Climate chaos to continue in 2018, UN chief warns; Will the world rise to challenge?
“Scientists are now worried that unless accelerated action is taken by 2020, the Paris goal may become unattainable,” the UN chief told reporters at the world body’s New York Headquarters.
The Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by world leaders in December 2015, aims to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase even further, to 1.5 degrees.
I am beginning to wonder how many more alarm bells must go off before the world rises to the challenge.
“I am beginning to wonder how many more alarm bells must go off before the world rises to the challenge,” Mr. Guterres said, noting that 2017 had been filled with climate chaos and 2018 has already brought more of the same.
“Climate change is still moving much faster than we are,” he warned, calling the phenomenon the greatest threat facing humankind.
Recent information from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the World Bank and the International Energy Agency shows the relentless pace of climate change.
For instance, the UN chief said, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 per cent, to a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes.
Moreover, weather-related disasters caused some $320 billion in economic damage, making 2017 the costliest year ever for such losses.
In social as well as economic terms, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was devastating, washing away decades of development in an instant.
In South Asia, major monsoon floods affected 41 million people.
In Africa, severe drought drove nearly 900,000 people from their homes.
Wildfires caused destruction across the world. Arctic sea ice cover in winter is at its lowest level, and the oceans are warmer and more acidic than at any time in recorded history.
“This tsunami of data should create a storm of concern,” Mr. Guterres said, noting that next year he will convene a climate summit in New York aimed at boosting global ambition to meet the level of the climate challenge.
“The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones. It ended because there were better alternatives. The same applies today to fossil fuels,” he said, stressing the need for a further cut in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 25 per cent by 2020.
Responding to a question about the United States’ decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, Mr. Guterres said he received information from his Special Envoy on climate change and former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, that there are expectations that the US – independently of the position of its Administration – might be able to meet the commitments made in Paris as a country due to the positive reactions of the American business community and local authorities.
“All around the world, the role of governments is less and less relevant. The role of the economy, the role of the society is more and more relevant,” he said.
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Earth Hour: UN joins iconic landmarks ‘going dark’ globally with a call to protect environment
As the impact of climate change worsens around the world, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on the global community to redouble efforts to help countries respond to climate shocks, especially the most vulnerable.
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Heatwaves, hurricanes, floods: 2017 costliest year ever for extreme weather and climate events, says UN
“The start of 2018 has continued where 2017 left off – with extreme weather claiming lives and destroying livelihoods,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Thursday.
Now in its 25th year, the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2017 drew attention to the high impact that extreme weather had on economic development, food security, health and migration, pointing to estimates showing disaster losses from weather and climate-related events at $320 billion – the largest annual total on record.
The statement confirmed that last year was one of the three warmest on record, and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event. It also examined other long-term indicators of climate change, such as increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, sea level rise, shrinking sea ice and ocean heat.
“The Arctic experienced unusually high temperatures, whilst densely populated areas in the northern hemisphere were gripped by bitter cold and damaging winter storms. Australia and Argentina suffered extreme heatwaves, whilst drought continued in Kenya and Somalia, and the South African city of Cape Town struggled with acute water shortages,” Mr. Taalas reflected on 2017.
According to the report, the North Atlantic hurricane season was not only the costliest ever for the United States, but it also eradicated decades of small Caribbean islands’ development gains.
“Since the inaugural Statement on the State of the Global Climate, in 1993, scientific understanding of our complex climate system has progressed rapidly,” Mr. Taalas stated.
“This includes our ability to document the occurrence of extreme weather and climate events, the degree to which they can be attributed to human influences, and the correlation of climate change with epidemics and vector-borne diseases,” he continued.
Compiled by WMO with input from national meteorological services and UN partners, the statement details that 2017 global mean temperatures were about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial temperatures.
The report also provided detailed information to support the international agenda on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change.
“In the past quarter of a century, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 360 parts per million to more than 400 ppm. They will remain above that level for generations to come, committing our planet to a warmer future, with more weather, climate and water extremes,” Mr. Taalas asserted.
The report revealed that the overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30 per cent of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver potentially deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year.
Additionally, from November 2016 to December 2017, 892,000 drought-related displacements were recorded.
“Now more than ever, we need to be weather-ready, climate-smart and water-wise,” concluded Mr. Taalas.
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Studying water scarcity trends, helping communities adapt can ease migration pressures, says UN agency
The worst impacted are those dependent on agriculture, explained José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), noting that some among them, especially the poorest, may see no alternative to migrate and in search of better livelihoods.
“Migration should be a choice, and not the only remaining option,” he stressed.
Exploring this intricate linkages in its new report, Water Stress and Human Migration, the UN agency also found that full information on these dynamics is lacking for India, Central Asia, the Middle East and central Sahel – areas expected to be hit with above-average surface temperature increases and worsening water scarcity in the next 30 years.
Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure coupled with rising temperatures, human demand (such as for agriculture, energy and industrial sectors) and greater rainfall extremes are expected to add to the water stress.
“While some studies demonstrate a correlation between water stress and higher outmigration, the causal interaction is still not clearly understood,” states the report, underscoring the importance to ensure that the water scarcity and migration does not become a case of “mutual aggravation.”
Adapting to water woes can help ease burden
Better adaption strategies, including ones that account for climate change impacts, to mitigate the compulsion to migrate is therefore vital.
“Analyzing water scarcity trends and engaging in preparedness are particularly valuable, allowing time to intervene to mitigate pressure for forced migration,” said Eduardo Mansur, a senior FAO official on water and land issues.
“Enabling proactive adaptation is a more effective and sustainable strategy than offering a reactive humanitarian response in the face of large-scale distress,” he added.
At the same time, the report also highlights that migrants can positively contribute to water management and development in both origin and host communities through good practices, skills and knowledge transfer, and the use of remittances.
In addition, it also calls for increased attention to the concept of environmental migration as well as more data to understand and pre-empt trends in a timely way.
The theme for this year’s World Water Day is ‘Nature for Water’ which exploring nature-based solutions to present-day water challenges.
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As cities boom, forests key to meeting demands for water, food and energy – UN
“How we manage forests will determine how we meet this demand,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat (UNFFS).
He noted that growth and shifts in population, changes in climate, and innovation in knowledge and technology will undoubtedly impact future forests. “One thing I am certain of, investing in forests is essential for securing a sustainable future for communities the world over,” he added.
In his video message for the Day, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that “well-managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity.”
This year, the International Day, observed annually on 21 March, will focus on the interlinkages between the sustainable management of forest and sustainable cities.
The theme provides an opportunity to highlight the benefits forests and trees provide to urban communities.
It is estimated that by 2050, more than half of the world’s population will face water stress. Given that forested catchments provide three-quarters of all freshwater used worldwide, safeguarding the water-providing capacity of forests is even more urgent.
Trees in cities help regulate climate, store carbon, and reduce flooding and storm water runoff. Sustainable forest management and sustainable forest products offers some of the most effective and cost-competitive natural carbon capture and storage options available.
Forests are home to over 80 per cent of biodiversity on land, and urban forests and city parks can provide important habitat for migratory birds and other fauna and flora.
Sustainable Development Goal 15 of the 2030 Agenda, adopted in 2015 by world leaders, calls for action to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” by 2030.
The UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 envisions “a world in which all types of forests and trees outside forests are sustainably managed, contribute to sustainable development and provide economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits for present and future generations.”
At UN Headquarters in New York, the Day is being celebrated with a special event featuring speeches by prominent officials, including Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Social and Economic Affairs.
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Disasters cost billions in agricultural losses, poor farmers bear brunt – UN report
“The agriculture sectors – which includes crop and livestock production as well as forestry, fisheries and aquaculture – face many risks, such as climate and market volatility, pests and diseases, extreme weather events, and an ever-increasing number of protracted crises and conflicts,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In collaboration with FAO, Viet Nam launched the report, 2017: The impact of disasters and crises on agriculture and food security, Thursday at a regional conference in Hanoi.
The report points out that between 2005 and 2015 natural disasters cost the agricultural sectors of developing country economies a staggering $96 billion in damaged or lost crop and livestock production, $48 billion of which occurred in Asia.
Drought, which has battered farmers globally, was one of the leading culprits.
FAO documented that 83 per cent of all drought-caused economic losses were absorbed by agriculture – to the tune of $29 billion.
“This has become the ‘new normal,’ and the impact of climate change will further exacerbate these threats and challenges,” Mr. da Silva warned.
The report also details how multiple other threats are taking a heavy toll on food production, food security, and people’s livelihoods.
“Disaster risk reduction and management must, therefore, become an integral part of modern agriculture,” stressed the FAO chief.
Disasters, natural and otherwise
While floods and storms had the largest impacts in Asia, their agricultural systems were also heavily affected by earthquakes, tsunamis and extreme temperatures.
For both Africa as well as for Latin America and the Caribbean, drought was the costliest disaster, resulting in crop and livestock losses of $10.7 and $13 billion, respectively, between 2005 and 2015.
African farmers notched up more than $6 billion in losses in that period from crop pests and animal diseases.
small island developing States are particularly vulnerable to tsunamis, earthquakes, storms and floods. Their economic losses from disasters jumped from $8.8 billion for the period 2000-2007 to over $14 billion between 2008-2015, the report shows.
The report also includes ‘food chain crises’ sparked by animal diseases, like Rift Valley Fever and also addressed conflict.
A first case study done on the impacts of conflict in Syria found that the overall financial cost of damage and loss in that country’s agriculture sector over the 2011-2016 period was at least $16 billion.
All told, nearly a quarter of all financial losses caused by natural disasters between 2005 and 2015 were borne by the agricultural sector, according to FAO’s study.
Given the increasing scale and intensity of threats to agriculture, it is critical to develop adequate disaster and crisis governance structures, which must be grounded on data and evidence detailing the ways that disasters affect farmers and food producers, the report says.
“Building a more holistic and ambitious disaster-resilience framework for agriculture is crucial to ensuring sustainable development, which is a cornerstone for peace and the basis for adaptation to climate change,” concluded Mr. da Silva.
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Major reports on biodiversity, ecosystem services to be launched at UN-backed meeting in Medellin
“Literally, all Governments around the world should be looking at [the reports] to see what are we saying,” Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) told UN News ahead of the body’s sixth plenary session which will run in Colombia’s second largest city from 18-24 March.
“That will be the basis for informed decisions,” said the IPBES Chair.
Established in 2012, IPBES is the global science-policy platform tasked with providing the best-available evidence to inform better decisions affecting nature — by everyone from Governments and industry to non-governmental organization (NGOs) and the general public — towards strengthening services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.
The IPBES assessment reports are intended to provide decision makers with comprehensive, credible, evidence-based policy options to help reverse the unsustainable use of irreplaceable natural resources.
Prepared by more than 550 leading international experts and peer-reviewed by experts from both government and academia, the reports took three years to develop at a cost of more than $6 million. IPBES will present the reports to representatives of its 128 member States for approval at the upcoming plenary.
The reports to be presented comprise four regional assessments of biodiversity in Africa; the Americas; Asia and the Pacific; and Europe and Central Asia; as well as an assessment of land degradation and restoration, both regionally and globally.
Each regional assessment will evaluate the status of biodiversity in its respective region and subregions, identifying progress, drivers of change and threats, as well as the policy-relevant issues affecting them.
In addition, the regional assessments will present lessons learned and progress (or lack thereof) on the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Biodiversity Targets, agreed by States parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity at their meeting in Aichi, Japan.
The assessment on land degradation and restoration will identify threats to land-based ecosystems, offering evidence from around the world and a range of best-available solutions to reduce the environmental, social and economic risks and impacts of land degradation.
The findings of the five IPBES reports will also be key inputs to a new comprehensive IPBES global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, due for release in 2019. IPBES has previously issued a large-scale thematic assessment on global and regional pollination.
IPBES meets annually at a date and venue decided at the prior session. The Platform is placed under the auspices of four United Nations entities — the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) — and administered by UNEP.
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UN launches Environmental Rights Initiative
“Those who struggle to protect planet and people should be celebrated as heroes , but the sad fact is that many are paying a heavy price with their safety and sometimes their lives,” Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said Tuesday, launching the UN Environmental Rights Initiative in Geneva.
“It’s our duty to stand on the side of those who are on the right side of history. It means standing for the most fundamental and universal of human rights,” he added.
By helping people to understand how to defend their rights, and by assisting governments to safeguard environmental rights, UNEP maintains that the initiative will bring environmental protection nearer to the people.
Although, since the 1970s, environmental rights have grown more rapidly than any other human right and are enshrined in over 100 constitutions, in January the international non-governmental organization (NGO) Global Witness documented that almost four environmental defenders are being killed weekly – with the true total likely far higher.
Many more are harassed, intimidated and forced from their lands. Moreover, around 40-50 per cent of the 197 environmental defenders killed in 2017 came from indigenous and local communities.
“Violations of environmental rights have a profound impact on a wide variety of human rights, including the rights to life, self-determination, food, water, health, sanitation, housing, cultural, civil and political rights,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, recounting recent visits to Papua New Guinea and Fiji where he was made keenly aware of the impact of extractive industries and climate change on individual rights.
“It is crucial that those most affected are able to meaningfully participate in decisions relating to land and the environment,” he stressed.
Two disturbing counter-trends are underway. The first is the escalating intimidation and murder of environmental defenders, and the second is some countries’ attempts to limit NGO activities.
“States have a responsibility to prevent and punish rights abuses committed by private corporations within their territory, and businesses have an obligation to avoid infringing on the human rights of others,” Mr. Zeid continued. “I hope this new Initiative will be able to encourage States and businesses to comply with these obligations.”
Leo Heileman, UNEP director for the office in Latin America and the Caribbean called it “an opportunity to give environmental rights the same legal standing as human rights at the global level.”
Among other things, the initiative will help governments strengthen institutional capacities to develop and implement policy and legal frameworks protecting environmental rights, and assist businesses to better understand their environmental rights obligations and provide guidance on how to advance beyond a compliance culture.
“I am proposing to the UN Human Rights Council that the UN should join countries in recognizing a global right to a healthy environment,” said John Knox Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment . “The time has come to recognize this formal interdependence of human rights and the environment, not only at national level but at the UN level too.”
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UN sees ‘worrying’ gap between Paris climate pledges and emissions cuts needed
“One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” said UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Erik Solheim.
The Paris accord, adopted in 2015 by 195 countries, seeks to limit global warming in this century to under 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level.
“If we invest in the right technologies, ensuring that the private sector is involved, we can still meet the promise we made to our children to protect their future. But we have to get on the case now,” the UNEP chief added.
The eighth edition of UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, released ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in in Bonn next month, warns that as things stand, even full implementation of current national pledges makes a temperature rise of at least 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 very likely.
Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris accord in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker.
The pace of growth in carbon dioxide emissions have slowed, driven in part by renewable energy, notably in China and India, raising hopes that emissions have peaked, as they must by 2020, to remain on a successful climate trajectory.
To avoid overshooting the Paris goals, governments – including by updating their Paris pledges – the private sector, cities and others need to urgently pursue actions that will bring deeper and more-rapid cuts.
Source: The Emissions Gap Report 2017 | UNEP
The report also says that adopting new technologies in key sectors, such as agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry and transport, at investment of under $100 per tonne, could reduce emissions by up to 36 gigatonnes per year by 2030, more than sufficient to bridge the gap.
However, it warns that other greenhouse gases, such as methane, are still rising, and a global economic growth spurt could easily put carbon dioxide emissions back on an upward trajectory.
Strong action on hydrofluorocarbons, through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and other short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon – could also make a real contribution.Back to Top
Hunger rates remain high amid conflict, climate shocks, warns UN food security report
According to the Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, issued Monday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the need for external food assistance in 37 countries – either affected by conflict or adverse climate shocks – remains unchanged compared to the situation three months back.
“Civil war and insecurity are direct reasons for high hunger rates in 16 of those countries, ranging from Burundi to Yemen,” said FAO in a news release announcing the findings.
“Conflict is displacing millions of people, hampering agricultural activities and, in many cases, also driving basic food prices up sharply,” it added.
At the same time, inadequate and erratic rainfall is also posing a growing threat to food security in southern and eastern Africa, where many rural households have suffered from four consecutive drought-affected agricultural seasons.
In Somalia, aggregated cereal production for the country’s “deyr” rainy season is estimated at 20 per cent below average, and similar pattern in rainfall and yields has been observed in north-eastern Tanzania.
Furthermore, prices of staple cereals such as wheat, millet or sorghum continued to remain high as a result of removal of subsidies, increased demand, and weakening of currencies.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, inflation pushed prices to more than double in 2017 to a 42 percent annual rate.
Another factor driving up prices was the disruption of traditional trade routes due to violence, such as in and around the Sahel, as a result of which countries dependent on these routes (such as Libya) witnessed much higher prices as well as facing food shortages.
The FAO report lists the following 37 countries as currently in need of external food assistance: Afghanistan; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Guinea; Haiti; Iraq; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Libya; Madagascar; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Myanmar; Niger; Nigeria; Pakistan; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Syria; Uganda; Yemen; and Zimbabwe.
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UN chief appoints former New York Mayor as Special Envoy for Climate Action
“[Mr. Bloomberg’s actions have] has made an enormous difference, and makes us believe that we will soon be running faster than climate change, that we will soon be starting to defeat climate change, that the Paris Agreement [on climate change] can be fully implemented but with an enhanced ambition,” Secretary-General Guterres told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.
“We need that enhanced ambition in order to make sure that we reach the end of the century with an increase in temperature of about 1.5 and below 2 [degrees Celsius],” he added, referring to the central aim of the three-year-old Paris Accord, which set the stage for all countries to take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.
According the UN chief’s spokesperson, Mr. Bloomberg – who earlier served as the UN Special Envoy on Cities and Climate Change – will support the Secretary-General’s climate strategy and efforts toward the planned 2019 Climate Summit at UN Headquarters, which seeks to mobilize stronger and more ambitious action towards 2020 climate targets.
The Special Envoy will leverage efforts in key areas of the Climate Summit to encourage rapid and enhanced implementation of the Paris Agreement in the context of sustainable development.
The note further stated that Secretary-General will be engaging and inviting leaders from Governments, businesses, finance and civil society organizations with a view to bending the emissions curve by 2020 and accelerating the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
“The Secretary-General and Mr. Bloomberg share the perspective that the emissions gap needs to be closed soon to limit global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius. Climate Action, including those by cities and sub-national actors, play an essential role in driving ambition on climate change,” it added.
In addition to having served as the former UN Special Envoy on Cities and Climate Change, Mr. Bloomberg was appointed by the Chair of the Financial Stability Board Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
The Task Force – which has finished its work – has developed voluntary, climate-related financial disclosures for use by companies in providing information to lenders, insurers, investors and other stakeholders.
From 2002-2013, Mr. Bloomberg served as the 108th Mayor of the City of New York. He began his career in 1966 at Salomon Brothers, and launched the financial news and information company Bloomberg LP in 1981.
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