The World at 1°C — May ‘17

A monthly summary of climate impacts, insights and resistance

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Reasons to be hopeful

When we accept the truth about the climate crisis and capitalism, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Indeed it is necessary that we feel overwhelmed for the status quo to maintain itself. So we are told only the negative, the horrific, the disempowering facts about our world. We are shown only the cases in which resistance seemed futile and alternatives seemed nonexistent. But ours is a world of vibrancy. Ours is a condition of hope and a moment of opportunity. The crisis is here and it is truly apocalyptic. But we do not have to accept that it will inevitably worsen until it swallows us all. We can forge a way out. We have to.

The future hasn’t happened yet. The future is ours.

Technology

For one thing, renewable energy continues to hold great promise — so much so that the two climate “bogeymen” countries, China and India, are fast being seen as climate champions. China has increased its solar output by 80% over the last three months alone, adding the world’s largest floating solar power plant to its grid. This month India saw its energy sector veer further towards wind and solar with the price of utility-solar energy falling below the price of coal-fired power. In fact, renewable electricity is growing so quickly in India that the country is on track to be 8 years early in meeting its goal of attaining 40% renewable energy by 2030. Under a new draft electricity plan India could reach 57% renewable energy by 2027.

Even traditionally oil-dependent countries in the Middle East have their sights set on renewables, with new research suggesting that not only could the region go 100% renewable by 2030, but it could do so at a third the cost of relying on fossil fuels. Iran this month approved a $3 billion investment in its renewable sector, and in Yemen inspiring individuals like Anwar Al-Haddad have already helped the capital city Sanaa source over half of its electricity from solar energy.

The Renewable Energy Organization of Iran has a feed-in tariff policy to boost renewables | Credit: Middle East Institute

In Europe, too, the renewable revolution is coming on in leaps and bounds even if not quite fast enough. Renewables made up 90 percent of new power added to Europe’s grid last year. In the North Sea, the giant Gemini wind park — capable of meeting the energy needs of 1.5 million people — opened. In Germany, wind and solar power output increased by 23% in April compared to last year.

At the same time, dirty energy is being phased out in many parts (again, not quite quickly enough). The Chinese government has suspended new coal-fired power plants in 29 provinces, while the new South Korean president has ordered the closure of the ten oldest coal plants in his first term, as the country struggles to combat air pollution. Indonesia has scaled back its coal-fired electricity plan. Even Saudi Arabia moved to limit global oil supply.

In the UK, major multinational bank Barclays has sold its stake in fracking company Third Energy following intensive public pressure. Competition from renewables and increasing energy reform are squeezing fossil fuels; an Australian wind farm has been sold for a record low $/MWh price and America’s first offshore wind farm helped close a diesel-fired electric power plant in Rhode Island. Even nuclear power is plunging, as expensive plants are shuttered, and renewables become more palatable. Oil markets are also trembling as demand for fossil fuels weakens — the International Energy Agency is now reviewing its demand outlooks for hydrocarbon products after significant policy shifts from China & India. Businesses are also chipping in, with one of the world’s largest supermarkets committing to source 100% of its energy from renewables by 2030, followed by toy-maker LEGO.

Although we cannot romanticise the promise of any technology, and should be wary of downstream implications, there are encouraging signs of we should take heed. Roads made with recycled plastic are being tested; they could be cheaper, stronger and more durable than asphalt roads. Tesla’s new solar tile roofs have been unveiled, with far cheaper prices than expected. Deepwater wind turbine projects have become a new frontier in renewable energy. The transformation of our energy systems is increasingly about more than the source of electricity, it is about ownership, or more specifically collective collective ownership.

Of course, it is not enough to reduce emissions; technologies and policies are also needed for adapting to the world at 1°C and preventing further loss of human and non-human life. Which is why India, with over half its population living in disaster-prone areas, is working to improve its own early warning systems. Countries met in Cancun this month for the Global Platform the Disaster Risk Reduction to develop globalised early warning systems.


Legal wins & direct action

Though renewable energy has a certain amount of momentum that will carry it forward regardless, by itself this is not enough. People and governments, as political actors, have to get involved directly in the transformation of the energy sector and the broader socio-economic order. In Switzerland this month voters did just that as they voted to shift to renewables and ban new nuclear expansion.

After years of pressure from grassroots campaigners, a bill to ban fracking was finally passed through the Irish parliament, making Ireland one of a growing handful of frack-free countries. Similarly, protracted pressure from activists has forced Australia’s oldest bank to revise its climate action plan and in doing so has caused them to withdraw funding for the Adani coal mine. In British Columbia, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation are leading the resistance to the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline. This month they launched a new campaign targeting potential investors.

In Bangladesh, where it is estimated 50 million people could be displaced by climate change over the course of this century, legislators are considering the introduction of a carbon tax.

In Cumaral, Colombia, communities are coordinating a popular referendum to prohibit oil extraction in their local community. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has already somewhat limited extractive industries by granting rights to the Atrato River this month. Meanwhile the Ikebiri community from Bayelsa state in Nigeria has launched a lawsuit against oil giant ENI seeking justice after oil spills wrecked their livelihoods and lives.

Women uninstall a water meter in protest at privatisation | Credit: Irish Mirror

Sometimes communities do not have viable legal avenues to pursue the cause of justice. In northern Malaysia, Orang Asli communities are physically blockading roads to stop logging companies from entering forests, while in the Republic of Ireland, “women warriors” are taking matters into their own hands by dismantling water meters, defending the right to water.

May also saw a Global Divestment Mobilisation take place, with hundreds of actions marked across the world to fall for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy, and across Europe grassroots networks are fighting fossil fuels directly — from Denmark to Estonia to the Czech Republic to Sweden — and winning.


Leading by example

As well as fighting to limit the destruction being wreaked on the planet by, people are also leading by example and being the change they wish to see. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, pummelled by drought and in the midst of an agrarian crisis which has seen distressed farmers pushed into suicide, farmers are combating water scarcity and crop failure with organic farming; returning to traditional crops they have been able to fight the lack of irrigation water and increasing soil salinity.

At the same time in Morocco courageous women’s movements are reclaiming land and in Haiti small-scale farmers are using agro-ecological techniques, community health promotion, and seed banks to confront poverty. In Mexico, communities are defending and managing forests, which is a good thing: granting Indigenous Peoples land rights would do much to save the planet. In fact, Peru’s first autonomous Indigenous government, the Wampi nation, has successfully asserted their right to fight the oil majors who are eager to exploit and pollute their land.

The point here is that many of the measures which would make people’s lives better would also help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, gender equality can save lives in disasters, and tackling racism would benefit the sustainable food movement and aid the fight for healthy, nutritious and affordable food for all.


Cities

Although the global politics of climate change is defined by a seemingly neverending stalemate between countries, their cities are leading the way. For example, Barcelona is developing a transformative urban development policy, prioritising the right to community life and dignified housing. Meanwhile, Oslo is working to become the first city with a zero-emissions transport system. In Netherlands, cities are unveiling ambitious emissions reductions schemes, and bicycle journeys in Bogota are increasing.

Bogotá has transformed itself into a cycling city | Credit: Bicycle Times

A new study by Stanford economist Tony Seba notes that,

“We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history…Internal combustion engine vehicles will enter a vicious cycle of increasing costs.”

The consequences of such a transition will be decisive. According to The Daily Telegraph, the study shows that

no more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.
Pacific Warriors stand in solidarity with First Nations fighting tar sands and pipelines in Canada | Credit: Zack Embree

As if all this wasn’t enough to make one see the power in our hands, this month saw Pacific Warriors visit First Nations territories under threat by the Canadian petro-state in a poignant display of resilience and dignity in the face of an existential threat which we can all learn from. In another beautiful example of true solidarity among people, for Mother’s Day in the U.S. a coalition from the Movement for Black Lives raised $250,000 to pay the bail of unconvicted Black Mamas. While one way to view the Atlas of Environmental Justice is that of a world overwhelmed by destructive industries, another would be to see it as testament to the fact that so many people, “ordinary people,” are willing to take a stand to protect their communities and to protect our planet.


Arithmetic and Research

The good news stories are underreported, but so too are the realities of the world at 1°C. The fact is that we remain on pace to create an atmosphere which our planet hasn’t seen in 50 million years.

When we talk about global warming, it is important to remember that we are talking an average increase of temperatures across the world. Some areas will experience below average warming but others will experiences far higher levels. For example, the poles are particular sensitive to temperature rise, meaning Indigenous peoples in the Arctic are facing 5–8°C of warming, while the Paris Agreement goal of 2°C will mean 4°C of warming for drylands.

These arbitrary targets are not exact calculations of safety: staying below 2°C isn’t going to stop severe temperatures wracking South Asian cities, according to a new study. In any case we are on track to reach 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures within the next ten years. According to the International Energy Agency, out of the twenty-six indicators which measure progress towards the 2°C goal, only three are on track. Our only hopes of staying below 1.5°C lie in deep emissions reductions: immediately phasing out coal, major electrification to reduce transport emissions, ensuring zero-emission construction, zero deforestation, and implementing best practices in agriculture and land management.

In the “Anthropocene”, human beings have been the leading geophysical force — there are now over two hundred new minerals created through human processes. We dump 19 billion pounds of plastics into the oceans every year. Doubling down on the organized absurdity that defines our era, the United Arab Emirates is hoping to tow icebergs from Antarctica to the Middle East in an attempt to harvest them for drinking water.

Plastic litters the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii | Credit: Foundation for Information and Research on Marine Mammals

Those same plastic-filled oceans are projected to rise by more than double the minimum estimates made by the IPCC in 2013. New studies suggest that within the next eighty years — a human lifetime — sea level rise could measure up to 10 feet. New research shows that even small rises in sea levels (just 5–10 cm) in coming decades will double the risk of flooding to coastal cities. Though all low-lying coasts will be affected, new statistical analysis has found that coastal residents of tropical countries face a rapid hike in the numbers of once-rare floods.

Alarmingly, new dangerous weather cycles like “El Tio” could bring further dangerous climatic changes; an El Niño could form again this summer, only a year after the end of one of the strongest on record.

The World Bank has noted that the human and economic costs of natural disasters have been underestimated by up to 60 percent. One estimate is that we’ll soon need to provide $300 billion a year to compensate for the losses of climate change. It is likely going to be much more.

Our world is fundamentally interconnected; new research has shown how European pollution was directly responsible for one of India’s worst ever droughts. In 2000, the northwest of India experienced an astounding decrease of precipitation (40%); researchers at Imperial College found that increasing sulphur dioxide emissions from European industrial areas

This extreme weather caused by a warming world is going to disastrous for harvests of key staple crops, with reductions of 23% over next 30 years predicted by scientists. The prospects are so extreme that Forbes magazine, not exactly the most acclaimed mouthpiece for ecological justice, is saying that “Unless it Changes, Capitalism will Starve Humanity by 2050”.

In one new strand of research doctors have outlined some of the impacts of climate change on public health. Regarding the connection between climate change and nutrition they say that increases in CO2 are linked to a depletion of the nutritional value of products such as wheat and rice. Plants produce less protein and more starches/sugars in CO2-rich atmosphere, and they are less effective at absorbing soil minerals. If further malnutrition were not enough to contend with, yellow fever is poised to make a comeback

Climate change is also delivering violence upon the non-human world. Oxygen levels in our oceans are falling 2 to 3 times faster than predicted and they are becoming so polluted that they are eroding the immune systems of marine mammals like dolphins. Beavers have been reported in the Yukon tundra for first time as the ‘shrubification’ of the Arctic draws herbivore species further north. In Colombia, butterflies and flowers are migrating up mountains in search of a climactic refuge.

An icy Arctic may become a thing of the past | Credit: NASA

If all this is keeping you up at night, get used to it: a new study asserts that sleepless nights are going to become more frequent as global warming accelerates. They will be even worse in cities, which a new study predicts could warm up to a deadly 8°C by 2100. The truly worrying thing is that this will only lead more people to buy air conditioners, which will cause more emissions, which cause more warming, and so on.

In some slightly more positive news, a new study has shown that previous research underestimated the spread of tree coverage. “Hidden” forests are helping us in the fight against global warming. And attitudes are changing: a survey released this month found that 84% are ready to change their standard of living to avert climate chaos.


Impacts the World Over

Poles

In Antarctica, climate change is greening the continent, with higher temperatures allowing for the growth of plant life. The melting of the ice is breaking up old structures, as the massive Larsen C Ice Shelf just displayed a new breach.

Glaciers in Antarctica are “threshold systems”; they build up, and then crash. The loss of West Antarctic glaciers like the Thwaites glacier could destabilize the planet very abruptly; Dr. Richard Alley, a geologist at Penn State University explains: “West Antarctica could do to the coastlines of the world what Hurricane Sandy did in a few hours to New York City. Except when the water comes in, it doesn’t go away in a few hours — it stays.” Research suggests that warming waters are melting Antarctic ice sheets, laying the foundation for rapid collapse and sea level rise. As Justin Gillis writes in the New York Times, “Antarctica’s ice may have entered the early stages of an unstoppable disintegration.” Such a disintegration could trigger an immediate rise of global sea levels so intense that millions would have to flee inland.

In the Arctic, record levels of low sea ice prevail, after temperatures in April averaged up to 14°F above normal. Scientists now expect the Arctic to be ice-free by 2040, meaning that within decades non-ice-strengthened vessels will occasionally be able to sail over the Arctic. In the sub-Arctic tundra, the melt of the permafrost is transforming terrains from net sinks (storehouses) of carbon, to net sources. Terrifyingly, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault — a “fail-safe” deposit for the planet’s seed that is supposed to protect the Earth’s food supply and which is buried in the Arctic mountainside — flooded this month due to melting.

A Nenet reindeer herder in Yamal Peninsula, Russia | Credit: Survival International

The Arctic is not an empty place, and with this warming Arctic Indigenous communities are also suffering — climate change is shrinking reindeer populations and devastating their herders. The cultural and psychological consequences of these changes is also very profound — for all of us but especially for Indigenous Peoples such as the Inuit in Northern Canada who are now faced with the prospect of redefining their most basic definition of who they are:

We are people of the sea ice. If there’s no more sea ice, how can we be people of the sea ice?

Africa

Indigenous Peoples in Africa are also facing existential threats not just from the long-term impacts of climate change but also from the very drivers of climate change such as large-scale agribusiness and mega-infrastructure projects, according to a new report.

The course of the Nile, a great symbol of Africa, is set to be altered by climate change: rainfall extremes will hit the river, which will lose its historical rhythm, and soon oscillate between floods and withering drought. The 400 million people who depend on the River Nile face a future defined by uncertain access to water.

The distinctive Nile may not remain recognisable for much longer | Credit: NASA

Water insecurity is not a future problem, it is very present, and the structures of scarcity are depriving millions of nutrition and leaving many states on the precipice of famine. This famine in East Africa is driving people from their lands. The most recent figures around displaced families in Ethiopia showed a doubling of displaced individuals since October 2016. The degradation of wetlands in the Sahel is destroying ecosystems and livelihoods, and also generating displacement.

Food insecurity is also a major challenge. Within a year, the price of maize flour has risen by 31%, milk by 12 and sugar by 21%. Many families are restricted to one meal a day, causing significant malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. Malnutrition is widespread among children. In the hardest-hit Kenyan counties — Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera — a third of infants are acutely malnourished.

On the Kenyan coast, drought is not the problem but rather heavy rains which have led to landslides and floods, killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands from their homes. Such impacts affect herders and pastoralists the most as they lose incalculable amounts of livestock to drought.


Asia

Flash floods in Northern Bangladesh have cut a potential 700,000 tonnes from the country’s rice harvest. The country is also facing a significant water crisis caused by a cocktail of tidal floods, inundation from storm surges, and slow seeping of saltwater. All these factors have increased the salinity of groundwater and freshwater ponds. Over the last 35 years, salinity intrusion in Bangladesh has increased by about 26% — making potable freshwater scarce. The brunt of the impacts of this water crisis fall on the shoulders of women: as drought pummels Southern India, women have been forced to dig dozens of new water wells.

Consuming saline water has severe health impacts, and has been associated with a variety of pathologies. Medical researcher Aneire Khan conducted a survey of 1,500 women on the southwest coast of Bangladesh and found significantly higher rates of preeclampsia and hypertension during pregnancy. “The saltier the water they were drinking, the higher the association with high blood pressure and preeclampsia,” Khan explained.

Hundreds of thousands of people had to be evacuated in Bangladesh as Cyclone Mora damaged buildings and flooded whole neighbourhoods | Credit: AFP

Such transformations in coastal areas are contributing to significant displacement, making Bangladesh the epicentre of much of global climate-induced migration. Approximately 20 million people will be displaced in Bangladesh in the coming five years, according to the IPCC. In late May, heatwaves swept through Dhaka, causing hundreds of garment workers to collapse, and forcing factories to close.

Even at the time of writing, the Bangladeshi government was attempting to evacuate 1 million people before Cyclone Mora made landfall. The cyclone devastated the camps of Rohingya refugees, who have fled massacres and persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. It also triggered floods and landslides in Sri Lanka, killing at least 180 people.

As we reported last month, the drought in India’s Cauvery Delta is so severe that farmers are committing suicide as crops fail and debts accrue. Never before has the delta experienced two failed monsoons in the same year. The stress is such that even those who do not take their own lives are dying in unusual numbers from heart attacks. The drought gripping not just the Delta but all of Tamil Nadu prevails, with reservoirs in the state holding 81% less water than average. Elsewhere, over a dozen people have died in heat waves in Telangana.

In Pakistan, citizens of Turbat experienced the country’s hottest ever day, as thermometers shot up to 53.5°C. In Vietnam, climate change is altering the salinity of the water bodies that make up the Mekong River Delta, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people.


Pacific

In the Pacific, Cyclone Donna, the strongest May cyclone in the southern hemisphere’s recorded history, brought torrential rains to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. With such impacts it is not surprising to know that tens of millions are displaced each year by climate events but there’s no law to protect them. Though the issue is not exclusive to the Pacific, it is perhaps the most stark example as islands begin to disappear.

Because of this, the World Bank has called for the rich nations of the Pacific such as Australia and New Zealand to adopt “structured migration” programmes to allow for migration from Pacific islands, rather than wait for the forced climate migration of the future. The Australian government’s abysmal inhumane record on refugees speaks for itself, as does their attempt to “save” the Great Barrier Reef, which scientists are pushing to have re-classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in peril. Another Australian World Heritage site, the Blue Mountains, had just been inundated with mining waste after a tailings dam collapsed.


The Americas

Climate change is threatening the Colombian port city of Cartagena, and is deforming Honduras’ coastlines as the sea swallows up land, encroaching on houses. Rising sea levels aren’t the only environmental threat facing Central America: a new study has evidence how the cocaine trade is destroying swaths of forest in the region, reducing the natural capacity to absorb ever-increasing extreme weather.

A dramatic drought has affected nearly three-fourths of Cuba, and intense drought has also brought misery across Central America — in Guatemala, the Atescatempa lagoon has disappeared. Yet in Colombia, a hundred families were evacuated after river levels rose in the Cauca Valley. The country is also struggling to combat rising levels of deforestation. Similarly, this month Canada experienced some of its worst flooding in decades, with Montreal declaring a state of emergency while Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas also experienced historic flooding.

Flooding in the Cartierville neighborhood of Montreal | Credit: Exile on Ontario St

Across the United States, over the past half-century, thirty-nine of Glacier National Park’s glaciers have shrunk by up to 85%; scientists have announced that it is now inevitable that US will lose the rest of its glaciers within the coming decades.

Climate-fuelled displacement continues apace even in the self-proclaimed greatest nation on earth, with at least seventeen communities forced to relocated due to climate change. This is not always happening how one might think: Miami is experiencing what might be termed “climate gentrification”; as rising sea levels encroach on the city’s waterfront properties, the wealthiest property-owners are seeking new housing projects on higher ground, displacing local residents. The inequity runs deep in the U.S., where by design poorer neighbourhoods are impacted first and foremost by extreme weather, as this important piece of journalism describes so clearly.


Europe

As the Alpine glaciers such as the emblematic Morteratsch continue to retreat, the Swiss government is hatching a desperate plan to use 4,000 snow machines to slow the process down.

Moscow was lashed by an exceptionally rare thunderstorm, killing at least 16 people and causing structural damage to buildings. Meanwhile Siberia was forced to declare a state of emergency as it was engulfed in a massive wildfire which burned down an entire town in just one hour.

In Southern Europe, the impacts of climate change were also felt, though less dramatically as drought in Italy, Spain, and Greece led to spike in olive oil prices.


Malos Gobiernos

Nuestra lucha es por la paz, y el mal gobierno anuncia guerra y destrucción

Although we can safely say that viewed from a climate justice angle all existing national governments are bad, they’re not all equally bad: as this map visualises, the poorest states are those that are actually leading the way in terms of climate action.

Rather, it is the so-called developed countries that are truly lagging. For example, the U.K. government is still handing £365m a year to the coal industry in subsidies and collectively EU countries have brought in a total of $1bn in coal subsidies since the Paris Agreement was signed.

Across the Atlantic, Trump’s erosion of environmental policy endures; his administration’s climate cuts could result in half-billion extra tons of emitted CO2. He’s also trying to reverse the ban on Arctic oil drilling, and worked to weaken references to climate change in the biannual ministerial declaration of the Arctic Council this month.

The big climate news which followed Trump around on his first overseas tour was the imminent decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, which at the time of writing he appears to have made up his mind about. Adding to the worry are the signs that Trump may be tempted by some fantastical geoengineering approaches. In his Environmental Protection Agency, climate change scientists have been sacked and replaced with industry representatives. His expected pick for the top USDA scientist is not even a scientist.

But so zealous is Trump’s assault on environmental regulation that representatives of the oil industry are telling him to hold back as they fear it may backfire. In darkly ironic news, the first U.S. offshore wind farm was required to have a tougher oil spill response plan than the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Australian government complemented its corporate cheerleading at the UN with a set of planet harming decisions, including: approving a huge gas pipeline in the Northern Territory, in spite of fierce opposition from Aboriginal groups; cutting funding to research on climate change adaptation from the budget; and making a u-turn on a previous agreement over royalty payments from the Carmichael coal mine, meaning that the project is now back on track.

In Brazil the coup government has sacked the head of its Indigenous agency amid major protests by Indigenous communities. It has also fired Thelma Krug, head of its anti-deforestation department, over a dispute on state data. The government is also gutting its anti-slavery program, a celebrated initiative to confront modern slavery. Alongside all this, a massive rollback of environmental legislation is underway, loosening conservation of Indigenous land, and driving ahead major property deals. The country’s agribusiness lobby is working to dismantle the country’s Indigenous affairs agency entirely, a precious buffer.

We are losing the Amazon and the people who defend it | Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, the worst land-related killings in decades have haunted the Amazon. A recent study by Brazilian environmental NGO Imazon has revealed that deforestation in conservation areas in the Amazon increased by 80% between 2012 and 2015, largely linked to agribusiness.

Though deforestation is a problem that seems to plague developing countries such a Brazil and Bolivia, this month also saw scientists issue a stark warning about Europe’s last primeval forest, the UNESCO World Heritage Białowieża Forest in Poland, which they say is on the brink of collapse thanks to widespread illegal logging.

Even the supposed “good guys” in government are seemingly hell-bent on accelerating climate change. The Norwegian government is looking to open up more Arctic waters for oil drilling and its State oil company Statoil has been making deep cuts to health and safety to cut prices, leading to higher levels of spills and serious incidents.

In France, Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen in the race for the presidency and while his endorsements of a coal phase-out by 2022, a carbon price rise, and trade sanctions on polluting states are all promising signals, liberal governments are good at rhetoric but less so at making real change — one thinks of Justin Trudeau.

China is embarking on an ambitious new “development” programme which critics say will involve much environmental destruction, including the bombing of a rare catfish species in the Mekong River to clear the way for new shipping routes.

The Chinese government has also started extracting gas from methane hydrates in the South China Sea. Methane hydrates are frozen mixtures of water and gas found below permafrost, but also under ocean sediments. The development is seen as revolutionary for global gas markets, but has worrying implications for the future of low-carbon energy.

This month also saw governments, businesses, and NGOs gather yet again in Bonn, Germany, for meetings under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Although the Paris Agreement has been ratified, policy makers are still ironing out the “rule book” and discussing what actions (if any) they will take to reduce emissions in the critical next 4 years. Though largely a technical meeting, the 2-week meeting did reach a set of conclusions ahead of the annual COP meeting in November (also in Bonn). The real story of the talks was the exposure of the UN’s failure to address conflicts of interest, with certain countries offering an intense defence of fossil fuel industry’s’ role in shaping global policy, in spite of the fact that fossil fuel company Santos this month admitted its business model assumes a catastrophic 4°C warming.

Activists demand the UN climate negotiations address conflicts of interest | Credit: Claire Miranda, Asian Peoples Movement on Debt & Development

Given their historic failure to reduce emissions it is perhaps unsurprising that now governments are being tempted by the poisoned chalice of “negative emissions technologies,” which scientists at Stanford university have called a “high-stakes gamble.” One “solution” called CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) has been described by Michael Bloomberg as “total bullshit.” A rather more diplomatic report by scientists on the potential of BECCS (bioenergy, carbon capture and storage) has also called it into question: “The danger is it’s being sold as a realistic and feasible option. But in reality one should think about the decarbonisation problem without thinking of this as a real option,” said Wolfgang Lucht, one of the study’s authors.

Forests and land play a key role in the carbon cycle, and proper management of both is required as part of any strategy to combat climate change. However, many countries like the U.S. are seriously downplaying the role that their logging industry is having on their emissions profile.


Our Comrades

We are heartbroken to write that the epidemic of killing against defenders of life prevails.

In Colombia, 25 community leaders have been killed since the beginning of this year according to Human Rights Watch, including Indigenous leader Nasa Felipe Castro Basto in Cauca this month, while in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon which is known for land disputes and deforestation, 9 people were murdered in one day last month.

The scale of intimidation grows even greater: in Honduras this month Garifuna communities in the Bay of Trujillo are being criminalized and persecuted by Patrick Forseth, a Canadian business mogul who plans to develop on their land, while in Argentina, Agustin Santillan — a Wichi leader imprisoned for demanding rights for his community — remains imprisoned.

Nor are these types of attacks and threats limited to Latin America. In India, conflicting laws are criminalising forest communities who exercise the defense of their rights. In Odisha, landless women were attacked for defending their forest rights. Even in a supposed liberal democracy like Australia, the State pursues legal avenues to bully protestors and silent dissent against extractive fossil fuel projects.

However harsh the persecution becomes, there will always be brave defenders who persevere and will be remembered as having stood on the right side of history. At a recent gathering in Georgia, activists from Georgia, Niger, Myanmar, and India all exchanged stories of repression and state violence as a result of their environmental work, as well as strategies to resist. In Peru, the Supreme Court this month upheld the acquittal of Máxima Acuña who continues to stand as a symbol of defiance in the face of Newmont’s shelved Conga gold mining plans.

Máxima Acuña | Credit: LaMula.pe