Ms Thunberg, who recently launched a global series of concerts highlighting climate change called Climate Live, confirmed she would be attending COP26. She said her message to world leaders was to “be honest”.
“Be honest about where you are, how you have been failing, how you’re still failing us… instead of trying to find solutions, real solutions that will actually lead somewhere, that would lead to a substantial change, fundamental change,” she told the BBC’s Rebecca Morelle.
“In my view, success would be that people finally start to realise the urgency of the situation and realise that we are facing an existential crisis, and that we are going to need big changes, that we’re going to need to uproot the system, because that’s where the change is going to come.”
COP26 climate summit – The basics
Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Governments must promise more ambitious cuts in warming gases if we are to prevent greater global temperature rises.
The summit in Glasgow is where change could happen. You need to watch for the promises made by the world’s biggest polluters, like the US and China, and whether poorer countries are getting the support they need.
All our lives will change. Decisions made here could impact our jobs, how we heat our homes, what we eat and how we travel.
“Unfortunately there are no climate leaders today, especially not in the so-called global north. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t suddenly decide that now we’re going to take the process seriously,” she said.
Speaking about the targets for reaching net zero – which means not adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – she said that it was a “good start”, but cautioned that it “doesn’t really mean very much in practice” if people continued to look for loopholes.
COP26 will be attended by climate activists from across the world.
Kevin Mtai, a climate justice campaigner from Kenya, told the BBC that inclusivity at the summit was important.
“I hope this climate conference is going to be an inclusive conference, to include all voices in the talks. They need to use indigenous people in the talks, marginalised people in the talks, people from the most affected areas,” he said.
“It’s very important for people from the global south to speak for themselves, not other parts of the globe to speak on their behalf. Because we are the ones who have been affected by climate change, so it’s very important we can hear from our own people, with our own ideas, our own voice.”
From her home in Sweden, Ms Thunberg also spoke about her own role as a campaigner.
“I don’t see myself as a climate celebrity, I see myself as a climate activist… I should be grateful because there are many, many people who don’t have a platform and who are not being listened to, their voices are being oppressed and silenced.
“I’m a completely different person when I’m in private. I don’t think people would recognise me in private. I’m not very serious in private. I appear very angry in the media, but I am silly in private.”
When asked about why she sang a Rick Astley hit at the launch of Climate Live, she said that it was a climate movement in-joke. She has previously taken part in the internet phenomenon “rick-rolling” by tweeting out what she said was a link to a new speech, but actually linked to the music video for the song.
“Why not? I mean we have internal jokes within the climate movement, where we always rickroll each other.”
Joe Biden46th and current president of the United States
As President Biden pushes Congress to pass his climate agenda just days before world powers gather in Scotland to hash out a new international accord, more than two-thirds of Republicans (67 percent) continue to insist that climate change is “not an emergency,” according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
Coming on the heels of a summer that featured record-setting heat waves, wildfires and floods — all exacerbated by climate change — the result is a stark example of how U.S. politics imperils global progress on the issue.
The survey of 1,704 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Oct. 19 to 21, found that nearly all Democrats (78 percent) and a plurality of independents (45 percent) view climate change as “an existential threat that must be addressed now with major legislation.”
Yet less than one-quarter of Republicans (24 percent) agree. Instead, more than 6 in 10 believe, falsely, that global warming is either “not a real threat” (38 percent) or a threat that “the government has already done enough to address” (24 percent).
The poll underscores the challenge facing Biden as he aims to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to half of 2005 levels by the end of the decade and set an example for other countries to follow. Both the public at large and all but one Democrat on Capitol Hill — centrist West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — favor Biden’s plan to transition the economy to sustainable sources of energy. But Republicans do not.
In little more than a week, leaders and representatives from nearly every country in the world will gather in Glasgow for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has called the conference the world’s “last best hope” of keeping global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels in an effort to avert a cascade of devastating consequences for the planet.
A recent review of 88,128 scientific papers on climate change since 2012 has concluded that 99.9 percent of the studies agree that humankind’s burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the rise in global temperatures.
Yet even that fact is disputed by Republicans. According to the Yahoo News/YouGov poll, more Republicans continue to believe that human activity is not causing climate change (47 percent) than believe it is (34 percent). In contrast, just 4 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents deny the role of human activity in global warming.
The same pattern persists on issue after issue: A huge majority of Democrats and a substantial plurality of independents take climate change seriously and support the kind of major legislation Biden has proposed — while Republicans remain the outliers. The result is a consistent 15-to-20-point advantage for climate action among Americans at large. For instance:
● 48 percent of Americans favor cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030; just 27 percent are opposed.
● 48 percent favor limiting greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline-powered cars and coal-fired power plants; just 30 percent are opposed.
● 43 percent favor a proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions by rewarding utilities that switch to renewable energy and requiring utilities that continue to burn coal and oil “to pay more over time.” That is the $150 billion cornerstone of Biden’s clean energy plan, which Manchin has forced the administration to abandon. Just 27 percent are opposed.
● 45 percent favor “a program that requires polluters to pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit” if it includes “a rebate for families making less than $400,000 per year” to offset potential price hikes on “gasoline, electricity or home heating fuel” — a description of the “carbon tax” plan Democrats floated as an alternative to Biden’s clean energy proposal. Just 25 percent are opposed.
● And 45 percent say a major effort to address climate change would be “good for the economy because it will create new industries and jobs,” while just 31 percent say it would be “bad for the economy because it will destroy existing industries and jobs.”
There are limits to how much Americans are willing to personally spend to combat global warming. Without a rebate, support for a carbon tax falls (to 36 percent) and opposition rises (also to 36 percent). When asked to select “changes you would be willing to make” to help solve the problem, far more say they’d be willing to buy an electric car or solar panels with a government rebate (35 percent and 42 percent, respectively) than without (15 percent and 18 percent). And the most popular changes are the ones that require others to pay more, such as raising taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000 a year (42 percent) or on corporations earning more than $5 million (40 percent). Very few Americans are ready to pay more for gas (14 percent) or meat (15 percent).
The message seems to be that government, not individuals, should bear the brunt of climate action — which is why Biden has proposed rebates for most Americans, along with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Yet while a majority of Democrats (73 percent) and a plurality of independents (40 percent) agree with the president that “the U.S. cannot afford to wait any longer to pass major climate change legislation,” most Republicans (59 percent) say “the U.S. cannot afford to pass major climate change legislation right now.”
On Tuesday, the government set out a number of plans aiming to put the UK on course to achieve its climate goals. Funding for green cars, an end to gas boilers and tree-planting are some of the key announcements. But are they enough?
Let’s not be ungenerous: the government’s great over-arching green strategy is, on the face of, it a remarkable achievement.
Previous governments have theoretically espoused the need to live in harmony with the planet – but none has laid down a roadmap as to how that would be achieved.
It is especially important as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to welcome world leaders to Glasgow for the vital climate conference known as COP26.
Mr Johnson will brandish his sheaf of eco-documents at delegates and offer a challenge: My friends – if we can do it, you can do it.
The cars announcement has triggered a competitive rush in international car makers who’ve been preparing for this moment for decades. Motorists can just slip behind the wheel and drive away.
Boilers is a different issue. Heat pumps are expensive and a hassle to fit. The Treasury has agreed to subsidise them at £5,000 a time but the total pot for installations is far too low to make a difference – just 30,000 boilers a year for three years, a trifling number that’s not remotely high enough to kick-start an entire industry.
The business department BEIS wanted to offer more support, but the Treasury ruled it out.
What’s even worse, from an environmental standpoint, is the lack of funding to help people insulate their homes – because heat pumps simply won’t work unless homes are well-coddled.
So, the heat pumps policy looks like an illusion unless someone sorts out the finances.
That brings us on to question number two – who will pay for the strategy overall?
The Chancellor’s own document, the Net Zero Review, accepts that the costs of inaction on climate change outweigh the costs of action. This is a significant conclusion.
But there’s a sharp warning from the Treasury about the knock-on effect of the electric car revolution: it leaves an annual £37 billion black hole in its finances because fuel duty will evaporate.
Substitute taxes such as road pricing would not fill the gap, Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned, saying that people might face additional taxes or spending cuts.
Next year the Treasury will launch a review of how the green revolution can be funded fairly across society – this theme is regularly raised by members of the public.
The report warned that additional borrowing would be ruled out because it would be unfair to the future generations saddled with the bill.
That means innovative sorts of financing will be needed to fund that difficult but essential work to upgrade homes.
That could include loans from energy firms or conditions on mortgage lending. No details are provided.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.44.0/iframe.htmlMedia caption,WATCH: The BBC’s Nick Beake meets young climate activists trying to stop Norway drilling for oil and gas
And finally the third question – are the new policies tough enough to help rein back climate change? The prime minister hopes to persuade others to help him freeze temperature rise at 1.5C.
When that target was first mooted, scientists considered it the threshold to dangerous climate change. After a year of freak weather events with just 1.1C warming the climate is heating faster than our attempts to control it.
That’s what infuriates environmentalists so much. They say every lever in society must be pulled to face a global threat.
And they are contemptuous of a clutch of government policy areas that will allow emissions to actually grow.
These include building the £120bn rail project HS2, with all its energy-intensive concrete; construction of £27bn worth of roads; allowing the continued sale of gas guzzling SUVs; allowing aviation to grow even though the public wants it curbed; and allowing mining for oil, gas and coal drilling in defiance of international advice.
Any one of these issues could undermine the PM as he touts his green revolution in Glasgow.
A new report from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warns that Africa’s rare glaciers will disappear within two decades.
The report released Tuesday warned that the current retreat rates of Africa’s glaciers — Mount Kenya, the Rwenori Mountains and Mount Kilimanjaro — are higher than the global average. If it continues, the mountains would be deglaciated by the 2040s.
The WMO made the findings in The State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report, which details how Africa is disproportionately vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.
The report was done in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) through the Africa Climate Policy Centre (ACPC), and other international and regional scientific organizations.
The WMO’s report stated that Africa is witnessing increasing weather and climate variability, which leads to disasters and disruption of economic and ecological systems. In 2020, the region saw continued warming temperatures, accelerated sea-level rise and climate events like floods and droughts.
By 2030, up to 118 million “extremely poor people,” those living on less than $1.90 per day, would be exposed to droughts, floods and extreme heat in Africa if adequate measures are not put in place, the report said.
The report further found that climate change could further lower gross domestic product in sub-Saharan Africa by up to 3 percent in 2050.
Adaption costs in sub-Saharan African are estimated to be between $30 billion to $50 billion each year over the next decade to avoid even higher costs of additional disaster relief.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement that enhanced climate resilience is an “urgent and continuing need.”
“Investments are particularly needed in capacity development and technology transfer, as well as in enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water and climate observing systems,” Taalas continued.
While global climate efforts have tended to focus on the fight against carbon dioxide, many other threats that attract less attention are just as dangerous to our planet.
Negotiations over these more granular issues take place away from the limelight. But the policies and agreements that emerge are some of the most vital steps in the fight against climate change.
Over the past few weeks, one of these issues our team has focused on has been methane reduction. Methane, one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases, has accounted for nearly a third of global heating since the pre-industrial era. Yet efforts to combat it have been half-hearted.
On Monday, my country chose to join the fight to reverse this trend. We became one of 24 new signatories to the Global Methane Pledge, initiated by the US this year. The pledge, which is outside the traditional UN framework on climate change negotiations, committed its signatories to a 30% cut in methane emissions by the end of this decade.Advertisement
Methane is up to 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, though it breaks down faster. Making urgent and drastic cuts will therefore have an immediate impact on reducing global temperatures.
Among the negotiating teams of climate vulnerable countries such as mine, however, scepticism is still rife. While the goals of the pledge are admirable, actions are needed to convince those of us most at risk that these efforts will pay dividends.
The international community has a recent history of lagging behind on some of its most celebrated pledges. The $100bn annual target for climate finance for poor countries, for instance, from 10 Cops ago, has still not been reached. Progress on the Paris agreement’s key commitments is mostly lagging around the world.
The only way forward is for the developed world to take immediate action and lead by example. The developing world is more than willing to commit to action, but it is a significant challenge. In our country, as in many others, methane is the principal source of emissions. Cows, which produce methane, have enormous economic and cultural value to many of our nations. Furthermore, rapid urbanisation results in huge increases in waste production, which also releases methane.
The only way forward is for the developed world to take the lead, share technology, and provide financial assistance. Then we can decouple economic development from methane, and strive towards a cleaner future. While there are barriers to cutting emissions in the developing world, we are more than willing to work with our international partners to overcome them. The security of our people is at risk, after all.
While the past week has demonstrated the potential of international collaboration to produce positive outcomes, there is far more to be done. For one, only 33 countries have signed on to this pledge. Major emitters – including China, India and Russia, which are among the top methane emitters – cannot shy away. For another, not enough financial support has been pledged to achieve the targets.
The negotiations around the methane pledge have been similar to the overall negotiation process. The demands from the climate vulnerable ring out as clear as ever: urgent action, global collaboration, and increased financial support are the only routes to a stable future. As Cop26 looms, these demands must be heard, understood, and acted upon by the developed world.
Every week we’ll hear from negotiators from a developing country that is involved in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations and will be attending the Cop26 climate conference.
So many things have broken the wrong way since the Paris climate accords were agreed in mid-December of 2015. Within eight weeks Donald Trump had won his first presidential primary, an insane comet streaking across the night sky, trailed by outliers like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. The world has endured opéra bouffe distractions like Brexit, and the true paralyzing emergency of the pandemic.https://www.theguardian.com/email/form/plaintone/green-lightSign up for our weekly environment newsletter, Green Light.
And yet here we are, staggering and stumbling towards the real follow-up to Paris, starting 31 October in Glasgow. The international order, such as it is, is held together with baling wire and duct tape: China (its housing market cratering) and the US (between rebellions) are spitting at each other, India half-lost in its ugly experiments with repression, Europe Merkelless. The global south is ever more rightly angered by the failure of the north to deliver on its necessary pledges for climate finance – and to pay for the increasingly obvious damage that global warming has inflicted on nations that did nothing to cause it. But somehow all these players must stitch together a plan for dramatically increasing the speed of a global transition off fossil fuel – and if they don’t, then Paris will forever be the high-water mark of climate action. (And the actual high-water mark of rising seas will jump upward.)
At least no one remains in the dark about the importance of the work: since Paris we’ve endured the hottest heatwaves, the biggest and fastest storms, the highest winds, the heaviest rains; we’ve watched both the jet stream and the Gulf Stream start to sputter. The physical world, once backdrop, is now foreground, a well-lit stage on which the drama will play out.
And to make the theater interesting, there are two things that have broken the right way, two things that will have to be the bulwark of progress in Glasgow.
The faster we move towards true renewable energy, the more money we save, and the savings are measured in many trillions of dollars
One is the continuing astonishing fall in the cost of renewable energy and the batteries with which to store it. This trend was evident by the time of Paris, but still new enough that it was hard to trust it: we still thought of wind and sun as expensive, a sacrifice. We now understand that they are miracles, both of engineering and economics: last month an Oxford team released an (undercovered) analysis that concluded: “Compared to continuing with a fossil-fuel-based system, a rapid green energy transition will probably result in overall net savings of many trillions of dollars – even without accounting for climate damages or co-benefits of climate policy.” That is, the faster we move towards true renewable energy, the more money we save, and the savings are measured in “many trillions of dollars”.Advertisement
And the second lucky break is the continuing astonishing growth in the size of citizens’ movements demanding action. Again, this was already evident in Paris: 400,000 people had marched on the UN the year before demanding action, and as Barack Obama said at the time, “we cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.” He’d been able to slink back from Copenhagen in 2009 with no agreement and pay no political price; by Paris that had changed. But it’s changed even more in the six years since, particularly since August 2018 when Greta Thunberg began her first climate strike. There are thousands of Thunbergs now scattered across the planet, with millions of followers: this may be the biggest international movement in human history.
Those two strengths go up against the equally powerful bulwarks of the status quo: vested interest and inertia.
The first, the fossil fuel lobby, has suffered damage in recent years: a global divestment campaign, for instance, has put $15tn in endowments and portfolios beyond its reach, and it builds little now without resistance. People increasingly see through the fossil fuel lobby’s attempts at greenwashing. But it maintains its hold on too many capitals – in the United States, the Republican party is its wholly owned subsidiary, which makes progress halting at best. And the planet’s financial superpowers – Chase, Citi, BlackRock and the rest – continue to lend and invest as if there was nothing wrong with an industry that is literally setting the Earth on fire.Forget net zero – let’s have a ‘fossil freedom day’Mark LynasRead more
As for inertia, it’s a deep obstacle, simply because the climate crisis is a timed test. Without swift change we will pass irrevocable tipping points: winning slowly on climate is simply another way of losing. Every huge forest fire, every hurricane strike, every month of drought heightens public demand for change – but every distraction weakens that demand. Covid could not have come at a worse time – indeed, it very nearly undid these talks for the second year in a row.
So, that’s the playbill. We have two big forces on each side of the drama, behemoths leaning against each other and looking for weakness to exploit. In the wings, old hands like John Kerry, the US climate envoy, push and probe; if the US Senate actually passes a serious climate plan before Glasgow, his power will increase like some video game character handed a magic sword. If the price of gas keeps rising in Europe, perhaps that weakens chances for a breakthrough.
We know which side will win in the end, because vested interest is slowly shifting towards the ever-larger renewable sector, and because inertia over time loses ground to the movements that keep growing. But we don’t know if that win will come in time to matter. Glasgow, in other words, is about pace: will it accelerate change, or will things stay on their same too-slow trajectory? Time will tell – it’s the most important variable by far.
Bill McKibben is the Schumann distinguished scholar at Middlebury College, Vermont, and leader of the climate campaign group 350.org
The world’s wildlife populations have plummeted by more than two-thirds since 1970 – and there are no signs that this downward trend is slowing. The first phase of Cop15 talks in Kunming this week will lay the groundwork for governments to draw up a global agreement next year to halt the loss of nature. If they are to succeed, they will need to tackle what the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) has identified as the five key drivers of biodiversity loss: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of natural resources; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species.
Changes in land and sea use
Clearing the US prairies: ‘On a par with tropical deforestation’
“It’s hidden destruction. We’re still losing grasslands in the US at a rate of half a million acres a year or more.”
Tyler Lark, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, knows what he is talking about. Lark and a team of researchers used satellite data to map the expansion and abandonment of land across the US and discovered that 4m hectares (10m acres) had been destroyed between 2008 and 2016.
North America’s grasslands – often referred to as prairies – are a case in point. In the US, about half have been converted since European settlement, and the most fertile land is already being used for agriculture. Areas converted more recently are sub-prime agricultural land, with 70% of yields lower than the national average, which means a lot of biodiversity is being lost for diminishing returns.
“Our findings demonstrate a pervasive pattern of encroachment into areas that are increasingly marginal for production but highly significant for wildlife,” Lark and his team wrote in the paper, published in Nature Communications.
Boggier areas of land, or those with uneven terrain, were traditionally left as grassland, but in the past few decades, this marginal land has also been converted. In the US, 88% of cropland expansion takes place on grassland, and much of this is happening in the Great Plains – known as America’s breadbasket – which used to be the most extensive grassland in the world.Q&A
What are the five biggest threats to biodiversity?
Hotspots for this expansion have included wildlife-rich grasslands in the “prairie pothole” region which stretches between Iowa, Dakota, Montana and southern Canada and is home to more than 50% of North American migratory waterfowl, as well as 96 species of songbird. This cropland expansion has wiped out about 138,000 nesting habitats for waterfowl, researchers estimate.
These grasslands are also a rich habitat for the monarch butterfly – a flagship species for pollinator conservation and a key indicator of overall insect biodiversity. More than 200m milkweed plants, the caterpillar’s only food source, were probably destroyed by cropland expansion, making it one of the leading causes for the monarch’s national decline.
The extent of conversion of grassland in the US makes it a larger emission source than the destruction of the Brazilian Cerrado, according to research from 2019. About 90% of emissions from grassland conversion comes from carbon lost in the soil, which is released when the grassland is ploughed up.
The rate of clearing that we’re seeing on these grasslands is on par with things like tropical deforestation, but it often receives far less attention
Tyler Lark, scientist
“The rate of clearing that we’re seeing on these grasslands is on par with things like tropical deforestation, but it often receives far less attention,” says Lark.Advertisementhttps://3ebf17f3fa57f85f9342d99427268f34.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Food crop production globally has increased by about 300% since 1970, despite the negative environmental impacts.
Reducing food waste and eating less meat would help cut the amount of land needed for farming, while researchers say improved management of existing croplands and utilising what is already farmed as best as possible would reduce further expansion.
Lark concludes: “I think there’s a huge opportunity to re-envision our landscapes so that they’re not only providing incredible food production but also mitigating climate change and helping reduce the impacts of the biodiversity crisis by increasing habitats on agricultural land.” PW
From hunting, fishing and logging to the extraction of oil, gas, coal and water, humanity’s insatiable appetite for the planet’s resources has devastated large parts of the natural world.
While the impacts of many of these actions can often be seen, unsustainable groundwater extraction could be driving a hidden crisis below our feet, experts have warned, wiping out freshwater biodiversity, threatening global food security and causing rivers to run dry.
The consequences for freshwater ecosystems – among the most degraded on the planet – are under-researched as studies have focused on the depletion of groundwater for agriculture.
But a growing body of research indicates that pumping the world’s most extracted resource – water – is causing significant damage to the planet’s ecosystems. A 2017 study of the Ogallala aquifer – an enormous water source underneath eight states in the US Great Plains – found that more than half a century of pumping has caused streams to run dry and a collapse in large fish populations. In 2019, another study estimated that by 2050 between 42% and 79% of watersheds that pump groundwater globally could pass ecological tipping points, without better management.
“The difficulty with groundwater is that people don’t see itand they don’t understand the fragility of it,” says James Dalton, director of the global water programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “Groundwater can be the largest – and sometimes the sole – source in certain types of terrestrial habitats.
Some of the groundwater reserves are huge, so there is time to fix this
James Dalton, IUCN
“Uganda is luxuriantly green, even during the dry season, but that’s because a lot of it is irrigated with shallow groundwater for agriculture and the ecosystems are reliant on tapping into it.”Advertisementhttps://3ebf17f3fa57f85f9342d99427268f34.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
According to UPGro (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor), a research programme looking into the management of groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa, 73 of the 98 operational water supply systems in Uganda are dependent on water from below ground. The country shares two transboundary aquifers: the Nile and Lake Victoria basins. At least 592 aquifers are shared across borders around the world.
“Some of the groundwater reserves are huge, so there is time to fix this,” says Dalton. “It’s just there’s no attention to it.”
Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at Wageningen University, who led the 2019 study into watershed levels, found between 15% to 21% had already passed ecological tipping points, adding that once the effects had become clear for rivers, it was often too late.
“Groundwater is slow because it has to flow through rocks. If you extract water today, it will impact the stream flow maybe in the next five years, in the next 10 years, or in the next decades,” she says. “I think the results of this research and related studies are pretty scary.”
In April, the largest ever assessment of global groundwater wells by researchers from University of California, Santa Barbara, found that up to one in five were at risk of running dry. Scott Jasechko, a hydrologist and lead author on the paper, says that the study focuses on the consequences for humans and more research is needed on biodiversity.
“Millions of wells around the world could run dry with even modest declines in groundwater levels. And that, of course, has cascading implications for livelihoods and access to reliable and convenient water for individuals and ecosystems,” he says. PG
The climate crisis
Climate and biodiversity: ‘Solve both or solve neither’
In 2019, the European heatwave brought 43C heat to Montpellier in France. Great tit chicks in 30 nest boxes starved to death, probably because it was too hot for their parents to catch the food they needed, according to one researcher. Two years later, and 2021’s heatwave appears to have set a European record, pushing temperatures to 48.8C in Sicily in August. Meanwhile, wildfires and heatwaves are stripping the planet of life.
Until now, the destruction of habitats and extraction of resources has had a more significant impact on biodiversity than the climate crisis. This is likely to change over the coming decades as the climate crisis dismantles ecosystems in unpredictable and dramatic ways, according to a review paper published by the Royal Society.
The level of interconnectedness between the climate change and biodiversity crises should not be underestimated
Dr Nathalie Pettorelli
“There are many aspects of ecosystem science where we will not know enough in sufficient time,” the paper says. “Ecosystems are changing so rapidly in response to global change drivers that our research and modelling frameworks are overtaken by empirical, system-altering changes.”
The calls for biodiversity and the climate crisis to be tackled in tandem are growing. “It is clear that we cannot solve [the global biodiversity and climate crises] in isolation – we either solve both or we solve neither,” says Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s climate and environment minister, with the launch in June of a report produced by the world’s leading biodiversity and climate experts. Zoological Society of London senior research fellow Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, who led a study on the subject published in the Journal of Applied Ecology in September, says: “The level of interconnectedness between the climate change and biodiversity crises is high and should not be underestimated. This is not just about climate change impacting biodiversity; it is also about the loss of biodiversity deepening the climate crisis.”
Our biosphere – the thin film of life on the surface of our planet – is being destabilised by temperature change. On land, rains are altering, extreme weather events are more common, and ecosystems more flammable. Associated changes, including flooding, sea level rise, droughts and storms, are having hugely damaging impacts on biodiversity and its ability to support us.
In the ocean, heatwaves and acidification are stressing organisms and ecosystems already under pressure due to other human activities, such as overfishing and habitat fragmentation.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) landmark report showed that extreme heatwaves that would usually happen every 50 years are already happening every decade. If warming is kept to 1.5C these will happen approximately every five years.
The distributions of almost half (47%) of land-based flightless mammals and almost a quarter of threatened birds, may already have been negatively affected by the climate crisis, the IPBES warns. Five per cent of species are at risk of extinction from 2C warming, climbing to 16% with a 4.3C rise.
Connected, diverse and extensive ecosystems can help stabilise the climate and will have a better chance of thriving in a world permanently altered by rising emissions, say experts. And, as the Royal Society paper says: “Rather than being framed as a victim of climate change, biodiversity can be seen as a key ally in dealing with climate change.” PW
The hidden threat of nitrogen: ‘Slowly eating away at biodiversity’
On the west coast of Scotland, fragments of an ancient rainforest that once stretched along the Atlantic coast of Britain cling on. Its rare mosses, lichens and fungi are perfectly suited to the mild temperatures and steady supply of rainfall, covering the crags, gorges and bark of native woodland. But nitrogen pollution, an invisible menace, threatens the survival of the remaining 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of Scottish rainforest, along with invasive rhododendron, conifer plantations and deer.
While marine plastic pollution in particular has increased tenfold since 1980 – affecting 44% of seabirds – air, water and soil pollution are all on the rise in some areas. This has led to pollution being singled out as the fourth biggest driver of biodiversity loss.
“The temperate rainforest is far from the sources of pollution, yet because it’s so rainy, we’re getting a kind of acid rain effect,” says Jenny Hawley, policy manager at Plantlife, which has called nitrogen pollution in the air “the elephant in the room” of nature conservation. “The nitrogen-rich rain that’s coming down and depositing nitrogen into those habitats is making it impossible for the lichen, fungi, mosses and wildflowers to survive.”
Environmental destruction caused by nitrogen pollution is not limited to the Scottish rainforest. Algal blooms around the world are often caused by runoff from farming, resulting in vast dead zones in oceans and lakes that kill scores of fish and devastate ecosystems. Nitrogen-rich rainwater degrades the ability of peatlands to sequester carbon, the protection of which is a stated climate goal of several governments. Wildflowers adapted to low-nitrogen soils are squeezed out by aggressive nettles and cow parsley, making them less diverse.
About 80% of nitrogen used by humans – through food production, transport, energy and industrial and wastewater processes – is wasted and enters the environment as pollution.
In terms of a nitrogen footprint, the most intensive thing that you can eat is meat
Kevin Hicks, Stockholm Environment InstituteAdvertisement
“Nitrogen pollution might not result in huge floods and apocalyptic droughts but we are slowly eating away at biodiversity as we put more and more nitrogen in ecosystems,” says Carly Stevens, a plant ecologist at Lancaster University. “Across the UK, we have shown that habitats that have lots of nitrogen have fewer species in them. We have shown it across Europe. We have shown it across the US. Now we’re showing it in China. We’re creating more and more damage all the time.”
To decrease the amount of nitrogen pollution causing biodiversity loss, governments will commit to halving nutrient runoff by 2030 as part of an agreement for nature currently being negotiated in Kunming. Halting the waste of vast amounts of nitrogen fertiliser in agriculture is a key part of meeting the target, says Kevin Hicks, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute centre at York.
“One of the biggest problems is the flow of nitrogen from farming into watercourses,” Hicks says. “In terms of a nitrogen footprint, the most intensive thing that you can eat is meat. The more meat you eat, the more nitrogen you’re putting into the environment.”
Mark Sutton, a professor at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, says reducing nitrogen pollution also makes economic sense.
“Nitrogen in the atmosphere is 78% of every breath we take. It does nothing, it’s very stable and makes the sky blue. Then there are all these other nitrogen compounds: ammonia, nitrates, nitrous oxide. They create air and water pollution,” he says. He argues that if you price every kilo of nitrogen at $1 (an estimated fertiliser price), and multiply it by the amount of nitrogen pollution lost in the world – 200bn tonnes – it amounts to $200bn (£147bn) every year.
“The goal to cut nitrogen waste in half would save you $100bn,” he says. “I think $100bn a year is a worthwhile saving.” PG
The problem for islands: ‘We have to be very careful’
The situation on the remote island, 2,600km from South Africa, is a grisly warning of the consequences of the human-driven impacts of invasive species on biodiversity. An RSPB-led operation to eradicate mice from the British overseas territory has been completed, using poison to help save the critically endangered albatross and other bird species from injuries they sustain from the rodents. It will be two years before researchers can confirm whether or not the plan has worked. But some conservationists want to explore another controversial option whose application is most advanced in the eradication of malaria: gene drives.
Instead of large-scale trapping or poisoning operations, which have limited effectiveness and can harm other species, gene drives involve introducing genetic code into an invasive population that would make them infertile or all one gender over successive generations. The method has so far been used only in a laboratory setting but at September’s IUCN congress in Marseille, members backed a motion to develop a policy on researching its application and other uses of synthetic biology for conservation.
“If a gene drive were proven to be effective and there were safety mechanisms to limit its deployment, you would introduce multiple individuals on an island whose genes would be inherited by other individuals in the population,” says David Will, an innovation programme manager with Island Conservation, a non-profit dedicated to preventing extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. “Eventually, you would have either an entirely all male or entirely all female population and they would no longer be able to reproduce.”Advertisement
Nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s surface is at risk of plant and animal invasions and although the problem is worldwide, such as feral pigs wreaking havoc in the southern United States and lionfish in the Mediterranean, islands are often worst affected. The global scale of the issue will be revealed in a UN scientific assessment in 2023.
“We have to be very careful,” says Austin Burt, a professor of evolutionary genetics at Imperial College London, who researches how gene drives can be used to eradicate malaria in mosquito populations. “If you’re going after mice, for example, and you’re targeting mice on an island, you’d need to make sure that none of those modified mice got off the island to cause harm to the mainland population.”
In July, scientists announced they had successfully wiped out a population of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes using a gene drive in a laboratory setting, raising the prospect of self-destructing mosquitoes being released into the wild in the next decade.
Kent Redford, chair of the IUCN Task Force on Synthetic Biology who led an assessment of the use of synthetic biology in conservation, said there are clear risks and opportunities in the field but further research is necessary.
“None of these genetic tools are ever going to be a panacea. Ever. Nor do I think they will ever replace the existing tools,” Redford says, adding: “There is a hope – and I stress hope – that engineered gene drives have the potential to effectively decrease the population sizes of alien invasive species with very limited knock-on effects on other species.” PG
This article was amended on 15 October 2021. Text was changed to reflect that 70% of the recently converted land area has lower yields, rather than total yields being “70% lower than the national average”, as an earlier version said.
Significantly reducing methane emissions would “have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential,” the EPA says. According to the agency’s Global Methane Initiative, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have doubled over the last two centuries.
With Musk’s $100 million investment in carbon-capturing technologies, it may be possible for SpaceX to continuously recycle gas released by its rockets into the atmosphere.
“We try very hard to do the right thing in all respects. We do not always succeed,” Musk said at the meeting. “But if you’re looking for a company where we say, is that company really trying to do the right thing? That is Tesla.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the fuel mixture used by SpaceX. It is liquid methane and oxygen.
(CNN)In a year of extreme heat, Antarctica’s last six months were the coldest on record.”For the polar darkness period, from April through September, the average temperature was -60.9 degrees Celsius (-77.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a record for those months,” the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said.The last six months is also the darkest period at the South Pole, which is where the name polar darkness (also called polar night) comes from. Here, the sun sets for the last time around the spring equinox, and does not rise again until near the autumn equinox six months later.
For the entire Antarctic continent, the winter of 2021 was the second-coldest on record, with the “temperature for June, July, and August 3.4 degrees Celsius (6.1 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than the 1981 to 2010 average at -62.9 degrees Celsius (-81.2 degrees Fahrenheit),” according to a new report from the NSIDC.
“This is the second-coldest winter (June-July-August months) on record, behind only 2004 in the 60-year weather record at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station,” the NSIDC said.
The National Science Foundation, which runs the US Antarctic program, points out the winter temperatures have had minimal impact in science support from the South Pole, since most of the deep fieldwork occurs in the austral summer. However, the polar environments are still challenging.”Everyone adapts to the cold differently, and today’s gear makes it much safer than in the days when Shackleton and the other explorers had little specialized gear; they had only wool socks and leather shoes to protect their feet!” a NSF spokesperson said. “All of NSF’s US Antarctic Program (USAP) participants are given extreme cold weather gear and are trained in how to recognize the dangers of extreme cold.”One extremely cold winter is intriguing from a record keeping standpoint, but one season alone does not change the long-term progression, which is rapid warming.
Weather versus climate
It is important to understand weather is different from climate. Weather is what happens over shorter periods of time (days to months), such as the seven-day forecast. Climate is what happens over much longer periods of time, such as several years, or even entire generations.”One such example is a cold snap, which can happen due to sudden changes in atmospheric circulation and may not be linked to climate change,” says Tom Slater, Research Fellow at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds. “Texas is a good example of this; even though parts of it experienced extreme cold weather earlier this year when air from the Arctic was pushed south, looking at the long-term change in temperature tells us that Texas is 1.5 degrees warmer on average now than it was 100 years ago. That’s climate.”Scientists also agree that since the 1950s extreme cold snaps do occur, but climate change is bringing far more heat records than cold records.”In other words, while the globe may be warmer than average as a whole, some areas will still observe colder temperatures and even severe cold outbreaks,” says Zack Labe, Climate Scientist at Colorado State University. “This regional variation is due to the influences of the oceans, mountains, deserts, ice sheets, and other geographic features that all affect our weather and climate. It’s also from changes in weather patterns that are related to the position of the jet stream (storm track), which can vary from day-to-day or even month-to-month.”So, this recent winter stretch from June-August is definitely interesting from a research standpoint, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect what Antarctica is doing in the long term.
Antarctica just registered its hottest temperature everOne great example of this is while June-August of this year may have been quite cold, February of the previous year recorded the new all-time record high for the Antarctic continent. On February 6, 2020, the Esperanza Research Station recorded a high temperature of 18.3°C degrees (64.9°F). This broke the previous record for the Antarctic region (continental, including mainland and surrounding islands) of 17.5°C (63.5°F) recorded in March 2015 at the same station.”There were thousands upon thousands of these penguins just in distress because they were so overheated and there was no snow,” Camille Seaman, a photographer who has traveled to Antarctica, told CNN in August.“They were looking for any little patch of snow or ice to lay on.”
What is happening at one pole, does not mean it is happening at the other.Thanks to the extreme cold near the South Pole, Antarctic sea ice extent has been above average the last few months, peaking in late August when it reached the 5th highest in the satellite record.
Antarctic sea ice extent has been above average for the past several months, culminating in late August when extent was the 5th highest in the satellite record. Since peaking on September 1, sea ice extent has declined steeply. Read more: https://t.co/nS5v9r4wh0pic.twitter.com/p3OaxfRmve— National Snow and Ice Data Center (@NSIDC) October 6, 2021
Flames burn up a tree as part of the Windy Fire in the Trail of 100 Giants grove last month in Sequoia National Forest, Calif.Noah Berger/AP
LOS ANGELES — Northern California wildfires may have killed hundreds of giant sequoias as they swept through groves of the majestic monarchs in the Sierra Nevada, an official said Wednesday.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Christy Brigham, head of resource management and science for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
The lightning-caused KNP Complex that erupted on Sept. 9 has burned into 15 giant sequoia groves in the park, Brigham said.
More than 2,000 firefighters were battling the blaze in sometimes treacherous terrain. On Wednesday afternoon, four people working on the fire were injured when a tree fell on them, the National Park Service reported.
The four were airlifted to hospitals and “while the injuries are serious, they are in stable condition,” the report said. It didn’t provide other details.
The KNP Complex was only 11% contained after burning 134 square miles (347 square kilometers) of forest. Cooler weather has helped slow the flames and the area could see some slight rain on Friday, forecasters said.
The fire’s impact on giant sequoia groves was mixed. Most saw low- to medium-intensity fire behavior that the sequoias have evolved to survive, Brigham said.Article continues after sponsor messagehttps://aceda22c35b90ff6f953bfabead7e4f4.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
However, it appeared that two groves — including one with 5,000 trees — were seared by high-intensity fire that can send up 100-foot (30-meter) flames capable of burning the canopies of the towering trees.
That leaves the monarchs at risk of going up “like a horrible Roman candle,” Brigham said.
Two burned trees fell in Giant Forest, which is home to about 2,000 sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, which is considered the world’s largest by volume. However, the most notable trees survived and Brigham said the grove appeared to be mostly intact.
Firefighters have taken extraordinary measures to protect the sequoias by wrapping fire-resistant material around the bases of some giants, raking and clearing vegetation around them, installing sprinklers and dousing some with water or fire retardant gel.
However, the full extent of the damage won’t be known for months, Brigham said. Firefighters are still occupied protecting trees, homes and lives or can’t safely reach steep, remote groves that lack roads or even trails, she said.
To the south, the Windy Fire had burned at least 74 sequoias, Garrett Dickman told the Los Angeles Times. The wildfire botanist has recorded damage as part of a sequoia task force preparing and assessing trees in the fire zone.
In one grove, Dickman counted 29 sequoias that were “just incinerated,” he told CNN.
“There were four of those that had burned so hot that they’d fallen over,” he said.
The 152-acre (395-square-kilometer) fire was 75% contained.
Giant sequoias grow naturally only in the Sierra Nevada. The world’s most massive trees, they can soar to more than 250 feet (76 meters) with trunks 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter and live for thousands of years.
The trees need low-intensity fire to reproduce. Flames thin out the forest of competitors such as cedars, clearing away shade, and the heat causes the seedlings to open. But fire officials say recent blazes have been much more intense because fire suppression efforts left more undergrowth that’s turned bone dry from drought, driven by climate change.
Last year’s Castle Fire in and around Sequoia National Park is estimated to have killed as many as 10,600 giant sequoias, or 10% to 14% of the entire population.
While some groves may have received only patchy fire damage and will recover, every burned giant sequoia is a loss, Brigham said.
“When you stand by a tree that big and that old, 1,000 to 2,000 years old, the loss of any is a heartbreak,” she said. “You can’t get it back, it’s irreplaceable.”
California fires have burned more than 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometers) so far in 2021, destroying more than 3,000 homes, commercial properties and other structures. Hotter and drier weather coupled with decades of fire suppression have contributed to an increase in the number of acres burned by wildfires, fire scientists say. And the problem is exacerbated by a more than 20-year Western megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change.