UN Climate Change News, 29 March 2019 – Just over a decade is all that remains to stop irreversible damage from climate change, world leaders heard this week at a General Assembly high‑level meeting on the relationship between climate change and sustainable development.
The meeting focused on the protection of the global climate for present and future generations, in the context of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés of Ecuador warned the gathering, stressing that 11 years are all that remain to avert catastrophe. Highlighting the meeting’s theme, Ms. Espinosa called for an intergenerational approach to climate change. “Climate justice is intergenerational justice,” she said.
Pointing to intensified calls by youth leaders for action on climate change, she added that 2019 must be a year of climate action at all levels. Drawing inspiration from the thousands of students worldwide demanding tangible action, she called on world leaders to make 2020 the last year carbon emissions increase due to human activities.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said no country or community is immune to climate-related devastation, with the poor and vulnerable the first to suffer and the worst hit.
He launched an appeal for aid for the around three million people affected by cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and noted such events are becoming more frequent and will become worse without urgent, immediate action.
He also said that humankind had the tools to address the crisis in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. “But tools are no use if you don’t use them,” he stressed, adding: “We need action, ambition and political will.”
The UN Secretary-General called on leaders the Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance nationally determined contributions by 2020.
He asked leaders to demonstrate how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and achieve net zero global emissions by 2050, to ensure no one is disadvantaged by climate action and to demonstrate how such action leads to job creation, lower air pollution and improved public health.
Discussions during the Assembly touched on the achievements of the two most recent UN Climate Change Conferences, as well as the expectations for UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Chile this December.
At COP24 in Poland last year, governments adopted a robust set of guidelines for implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who served as President of COP23 in 2017 in Bonn highlighted the fact that whilst the gathering featured disagreements and some finger pointing, the spirit of cooperation and understanding prevailed.
Michał Kurtyka, Secretary of State at the Ministry for Energy and Environment of Poland and President of COP24, said that a people-centred approach to climate change mitigation had emerged in Katowice.
For her part, Carolina Schmidt, Minister for Environment of Chile and President of the upcoming COP25, said discourse now needed to shift towards change and action with the understanding that climate change and poverty are linked.
All three COP Presidents, former and incoming, called on world nations to increase their climate ambition so that 1.5 degrees C goal of the Paris Agreement can be achieved.
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, noted that the successes of the last two UN Climate Change conferences had proven that multilateralism is alive and ready to address the challenges of climate change. “But there is no time to lose,” she warned.
By Jack Marley, The Conversation, Commissioning Editor, UK edition; Khalil A. Cassimally, The Conversation, Community Project Manager (Audience development), UK edition and Will de Freitas, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation.
Imagine is an upcoming newsletter by The Conversation which presents a vision of a world acting on climate change. Drawing from the collective wisdom of academics in fields from anthropology and zoology to technology and psychology, this newsletter will explore what alternatives there are from the world of research and what they would mean for you and the rest of the planet.
Climate change is here. Decades of warnings from scientists are now being vindicated, from extreme weather to mass extinctions of species. Every day we’re more familiar with the reality of climate change and what it means for life on Earth.
But climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is a fundamental crisis for civilisation. How can humanity face up to the wide range of challenges posed by climate change? If we embraced solutions and alternative ways of doing things, how might life be different?
The media has had some success in communicating how climate change could devastate the planet, but people are less familiar with the solutions. Beyond the idea of driving less and going vegan, there is often less discussion about the transformations needed to help society thrive in an age threatened by ecological crisis.
The ideas are out there, and already some are capturing attention. The Green New Deal, announced in February 2019 by US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, proposes an emergency transformation of America’s economy and society to bring greenhouse emissions to zero in ten years, redistribute wealth and help people find useful work and leisure time in a resurgent natural environment.
There are many other research-based solutions from different environmental, political, social and energy academics to consider. Imagine will arrive soon and is your guide to the future as it may yet still be. There is still time for radical thinking on how the world can seize the initiative on climate change, and make life more fulfilling for all living beings in the process.
In the present gloom of an ecological crisis, Imagine will bring clarity and suggestions for what a future beyond climate change could look like.
1962, American playwright James Baldwin wrote that “Not everything that is
faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Today, his
words should give us succour. We need more than ever to face the reality of
researcher at IPPR, a think tank. We have been observing warnings of rapid,
negative environmental change from the scientific community. So we decided to
understand what that means for our work, for policy, and for politics.
report released today,
we bring together the latest science on human-induced environmental change and
seek to understand how politicians should respond. We conclude that when it
comes to climate change, political debate has failed us in three different
the term “climate change” no longer captures reality. The scale of
environmental change that our earth is currently experiencing far exceeds it.
We are depleting soil, killing species, damaging oceans. This is happening at a
pace that is unprecedented in human
history and in some cases millions, or even billions, of years.
call this what it is: the age of environmental breakdown – a term that is a
more proportionate description of the totality that the earth presently faces.
political debate does not adequately recognise the consequences of
environmental breakdown. This isn’t just about saving polar bears or the health
impacts of air pollution, however crucial these issues are. It is about higher
incidences of drought, an impaired ability to grow food, cities afflicted by
extreme weather events. It is about the resulting consequences: famines, forced
migration, economic crises – and war.
age of environmental breakdown has inaugurated a new “domain of risk,”
unprecedented in its complexity and the potential severity of its impact.
current political debates skirt around the urgent need to transform our social
and economic systems in response to environmental breakdown. Tinkering in the
margins and providing quick fixes or short term measures will no longer
consequences of environmental breakdown will fall hardest on the poorest, who
are most vulnerable to its effects, and the least responsible for the problem.
poorest half of the global population account for around 10 per cent of yearly
global greenhouse gas emissions; half of global emissions
are attributed to the richest 10 per cent of people. In the UK, per capita
emissions of the wealthiest 10 per cent are up to five times higher than those
of the bottom half.
question of how we confront environmental breakdown, and who will feel its
effects, intersects with inequalities of class, ethnicity and gender.
Environmental breakdown isn’t just about climate change: it’s about justice.
confront environmental breakdown, we need two overall transformations.
first is to make to make societies sustainable and just, bringing human
activity within environmentally sustainable limits while ensuring a decent
quality of life is available to all. This sits at the heart of arguments for a Green New Deal.
Programmes to halt environmental breakdown can and should include measures to
improve social and economic outcomes, including providing good jobs for all,
tackling structural discrimination, and expanding free education.
second is to build societies that are prepared for
environmental breakdown. Infrastructure, markets and political processes need
to be resilient to environmental breakdown resulting from past and future
activity. We don’t talk about this enough. While it may be scary to think about
preparing for environmental catastrophe, it is fast becoming necessary. In
particular, we need to develop a politics that runs counter to the nativist
right, whose programme of anti-migrant and anti-environmental could win big as
the seas rise and the food runs out.
like the rollout of renewable energy and the successful efforts to stem the
breakdown of the ozone layer have made progress towards realising these
transformations. But most efforts have neither adequately focussed on all
elements of environmental breakdown, nor sought to fundamentally transform key
social and economic systems. Little attention has been given to ensuring
societies are robust enough to face the increasingly severe consequences of
generations are now faced with a daunting twin task: preventing environmental
breakdown and responding to its growing impact. IPPR will be exploring how to
help younger generations find the energy that often eludes them as they
confront a rapidly destabilising world.
scale and pace of environmental change confirms that the only credible way
forward is systemic transformation of societies and economies. To change the
path that lies ahead, we must first admit that we are entering an age of
unprecedented breakdown. Time is running out.
Laybourn-Langton is a senior research fellow at IPPR. He tweets @Laurie_L_L
The Sahara Desert is one of the harshest, most inhospitable places on the planet, covering much of North Africa in some 3.6 million square miles of rock and windswept dunes. But it wasn’t always so desolate and parched. Primitive rock paintings and fossils excavated from the region suggest that the Sahara was once a relatively verdant oasis, where human settlements and a diversity of plants and animals thrived.
A new analysis of African dust reveals the Sahara swung between green
and desert conditions every 20,000 years, in sync with changes in the Earth’s
tilt. Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Now researchers at MIT have analyzed dust
deposited off the coast of west Africa over the last 240,000 years, and found
that the Sahara, and North Africa in general, has swung between wet and dry
climates every 20,000 years. They say that this climatic pendulum is mainly
driven by changes to the Earth’s axis as the planet orbits the sun, which in
turn affect the distribution of sunlight between seasons—every 20,000 years,
the Earth swings from more sunlight in summer to less, and back again.
For North Africa, it is likely that, when the Earth is tilted to receive
maximum summer sunlight with each orbit around the sun, this increased solar
flux intensifies the region’s monsoon activity, which in turn makes for a
wetter, “greener” Sahara. When the planet’s axis swings toward an
angle that reduces the amount of incoming summer sunlight, monsoon activity weakens,
producing a drier climate similar to what we see today.
“Our results suggest the story of North African climate is
dominantly this 20,000-year beat, going back and forth between a green and dry
Sahara,” says David McGee, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of
Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “We feel this is a useful time
series to examine in order to understand the history of the Sahara desert and
what times could have been good for humans to settle the Sahara desert and
cross it to disperse out of Africa, versus times that would be inhospitable
McGee and his colleagues have published their results today in Science
A puzzling pattern
Each year, winds from the northeast sweep up hundreds of millions of
tons of Saharan dust, depositing much of this sediment into the Atlantic Ocean,
off the coast of West Africa. Layers of this dust, built up over hundreds of
thousands of years, can serve as a geologic chronicle of North Africa’s climate
history: Layers thick with dust may indicate arid periods, whereas those
containing less dust may signal wetter eras.
Scientists have analyzed sediment cores dug up from the ocean
bottom off the coast of West Africa, for clues to the Sahara’s
climate history. These cores contain layers of ancient sediment deposited over
millions of years. Each layer can contain traces of Saharan dust as well as the
remains of life forms, such as the tiny shells of plankton.
Past analyses of these sediment cores have unearthed a puzzling pattern:
It would appear that the Sahara shifts between wet and dry periods every
100,000 years—a geologic beat that scientists have linked to the Earth’s ice
age cycles, which seem to also come and go every 100,000 years. Layers with a
larger fraction of dust seem to coincide with periods when the Earth is covered
in ice, whereas less dusty layers appear during interglacial periods, such as
today, when ice has largely receded.
But McGee says this interpretation of the sediment cores chafes against
climate models, which show that Saharan climate should be driven by the
region’s monsoon season, the strength of which is determined by the tilt of the
Earth’s axis and the amount of sunlight that can fuel monsoons in the summer.
“We were puzzled by the fact that this 20,000-year beat of local
summer insolation seems like it should be the dominant thing controlling
monsoon strength, and yet in dust records you see ice age cycles of 100,000
years,” McGee says.
Beats in sync
To get to the bottom of this contradiction, the researchers used their
own techniques to analyze a sediment core obtained off the coast of West Africa
by colleagues from the University of Bordeaux—which was drilled only a few
kilometers from cores in which others had previously identified a 100,000-year
The researchers, led by first author Charlotte Skonieczny, a former MIT
postdoc and now a professor at Paris-Sud University, examined layers of
sediment deposited over the last 240,000 years. They analyzed each layer for
traces of dust and measured the concentrations of a rare isotope of thorium, to
determine how rapidly dust was accumulating on the seafloor.
Thorium is produced at a constant rate in the ocean by very small
amounts of radioactive uranium dissolved in seawater, and it quickly attaches
itself to sinking sediments. As a result, scientists can use the concentration
of thorium in the sediments to determine how quickly dust and other sediments
were accumulating on the seafloor in the past: During times of slow
accumulation, thorium is more concentrated, while at times of rapid
accumulation, thorium is diluted. The pattern that emerged was very different
from what others had found in the same sediment cores.
“What we found was that some of the peaks of dust in the cores were
due to increases in dust deposition in the ocean, but other peaks were simply
because of carbonate dissolution and the fact that during ice ages, in this
region of the ocean, the ocean was more acidic and corrosive to calcium carbonate,”
McGee says. “It might look like there’s more dust deposited in the ocean,
when really, there isn’t.”
Once the researchers removed this confounding effect, they found that
what emerged was primarily a new “beat,” in which the Sahara
vacillated between wet and dry climates every 20,000 years, in sync with the
region’s monsoon activity and the periodic tilting of the Earth.
“We can now produce a record that sees through the biases of these
older records, and so doing, tells a different story,” McGee says.
“We’ve assumed that ice ages have been the key thing in making the Sahara
dry versus wet. Now we show that it’s primarily these cyclic changes in Earth’s
orbit that have driven wet versus dry periods. It seems like such an
impenetrable, inhospitable landscape, and yet it’s come and gone many times,
and shifted between grasslands and a much wetter environment, and back to dry
climates, even over the last quarter million years.”
Fossil fuels have a wide range of applications including generation of electricity, transport fuels, making products like plastics, cosmetics, and even certain medicines. But why scientists and environmentalist are fighting to end the use of fossil fuels and promoting solar and wind energy instead? The damage that fossil fuel cause to the environment is affecting the entire ecosystem. The impact is disastrous and haunting for the health of our planet. These damages are in some cases easy to see and evaluate such as pollution and land degradation. However, the damage can take various forms and be hidden and difficult to measure such as asthma and cancer or even the impact on sea level rise.
Environmental impact of fossil fuels
In order to better understand the environmental impact of fossil fuels, it is essential to be aware of the production and transmission systems of this industry. In fact, fossil fuels are limited natural resources and the human being will eventually be forced to find another source of energy. The fossil fuels include crude oil, coal, natural gas or heavy oils, which are made up of partially or completely decomposed plants and animals. These plants and animals died millions of years ago and, over long periods of time, they became a part of the earth’s crust and were exposed to heat and pressure which, through carbon chemistry, turned them into fossil fuels and sources of energy for people.
Fossil fuels, when burnt, release gases and particles, which can cause pollution if not managed correctly. Carbon dioxide, one of the gases released from burning fossil fuels is one of the major contributors to global warming.
Rapidly changing Earth
The environmental impact of the production, transmission and consumption of fossil fuel energy can be clearly noticed in the recent statistical reports on climate change. Our planet is rapidly changing. February 2016 was the warmest February since record keeping began in 1880, and was the warmest month in recorded history (in terms of its deviation from average). May 2016, the warmest May on record, was the 13th consecutive record-breaking month.
The impact of fossil fuel industry can be visualized during its whole supply chain network (85% of the CO2 emissions come from fossil fuel combustion). According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the extraction processes can generate air and water pollution, and harm local communities, transportation fuels from the mine or oil well can cause air pollution and lead to serious accidents and spills.
The burning process of fuels emits toxins and global warming emissions. The whole procedure of fossil fuel produces a hazardous waste that harms public health and the environment we live in.
Consequences on sustainable development
The fossil fuel industry including coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear fuels has a negative impact the biodiversity of the planet and a big factor in the climate change. Fossil fuels generates, in general, consequences on the economic, environmental and social level. In fact, according to a research study conducted by Olson and Lenzmann from the Netherlands, the impact of fossil fuels cannot be limited to the amount of CO2 emissions as it is advertised to the public.
Fossil fuels have consequences on the three pillars of sustainable development. In their paper entitled the social and economic consequences of the fossil fuel supply chain: “Fuels are resources that can be used to ﬁll the needs of society. So it would intuitively follow that an abundance of these resources would lead to improved economies and more stable nations. But this is in fact clearly not the case for oil & gas resources. Of the 34 countries who are able to derive more than 5% of their GDP from oil exports, only 9 are ranked as stable nations”
Catastrophic risk for economy
Currently 80 percent of the global primary energy demand is based on fossil fuels and the energy system is considered the source of two thirds of global CO2 emissions in average. Unfortunately, if the current production and consumption of energy is going on the same rates, the demand will double by the year 2050 and emissions will greatly surpass the amount of carbon that can be emitted if the global average temperature rise is to be limited to 2C (according to a study by unchronicled). This level of CO2 emissions would be frightful and have disastrous climate consequences on the planet earth.
The Paris Agreement signed in December 2015 has solidiﬁed agreement that the world must address climate change and has resounded the warning that inaction on climate change carries potentially catastrophic risk for the global economy.
Although most governments are increasingly embracing renewable energy, fossil fuels are still the world’s dominant energy source due to their high energy density. Therefore understanding the danger of fossil fuels is important to truly measure the impact of this industry on our lives and the life of our planet. It is now essential to make a change and start elaborating a new future of energy production and transmission.
Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas. Union of Concerned Scientists.
Andrew J.Chapman, Kenshi Itaoka Energy transition to a future low-carbon energy society in Japan’s liberalizing electricity market: Precedents, policies and factors of successful transition. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 81, Part 2, January 2018, Pages 2019-2027
The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels. The true costs of coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels aren’t always obvious but their impacts can be disastrous. Union of Concerned Scientists
A report by the WWF published on October 30 reveals how our actions are degrading the natural world – the very basis on which our livelihood depends. The Living Planet Report 2018 shows that between 1970 and 2014, vertebrate – mammal, fish, bird, amphibian and reptile – population sizes have been reduced by 60%. South and Central America have been hit particularly hard, suffering population declines of 89%.
The report is one of the most comprehensive global analyses of biodiversity, yet it does have its limitations. It only tracks vertebrates, sampling is not standardised across different biomes, and it ignores genetic diversity.
It’s also worth noting that other global studies have reported different figures for biomass decline. A study in Nature looking at plant and insect species, estimates declines in species abundance of around 11%, and a study from Germany found a 75% decline in flying insect biomass in the 27 years up to 2016.
These are large discrepancies and clearly this topic needs further exploration. However, all these studies support the conclusion that we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate.
The big debate
There are two main strands of argument when it comes to the loss of wildlife. The first is that the loss of nature is a necessary and acceptable consequence of human progress. Historically, our wealth has increased through exploiting the natural environment, and it has allowed us to live richer lives with more freedom of opportunity.
Counter to this, the argument runs that we can only push biodiversity loss so far before we threaten the life support systems of our small planet – the capacity of the biosphere to regulate our climate, pollinate our crops, purify our water and decompose our waste. The biologist Paul Ehrlich once made the analogy that losing species in an ecosystem is like progressively removing rivets from an aeroplane: the plane may fly on for a while, but eventually it will fall out of the sky.
Such concerns have led to attempts to quantify “safe limits” of biodiversity loss, or so-called planetary boundaries that we must not cross else we risk a catastrophic tipping point. Although a compelling concept, there remains serious issues in implementing it. One is the uncertainty in the extent of biodiversity loss, the other is in the impact these losses will have on human livelihoods.
To make a comparison with climate change, many governments only committed to action after the likely economic impacts were quantified through meticulous analysis combining climate science and economics. Therefore, new approaches to more precisely quantify risk are urgently needed in order to galvanise action.
But even if we can ascertain the risks, will we actually be able to stop biodiversity loss?
I was recently involved in an interdisciplinary analysis of the global food system (one of the major culprits of biodiversity loss), which identified a range of mechanisms that keep our food system “locked” into an unsustainable trajectory.
People often feel powerless to change such global systems and point to factors at the level of government policy, such as the upcoming extension and renewal of the Convention for Biological Diversity.
Although wise governance is essential, many factors that contribute to a decline in biodiversity operate at the individual level, such as our dietary and consumer choices. Also, the structure of our institutions ultimately reflects our individual mindsets, so we have the opportunity to initiate positive change by acknowledging our dependency on nature. Rising levels of individualism, however, have encouraged an economy that provides for private interests at the expense of nature.
Through our purchases we can destroy the environment on the other side of the world, which is why the WWF report calls for better data to connect consumers to the consequences of their actions. On the positive side, our increasingly connected world could allow for social contagion of positive and responsible ways of acting. Small individual changes can cascade and cause a different kind of “tipping point” towards a more sustainable way of life.
If we really want to halt biodiversity loss and ensure a safe course for current and future generations on Spaceship Earth, we need to think beyond government, and forget the selfish “I” – the solutions start with “us”.