Tag Archives: Political action

Hope springs eternal for species facing extinction

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

India’s energy policy is key to the planet’s future

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Reformed trade rules can help to save the climate

If the British government agrees to reformed trade rules, that could help the crucial climate talks it will chair in November.

LONDON, 20 January, 2021 – This could be the year of opportunity for the United Kingdom – and far beyond it – in securing real action on tackling the climate crisis: reformed trade rules could provide a climate dividend of the rancorous Brexit process of leaving the European Union.

Success could earn the UK government an honoured place among the politicians visionary enough to confront probably the worst threat facing humankind. Failure would damn this generation of British leaders as a lightweight irrelevance.

Barely ten months from now, in November, the British government faces a massive challenge. In the Scottish city of Glasgow it will host and chair the annual United Nations climate conference, which must breathe new energy and hope into the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 197 countries in the French capital in 2015.

Paris promised much but so far has delivered little in achieving the reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases the world urgently needs. Unless the Glasgow conference (COP-26 in UN jargon – the 26th Conference of the Parties) ends with iron-clad agreement that will inexorably ensure global average temperatures stay below 1.5°C, the planet faces dangerous and perhaps irreversible climate heating.

On the first day of 2021 the UK struck out on its own politically, leaving the EU after 47 years of membership to follow an independent route, not least on trade.

“We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”

Opponents of Brexit have dismissed the move as a risky gamble. Supporters say it gives the UK the alluring prospect of trade on British terms alone. Both agree in hoping the country may now enjoy more freedom and flexibility in trade policy.

Whether or not it does, campaigners argue, Brexit could open the way to a different but immensely important goal: it could be a game-changer in Glasgow.

They are pinning their hopes on the possibility that the UK will decide to join a new green trade grouping – ACCTS, the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, formed by six countries committed to using trade policy to support action on the climate (New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Fiji and Switzerland).

If the UK does join ACCTS this year (it is an open agreement, which welcomes new members), that would send a clear message to the other members of the World Trade Organisation, its supporters believe, that post-Brexit Britain champions environmentally-sustainable trade and sees it as a potent way to strengthen action on the climate crisis.

Supporters of ACCTS say signatories are showing they back the reform of trade rules so as to give priority to the environment – a huge shift in emphasis for the global trading system. The Agreement has three main aims:

  • Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services: This means cutting tariffs on environmentally-friendly products (including, for example, wind turbines and solar panels) so they can be traded more freely and reach the countries where they are most needed, attracting investment and development. The UK already charges very low tariffs, so compliance will be simple
  • Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies: 89% of global carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and industry. Yet governments continue to subsidise coal, oil and gas, pouring US$500 billion (£367bn) of public money into their production and consumption every year. The UK currently offers an estimated £10bn (US$13.6bn) of public support to fossil fuels each year, in the form of direct subsidies and tax breaks. This runs counter to all the UK’s climate goals, which instead favour funding support for renewable energy
  • Developing eco-labels for goods: This aims to develop a common way of labelling goods with information about their environmental impact, to give consumers information on which to base their decisions.

‘Incoherence’

Speaking in Stockholm in March 2020 at an event to discuss climate change, trade, and sustainable development in the run-up to the Glasgow talks, Andrew Jenks, New Zealand’s ambassador to Sweden, said: “Fossil fuel subsidies are the height of policy incoherence on an issue where we cannot afford to carry on the mistakes of the past.”

From his diplomatic colleague the British ambassador, Judith Gough, there was if anything even more exuberant language for the potential offered by ACCTS: “We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”.

An active supporter of the ACCTS countries is the UK charity Traidcraft Exchange. It concludes a recent report, Getting in on the ACCTS, with these words: “In November 2020, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson announned a ten-point plan to ‘create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero [greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050.’

“Joining ACCTS would strengthen these commitments, and would send a clear message about how Britain plans to use its new independent trade policy.” There will be many listeners waiting intently in Glasgow to hear that message. – Climate News Network

If the British government agrees to reformed trade rules, that could help the crucial climate talks it will chair in November.

LONDON, 20 January, 2021 – This could be the year of opportunity for the United Kingdom – and far beyond it – in securing real action on tackling the climate crisis: reformed trade rules could provide a climate dividend of the rancorous Brexit process of leaving the European Union.

Success could earn the UK government an honoured place among the politicians visionary enough to confront probably the worst threat facing humankind. Failure would damn this generation of British leaders as a lightweight irrelevance.

Barely ten months from now, in November, the British government faces a massive challenge. In the Scottish city of Glasgow it will host and chair the annual United Nations climate conference, which must breathe new energy and hope into the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 197 countries in the French capital in 2015.

Paris promised much but so far has delivered little in achieving the reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases the world urgently needs. Unless the Glasgow conference (COP-26 in UN jargon – the 26th Conference of the Parties) ends with iron-clad agreement that will inexorably ensure global average temperatures stay below 1.5°C, the planet faces dangerous and perhaps irreversible climate heating.

On the first day of 2021 the UK struck out on its own politically, leaving the EU after 47 years of membership to follow an independent route, not least on trade.

“We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”

Opponents of Brexit have dismissed the move as a risky gamble. Supporters say it gives the UK the alluring prospect of trade on British terms alone. Both agree in hoping the country may now enjoy more freedom and flexibility in trade policy.

Whether or not it does, campaigners argue, Brexit could open the way to a different but immensely important goal: it could be a game-changer in Glasgow.

They are pinning their hopes on the possibility that the UK will decide to join a new green trade grouping – ACCTS, the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, formed by six countries committed to using trade policy to support action on the climate (New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Fiji and Switzerland).

If the UK does join ACCTS this year (it is an open agreement, which welcomes new members), that would send a clear message to the other members of the World Trade Organisation, its supporters believe, that post-Brexit Britain champions environmentally-sustainable trade and sees it as a potent way to strengthen action on the climate crisis.

Supporters of ACCTS say signatories are showing they back the reform of trade rules so as to give priority to the environment – a huge shift in emphasis for the global trading system. The Agreement has three main aims:

  • Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services: This means cutting tariffs on environmentally-friendly products (including, for example, wind turbines and solar panels) so they can be traded more freely and reach the countries where they are most needed, attracting investment and development. The UK already charges very low tariffs, so compliance will be simple
  • Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies: 89% of global carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and industry. Yet governments continue to subsidise coal, oil and gas, pouring US$500 billion (£367bn) of public money into their production and consumption every year. The UK currently offers an estimated £10bn (US$13.6bn) of public support to fossil fuels each year, in the form of direct subsidies and tax breaks. This runs counter to all the UK’s climate goals, which instead favour funding support for renewable energy
  • Developing eco-labels for goods: This aims to develop a common way of labelling goods with information about their environmental impact, to give consumers information on which to base their decisions.

‘Incoherence’

Speaking in Stockholm in March 2020 at an event to discuss climate change, trade, and sustainable development in the run-up to the Glasgow talks, Andrew Jenks, New Zealand’s ambassador to Sweden, said: “Fossil fuel subsidies are the height of policy incoherence on an issue where we cannot afford to carry on the mistakes of the past.”

From his diplomatic colleague the British ambassador, Judith Gough, there was if anything even more exuberant language for the potential offered by ACCTS: “We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”.

An active supporter of the ACCTS countries is the UK charity Traidcraft Exchange. It concludes a recent report, Getting in on the ACCTS, with these words: “In November 2020, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson announned a ten-point plan to ‘create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero [greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050.’

“Joining ACCTS would strengthen these commitments, and would send a clear message about how Britain plans to use its new independent trade policy.” There will be many listeners waiting intently in Glasgow to hear that message. – Climate News Network

Science warns world of ‘ghastly’ future ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Familiar litany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summons to act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Familiar litany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summons to act

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

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

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

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

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

Cyclones reduce India’s wind power generation

The risk of damage to turbines from cyclones has cut India’s electricity output, despite a longer windy season.

CHENNAI, 5 January, 2021 − Although India’s windy season was longer than usual in 2020, a series of cyclones that hit the country’s coasts reduced the amount of electricity generated by wind. The storms forced operators to shut down the turbines to prevent damage, which caused a 20% drop in production.

India witnessed five cyclones last year, with the two latest, Nivar and Burevi, making landfall in November. Altogether the combined onslaught of the five obliged turbine operations to be suspended for two weeks.

This has knocked confidence in the renewable energy industry at a time when the government of Narendra Modi is working hard to expand it.

Wind power generation capacity has significantly increased in recent years. It is concentrated across India’s windiest southern, western and northern regions. By the end of September 2020 the total installed capacity was 38,124 megawatts (MW), surpassed only by China, the US and Germany.

Unlike other parts of the world where the wind blows in fairly regular patterns all year round, India gets 70% of its wind between May and September, coinciding with the south-west monsoon. Once the rains and the clouds have gone, solar power largely replaces wind in supplying renewable energy.

“There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”

But in 2020 the normal pattern was different, with the windy season in southern India lasting till November. This brought no benefit, though: the turbines could not be left to operate at all, as the wind speed during the cyclones was very high.

Even though World Bank experts and others are predicting a large expansion of wind power in India, including offshore, its unpredictability is sapping the market’s confidence.

It is too early to say whether climate change has anything to do with the change in weather patterns. Ajay Devaraj, secretary-general of the Indian Wind Power Association, says that although wind power production varies from one year to the next, its decline was particularly significant last year because it knocked investor confidence.

“We are hoping this shortage will be met in 2021. But we can’t promise, since wind generation is based on nature’s laws. Due to cyclones there is a 20% shortage of wind power generation in India this year. Since offshore wind projects need huge capital, that doesn’t attract investors,’’ he said in 2020.

There was also a safety issue with some of the older turbines in very high winds, although if in good condition they could continue to operate for far longer, Dr Devaraj said. The alternative was to “repower” wind farms, replacing smaller turbines with larger, more efficient ones − which were also more expensive.

Renewable energy critical

But instead of repowering, he suggested the government could simply check turbine safety. This would encourage their owners to stay in business instead of disinvesting. Turbines as old as 30 years were still in operation in countries like Germany and Denmark, he said.

India produced 37,505 MW of wind power in 2019. It also set a new target of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Wind energy is expected to provide the lion’s share of this target. The government recently set up a national committee to co-ordinate more urgent action on climate.

In a recent virtual event on clean energy, Amitabh Kant, who heads India’s Niti Ayog (National Institution for Transforming India), said renewable electricity generated by clean technology was critical for the country.

“We need to get into a whole range of clean energy deployments. It is very important for India to get into cutting-edge technology. There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”, he said.

“India is the only country among the G20 nations that is on track to meet its climate change mitigation commitments, made in 2015 under the Paris Agreement, and has formulated forward-looking policies for energy efficiency measures.’’ − Climate News Network

The risk of damage to turbines from cyclones has cut India’s electricity output, despite a longer windy season.

CHENNAI, 5 January, 2021 − Although India’s windy season was longer than usual in 2020, a series of cyclones that hit the country’s coasts reduced the amount of electricity generated by wind. The storms forced operators to shut down the turbines to prevent damage, which caused a 20% drop in production.

India witnessed five cyclones last year, with the two latest, Nivar and Burevi, making landfall in November. Altogether the combined onslaught of the five obliged turbine operations to be suspended for two weeks.

This has knocked confidence in the renewable energy industry at a time when the government of Narendra Modi is working hard to expand it.

Wind power generation capacity has significantly increased in recent years. It is concentrated across India’s windiest southern, western and northern regions. By the end of September 2020 the total installed capacity was 38,124 megawatts (MW), surpassed only by China, the US and Germany.

Unlike other parts of the world where the wind blows in fairly regular patterns all year round, India gets 70% of its wind between May and September, coinciding with the south-west monsoon. Once the rains and the clouds have gone, solar power largely replaces wind in supplying renewable energy.

“There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”

But in 2020 the normal pattern was different, with the windy season in southern India lasting till November. This brought no benefit, though: the turbines could not be left to operate at all, as the wind speed during the cyclones was very high.

Even though World Bank experts and others are predicting a large expansion of wind power in India, including offshore, its unpredictability is sapping the market’s confidence.

It is too early to say whether climate change has anything to do with the change in weather patterns. Ajay Devaraj, secretary-general of the Indian Wind Power Association, says that although wind power production varies from one year to the next, its decline was particularly significant last year because it knocked investor confidence.

“We are hoping this shortage will be met in 2021. But we can’t promise, since wind generation is based on nature’s laws. Due to cyclones there is a 20% shortage of wind power generation in India this year. Since offshore wind projects need huge capital, that doesn’t attract investors,’’ he said in 2020.

There was also a safety issue with some of the older turbines in very high winds, although if in good condition they could continue to operate for far longer, Dr Devaraj said. The alternative was to “repower” wind farms, replacing smaller turbines with larger, more efficient ones − which were also more expensive.

Renewable energy critical

But instead of repowering, he suggested the government could simply check turbine safety. This would encourage their owners to stay in business instead of disinvesting. Turbines as old as 30 years were still in operation in countries like Germany and Denmark, he said.

India produced 37,505 MW of wind power in 2019. It also set a new target of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Wind energy is expected to provide the lion’s share of this target. The government recently set up a national committee to co-ordinate more urgent action on climate.

In a recent virtual event on clean energy, Amitabh Kant, who heads India’s Niti Ayog (National Institution for Transforming India), said renewable electricity generated by clean technology was critical for the country.

“We need to get into a whole range of clean energy deployments. It is very important for India to get into cutting-edge technology. There is a need for a clear ten-year roadmap to boost clean energy technologies and create standards for innovation”, he said.

“India is the only country among the G20 nations that is on track to meet its climate change mitigation commitments, made in 2015 under the Paris Agreement, and has formulated forward-looking policies for energy efficiency measures.’’ − Climate News Network

India has an (official) climate change of heart

India’s new approach seems to show a climate change of heart by one of the world’s most populous countries.


CHENNAI, 23 December, 2020 − The question taxing the brains of India’s climate campaigners is challenging. What’s going on in Delhi? Has the government really had a climate change of heart?

After all, it’s only a decade ago that United Nations climate conferences were routinely hearing from Indian delegates that their priority was development. Global warming was a problem for the industrialised countries, the Indians would insist, because they had caused the problem in the first place.

Now, after dozens of scientific reports showing how millions of Indians will suffer, many of India’s leading companies and civil society organisations  − and even the government itself − are making strenuous efforts to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which binds every signatory to reach an agreed level for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Indian government has set up a high-level group, the Apex Committee for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement (AIPA), to ensure that the country does in fact meet its Paris targets.

AIPA will monitor both government and private sector contributions towards climate change and see to it that India is on track to meet its obligations under the Agreement, including what are known in the jargon of climate negotiations as its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change’’

A year ago a highly critical report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that governments which had signed the Paris accord were not reaching their declared NDC targets, which − even if implemented in full − would still allow the world to warm by 2.6°C, 70% more than the 1.5°C regarded as desirable in the Agreement.

India’s creation of AIPA follows China’s unexpected decision to pursue a net zero emissions target in 2060. These moves, and the pledges of the developed world at the recent Climate Ambition Summit, are not enough to satisfy all the critics, but they are a big leap forward for the developing world.

The Apex Group will also regulate India’s carbon markets, formulating guidelines on carbon pricing, market mechanisms and other relevant measures, and “will engage with the private sector as well as multi- and bilateral agencies in the field of climate change and provide guidance for aligning their actions with national priorities”, the Hindustan Times reports.

At the recent G20 summit India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the country was not only meeting its Paris targets but was exceeding them. It has made eight commitments under the NDC requirement, with three goals set to be achieved by 2030.

It has promised to work on reductions in the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% over 2005 levels. It plans to be producing about 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources. And it intends to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

Decision by elite

Despite these sweeping promises there are still doubts among India’s environmental activists that, without involving ordinary citizens, the goals will be reached. One, a prominent campaigner, Arul Selvam, said that only when the government included grassroots leaders would it achieve its goals both on paper and in reality.

“Decisions are taken by experts, senior officers and ministers”, he said. “It would be useful to include members from associations of organic farmers, small-scale traders, village-level workers, fishermen and conservationists.”

This would improve the implementation of any programme on the ground, with many people across India already living sustainable daily lives.

India had seen protests against environmental degradation caused by industry and government, so at least the government should now start working with people to ensure that its plans succeeded on the ground and yielded results.

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change,’’ Arul Selvam said. − Climate News Network

India’s new approach seems to show a climate change of heart by one of the world’s most populous countries.


CHENNAI, 23 December, 2020 − The question taxing the brains of India’s climate campaigners is challenging. What’s going on in Delhi? Has the government really had a climate change of heart?

After all, it’s only a decade ago that United Nations climate conferences were routinely hearing from Indian delegates that their priority was development. Global warming was a problem for the industrialised countries, the Indians would insist, because they had caused the problem in the first place.

Now, after dozens of scientific reports showing how millions of Indians will suffer, many of India’s leading companies and civil society organisations  − and even the government itself − are making strenuous efforts to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which binds every signatory to reach an agreed level for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Indian government has set up a high-level group, the Apex Committee for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement (AIPA), to ensure that the country does in fact meet its Paris targets.

AIPA will monitor both government and private sector contributions towards climate change and see to it that India is on track to meet its obligations under the Agreement, including what are known in the jargon of climate negotiations as its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change’’

A year ago a highly critical report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that governments which had signed the Paris accord were not reaching their declared NDC targets, which − even if implemented in full − would still allow the world to warm by 2.6°C, 70% more than the 1.5°C regarded as desirable in the Agreement.

India’s creation of AIPA follows China’s unexpected decision to pursue a net zero emissions target in 2060. These moves, and the pledges of the developed world at the recent Climate Ambition Summit, are not enough to satisfy all the critics, but they are a big leap forward for the developing world.

The Apex Group will also regulate India’s carbon markets, formulating guidelines on carbon pricing, market mechanisms and other relevant measures, and “will engage with the private sector as well as multi- and bilateral agencies in the field of climate change and provide guidance for aligning their actions with national priorities”, the Hindustan Times reports.

At the recent G20 summit India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the country was not only meeting its Paris targets but was exceeding them. It has made eight commitments under the NDC requirement, with three goals set to be achieved by 2030.

It has promised to work on reductions in the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% over 2005 levels. It plans to be producing about 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources. And it intends to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

Decision by elite

Despite these sweeping promises there are still doubts among India’s environmental activists that, without involving ordinary citizens, the goals will be reached. One, a prominent campaigner, Arul Selvam, said that only when the government included grassroots leaders would it achieve its goals both on paper and in reality.

“Decisions are taken by experts, senior officers and ministers”, he said. “It would be useful to include members from associations of organic farmers, small-scale traders, village-level workers, fishermen and conservationists.”

This would improve the implementation of any programme on the ground, with many people across India already living sustainable daily lives.

India had seen protests against environmental degradation caused by industry and government, so at least the government should now start working with people to ensure that its plans succeeded on the ground and yielded results.

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change,’’ Arul Selvam said. − Climate News Network

Covid-19’s spread: Into the second lockdown

Parts of the UK are in a second lockdown aimed at stopping Covid-19’s spread. The first one left some useful lessons.

LONDON, 5 November, 2020 − Many countries have tried to arrest Covid-19’s spread by imposing a temporary lockdown on daily life, usually at grave cost to economies and to people across society, and many of them, including parts of the United Kingdom, faced with the pandemic’s second wave, have opted for a second lockdown.

So we’ve been here before. As we tread reluctantly into this renewed attempt to tame the virus, there is some hope that we can use the lessons the first effort taught us.

Just over a month ago the Climate News Network published a highly abridged summary singling out a few of the specific life-saving lessons identified by the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) in its three published briefings on what we can learn so far from our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The RTA argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

This update includes three short RTA films, embedded below, which show the reactions and experiences of people who told the Alliance what lessons they had learnt − people not only from the UK itself but from a range of countries, among them France, Sweden, Hong Kong and the US. The Alliance hopes the films “find the balance between hope and realism”.

To see them (each film is from six to nine minutes long), click on the title of the report to which it refers. The text following each film has been added by the Network and is intended to provide a thumbnail sketch.

Looking after each other better

The rules by which we have lived have changed, and we know that our behaviour can change radically overnight, not just incrementally − which the urgency of the climate and extinction crisis means we cannot afford anyway. Governments can find immense sums of money quickly. We need to value the people on whom society depends better than we have − carers, workers in food production and distribution, for example. Covid has traumatised us, but it is also helping us to think in new ways.

More space for people and nature

We do not need to travel so much: working from home is easy for many of us, and so is growing food closer to home. But we need to recognise that while space is essential for our health, it is out of reach for many people on this fast-urbanising planet, and for growing stretches of the natural world. In the UK, and elsewhere, there is a national divide in access to green open space, and to much more of what is essential for a healthy life.

Living with less stuff

We can live well by buying less and making more for ourselves; this way we can even cut our debts. Thinking afresh will help us to survive Covid − and that includes realising that many of us are time-rich. One UK respondent says: “To find that extra six hours down the back of the sofa has been wonderful.” So there are grounds to hope that we may be better prepared for the second lockdown. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Parts of the UK are in a second lockdown aimed at stopping Covid-19’s spread. The first one left some useful lessons.

LONDON, 5 November, 2020 − Many countries have tried to arrest Covid-19’s spread by imposing a temporary lockdown on daily life, usually at grave cost to economies and to people across society, and many of them, including parts of the United Kingdom, faced with the pandemic’s second wave, have opted for a second lockdown.

So we’ve been here before. As we tread reluctantly into this renewed attempt to tame the virus, there is some hope that we can use the lessons the first effort taught us.

Just over a month ago the Climate News Network published a highly abridged summary singling out a few of the specific life-saving lessons identified by the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) in its three published briefings on what we can learn so far from our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The RTA argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

This update includes three short RTA films, embedded below, which show the reactions and experiences of people who told the Alliance what lessons they had learnt − people not only from the UK itself but from a range of countries, among them France, Sweden, Hong Kong and the US. The Alliance hopes the films “find the balance between hope and realism”.

To see them (each film is from six to nine minutes long), click on the title of the report to which it refers. The text following each film has been added by the Network and is intended to provide a thumbnail sketch.

Looking after each other better

The rules by which we have lived have changed, and we know that our behaviour can change radically overnight, not just incrementally − which the urgency of the climate and extinction crisis means we cannot afford anyway. Governments can find immense sums of money quickly. We need to value the people on whom society depends better than we have − carers, workers in food production and distribution, for example. Covid has traumatised us, but it is also helping us to think in new ways.

More space for people and nature

We do not need to travel so much: working from home is easy for many of us, and so is growing food closer to home. But we need to recognise that while space is essential for our health, it is out of reach for many people on this fast-urbanising planet, and for growing stretches of the natural world. In the UK, and elsewhere, there is a national divide in access to green open space, and to much more of what is essential for a healthy life.

Living with less stuff

We can live well by buying less and making more for ourselves; this way we can even cut our debts. Thinking afresh will help us to survive Covid − and that includes realising that many of us are time-rich. One UK respondent says: “To find that extra six hours down the back of the sofa has been wonderful.” So there are grounds to hope that we may be better prepared for the second lockdown. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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