Tag Archives: Global threats

Biggest animals face extinction for food

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Food shocks increase as world warms

Heat extremes harm harvests. So do floods, drought and high winds. Climate change spurs food shocks that threaten the supper table.

LONDON, 1 February, 2019 − More than ever, the world’s ways of keeping hunger at bay are taking a pounding as food shocks become more frequent. Potatoes are being baked in heat waves. Corn is being parched by drought. Fruit is being bitten by frost.

And a long-term study suggests that for the world’s farmers and graziers, fishing crews and fish farmers, things will get worse as the world warms. Australian and US scientists report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they examined the incidence of what they call “food shocks” across 134 nations over a period of 53 years.

They found that some regions and some kinds of farming have suffered worse than others; that food production is vulnerable to volatile climate and weather changes; and that the dangers are increasing with time.

The researchers looked at cases of dramatic crop failure, harvest loss and fishing fleet failures between 1961 and 2013, as recorded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and other sources, and then mapped shock frequency and co-occurrence.

In their database of 741 available time-series of food production, they found 226 cases of food shock: dramatic interruption of supply.

Hunger increases

Agriculture and livestock emerged as slightly more vulnerable to shock than fisheries and aquaculture. South Asia suffered most from crop damage or loss; the Caribbean for livestock, and Eastern Europe for fisheries; some of these regions were hard hit in more than one sector.

“The frequency of shocks has increased across all sectors at a global scale,” the authors report. “Increasing shock frequency is a food security concern in itself. Conflict-related shocks across sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East since 2010, combined with adverse climate conditions, are responsible for the first uptick in global hunger in recent times.”

More than half of all shocks to food production were climate-related, and drought was the biggest factor. Extreme weather accounted for a quarter of shocks to livestock, and disease outbreaks another 10%, but the biggest single factor for pastoral farmers arose from geopolitical conflict and other crises.

Fisheries seemed better protected, and the worst shocks to fish landings could be traced to overfishing. Disruption to fish farming – a relatively new form of food production – has grown at a faster rate and to a higher level than in any other sector.

Climate scientists and agricultural researchers have been warning for years that food security is at hazard from global warming and climate change, both driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and unthinking destruction of forests and natural grasslands and wetlands.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often”

Heat extremes can harm cereal yields almost anywhere, but Africa and South-east Asia are particularly at risk from changes in precipitation patterns.

The latest study is a reminder that, in some ways, the future has already arrived: the forewarned rise in climate extremes such as flood, heat and drought can be detected in the annual harvest tally around the globe.

And although a high percentage of the food supply damage can be linked to social conflict or political stress, climate change seems increasingly to be a factor in civil and international violence.

A new study for the UN security council – co-incidentally released on the same day – confirms the picture. Hunger and conflict are in a persistent and deadly partnership that threatens millions.

Mass famine

The number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the Nature Sustainability authors say. That is because factors such as social conflict and climate change can in synergy create a number of shocks across different sectors at different times. At least 22 of the 134 nations experienced shocks in many sectors over the same five-year time period.

In some cases, these shocks ended with more than just empty shelves. The collapse of the Soviet Union late in the last century removed some economic support from North Korea: subsequent floods precipitated a famine that killed 200,000 people.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and the subsequent Gulf War, devastated agricultural land and cost Kuwait’s commercial fishermen their livelihoods. Drought in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 decimated cereal yields, pastoralists lost fodder for their cattle and animal disease incidence soared.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often,” said Richard Cottrell of the University of Tasmania, who led the study.

“Globalised trade and the dependence of many countries on food imports mean that food shocks are a global problem, and the international community faces a significant challenge to build resilience.” − Climate News Network

Heat extremes harm harvests. So do floods, drought and high winds. Climate change spurs food shocks that threaten the supper table.

LONDON, 1 February, 2019 − More than ever, the world’s ways of keeping hunger at bay are taking a pounding as food shocks become more frequent. Potatoes are being baked in heat waves. Corn is being parched by drought. Fruit is being bitten by frost.

And a long-term study suggests that for the world’s farmers and graziers, fishing crews and fish farmers, things will get worse as the world warms. Australian and US scientists report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they examined the incidence of what they call “food shocks” across 134 nations over a period of 53 years.

They found that some regions and some kinds of farming have suffered worse than others; that food production is vulnerable to volatile climate and weather changes; and that the dangers are increasing with time.

The researchers looked at cases of dramatic crop failure, harvest loss and fishing fleet failures between 1961 and 2013, as recorded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and other sources, and then mapped shock frequency and co-occurrence.

In their database of 741 available time-series of food production, they found 226 cases of food shock: dramatic interruption of supply.

Hunger increases

Agriculture and livestock emerged as slightly more vulnerable to shock than fisheries and aquaculture. South Asia suffered most from crop damage or loss; the Caribbean for livestock, and Eastern Europe for fisheries; some of these regions were hard hit in more than one sector.

“The frequency of shocks has increased across all sectors at a global scale,” the authors report. “Increasing shock frequency is a food security concern in itself. Conflict-related shocks across sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East since 2010, combined with adverse climate conditions, are responsible for the first uptick in global hunger in recent times.”

More than half of all shocks to food production were climate-related, and drought was the biggest factor. Extreme weather accounted for a quarter of shocks to livestock, and disease outbreaks another 10%, but the biggest single factor for pastoral farmers arose from geopolitical conflict and other crises.

Fisheries seemed better protected, and the worst shocks to fish landings could be traced to overfishing. Disruption to fish farming – a relatively new form of food production – has grown at a faster rate and to a higher level than in any other sector.

Climate scientists and agricultural researchers have been warning for years that food security is at hazard from global warming and climate change, both driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and unthinking destruction of forests and natural grasslands and wetlands.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often”

Heat extremes can harm cereal yields almost anywhere, but Africa and South-east Asia are particularly at risk from changes in precipitation patterns.

The latest study is a reminder that, in some ways, the future has already arrived: the forewarned rise in climate extremes such as flood, heat and drought can be detected in the annual harvest tally around the globe.

And although a high percentage of the food supply damage can be linked to social conflict or political stress, climate change seems increasingly to be a factor in civil and international violence.

A new study for the UN security council – co-incidentally released on the same day – confirms the picture. Hunger and conflict are in a persistent and deadly partnership that threatens millions.

Mass famine

The number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the Nature Sustainability authors say. That is because factors such as social conflict and climate change can in synergy create a number of shocks across different sectors at different times. At least 22 of the 134 nations experienced shocks in many sectors over the same five-year time period.

In some cases, these shocks ended with more than just empty shelves. The collapse of the Soviet Union late in the last century removed some economic support from North Korea: subsequent floods precipitated a famine that killed 200,000 people.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and the subsequent Gulf War, devastated agricultural land and cost Kuwait’s commercial fishermen their livelihoods. Drought in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 decimated cereal yields, pastoralists lost fodder for their cattle and animal disease incidence soared.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often,” said Richard Cottrell of the University of Tasmania, who led the study.

“Globalised trade and the dependence of many countries on food imports mean that food shocks are a global problem, and the international community faces a significant challenge to build resilience.” − Climate News Network

Polar ice loss speeds up by leaps and bounds

North and south, polar ice loss is happening faster than ever. Researchers now have a measure of the accelerating flow into the ocean.

LONDON, 22 January, 2019 – In the last few decades the speed of polar ice loss at both ends of the planet has begun to gallop away at rates which will have a marked effect on global sea levels.

Antarctica is now losing ice mass six times faster than it did 40 years ago. In the decade that began in 1979, the great white continent surrendered 40 billion tons of ice a year to raise global sea levels. By the decade 2009 to 2017, this mass loss had soared to 252 billion tons a year.

And in Greenland, the greatest concentration of terrestrial ice in the northern hemisphere has also accelerated its rate of ice loss fourfold in this century.

Satellite studies confirm that in 2003, around 102 billion tons of ice turned to flowing water or broke off into the ocean as floating bergs. By 2013, this figure had climbed to 393 billion tons a year.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. As the Antarctic Ice Sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries”

Scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they studied high resolution aerial photographs, satellite radar readings and historic Landsat imagery to survey 18 south polar regions encompassing 176 basins and surrounding islands of Antarctica to take the most precise measurement of ice loss so far.

Most of the loss is attributed to the contact with ever-warmer ocean waters as they lap the ice shelves or eat away at grounded glaciers. Since 1979 it has contributed 14mm to global sea level rise. The researchers stress that their reading of the profit-and-loss accounts of polar ice is the longest study so far.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” said Eric Rignot, of the University of California Irvine. “As the Antarctic Ice Sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.” If all the ice on the continent were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by 57 metres.

Growing concern

For more than a decade scientists have been concerned with the rate of warming, the acceleration of glacial flow and the loss of shelf ice off West Antarctica. The latest study indicates that East Antarctica, home to a far greater volume of ice, is also losing mass.

Accelerating glacier movement across Greenland towards the sea has also concerned climate scientists worried about icemelt for years. The island’s bedrock bears a burden of ice sufficient to raise global sea levels by seven metres.

Researchers who have used data from the GRACE satellites – the acronym stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – since 2002 also report in the same journal that the largest sustained loss of ice on Greenland came from the island’s southwest. They think that within two decades the region could become a major contributor to global sea level rise. But why the loss has accelerated is uncertain.

“Whichever this was, it couldn’t be explained by glaciers, because there aren’t many there,” said Michael Bevis of Ohio State University. “It had to be surface mass – the ice was melting inland from the coastline.”

Puzzling picture

Once again, warming atmosphere and ocean are linked to ice loss in the Arctic region, a change driven by global warming as a consequence of ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, fed by ever-higher rates of combustion of fossil fuels.

Melting rates have been uneven: the unexplained acceleration between 2003 and 2013 was followed by an equally puzzling pause. Natural atmospheric cycles such as the North Atlantic Oscillation must be part of the explanation.

“These oscillations have been happening forever. So why only now are they causing this massive melt? It is because the atmosphere is, at its baseline, warmer. The transient warming driven by the North Atlantic Oscillation was riding on top of more sustained global warming,” Professor Bevis said.

“We are going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future. Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: how severe does it get?” – Climate News Network

North and south, polar ice loss is happening faster than ever. Researchers now have a measure of the accelerating flow into the ocean.

LONDON, 22 January, 2019 – In the last few decades the speed of polar ice loss at both ends of the planet has begun to gallop away at rates which will have a marked effect on global sea levels.

Antarctica is now losing ice mass six times faster than it did 40 years ago. In the decade that began in 1979, the great white continent surrendered 40 billion tons of ice a year to raise global sea levels. By the decade 2009 to 2017, this mass loss had soared to 252 billion tons a year.

And in Greenland, the greatest concentration of terrestrial ice in the northern hemisphere has also accelerated its rate of ice loss fourfold in this century.

Satellite studies confirm that in 2003, around 102 billion tons of ice turned to flowing water or broke off into the ocean as floating bergs. By 2013, this figure had climbed to 393 billion tons a year.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. As the Antarctic Ice Sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries”

Scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they studied high resolution aerial photographs, satellite radar readings and historic Landsat imagery to survey 18 south polar regions encompassing 176 basins and surrounding islands of Antarctica to take the most precise measurement of ice loss so far.

Most of the loss is attributed to the contact with ever-warmer ocean waters as they lap the ice shelves or eat away at grounded glaciers. Since 1979 it has contributed 14mm to global sea level rise. The researchers stress that their reading of the profit-and-loss accounts of polar ice is the longest study so far.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” said Eric Rignot, of the University of California Irvine. “As the Antarctic Ice Sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.” If all the ice on the continent were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by 57 metres.

Growing concern

For more than a decade scientists have been concerned with the rate of warming, the acceleration of glacial flow and the loss of shelf ice off West Antarctica. The latest study indicates that East Antarctica, home to a far greater volume of ice, is also losing mass.

Accelerating glacier movement across Greenland towards the sea has also concerned climate scientists worried about icemelt for years. The island’s bedrock bears a burden of ice sufficient to raise global sea levels by seven metres.

Researchers who have used data from the GRACE satellites – the acronym stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – since 2002 also report in the same journal that the largest sustained loss of ice on Greenland came from the island’s southwest. They think that within two decades the region could become a major contributor to global sea level rise. But why the loss has accelerated is uncertain.

“Whichever this was, it couldn’t be explained by glaciers, because there aren’t many there,” said Michael Bevis of Ohio State University. “It had to be surface mass – the ice was melting inland from the coastline.”

Puzzling picture

Once again, warming atmosphere and ocean are linked to ice loss in the Arctic region, a change driven by global warming as a consequence of ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, fed by ever-higher rates of combustion of fossil fuels.

Melting rates have been uneven: the unexplained acceleration between 2003 and 2013 was followed by an equally puzzling pause. Natural atmospheric cycles such as the North Atlantic Oscillation must be part of the explanation.

“These oscillations have been happening forever. So why only now are they causing this massive melt? It is because the atmosphere is, at its baseline, warmer. The transient warming driven by the North Atlantic Oscillation was riding on top of more sustained global warming,” Professor Bevis said.

“We are going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future. Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: how severe does it get?” – Climate News Network

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Katowice climate talks run short of time

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network

2018 will show record carbon emissions

Record carbon emissions are set to mark 2018. And although investment in renewable energy is rising, the world is still warming dangerously fast.

LONDON, 6 December, 2018 – For the second year running, the world will have a doubtful achievement to claim by 31 December: record carbon emissions.

Even before the close of 2018, scientists behind the biggest accounting effort on the planet, the Global Carbon Budget, warn that emissions from coal, oil and gas will have dumped a record 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (a way of  comparing the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential) into the atmosphere by the end of this month.

This is 2.7% more than last year, which also showed an increase. Human destruction of the world’s forests will add another four billion tonnes in the same 12 months.

The news comes as 190 nations negotiate in Katowice in Poland to work out how to meet the targets they set in 2015 in Paris,  to contain global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100, and if possible no more than 1.5°C.

Little time left

But in a commentary in Nature a second set of scientists warns that time is running out. At the present rate of fossil fuel use, the world is set to breach the 1.5°C target by 2030, rather than the 2040 everybody had assumed.

That is because rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles working together will make climate change more fast and furious than expected.

There are hopeful signs: renewable energy investment has begun to accelerate, and some nations have started to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

But the confirmation of yet another record year for fossil fuel combustion – after three consecutive years, 2014-16, in which fossil fuel use seemed to have peaked and might start to fall – suggests that even those nations most concerned about climate change are not doing enough.

“This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast”

The biggest emitters are China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada, but taken as a collective, the European Union elbows India out of third place.

If the UK, a self-proclaimed climate progressive country, could celebrate the exploitation of a new North Sea oil field while at the same time exploring for shale gas and expanding its biggest airport, it should be no surprise that global emissions were rising, said Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, UK.

“If the climate-aware EU is planning new pan-Europe pipelines to lock in high carbon gas for decades to come, is it any surprise global emissions are rising? If ever-green Sweden, currently without any major gas infrastructure, is enthusiastically building a new gas terminal in Gothenburg – is it any surprise emissions are rising?”

Aimed at negotiators

Publication of the Global Carbon Project review for 2018 is timed to focus minds in Katowice, and as a reminder of how much has yet to be done to contain climate change.

“To limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach zero around 2050,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who directs theTyndall Centre for climate change at the University of East Anglia, UK.

“We are a long way from this, and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to commitments they have already made, we are on track to see 3°C of global warming.

“This year we have seen how climate change can already amplify the impact of heatwaves worldwide. The California wildfires are just a snapshot of the growing impacts we face if we don’t drive emissions down rapidly.”

Renewable energy grows

Paradoxically, the data in the report published in one version in Environmental Research Letters and in more detail in the journal Earth System Science Data also point to an acceleration towards renewable sources of energy: the political shorthand for this process is “decarbonisation.”

Coal consumption in Canada and the US had dropped 40% since 2005. Christiana Figueres, who in 2015 as a UN climate chief presided over the wheeling and dealing that resulted in the Paris Agreement, argues in another commentary in Nature that there are signs of promise.

Thousands of businesses in 120 countries had signed up to the Paris goals, which could bring $26 trillion in economic benefits, including 65 million new jobs in what she called the “booming” low carbon economy. “We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago,” she said.

Robust accounting

“Exponential progress in key solutions is happening and on track to displace fossil fuels. Renewable energy costs have dropped by 80% in a decade, and today, over half of all new energy generation capacity is renewable.

“Before 2015 many people thought the Paris Agreement was impossible, yet thousands of people and institutions made the shift from impossible to unstoppable.”

But, warned David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, the accounting within the balance sheet for the carbon budget 2018 was robust.

“Its message is more brutal than ever: we are in the red and still heading deeper. This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast. We knew this in 2015, we know it now. And yet they still rise.” – Climate News Network

Record carbon emissions are set to mark 2018. And although investment in renewable energy is rising, the world is still warming dangerously fast.

LONDON, 6 December, 2018 – For the second year running, the world will have a doubtful achievement to claim by 31 December: record carbon emissions.

Even before the close of 2018, scientists behind the biggest accounting effort on the planet, the Global Carbon Budget, warn that emissions from coal, oil and gas will have dumped a record 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (a way of  comparing the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential) into the atmosphere by the end of this month.

This is 2.7% more than last year, which also showed an increase. Human destruction of the world’s forests will add another four billion tonnes in the same 12 months.

The news comes as 190 nations negotiate in Katowice in Poland to work out how to meet the targets they set in 2015 in Paris,  to contain global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100, and if possible no more than 1.5°C.

Little time left

But in a commentary in Nature a second set of scientists warns that time is running out. At the present rate of fossil fuel use, the world is set to breach the 1.5°C target by 2030, rather than the 2040 everybody had assumed.

That is because rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles working together will make climate change more fast and furious than expected.

There are hopeful signs: renewable energy investment has begun to accelerate, and some nations have started to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

But the confirmation of yet another record year for fossil fuel combustion – after three consecutive years, 2014-16, in which fossil fuel use seemed to have peaked and might start to fall – suggests that even those nations most concerned about climate change are not doing enough.

“This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast”

The biggest emitters are China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada, but taken as a collective, the European Union elbows India out of third place.

If the UK, a self-proclaimed climate progressive country, could celebrate the exploitation of a new North Sea oil field while at the same time exploring for shale gas and expanding its biggest airport, it should be no surprise that global emissions were rising, said Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, UK.

“If the climate-aware EU is planning new pan-Europe pipelines to lock in high carbon gas for decades to come, is it any surprise global emissions are rising? If ever-green Sweden, currently without any major gas infrastructure, is enthusiastically building a new gas terminal in Gothenburg – is it any surprise emissions are rising?”

Aimed at negotiators

Publication of the Global Carbon Project review for 2018 is timed to focus minds in Katowice, and as a reminder of how much has yet to be done to contain climate change.

“To limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach zero around 2050,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who directs theTyndall Centre for climate change at the University of East Anglia, UK.

“We are a long way from this, and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to commitments they have already made, we are on track to see 3°C of global warming.

“This year we have seen how climate change can already amplify the impact of heatwaves worldwide. The California wildfires are just a snapshot of the growing impacts we face if we don’t drive emissions down rapidly.”

Renewable energy grows

Paradoxically, the data in the report published in one version in Environmental Research Letters and in more detail in the journal Earth System Science Data also point to an acceleration towards renewable sources of energy: the political shorthand for this process is “decarbonisation.”

Coal consumption in Canada and the US had dropped 40% since 2005. Christiana Figueres, who in 2015 as a UN climate chief presided over the wheeling and dealing that resulted in the Paris Agreement, argues in another commentary in Nature that there are signs of promise.

Thousands of businesses in 120 countries had signed up to the Paris goals, which could bring $26 trillion in economic benefits, including 65 million new jobs in what she called the “booming” low carbon economy. “We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago,” she said.

Robust accounting

“Exponential progress in key solutions is happening and on track to displace fossil fuels. Renewable energy costs have dropped by 80% in a decade, and today, over half of all new energy generation capacity is renewable.

“Before 2015 many people thought the Paris Agreement was impossible, yet thousands of people and institutions made the shift from impossible to unstoppable.”

But, warned David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, the accounting within the balance sheet for the carbon budget 2018 was robust.

“Its message is more brutal than ever: we are in the red and still heading deeper. This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast. We knew this in 2015, we know it now. And yet they still rise.” – Climate News Network

Extremes of heat will hit health and wealth

A new and authoritative study warns of an “overwhelming impact” on public health just from extremes of heat as the world continues to warm.

LONDON, 4 December, 2018 – Vulnerability to extremes of heat has risen in every region of the world. In 2017, an additional 157 million people were exposed in heatwave events, compared with 2000. That means that the average person now experiences 1.4 additional days of heatwaves per year.

This enervating exposure to extended extremes of heat imposes a global cost. National economies – and household budgets – lost 153 billion hours of labour in 2017, because of sweltering days and torrid nights: this is an increase of 62 billion working hours – more than three billion working weeks – since the turn of the century.

The rise in extremes of heat means that more people than ever are potentially at risk of heatwave-related conditions: among them heat stress, cardiovascular illness and kidney disease.

That increasing extremes of heat, driven by ever greater levels of greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming and climate change, are a health hazard is now well established.

More fatalities

Researchers have repeatedly warned that any increase in global average temperatures will be measured in more frequent, more intense and more extended extremes of heat
and in some cases extreme humidity that will in turn claim ever greater numbers of lives.

Scientists have established that, by 2100, around three-quarters of humanity will face episodes of heat extremes, which can kill in any one of 27 different ways.

So the latest detailed study, in the journal The Lancet, brings wider focus and greater authority: it draws from scientists and public health professionals in 27 institutions and tracks 421 indicators across five areas, including climate change vulnerability; adaptation and planning for health; mitigation actions and the benefits these may have; finance and economics; and public and political engagement.

Among the indicators selected were weather-related disasters, food security, clean fuel use, meat consumption, air pollution – and scientific publications on climate and health. And although the report echoes the general alarms voiced in earlier studies, it takes a closer look at the details of human vulnerability to extremes of heat.

“Trends in the impacts of climate change, exposures and vulnerabilities show unacceptably high risk for human health”

One finding is that people in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean may be more vulnerable than people living in Africa and southeast Asia, if only because more than four out of 10 people in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean are aged over 65, compared with 38% in Africa and 34% in southeast Asia.

Hotter weather means more infectious disease: in 2016 alone, what the researchers call the “global vectorial capacity” – in other words, the spread of potentially disease-transmitting mosquitoes – of the dengue fever virus was the highest on record.

In the Baltic region, the coastline area vulnerable to an epidemic of the cholera bacterium grew by 24%. In the highlands of sub-Saharan Africa, the area potentially at risk from malaria rose by more than 26%.

And as the thermometer went up, more than 30 countries reported downward trends in agricultural yields. Agriculture is the field most directly hit by heat extremes, with 80% of the labour losses, or 122 billion hours of work abandoned.

Huge losses

“Vulnerability to extreme heat has steadily increased around the world,” said Joacim Rocklöv, of Umea University in Sweden, one of the more than 70 scientists who put their names to the Lancet study.

“This has led to vast losses for national economies and household budgets. At a time when national health budgets and health services face a growing epidemic of lifestyle diseases, continued delay in unlocking the potential health benefits of climate change mitigation is shortsighted and damaging for human health.”

The report emphasises that heat extremes also intensify urban pollution: now 97% of cities in low and middle-income countries no longer meet World Health Organisation air quality guidelines.

“Heat stress is hitting hard – particularly amongst the urban elderly, and those with underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or chronic kidney disease,” said Hugh Montgomery, co-chairman of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, who also directs the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London.

Risky outdoors

“In high temperatures, outdoor work, especially in agriculture, is hazardous. Areas from northern England and California to Australia are seeing savage fires with direct deaths, displacement and loss of housing as well as respiratory impacts from smoke inhalation.”

And Hilary Graham, of the University of York in the UK, another of the authors, warned that the way governments responded to climate change would shape the health of nations for centuries to come.

“Present-day changes in heat waves and labour capacity provide early warning of the compounded and overwhelming impact on public health that is expected if temperatures continue to rise,” she said.

“Trends in the impacts of climate change, exposures and vulnerabilities show unacceptably high risk for human health now and in the future.” – Climate News Network

A new and authoritative study warns of an “overwhelming impact” on public health just from extremes of heat as the world continues to warm.

LONDON, 4 December, 2018 – Vulnerability to extremes of heat has risen in every region of the world. In 2017, an additional 157 million people were exposed in heatwave events, compared with 2000. That means that the average person now experiences 1.4 additional days of heatwaves per year.

This enervating exposure to extended extremes of heat imposes a global cost. National economies – and household budgets – lost 153 billion hours of labour in 2017, because of sweltering days and torrid nights: this is an increase of 62 billion working hours – more than three billion working weeks – since the turn of the century.

The rise in extremes of heat means that more people than ever are potentially at risk of heatwave-related conditions: among them heat stress, cardiovascular illness and kidney disease.

That increasing extremes of heat, driven by ever greater levels of greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming and climate change, are a health hazard is now well established.

More fatalities

Researchers have repeatedly warned that any increase in global average temperatures will be measured in more frequent, more intense and more extended extremes of heat
and in some cases extreme humidity that will in turn claim ever greater numbers of lives.

Scientists have established that, by 2100, around three-quarters of humanity will face episodes of heat extremes, which can kill in any one of 27 different ways.

So the latest detailed study, in the journal The Lancet, brings wider focus and greater authority: it draws from scientists and public health professionals in 27 institutions and tracks 421 indicators across five areas, including climate change vulnerability; adaptation and planning for health; mitigation actions and the benefits these may have; finance and economics; and public and political engagement.

Among the indicators selected were weather-related disasters, food security, clean fuel use, meat consumption, air pollution – and scientific publications on climate and health. And although the report echoes the general alarms voiced in earlier studies, it takes a closer look at the details of human vulnerability to extremes of heat.

“Trends in the impacts of climate change, exposures and vulnerabilities show unacceptably high risk for human health”

One finding is that people in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean may be more vulnerable than people living in Africa and southeast Asia, if only because more than four out of 10 people in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean are aged over 65, compared with 38% in Africa and 34% in southeast Asia.

Hotter weather means more infectious disease: in 2016 alone, what the researchers call the “global vectorial capacity” – in other words, the spread of potentially disease-transmitting mosquitoes – of the dengue fever virus was the highest on record.

In the Baltic region, the coastline area vulnerable to an epidemic of the cholera bacterium grew by 24%. In the highlands of sub-Saharan Africa, the area potentially at risk from malaria rose by more than 26%.

And as the thermometer went up, more than 30 countries reported downward trends in agricultural yields. Agriculture is the field most directly hit by heat extremes, with 80% of the labour losses, or 122 billion hours of work abandoned.

Huge losses

“Vulnerability to extreme heat has steadily increased around the world,” said Joacim Rocklöv, of Umea University in Sweden, one of the more than 70 scientists who put their names to the Lancet study.

“This has led to vast losses for national economies and household budgets. At a time when national health budgets and health services face a growing epidemic of lifestyle diseases, continued delay in unlocking the potential health benefits of climate change mitigation is shortsighted and damaging for human health.”

The report emphasises that heat extremes also intensify urban pollution: now 97% of cities in low and middle-income countries no longer meet World Health Organisation air quality guidelines.

“Heat stress is hitting hard – particularly amongst the urban elderly, and those with underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or chronic kidney disease,” said Hugh Montgomery, co-chairman of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, who also directs the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London.

Risky outdoors

“In high temperatures, outdoor work, especially in agriculture, is hazardous. Areas from northern England and California to Australia are seeing savage fires with direct deaths, displacement and loss of housing as well as respiratory impacts from smoke inhalation.”

And Hilary Graham, of the University of York in the UK, another of the authors, warned that the way governments responded to climate change would shape the health of nations for centuries to come.

“Present-day changes in heat waves and labour capacity provide early warning of the compounded and overwhelming impact on public health that is expected if temperatures continue to rise,” she said.

“Trends in the impacts of climate change, exposures and vulnerabilities show unacceptably high risk for human health now and in the future.” – Climate News Network

Climate treaty plan urged to cut warming

To inject some urgency into efforts to slow planetary warming, scientists, politicians and citizens are mulling how far a climate treaty plan could help.

LONDON, 3 December, 2018 − Could a new climate treaty be the way to tame global warming? With world leaders receiving constant demands to act far more urgently to limit climate change, events at either end of Europe are today increasing the pressure on them. At both, hopes are focusing on international diplomacy.

In eastern Europe the Polish city of Katowice is hosting the latest round of annual negotiations held by the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (the UNFCCC), formally known as the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 (due to end on 14 December).

Hopes for significant progress are muted. The 2015 talks produced the Paris Agreement, praised for making progress on how to limit emissions of the greenhouse gases which human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are adding to warming.

But little has happened since then actually to slow climate change, and in important respects the situation is now worse than it was three years ago.

The combination since 2015 of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly inadequate action by the Agreement’s signatories to slow them means that the gap between where emissions are now and where they ought to be is bigger than ever.

Clear verdict

Speaking before COP24 began, Johan Rockström, incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in a statement: “The scientific verdict is clear; global emissions must be cut by half by 2030 to stand a chance of staying well below 2°C [the more modest target agreed in Paris]”.

He said Katowice needed to find the ambition to ensure that the emissions cuts governments promise match the latest scientific assessments, and should also insist that every country’s emissions were counted accurately.

As well, he called for proper financing of the attempt to breathe new life into the Paris process: “The Green Climate Fund needs reliable and substantial contributions from industrialised countries.”

Professor Rockström concluded: “Science clearly shows that we have just one decade to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we must start doing it now.” It sounds like a pretty intense two weeks ahead in Poland, then.

Over 800 miles to the west, London is the scene for the launch of a new international group, the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). Its founders are setting it up to push for accelerated action at the scale and speed needed to meet the 1.5°C climate target, the more ambitious Paris aim.

“Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of”

By gathering and sharing what it calls evidence-based hope,  the Alliance seeks to remove excuses for inaction, show what is possible, and find ways for everyone to take an active part in change.

Its members range from household-name environmental groups to professional bodies and international research centres, working internationally and locally, specialists and generalists, involved in practical work, research and campaigning.

The Alliance says examples of rapid action it has already analysed include responses to economic shocks, public health emergencies, financial and energy crises, and conflicts.
The examples range from transport to food, energy and the built environment.

With an eye on Katowice, Andrew Simms, the Alliance’s coordinator, said: “International climate talks matter, but they are not the whole story. The shift to a low-carbon economy isn’t just something for diplomats and presidents. You could say that we are crowdsourcing rapid actions to prevent climate breakdown.”

Results from diplomacy

Yet much like those who continue to work to get the best out of the Paris Agreement, the founders of the Alliance think high-level diplomacy and statecraft do matter and can bring about change.

They say: “A new line in the sand is needed to underpin the existing [Paris] climate agreement, to exert influence over the immediate choices of policymakers. At the very least, the science should mandate a moratorium in rich countries on any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry, or any infrastructure dependent on it.

“A moratorium could take the form of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The threat of nuclear catastrophe provides a precedent for how, quickly, to stop a bad situation getting worse. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),  agreed between 1965 and 1968, was a triumph of rapid diplomacy, at the height of cold war mistrust, and against an immense security threat.”

Andrew Simms does not accept the argument that the NPT, while so far it has not failed, perhaps does not yet deserve to be called a success. He told the Climate News Network that a climate treaty modelled on it could really work: it would also “create jobs, clean air, tackle fuel poverty and generally make the world a better place”.

Extraordinary ability

And ignoring a climate non-proliferation treaty’s potential, he said, “underestimates humanity’s extraordinary ability to cooperate, innovate and act quickly with ambition when the moment demands it. Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of.

“First, and most importantly, we need to let go of the old fossil fuel economy, accept that it brought great benefits for some but that its time is now over and we must find better ways to meet our energy needs.

“Next we can look at the evidence base for hope in a warming world and get to work on a rapid transition.

“We’re calling on people and organisations to get in touch and let us know about such stories of rapid change from which we can learn, and we will work to get them seen and heard by others who can make a difference.” − Climate News Network

The Rapid Transition Alliance is being 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 activities.

To inject some urgency into efforts to slow planetary warming, scientists, politicians and citizens are mulling how far a climate treaty plan could help.

LONDON, 3 December, 2018 − Could a new climate treaty be the way to tame global warming? With world leaders receiving constant demands to act far more urgently to limit climate change, events at either end of Europe are today increasing the pressure on them. At both, hopes are focusing on international diplomacy.

In eastern Europe the Polish city of Katowice is hosting the latest round of annual negotiations held by the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (the UNFCCC), formally known as the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 (due to end on 14 December).

Hopes for significant progress are muted. The 2015 talks produced the Paris Agreement, praised for making progress on how to limit emissions of the greenhouse gases which human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are adding to warming.

But little has happened since then actually to slow climate change, and in important respects the situation is now worse than it was three years ago.

The combination since 2015 of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly inadequate action by the Agreement’s signatories to slow them means that the gap between where emissions are now and where they ought to be is bigger than ever.

Clear verdict

Speaking before COP24 began, Johan Rockström, incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in a statement: “The scientific verdict is clear; global emissions must be cut by half by 2030 to stand a chance of staying well below 2°C [the more modest target agreed in Paris]”.

He said Katowice needed to find the ambition to ensure that the emissions cuts governments promise match the latest scientific assessments, and should also insist that every country’s emissions were counted accurately.

As well, he called for proper financing of the attempt to breathe new life into the Paris process: “The Green Climate Fund needs reliable and substantial contributions from industrialised countries.”

Professor Rockström concluded: “Science clearly shows that we have just one decade to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we must start doing it now.” It sounds like a pretty intense two weeks ahead in Poland, then.

Over 800 miles to the west, London is the scene for the launch of a new international group, the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). Its founders are setting it up to push for accelerated action at the scale and speed needed to meet the 1.5°C climate target, the more ambitious Paris aim.

“Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of”

By gathering and sharing what it calls evidence-based hope,  the Alliance seeks to remove excuses for inaction, show what is possible, and find ways for everyone to take an active part in change.

Its members range from household-name environmental groups to professional bodies and international research centres, working internationally and locally, specialists and generalists, involved in practical work, research and campaigning.

The Alliance says examples of rapid action it has already analysed include responses to economic shocks, public health emergencies, financial and energy crises, and conflicts.
The examples range from transport to food, energy and the built environment.

With an eye on Katowice, Andrew Simms, the Alliance’s coordinator, said: “International climate talks matter, but they are not the whole story. The shift to a low-carbon economy isn’t just something for diplomats and presidents. You could say that we are crowdsourcing rapid actions to prevent climate breakdown.”

Results from diplomacy

Yet much like those who continue to work to get the best out of the Paris Agreement, the founders of the Alliance think high-level diplomacy and statecraft do matter and can bring about change.

They say: “A new line in the sand is needed to underpin the existing [Paris] climate agreement, to exert influence over the immediate choices of policymakers. At the very least, the science should mandate a moratorium in rich countries on any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry, or any infrastructure dependent on it.

“A moratorium could take the form of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The threat of nuclear catastrophe provides a precedent for how, quickly, to stop a bad situation getting worse. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),  agreed between 1965 and 1968, was a triumph of rapid diplomacy, at the height of cold war mistrust, and against an immense security threat.”

Andrew Simms does not accept the argument that the NPT, while so far it has not failed, perhaps does not yet deserve to be called a success. He told the Climate News Network that a climate treaty modelled on it could really work: it would also “create jobs, clean air, tackle fuel poverty and generally make the world a better place”.

Extraordinary ability

And ignoring a climate non-proliferation treaty’s potential, he said, “underestimates humanity’s extraordinary ability to cooperate, innovate and act quickly with ambition when the moment demands it. Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of.

“First, and most importantly, we need to let go of the old fossil fuel economy, accept that it brought great benefits for some but that its time is now over and we must find better ways to meet our energy needs.

“Next we can look at the evidence base for hope in a warming world and get to work on a rapid transition.

“We’re calling on people and organisations to get in touch and let us know about such stories of rapid change from which we can learn, and we will work to get them seen and heard by others who can make a difference.” − Climate News Network

The Rapid Transition Alliance is being 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 activities.

Worse storms in prospect as warmth rises

Once again, US government scientists warn that hurricane and flood hazard is amplified by a warming world. But worse storms are caused by big cities too.

LONDON, 19 November, 2018 – Worse storms are on the way, as many Americans know all too well. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster ever to hit the US: it blew ashore over New Orleans in August 2005 to claim at least 1,833 lives and wreak economic damage worth, in today’s prices, $160bn.

And however bad it was, climate change made it worse. Because of global warming up to that point, up to 9% more rain fell over the city, some of it to sweep away the river defences and precipitate disastrous flooding.

A second study, also in Nature, warns: big cities make bad storms even worse. Urbanisation – all those roads, pavements, rooftops and so on – multiplies the risk of flooding on average 21-fold. The growth of Houston in Texas left a city at the mercy of Hurricane Harvey in 2017: the scale of flooding was without precedent.

The research is based on computer modelling of the impact of overall planetary warming – around 1°C in the past century – on local sea and coastal conditions.

Rising economic harm

Warmer atmospheres hold more water. With each 1°C rise, the capacity to absorb moisture increases by 7% , so in a warmer world storms will be wetter. With higher temperatures, storms are likely to be more ferocious. Researchers have repeatedly warned that because of these simple principles, as global temperatures rise, the US faces ever bigger economic losses each succeeding hurricane season.

Houston wasn’t prepared for what seemed like a once-in-a-thousand-years storm, but extreme rainstorms will become even more extreme and in Texas more Harvey-scale storms are on the way.

Water that falls on forest or wetland or coastal savannah is at least partly absorbed. Hard rain that hits tarmacadam and concrete could swiftly become a flash flood. So the latest study is a confirmation of much previous research.

“Efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place”

And although President Trump has condemned climate change science as a hoax devised by the Chinese, and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations to limit global warming to if possible less than 2°C by 2100, the confirmation of greater climate change danger once again comes from a US government research base, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Christina Patricola, of the laboratory’s climate division, reports in Nature that she and a colleague chose 15 tropical cyclones that have occurred in the last decade in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and then built computer simulations of those storms while changing factors such as air and ocean temperatures, humidity, and the greenhouse gas concentrations that dictate overall planetary temperatures.

The two scientists looked at the effects of climate change so far, and the shape of storms to come. They found that warming hitherto has made rainfall between 5% and 10% more intense, but may not have so far made much difference to overall hurricane windspeeds.

Strengthening winds

But if the climate continues to warm – and it could warm by 3°C or more this century, as ever greater combustion of fossil fuels puts ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – peak wind speeds could increase by up to 25 knots or very nearly 50 kilometres per hour.

The scientists also found that future rainfall in such storms could increase by between 15% and 35%. And the same computer models that predict windier, wetter storms tomorrow accurately predicted the pattern of the storms that had already happened. “The fact that almost all of the 15 tropical cyclones responded in a similar way gives confidence to the results,” Dr Patricola said.

In a companion study, scientists from US universities looked at the other component of the Hurricane Harvey disaster in 2017: the changes in the city of Houston itself.

Between 25 and 30 August, Harvey dumped 1.3 metres of rain on the metropolis. Between 2000 and 2011, Houston had the largest urban growth and the fifth largest population growth in the entire US. That is, it became a bigger target, with a greater area of paving and sealed surfaces to channel the flowing water.

Slower and wetter

The changing contour of the city helped increase atmospheric drag, slowing the passage of the hurricane and delaying it for long enough to drop even more rain. And then the surface of asphalt and concrete made conditions worse.

So, the researchers concluded, the new building made the risk of catastrophic flooding somewhere between hardly at all and up to 90 times more likely, depending on which part of the city they were looking at. Altogether, the risk of more flooding on the scale of Harvey had increased 21-fold.

The message is that coastal cities must plan for the worst and keep planning. Hurricane winds and rainfall are going to intensify in the future. Cities will keep on growing as human numbers increase.

“Planning must take into account the compounded nature of these risks,” they conclude, “and efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place.” – Climate News Network

Once again, US government scientists warn that hurricane and flood hazard is amplified by a warming world. But worse storms are caused by big cities too.

LONDON, 19 November, 2018 – Worse storms are on the way, as many Americans know all too well. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster ever to hit the US: it blew ashore over New Orleans in August 2005 to claim at least 1,833 lives and wreak economic damage worth, in today’s prices, $160bn.

And however bad it was, climate change made it worse. Because of global warming up to that point, up to 9% more rain fell over the city, some of it to sweep away the river defences and precipitate disastrous flooding.

A second study, also in Nature, warns: big cities make bad storms even worse. Urbanisation – all those roads, pavements, rooftops and so on – multiplies the risk of flooding on average 21-fold. The growth of Houston in Texas left a city at the mercy of Hurricane Harvey in 2017: the scale of flooding was without precedent.

The research is based on computer modelling of the impact of overall planetary warming – around 1°C in the past century – on local sea and coastal conditions.

Rising economic harm

Warmer atmospheres hold more water. With each 1°C rise, the capacity to absorb moisture increases by 7% , so in a warmer world storms will be wetter. With higher temperatures, storms are likely to be more ferocious. Researchers have repeatedly warned that because of these simple principles, as global temperatures rise, the US faces ever bigger economic losses each succeeding hurricane season.

Houston wasn’t prepared for what seemed like a once-in-a-thousand-years storm, but extreme rainstorms will become even more extreme and in Texas more Harvey-scale storms are on the way.

Water that falls on forest or wetland or coastal savannah is at least partly absorbed. Hard rain that hits tarmacadam and concrete could swiftly become a flash flood. So the latest study is a confirmation of much previous research.

“Efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place”

And although President Trump has condemned climate change science as a hoax devised by the Chinese, and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations to limit global warming to if possible less than 2°C by 2100, the confirmation of greater climate change danger once again comes from a US government research base, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Christina Patricola, of the laboratory’s climate division, reports in Nature that she and a colleague chose 15 tropical cyclones that have occurred in the last decade in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and then built computer simulations of those storms while changing factors such as air and ocean temperatures, humidity, and the greenhouse gas concentrations that dictate overall planetary temperatures.

The two scientists looked at the effects of climate change so far, and the shape of storms to come. They found that warming hitherto has made rainfall between 5% and 10% more intense, but may not have so far made much difference to overall hurricane windspeeds.

Strengthening winds

But if the climate continues to warm – and it could warm by 3°C or more this century, as ever greater combustion of fossil fuels puts ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – peak wind speeds could increase by up to 25 knots or very nearly 50 kilometres per hour.

The scientists also found that future rainfall in such storms could increase by between 15% and 35%. And the same computer models that predict windier, wetter storms tomorrow accurately predicted the pattern of the storms that had already happened. “The fact that almost all of the 15 tropical cyclones responded in a similar way gives confidence to the results,” Dr Patricola said.

In a companion study, scientists from US universities looked at the other component of the Hurricane Harvey disaster in 2017: the changes in the city of Houston itself.

Between 25 and 30 August, Harvey dumped 1.3 metres of rain on the metropolis. Between 2000 and 2011, Houston had the largest urban growth and the fifth largest population growth in the entire US. That is, it became a bigger target, with a greater area of paving and sealed surfaces to channel the flowing water.

Slower and wetter

The changing contour of the city helped increase atmospheric drag, slowing the passage of the hurricane and delaying it for long enough to drop even more rain. And then the surface of asphalt and concrete made conditions worse.

So, the researchers concluded, the new building made the risk of catastrophic flooding somewhere between hardly at all and up to 90 times more likely, depending on which part of the city they were looking at. Altogether, the risk of more flooding on the scale of Harvey had increased 21-fold.

The message is that coastal cities must plan for the worst and keep planning. Hurricane winds and rainfall are going to intensify in the future. Cities will keep on growing as human numbers increase.

“Planning must take into account the compounded nature of these risks,” they conclude, “and efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place.” – Climate News Network

Human horde leaves little room for nature

Our species’ planetary advance has been inexorable. The human horde means under a quarter of the world’s land surface now counts as wilderness.

LONDON, 8 November, 2018 – Only 23% of the planet’s habitable terrestrial surface now remains as undisturbed wilderness, thanks to the spread of the human horde.

A century ago, as the human population explosion began, 85% of the world was undisturbed living space for all the other species. Yet between 1993 and 2009 – in the years that followed hard on the first global summit to consider the state of the planetary environment – an aggregation of areas of wilderness larger than India was delivered over to human exploitation, scientists warn in the journal Nature.

“These results are nothing short of a horror story for the planet’s last wild places,” said James Watson, a scientist at the University of Queensland and with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“The loss of wilderness must be treated in the same way we treat extinction. There is no reversing, once the first cut enters. The decision is forever.”

Ocean impact

Professor Watson and colleagues argued in August that humans had in some way poisoned, polluted, exploited or disturbed almost all the planet’s oceans: only 13% could now be classified as undisturbed.

Now he and others have addressed the state of the wild terrestrial soils and rocks. Take Antarctica – essentially uninhabited, and with no terrestrial wildlife – out of the equation, and the scale of planetary devastation becomes more stark: humans have now left their mark on 77% of the world’s living space.

And the remaining wilderness is unevenly distributed: just 20 nations hold or govern 94% of the remaining marine and terrestrial wilderness areas. Russia, Canada, Australia, the US and Brazil host 70% of these unspoiled spaces.

Professor Watson and many others have repeatedly argued that humankind continues to put the world’s wildlife at risk. A new study by the World Wide Fund for Nature highlights the scale of destruction, but repeated surveys by teams of researchers on all continents have pointed up the same danger.

The combination of human intrusion into the wilderness and the spectre of climate change is a disaster for the 10 million or so species, most of them as yet unidentified, with which humans share the planet.

“These results are nothing short of a horror story for the planet’s last wild places”

“A century ago, only 15% of the Earth’s surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock,” Professor Watson said.

“Today, more than 77% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87% of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities. It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India – a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures.

“And in the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions.” – Climate News Network

Our species’ planetary advance has been inexorable. The human horde means under a quarter of the world’s land surface now counts as wilderness.

LONDON, 8 November, 2018 – Only 23% of the planet’s habitable terrestrial surface now remains as undisturbed wilderness, thanks to the spread of the human horde.

A century ago, as the human population explosion began, 85% of the world was undisturbed living space for all the other species. Yet between 1993 and 2009 – in the years that followed hard on the first global summit to consider the state of the planetary environment – an aggregation of areas of wilderness larger than India was delivered over to human exploitation, scientists warn in the journal Nature.

“These results are nothing short of a horror story for the planet’s last wild places,” said James Watson, a scientist at the University of Queensland and with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“The loss of wilderness must be treated in the same way we treat extinction. There is no reversing, once the first cut enters. The decision is forever.”

Ocean impact

Professor Watson and colleagues argued in August that humans had in some way poisoned, polluted, exploited or disturbed almost all the planet’s oceans: only 13% could now be classified as undisturbed.

Now he and others have addressed the state of the wild terrestrial soils and rocks. Take Antarctica – essentially uninhabited, and with no terrestrial wildlife – out of the equation, and the scale of planetary devastation becomes more stark: humans have now left their mark on 77% of the world’s living space.

And the remaining wilderness is unevenly distributed: just 20 nations hold or govern 94% of the remaining marine and terrestrial wilderness areas. Russia, Canada, Australia, the US and Brazil host 70% of these unspoiled spaces.

Professor Watson and many others have repeatedly argued that humankind continues to put the world’s wildlife at risk. A new study by the World Wide Fund for Nature highlights the scale of destruction, but repeated surveys by teams of researchers on all continents have pointed up the same danger.

The combination of human intrusion into the wilderness and the spectre of climate change is a disaster for the 10 million or so species, most of them as yet unidentified, with which humans share the planet.

“These results are nothing short of a horror story for the planet’s last wild places”

“A century ago, only 15% of the Earth’s surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock,” Professor Watson said.

“Today, more than 77% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87% of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities. It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India – a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures.

“And in the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions.” – Climate News Network