Climate Change Threatens End Of Trail For Niger’s Nomadic Herders

 

 

Ali’s sharp eyes scanned the heat-shimmered horizon, searching in vain for clouds.

It was noon and 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on the ninth day of their quest to reach new pastures.

There was no tree anywhere, no shelter at all for his family, 27 sheep and six camels.

“We heard that the first rain has fallen in the north. That’s where we’re going,” the turbaned herder said, as he filled up a water bottle at the side of the road.

An arduous trail lay ahead: more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) across the arid wastes of southern Niger before the family reached their goal.

There at Bermo, they counted on joining thousands of other herders, spending a few months in verdant hollows on the edge of the Sahara, famous for their moist air, juicy grass and water.

The annual migration of the nomadic Fulani community — also called Peuls — is a vast caravan of herder folk that tails back to neighbouring Nigeria.

Women and children perched on donkeys already overburdened with bags of jute, plastic containers, mattresses and gourdes. Scrawny cows, sheep and goats trailed alongside in the baking heat, looking exhausted.

Vulnerable

Nomadic herders are among the world’s most exposed communities when it comes to the impact of climate change.

Higher temperatures, shifting winds and moisture levels that alter rainfall patterns, sandstorms, torrential rain — all can change the quality or even the location of pasture on which migrating herders depend.

This year, for the Fulani, has been relatively good.

The herdsmen were able to draw on stocks of animal feed to help them survive stress points, while timely rainfall on some areas of the migration trail helped tender young grass to grow.

But whether this respite endures is the big question.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, depends on farming, particularly herding, to provide a livelihood for 80 per cent of its population.

In addition to its vulnerability to climate change, the country is on the frontline of desertification — the equivalent of around 150,000 football pitches is lost each year.

Capricious

“The weather has become completely unpredictable,” said Djafarou Amadou, an engineer working for a group called the Association to Revitalise Herding in Niger (AREN).

“What we fear most are pockets of drought which take people by surprise when they least expect it.”

In 2018, more than 60,000 people, gathered in Bermo, celebrated when the rain began to fall as early as May.

But after a few weeks, the precious rain suddenly stopped. None fell for the next 30 days. The green plains turned yellow and the price of cereal fodder on local markets rocketed.

Rouada Sabgari, an elderly herder, said that he had to sell off his skinniest cows at rock-bottom prices just to survive — a mere 5,000 CFA francs ($8.4, 7.6 euros) per animal, compared with more than 200,000 francs at better times.

Every winter, Sabgari said, he camps nearby a well dug by his grandfather more than half a century ago, six kilometres (four miles) from the village of Bermo.

He is part of a Fulani clan called the Wodaabe, famous for travelling extremely long distances with their herds, from Niger to the Central African Republic via Cameroon and Chad.

They are also nicknamed the Mbororo, like the hardy strain of reddish, large-horned steers they drive.

There is little that Sabgari doesn’t know about survival and resilience.

But he said he wondered whether his children will be able to carry on the ancient herding traditions.

Successive droughts over the past 10 years have caused him to lose half of his herd.

Today, he only has 32 cows — a catastrophic loss of capital for him and his 25-member family.

In the Fulani culture, cattle are the measure of wealth and freedom. According to their beliefs, at the making of the world, the cow was created by God (Gueno) himself, using a drop of milk.

Lethal droughts

Seated on a mat in front of his tent, on a plain swept by winds and plastic bags snared on thorny bushes, Sabgari looked back on a life of hardship and brutal change.

“In the old days, we didn’t eat cereal or meat. The milk was rich and plentiful, it made us strong just by itself,” he said. “It’s impossible to do that today.”

Sabgari said the worst droughts, in 1974 and 1984, were turning points for Sahel herders. They lost half of their cattle.

“We were unprepared for it,” he recalled. “Everyone fled (south) to Nigeria. The animals were so thin and tired that we had to lift them to get them on their feet. Even the people were dying. There was nothing in markets.”

Prayers to God to raise this “curse” and bring rain went in vain.

After the big droughts, smaller ones followed — and food insecurity gradually became chronic, worsened by a jihadist insurgency and the displacement of the rural population it caused.

“Today, we have fewer animals and smaller harvests and more mouths to feed,” said the engineer Amadou.

Niger is the sixth poorest country in the world but has the planet’s highest fertility rate at more than seven children per woman on average.

The crunch

Dwindling harvests, relentless population pressure, climate uncertainty, pollution of underground aquifers, the rivalry between herders and farmers over access to land: all this is a deadly mixture.

In recent times, even in good years such as 2019, the phantom of hunger has never gone away.

Harvests and livestock production are in surplus and the price of millet, sorghum and corn has fallen.

Yet despite this, between June and August, 1.2 million Nigeriens were in a position of serious food insecurity, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Barka Azzey, 38, is a testimony to how herder families in Niger can be ground down by repeated crises.

His once-proud herd of 40 cows dwindled from hunger and diseases, leaving only scrawny beasts that gave no more milk and were unable to have calves.

It was time to quit.

“We didn’t have enough to eat, to buy clothes, so I took my family and we went to live in the town,” Azzey said, his voice betraying sadness.

He became a watchman, living with his wife Rabi and their five children in the grounds of a wealthy trader in Maradi, Niger’s second-largest town.

On the floor of his hut, three thin chickens rested in the shadow of a satellite dish where clothes were stretched out to dry.

Azzey earns a meagre 20,000 CFA francs ($34, 30 euros) a month, and to feed the children has to buy food on credit at the local grocery store.

“There’s nothing good in towns. Just despair,” Azzey said.

He is fixated by one idea — “to earn enough money to rebuild my herd and get my old life back.”

Exodus

Azzey is just one of innumerable young Nigeriens who have turned their backs on the harsh life of herding to try their luck in the cities.

In cities across West Africa, you can see these young men hustling for a few banknotes, offering to shine your shoes, sell you a SIM card for your phone or some medicinal remedy.

Many become caught in the poverty spiral and have no way out.

AREN, the British charity Oxfam and other NGOs have set up programmes in rural areas that seek to stem this human haemorrhage.

One such scheme is a dairy, set up in the village of Bermo, which employs 300 people, mainly women, to produce yoghurt and cheese that are then sold at the local market.

Help such as this has been a boon to Hadiza Attahirou, 39, who for 15 years went to Mali or Senegal to work for a few months to earn a little money.

She received two cows under a help scheme — a small income, but a lifeline.

“I can ease the burden for my husband when he goes off with the herds and pay my daughter’s school fees,” she said.

Others have benefited from micro-credit to buy farming tools or sewing machines.

Store the good times

The wheel of time turns, in the Fulani year, to Gerewol — a grand festival to mark the end of the rainy season.

In Fulani folklore, this is a time to breathe and take into account life’s blessings. Food is plentiful and the flanks of the animals are fat.

Nomadic clans arrive in Bermo from across the Sahel. Bonds of friendship and love are renewed. Weddings and births are celebrated.

The ageless rituals of courting are renewed once more, as men — their faces painted, their hair in locks and bodies decorated with magical charms — dance for the women.

Like their animals who have grown fat on the grass of Bermo, the Fulani will also stock up on this moment.

Tomorrow, they will set out once more on the trail.

They will draw on memories of these days of comradeship, love and fun — a precious fund to sustain them in the perils that lie ahead.

Before them lies furnace-like heat. Grass that will unexpectedly wither and die. Water holes that become parched.

And they will be doomed to walk further and further, in search of those elusive clouds.

West Africa’s Fulani Nomads Fight Climate Change To Survive

A Fulani herdsman guides cattle in the area surrounding Bermo, on June 27, 2019.MARCO LONGARI / AFP

 

 

They are one of the last great nomadic peoples of the planet, a community of some 35 million people scattered across 15 countries in West Africa, from the dusty Sahel down to the lush rainforests.

The Fulani are pastoral herders who migrate with their cattle, following the pendulum swing of the seasons.

But their age-old way of life is under threat.

Booming populations have intensified conflicts for land, religious extremism has shattered social bonds and climate change is driving them on an ever more desperate search for pasture.

While they are well used to the extreme conditions of this often inhospitable region, today they face threats from longer and more severe droughts to greater rain and flooding.

Niger, a country in which more than 80 percent of the population lives off agriculture, is at the forefront of the climate emergency.

The Fulanis there have seen their herds decimated by droughts and hunger in recent decades — and this decline is gaining speed.

Every year an area of over 1,000 square kilometers (380 square miles) is lost to the spreading desert and soil erosion.

The sixth poorest nation in the world also has the highest birth rates with women on average bearing seven children.

This fuels a vicious spiral that has seen demographic pressures and the struggle for resources intensify competition with farmers for land.

Many Fulani have had to abandon herding and settle down in towns in a bid to feed their families.

They have become security guards or petty traders as huge numbers of people have flowed to Niamey and other capitals in West Africa.

It is no surprise in this context that community elders speak of a “curse”.

Cows represent far more to the Fulanis than just a source of revenue: they are a symbol of freedom and a way of life to be defended ferociously.

Australians Warned Worst Bushfires May Be Yet To Come

Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 9, 2019 as they try to contain dozens of out-of-control blazes that are raging in the state of New South Wales. At least two people have died and 100 homes have been destroyed as an unprecedented number of bushfires tore through eastern Australia.
PETER PARKS / AFP

 

Sydney is facing a “catastrophic” fire threat, authorities said on Sunday, as firefighters in eastern Australia raced to prepare for worsening conditions after ferocious bushfires devastated communities.

Fires have killed three people and razed more than 150 homes since Friday, but cooler weather overnight provided a welcome reprieve for firefighters and residents.

Authorities were assessing the damage on Sunday, with more than 100 fires still burning across New South Wales and Queensland, including several blazes that remained out of control.

Wider swathes of the states — including greater Sydney — are now bracing for perilous fire conditions predicted for the coming days, as is Western Australia state.

It is the first time Sydney has been warned of a “catastrophic” fire danger, the highest possible level, since the grading system was introduced in 2009.

Massive fires tore through several towns on Friday and Saturday.

The mayor of Glen Innes, where two people died, said residents were traumatised and still coming to terms with their losses.

“The fire was as high as 20 foot (six metres) and raging with 80 kilometres-an-hour (50 miles-an-hour) winds,” Carol Sparks told national broadcaster ABC.

Five people reported missing have been found, but the unpredictable nature of the disaster means officials have not ruled out the possibility that others could still be missing, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

In Old Bar, which was spared the worst when the wind changed direction, hectares of bushland had turned charcoal and small pockets of flames continued to smoulder.

Peter McKellar, 75, was clearing debris from his property as his neighbour’s home sat in ruins.

“The firies (firefighters) saved ours,” he told AFP. “They are doing a wonderful job. They’re angels.”

High temperatures, low humidity and strong winds forecast from the middle of the week are predicted to fuel blazes that authorities have warned they will be unable to contain ahead of time.

“We are ramping up for probably another 50 trucks full of crews to be deployed into New South Wales on Monday night ahead of conditions on Tuesday,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shan Fitzsimmons told reporters in Taree, one of the worst-hit areas.

“We have seen the gravity of the situation unfold… What we can expect is those sorts of conditions to prevail across a much broader geographic area as we head into Tuesday.”

‘Primed to burn’

In Queensland, where a state of emergency has been declared, more than 1,200 firefighters were battling over 50 active fires on Sunday.

“Queensland does not usually have a fire season like we’ve experienced this year and last year,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.

With thousands of people forced to flee from their homes, Australia’s government was offering immediate emergency assistance payments of up to Aus$1,000 (US$685) to those affected and extended financial support for anyone unable to work as a result.

Many residents are now returning to their scorched communities to assess the extent of the fire-inflicted damage, amid warnings it could take months for them to rebuild their lives.

Emotions were running high at an evacuation centre in Taree, with one man breaking down in tears as he was embraced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“People are under a lot of pressure,” Morrison told reporters. “The level of optimism, despite the circumstances, is quite inspiring.”

Morrison, whose government has downplayed the threat of climate change, was also heckled about the issue at a fire command centre in nearby Wauchope.

“Climate change is real, can’t you see,” the Australian newspaper reported a man as yelling before he was escorted out of the building.

Bushfires are common in Australia but the country has experienced a dramatic start to what scientists predict will be a tough fire season — with climate change and weather cycles contributing to the dangerous combination of strong winds, high temperatures and dry conditions.

The current disaster has not wreaked the human devastation of Australia’s worst recent bushfires, the Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people in Victoria state in 2009, with some experts attributing that to better early warning systems.

But Ross Bradstock, from the Centre for Environmental Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, described the situation as “unprecedented” for the affected regions, which have rarely — if ever — experienced such severe fires.

“Sadly, given the weather forecast for the coming week, the crisis may worsen and extend southward into landscapes primed to burn via extreme dryness,” he said.

‘Uncharted Territory’ As Bushfires Rage Across Australia’s East

Smoke from rural bushfires are seen over Sydney Harbour on October 31, 2019. Sydney residents coughed and spluttered their way around Australia’s largest metropolis as a bank of smoke from rural bushfires enveloped the city prompting health warnings. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

 

Dozens of bushfires raged out of control across eastern Australia on Friday, blocking escape routes for residents and shuttering the main highway linking major cities on the country’s Pacific coast.

More than 90 blazes pockmarked the New South Wales countryside, 50 of them uncontained, tearing through tens of thousands of hectares.

“We are in uncharted territory,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told public broadcaster ABC. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.”

Authorities said fires had breached containment lines and forced the closure of the Pacific Highway linking Sydney and Brisbane in two places.

Emergency warnings were introduced for 14 flashpoints, bringing warnings to evacuate immediately.

READ ALSO: Five Killed, 120 Injured In Iran Earthquake

In some areas, residents were told to simply “seek shelter as it is too late to leave”.

Local radio stopped normal programming and provided instructions about how to try to survive fires if trapped at home or in a vehicle.

A prolonged drought, strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures have conspired to make the landscape a tinderbox.

“It’s a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances,” said Fitzsimmons.

Bushfires are common in Australia, but the country is gearing up for busy bushfire season with record temperatures predicted for the summer months.

130 Climate Protesters Arrested In Amsterdam

Climate activists protest on Trafalgar Square during the sixth day of demonstrations by the climate change action group Extinction Rebellion, in London, on October 12, 2019. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Dutch police on Saturday arrested 130 climate change protesters who blocked a main bridge in central Amsterdam as Extinction Rebellion activists disrupted traffic in front of the French parliament in Paris.

The group, created in Britain last year, has carried out a wave of demonstrations around the world since Monday, primarily attempting to blockade city centre streets.

“The police has for the moment carried out 130 arrests at the Blauwbrug bridge” in the heart of the Dutch capital, the police said on Twitter.

Dozens of activists gathered at the bridge at around 9:00 am (0700 GMT), local media said.

The historic bridge connects several districts in central Amsterdam and dates back to the 17th century.

Some of the protesters slumped on hammocks hung from pillars supporting the bridge to prevent boats from passing underneath.

Protesters have multiplied in the city since Monday, when some 80 people were arrested outside the celebrated Rijksmuseum, one of Amsterdam’s top tourist draws.

In France, a few hundred activists blocked a key route to the National Assembly for a few hours but were dispersed by police in the afternoon.

“The police is not our enemy. it’s the big industrialists who exploit the living and the states who let them do it,” one demonstrator said.

Extinction Rebellion members occupied Paris’s central Chatelet area for five days until Friday evening.

Extinction Rebellion is demanding that governments drastically cut the carbon emissions that scientists say cause devastating climate change.

They are backed by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose searing UN address in September made international headlines, and by academics studying rising temperatures and sea levels.

Their protests have irritated drivers and some officials but raised the hopes of those who see climate change as a threat to the planet.

The movement is partially credited with pushing the UK government in June to become the first in the Europe Union to commit itself to a net-zero target for planet warming emissions by 2050.

Extinction Rebellion is demanding governments reach that target by 2025, as well as holding “citizens assemblies” to decide policies to achieve that aim.

AFP

‘Millions’ Protest In Youth-Led Global Climate Strike

A youth holds a placard as she participates in a climate strike to protest against governmental inaction towards climate breakdown and environmental pollution, part of demonstrations being held worldwide in a movement dubbed “Fridays for Future” in Hyderabad on September 20, 2019./AFP

 

Masses of children skipped school to join a global strike against climate change that teen activist Greta Thunberg said was “only the beginning,” ahead of a UN youth summit she will participate on Saturday.

Some four million people filled city streets around the world, organizers said, in what was billed as the biggest ever protest against the threat posed to the planet by rising temperatures.

Youngsters and adults alike chanted slogans and waved placards in demonstrations that started in Asia and the Pacific, spread across Africa, Europe, and Latin America, before culminating in the United States where Thunberg rallied.

“Change is coming whether they like it or not,” said Thunberg, hitting out at skeptics as she wrapped up the massive day of action in New York, where she said that 250,000 protested.

Strike organizers 350.org said Friday’s rallies were the start of 5,800 protests across 163 countries over the next week.

From Berlin to Boston, Kampala to Kiribati, Seoul to Sao Paulo, protesters brandished signs with slogans including “There is no planet B” and “Make The Earth Great Again.”

– ‘Safe future’ –
In New York’s Battery Park, tens of thousands of supporters gave Thunberg a rockstar reception, chanting her name as she called on leaders to act now to curb gas emissions.

“Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us?” She asked. “We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”

On Saturday, she and 500 other youth environmentalists from around the world will take part in the first-ever Youth Climate Summit.

Then on Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has convened a Climate Action Summit where more than 60 world leaders will take to the podium to present greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

Events began Friday in the deluge-threatened Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, the Solomons, and Kiribati, where children chanted: “We are not sinking, we are fighting.”

The defiance reverberated across the globe as kids closed their textbooks in a collective call to action.

“We are the future and we deserve better,” 12-year-old Lilly Satidtanasarn, known as “Thailand’s Greta” for her campaign against plastic bags in malls, told AFP in Bangkok.

Schoolchildren rallied in India while thousands protested in the Philippines, which experts say faces threats from rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.

About 200 marched in Ghana’s capital Accra, where some 44 percent of the country’s population has not heard of climate change, according to a study by Afrobarometer.

“Developing countries like Ghana are the most affected. We don’t have the resources to adapt to climate change,” said 26-year-old protest organizer Ellen Lindsey Awuku.

In Slovakia, five-year-old Teo asked a crowd of 500 “not to cut down forests, and reduce garbage production, and not to use so many petrol-fuelled cars.”

– ‘Day of the Dead’ –
German Chancellor Angela Merkel used Friday to pledge at least 100 billion euros by 2030 to tackle emissions in the energy and industrial sectors, boost zero tailpipe emission electric vehicles, and get passengers out of planes and onto trains.

Several thousand protested in Brazil, where banners slammed President Jair Bolsonaro over recent devastating fires in the Amazon rainforest.

And in Mexico City, protesters wore wrestling masks and skeleton costumes associated with the country’s Day of the Dead celebrations.

Organizers said more than 300,000 children, parents and supporters rallied in Australia alone.

Australia has been struck in recent years by droughts, more intense bushfires, devastating floods and the blanching of the Great Barrier Reef — phenomena experts have blamed on a changing climate.

The protests also highlighted resistance from climate change skeptics.

“The facts are, there is no link between climate change and drought, polar bears are increasing in number,” said Australian ruling coalition parliamentarian Craig Kelly Thursday.

– Businesses taking action –
Businesses also backed the protests.

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos pledged Thursday to make the US tech giant carbon neutral by 2040 and encouraged other firms to do likewise.

A landmark UN report to be unveiled next week will warn global warming and pollution are ravaging Earth’s oceans and icy regions in ways that could unleash misery on a global scale.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Guterres acknowledged Monday’s summit would not solve everything.

“My main objective is to make as much noise as I can, and to do as much as I can to support as many actors involved in this as I can, especially in relationship with the youth,” he said.

Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Sets Sail For NYC

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg walks along the quayside to board an electric powered RIB. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / POOL / AFP

 

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg sets sail on Wednesday for New York, heading for a UN summit on a zero-emissions yacht skippered by a member of Monaco’s ruling family.

The 16-year-old Swede, whose school strikes have inspired children across the world to protest against global warming, refuses to fly because of the carbon emissions caused by planes.

But she has been offered a lift on the Malizia II racing yacht, along with her father Svante and a filmmaker to document the journey, that will allow her to attend the UN talks in September with a clear conscience.

The 60-foot (18-metre) boat is skippered by Pierre Casiraghi, vice president of the Monaco Yacht Club and a member of the principality’s ruling family, and German round-the-world sailor Boris Herrmann.

The journey takes about two weeks — the yacht can travel at speeds of around 35 knots (70 kilometres an hour) but will be heading into the wind for much of the time so will be slower, and the captain wants a smooth ride.

“The objective is to arrive safe and sound in New York,” Herrmann told AFP as he made final preparations in the English port of Plymouth.

‘Pressure on people in power’

Thunberg has become a figurehead for climate action with her stark warnings of catastrophe if the world does not act now to cut carbon emissions and curb global warming.

Speaking to AFP before she set sail, the activist said: “Of course there are many people who don’t understand and accept the science.

“I will just have to do what I have always done — ignore them and just tell the science as it is,” she added in reference to her North American trip.

“We create an international opinion and movement so that people stand together and put pressure on the people in power.”

The yacht is made for racing, with foils, or wings, that lift it out of the water for a faster and smoother ride.

Inside it is sparse, fitted with high-tech navigation equipment, an on-board ocean laboratory to monitor CO2 levels in the water, and four bunks — Herrmann and Casiraghi will share one, sleeping in turns.

The toilet is a blue plastic bucket, complete with a biodegradable bag that can be thrown overboard, and meals will be freeze-dried packets of vegan food mixed with water heated on a tiny gas stove.

But state-of-the-art solar panels adorn the yacht’s deck and sides while there are two hydro-generators, which together provide all the electricity they need on board.

Thunberg has never sailed before this week, and got seasick on their first journey out of Plymouth on Monday, but said she was looking forward to the adventure.

The teenager, who has spent hours on trains across Europe to spread her message, was relaxed about the basic conditions.

“You can’t really ask for that much if you get to sail across the Atlantic for free,” she said, adding: “I am grateful for what I have.”

29 US States And Cities Sue Trump Over Climate Protections

A coalition of 22 US states and seven cities on Tuesday sued President Donald Trump’s administration to block it from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants. 

Trump has set about systematically dismantling environmental regulations put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama, including the Clean Power Plan, which called for cuts to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Finalized in 2015, it was put on hold by the Supreme Court and the White House has ordered the Environment Protection Agency to work on a less stringent replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

“This administration has decided to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with a toothless substitute,” said California attorney-general Xavier Becerra at a news conference in Sacramento Tuesday.

“It’s anything but clean, and it’s anything but clean energy. President Trump’s attempt to gut our nation’s Clean Power Plan is just the wrong way to go,” he added.

The ACE rule would allow states to set their own standards for existing coal-fired power plants, rather than follow a single federal standard.

It foresees a far less ambitious overall reduction of power sector carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 than the regulation it would replace.

Tuesday’s challenge argues that it violates the EPA’s duty under the Obama-era Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution from power plants, and artificially narrows the EPA’s authority.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, could end up at the Supreme Court.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the Trump administration was “in the short-term business.”

“They are absolutely neglecting the next generation and shame on them,” he said.

Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate change accord committing countries to mitigating global warming in his first year in office.

He has ordered the Energy Department to pour millions into research to boost the performance of coal-fired power plants.

But the US energy mix is quickly shifting away from coal and toward natural gas, as a result of the fracking boom, and renewables.

Coal consumption has plummeted to its lowest level in 40 years, according to the Energy Department, and bankruptcies have abounded, closing dozens of mines, shrinking capacity and idling hundreds of workers.

US voters have rarely considered climate change a top-priority presidential election issue, but that is changing.

An April CNN poll labelled it as the single most important issue to Democratic primary voters, topping health care.

AFP

Climate Change Takes Toll On French Oyster Farmers

 

Gulping down oysters have long been a favourite New Year’s Eve ritual for the French, but as winters get warmer and summers get drier many growers to worry there will soon be fewer of the prized mollusks to go around.

“Twenty years ago, we’d be shivering in the warehouse while preparing the holiday orders. Today it’s 15 degrees (60 Fahrenheit),” says Brittany oysterman Mathieu Le Moal, his sleeves rolled up in front of a tractor carrying dozens of bulging oyster sacks.

“We don’t have seasons anymore — but oysters need all four,” Le Moal adds. “They need the winter, it’s when they can rest, use less energy.”

Inside a wooden hanger redolent of salt and the sea, around a dozen of his workers are sorting, weighing and packing oysters into crates in the Brittany port of Cancale.

Le Moal and other farmers along this stretch of France’s Emerald Coast say the long drought which struck swathes of the country this summer took a heavy toll, leading to smaller harvests and smaller shellfish.

Without summer rains that wash crucial minerals into the oyster beds, “there’s no plankton, the main food for oysters, so they don’t grow,” explained fellow oysterman Bertrand Racinne, weaving his way between baskets and stacked crates.

“In the end, we have oysters but not enough of the big ones,” said Racinne, who like most growers sells more than half his yearly production in December.

Cold weather normally encourages a needed rest for oysters to mature, said Yoann Thomas of France’s IRD research institute.

But this winter has so far been unusually warm and, paradoxically, too rainy.

Rains may bring minerals that favour plankton growth — but they also mean the mollusks spend too much energy eating.

This year’s harvest are likely to start the spring “fragile and vulnerable”, warned Racinne.

“We’ve found that periods of extreme mortality (more than 25 percent of oysters) come several months after mild and rainy winters,” Thomas said.

Germs thrive 

“Ten grams fewer for each one, that makes a difference in sales,” said Philippe Le Gal, president of the CNC national shellfish producers’ association.

In 2017 the roughly 4,500 oyster growers in France sold 100,000 tons, at an average price of 5,000 euros ($5,700) per ton.

“Oyster farmers will see volumes down by 20 to 30 percent this year,” Le Gal said. “Climate warming is starting to have an impact.”

Warmer water temperatures are also a risk because they facilitate the spread of viruses that are especially harmful to oyster larvae, or spat, and young oysters.

Scientists point in particular to a Herpes virus, OsHV-1, that has been present in French oyster waters since 1991 but has become more aggressive recently, for reasons still unknown.

Since 2008, up to 75 percent of young oysters have been lost in some years, said Fabrice Pernet at the Ifremer ocean research institute in Brest.

“Oyster farmers had found a solution by putting ten times the amount of spat in the water in autumn, when the virus is not active,” Pernet said.

But warmer waters would reduce this window of opportunity, he said, and new pathogens could arrive if carried north by fish and other sea life fleeing rising temperatures further south.

Adding to the challenges, rising ocean acidity requires oysters to spend more energy in building their shells, Pernet said.

 ‘Still magnificent’ 

Erratic and extreme weather conditions are likely to become more frequent unless aggressive steps are taken to limit climate change caused by human activities, scientists warn.

“By 2035 the abnormally high mortality episodes that currently occur every ten years risk happening every two years,” Pernet said.

Not every oyster farmer is convinced, however, saying the bigger risks are pollution, oyster beds that are becoming too densely packed and the increased use of genetically modified species.

“Mortality rates change every year, depending on the region… but nobody can really explain why,” said Alexandre Prod’homme, another grower in Cancale.

But if warming and weather patterns become increasingly volatile, French farmers might have to start changing their growing seasons or move their beds north or further out to sea, Pernet said.

“Oysters aren’t going to disappear… but they’re probably going to have to migrate,” he predicted.

For now, most growers say they’re going to wait and see.

“We’re not sure about anything regarding the impact of global warming, we’re waiting for more scientific research,” said Daniel Coirier, president of the shellfish association for the Poitou-Charentes region.

“But even if they’re not as big, our oysters are still magnificent, and top quality!”

AFP

Climate Change Devours Ancient Cedar Trees In Lebanon

Activists from Lebanese NGO Jouzour Loubnan (“Roots of Lebanon”) gather to plant young cedars on the slopes of the Jaj Cedar Reserve Forest in the Lebanon mountains, northeast of the capital Beirut. Photo: JOSEPH EID / AFP

 

High up in Lebanon’s mountains, the lifeless grey trunks of dead cedar trees stand stark in the deep green forest, witnesses of the climate change that has ravaged them.

Often dubbed “Cedars of God”, the tall evergreens hark back millenia and are a source of great pride and a national icon in the small Mediterranean country.

The cedar tree, with its majestic horizontal branches, graces the nation’s flag and its bank notes.

But as temperatures rise, and rain and snowfall decrease, Lebanon’s graceful cedars are increasingly under attack by a tiny green grub that feeds off the youngest trees.

At 1,800 meters altitude, in the natural reserve of Tannourine in the north of Lebanon, ashen tree skeletons jut out of the forest near surviving cedars centuries old.

“It’s as if a fire had swept through the forest,” says Nabil Nemer, a Lebanese specialist in forest insects.

In ancient times, huge cedar forests were felled for their timber.

Egyptian pharaohs used the wood to make boats, and King Solomon is said to have used cedar to build his temple in Jerusalem.

But today’s culprits lie underground, just several centimeters (inches) below the tree trunk: bright green, wriggling larvae no larger than a grain of rice.

Since the late 1990s, infant cedar sawflies have been eating away at the forest in Tannourine, as well as several other nature reserves in northern Lebanon.

“In 2017, 170 trees dried up completely and became dead wood,” Nemer says.

‘Disturbed’ 

Like their food of choice, cedar sawflies have been around for thousands of years.

They mate in spring and lay their eggs on the cedar tree trunks, where grubs hatch and feast on cedar needles.

In the past, the larvae would then head back into the ground to hibernate for up to three or four years, before emerging again as adult sawflies with wings.

But a warming earth has disrupted this cycle, especially in the Mediterranean where “climate change is more intense”, according to Wolfgang Cramer, a scientist and member of Mediterranean Experts on Environmental and Climate Change (MedECC).

In a November report, MedECC said future warming in the Mediterranean region was “expected to exceed global rates by 25 percent”.

As the ground becomes less cold and humid in winter, sawflies are now springing out of the earth every year, and in larger numbers.

Their preferred victims are young cedar trees, aged 20 to 100 years old.

Temperatures in Tannourine have risen by two degrees Celsius in the past 30 years and there is less snow than before, Nemer says.

“With the drought, this larvae has been disturbed,” he explains.

In 1999, the authorities managed to keep the pest in check by spraying insecticides from a helicopter.

But for the past four years, the cedar sawfly population has again been swelling.

With chemical pesticides now banned, park authorities have resorted to a more natural, though less efficient treatment: injecting a fungus into the ground to kill the sleeping grubs.

The authorities have backed the initiative so far, but it’s a mammoth task that needs more funding, manpower and laboratories, Nemer says.

He says he hopes the state can increase its support, including by creating a nationwide authority to track “forest health”.

Race to replenish forests 

Forests cover just over a tenth of Lebanon. They are mostly made up of oaks, pines and juniper trees, but also a minority of cedars.

As scientists fight to prevent cedar deaths, the government has embarked in a race against time to replenish the country’s forests.

Since 2012, it has helped plant more than two million new trees of all kinds across the country, agriculture ministry official Chadi Mohanna says.

The project is running a little late on a target of 40 million planted trees by 2030, but he is optimistic it will help mitigate climate change.

“In the next 20 to 30 years, we’ll start to see a change, with more humidity, and several degrees less during heat waves,” he says.

And civil society is also playing a role.

Since 2008, non-governmental organization Jouzour Lubnan has put 300,000 new trees in the ground.

On a recent sunny Sunday, in the rocky natural reserve of Jaj, dozens of scouts gathered to plant cedars, as Jouzour teamed up with the army to mark independence day.

Beyond centuries-old trees hugging the mountainside, boys and girls in blue shirts planted 300 saplings just a dozen centimeters high.

They protected them with bell-shaped cages and rocks to keep grazing animals at bay.

“Cedars have survived millions of years. They can also take on climate change and adapt,” said Jouzour co-founder Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat.

“We can’t lose hope, but we do need to help them.”

AFP

Mission 2018: Bring The Paris Climate Pact To Life

Mission 2018: Bring The Paris Climate Pact To Life
This handout image obtained via the Nature Publishing website on April 24, 2018, shows melt ponds on the Arctic sea ice in the Central Arctic. Stefan HENDRICKS / Alfred Wegener Institut / NATURE PUBLISHING GROUP / AFP

 

Front-line negotiators from more than 190 nations gathering for climate talks in Bonn on Monday face a daunting task: bring the 2015 Paris Agreement to life.

The world’s only climate treaty pledges to cap global warming at “well under” two degrees Celsius and prevent manmade CO2 from leeching into the atmosphere by century’s end.

But it left a mountain of critical rules and procedures to be worked out.

“This may sound like a technical exercise, but it matters,” Todd Stern, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and the top climate diplomat under Barack Obama, said in a recent speech.

“Guidelines have a lot to do with how strong the regime becomes.”

The deadline for completing this “rule book” is the November climate summit in Katowice, Poland. The agreement itself goes live in 2020.

Negotiators have had more than two years to hammer out the fine print but — as per usual — have procrastinated.

“It’s no secret that things have not been going swimmingly so far,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy and research group.

How quickly the world weans itself from fossil fuels, improves energy efficiency, and learns how to suck CO2 out of the air will determine whether climate change remains manageable or unleashes a maelstrom of human misery.

The window of opportunity for holding the rise in temperature at 2 C (3.6 F) — much less the 1.5 C ceiling the Paris pact vows to consider — has grown perilously narrow.

– Avoiding a 3C world –

A single degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming so far has already accelerated species extinctions, deadly droughts and flooding, and superstorms engorged by rising seas.

“Gradualism won’t get the job done,” said Stern. “We can’t produce the results those scenarios call for without full-on commitment.”

But trend lines are moving the wrong way: after remaining flat for three years, global CO2 emissions in 2017 went up by 1.4 percent, dashing hopes that they had peaked.

US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Paris pact — along with US efforts to boost fossil fuel technologies — have not helped, even as China, France, Germany and Canada have stepped in to fill the breach in climate leadership.

Voluntary national pledges made under the treaty to cut carbon pollution, if fulfilled, would yield no better than a 3C world. Once-every-five-year reviews of these commitments don’t kick in until 2023.

Negotiators know this is too late.

“The scale and pace of climate action must increase dramatically, and immediately so,” reads a UN summary of written submissions to the Fiji-inspired Talanoa Dialogue, designed to inspire more ambitious CO2-slashing pledges.

Still, negotiations have bogged down.

Under pressure, the rift between rich and developing countries that stymied climate talks for more than two decades before the 2015 accord put all nations on the same page has reemerged.

– Danger of backsliding –

For the rulebook, “transparency” has emerged as a hot-button issue.

Rich nations, for example, favour a standardised yardstick for the measurement, reporting and verification of carbon-cutting pledges, with limited exceptions for the poorest countries.

Developing nations have pushed back, calling for greater “flexibility”.

“This is an old debate,” said Meyer. “Developed countries are concerned that some developing ones are trying to take us back to the past.”

When it comes, however, to the rich-nation promise of $100 billion (82 billion euros) per year in climate finance from 2020, the issue cuts the other way.

“It has been frustrating to hear some developed countries celebrate their climate leadership even as they fall well short of the modest commitments they have made,” said Thoriq Ibrahim, environment minister for the Maldives and chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States.

A key complaint by recipient nations is that rich ones have failed to map how and when money promised will be delivered.

Working out a coherent “user’s manual” for the Paris agreement is also crucial for the signals it sends to the private sector, which must take the lead in the shift to a low-carbon global economy, Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna told AFP.

“The markets need to see that governments are committed on climate action,” she said in Paris last week following a meeting with her French counterpart Nicolas Hulot.

AFP

Nigeria Has No Option Than To Fight Climate Change – Buhari

Nigeria Has No Option Than To Fight Climate Change – Buhari
File photo

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has said that Nigeria has no other option than to join countries across the world to fight climate change.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, gave the hint on Wednesday during his appearance on Politics Today.

The President joined more than 60 Heads of State and governments, as well as representatives of non-governmental and private organisations at the One Planet Summit in France.

Adesina said President Buhari informed the audience that all the implications of climate change, such as erratic rainfall, erosion, and desertification among others, were evident in Nigeria.

“Nigeria has no option than to join the fight against climate change, and you know that since two years ago in France Cop21, our President had been in the vanguard of that in Africa.

“He was there, and he has been advocating for a recharge of the Lake Chad because the shrinking of Lake Chad to less than a quarter of its size has implications – both economic and security for Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin countries,” he told Channels Television via Skype from Paris.

According to him, the condition of the Lake Chad has resulted in youths within the region being lured easily into insurgency and most of them being attracted to illegal migration.

“They die in the Sahara desert; they die in the Mediterranean. So Nigeria stands a lot to gain if it supports the fight against climate change,” the presidential aide said.

On President Buhari’s requests at the conference, Adesina said: “He asked for three specific things.

“Number one, finance; to recharge Lake Chad will mean diverting water from the Congo basin and some other rivers in Africa. It takes a lot of money which all the African countries in the Lake Chad basin cannot afford; the West will have to support.

“Then he asked for technical support; you know that fighting climate change requires technology which Nigeria does not have. So he looks towards the West for that technical support and then, he talked about capacity building.

“The people that are going to spearhead that fight need to have their capacities built, and so, Nigeria is looking towards the West for those three things – finance, technical support and capacity building.”