Queen Elizabeth Calls For Joint Action On Climate Crisis

In this file photo taken on July 8, 2021 Queen Elizabeth II visits Manchester Cathedral in Manchester, northwest England.  Christopher Furlong / POOL / AFP

 

Queen Elizabeth II on Monday appealed to world leaders to work together in “common cause” against climate change to “solve the most insurmountable problems”.

The statement, delivered in a video message to the COP-26 conference in Glasgow came after a day of speeches from world leaders warning of the urgency of the crisis.

“If the world pollution situation is not critical at the moment, it is as certain as anything can be, that the situation will become increasingly intolerable within a very short time…,” said the Queen.

“If we fail to cope with this challenge, all the other problems will pale into insignificance.”

She added: “None of us underestimates the challenges ahead: but history has shown that when nations come together in common cause, there is always room for hope.”

Earlier, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had issued a similarly stark warning.

“We are digging our own graves,” he said, referring to the current exploitation of the planet’s resources.

But some observers have already denounced what they see as a lack of action to back up the statements from world leaders.

AFP

CEOs Call For Climate Conference To End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

In this file photo taken on October 15, 2021 smoke billows from a chimney from a plant in Lyon. PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

 

The heads of 91 major global companies on Thursday called on the COP26 summit to abolish fossil fuel subsidies and work with business to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, brought together by the World Economic Forum (WEF), called on governments to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050, proposing steps to help businesses reduce emissions faster and scale up innovations.

In an open letter, the executives proposed eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, slashing customs duties on climate-friendly goods and supporting innovation in technologies that help adapt to the effects of climate change.

The signatories included chiefs from Allianz, Bayer, Bloomberg, Carlsberg, Dell, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, Ericsson, Heineken, HSBC, Ingka Group (IKEA), KPMG, Microsoft, Nestle, PepsiCo, Siemens, Suntory, Swiss Re and Tata Steel.

The companies are committed to reduce emissions by more than one gigatonne annually by 2030, the WEF said.

Many of them are regularly singled out by environmental protection or climate change organisations for their practices or products.

COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, is being held in Glasgow from Sunday to November 12.

Signatories “are committed to ambitious, and science aligned climate action, and welcome bold policies to accelerate decarbonisation efforts around the world,” said Antonia Gawel, head of the WEF’s Climate Action Platform.

The business chiefs called on COP26 to ensure that developed countries meet and exceed their $100 billion commitment to supporting developing countries’ efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

They urged world leaders to “eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, cut tariffs on climate-friendly goods, develop market-based, meaningful and broadly accepted carbon pricing mechanisms and take adequate measures to ensure a just transition”.

And they called for a competitive market in low-carbon technologies.

The WEF hosts the annual Davos summit of the global political and business elites. The event will return to the Swiss ski resort in January after the 2021 edition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More Than Half Of Afghans Face ‘Acute’ Food Crisis, Says UN Agencies

Afghan people sit besides sacks of food grains distributed as an aid by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Kandahar on October 19, 2021. (Photo by Javed TANVEER / AFP)

 

Afghanistan is on the brink of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, UN agencies warned Monday, with more than half the country facing “acute” food shortages.

More than 22 million Afghans will suffer food insecurity this winter, they said, as a drought driven by climate change adds to the disruption caused by the chaotic Taliban takeover of the country.

“This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme.

The crisis is already bigger in scale than the shortages facing war-torn Yemen or Syria, and worse than any food insecurity emergency apart from the Democratic Republic of Congo, officials told AFP.

“Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises — if not the worst — and food security has all but collapsed,” Beasley said in a statement.

“We are on a countdown to catastrophe and if we don’t act now, we will have a total disaster on our hands.”

According to the statement issued by the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, one in two Afghans faces Phase 3 “crisis” or Phase 4 “emergency” food shortages.

Phase 4 is one step below a famine, and officials told AFP that Afghanistan — already struggling to emerge from a 20-year civil war — is facing its worst winter in a decade.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said: “It is urgent that we act efficiently and effectively to speed up and scale up our delivery in Afghanistan before winter cuts off a large part of the country, with millions of people -– including farmers, women, young children and the elderly — going hungry in the freezing winter.”

In August, the hardline Islamist Taliban overthrew the US-backed regime and declared an interim government, vowing to restore stability.

But the Taliban still face a range of international sanctions and a campaign of bloody attacks by rival hardliners the Islamic State — while climate change has made Afghanistan’s droughts more frequent and intense.

– Hopes for ‘wet winter’ –

In the west of the country, thousands of poor families have already sold their flocks and fled, seeking shelter and assistance in packed temporary camps near major cities.

A visit by AFP journalists to the provinces of Herat and Badghis found families forces to sell their daughters into early marriage to cover debts and secure enough food to survive.

On Sunday, the Taliban announced a plan to pay 40,000 labourers in grain in the Kabul region, employing them to dig holes to trap the winter snow and provide moisture for barren hills.

Asked about the humanitarian crisis, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP on Sunday: “We are trying to get our people out of the current situation and help them. Global humanitarian aid has also arrived.”

“We are trying to arrange and distribute, including food and clothing. All worries will be resolved,” he added.

“Regarding the drought, we hope to have a wet winter. But if the drought continues we will take appropriate measures in the spring.”

The UN agencies warned that their humanitarian response plan is only a third funded as it stands.

The FAO is seeking $11.4 million in urgent funding and a further $200 million for the agricultural season into 2022.

Fearing new refugee outflows from Afghanistan, international donors have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for the country but they do not want to work with the Taliban directly.

“Hunger is rising and children are dying. We can’t feed people on promises –- funding commitments must turn into hard cash,” Beasley said.

“The international community must come together to address this crisis, which is fast spinning out of control.”

Climate: Removing CO2 From The Air No Longer Optional

Street artists paint a mural on a wall opposite the COP26 climate summit venue in Glasgow on October 13, 2021. Andy Buchanan / AFP.

 

The burning question going into the Glasgow climate summit is whether major economies can, by 2050, reduce emissions enough to deliver a carbon-neutral world in which humanity no longer adds planet-warming gases to the atmosphere.

Less talked about — but rising quickly on the climate agenda — are tools and techniques to pull CO2 straight out of the air.

Even scientists sceptical about its feasibility agree that without carbon dioxide removal (CDR) — aka “negative emission” — it will be extremely difficult to meet the Paris Agreement goal of capping global warming below two degrees Celsius.

“We need drastic, radical emissions reductions, and on top of that we need some CDR,” said Glen Peters, research director at the Centre for International Climate Research.

What Is CO2 Removal?

There are basically two ways to extract CO2 from thin air.

One is to boost nature’s capacity to absorb and stockpile carbon. Healing degraded forests, restoring mangroves, boosting carbon uptake in rocks or the ocean — all fall under the hotly debated category of “nature-based solutions”.

The second way — called direct air capture — uses chemical processes to strip out CO2, then recycles it for industrial use or locks it away in porous rock formations, unused coal beds, or saline aquifers.

A variation known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, combines elements from both approaches.

Wood pellets or other biomass is converted into biofuels or burned to drive turbines that generate electricity. The CO2 emitted is roughly cancelled out by the CO2 absorbed during plant growth.

But when carbon dioxide in the power plant’s exhaust is syphoned off and stored underground, the process becomes a net-negative technology.

Do We Really Need It?

Yes, for a couple of reasons.

Even if the world begins drawing down carbon pollution by three, four or five percent each year — and that is a very big “if” — some sectors like cement and steel production, long-haul aviation, and agriculture are expected to maintain emission levels for decades.

“We have modelling, but no one is sure what we might need in 2050,” said Oliver Geden, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and an expert on CDR.

“There will be residual emissions and the numbers might be high.”

And there is another reason.

The August report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it alarmingly clear that the 1.5C threshold will be breached in the coming decades no matter how aggressively greenhouse gases are drawn down.

CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for centuries, which means that the only way to bring Earth’s average surface temperature back under the wire by 2100 is to suck some of it out of the air.

What’s Hot, What’s Not?

BECCS was pencilled into IPCC climate models more than a decade ago as the theoretically cheapest form of negative emissions but has barely developed since.

The technology’s prospects took a hit this week when Britain’s large Drax Power Station, converted to run on biomass and store emitted CO2, was dropped from an investment listing of sustainable companies, the S&P Clean Energy Index.

“I don’t see a BECCS boom,” said Geden.

A peer-reviewed proposal in 2019 to draw down excess CO2 by planting a trillion trees sparked huge excitement in the media and among gas and oil companies that have made afforestation offsets a central pillar of their attempts to align with Paris treaty goals.

But the idea was sharply criticised by experts, who pointed out that it would require converting twice the area of India into mono-culture tree farms.

Also, planting trees to soak up CO2 is fine — until the forests burn down in climate-enhanced wildfires.

“They really have a problem in California,” Geden said. “The state deals with forest offsets and emissions trading, but their forests are burning down.”

Among all the carbon dioxide removal methods, direct air capture is among the least developed but the most talked about.

“It’s such a sexy technology,” said Peters. “Part of that is marketing — glossy brochures, a fancy technology, shiny silver. It captures the imagination.”

How Fast Can We Scale Up?

In reality, direct air capture (DAC) is a large-scale industrial process that requires huge amounts of energy to run.

Existing technology is also a long way from making a dent in the problem.

For example, the amount of CO2 extracted in a year by the world’s largest direct air capture plant (4,000 tons) — opened last month in Iceland by Climeworks — is equivalent to three seconds’ worth of current global emissions (40 billion tons).

Earlier this year a team of researchers led by David Victor at the University of California San Diego’s Deep Decarbonisation Initiative wanted to see how much a “wartime-like crash deployment” of DAC could lower CO2 concentrations under different emissions scenarios.

Assuming investment of a trillion dollars a year starting now, DAC knocked off some two billion tonnes of CO2 annually from global emissions by 2050 in the models.

But only when coupled with the most ambitious carbon-cutting scenario laid out by the IPCC was that enough to bring temperatures back down — after rising to 2C — to around 1.7C by 2100.

Corporate Investment?

Direct Air Capture has benefited from a wave of corporate backing.

In April, Tesla CEO Elon Musk launched the $100-million X-Prize for CO2 removal technology.

Last month, Breakthrough Energy founder Bill Gates unveiled a corporate partnership — American Airlines, ArcelorMittal, Bank of America, Microsoft, The BlackRock Foundation, and General Motors — to turbocharge the development of direct air capture, sustainable aviation fuel and two other new energy technologies.

“A global carbon removal industry is coming,” Johanna Forster and Naomi Vaughan, both from the University of East Anglia, noted last week in a commentary.

The danger, said Peters, is that some companies may talk up future carbon dioxide removal rather than reducing emissions today.

Impact On UN negotiations?

Appeals to remove the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere have begun to enter the political arena, and could become a contentious issue at the UN negotiations in Glasgow and beyond, experts say.

First India, then China, called earlier this year on rich countries to go beyond 2050 net-zero commitments.

“Countries from the Global South are demanding that industrialised countries go net-negative,” said Geden.

Small island states whose nations are literally slipping under the waves “are dead serious about carbon dioxide removal already,” he added.

For David King, chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, “net-zero by 2050 is no long enough.”

“We must revise global targets beyond net-zero and commit to net negative strategies,” he said earlier this month.

EU Ties Climate Goals To Trade With Developing Nations

A logo for the European Union

 

The EU on Wednesday updated its conditions for poorer nations to win privileged access to the European market with a demand they fall in line with the bloc’s green ambitions.

The changes are part of the European Commission’s update to a scheme dating from 1971, known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), that offers easier access to the EU market for goods exported from developing countries.

The EU executive will now make sticking to environmental safeguards a condition for countries to keep enjoying the smoother GSP access for selling goods into Europe.

Under the GSP, the EU can put pressure on developing countries that veer away from internationally set standards on human rights, labour norms and other issues.

Last year, for example, the EU restored tariffs on goods imported from Cambodia over perceived human rights violations.

“There is no need to overhaul the scheme, as we did 10 years ago. But we have done some fine-tuning… to bring the scheme closer in line with our trade sustainability principles,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU trade commissioner.

In addition, the scheme, which is broken down into several categories of countries, will add six more conventions to the current 27 that countries must comply with to receive the trade advantages.

The EU will also replace the Kyoto Protocol with the Paris agreement on climate change.

AFP

Climate Disasters Surge Fivefold In 50 Years, Says UN

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 the United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

The United Nations warned Wednesday that weather-related disasters have skyrocketed over the past half-century, causing far more damage even as better warning systems have meant fewer deaths.

A report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) examined mortality and economic losses from weather, climate and water extremes between 1970 and 2019.

It found that such disasters have increased fivefold during that period, driven largely by a warming planet, and warned the upward trend would continue.

“The number of weather, climate and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

In total, there were more than 11,000 of disasters attributed to these hazards globally since 1970, causing more than two million deaths and some $3.64 trillion in losses.

– 115 deaths each day –

On average, a disaster linked to weather, climate and water extremes has thus occurred every single day over the past 50 years, killing 115 people and causing $202 million in daily losses, WMO found.

More than 91 percent of the deaths occurred in developing countries, it said.

Droughts were responsible for the largest losses of human life during the period, alone accounting for some 650,000 deaths, while storms have left over 577,000 people dead.

Floods have meanwhile killed nearly 59,000 over the past 50 years and extreme temperatures have killed close to 56,000, the report found.

On a positive note, the report found that even as the number of weather and climate-related disasters ballooned over the past half-century, the number of associated deaths declined nearly threefold.

The toll fell from over 50,000 deaths each year in the 1970s to fewer than 20,000 in the 2010s, WMO said.

And while the 1970s and 1980 reported an average of 170 related deaths per day, the daily average in the 1990s fell to 90, and then to 40 in the 2010s.

Taalas said dramatic improvements in early warning systems were largely to thank for the drop in deaths.

“Quite simply, we are better than ever before at saving lives,” he said.

– More people exposed –

WMO stressed though that much remains to be done, with only half of the agency’s 193 member states currently housing the life-saving multi-hazard early warning systems.

It also cautioned that severe gaps remained in weather and hydrological observing networks in Africa and parts of Latin America and in Pacific and Caribbean island states.

Mami Mizutori, who heads the UN office for disaster risk reduction, also hailed the life-saving impact of the improved early warning systems.

But she warned in the statement that “the number of people exposed to disaster risk is increasing due to population growth in hazard-exposed areas and the growing intensity and frequency of weather events.”

And while early warning systems save lives, they have done little to shield disaster-prone areas from swelling economic damage.

In fact, the reported losses from 2010 to 2019 stood at $383 million per day — seven times more than the some $49 million in average daily losses in the 1970s.

Seven of the costliest 10 disasters in the past 50 years have happened since 2005, with three of them in 2017 alone: Hurricane Harvey, which caused nearly $97 billion in damages, followed by Maria at close to $70 billion and Irma at almost $60 billion.

AFP

World Shudders At ‘Terrifying’ UN Climate Report

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 04, 2018 The “Palais des Nations”, which houses the United Nations Offices, is seen at the end of the flag-lined front lawn in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

 

World leaders, green groups and influencers reacted Monday to a “terrifying” UN climate science report with a mix of horror and hopefulness as the scale of the emergency dawned on many.

US presidential envoy on climate John Kerry said the IPCC report, which warned the world is on course to reach 1.5C of warming around 2030, showed “the climate crisis is not only here, it is growing increasingly severe”.

Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s deputy climate chief said the 3,500-page report proved “it’s not too late to stem the tide and prevent runaway climate change”.

Britain’s Boris Johnson, whose government is hosting a crucial climate summit in November, said the assessment “makes for sobering reading”.

“I hope today’s IPCC report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical COP26 summit,” he said.

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed said the document confirmed that climate vulnerable nations were “on the edge of extinction”.

– ‘Suicidal’ –

Saleemul Huq, director of Dhaka-based environmental think tank ICCCAD, said the IPCC report was “the final warning that bubble of empty promises is about to burst”.

He said it showed G20 countries needed to accelerate emissions cuts to ensure their economies are in line with the 1.5C target.

“It’s suicidal, and economically irrational to keep procrastinating,” said Huq.

Dorothy Guerrero, head of policy at Global Justice Now, said the report was a “terrifying warning of our future unless drastic action is taken.”

“There is no denying the science of the climate crisis,” she said.

“But policymakers refuse to face up to the fact that it is rooted in economics and a history of colonial exploitation.”

– Action –

Many interpreted the IPCC’s assessment as a clarion call to overhaul the fossil-fuel powered global economy.

“Where can we start? Almost everywhere,” said Katherine Hayhoe, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy.

“Accelerating the transition to clean energy; reforming our most environmentally-damaging activities; and recalibrating financial flows to accelerate the economic transition.”

Climate wunderkind Greta Thunberg said the report was a “solid (but cautious) summary” of the state of the planet.

“It doesn’t tell us what to do,” she said on Twitter.

“It is up to us to be brave and take decisions based on the scientific evidence provided in these reports. We can still avoid the worst consequences, but not if we continue like today, and not without treating the crisis like a crisis.”

Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate tweeted “Scientists warn time running out on the 1.5C target! World leaders must get serious about climate change!”

– Fossil fall guys –

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday’s report “must sound a death knell” for coal, oil and gas and warned that fossil fuels were destroying the planet.

Greenpeace was even more direct.

“Dear fossil fuel industry,” the charity said on Twitter. “We’ll see you in court.”

AFP

UK Hosts 51 Countries For Climate Talks Ahead Of COP26

File Photo: British Minister, Alok Sharma.

 

 

Britain hosts climate and environment ministers from 51 countries on Sunday for “critical” climate talks ahead of November’s COP26 summit in Glasgow.

British minister Alok Sharma, President of COP26, will lead the two-day meeting, which London said will address “key issues that require resolution” at the summit.

Sharma “hopes to build common ground and sketch the outline of the Glasgow outcome,” according to a statement released by the British government.

Environment and climate ministers from the US, India and China will be among those taking part in the closed-door meeting, which will include both virtual and in-person attendance.

It is the first face-to-face ministerial meeting of its kind in more than 18 months.

“We are facing perilous times for our planet and the only way we will safeguard its future is if countries are on the same path,” said Sharma.

“The world will be watching to see whether we come together in Glasgow and do what is necessary to turn things around in this decisive decade,” he added.

“It is essential that together we roll up our sleeves, find common ground and collectively draw out how we will build a greener, brighter future for our children and future generations.”

The event will cover the goal of keeping to the 1.5C temperature rise limit, exploring topics such as climate finance, efforts to adapt to climate change, and finalising the “rulebook” for implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Negotiators from 196 countries and the European Union, along with businesses, experts and world leaders are expected to attend.

US climate envoy John Kerry said this week that the summit marked a “pivotal moment for the world to come together to meet and master the climate challenge.

“Glasgow is the place, 2021 is the time and we can, in a little more than 100 days, save the next 100 years.

“Above all we need to provide action, and we need to do it now, because time is running out,” he added.

AFP

Climate ‘Mysteries’ Still Puzzle Scientists, Despite Progress

Military personnel on an inflatable boat ship past a destroyed house on the Ahr river in Rech, Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, on July 21, 2021, after devastating floods hit the region. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

 

 

What worries one of the world’s leading climate scientists the most?

Heatwaves — and particularly the tendency of current models to underestimate the intensity of these bursts of deadly, searing temperature.

This is one of the “major mysteries” science still has to unravel, climatologist Robert Vautard told AFP, even as researchers are able to pinpoint with increasing accuracy exactly how human fossil fuel pollution is warming the planet and altering the climate.

“Today we have better climate projection models, and longer observations with a much clearer signal of climate change,” said Vautard, one of the authors of an upcoming assessment by the United Nations’ panel of climate experts.

“It was already clear, but it is even clearer and more indisputable today.”

The assessment, the first part of a trio of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will be released on August 9 at the end of meetings starting Monday.

It focuses on the science underpinning our understanding of things like temperature increases, rising ocean levels and extreme weather events.

This has progressed considerably since the last assessment in 2014, but so has climate change itself, with effects being felt ever more forcefully across the planet.

– ‘Phenomenal’ heat –
Scientists now have a greater understanding of the mechanisms behind “extreme phenomena, which now occur almost every week around the world”, said Vautard, adding that this helps better quantify how these events will play out in the future.

In almost real time, researchers can pinpoint the role of climate change in a given disaster, something they were unable to do at all until very recently.

Now, so-called “attribution” science means we can say how probable an extreme weather event would have been had the climate not been changing at all.

For example, within days of the extraordinary “heat dome” that scorched the western United States and Canada at the end of June, scientists from the World Weather Attribution calculated that the heatwave would have been “almost impossible” without warming.

Despite these advances, Vautard said “major mysteries remain”.

Scientists are still unsure what part clouds play “in the energy balance of the planet” and their influence on the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases, he said.

But it is “phenomenal temperatures”, like those recorded in June in Canada or in Europe in 2019, that preoccupy the climatologist.

“What worries me the most are the heat waves” and the “thousands of deaths” they cause, said Vautard, who is director of France’s Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute, a climate research and teaching centre.

With rainfall, scientists have a physical law that says water vapour increases by seven percent for every degree of warming, he said, with intense precipitation increasing by about the same amount.

But extreme heat is harder to predict.

“We know that heatwaves are more frequent, but we also know that our models underestimate the increasing intensity of these heatwaves, particularly in Europe, by a factor of two,” he said.

Climate models have come a long way, even since 2014, but there is still room for improvement to reduce these uncertainties.

“Before we had models that represented the major phenomena in the atmosphere, in the oceans,” said Vautard.

Today the models divide the planet’s surface into grids, with each square around 10 kilometres (six miles).

But even now he said the “resolution of the models is not sufficient” for very localised phenomena.

The next generation of models should be able to add even more detail, going down to an area of about a kilometre.

That would give researchers a much better understanding of “small scale” events, like tornadoes, hail or storm systems that bring intense rain like those seen in parts of the Mediterranean in 2020.

– Tipping points –
Even on a global scale, some fundamental questions remain.

Perhaps one of the most ominous climate concepts to have become better understood in recent years is that of “tipping points”.

These could be triggered for example by the melting of the ice caps or the decline of the Amazon rainforest, potentially swinging the climate system into dramatic and irreversible changes.

There are still “a lot of uncertainties and mysteries” about tipping points, Vautard said, including what level of temperature rise might set them off.

Currently, they are seen as low probability events, but he said that it is still crucial to know more about them given the “irreversible consequences on the scale of millennia” that they could cause.

Another crucial uncertainty is the state of the world’s forests and oceans, which absorb about half of the CO2 emitted by humans.

“Will this carbon sink function continue to be effective or not?” Vautard said.

If they stop absorbing carbon — as has been found in areas of the Amazon, for example — then more C02 will accumulate in the atmosphere, raising temperatures even further.

“It is a concern,” said Vautard.

Hunger Rising In Central America Amid Climate, COVID-19 Shocks – UN

In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

The United Nations warned Tuesday that hunger levels are soaring across much of Central America as countries battle economic crises sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme climate events.

The UN’s World Food Programme said that levels of hunger had risen nearly four-fold in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, from 2.2 million people affected in 2018 to nearly eight million now.

Of that figure, some 1.7 million people are considered to be in the “emergency” category of food insecurity, meaning they need urgent food assistance, WFP said, urging more international support.

The UN agency said the region, where years of drought and erratic weather had already disrupted food production, had been especially hard-hit by the record 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

“Hurricanes Eta and Iota, that struck Central America in November 2020, upended the lives of 6.8 million people who lost their homes and livelihoods,” WFP pointed out.

The hurricanes came as the pandemic was already taking a devastating toll, and dealt a severe blow to millions who had previously been relatively untouched by hunger, including people working in the service economy and the tourism sector.

The hurricanes destroyed more than 200,000 hectares of vital crops across the four countries and more than 10,000 hectares of coffee farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua.

“Considering the level of destruction and setbacks faced by those affected, we expect this to be a long and slow recovery,” said WFP regional chief for Latin America and the Caribbean Miguel Barreto.

– ‘Rock bottom’ –

Before those hurricanes hit, Covid-19 was already taking a devastating toll, as an overwhelming majority of households in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador reported income losses or unemployment.

WFP surveys showed that the number of households in Guatemala reporting they did not have enough to eat had almost doubled compared to pre-pandemic figures, while the numbers in Honduras rose by more than 50 percent.

“Urban and rural communities in Central America have hit rock bottom,” Barreto warned.

“The Covid-19-induced economic crisis had already put food on the market shelves out of reach for the most vulnerable people when the twin hurricanes Eta and Iota battered them further,” he said.

“Many now have nowhere to live and are staying in temporary shelters, surviving on next to nothing.”

With so many homes and farms destroyed, food stocks running out and few opportunities to find work, nearly 15 percent of people surveyed by WFP in January said they were laying concrete plans to migrate.

That marks a significant jump from the eight percent who said they were doing so in a WFP post-drought assessment in 2018.

WFP appealed to international donors to step up support, saying it needed more than $47 million to help 2.6 million people across the four countries over the next six months alone.

Time Running Out For Indian Workers Trapped Since Glacier Disaster

Rescue teams gather near the entrance of a tunnel blocked with mud and debris, where workers are trapped, in Tapovan of Chamoli district on February 9, 2021 following a flash flood thought to have been caused when a glacier burst on February 7. Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP
Rescue teams gather near the entrance of a tunnel blocked with mud and debris, where workers are trapped, in Tapovan of Chamoli district on February 9, 2021 following a flash flood thought to have been caused when a glacier burst on February 7. Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

 

Time was running out to save dozens of people trapped inside a tunnel three days after a devastating flash flood likely caused by a glacier burst in India’s Himalayan north, officials said Wednesday.

More than 170 people were still missing after a barrage of water and debris hurtled with terrifying speed and power down a valley on Sunday morning, sweeping away bridges and roads and hitting two hydroelectric plants.

Thirty-two bodies have been found so far, officials said on Wednesday. It may take days for more bodies to be recovered under the tonnes of rocks and other debris and the thick blanket of grey mud.

Twenty-five of the bodies were yet to be identified. Many of the victims are poor workers from hundreds of miles away in other parts of India whose whereabouts at the time of the disaster may not be known.

The main focus of the massive rescue operation, underway day and night since Sunday, is a tunnel near a severely damaged hydroelectric plant that was under construction at Tapovan in Uttarakhand state.

READ ALSO: Myanmar Police Fire Rubber Bullets At Anti-Coup Protesters

Workers there have been battling their way through hundreds of tonnes of sludge, boulders, and other obstacles to try and reach 34 people who rescuers hope are alive in air pockets.

“As time passes, the chances of finding them are reducing. But miracles do happen,” Piyoosh Rautela, a senior state disaster relief official told AFP.

“There’s only so much that one can do. We can’t push in multiple bulldozers together. We are working round the clock — man, the machinery we are all working round the clock. But the amount of debris is so much that it’s going to take a while to remove all that,” he said.

Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for the border police told the Times of India that if the 34 are alive, the biggest concern is hypothermia, “which can be fatal in such conditions”.

Outside the tunnel, there were medical teams on standby with oxygen cylinders and stretchers, as well as anxious relatives.

Shuhil Dhiman, 47, said that his brother-in-law Praveen Diwan, a private contractor, and father of three, had driven into the tunnel on Sunday morning with three others when the flood-hit.

“We don’t know what happened to him. We went near the tunnel but there are tonnes of slush coming out. The tunnel has a sharp slope from the opening and I think water and slush have gone deep inside,” Shuhil Dhiman told AFP.

“I am hoping against hope,” he said. “The authorities are doing their best but the situation is beyond anyone’s ability.”

The disaster has been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region caused by global warming.

Building activity for dams, the dredging of riverbeds for sand, and the clearing of trees for new roads — some to beef up defence on the Chinese border — are other factors.

AFP

La Nina Climate Cycle Has Peaked – UN

In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

The 2020-2021 La Nina phenomenon has passed its peak, the UN weather agency said Tuesday, but its impact on temperatures, rain and storm patterns is set to continue.

La Nina refers to the large-scale cooling of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, occurring every two to seven years.

The effect has widespread impacts on weather around the world — typically the opposite impacts to the El Nino warming phase in the Southern Oscillation cycle.

Besides the cooling effect, La Nina is usually associated with wetter conditions in some parts of the world, and drier conditions in others.

La Nina conditions have been in place since August-September 2020, according to atmospheric and oceanic indicators.

“La Nina appears to have peaked in October-November as a moderate strength event,” said the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO said there was a 65 percent likelihood that La Nina will persist during February-April. The odds shift rapidly thereafter, with a 70 percent chance that the tropical Pacific will return to neutral conditions in the cycle by April-June.

“El Nino and La Nina are major drivers of the Earth’s climate system,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“But all naturally-occurring climate events now take place in the context of human-induced climate change, which is increasing global temperatures, exacerbating extreme weather, impacting seasonal rainfall patterns and complicating disaster prevention and management.”

The temporary global cooling effects of La Nina were not enough to prevent 2020 from being one of the three warmest years on record.

“Despite the general cooling influence of La Nina events, land temperatures are expected to be above-normal for most parts of the globe in February-April 2021,” the WMO said.

“La Nina and El Nino effects on average global temperatures are typically strongest in the second year of the event, but it remains to be seen to what extent the current La Nina will influence global temperatures in 2021,” the United Nations agency added.

– Warmer temperatures expected –

In a global seasonal climate update, the WMO said that other than in a few small areas, above-normal land temperatures are “expected to dominate everywhere” for February-April.

“The highest probabilities of above-normal temperatures occur in western, central and eastern Asia and over the southern half of North America,” the WMO said.

“Above-normal temperatures are also likely over much of the northern high latitudes (except over northwestern North America), southern, central and eastern parts of South America, and equatorial and northern regions of Africa.

“Below-normal temperatures are more likely for northern South America.”

Meanwhile the precipitation outlook for February to April is consistent with typical La Nina effects on regional climates, said the WMO.

“These include increased chances of unusually wet conditions over much of southeast Asia, Australia and northern South America and islands in Melanesia. Southern Africa may also see above-normal rainfall,” the WMO said.

“Below-normal precipitation is likely over much of western and central Asia… as well as parts of the Greater Horn of Africa, parts of Central Africa, sub-tropical latitudes of North America, islands in Polynesia and some parts of southeastern South America.”

The last La Nina, which was brief and relatively weak, began developing in November 2017 and ended in April 2018.