Connect with us

Green Planet

Revitalizing a Global Fight Climate Change Together

Published

on

Authors: Xu Guoying & Zhao Qingtong

Since the 1960s, the effects of global climate change have alarmed the peoples over the world. It includes unprecedented stronger storms, floods, droughts, landslides, rising temperatures and glacier melting. The nature is becoming more fragile, as Harvard scientist James McCarthy warned, “Now the Earth is populated with 6 billion people and natural and human systems that provide us with food, fuel, and fibre are strongly influenced by climate.” It does not matter whether carbon dioxide is placed in the atmosphere from China or the United States, it still affects global change. Truly as climate change accelerates, future change may not occur as smoothly as it has in the past. Despite considerable public attention, for example, the Vienna Conventions in 1985, FCCC in 1994 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, still less impressive progress has been made in reducing CO2 emissions globally.

Considering this, world leaders from some 70 countries staged a virtual gathering on December 12 to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Paris climate accord, the international agreement to curb global warming, with a view to drawing pledges by countries to increase efforts in tackling global climate challenges. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, the world needs to reduce global emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels and urged world leaders to “take the right decisions” to push their countries towards carbon neutrality. As a response to Guterres’ address, the president of the European Council Charles Michel reiterated the importance of international cooperation in fighting climate change. Chinese President Xi announced China’s determined commitments to combatting climate change along with other countries. The U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also pointed to the global efforts in developing coronavirus vaccines as an example of the strength of countries working together. As he said, “Together we can use scientific advances to protect our entire planet, our biosphere, against a challenge far worse, far more destructive than coronavirus.”The world indeed needs the golden thread of climate action to weave through every international gathering next year, including the G7, the G20 and other meetings, in order to fight climate change much more efficiently and substantially.

More encouraging, although the administration of President Trump, who withdrew the U.S. from the Paris accord, wasn’t represented at the meeting. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement in a written statement sent shortly before the meeting started. As the United States is returning to the Paris Agreement, the international community expects that the U.S. will commit to carbon neutrality, simply because others have done in the past days and weeks, countries such as China, Japan and Brazil. Yes, the countries that are party to the Paris Agreement are required to submit their updated targets to the United Nations by the end of this year.

As the largest developing country and a rising power as well, China vows to lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by over 65 percent from the 2005 level, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25 percent, increase the forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters from the 2005 level, and bring its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1.2 billion kilowatts. As a matter of fact, China has called for the global commitments to work towards a range of issues, including climate change, marine ecosystem protection, sustainable land use, restoring migration routes and many other areas to prevent the alarming scale of biodiversity loss in the world. This is a recognition of the crisis and an expression of the need for a profound re-commitment from world leaders to take urgent action. Yet, pragmatically with the world facing the coronavirus pandemic and failing to meet the 2020 biodiversity targets agreed previously, this summit was seen as an opportunity for world leaders to revise their goals and commitment to protect nature. As they have agreed, the challenges of climate change and COVID-19 show us the importance of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use to ensure a more secure, inclusive and resilient world. To that end, they must develop and agree on a shared plan together for the biodiversity and climate negotiations scheduled for next year, to secure a carbon-neutral, nature-positive and equitable future for all. There has never been a more crucial time to act for nature than now, as the UN chief Guterres warned, people over the world must stop a “suicidal” war on nature.

Historically the first convention on global climate change was adopted in 1992. Now the question remains “Can global cooperation succeed in a combating climate change? At its root, the answer to our puzzle is quite simple and plain. From a realistic point of view, each country would like to benefit from a cleaner environment but would also like others to bear the costs of protecting environmental quality. Given this, all countries share the benefits of a healthy atmosphere and all face private costs in changing individual behavior. Accordingly, all countries have attempted to free ride on one another, hoping to reap the benefits of a greener environment without having to give up our current lifestyle. For example, the United States and Australia remain the only two industrialized countries that have declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Astonishingly, they even question climate change science and seriousness of the predicted impacts of global warming, maintaining that undertaking emission reductions would harm their economies, and also arguing that Protocol is flawed because it does not require the major developing countries like China to undertake mandatory emission measures.

The next problem of collective action is compounded by the distributional consequences of alternative policy solutions, especially in the case of global climate change. For example, hydrocarbon fuels are the life blood of modern economies, and the interests who would lose from any seminal policy-changing are large and politically powerful. Even nowadays these vested interests have played upon the basic incentive of all actors to free rise to block any policy change. Due to this, international institutions are expected to play a role in facilitating and codifying cooperation in global climate change. Negotiations have occurred necessarily among global leaders who have reached the agreements and the consensuses in order to use them as the efficient legal tools.

In light of the analysis above, some countries, such as Japan, Canada, France and the U.K., recently declared a “climate emergency” and pledged to make its public sector carbon neutral by 2025.In September, China also publicly committed to bring carbon emissions to a peak by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Since the presidential race in the US is over fundamentally, John Kerry signaled Washington’s seriousness about climate shortly after being tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as U.S. envoy on climate, a new cabinet-level post.  As he said, “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is.” In addition, the UN is urging countries around the world to take more aggressive actions to match their commitments to the global climate change. In fact, although the pandemic is still the biggest concern to many people in the world in 2020, for millions in climate vulnerable places, the climate emergency remains the biggest threat and sadly there is no simple vaccine to fix the climate.

In order to show China is a responsible country in the world affairs, Beijing announced more new measures to fight climate change and stressed the important role of “solidarity, cooperation and confidence.” First, in term of the climate challenge, China argues that no one can be aloof and unilateralism will get us nowhere. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected over 50 million people globally, international community needs to work together to combat these natural disasters in terms of both virus and climate.”All countries need to maximize actions in light of their respective national circumstances and capabilities,” Xi said, calling on the developed countries to scale up support for developing countries in the financing, technology and capacity building. Only by upholding multilateralism, unity and cooperation can we deliver shared benefits and win-win for all nations.

For sure, the Prisoner’s dilemma that exists at the individual level is easily reproduced at the international level with the same consequences. The United States, as the world’s largest source of greenhouse gases, is unwilling to take an initiative to control its own emissions in the absence of a global solution. As former U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman (2006) stated, “We are a small contributor to the overall problems when you look at the rest of the world, so it’s really got to be a global solution agreed by all other countries.” In contrast, as the largest developing country and the second-largest economy in the world, China has been striving to coordinate economic growth and environmental protection and committed to the global fight against climate change. China has persistently exceeded its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by 2030 under the Paris agreement, thanks to its efforts to cut growth in energy use and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Now Beijing vows to continue making new progress in building an ecological civilization, optimize the development and protection of territorial space, and achieve notable results in green transformation of production and lifestyle.

By the end of 2020, the great news is that President-elect Biden reiterated his campaign pledge that his administration will cut U.S. emissions to net zero “no later than 2050.” He goes further saying that the United States will engage closely with the activists, including young people, who have continued to sound the alarm and demand change from those in power. It is quite clear that under a Biden-Harris administration, the U.S. will be back working with other countries around the world to ensure realizing those goals for the sake of the world and future generations. The paradoxes of collective action are every bit as important for countries as for individuals. After all, together, the world never fails.

Continue Reading
Comments

Green Planet

Increasing Frequency of Cyclones and Flooding Portends Worse Problems

Published

on

Sixteen years ago on August 29th, hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coast causing widespread damage that was estimated at $125 billion.  This year, by a remarkable coincidence, hurricane Ida hit on the same date, again August 29th.  The weather service  holds the end of August though the beginning of September as the period with the highest likelihood of tropical cyclones hitting the Louisiana coast.  In light of this, perhaps the coincidence is not quite as uncanny.

While not as large as Katrina, hurricane Ida was more powerful with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour.  That is in line with climate scientists who now believe extreme weather events will tend to increase in both severity and frequency unless something is done about global warming.

Another example has been the heat wave last June in the Pacific Northwest in which hundreds of people died.  Canada set an all-time-high temperature record of 49.6 degrees Celsius in the village of Lytton.  The chance of all this happening without human-induced global warming is about 1 in a 1000.  However, the warming makes the event 150 times more likely. 

Following Ida was hurricane Larry.  Also powerful, it formed in the Atlantic but luckily for the Atlantic coast chose a path straight north.  These recurring extreme weather events have caught the attention of scientists.  Thus Myhre from the Center for Climate Research in Norway and his coauthors find a strong increase in frequency and confirm previously established intensity.  They collected data for Europe over a three-decade period (1951-1980) and repeated the process for 1984-2013.  This historical data also allowed them to develop climate models for the future, and, as one might imagine, the future is not rosy.

Expanding their horizon, the authors note that historical and future changes in Europe follow a similar pattern.  This does not hold when including the US, Japan and Australia which are likely to experience bigger changes.  Given intensity and frequency going hand in hand and also that the study considered natural variability alone, we can only dread the inclusion of human forcing through climate drivers like greenhouse gases.

For coastal residents, sea level rise adds to the hazard.  Worse, it is now a problem for people several miles inland.  In South Florida, drainage canals are used to return water to the ocean after storm and flooding events; the difficulty now lies in rising sea levels that hinder the efficiency of the drainage canals. 

Residents as far away as 20 miles inland have noticed water coming up their driveway, a new and frightening portend of the future.  The South Florida Water Management District oversees the canals.  It raises and lowers the gates controlling flow to the ocean or vice versa.  Thus they can open the gates to release flood water from storms to the ocean. 

The problem now is that the ocean level in the Atlantic during some storms is higher than the water level inland so they cannot open the gates — that would simply bring in more water.   

All of these happenings are clearly not a happy future prospect … unless we take global warming seriously and act soon. 

Continue Reading

Green Planet

Human activity the common link between disasters around the world

Published

on

Disasters such as cyclones, floods, and droughts are more connected than we might think, and human activity is the common thread, a UN report released on Wednesday reveals.

The study from the UN University, the academic and research arm of the UN, looks at 10 different disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021, and finds that, even though they occurred in very different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are, in fact, interconnected.

A consequence of human influence

The study builds on the ground-breaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment released on 9 August, and based on improved data on historic heating, which showed that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General described the IPCC assessment as a “code red for humanity”.

Over the 2020-2021 period covered by the UN University, several record-breaking disasters took place, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a cold wave which crippled the US state of Texas, wildfires which destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and 9 heavy storms in Viet Nam – in the span of only 7 weeks.

Arctic-Texas link

Whilst these disasters occurred thousands of miles apart, the study shows how they are related to one another, and can have consequences for people living in distant places.

An example of this is the recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold wave in Texas. In 2020, the Arctic experienced unusually high air temperatures, and the second-lowest amount of sea ice cover on record.

This warm air destabilized the polar vortex, a spinning mass of cold air above the North Pole, allowing colder air to move southward into North America, contributing to the sub-zero temperatures in Texas, during which the power grid froze up, and 210 people died.

COVID and the Cyclone

Another example of the connections between disasters included in the study and the pandemic, is Cyclone Amphan, which struck the border region of India and Bangladesh.

In an area where almost 50 per cent of the population is living under the poverty line, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people without any way to make a living, including migrant workers who were forced to return to their home areas and were housed in cyclone shelters while under quarantine.

When the region was hit by Cyclone Amphan, many people, concerned over social distancing, hygiene and privacy, avoided the shelters and decided to weather the storm in unsecure locations. In the aftermath, there was a spike in COVID-19 cases, compounding the 100 fatalities directly caused by Amphan, which also caused damage in excess of 13 billion USD and displaced 4.9 million people.

Root causes

The new report identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management, and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.

The first of these, human induced greenhouse gas emissions, is identified as one of the reasons why Texas experienced freezing temperatures, but these emissions also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Cyclone Amphan, on the other side of the world.

Insufficient disaster risk management, notes the study, was one of the reasons why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damage during the cold snap, and also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central Viet Nam floods.

The report also shows how the record rate of deforestation in the Amazon is linked to the high global demand for meat: this demand has led to an increase in the need for soy, which is used as animal feed for poultry. As a result, tracts of forest are being cut down.

“What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behaviour”, says one of the report’s authors, UNU scientist Jack O’Connor. “Our actions have consequences, for all of us,”

Solutions also linked

However, Mr. O’Connor is adamant that, just as the problems are interlinked, so are the solutions.

The report shows that cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions can positively affect the outcome of many different types of disasters, prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards, and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

Continue Reading

Green Planet

Blue sky thinking: 5 things to know about air pollution

Published

on

Around 90 per cent of people go through their daily lives breathing harmful polluted air, which has been described by the United Nations as the most important health issue of our time. To mark the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, on 7 September, UN News explains how bad it is and what is being done to tackle it.

1) Air pollution kills millions and harms the environment

It may have dropped from the top of news headlines in recent months, but air pollution remains a lethal danger to many: it precipitates conditions including heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and strokes, and is estimated to cause one in nine of all premature deaths, around seven million every year.

Air pollution is also harming also harms our natural environment. It decreases the oxygen supply in our oceans, makes it harder for plants to grow, and contributes to climate change.

Yet, despite the damage it causes, there are worrying signs that air pollution is not seen as a priority in many countries: in the first ever assessment of air quality laws, released on 2 September by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it was revealed that around 43 per cent of countries lack a legal definition for air pollution, and almost a third of them have yet to adopt legally mandated outdoor air quality standards.

2) The main causes

 Five types of human activity are responsible for most air pollution: agriculture, transport, industry, waste and households.

Agricultural processes and livestock produce methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, and a cause of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a by-product of waste burning, which emits other polluting toxins, which end up entering the food chain. Meanwhile industries release large amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and chemicals.

Transport continues to be responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, despite the global phase out of dangerous leaded fuel at the end of August. This milestone was lauded by senior UN officials, including the Secretary-General, who said that it would prevent around one million premature deaths each year. However, vehicles continue to spew fine particulate matter, ozone, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere; it’s estimated that treating health conditions caused by air pollution costs approximately $1 trillion per year globally.

Whilst it may not come as a great shock to learn that these activities are harmful to health and the environment, some people may be surprised to hear that households are responsible for around 4.3 million deaths each year. This is because many households burn open fires and use inefficient stoves inside homes, belching out toxic particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead and mercury.

3) This is an urgent issue

 The reason that the UN is ringing alarm bells about this issue now, is that the evidence of the effects of air pollution on humans is mounting. In recent years exposure to air pollution has been found to contribute to an increased risk of diabetes, dementia, impaired cognitive development and lower intelligence levels.

On top of this, we have known for years that it is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Concern about this type of pollution dovetails with increased global action to tackle the climate crisis: this is an environmental issue as well as a health issue, and actions to clean up the skies would go a long way to reducing global warming. Other harmful environmental effects include depleted soil and waterways, endangered freshwater sources and lower crop yields.

4) Improving air quality is a responsibility of government and private sector

On International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, the UN is calling on governments to do more to cut air pollution and improve air quality.

Specific actions they could take include implementing integrated air quality and climate change policies; phasing out petrol and diesel cars; and committing to reduce emissions from the waste sector.

Businesses can also make a difference, by pledging to reduce and eventually eliminate waste; switching to low-emission or electric vehicles for their transport fleets; and find ways to cut emissions of air pollutants from their facilities and supply chains.

5)…and it is our responsibility, as well

At an individual level, as the harmful cost of household activities shows, a lot can be achieved if we change our behaviour.

Simple actions can include using public transportation, cycling or walking; reducing household waste and composting; eating less meat by switching to a plant-based diet; and conserving energy.

The Website for the International Day contains more ideas of actions that we can take, and how we can encourage our communities and cities to make changes that would contribute to cleaner skies: these include organizing tree-planting activities, raising awareness with events and exhibitions, and committing to expanding green open spaces.

How clean is your air?

You may well be wondering exactly how clean or dirty the air around you is right now. If so, take a look at a UNEP website which shows how exposed we are to air pollution, wherever we live.

The site indicates that more than five billion people, or around 70 per cent of the global population, are breathing air that is above the pollution limits recommended by the World Health Organization.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Europe1 hour ago

Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative...

Health & Wellness3 hours ago

Moderna vs. Pfizer: Two Recent Studies Show Moderna to Be The More Effective One

The first study was published by medRxiv “The Preprint Server for Health Sciences” on August 9th, and compared (on 25,589...

Middle East5 hours ago

After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas...

South Asia8 hours ago

Misjudgements in India’s Afghan policy

India’s Afghan policy has always been obsessed with the desire to deny Pakistan the “strategic depth” that Pakistan, according to...

Africa Today9 hours ago

Republic of Korea offers support for smallholder farmers in Mozambique

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) donated US$5.7 million through the World Food Programme (WFP) for a project to support...

Environment11 hours ago

Global Plastic Action Partnership Making an Impact in Fighting Plastic Pollution

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) released its second annual impact report, which highlights strides made over the last two...

Africa Today13 hours ago

Somalia’s Economy Rebounding from ‘Triple Shock’

Somalia’s economy is rebounding from the “triple shock” that ravaged the country in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme flooding, and...

Trending