer credit in the first month of lockdown.

Food matters − a lot. Many people are thinking more about their environmental footprint: more than a quarter of consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Canada say they now pay more attention to what they consume and what impact it has on the world.

In some of these countries, shops and brands have been running a campaign encouraging people to “only buy what you need” and “shop responsibly”. Organisers called it “an urgent entreaty to consumers to behave responsibly and think about others”.

Education matters too, however hard it may be to keep schools open. The World Bank has worked with numerous countries to form an accessible database of learning innovations across different nations that can be shared and used by online educators. The Times of India has looked at the opportunities to teach young people life skills and reading for fun – not just formal education.

And in a crisis, laughter can help. Russia is setting the world an example.

Locking in Covid’s lessons is essential, for this generation and for the future. The pandemic has often slowed consumption, making people more cautious and more aware of their purchasing power. But what now?

Buying only what we need, mending things when they break and re-purposing them when we no longer want them are life changes for the long term. The RTA has suggestions for how we could turn from being passive consumers to active producers. These are some of them:

The RTA’s briefings are a reminder of the daily torrent of practical goodwill that binds and sustains societies worldwide. The pandemic has intensified that determination to help people in need and to make vital systemic changes. The climate emergency is going to demand far more.

The Alliance thinks humankind can rise to the occasion: “There is now an opportunity to consider what we want from the future − the real price of things shown on labels, less choice but more quality, better lives for those who make and sell stuff to us, and an assumption that waste is unnecessary and will no longer be tolerated. These policy shifts might help to keep this element going as the world returns to health.” − 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.

The lessons of Covid-19 are stark: tragedy, horror and loss for millions. They are eloquent on the climate crisis ahead.

LONDON, 29 September, 2020 − The lessons of Covid-19 are still sinking in. The pandemic isn’t over yet: far from it. No-one knows even whether it’s here to stay.

It erupted at a time when chronic inequality and the climate emergency both demand action. But there are already specific life-saving lessons we can learn, says the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

This highly abridged summary by the Climate News Network singles out a few highlights from the Alliance’s three published briefings on Covid’s lessons, with possible policy responses to help the benefits to last beyond the crisis.

Looking after each other better

This briefing shows some of the ways people around the world are looking after others in the pandemic, often with meagre resources and how they might do in the future .

Governments have – to varying degrees – paid the wages of millions of working people and provided help in kind. Togo introduced a mobile telephone-based cash transfer scheme for workers earning around 30% of the minimum wage. Others have tackled street homelessness and temporarily suspended evictions for those unable to pay rent.

Across Europe health workers have been heartened by regular sessions of public applause, thanks and support during the peak of the crisis. Delivery drivers and front-line care workers are finding their social status far above that of hedge-fund managers.

Working hours and practices have been radically adapted. Communities have acted together where necessary: Belarussians bypassed their president by implementing a people’s quarantine. Britons supported health workers by making protective masks and scrubs, providing hot meals and tutoring children. In Germany refugees joined in mask-making.

Spanish workers volunteered to clean care homes before elderly residents returned. In the US the World Central Kitchen has supplied up to six million meals to nurses, the sick and the homeless.

For the future, there is evidence from many countries of growing support for the idea of a Universal Basic Income and for encouraging (and enabling) more people to volunteer to help others, perhaps by paying them.

More space for people and nature

Responses to Covid show we can quickly make more urban space for people and nature. This briefing looks at how we do that, an increasingly important question as people learn more about the global plunge in plant and animal numbers, and about how habitat loss drives the spread of viruses between animals and humans, with ecological decline creating prime conditions for pandemics as human activities push climate breakdown and usurp the last wild spaces on Earth.

Covid-19 has driven a growing realisation that a simpler life can offer unexpected gains. A lot of travel proved unnecessary. Guaranteeing cleaner air and more room for nature demands big but possible changes, including greener public transport and streets designed for people, not just cars.

Older and simpler solutions are helping, like cycling in the UK, for example, Germany and (with new technology) further afield. A flexi-time approach has seen staggered starting times for schools and offices introduced in parts of Israel and the Netherlands. It’s often possible to avoid travelling by making contact online − when you can get the hardware installed. Frustrated villagers in Wales couldn’t, so they installed their own broadband instead.

There’s abundant evidence of the sheer good that green surroundings can do to people, ailing or not. They can improve air quality and even offset the heat island effect. And strengthening our relationship with nature can provide other severely practical benefits  − as the Cubans discovered several decades ago.

The Rapid Transition Alliance offers several suggestions for trying to ensure that we go on cherishing nature long after Covid-19 has been tamed:

Living with less stuff

This briefing examines how we’re adapting to live less wastefully and more thoughtfully. We’re learning to eat better, to waste less when we buy, and to enjoy making more with what we have already. (There have been and still are many people struggling financially and using foodbanks to keep themselves going. This briefing focuses specifically on those not in this situation.)

One implicit theme is that what we want and what we need may often differ. So mending, sewing and doing-it-yourself are regaining popularity, and some people are working their way out of debt: UK households were able to pay back more than £7 billion (US$8.9 bn) of consumer credit in the first month of lockdown.

Food matters − a lot. Many people are thinking more about their environmental footprint: more than a quarter of consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Canada say they now pay more attention to what they consume and what impact it has on the world.

In some of these countries, shops and brands have been running a campaign encouraging people to “only buy what you need” and “shop responsibly”. Organisers called it “an urgent entreaty to consumers to behave responsibly and think about others”.

Education matters too, however hard it may be to keep schools open. The World Bank has worked with numerous countries to form an accessible database of learning innovations across different nations that can be shared and used by online educators. The Times of India has looked at the opportunities to teach young people life skills and reading for fun – not just formal education.

And in a crisis, laughter can help. Russia is setting the world an example.

Locking in Covid’s lessons is essential, for this generation and for the future. The pandemic has often slowed consumption, making people more cautious and more aware of their purchasing power. But what now?

Buying only what we need, mending things when they break and re-purposing them when we no longer want them are life changes for the long term. The RTA has suggestions for how we could turn from being passive consumers to active producers. These are some of them:

The RTA’s briefings are a reminder of the daily torrent of practical goodwill that binds and sustains societies worldwide. The pandemic has intensified that determination to help people in need and to make vital systemic changes. The climate emergency is going to demand far more.

The Alliance thinks humankind can rise to the occasion: “There is now an opportunity to consider what we want from the future − the real price of things shown on labels, less choice but more quality, better lives for those who make and sell stuff to us, and an assumption that waste is unnecessary and will no longer be tolerated. These policy shifts might help to keep this element going as the world returns to health.” − 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.