Time to act fast

Carbon Visuals: One day’s carbon dioxide emissions from the UN Secretariat Building via Flickr

According to a recent article by two climate experts in the online publication, The Conversation, there are more reasons for optimism on climate change than we’ve seen for decades. The authors, Gabi Mocatta, Lecturer in Communication, Deakin University, and Research Fellow in Climate Change Communication, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, and Rebecca Harris

Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, say two big reasons help explain the optimism:

1. The science on climate change “is now more detailed than ever. Although much of it is devastating, it’s also resoundingly clear

2. “It’s now also unequivocal that people want action”

Above all, the article maintains we need to act fast. “The 2020s really are our final chance: our “Earthshot” moment to start to repair the planet after decades of inaction.”

More news on the climate crisis front:

– President Joe Biden committed the U.S. to cutting fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030. It’s a good thing, but will it be enough? Does it put the U.S. back in the forefront of leadership on climate change? President Biden will commit the U.S. to cutting emissions in half by 2030 during a virtual climate summit with 40 world leadersNew York Times

– The U.S. and China agreed to work together on climate change “with urgency.” Well, that is the headline; we’ll see what “working together” means for each party. US envoy Kerry confirms cooperation with China on climate change – Kyodo News Plus

FAO report: fisheries and aquaculture slammed by Covid

United Nations Flag by sanjitbakshi via Flickr

Disruptions in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors will increase as supply and consumption are affected by lockdown, according to the report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The February report, “The impact of COVID-19 on fisheries and aquaculture food systems,” was featured during the 34th session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) hosted by FAO.

Fish supply, consumption and trade revenues for 2020 will all likely decline due to containment restrictions, the report noted, while global aquaculture production is expected to fall by about 1.3 percent, the first fall recorded by the sector in several years.

“The pandemic has caused widespread upheaval in fisheries and aquaculture as production has been disrupted, supply chains have been interrupted and consumer spending restricted by various lockdowns,” said FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo. “Containment measures have provoked far-reaching changes, many of which are likely to persist in the long term.”

The FAO report indicated that in aquaculture there is growing evidence that unsold production will result in increasing levels of live fish stocks, creating higher costs for feeding as well as a greater number of fish mortalities. Sectors with longer production cycles, such as salmon, cannot adjust rapidly to the demand shifts.

Global catches from wild fisheries are also expected to have declined slightly in 2020, as, overall, there has been a reduced fishing effort due to COVID‑19-related restrictions on fishing vessel crews and poor market conditions.

As a result of Covid-19, consumer preferences have shifted. While demand for fresh fish has waned, consumer demand for packaged and frozen products has grown as households look to stock up on non-perishable food.

Aggregate prices for 2020, as measured by the Fish Price Index are down year-on-year for most traded species. Restaurant and hotel closures in many countries have also led to a fall in demand for fresh fish products.

The climate crisis is also impacting the food, fish, forest and water sectors

– In other news from FAO, two projects, one focusing on agroforestry in sub-Saharan Africa and the other on water management in the Near East, have received $80 million, paving the way to improve the livelihoods of more than 250 000 smallholders.

The Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved the funds for initiatives in the Republic of Congo and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Both are the first GCF-funded projects in those countries, underscoring FAO’s focus on expanding the use of global tools to advance climate action in food and agriculture. FAO’s GCF portfolio has now risen to $878 million, supporting 15 projects.

– Opening the high-level ceremony to mark the International Day of Forests, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, described forest restoration as a path to global recovery and well-being. 

“Healthy forests mean healthy people. Forests provide us with fresh air, nutritious foods, clean water and space for recreation, and also for civilization to continue,” the Director-General said. 

More than 1 billion people depend on forest foods and 2.4 billion people use fuelwood or charcoal to cook their daily meals, noted the Director General. “Forests are also green pharmacies. In developing countries, up to 80 percent of all medicinal drugs are plant-based.” 

Yet, despite their importance, the area of forests continues to shrink. FAO’s most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment says that each year, the world loses more than 10 million hectares of forest – an area about twice the size of Costa Rica. “We can change this. We have the knowledge and the tools,” said the Director-General.

– Covering 41 percent of the global land area and home to 2.7 billion people, drylands supply about 60 percent of the world’s food production and support more than a quarter of our forests and woodlands, according to Building climate-resilient dryland forests and agrosilvopastoral production systems.   

With four billion people projected to be living in drylands by 2050,the publication outlines the transformational change required to ensure the sustainability of food production systems under climate change and after COVID-19, which includes giving a greater voice to marginalized dryland populations. 

FAO also launched the report, Local financing mechanisms for Forest and Landscape Restoration to highlight financing opportunities for restoration that support local-level actors, including smallholder farmers, foresters and landowners.

– Acute hunger is set to soar in over 20 countries in the coming months without urgent and scaled-up assistance, warn the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) in a new report issued on 23 March.

Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria top the list and face catastrophic levels of acute hunger, with families in pockets of South Sudan and Yemen already in the grip of or at risk of starvation and death according to the Hunger Hotspots report.   

Although the majority of the affected countries are in Africa, acute hunger is due to rise steeply in most world regions – from Afghanistan in Asia, Syria and Lebanon in the Middle East, to Haiti in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Already, over 34 million people are grappling with emergency levels of acute hunger (IPC4) – meaning they are one step away from starvation – across the world. 

“The magnitude of suffering is alarming. It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation,” said Qu. 

“In many regions, the planting season has just started or is about to start. We must run against the clock and not let this opportunity to protect, stabilize and even possibly increase local food production slip away,” urged Qu.  

“We are seeing a catastrophe unfold before our very eyes. Famine – driven by conflict, and fuelled by climate shocks and the COVID-19 hunger pandemic – is knocking on the door for millions of families,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. 

“We urgently need three things to stop millions from dying of starvation: the fighting has to stop, we must be allowed access to vulnerable communities to provide life-saving help, and above all we need donors to step up with the US$ 5.5 billion we are asking for this year,” he added.

Hearkening back to go forward

Thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps by Kevin Micalizzi via Flickr CC

The Civilian Conservation Corps was created in the spring of 1933 by a new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a way to put millions back to work. It gave jobs to an eventual three million young men. This was during the Great Depression and prior to the Second World War, which was an employment program of a quite different sort. The CCC left a legacy of trees, trails, shelters, footbridges, picnic areas, and campgrounds in local, state, and national parks across the country.

Now there is a new president, Joe Biden, and another CCC: The Civilian Climate Corps., which the president included in his 27 January 2021 Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, a comprehensive call to action on many fronts. The relevant section on the CCC goes as follows:

“Sec. 215.  Civilian Climate Corps.  In furtherance of the policy set forth in section 214 of this order, the Secretary of the Interior, in collaboration with the Secretary of Agriculture and the heads of other relevant agencies, shall submit a strategy to the Task Force within 90 days of the date of this order for creating a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, within existing appropriations, to mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs.  The initiative shall aim to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

Under Biden’s executive order, the heads of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and other departments have 90 days to present their plan to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers,” a step toward fulfilling Biden’s promise to get the US on track to conserve 30% of lands and oceans by 2030.

Through its nine-year existence, Roosevelt’s CCC put three million jobless Americans to work. CCC enrollees planted more than three billion trees, paved 125,000 miles of roadways, erected 3,000 fire lookouts, and spent six million workdays fighting forest fires.

“We are conserving not only our natural resources but also our human resources,” Roosevelt said back then.

The CCC was a great idea then, its time has come around again.

Further reading:

“The Civilian Climate Corps Is a Big-Government Plan That All Americans Can Embrace,” Jim Lardner, New Yorker, 7 March 2021.

“Biden’s new conservation corps stirs hopes of nature-focused hiring spree,” Paola Rosa-Aquino, The Guardian, 9 Feb. 2021.

“Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps comes straight out of the New Deal,” Kate Yoder, Grist,  8 February 2021.

Supply chain decarbonization: the way forward

Getting to a global net-zero emission supply chain sounds like an impossible and expensive task, but it may be cheaper than one might think.

This is according to an article published in the recent State of Green Business report by Michael Holder, “The Price is Right.”

Holder, a BusinessGreen reporter, writes that  “setting ambitious net-zero targets for a company’s core business is one thing, but achieving deep decarbonization across the entire supply chain is quite another.”

Many, if not most, supply chains are highly complex and reach across the globe, so measuring and mandating emissions is daunting. “Yet without action to get to net-zero emissions across every corner of the global economy, the planet’s climate will continue to warm.”

He referred to a recent report, “Net-Zero Challenge: The “Supply Chain Challenge,” from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) noting that, as well as being a “game changer” in the fight against climate change, decarbonizing supply chains is possible with readily available technologies and at surprisingly low cost. Some of the majore findings from the report include:

  • Many companies can multiply their climate impact by decarbonizing supply chains
  • Eight supply chains account for more than 50% of global emissions
  • Net-zero supply chains would hardly increase end-consumer costs. (Around 40% of all emissions in these supply chains could be abated with readily available and affordable levers)

Decarbonizing supply chains will be difficult; the report outlines nine major initiatives every company can take:

“Through interviews with several dozen global companies that lead the way in reducing supply chain emissions, we have identified nine key actions: (1) build a comprehensive emissions baseline, gradually filled with actual supplier data; (2) set ambitious and holistic reduction targets, reducing emissions by (3) revisiting product design choices and (4) reconsidering (geographic) sourcing strategy; (5) set ambitious procurement standards and (6) work jointly with suppliers to co-fund abatement levers; (7) work together with peers to align sector targets that maximize impact and level the playing field; (8) use scale by driving up demand to lower the cost of green solutions; and – finally – (9) develop internal governance mechanisms that introduce emissions as a steering mechanism and align the incentives of decision-makers with emission targets.”

There is no time like the present to get started.

Further reading:

Gates Notes

  • Global Energy Perspective 2021

The Global Energy Perspective describes our view on how the energy transition can unfoldthrough four scenarios

The newly announced actions may well mark the beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era.

newyorker.com

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The Opportunity: Green Business

Business, green business, sustainability, health and economic security have always been connected, but no more so than now after four years of neglect and ignorance by the Trump Administration. Mix in a raging pandemic, a new administration committed to tackling climate change, and it might just be that the path forward is in sight.

“There never has been a moment as opportune as this one to be talking about the intersection of business and sustainability,” writes Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, in the latest edition of the State of Green Business. The report is now in its 14th year.

“Justice,” he continues, is the new mantra governing a host of issues–social, racial, climate, economic, environmental and others. “During 2020, amid the economic, social, political and public health crises we encountered; corporate sustainability continued to move forward.” Because of Covid-19 and “the other challenges we’ve encountered, the idea of rapid, large-scale global action now seems more than a mere pipe dream,” says Makower.

Factoids from the report:

  • According to the U.S. SIF Foundation’s 2020 biennial “Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends,” sustainable investing assets now total $17.1 trillion, or 33 percent of the $51.4 trillion in total U.S. assets under professional money management — a 42 percent jump from 2018
  • As of October 2020, more than 1,500 organizations had expressed their support for the Taskforce on Climate related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), an increase of over 85 percent since June 2020
  • Given the above, it was not surprising to see an uptick in corporate ambition on sustainability issues. “Net zero” became a key commitment during 2020 — goals that aim to eliminate, at least on paper, a company’s greenhouse gas emissions, water extractions, fossil fuel use or deforestation activities by a given date
  • What will it take for companies to dramatically step up their ambition and actions? That is a defining question of the decade. No doubt the answer lies in a combination of investor pressure, technological innovation, consumption shifts, governmental pressure, new circular business models that reward resource efficiency — and more than a little grit and determination
  • Corporate sustainability efforts are continuing apace, even amid economic uncertainty and a global pandemic that, as of this writing, is far from contained. It wasn’t very many years ago that the future of corporate sustainability was uncertain even during good times

10 Subject-matter trends discussed in the 135-page report:

  1. Ocean-Based Sequestration Heats Up
  2. The ‘S’ in ESG Gains Currency
  3. Community Investments Pay Dividends
  4. Aquaculture Becomes a Net-Positive
  5. Industrial Decarbonization Picks Up Steam
  6. Nature Takes Root on the Balance Sheet
  7. Sustainable Mobility Drives the Newest Perk
  8. Aviation Plots a Sustainable Course
  9. The Circular Economy Shows its Human Side
  10. Corporate Advocacy Gets Louder

The “State of Green Business” is always a valuable resource, now more than ever.

Further reading:

“A New Day for the Climate,” New Yorker, by Elizabeth Kolbert January 31, 2021

It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden’s sweeping climate directives can make a meaningful difference, but a critical threshold has been crossed.

Exxon in the dock for climate change fraud

ExxonMobil now is fighting fraud lawsuits on two fronts — one in New York and the other in Massachusetts — alleging that the oil giant defrauded investors by misleading consumers about the central role fossil fuels have played in causing climate change and misleading investors about the climate-driving risks to its business.

Read about the Massachusetts case here.

The latest lawsuit came last week in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston in a complaint alleging Exxon repeatedly violated the state’s consumer and investor protection law and related regulations. 

The lawsuit accuses Exxon of misconduct that includes using deceptive advertising and intentionally misleading Massachusetts investors. 

The trial in the New York case began on 22 October. The New York attorney general brought the suit alleging the company used figures internally that were different from what they disclosed publicly when calculating the impact of laws, taxes and other economic aspects of climate change over the coming decades.

The fraud cost investors as much $1.6 billion, according to the the attorney general’s office.Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2016, during the years in question, and will testify in the trial, according to a company attorney.

When Tillerson became ExxonMobil CEO in 2006, he identified that climate change regulation would have a major impact on the company’s business and created the process of assessing a dollar amount for it..

“I had taken the view and we had taken the view as a corporation that the risk of climate change was serious and that … appropriate action was to be needed,” Tillerson said, according to the transcript of his deposition.

The New York suit argues that Exxon used two different ways to calculate carbon costs and wasn’t clear when it was using one or the other.

“We think it highlights the deception that Exxon has put forth over the last 50-plus years. You know, my entire life Exxon has been sowing doubt and disinformation about the climate crisis,” Lindsay Meiman, a spokeswoman with the group 350.org, told CNN.

“We’re escalating the demand that is rising around the world for fossil fuel companies to pay for their destruction and what they knew and lied about climate change,” she said.

“Exxon provided false and misleading assurances that it is effectively managing the economic risks posed to its business by the increasingly stringent policies and regulations that it expects governments to adopt to address climate change,” the state wrote in a complaint last year.

The case In New York goes back to 2015, when stories by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times found that while Exxon’s scientists were internally researching climate change to plan its operations; they knew they global climate was being severly affect while the company was casting doubt on global warming.

The lawsuit claims ExxonMobil’s actions had the effect of making its assets appear more secure than they really were, which in turn affected its share price and defrauded investors.

Exxon contends the lawsuit is politically motivated and driven by anti-fossil fuel activists. The company says it was honest with shareholders about how it calculated carbon costs. Exxon Mobil and other oil companies face a growing number of lawsuits that seek financial help in coping with climate-driven floods, drought and heat.

Big Oil has a lot to answer for its role in causing change; perhaps these lawsuits will speed that reckoning.

Image: Target Exxon by Joe Brusky via Flickr CC

James Balog and geologic-scale change

We are in the midst of geologic-scale change, and we humans are causing it.

James Balog says this during Chasing Ice, a masterpiece of filmmaking and science. It’s perhaps the one film that that those who have any doubts about climate change—and even those who don’t—should watch, and maybe watch again with a group of friends.

Balog, an American photographer who explores the relationship between humans and nature, set out to record visual evidence of what we know is happening to our planet’s glaciers due to climate change.

In 2007 Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey, a long-term photography program that integrates art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystems. 

Chasing Ice captures largest glacier calving ever filmed:

Balog, at TED Global 2009, talked about the images from the Extreme Ice Survey and the network of time-lapse cameras recording glaciers receding at an alarming rate – some of the most vivid evidence yet of climate change.

Chasing Ice is available on Netflix. The film is a stunning, astounding, inspiring, artistic and heartbreaking work. If ever there was anything that is must-see, it is this.

Thanks for Bill McKibben: A voice shouting in the wilderness of a shrinking planet

air air pollution climate change dawn
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“We are on a path to self-destruction, and yet there is nothing inevitable about our fate. Solar panels and wind turbines are now among the least expensive ways to produce energy. Storage batteries are cheaper and more efficient than ever. We could move quickly if we chose to, but we’d need to opt for solidarity and coördination on a global scale. The chances of that look slim. In Russia, the second-largest petrostate after the U.S., Vladimir Putin believes that “climate change could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or even of planetary significance.” Saudi Arabia, the third-largest petrostate, tried to water down the recent I.P.C.C. report. Jair Bolsonaro, the newly elected President of Brazil, has vowed to institute policies that would dramatically accelerate the deforestation of the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest. Meanwhile, Exxon recently announced a plan to spend a million dollars—about a hundredth of what the company spends each month in search of new oil and gas—to back the fight for a carbon tax of forty dollars a ton. At a press conference, some of the I.P.C.C.’s authors laughed out loud at the idea that such a tax would, this late in the game, have sufficient impact.”

The above is a short excerpt from Bill McKibben’s, remarkable article in the New Yorker, “How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet.” He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College. His new book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? will be out in the spring. His article is necessary reading.

This year as we gather to give thanks, it rings a bit hollow for me because I wonder what people will be thankful for 20 or 30 years from now as we fail to take proper care of the planet and take action to deal with climate change. (Maybe thanks, Exxon! as wildfires rage, temperatures rise, species disappear and sea levels make large swaths of coastlines uninhabitable and islands disappear.)

It may be too late for us but it’s not too late to try.