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Updated: 6 hours 16 min ago

Despite Biden’s promises, logging still threatens old forests and U.S. climate goals

6 hours 32 min ago

On Earth Day 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to protect important but overlooked partners in the fight against climate change: mature and old-growth forests that sequester carbon, without charging a dime. 

It came as a major relief to advocates, after four years of conservation rollbacks and climate science manipulation under President Donald Trump, which encouraged aggressive logging. Mature and old-growth trees provide essential ecosystems for the many organisms living within and beneath them, and protect the water quality of nearby communities, lakes, and streams by preventing erosion. They also fix nitrogen, which improves soil quality and ensures the health of the whole forest. 

Due to centuries of logging, most of these older trees are now only found on federal lands. Executive Order 14072 directed the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests on federal lands — those having taken generations to develop — and then to craft new policies to protect them.

But in spite of Biden’s recent commitment, federal agencies continue to move dozens of logging projects forward in federal forests across the United States, putting over 300,000 acres at risk, according to a recent report by non-profit group, Climate Forests. Lauren Anderson, climate forest program manager for the conservation group Oregon Wild, said that’s in part due to a glaring omission in the Biden administration’s executive order. “It did not highlight logging as a threat,” Anderson said.

Before (left) and after (right) photos from a Bureau of Land Management timber sale at Nails Creek near Cheshire, Oregon. Doug Heiken

As a result, chopping and hauling out mature and old-growth trees in critical ecosystems across the U.S. continues while the federal government works on counting what’s growing where. Swaths of bigleaf maples and Douglas firs in Oregon’s Rogue-Umpqua Divide, are among those recently axed, or marked to be logged any day now. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Poor Windy Project in southwest Oregon contains 4,573 acres of mature and old-growth stands held in public trust—that are now being sold to timber companies. They’re some of the most carbon rich forests in the world, home to black bears and northern spotted owls.

Joseph Vaile, climate program director at Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, says protecting these remaining elders couldn’t be more urgent. “In a lot of places, they’re [already] gone,” Vaile says.

BLM’s support for logging in these kinds of forests dates back to the 1930’s. The Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act placed over two million acres under the agency’s control, with the aim of ensuring the perpetual flow of timber for wood products.

But Vaile says the law’s objective, and the agency culture it codified, is outdated. “Since then, our economy and our social structures have completely transitioned away from an old-growth logging economy to a more diversified economy,” he says. “Instead of going after old-growth trees, what we should be doing is protecting people from fire, adapting these forests to climate change, and protecting water sources.”

It’s a nationwide problem. Timber sales are also underway in a 12,000 acre patch of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest known as the Fourmile Vegetation Project, in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Here, lichen-draped upland hardwoods mingle with red pines and aspens, creating a rich habitat for moose and endangered gray wolves. Though much of the landscape is still recovering from continuous logging, over half of the trees are 80 years and older; and a third are centenarians.

These mature and old-growth trees store more carbon than younger trees, so it’s imperative that we protect them, says Carolyn Ramírez, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can’t just cut them down and replant them and expect to have a net-zero carbon impact. It will take decades for that carbon to be restored in these forests, as well as all the myriad ecological benefits that leaving the trees provides,” Ramírez says. One mature tree can remove over 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the course of a year. The majority of that carbon-sequestering capacity occurs in the second half of a tree’s life, researchers have learned.

Ramírez visited Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in October, where further timber sales are currently underway. The difference in ecological diversity and surface temperature between areas where mature trees still grew, and others where the Forest Service had recently logged was “jarring,” Ramírez said. In addition to other ecosystem services, forests provide cooler microclimates for those nearby, which is significant in and of itself in a rapidly-warming world.

In response to a 2021 request by environmental groups to suspend and review operations at the Fourmile Vegetation Project on the grounds that continued logging there was at odds with national objectives on the climate crisis, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore wrote that the project would: “maintain or enhance existing forest research studies; contribute toward fulfilling demand for wood products; provide a safe and effective road system; increase public safety related to wildfire potential; and maintain or enhance recreation experiences.”

But Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said those arguments don’t add up. For instance, the old trees harvested from the area are currently slated to be sold as pulpwood, for things like paper and plywood. In other words, mature and old-growth trees logged as part of this project will be ground down into a low-value timber product that could just as easily be produced by younger trees, grown on plantations that store less carbon and don’t serve as keystones to their ecosystems—which the Forest Service has plenty of, Olsen says. “They’re choosing to rush forward with these sales of very important lands. Why these forests, why now?” he said.

Other elements of the Forest Service’s justification are problematic as well. For example, older trees are actually more resistant to wildfires than younger ones. The ongoing timber sales are also at odds with the Biden administration’s global climate commitments, Olsen added, such as seeking to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

Federal agencies have until Earth Day 2023 to define mature and old-growth forests, and to complete their inventory. As of this writing, over 130,000 people have submitted public comments urging the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to set this definition at “80 years and older;” and a coalition of environmental groups is pushing for those agencies to propose what some advocates refer to as a “golden rule” for logging—one that would explicitly prohibit the logging of trees defined as mature and old-growth, given their unique carbon-capturing and biodiversity-protecting powers.

In the meantime, in an attempt to protect thousands of acres of majestic trees, groups including the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) are also urging the Biden administration to pause logging in areas of concern—many of which are on tribal lands—until the inventory is complete. As Michael J. Isham, executive administrator for the GLIFWC wrote to the Forest Service in August 2022, doing so would help “to ensure that future generations of Ojibwe people can continue their Treaty protected relationship with all natural beings.”

Earlier this year, academic researchers published the first study to comprehensively map mature and old-growth forests in the U.S. Advocates say these maps, in support of the government’s inventory could usher in a new approach to forestry—one where trees are treated as venerable colleagues in the fight against the climate crisis.

Anderson, of Oregon Wild, added that currently, there’s no technology capable of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere at the scale that mature and old-growth trees can. “Getting forest managers to really think about old-growth trees the same way that other states think about [renewable technologies like] solar panels and wind turbines is the culture shift that needs to happen,” she said.

The Climate Forests Coalition works to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging across America’s public lands as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy.

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This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Despite Biden’s promises, logging still threatens old forests and U.S. climate goals on Nov 28, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Herschel Walker, South Park, and the Prius: How loving gas-guzzlers became political

11 hours 32 sec ago

On the campaign trail earlier this month, U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker from Georgia delivered a strange defense of vehicles that spew gobs of pollution, celebrating their inefficiency. Walker, a Republican who’s facing a runoff race against Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, told supporters at a rally in Peachtree, Georgia, that America isn’t “ready for the green agenda.”

“What we need to do is keep having those gas-guzzling cars,” Walker said. “We got the good emissions under those cars.” 

It was a moment when Walker’s absurd remarks actually squared with the party’s line (unlike, say, his comments about America’s “good air” deciding to float over to China). Republicans have said similar things over the years, displaying a worldview that fossil fuels have inherent virtue, once described as “carbonism.” It’s the belief system that drove former President Donald Trump to bar California from setting stricter emissions standards in 2019, and what led Republican congressmen to defend fossil fuels at the international climate negotiations in Egypt earlier this month.

This pro-pollution point of view can be partly explained by the GOP’s close connection to the oil industry, which funnels millions into Republican campaigns every election year. Walker’s celebration of gas guzzlers can also be understood as a reaction to the notion, quiet but widespread among many environmentally conscious people, that cleaner cars are morally superior.

In 2000, the United States was introduced to the Toyota Prius, marketed as a holier-than-thou, eco-friendly choice. The hybrid car set off a backlash so intense, you can still hear its echoes today. Prius owners were parodied in the cartoon South Park. On the road, hybrid drivers were sometimes blasted by clouds of thick black smoke, targeted by truck owners who had removed their emissions controls. A popular bumper sticker of the mid-2010s simply read “Prius Repellent.” Even Toyota embraced the image with ironic ads.

Today, gasoline-free vehicles are finally starting to go mainstream. When the all-electric version of the Ford F-150 pickup truck — America’s longtime bestselling vehicle, and a favorite among Republicans — was released this spring, its waitlist was three years long. Sales of electric vehicles were up nearly 70 percent in the first nine months of this year compared to the same period last year. And 36 percent of Americans reported that they were considering buying an electric vehicle for their next car, according to polling by Consumer Reports this summer, largely because of high gas prices and cost savings over the long term. For many, the environmental benefits may be just a bonus — or not even be a consideration.

“I don’t have the disposable income to throw $50,000 or $60,000 at a car just to help the environment,” Russell Grooms, a librarian in Virginia who bought a battery-powered Nissan Leaf, recently told the New York Times. “It really came down to numbers.”

In a Prius commercial from 2008, a hitman drags a body out of his car in the middle of the night and dumps it in the river. “Well, at least he drives a Prius,” the ad says.

It was one of many advertisements that poked fun at the car’s environmental bona fides. The joke relies on understanding that driving a Prius is a form of moral “capital” that can be used to “offset life’s other sins,” wrote Sarah McFarland Taylor, a religion scholar, in the book Ecopiety: Green Media and the Dilemma of Environmental Virtue. 

Buying a Prius isn’t really that pious an act. After all, the vehicle takes a lot of fossil fuels to manufacture and runs mostly on gasoline. The most eco-friendly move: not buying a car at all. But that didn’t stop the hybrid from taking off as a righteous choice. Within two years of its release in America, the Prius had gathered a long list of celebrity owners, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Larry David. In 2002, the Washington Post called the Prius “Hollywood’s latest politically correct status symbol.” 

For conservative commentators, that symbol made for a ripe target. “The bottom line here is that people that are buying Priuses are doing it for glamor reasons,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show in 2005. “They wanted to appear virtuous. But they’re accomplishing nothing … These liberals think they’re ahead of the game on these things, and they’re just suckers.”

It wasn’t just Limbaugh. In 2006, South Park devoted an entire episode, called “Smug Alert,” to making fun of holier-than-thou Prius owners. It opens with Kyle’s dad, Gerald, showing off his new hybrid car, the “Toyonda Pious.” 

“I just couldn’t sit back and be a part of destroying the Earth anymore,” Gerald tells his neighbor with a condescending smile.

“Well, there goes the high and mighty Gerald Broflovski,” one onlooker comments. “Yeah, ever since he got that new hybrid he thinks he’s better than everyone else,” another says. Not long after the episode aired, a market research firm found that 57 percent of Prius owners said the main reason they bought one was that “it makes a statement about me,” versus 36 percent who said they bought it for the good gas mileage.

The car remained popular — hitting the mark of 1 million vehicles sold by 2011 — and so did parodying it. In 2012, the satirical news site The Onion made a commercial about a new, even greener Prius that “reduces its driver’s carbon footprint to zero by impaling them through the lungs with spikes as soon as they get in the car.” 

The air of moral superiority around the Prius led to real-life consequences. Certain pickup truck owners took joy in rebelling against it, rolling up in front of hybrids and engulfing the vehicles in plumes of tailpipe smoke. This testosterone-fueled practice of “rolling coal” — modifying diesel engines to spew clouds of sooty exhaust — became a health menace in the mid-2010s. Directed at electric car owners, pedestrians, bikers, or anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity, rolling coal became for these aficionados a defiant symbol of American freedom — signaling “don’t tell me what to do.”

When states moved to ban rolling coal, some drivers pushed back, the New York Times reported in 2016. “Why don’t you go live in Sweden and get the heck out of our country,” one diesel truck owner wrote to an Illinois state representative who proposed a $5,000 fine for removing emissions equipment. “I will continue to roll coal anytime I feel like and fog your stupid eco-cars.”

One of the pitfalls of framing environmental concerns in moral terms is that it can provoke a counterreaction, especially when tied to individual behavior. One study found that listening to eco-friendly tips actually makes people less likely to do anything about climate change. Think about eating meat, often discussed as a moral issue among people concerned about animal rights or climate change. Fast-food chains like Taco Bell and Burger King have expanded their vegetarian menu items; meanwhile, Arby’s has leaned into the opposing “pro-meat” demographic. In 2018, Arby’s ran an ad with the tagline “Friends don’t let friends eat tofu.” The following year, the chain trolled vegans by introducing the “marrot,” a carrot made out of meat.

As America has grown more and more polarized, seemingly innocuous things have become associated with the other party, from pizza chains to sports leagues. One in five voters say that politics has hurt their friendships; there’s a growing aversion to dating people from the opposite party. With hybrids and electric vehicles owned most often by Democrats, Republicans like Walker might try to distance themselves from their perceived enemies by signaling their affection for fuel-hungry vehicles.

To be sure, the environment is still a major reason to buy a greener car for many Americans, especially among those on the political left. Almost three-quarters of those who would consider buying an electric vehicle said that helping the environment was a key consideration, according to polling from Pew Research. And in a survey released this month, 10 percent of Americans said it was “morally wrong” to drive a car that gets bad gas mileage. But even as they’re rolling out new electric models, car companies don’t seem to be chasing efficiency — instead, they’re making big trucks and SUVs. And they’re gaining popularity across party lines.

Aside from some lingering resentment against eco-friendly cars and what Walker called the “green agenda,” the United States seems to be moving beyond the hangups that surrounded the Prius. Over the last decade, the success of Tesla — which marketed its vehicles as cool and desirable, not a virtuous choice — paved the way for other carmakers to follow in hot pursuit. 

“The [Tesla] Model S completely delivered on its promise to change how the world thought about electric cars,” Jake Fisher, the senior director of Consumer Reports’ auto center, said earlier this year. “EVs were no longer the vegetables you should eat — they became the dessert you desired.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Herschel Walker, South Park, and the Prius: How loving gas-guzzlers became political on Nov 28, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

As the outdoor industry ditches ‘forever chemicals,’ REI lags behind

11 hours 15 min ago

Last week, REI Co-op stores around the country closed for Black Friday. It’s a company tradition dating back to 2015, where the outdoor retailer asks customers to “opt outside” rather than participate in a post-Thanksgiving shopping spree. 

But there’s one thing that REI hasn’t yet opted out of: a class of compounds known as “forever chemicals.” By using these chemicals in its water-resistant outdoor clothing, a coalition of nonprofits and health experts says REI is needlessly polluting the environment and damaging people’s health.

“It’s ironic that a company like REI … is selling products that are contaminating some of the most beautiful and wild places,” said Mike Schade, a program director for the nonprofit Toxic-Free Future. Similar companies such as Patagonia have already committed to phasing out per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — and Schade’s organization is calling on REI to do the same.

PFAS comprise a class of chemicals that have been used in consumer products since the mid-19th century — often to give stain- and water-resistant properties to products like nonstick cookware, food packaging, and outdoor clothing. The problem, however, is that PFAS are linked to cancer, metabolic disorders, reduced fertility, and other health problems. Plus, they don’t break down once they escape into the environment, hence the nickname “forever chemicals.” Scientists are now finding PFAS just about everywhere they look — in drinking water, in breastmilk, in people’s bloodstreams. Even rainwater is now contaminated with unsafe levels of PFAS.

PFAS “tend to get into everything” and pose serious risks to public health, said Jimena Díaz Leiva, science director for the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health. They’re released not only by shearing off of contaminated materials like clothing, but at the manufacturing stage, where large quantities may enter the environment through wastewater or airborne particles.

REI is hardly the only company whose products have tested positive for PFAS. Toxic-Free Future organizers say they are targeting REI because it’s a large and well-respected outdoor retailer. REI doesn’t just produce its own lines of clothing, but also sells items from a huge array of other brands: The North Face, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, Mammut, and Black Diamond, just to name a few. Some of these brands have already committed to phasing out PFAS. Still, Schade said REI could nudge them to move faster by screening products for PFAS, in addition to phasing the toxic materials from its own product lines.

REI has “a massive influence over the policies of the companies whose products they sell,” Schade said. “Requiring their suppliers to ban PFAS in their products … can have a ripple effect across the outdoor industry.”

REI says on its website that it’s already stopped using two of the most well-studied “forever” compounds — so-called “long-chain” PFAS known as PFOA and PFOS — and replaced them with short-chain PFAS “where viable alternatives do not yet exist.” But researchers warn short-chain PFAS may be just as problematic as their long-chain counterparts in terms of the threats they pose to environmental and human health.. 

In response to Grist’s request for comment, REI said it was “in the process of eliminating all remaining PFAS from our own products,” but it didn’t address questions about a timeline for that transition. 

REI hasn’t elaborated publicly on the barriers it faces as it moves away from PFAS. But accounts from other retailers describe a similar problem: It’s been hard to find PFAS replacements that are equally effective when creating durable outdoor products. 

PFAS give stain- and water-resistant properties to products like cookware, food packaging, and outdoor clothing. SSPL / Getty Images

PFAS worked “really, really well,” said Matt Dwyer, vice president of product impact and innovation for the outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which plans to eliminate PFAS from its products by 2024. For years, his company and others relied on the now-infamous class of chemicals to make rain gear waterproof — either by applying the chemicals externally in a “durable, water-repellent” finish, known in industry-speak as “DWR,” or by weaving them into a waterproof membrane that can be sandwiched between layers of fabric.

Early replacement candidates didn’t measure up, Dwyer said, likening them to “an artist’s hammer and chisel” next to the “dynamite” of PFAS. The alternatives also resulted in product side effects that compromised sustainability in other ways: Some early versions of a PFAS-free finish caused garments to fall apart, increasing concerns over textile waste

Still, some brands seem to have found sufficient solutions to move forward. Retailers including Marmot and Mountain Hardwear have released successful lines of PFAS-free items. Officials from Polartec, which makes fabrics for companies including Black Diamond and The North Face, switched to PFAS-free DWR treatments in July 2021 and has noted “no loss of performance from a water repellency or durability standpoint.” The outdoor brand Jack Wolfskin says they’ve already gone PFAS-free.

Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven, which claims to be PFAS-free except for its zippers, says the only thing PFAS-free technologies seem unable to do is repel oil. But that’s a compromise the company says it’s been willing to make to address an urgent threat to public health and the environment. 

Why do these companies report such success while others haven’t? It’s unclear, since competitive clothing brands are generally tight-lipped about their PFAS replacements. Lydia Jahl, a science and policy associate for the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute, said companies may be resistant to the costs of switching their product lines, or they may be running into supply chain issues. (Large fabric suppliers may not be ready to ditch PFAS, even when the retailers buying their materials are.) 

Some experts argue the challenges companies say they face when eliminating PFAS are overblown; after all, people have been making clothing for extreme sports since long before PFAS became ubiquitous. Back then, companies used wax-like finishes to keep water from soaking through their clothing. The British Air Force simply used tightly-woven cotton fabric.

In addition to bringing back some of those older techniques, today’s retailers have a growing number of options to replace PFAS. Fabrics from Marmot and Jack Wolfskin are using polyurethane, a kind of plastic material, to help repel water. Other companies use brand-name treatments like Empel and Bionic Finish Eco that market themselves as environmentally friendly. 

“There are alternatives,” Jahl said. “If they invest and put more resources into it, there are really good materials chemists … who can figure out the replacements for these companies.”

Schade, meanwhile, is hoping state legislation will force companies’ hands. California recently enacted a law to eliminate “intentionally added” PFAS from most apparel by 2025, and — because companies are unlikely to create separate product lines just for California — the law is expected to set a national industry standard. REI says it supports the law, which won’t apply to outdoor clothing for “severe wet conditions” until January 1, 2028.

Washington state is also eyeing stricter regulations for PFAS; the Evergreen State’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, signed a bill this spring that is expected to result in a quicker phaseout of the toxic substances, although a timeline hasn’t yet been specified.
“We are hopeful that these policies will prompt REI to reformulate their products,” Schade said — ideally, faster than the laws require. “The company has shown it can both do well and do good at the same time,” he said, pointing to its commitments on climate change and other hazardous chemicals. “We’d like to see REI be a leader and do the right thing to tackle chemicals that have polluted the drinking water for millions of Americans.”

Editor’s note: Patagonia is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline As the outdoor industry ditches ‘forever chemicals,’ REI lags behind on Nov 28, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Planning your 2023 travel? Skip these places in order to save them

Wed, 11/23/2022 - 03:30

Fodor’s, the popular travel company that built its business on telling you where to go and where to stay, eat and drink once you’re there, has just released a list of places around the world you should skip in 2023. 

The company’s 2023 “No List” isn’t advising you to avoid these destinations because of bad food, lousy attractions, or risk of danger, but because the presence of large numbers of tourists in these places is causing unsustainable ecological, cultural, and social harm.

The “No List” focuses on global tourism’s impact on three key areas: unique and sensitive natural environments increasingly degraded by tourists, “cultural hotspots” facing overcrowding and strained housing and infrastructure, and destinations in the midst of water crises that already heavily burden local communities.

Lake Tahoe, California, and Antarctica made the list of natural wonders that deserve a respite from tourists due to their ecologically sensitive environments. As for cultural destinations on the list, Venice and the Amalfi Coast in Italy; Cornwall, England; Amsterdam, Netherlands; as well as Thailand, were noted as experiencing strained infrastructure and higher costs of living that are increasingly pushing out locals.   

Global tourism, through a combination of food consumption, accommodation, transportation, and the purchasing of souvenirs, contributes eight percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. After a brief respite in the first months of the pandemic, tourism numbers have exploded, exceeding even pre-pandemic numbers. 

But the pandemic-induced downtown in tourism gave locals, environmental activists, and government officials in places like Thailand the chance to witness something seemingly unimaginable: the revival of their local ecologies and communities that had been devastated by the social and environmental costs attributed to the industry. In April, the Southeast Asian country’s government banned styrofoam packaging and single-use plastics from national parks. The minister of natural resources and environment also ordered that all national parks in Thailand be closed for one month a year.

Amidst global droughts and depleting reserves, water is central to understanding some of the pushback from local communities against mass tourism. On the Hawaiian Island of Maui, which also made the “No List,” many Native Hawaiians have become increasingly vocal about how mass tourism is negatively impacting their access to increasingly scarce water resources. This past June, mandatory water restrictions were put in place in parts of Maui most visited by mainland and international tourists. The order prohibited non-essential use of water, including irrigation, lawn watering and washing vehicles. But as local households were forced to adjust or face hefty fines, hotels and other tourism facilities were exempt from these cutbacks.

“When they stay in a destination, tourists essentially become temporary residents,” said Justin Francis, the co-founder and CEO of travel company Responsible Travel, in an email. “That can place an additional strain on local services and facilities.” Francis advocates for more tourism taxes, which he says can boost funding for infrastructure development – roads, access to clean water, energy provision – that benefits local communities as well as tourists. 

Pushback against mass tourism has also extended to policies on housing availability and affordability. On Oahu, Hawaii’s most populous island, the mayor of Honolulu signed a bill in April restrictions on short-term rental properties and Airbnbs in an attempt to help alleviate the local housing crisis. The proliferation of these properties, particularly in densely populated cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona, has become one of the most controversial issues not only among housing advocates and travel experts, but also official marketing and tourism officials. “They’re literally decimating communities – pricing local people out of their homes and areas they’ve lived their whole lives in,” said Francis. Amsterdam’s left-wing city council attempted to ban Airbnb rentals in three central districts of the city, but it was overturned by local courts last year.  

The city of Honolulu’s policy includes limiting the number of Airbnbs and short-term rental properties as well as increasing the minimum length of stay required for visitors who use these services. The majority of homeless on the streets of the city are Native Hawaiians, who experience disproportionate levels of poverty throughout the state.     

Of course, many communities most vulnerable to the negative social and environmental impacts of mass tourism are also dependent on it for their livelihoods. Simply boycotting travel can also hurt groups that are most vulnerable, including women, migrants, and people of color.

Some destinations are seeking to make the most of the economic benefits of tourism while minimizing its cultural and environmental impacts simply by restricting travel to “high value” tourists – i.e, those with more disposable income. The Himalayan nation of Bhutan is a prime example. Visitors are charged a daily $200 fee, which doesn’t cover the cost of hotels or other services. Bhutan’s government says that the fee supports sustainable tourism development and training, as well as carbon offsetting.  

As for Antarctica, some experts argue that its inclusion on Fodor’s list is complicated, due to the fact that the landmass has no local population that would benefit from visitors. On the other hand, thoughtful and sustainable tourism could arguably protect more of the environment there, which could serve as a buffer against more destructive economic industries like mining. “Tourism here cannot be allowed to grow without limits and mandatory environmental measures,” said Francis from Responsible Travel. However, The Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits economic and military exploitation of the region, will likely continue to protect the area’s environment and resources.

The big takeaway from Fodor’s list is that travel can be a force for good – both for nature and for local communities. The key is not necessarily to stay away, said Francis, but to always make informed choices that minimize harm and maximize benefits to local communities first. 

“As an industry we need to do better than ‘leaving nothing but footprints’, and actively work towards creating positive impacts,” he said.  

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Planning your 2023 travel? Skip these places in order to save them on Nov 23, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Tanzania drops murder charges against 24 Maasai land defenders

Wed, 11/23/2022 - 03:15

State prosecutors in the United Republic of Tanzania dropped murder charges this week against twenty-four Indigenous Maasai, accused of killing a police officer during a state-sponsored eviction campaign to remove Maasai from their land and create a protected game reserve.

The incident, which occurred in June, involved hundreds of security officers attempting to remove Maasai people from their homelands in Loliondo, in Northern Tanzania, and left dozens of Maasai injured or shot. In the aftermath, many Maasai fled across the border to Kenya for medical treatment while others were arrested or confined to their homes. During the conflict, a police officer died after reportedly being stabbed by a spear. In July, the Tanzanian government arrested twenty-five Maasai, charging them with the officer’s murder. One person was later released, but the remaining twenty-four men and women remained in prison until their release Tuesday.

“It is a good day for those who have been in prison for months now and their families, but at the same time it is outrageous that these innocent people have been in prison for this many months,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based human rights nonprofit. “It shows just how wrong the actions of the Tanzanian government are to criminalize the land defenders.”

But despite the legal victory, experts say the Maasai still have significant challenges to protecting their land and rights. The Tanzanian government is still pushing to create a protected game reserve in Loliondo, which would take approximately 1,500 square kilometers of the 4,000 square kilometer area currently inhabited by the Maasai. Tanzania plans to let Otterlo Business Company, a United Arab Emirates based company, manage the reserve. 

In June, a group of United Nations experts expressed concern at Tanzania’s plans to displace Maasai people without their free, prior and informed consent, as required under international human rights law and standards. “This will cause irreparable harm, and could amount to dispossession, forced eviction and arbitrary displacement prohibited under international law,” the U.N. said.

In the nearby Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, additional Maasai communities are also facing removal in order to protect and preserve the areas biodiversity and ecosystems – a practice many analysts describe as “fortress conservation,” a conservation model that relies on creating protected areas that function in isolation of human disturbance. Notably, fortress conservation relies on removing or barring communities that have traditionally relied on those areas from entering or living. If government efforts are successful, nearly 150,000 Maasai people in the Loliondo and Ngorongoro areas will be removed.

“It is no different from the old racist neocolonial top down conservation models, which are Western based,” Mittal said. “Unfortunately, despite the independence of countries, they continue to be shackled in this ideology, which believes that nature has to be protected from men.”

In October, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of indigenous peoples, Francisco Calí Tzay, called attention to the Maasai’s situation in a report to the General Assembly on protected areas. In response, a representative from Tanzania insisted that any relocations of Maasai are voluntary and Indigenous peoples are not legally recognized in Tanzania. Calí Tzay has requested to visit Tanzania to further investigate, but the Tanzanian government has yet to respond. 

Mittal says that until the world changes its conservation model, Indigenous peoples will continue to suffer from eviction, violence, and criminalization. “It’s a failure of the international community to deal with the climate crisis, but instead have the poor, Indigenous, and marginalized pay for it,” Mittal said. 

The Tanzanian government and representatives for the Maasai did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Tanzania drops murder charges against 24 Maasai land defenders on Nov 23, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Inside the COP27 fight to get wealthy nations to pay climate reparations

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 03:45

For more than three decades, the developing world has demanded that wealthy countries pay up for the “loss and damage” that vulnerable nations are already experiencing due to climate change. Those calls were finally met early Sunday morning when the 27th United Nations climate change conference, or COP27, came to a close in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. 

A new global pact establishes a fund “for responding to loss and damage” and creates a transitional committee to work out who will contribute to the fund, which developing countries will be eligible to draw from it, and how it will be governed. Negotiators for developing countries and nonprofits cheered the decision, noting that it was long overdue. 

“It’s a historic moment,” Nabeel Munir, a Pakistani diplomat and chief negotiator for the G77 developing countries, told the Guardian. “[It’s the] culmination of 30 years of work and beginning of a new chapter in pursuit of climate justice.”

The loss and damage fund is just the sixth special fund to be created in the United Nations’ 30-year history of tackling climate change. Nations last agreed to set up the $100 billion Green Climate Fund in 2010.

Efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to a warming world — referred to as mitigation and adaptation, respectively, in climate talks — are two of the major pillars of the Paris Agreement, the landmark 2015 global pact to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Loss and damage is the third pillar. When efforts to mitigate and adapt fail or fall behind, the effects of climate change such as more frequent and intense extreme weather, sea-level rise, and forced migration are borne by the world’s most vulnerable. Loss and damage funding would offset the economic and non-economic costs of the climate crisis in countries that did little to contribute to the problem. 

Just two months ago, establishing a separate fund for loss and damage restitution was an ambitious — perhaps even elusive — goal. The United States, European Union, and other wealthy countries were adamantly opposed for fear that admitting to their historical role in the climate crisis would open them up to unlimited liability, putting them on the hook for billions, if not trillions, of dollars. Some estimates put the price tag on loss and damage between $290 billion and $580 billion per year by 2030. 

But that opposition melted away in Egypt. Developing countries put up a united front at COP27, pressure escalated from nongovernmental organizations, media attention grew, and a last-minute reversal from the European Union left the U.S. isolated in its opposition. 

“We can’t celebrate, because it’s already so late to have such a fund established,” said Harjeet Singh, a longtime follower of climate negotiations and the head of global political strategy at the Climate Action Network, an international coalition of more than 1,800 environmental groups. “People needed it years ago. However, it does speak to people’s power and all the pressure that came from the outside on both developing and developed countries. That made it happen, and that is something to be celebrated.” 

Record monsoon rains this year left a third of Pakistan, a country that has contributed less than 1 percent of global carbon emissions, underwater. Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images

The first glimmers of progress in the loss and damage debate happened last year, at climate talks in Glasgow. Scotland became the first government in the developed world to recognize loss and damage and pledged about $2.3 million toward funding it. Activists were buoyed by what they called the “de-tabooing” of the issue, but ultimately, COP26 ended with disappointment for the Global South, with only a meager agreement for a “dialogue” on the issue.

The U.S. and other rich nations’ opposition remained so strong that they initially tried to prevent the topic from making it onto the official COP27 agenda. But escalating pressure from activists and developing countries, as well as devastating floods that left a third of Pakistan, a country that has contributed less than 1 percent of carbon emissions historically, under water this summer, brought renewed attention to the issue. 

After receiving assurances that the U.S., European Union, and other developed nations wouldn’t be held liable, the issue eventually made it onto the formal agenda for the first time ever. It was a historic move and one that resulted in “cautious optimism,” Michai Robertson, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, told Grist.

To understand what followed over the next two weeks, it’s crucial to understand the various political factions and their positions in climate negotiations. Countries at COP27 largely fall into one of two groups: developed and developing, as defined in 1992, three years before the first COP conference. On one side are developed countries in the G7, which include the wealthiest nations and largest historical polluters. And on the other side are developing nations, which are further grouped into the G77, Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries, the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Alliance of Small Island States, among others.

But these divisions based on the economic stature of countries in the 1990s has become a growing source of tension in climate negotiations. Countries in the G7 are largely responsible for historical emissions, making up nearly 80 percent of the total carbon emissions between 1850 and 2015. In the last few decades though, growing economies in the developing world such as China and India have seen their emissions increase dramatically. China is now the largest annual emitter, followed by the U.S. and India. These shifts have led to finger pointing and blame games during climate negotiations, with the G7 trying to rope China and other wealthy countries like Singapore, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia into paying for climate action.   

During the first week of COP27, the U.S. and other G7 nations seemed firmly entrenched in their opposition to a direct funding scheme for loss and damage. Instead, they emphasized the need for a broad array of “funding arrangements,” from considering the use of existing climate funds to early-warning systems for disaster risk reduction. They proposed setting a deadline for 2024 for discussing those arrangements, but didn’t promise any specific outcomes at the end. Meanwhile, the G77, China, and other developing countries, as well as nonprofits, called for a specific “mechanism” or “facility” or “fund” that would begin disbursing money in two years. 

By the middle of the second week, with each camp digging in its heels, tensions were running high. The outgoing chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Molwyn Joseph, told the press that establishing a loss and damage fund at COP27 was a “red line” for the group and that they were discussing walking away from negotiations if their demands weren’t met. Meanwhile, advocacy groups began observing attempts to break up the unity between the various negotiating blocs representing the developing world. 

Developing nations and activists have been demanding funding for loss and damage for 30 years. Their pressure campaign this year is a key reason developed countries walked back their opposition to a separate fund. Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Led by Germany, the G7 in partnership with a group of climate-vulnerable countries had proposed an insurance initiative as one way to address loss and damage. The countries committed more than $200 million toward subsidizing insurance programs for developing countries and setting up other social security schemes. It was a move that most advocates saw as a distraction from the call for a separate fund for loss and damage. The U.S. and European Union also began indicating that they wanted a broad pool of donors to contribute to loss and damage funding, not just developed countries. 

“They are looking for any possible way to break up the bloc,” Brandon Wu, head of policy and campaigns at the social justice advocacy group ActionAid USA, told Grist. “One of those tactics is trying to say countries like China and India are different from some of the most vulnerable countries and they need to be contributors to this fund.”

But the developing nations stayed unified. China, which already contributes to climate financing through a separate $3.1 billion South-South Climate Cooperation Fund and other channels, said it would be willing to contribute toward compensation for loss and damage on a voluntary basis. Then on Thursday, in what appeared to be an attempt to show a unified front just one day before the official close of COP27, leaders from the G77, Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean, Alliance of Small Island States, and Least Developed Countries held an “emergency press conference” to reiterate the need for a fund. “We are seeking to find common ground even at this late hour,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate minister, on behalf of the G77 and China. “The clock is ticking.”

The turning point came just a few hours later. With little warning, at a late night meeting of negotiators, the Vice President of the European Union, Frans Timmermans, floated an “offer” in the “spirit of trying to find compromises.” The EU would support the demand for setting up a separate loss and damage fund “for the most vulnerable countries.” It would receive funding from a “broad donor base” and would be set up at COP27. The proposal mostly capitulated on the demand for a fund set up immediately, but expanded the contributor pool to include emerging economies and wealthier developing countries. Having held firm against any sort of fund, the U.S. was reportedly blindsided

“It actually just goes to show how blatant the U.S.’ obstruction is,” said Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and policy at the nonprofit Corporate Accountability. “[The EU and U.S.] work hand-in-hand to advance a shared strategy. When they get to the point when they’re ready to publicly distance themselves from the U.S., you know they’re doing dirty.”

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry was opposed to a separate fund for loss and damage just two months ago. After the European Union reversed course, the U.S. also changed its position. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The EU proposal broke the logjam. With the U.S. isolated in its opposition to the fund, it quickly reversed its position. In about 24 hours, the COP27 presidency, headed by Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, released text that explicitly called for a new, separate fund to support loss and damage costs in vulnerable countries.

The fund is a massive step forward, but the agreement in Egypt punted on many thorny issues. For one, the pact is neutral on whether countries like China, which are classified as “developing” but are now major carbon emitters, will pay into the fund. The text also opens up questions about which countries will be eligible for appropriations from the fund. There are no concrete dollar amounts for funding. As a result, the fund is essentially an empty bank account at the moment. The battle over fund donors and recipients will play out over the coming year once a transitional committee is appointed. 

“There’s hard work ahead to get this fund operational and ensure it serves the needs of communities hit hardest by climate extremes and slow-onset disasters,” Rachel Cleetus, a policy director and lead economist at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “But today, fittingly, at this ‘Africa COP,’ the most important and long-awaited first step on that path has been secured.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Inside the COP27 fight to get wealthy nations to pay climate reparations on Nov 22, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

COP27 is over. What did it achieve?

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 03:30

Amid sky-high energy prices, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and an ongoing global pandemic, the 27th United Nations climate change conference, or COP27, drew to a close with mixed results on Sunday. 

The negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, ended with a historic agreement to set up a fund for “loss and damage,” a shorthand for the unavoidable effects of climate change that the developing world is disproportionately grappling with. But on a suite of other measures — such as phasing down the use of oil and gas and increasing funding for adaptation — COP27 delivered little progress, keeping the world on a path that will lead to warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a critical threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate disruptions.

While many climate justice advocates praised the hard-won victory on loss and damage, celebrations were muted on Sunday. 

“Without a phaseout of fossil fuels we are setting the world on a path for further losses and damages,” said May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy nonprofit 350.org, in a statement. “This is where the COP has failed.”

Negotiators overcame great odds to secure the landmark loss and damage deal. The conference was supposed to close on Friday but ran into early Sunday morning with bleary-eyed diplomats working through the night and into the early morning. Logistical challenges also pushed diplomats to the edge, with many blaming the COP27 presidency, headed by Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, for poor management. Food and water were limited at the venue, the Wi-Fi was spotty, and restrooms were at times out of toilet paper. At one point, a sewage line burst, flooding a street. And in the final hours of the conference, United States climate envoy John Kerry contracted COVID-19. 

COP27 ran overtime into Sunday morning with exhausted negotiators working through the night. JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images

“But after the pain comes the progress,” said Molwyn Joseph, Antigua and Barbuda’s environment minister and the chair of an intergovernmental organization called the Alliance of Small Island States, reflecting on the late nights negotiators spent sparring to set up a loss and damage fund. “The agreements made at COP27 are a win for our entire world. We have shown those who have felt neglected that we hear you, we see you, and we are giving you the respect and care you deserve.”

Here’s a rundown of where the key issues from COP27 stand after the conference. 

Phasing down fossil fuel use

Many countries arrived in Egypt eager to build on the progress made at last year’s conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which culminated in a landmark agreement to “phase down” the use of “unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” While this was weaker than an earlier draft’s language to “phase out” all coal power and fossil fuel subsidies, it was the first mention of fossil fuels in a COP text.

But in the final hours of this year’s negotiations, those hopes were quashed by a coalition of mostly fossil fuel-producing countries led by China and Saudi Arabia. A proposal from India to agree to phase down all fossil fuels was thrown out. A push by the EU to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 was also vetoed. Alok Sharma, a member of the British Parliament and president of COP26, lamented that it was a battle to even get countries to recommit to a key tenet of the Glasgow Climate Pact — a call on all parties to “revisit and strengthen” their plans to cut emissions. “I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak,” he said during the closing plenary session of COP27. “Unfortunately, it remains on life support.”

Climate advocates also criticized the final agreement for pushing for “low-emission and renewable energy.” While the reference to renewable energy was a welcome new development, the term “low-emission” could be used to justify the expansion of natural gas, which is technically lower emission than coal but is still a major contributor to climate change.

India’s proposal to phase down global fossil fuel use was tanked by a coalition of oil and gas producing countries. Mohamed Abdel Hamid/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“We can’t afford any loopholes that leave room for the expansion of harmful fossil fuels and further destruction, like the dash for fossil gas on the [African] continent by European nations,” said Landry Ninteretse, regional director of the environmental group 350Africa.org, in a statement. 

There were small marks of progress on climate mitigation over the last two weeks outside of the official negotiations. Fifty countries either unveiled national plans or regulations to cut their emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, or are in the process of creating such plans. Developed countries, including the U.S., also committed new funds to help Indonesia transition off of coal. And the keepers of the world’s three largest rainforests, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia, pledged to work together on forest preservation.

Loss and damage

The deal to set up funding for loss and damage is a major breakthrough in climate negotiations. Just two months ago, developing nations’ demand for a separate fund to address the toll of climate disasters appeared to be a far-fetched goal. Wealthy nations — led by the U.S., which is responsible for 20 percent of total historical emissions — opposed placing the issue on the official COP27 agenda, fearing that any agreement to fund loss and damage would open them up to unlimited liability. But escalating pressure from nonprofits, growing media attention, developing countries’ relentless and unified approach, and a last-minute reversal from the European Union brought the U.S. and other developed countries on board.

Countries finally agreed to a new fund for “loss and damage,” but many of the details are still to be decided. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan calls for a new, direct fund for loss and damage, but many of the nitty-gritty details about the fund’s governance and structure will be decided by a transitional committee in the coming year. For now, the fund remains an empty bank account. Crucially, the committee will decide which countries will contribute to the fund and which ones will draw from it, major points of contention during negotiations. Developed countries want to expand the donor base to include wealthy developing countries and major polluters. China is a key target, and South Korea, Singapore, and some Gulf countries that have high standards of living are also on the list. The U.S. and other wealthy nations also want to restrict China from being able to receive money from the fund. For its part, China appears willing to contribute, but on a voluntary basis.  

“Those details have to be worked out,” said Harjeet Singh, an advocate with Climate Action Network, an international coalition of more than 1,800 environmental groups. “A new journey begins to make sure it’s not an empty shell, and it helps the most vulnerable people access money. Now, it is all about making it happen.”

Adaptation funding

While countries may be lightyears away from reaching it, the 2015 Paris Agreement at least sets a target of limiting warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. This aim guides other mitigation goals, like the one most countries have adopted to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. But there is no specific global goal for adapting to a changing climate. 

Adaptation projects in developing countries receive less than a third of all international climate funding committed by wealthy nations, and the gap between the cost of adaptation and the funding available continues to widen. Last year’s Glasgow pact “urged” rich countries to double their provision of international adaptation finance by 2025 and established a program to define and measure progress toward a global goal on adaptation. This year saw little movement toward that end. 

Countries pledged an additional $230 million for adaptation this year, “but none of these announcements get really close to the $20 billion a year in additional finance that would be needed to meet the doubling goal by 2025,” said Joe Thwaites, an expert on international climate funding at the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

The COP27 pact only mentions the doubling goal in a request that the U.N. climate convention finance committee produce a report on doubling adaptation finance by COP28 next year, with little detail on what the report would contain. Countries agreed to come up with a framework to track adaptation progress but continue to disagree on what measuring, reporting, and review will look like. Because of COPs’ history of producing pledges that are never met, developing countries, like those in the Africa bloc, want more formal reassurance that new finance goals will be achieved. 

Carbon markets

Last year at COP26, countries established rules for a new global carbon market that would for the first time permit carbon trading under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Carbon markets allow for countries and companies to buy credits in forest conservation or solar farms in other countries, for example, and count the emissions reductions towards their own targets. 

These markets have been heavily criticized for not actually preventing or removing greenhouse gas emissions and for allowing ongoing pollution by wealthy nations. This year, countries were supposed to work out the details to avoid these types of outcomes, but they didn’t get very far. 

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has been an outspoken supporter of carbon markets as a way to get private companies involved in climate mitigation, but carbon trading remains highly controversial. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Countries and advocates wary of the potential for greenwashing through carbon credits hoped to establish a centralized way to oversee trades, review their validity, and create transparency. The final text allows governments to keep information about trades confidential. 

“This transparency loophole risks being exploited by countries seeking to shroud their emission trades in secrecy,” said Jonathan Crook, a global carbon market expert with Carbon Market Watch, in a press statement.

Another unresolved question from last year was the issue of double counting — a scenario in which both the buyer and seller of carbon credits put the emissions reduction on their books. Double counting is banned under the carbon market established in Glasgow, but it still occurs on the voluntary market when companies buy carbon credits from countries. The COP27 agreement creates a new, second-tier market where companies can buy credits as “mitigation contributions,” implying — but not requiring — that if they’re counted by the country where the project is located, they shouldn’t also be claimed by the corporate funder.

Another outstanding debate from COP26, the question of what can be considered carbon “removal” on the new market, has been pushed to next year. Vague, early recommendations from a technical supervisory body, which would have included controversial methods like carbon capture and storage, failed to establish human rights protections, and were released after no consultation with nonprofits or advocates, were sent back for revision. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline COP27 is over. What did it achieve? on Nov 22, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

How people with disabilities fought for formal recognition at COP27

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 03:15

Pratima Gurung had trouble getting to this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP27, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from her home in Nepal. Gurung has a physical disability and needs a personal assistant in order to travel, but had to cobble together funding and accreditation from multiple organizations in order to attend the conference. She was there on a mission: As a representative of the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal, she and delegates from other disabled people’s organizations attended the conference to push for formal recognition as special stakeholders in climate action, as Indigenous and women’s groups have done before them. 

Disabled people are not yet formally recognized by the U.N. as a vulnerable population, despite extensive evidence of the outsize impact of climate change on them. What Gurung and other disability activists are pushing for is called “constituency” status — the U.N.’s recognition of advocacy groups that organize around a specific focal point, who are then invited to bring that perspective to intergovernmental negotiations. Several constituencies have been recognized since the United Nations held its first climate COP, or conference of the parties, in 1992, including one for business and industry groups, one for environmental groups, and one for farmers and agriculture groups. Indigenous people’s organizations gained constituency status in 2001, and in 2011, groups focused on women and gender and youth non-governmental organizations became full constituencies too.

Disabled people’s groups argue that they, too, deserve this status because of the distinctive challenges people with disabilities face as the climate warms. Due to barriers to accessing warning systems and transportation, as well as generally poorer health, health care access, and housing, people with disabilities have a mortality rate up to four times higher than that of nondisabled people in natural disasters. Natural disasters also disrupt delivery of medicine and treatments — like insulin, oxygen, and physical therapy — on which many people’s lives depend. And the World Bank estimates that 20 percent of the world’s poorest people have a disability, which means that they have fewer resources for protecting themselves against the dangers of a warming planet. According to the U.N. Development Programme, of the estimated 1 billion disabled people worldwide, 80 percent live in developing countries.

“When we talk about climate justice, it needs to be inclusive,” Gurung said. “And if you hold multiple marginalized identities, you are more vulnerable, on the frontlines.” 

At COP27, disability groups held a series of at least nine panels and discussions — more than at any previous COP — to raise awareness of disabled people’s unique vulnerabilities to climate change. They were asking for support as they prepare to apply to the U.N. for a disability constituency, which will involve putting together a “terms of reference”: a plan for the constituency’s objectives and who will chair it. If approved, the secretariat will recognize the constituency on a probationary two-year basis as a “caucus,” which Sébastien Jodoin, a professor at McGill University’s law school and founding director of the Disability-Inclusive Climate Action Research Programme, describes as “an intermediate step towards getting a constituency.” 

At COP27, disability groups held a series of at least nine panels and discussions — more than at any previous COP. AP Photo / Nariman El-Mofty

“If you have a disability constituency, you will get a seat around the table,” said Elham Youssefian, senior advisor of inclusive humanitarian action and disaster risk reduction at the advocacy coalition International Disability Alliance, who tallied the ways that she was denied a seat at COP27. She is blind, and found it difficult to read draft documents that emerged from negotiations and to navigate the venues. Last year, at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Israel’s energy minister was unable to enter the conference because it was not wheelchair accessible. 

“When you can’t reach the meeting room, how can you participate?” Youssefian said, calling the accessibility barriers at COP a “metaphor” for disability participation in climate action.

Amanda Bowie-Edwards, who represented the Disability-Inclusive Climate Action Research Programme at COP27, agreed, noting that language is very important during climate negotiations. If there were a disability constituency, she said, the disabled perspective would be included more frequently in discussions and the texts they produce — but currently, disability is rarely mentioned.For example, she attended roundtable sessions at COP27 meant to assess collective progress under the Paris Agreement. At her table, no one mentioned persons with disabilities, even though they frequently mentioned women, Indigenous peoples, and young people. “A big success would be if people with disabilities were named alongside those groups consistently,” Bowie-Edwards said.

Gaining constituency status is a long process; Indigenous people’s groups fought for recognition for nearly 10 years. But the disabled people’s movement, Bowie-Edwards said, is “gaining momentum.” 

At one of the disability discussions at COP27, Gurung and other panelists discussed the importance of building relationships with other constituencies and emphasizing intersectionality in global climate negotiations.

“When we work from one perspective, it is not enough,” she said, explaining that her perspective as an Indigenous woman who is also disabled informs her experience on the frontline of climate change — and her ideas for how to adapt and fight back. In Nepal, for example, melting glaciers have an outsize impact on Indigenous and disabled populations, altering water resources and landscapes, and disrupting traditional practices and access to care. 

The hope is that support from, and solidarity with, other constituencies will help disability groups apply and gain status. But for now, people with disabilities are still trying to convince climate activists and policymakers that their rights need to be included in climate action.

“We’re still just trying to get on the agenda,” Gurung said.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How people with disabilities fought for formal recognition at COP27 on Nov 22, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Climate change made deadly rainfall in West Africa 80% more likely to happen

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 03:30

The deadly rainfall and flooding that devastated parts of West Africa this fall was 80 percent more likely to happen because of climate change, according to an international climate science collaborative. 

The study from the World Weather Attribution, or WWA, also concluded that 2022’s seasonal rainfall in two major West African water regions, the Lake Chad and Niger Basins, was 20 percent wetter due to the impacts of climate change. Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, all of which have territories within either of the two basins, were the most impacted by the flooding. 

The team of researchers used historic weather data and computerized climate models to compare the likely intensity of seasonal rainfall in the Lake Chad Basin with and without human activities altering the climate. They found that the region’s extreme rainfall would have been unlikely without human-caused warming. Now, such rain is likely to occur once every 10 years.  

In September, Chad, one of the poorest countries in the world, experienced its heaviest seasonal rainfall in over 30 years; Thousands of residents of N’Djamena, the capital, were forced to flee their flooded homes. Lake Chad had received rain earlier than the seasonal norm, causing the lake’s water levels to rise higher than the two rivers that feed it. The excess water then flooded surrounding towns and villages. That same month, in Nigeria, more than 600 people died and nearly 1.5 million were displaced as a result of flooding, particularly in already vulnerable fishing and farming communities along the Niger River

West Africa’s monsoon season occurs from May to October and frequently causes severe flooding in much of the region. However, the devastation caused by the historic flooding, the WWA’s researchers noted, was far greater due to the proximity of human settlements and agriculture to flood plains. High rates of poverty, as well as political instability in the region, has increasingly driven communities to settle in geographic areas that are more vulnerable to flooding and other natural disasters. Somewhat paradoxically, the climate in the Lake Chad and Niger River Basins is also getting drier due to desertification, as the Sahara desert to the north continues to encroach south. This phenomenon is also contributing to impoverished communities moving closer to flood plains in order to survive.

Flood vulnerability has also increased the risk of water-born diseases being transmitted to communities. Cholera outbreaks were feared in Nigeria in the aftermath of September’s flooding. In Pakistan, where the summer’s monsoon rains displaced millions and submerged a third of the country, malaria, diarrhea, and other diseases spiked in flood-ravaged communities. 

The disproportionate impacts of climate change on the developing world have become a rallying cry for activists from Africa, Asia, and parts of the Americas as this year’s United Nations climate conference, known as COP27, continues in Egypt. Lake Chad and Niger Basin countries are among the nations least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, which are the largest contributing factor in human-caused climate change.
 “Africa accounts for only four percent of global emissions, so polluters should not be allowed to influence decisions for their good,” said Adenike Oladosu, a Nigerian climate activist who attended COP27. “Rather, decisions should be taken in favor of vulnerable countries, like mine, that are affected the most by the climate crisis.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Climate change made deadly rainfall in West Africa 80% more likely to happen on Nov 21, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Developing countries need trillions for climate action. Where will it come from?

Fri, 11/18/2022 - 11:34

In 2009, when representatives from around the world gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss global action on climate change, wealthy countries pledged $100 billion a year to help developing nations adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures and curb carbon emissions. 

The number was arbitrary, tossed into the fray by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as tensions rose over rich countries’ responsibility to pay for the problem they had largely caused. But it stuck, and 2020 was set as a goal for delivering the funds.

This week, at the United Nations climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, or COP27, these payments were once again front and center. Wealthy nations have yet to meet their $100 billion a year promise, the costs of mitigating and adapting to climate change are only growing, and developing nations are now calling for reparations for the impacts they are already suffering.

A report released last week found developing countries, excluding China, will need $2 trillion a year to deal with the worsening impacts of global warming and transition their economies away from fossil fuels. Half of that money “can be reasonably expected” to come from domestic sources, the report said, but international finance — from wealthy countries to the World Bank — must make up the rest.

How that money will be raised and provided to developing nations has been a focus of negotiations in Egypt. Everything is on the table. 

“Over the last few months, the role of different institutions has come to the fore,” said Preety Bhandari, a senior advisor in global climate and finance at the World Resources Institute. 

Here is an overview of the major strategies being discussed to pay for the mounting costs of climate change:

Unlocking Private Sector Finance

Historically, the bulk of the money for climate finance has come from the public sector — national coffers as well as multilateral development banks like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, or IMF. But with the costs of climate adaptation and mitigation rising, officials say there is simply not enough money in the public sector to meet climate finance goals for developing countries.

“There is only one place you find the money we need in the trillions of dollars,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in an interview with the Financial Times in May. “That’s the private sector.”

So far, however, it has been hard to get the private sector to fund projects in the countries that need it most. One report from a climate finance group found that the amount of private capital provided for public-private climate partnerships is actually shrinking. “Every public dollar spent is now mobilizing less than a quarter of private investment,” said Patrick Bigger, research director at the Climate and Community Project.

Last year, several wealthy governments joined forces with investment banks to launch a Just Energy Transition Partnership, or JETP, with South Africa to help the developing nation phase off coal; money has been slow to materialize and the program is expecting a $39 billion shortfall over the next five years. At COP27, another partnership was announced with Indonesia, one of the world’s top exporters of coal, and more are in the works with India and Senegal.

Calls to increase funding through such “blended finance” strategies are ongoing, but some countries, like Vietnam, have rejected initial JETP packages because they’re primarily composed of loans instead of grants. John Kerry’s proposal to shore up private investment in JETPs through carbon credits was met with pushback. And developing countries have been wary about relying too much on the private sector to meet the $100 billion goal, saying that rich countries are dodging their own responsibility to pay.

Of particular concern is relying on the private sector to fund adaptation projects. A restored mangrove swamp or an early storm warning system, for instance, doesn’t generate the financial returns that a solar farm does. Over two-thirds of the money raised toward the $100 billion goal to date has been for climate change mitigation. Developing countries are now asking for a more even split, with half of all climate finance flowing to adaptation. Language in the current draft text released Friday recalls a commitment from last year in Glasgow to double adaptation funding to $40 billion per year and develop a roadmap to get there by 2025.

In the final days of COP27, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on parties to deliver and expand on climate finance goals for developing countries. Mohamed Abdel Hamid/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

More Payouts from Multilateral Development Banks

Calls for the World Bank, IMF, and other multilateral development banks to open their coffers continue to grow louder. These banks, public institutions established with the goal of rebuilding war-torn nations after WWII, have massive sums of money at their disposal, but they are conservative and slow to spend it. Experts say they are over-concerned with their credit rating and too hesitant to take on financial risk.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley has called for a reform of these banks in her Bridgetown Agenda, a proposal to change the global financial architecture to support climate action and sustainable development. The plan has been getting a lot of traction at COP27. It calls on the IMF to, among other things, issue $1 trillion in low-interest, long-term loans to climate-vulnerable countries and simplify fast access to funding. It also proposes a climate mitigation trust that would release $650 billion in special drawing rights, credits that can be exchanged for currency and don’t need to be paid back, or that can be borrowed from other countries at low interest rates. 

The call to overhaul international finance institutions has found support in the U.S. and Germany; French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suggest changes with Mottley at the next meetings of the IMF and World Bank governors. And the second version of the COP27 draft retained language on multilateral development bank reform.

Beyond low-interest lending, developing countries are also calling for more grants from wealthy nations and multilateral development banks. Over 70 percent of climate funding for developing nations has been doled out in the form of loans, which add to already exorbitantly high debt burdens. 

Addressing the Debt Crisis

Because of the legacies of colonialism and slavery that funneled labor and resources away from the Global South, many developing countries have had to borrow money to meet basic needs. At the same time, these countries are perceived as riskier investments and have had to pay higher premiums and interest rates than rich countries. Current inflation is only making the whole situation worse. Two-thirds of low-income countries are at high risk of debt distress, and this crisis has made it harder for them to prioritize spending on climate change. 

“As we run into this economic climate, it’s very easy to go the austerity route,” said Sara Jane Ahmed, financial advisor for the V20, a group of finance ministers from 58 of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. “It’s so important — given the need to invest now and adapt and build resilient economies and communities — that we not go that route.” 

The section on finance in the COP27 draft text notes the increased indebtedness of developing countries and mentions the importance of scaling-up grants and “non-debt instruments.” Other solutions circling around include debt restructuring at lower interest rates, suspension of loan payments after natural disasters, debt-for-nature swaps, and outright debt cancellation, which public figures in Pakistan have called for after crippling debt restricted the country’s ability to respond to devastating floods this year.

The Nature Conservancy has orchestrated swaps in places like the Seychelles, Belize, and Barbados, where countries’ debt is refinanced at a lower interest rate and in exchange, the money saved goes to conservation. But as Kevin Bender, who runs these programs in African and Indian Ocean nations notes, it has been hard to get investors on board

“Some sort of debt restructure is an inevitability,” said Bigger, who co-authored a report with Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò on how debt restructuring and cancellation could be a first step toward climate reparations for climate-vulnerable countries. “The question is will there be a concerted push to do it well now, or will it be done through piecemeal initiatives like you had across the 80s and 90s until you get to ‘Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative’?”

That program, which cleared IMF and World Bank debt for the poorest countries, showed that with enough political will, debt cancellation is possible. 

Pakistan faces over $40 billion of damages after floods this year put a third of the country underwater. Muhammed Semih Ugurlu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Loss and Damage 

A concept known as “loss and damage” has become a major driver of discussions at this year’s COP. Separate from but related to adaptation, loss and damage refers to the destruction already being caused by climate change, and the future loss that will be inevitable. Funding for loss and damage has also been referred to as climate reparations.

Developing countries have been calling for loss and damage funding for years. They bear the brunt of climate impacts despite contributing the least to global warming. In Egypt, nations are demanding that industrialized countries commit to a dedicated funding mechanism for loss and damage, separate from adaptation. The details of how much money would go into the fund and where it would come from would be worked out later, but there have been some suggestions of sources, including taxes on oil and gas profits or on airlines, frequent fliers, and shipping companies. Developing nations have also been adamant that funding for loss and damage be grant-based. While the United States has resisted taking on liability for loss and damage, the idea of taxing private companies was received with openness by John Kerry.

Earlier this week, a group of some of the most industrialized countries, led by Germany, proposed a program called the Global Shield, which would include insurance, social security, and other financial assistance that could be deployed when disaster strikes. But loss and damage advocates have rejected the proposal on grounds that it is unfair to have people in developing countries pay for insurance, that it detracts from the call for a separate direct funding mechanism, and that payouts for similar schemes have been delayed, withheld, or insufficient. 

Discussions have hit a breaking point over loss and damage; on Friday morning, the European Union surprised negotiators by agreeing to a new fund. At stake is now whether countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, who were not considered developed countries when the terms were first defined in 1992 but are now some of the world’s leading economies, will be on the hook to contribute to the fund. 

Despite the urgency of the climate crisis, final decisions and commitments on how much additional money is needed and where it will come from are still a few years away. Bodies like the IMF and World Bank that decide things like debt forgiveness and special drawing rights operate outside of the UN climate convention, but “this COP can send a signal for changes that will happen over the next few years,” said Bhandari. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Developing countries need trillions for climate action. Where will it come from? on Nov 18, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Saudi Arabia has a new green agenda. Cutting oil production isn’t part of it.

Fri, 11/18/2022 - 03:45

The world’s biggest petroleum exporter, a country built with oil money, and a founding member of the most powerful oil cartel on Earth, is now styling itself as a pioneer of climate change solutions.

At the United Nations climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last week, Saudi Arabia held a separate meeting for Middle East and North African countries to go over the details of two separate initiatives aimed at cutting emissions and fighting desertification. The plans include planting 50 billion trees around the region, expanding wind and solar power, and enhancing carbon capture and storage technologies.

What’s not included is any mention of cutting oil production. In fact, the state-run oil company Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter as well as  the world’s most valuable company, said that it’s aiming to raise its production capacity by 2025, even as it plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2050. 

Saudi Arabia, in other words, wants to remain an oil power and somehow go green at the same time.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto leader of the absolute monarchy, sees no contradiction in this, sources told Grist. Taking measures to combat climate change will ensure that Saudi Arabia both diversifies its economy and remains one of the world’s political power brokers, a position it gained as a direct result of its rich petroleum reserves. Selling more oil, Saudi officials have reasoned, can help facilitate this balancing act. And as fuel prices remain high following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, experts said that the Saudi government is doing what any oil-producing country would do: meeting demand.  

“Saudi Arabia knows that its oil will be the last oil purchased and produced in the world,” said Ellen Wald, a historian and scholar of the energy industry, in an email. This, she explained, is because Aramco has by far the lowest cost of production on the planet, at around $2.80 per barrel, thanks to its vast reserves conveniently pooling near the desert’s surface. “So even if every car on the road is an EV [electric vehicle] and all the planes run on batteries, anyone still buying and using oil will be buying Saudi oil.” 

The discovery of oil radically transformed Saudi Arabia over the course of the 20th century, turning a largely nomadic desert society into a country with sprawling cities and a highly educated workforce. After an American oil company struck liquid gold in Dhahran in 1938, tapping into what would become the largest source of petroleum in the world, the kingdom was rapidly outfitted with pipelines, refineries, and export terminals. Aramco, as the oil venture came to be called, was owned by Texaco and other American oil companies until the Saudi government bought them out  in 1980. With its vast oil wealth fully under the control of the ruling family, the House of Saud, the country deepened its ties with the West and secured a powerful spot at the geopolitical table. It’s one they intend to hold onto. 

Two men view the site of the Arabian American Oil Company’s first successful oil well in Saudi Arabia. | Location: Dharan, Saudi Arabia. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images

When scientists began sounding the alarm about climate change in the early 2000s, Saudi Arabia took up a reactionary position at the United Nations, highlighting skeptical views on the science of global warming and attempting to block climate policy. The kingdom’s tone began to change, however, after the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty with the goal of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. 

“After Paris, there was no turning back – the world will decarbonize,” said Karim Elgendy, an urban sustainability and climate consultant at Chatham House, a London-based policy institute. Saudi Arabia “realized that being at the table is better than not being at the table. Shaping the outcome is better than being affected by the outcome.”

The following year, the kingdom launched “Vision 2030,” a policy framework meant to diversify the economy and reduce reliance on oil revenues, which have historically accounted for more than 60 percent of the country’s economy. One of its major goals was buffing up tourism. The government also loosened its restrictions on women, allowing them to drive without a male guardian and enter public spaces without headscarves. In 2020, the government announced that Saudi Arabia will go “net zero” within 40 years, a term that refers to balancing the amount of emissions released and the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere. It will be no easy feat.

Saudi Arabia’s rapid modernization saw the rise of towering skyscrapers, luxury malls, and a proliferation of private cars, along with a new way of life for its 35 million residents. As it developed, the country’s carbon footprint mushroomed until by 2017, Saudi Arabia was the fifth largest oil consumer in the world after the United States, China, India, and Japan. A sizable share of its emissions comes from energy consumption during the country’s punishingly hot summers, when temperatures frequently top 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Another significant portion comes from the operations of the state-run oil company Saudi Aramco, which experts estimate has generated more than 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. 

Despite this, the Saudi government has repeatedly dodged responsibility for contributing to climate change, claiming that it’s a developing nation like Jordan or Ghana. Officials have refused to join other global superpowers at the UN climate summit that are pledging funds for “loss and damage” financing to poorer countries hit hard by climate change.

Earlier this year, Aramco announced that it would be net-zero by 2050. This target is “a big deal because of the impact [it] could potentially have,” said O’Connor, the analyst at Carbon Tracker. “They emit as much as some medium sized countries.” 

A flame from a Saudi Aramco oil installation known as “Pump 3” burns brightly during sunset in the desert near the oil-rich area Al-Khurais. Marwan Naamani/AFP via Getty Images

But O’Connor characterized Aramco’s net-zero plans as “heavy on rhetoric and light on substance.” Rather than cutting emissions in absolute terms, for instance, the company plans to measure its progress using carbon intensity, a ratio of the amount of carbon dioxide released for every unit of energy produced. That would allow Aramco to claim success if it increases oil production while keeping its emissions the same.

The company believes that it can do this by capturing and reusing the carbon dioxide emitted during oil production, rather than allowing it to enter the atmosphere. Successfully doing so relies on the nascent carbon capture and storage industry. Last week at the UN climate summit, Aramco announced plans for a new carbon capture and storage hub, which it said will be able to store 9 million tons of carbon a year by 2027.

That captured carbon would then be injected back into wells to extract even more petroleum. While Aramco has promoted this as a sustainable method of keeping carbon beneath the earth, O’Connor said that the additional oil reaped from the practice will eventually end up combusting in someone’s vehicle or power plant in another part of the world – causing a net increase in emissions. (Saudi Aramco declined a request for comment.)

The Saudi government has argued that other countries’ emissions, even if a result of Aramco’s oil, are not its problem. Officials have said that the government wants to take a “comprehensive” approach to tackling climate change, which includes using oil revenues to fund its green initiatives. 

These programs include some conventional climate-friendly efforts such as new solar and wind-power farms and an update of existing building standards to promote energy efficiency. But they also include ostentatious developments such as NEOM, a “smart city” with blueprints resembling mockups of a science fiction video game, complete with classrooms taught by holograms, flying elevators, and an urban spaceport. 

A map shows the projected site of NEOM, a Saudi smart city being built in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia. PeterHermesFurian via Getty Images

The brainchild of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, NEOM has been under construction in the country’s northwestern desert since 2019 and is scheduled to be completed by 2025. The city is expected to run on a combination of wind and solar power and be a hub for green hydrogen, a fuel created when electrolyzers powered by renewable energy extract hydrogen from water molecules. (The Saudi government has said it aims to become the world’s top exporter of green hydrogen in the next half century.) The project has been plagued by setbacks, including violent confrontations with members of the indigenous Howeitat tribe who are being forcibly displaced by the project’s construction.

NEOM is the latest in a string of “smart cities” that have proliferated across the Middle East in the past two decades, from Abu Dhabi’s failed Masdar City to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s new administrative capital in the middle of the desert. Gokce Gunel, an anthropology professor at Rice University who has written extensively about clean energy in the Arab Gulf states, said that projects like NEOM are primarily ways for ruling families in the region to maintain their standing. 

“There’s a political function to these projects even if they don’t fulfill their promise,” Gunel said. She calls them “status quo utopias”. Enterprises like NEOM “claim to create utopias but they really want to preserve the present the way it is, to maintain the way oil has made the world.”

Saudi Aramco engineers and journalists look at a new carbon capture facility in Hawiyah, Saudi Arabia. AP Photo/Amr Nabil

Elgendy, who is on contract with the Saudi government to work on the city and cannot discuss its details due to a nondisclosure agreement, sees it differently. To him, NEOM is another example of the Saudi government’s determination to stay relevant in a post-oil world, an indication of its desire to “stay at the geopolitical table.”

“Instead of dragging their feet and slowing down the process, they have tried to buy a little bit of time,” Elgendy said. The kingdom’s climate action proposals let them “steer the process in a way that allows them to use oil and gas revenues to diversify their economy and become something else, become a different Saudi Arabia.” 

But in the long term, it could be hard to keep up a balancing act that depends on the rest of the world’s response to climate change. When the fallout from the war in Ukraine inevitably dies down, governments will have to make tough choices about how and when to shift their economies away from fossil fuels. If major emitters like the United States make progress quickly, Saudi Arabia’s endeavors could become more difficult to pull off, even as other countries continue to buy oil. 

And someone will be buying oil. Petroleum-derived products are ubiquitous in modern society, from synthetic clothing fibers to shampoos and detergents to plastic airplane parts. But the petrochemical industry that produces these products accounts for only about 17 percent of global demand for oil. O’Connor said that no matter how much the world wants petrochemicals, as grids shift to renewable power and electric cars become more popular, Saudi Arabia will see its oil revenues shrink. She pointed to the most recent report from the International Energy Agency, which found that starting in the mid-2020s, fossil fuel demand will decrease each year by an average amount roughly equivalent to the lifetime output of a large oil field.

“It’s a very fair point that once the demand is there someone is going to fill it, but what we would say is that that demand is beginning to wane and it will wane severely,” O’Connor said. “There’s a seismic shift about to take place in energy demand towards more sustainable sources. Aramco and Saudi Arabia need to reckon with that.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Saudi Arabia has a new green agenda. Cutting oil production isn’t part of it. on Nov 18, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Underfunded, understaffed, Canada’s Indigenous Services Agency is failing to protect First Nations

Fri, 11/18/2022 - 03:30

Earlier this week, Canada’s auditor general reported that Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), the federal department responsible for coordinating emergency management services to First Nations, failed to provide Indigenous communities with adequate resources to deal with climate disasters. According to the report, it’s likely that ISC is incurring “significant costs” to respond to climate emergencies that could have been mitigated or avoided.

The report details how various shortcomings in the department have led to underfunding and understaffing, ambiguity around jurisdictional responsibility, and a lack of disaster preparedness that puts First Nations communities at greater risk of harm from climate disasters. Notably, the audit found the department spent nearly 4 times more on emergency recovery than emergency preparedness: for every $1 invested in mitigation, $6 could be saved in emergency response and recovery costs.

Grist

First Nations communities are 18 times more likely to be evacuated in the wake of climate disasters than non-Indigenous communities, according to a 2017 ISC study. That’s due to aging infrastructure, weak socioeconomic supports, homes in remote locations, and a history of communities being relocated from traditional lands to flood and wildfire-prone areas. 

Despite a similarly poor review of ISC operations in 2013, Karen Hogan, Canada’s auditor general, said she was frustrated that the department had made no improvements in a decade. “Indigenous Services Canada still has not identified which First Nations communities most need support to manage emergencies,” Hogan said in a press conference on Tuesday. “If the department identified these communities, it could target its investments accordingly.”

ISC has maintained a backlog of 112 eligible, unfunded projects, including building culverts and dikes to prevent seasonal floods, that could help First Nations deal with climate disasters and reduce financial costs borne by the state. As of April 2022, 74 of those projects had been in the department’s backlog for more than 5 years. According to the report, with the department’s current budget it would take nearly 25 years to fund and complete those projects – barring any new proposals.

“ISC said they couldn’t get to these projects because of funding shortfalls,” said Doreen Deveen, director of Canada’s auditor general’s office. “Until they invest more in prevention and mitigation, First Nations will continue to be in a more vulnerable position.”

ISC is also responsible for ensuring that First Nations receive culturally appropriate resources and that service quality is comparable to similarly-sized non-Indigenous communities. However, without defining expectations for the quality of services to First Nations, or consistently monitoring service delivery, the department has fallen short of its expected mandates. The report also found that ISC lacked an updated emergency management plan as required under the Emergency Management Act.

Those issues, the report says, “increases the risk that some First Nations communities will not receive emergency services when they need them the most… and can lead to delays in First Nations receiving supports during an emergency. Timely response is critical during emergencies because human lives and infrastructure are at risk.”

More than 1,300 emergencies have impacted First Nations communities in the last 13 years, leading to nearly 600 evacuations affecting almost 130,000 people. The longest evacuation affected members of the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, after heavy flooding in 2011. As of May of last year, 91 residents were still unable to return home because of insufficient housing.

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, acknowledged that First Nations are on the front lines of climate change and said that it will be crucial to foreground their input in emergency management planning. “Above all, this work must be led in true partnership with First Nations and all orders of government, ensuring that equal participation and equitable resources are available,” Hajdu said. 

Though the auditor general’s report offers various recommendations on how to address these problems, none explicitly outline increased financial investment in First Nation communities. 

“Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is developing a comprehensive action plan to further address these recommendations so that First Nations have the tools and resources they need to prepare, prevent, mitigate, and respond to disasters caused by natural hazards, including those resulting from climate change,” said ISC spokesperson Nicolas Moquin, in an email. “ISC acknowledges that First Nations require emergency management plans that are up to date and address the specific risks faced by their communities.”

Representatives of the Assembly of First Nations could not be reached for comment.

For Kailea Frederick, a climate justice organizer at NDN Collective, direct access funding is a critical component of supporting Indigenous Peoples who have been long impacted by climate change. 

“There’s a misleading idea in global north communities that there are public programs and funding mechanisms for people,” Frederick said. “But the reality is that those agencies have been and continue to show up short for Indigenous communities.”

The audit comes as world leaders meet at the U.N. climate summit, COP27, which released a draft final assessment early Thursday that made light mention of “loss and damage” funding. That funding asks industrialized countries to provide financial support to developing nations dealing with the effects of climate change. However, funding gaps – reflected in ISC’s emergency service response to First Nations in Canada – could be further entrenched as tangible plans on climate funding have yet to be proposed. 

Frederick says that Indigenous peoples must be included in conversations around climate finance programs to ensure that they are designed and implemented effectively. 

“There needs to be [recognition] within the federal governments in the US and Canada that Indigenous peoples and First Nations still exist and that they’re not receiving adequate support before, during or after weather related events,” Frederick said. “That has devastating consequences.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Underfunded, understaffed, Canada’s Indigenous Services Agency is failing to protect First Nations on Nov 18, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Draft COP27 agreement fails to call for ‘phase-down’ of all fossil fuels

Fri, 11/18/2022 - 03:15

This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The United Nations climate agency published a first draft on Thursday of what could be the overarching agreement from the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. However, much of the text is likely to be reworked in the coming days.

The reaction from some nonprofits has been swift and frustrated, with one Greenpeace representative saying it paved the way for “climate hell.”

The document, labeled a “non-paper,” indicating it is still far from the final version, repeats the goal from last year’s Glasgow climate pact “to accelerate measures towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and phase out and rationalize inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

Last year was the first time a decision agreed by all parties even mentioned fossil fuels and coal as part of the climate.

But it does not call for a phase-down of all fossil fuels, as India and the European Union had requested. The text does not include details for launching a fund for loss and damagea key demand from the most climate vulnerable countries such as island nations. Rather, it “welcomes” the fact that parties have agreed for the first time to include “matters related to funding arrangements responding to loss and damage” on the summit agenda.

It does not include a timeline for deciding on whether a separate fund should be created or what it should look like, giving time for negotiators to continue to work on the contentious topic.

The document “stresses the importance of exerting all efforts at all levels to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.”

The document is based on requests that delegates from almost 200 countries have sought to be included in the final deal. It will provide a basis for negotiations over the coming days that are likely to substantially flesh out and rework the text.

Greenpeace International’s COP27 head of delegation, Yeb Saño, reflected the general frustration, saying: “The COP27 presidency pushes the pedal to the metal on the highway to climate hell.

“After initially failing to even mention fossil fuels, the draft text is an abdication of responsibility to capture the urgency expressed by many countries to see all oil and gas added to coal for at least a phase down. It is time to end the denial; the fossil fuel age must be brought to a rapid end.”

Joseph Sikulu, of the Pacific Climate Warriors and 350.org, said: “The cover text released this morning does not represent the call from both the negotiation rooms as well as the civil society for a just, equitable, and managed phase-out of all fossil fuels. Anything less than what we achieved in Glasgow will see COP27 branded a failure by the world.”

Tzeporah Berman of the environmental group Stand.earth was also disappointed, arguing that the draft text “ignores the science of 1.5 degrees C.” She added: “Phase down ‘unabated coal’ is still in, but ‘unabated’ is a loophole big enough to drive a drill rig through.”

But Simon Evans of Carbon Brief tweeted about what he called “the wise words” from Climate Home: “This is not a text that has been discussed by countries but elements reflecting what Egypt has gathered from consultations … Formal negotiations on the text are yet to start.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Draft COP27 agreement fails to call for ‘phase-down’ of all fossil fuels on Nov 18, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Pew poll: 42% of religious Americans pray for the environment

Thu, 11/17/2022 - 07:00

Religious Americans overwhelmingly believe they have a duty to protect the Earth, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, with 80 percent saying God entrusted them with that responsibility. The survey also found that 42 percent prayed for the environment in the past year. 

But that sense of duty doesn’t necessarily mean they’re clamoring to take on climate change. Less than half of highly religious people considered the overheating planet a “very” or “extremely” serious problem, though two-thirds said it was at least “somewhat” serious. In comparison, almost three-quarters of people with low religious commitment said climate change was a very serious problem.

At more than 100 pages long, the Pew poll is one of the most in-depth surveys on the link between Americans’ religious beliefs and climate views to date, offering a deeper look into why religious people tend to be less concerned about climate than their nonreligious counterparts.

Researchers pointed to politics as the most convincing explanation. Responses to the Pew poll suggest that Americans’ views on climate change tend to be influenced more heavily by their political party than by what they hear at church. 

Nationwide, about 83 percent of Democrats are likely to think of climate change as a very serious problem, compared to 25 percent of Republicans. “When you look within religious groups, you see the same pattern there, whether it’s evangelical Protestants or religiously unaffiliated Americans,” said Becka Alper, who wrote the Pew report. “Within religious groups, those who are Republican are far less likely than those who are Democrat to say climate change is a serious problem.”

When asked to explain why they believe climate change isn’t a serious problem, religiously affiliated Americans often echoed Republican talking points. According to the poll, about half said that stricter environmental laws could hurt jobs and the economy.

The finding that partisanship plays such an influential role in people’s climate views aligns with more than a decade of research, said Robin Globus Veldman, a professor of religious studies at Texas A&M University. The relationship between politics and religion can be hard to untangle, however, since the influence goes both ways.

“People really quickly go and say, ‘Oh, it’s just politics. It has nothing to do with religion. It’s just a coincidence that evangelicals tend to be more politically conservative and so that fully explains their climate attitudes,’” Veldman said. “I think there is a lot more interconnection between being evangelical and being politically conservative, and so you can’t separate it out and say, ‘All of this politics is not religion.’”

The Pew poll, which surveyed more than 10,000 Americans in April, found other reasons why those who believe they’ve been entrusted with caring for the Earth might fail to connect that with acting on climate change. More than a third of evangelicals said there are much bigger problems in the world than global warming; others said that God is in control of the climate. 

Another obstacle is that most places of worship aren’t really connecting the dots. Just 8 percent of Americans who attend religious services regularly reported they hear a lot about climate change in sermons. For pastors, “it’s such a politicized issue that there’s a huge disincentive to discuss that topic,” Veldman said. “You have to do it very delicately, and you risk alienating people and driving them away from the other good things you do in your church.”

That said, there are some signs that highly religious people are taking environmental problems seriously — even among the most historically resistant group, evangelicals. In a report earlier this year, the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 evangelical churches, called climate action a Christian responsibility and made the Biblical case to save the planet. Young evangelicals have led the push for climate action within the tradition. 

More broadly, a majority of Americans of all religions thought that passing a bill to address climate change should be a priority for Congress, according to a poll from Morning Consult and Politico last year. That included 60 percent of Christians and 79 percent of Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. They got what they wanted, at least in theory, when President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act in August, the single largest climate package in U.S. history. 

On the international level, faith groups have organized more than 40 side events at the U.N. climate conference this month in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to offer a religious perspective on the climate crisis.

While the finding that many people are praying for the environment may be encouraging, Veldman said to take it with a grain of salt, as the religious-friendly framing of the poll could have swayed their answers. “It’s like asking if you love your mother — you know what everyone’s going to say,” she said. “Everybody believes you should protect the Earth, right? Especially when it’s in a religion framing and in a survey that’s making religious questions salient.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Pew poll: 42% of religious Americans pray for the environment on Nov 17, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Creatively tackling India’s climate challenges through the food supply chain

Thu, 11/17/2022 - 06:41

As the planet warms, India is facing a tangled set of challenges: The South Asian population hub has some of the most polluted air in the world, especially around the capital of New Delhi. With 1.38 billion people and significant poverty, the country also suffers intense food insecurity, including among schoolchildren. As temperatures rise, crop yields are expected to decrease even more.

That’s why four university students thought the food supply chain held the potential to tackle agricultural air pollution and hunger at the same time. After more than a year of effort, the group arrived at a solution that turns agricultural waste into compostable plateware for schools, embedding seeds in disposable dishes so school gardens can produce more food to fight hunger. The solution made the four Ramjas College commerce students finalists in the 2022 Enactus Race to Feed the Planet Challenge. The Challenge aims to find solutions for food insecurity through plant-based agriculture, products, and enterprises. They were one of four teams—selected from 79 entries from 16 countries—to enter a final round of the competition.

The four-some—Navya Garge, Aradhya Bhalla, Divyam Thapliyal, and Vinayak Tiwari—named themselves Team Waraq, which means “golden leaf” in Arabic. They began studying India’s agricultural issues in early 2021, and what they faced was bracing. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, temperatures in India have already increased by 0.6 degrees Celsius, with heat records broken multiple times over the last decade. And as warming accelerates, crop yields are forecast to decline up to 19% in developing Asian countries like India.

Representatives of Team Waraq from the Enactus Race to Feed the Planet Challenge. Team Waraq

Farmers in places like northern India’s Haryana region typically burn their stalks and stubble at the end of the season, believing the waste will decrease next year’s yields. The burning worsens air quality dramatically. New Delhi, which is near Haryana, ranked in 2021 as the world’s most polluted capital city for the fourth consecutive year. IQAir, which studies pollution annually, also found India to be among the top five most polluted countries. The burning of crop residue combines with vehicle exhaust, commercial pollution, and in-home cooking (with fuels like wood and coal) to degrade air quality further. 

The students breathed New Delhi’s significant air pollution themselves, but they knew that trying to re-educate the farmers not to burn crop stubble, or even instituting burn bans would be complicated. So instead, they decided to try a different intervention, incentivizing around 30 farmers to change how they approached their post-harvest waste. The team of students arranged to pick up the waste, and even paid the farmers a few rupees if needed, to persuade them to give it away rather than burn it. 

“As humans there is so much we ask people to do, but they fail to do it,” team member Navya Garg says. “They did not have a good alternative.” Her teammate Vinayak Tiwari adds, “And so that is where we step in.”

The students worked on developing a simple formula, using crop stubble, water, and adhesive to produce durable plateware. They also leveraged personal connections to help develop a couple simple compression machines — not unlike tortilla-making machines used elsewhere in the world — that could be shared among the two villages where they piloted the program.

The concept offered an “extremely exciting three-way benefit,” says Jan Weernink, a global marketing director for biosolutions at ADM, a sponsor of the Enactus Race to Feed the Planet Competition. Weernik became the team’s industry mentor in early 2022. Valuing the farmers’ stubble, saving the air pollution that would’ve been produced by burning, and creating a plate out of what would have been waste all represented leaps forward on climate.

Taking it to another level by embedding seeds in the plateware was “ingenious,” Weernink adds. “After these plates have been used, you can till them easily into the soil.” He explains that the fibrous material in the plate serves as a natural nutrient source for the seeds, helping them grow. 

In northern India, school gardens are often used not just for teaching or demonstration purposes, but also for substantial food production to help supplement students’ diets. Team Waraq took advantage of that by embedding seeds for nutritious crops like lettuce, tomatoes, and okra. They found that with a yield rate of 15-20% from the plates, embedding four seeds worked well, producing about one plant per plate.

A big question for Weernink and the students has been how long it would take the plates to decompose. Team Waraq began testing that in early 2022, and found they broke down quickly, within 15 to 20 days, although the seeds took additional time to germinate and grow. Different climates and seasons may affect the decomposition and yield rates as well.

Other challenges have included persuading cash-strapped schools to pay more for the compostable flatware. “How do you get a municipality to spend a little extra money?” Weernink asks. He advised marketing the sustainable sourcing, and the direct-value proposition. “If you say the total cost of ownership includes $4,000 worth of fruits and vegetables, you are delivering value to the school, because they get free food.”

A significant remaining challenge is scaling up: So far, Team Waraq has bootstrapped the project with minimal funding. They hope to expand to 100 schools in 50 villages, which they estimate would lift 70,000 people from hunger, while preventing 12 metric tons of carbon emissions.

The team hopes to take the idea further, both in concept and execution. “We always want to better it,” Garg says. She is already looking for ways to improve the plates’ texture, and to get more schools interested in joining the program. “When you have years of planning ahead, you want to keep polishing.”

ADM is a sponsor of Enactus’s Race to Feed the Planet Challenge. ADM is the bridge between the producer on the farm and the consumer-facing brands in our daily lives. Consumers around the world have made it clear that they expect the products they purchase to come from sustainable sources, produced by companies that share their values like we do. Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges our world faces, and it’s one ADM is uniquely positioned to solve. We are scaling up our sustainability efforts to meet the ever-expanding needs of global populations, and to give our customers the edge they need to navigate new consumer demands, shifting attitudes, and environmental challenges. 

LEARN MORE

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Creatively tackling India’s climate challenges through the food supply chain on Nov 17, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Qatar claims the 2022 FIFA World Cup is carbon neutral. It’s not.

Thu, 11/17/2022 - 03:45

The opening game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is just days away, and all eyes are on host country Qatar, which has been getting ready to host the international soccer tournament since 2010. The preparations for the event, which organizers pledged would be “carbon-neutral,” have stirred up a significant amount of criticism related to worker exploitation and alleged human rights violations. Now, a climate watchdog group says the tournament’s organizers, which include representatives from FIFA and the Qatar government, misled the public by undercounting carbon emissions in one key area: stadiums.

Qatar has been on a decade-long World Cup construction boom, building seven new stadiums, 30 practice facilities, thousands of hotel rooms, and an expansion to the Doha International Airport. 

Nicola Sua / Getty Images

Back when Qatar was awarded hosting privileges for the tournament, the event’s organizers pledged to offset all unavoidable emissions, largely through carbon credits. But achieving this “carbon-neutral” goal depends on a comprehensive accounting of all emissions associated with the World Cup, something researchers at the group Carbon Market Watch say FIFA and Qatar have failed to do. 

“The main issue we found was with the construction of the stadiums,” said Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer for Carbon Market Watch and the author of the report, which was updated last month. He raised concerns about the placement of the stadiums and how they might be used in the future – two factors he says organizers did not sufficiently take into account in their carbon footprint calculations for this year’s tournament.

David Ramos / Getty Images

Already one of the hottest countries on Earth, Qatar faces worsening heat waves and water shortages as climate change intensifies. FIFA predicts activities related to this year’s World Cup will amount to 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of nearly 460,000 homes’ energy use for a year. According to FIFA’s latest emissions report, the largest sources of tournament-related emissions come down to air travel and accommodations, as more than 1.2 million fans are expected to attend the event from all over the world. 

Stadium construction, meanwhile, accounts for roughly 18 percent of the group’s carbon estimations. In its report, tournament organizers calculated stadium emissions by splitting them between two different categories: temporary and permanent seats. Of the seven new stadiums built for the Qatar tournament, World Cup organizers plan to dismantle one entirely and reduce the capacity of the others by nearly half. 

Grist / Jessie Blaeser

For temporary seats, organizers hold themselves accountable for just 70 days’ worth of emissions — the length of the upcoming tournament combined with two lead-up FIFA World Cup Club events. But Carbon Market Watch noted that methodology didn’t track with previous FIFA reports, which stated the lifetime of a stadium can be up to 60 years. The climate watchdog group used FIFA’s previous reports to estimate a new emissions total for 2022 World Cup stadiums. 

Under these new guidelines, researchers found the total footprint for the six permanent stadiums will amount to at least eight times organizers’ original carbon accounting.

Grist / Jessie Blaeser

Then there’s the issue of location: Each of the eight stadiums used for the World Cup are within roughly 30 miles of Doha’s city center. While the high concentration of stadiums will reduce emissions associated with fans traveling between venues, the facilities could create long-term problems for the city’s 2.4 million residents. 

Figuring out what to do with leftover stadiums is a well-known problem for cities that have hosted huge athletic events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics. Known as “white elephants,” these expensive, world-class venues can fall into disrepair, taking up valuable space while draining local resources. 

World Cup organizers in Qatar have tried to get ahead of this issue by making plans to turn what remains of these stadiums into community hubs, hotels and education centers. But in its report, Carbon Market Watch casts doubt on the practicality of this plan. 

For example, the new, 40,000-seat Al Janoub stadium is slated to become home to a local soccer team. After the World Cup, the stadium’s capacity will go down to 20,000, but that’s still a big bump up for the club, which currently plays in a stadium with 60 percent that capacity. 

“It is unclear whether the local team will attract a sufficient crowd to fill, and maintain, the new stadium, and what will happen to the 12,000 seat stadium they previously used,” Carbon Market Watch reported. “Overall, it is very difficult to assess the credibility of the legacy plans. These depend strongly on demand from the local population, as well as interest from companies to invest in maintaining the infrastructure.”

As for Qatar’s temporary Stadium 974, named after the country’s international dialing code, FIFA has not yet announced any concrete plans for how or if the materials might be reused. The stadium was built from shipping containers so that it could theoretically be dismantled and reconstructed elsewhere. Carbon Market Watch noted that FIFA has not announced plans on where the stadium might find a new home, nor plans for the upper-tier seats that will be removed from the permanent stadiums. The emissions accrued during the transportation and reconstruction of these materials are not accounted for in FIFA and Qatar’s carbon calculations. 

“It’s an interesting concept,” said Dufrasne on the idea of repurposing a stadium. But there’s a catch: “If you have the temporary stadium, and you transport it quite far away, and you reuse it only once,” he said, “then actually it’s potentially worse than having two permanent stadiums in those two different locations.” 

According to its sustainability report, FIFA and Qatar plan to offset unavoidable emissions with carbon credits and through other measures such as planting trees. But Carbon Market Watch argues the groups should not market this year’s World Cup as carbon-neutral until organizers do a more comprehensive accounting of the event’s long-term footprint. Carbon Market Watch called on FIFA to take on a new carbon calculation that includes direct and indirect emissions. 

“It’s highly misleading to make carbon neutrality claims today,” Dufrasne said, “ and there are very, very few, if any, companies that do it correctly.”

FIFA did not comment on the findings of the Carbon Market Watch report, but it is expected to release an updated emissions report following the conclusion of the tournament.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Qatar claims the 2022 FIFA World Cup is carbon neutral. It’s not. on Nov 17, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

What is Mastodon and what does it mean for ‘Climate Twitter’?

Thu, 11/17/2022 - 03:30

In the month since billionaire Elon Musk took possession of Twitter, firing thousands of workers and contractors and throwing its blue check verification system into chaos, people have been leaving the bird app in droves. Twitter has lost more than a million users — including several prominent climate activists, scientists, and journalists. In its place, many are migrating to Mastodon, an open-source social media network where users communicate on decentralized servers.

Unlike Twitter’s single website, Mastodon is made up of a federation of interconnected yet independent servers, some of which are themed around a particular interest. Even though users can follow and correspond with people from different communities, they can also choose to only view posts from their local server. Several of the servers that have gained momentum in recent weeks are geared toward climate-conscious individuals and groups. 

Mastodon.green, for example, is a server that says it plans to operate on clean energy and offset carbon based on the number of people in the group. The community currently boasts around 9,800 active users, who are asked to pay a monthly fee to be on the server after a certain trial period. Free sign ups are currently closed due to the unusually high number of people trying to join.

Paula Kreuzer, a climate activist based in Austria who works with Fridays for Future Vienna, is the administrator of the server climatejustice.social. She said she recently had to close that community, which she launched in early 2020, because of the massive influx of new user requests; the server, which currently has about 10,000 users, saw around 7,000 people join in the past few weeks. 

Kreuzer describes climatejustice.social as a laid-back place, with less focus on research or scientific discussion and more on activism, networking, and casual conversations. The biggest change in conversation she has seen is a plethora of new users trying to get the hang of a new platform and its quirks. 

“Asking questions is the best tip I can give people,” Kreuzer told Grist before she hopped on another call to introduce new German users to Mastodon.

Kim Cobb, an award-winning climate scientist and the director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, is one of the many new Mastodon users still getting a sense of the platform. She recently launched her account on the fediscience.org server, which is geared toward academics and researchers. She said she’s seen an “explosion” of users on that server in recent days, but isn’t yet ready to fully abandon Twitter herself.

“It’s sort of a gray zone right now,” she said. “So I’m waiting, I’m watching. But I’m also building.”

Historically speaking, Twitter has played an important role in building people’s awareness of environmental actions, from youth-led climate strikes to viral trash-clean-up videos. On the other hand, the bird app has also been a breeding ground for climate misinformation. Previous leadership went so far as to ban climate change propaganda on the platform, but experts warn climate disinformation could increase under Musk’s watch.

The way Mastodon is currently set up, it can be slightly easier to find a like-minded community and slightly harder for posts to reach a massive global audience compared to Twitter. Granted, users can still see public posts across most servers using the “federated timeline” view, and people are free to join multiple servers or switch an account from one server to another. Still, not all prominent climate activists are choosing to join science- or justice-themed servers. Greta Thunberg, for example, can be found on mastodon.nu, a server that is run on renewable energy but geared toward residents of Sweden and other Nordic countries.

While working out the odds and ends can be frustrating for those just joining up, some Mastodon users have found the social media platform to be a nice break from Twitter’s sometimes hostile mood. 

“I’m enjoying it actually,” said Peter Gleick, an environmental scientist and co-founder of the Pacific Institute who recently joined Mastodon’s fediscience.org server. “The tone is nicer. The engagement is more interesting and the conversations are more in depth than on Twitter.”

Mastodon numbers are growing but it is still a relatively small social network, with around 1 million active users compared to Twitter’s roughly 238 million. Gleick, who has over 96,000 followers on Twitter, said it has been hard to wrestle with the potential of losing a large, engaged, and climate-focused audience should he leave the bird app completely. He doesn’t find Mastodon as intuitive as Twitter but, despite the hiccups, he remains intrigued. Twitter wasn’t super easy to use in its early days either, he said.

But if Musk pushes Twitter platform over the edge, he believes users will find ways to still talk, share, and work in other climate spaces online. 

“We’re sort of holding our breath to see really how bad it gets,” Gleick said.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What is Mastodon and what does it mean for ‘Climate Twitter’? on Nov 17, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Tribes in the Colorado River Basin are fighting for their water. States wish they wouldn’t.

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 03:45

This story was published in partnership with High Country News.

In early November, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by the Navajo Nation that could have far-reaching impacts on tribal water rights in the Colorado River Basin. In its suit, the Navajo Nation argues that the Department of Interior has a responsibility, grounded in treaty law, to protect future access to water from the Colorado River. Several states and water districts have filed petitions opposing the tribe, stating that the river is “already fully allocated.” 

The case highlights a growing tension in the region: As water levels fall and states face cuts amid a two-decade-long megadrought, tribes are working to ensure their water rights are fully recognized and accessible.

On average, 15 million acre-feet of water used to flow through the Colorado River every year. For scale, one acre-foot of water could supply one to three households annually. A century ago, states reached an agreement to divide that water among themselves. But in recent decades, the river has supplied closer to 12 million acre-feet. Scientists say water managers in the basin need to plan for closer to 9 million acre-feet per year, a 40 percent decrease in a water source that supports 40 million people, due to climate change and aridification.

No states have made plans to accommodate this drop. Meanwhile, tribal nations are legally entitled to between 3.2 and 3.8 million acre-feet of ground and surface water from the Colorado River system.

There are 30 federally recognized tribes in the river’s basin, and 12 of them, including Navajo Nation, still have at least some “unresolved” rights, meaning the extent of their rightful claims to water have yet to be agreed upon.

Grist / Jessie Blaeser / Amelia Bates

Ultimately, Indigenous nations in the Colorado River Basin could be serious power brokers in crucial water negotiations to come — but they face historical, legal and practical obstacles. The Navajo Nation, for example, has rights to almost 700,000 acre-feet of water annually across New Mexico and Utah, along with unresolved claims in Arizona. But, because of a lack of infrastructure, up to 40 percent of Navajo households don’t have running water. For the Navajo Nation and other tribes with allocations in the basin, building and improving infrastructure means providing citizens with access to a fundamental human right: water.

But tribal water use is taken out of state allocations, meaning the more water tribes use, the less states have. It also means that states have less incentive to work with tribal leaders or recognize pending water rights claims. This conflict is not new. It has been built into a century of policies that have excluded and divested from Indigenous nations.

Read Next The Colorado River is drying up. Here’s how that affects Indigenous water rights

Tribes often hold senior water rights, meaning their allocations are the last to be cut in a shortage, and states in the basin are beginning to reckon with this fact. A fundamental shift in how the river is governed — to a system that acknowledges tribes’ sovereignty and gives them greater say — will be key to sustainably and equitably distributing water in the years to come.

Tribes “need to be included in every one of those conversations and considered just like a state or the federal government,” Southern Ute Tribal Council Member Lorelei Cloud said at the annual Colorado River District Seminar in September. “You cannot discount us.”

Grist / Jessie Blaeser / Amelia Bates

One barrier to equitable distribution is a glaring information gap: There is no definitive source of data on water usage among tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Historically, federal surveys have ignored tribal water use, and though tribal-led studies have begun to fill these gaps, the lack of data makes planning for a future river with shrinking flows impossible. 

“If you know how much water everyone has or is allocated, then you can come up with a comprehensive solution — not just management of the river but responses to climate change,” Heather Tanana (Diné), a professor of law at the University of Utah, said in an interview.

In Arizona, for example, nearly 70 percent of the state’s water allocation belongs to tribes, and nearly all the tribal nations with unresolved water rights in the basin have at least some territory in the state. According to a joint study by tribal nations and the federal government, 10 tribes in the basin, which hold the bulk of the recognized tribal water rights, are diverting just over half of what they’re entitled to — most of which is used for agriculture. It’s unclear what water availability would look like if these tribes had basic infrastructure to get water to their citizens, or if all tribes with unresolved rights settled their cases.

Grist / Jessie Blaeser / Amelia Bates

“My experience of negotiating water rights settlements in Arizona is that the state of Arizona very much approaches them as a zero-sum game,” said Jay Weiner, water counsel for the Quechan Indian Tribe and the Tonto Apache Tribe, which has been in settlement negotiations since at least 2014. That combative approach, he said, has persisted regardless of governor or political party. “It is something that seems to be deeply embedded in the fabric of Arizona and how it approaches Indian water rights settlements.”

In February, the federal government announced $1.7 billion for tribes to use for water settlements. That means more tribal citizens and communities could have access to water. It also means that states will have to work with tribes to plan for the future and adapt to climate change.

Read Next How Colorado River Basin tribes are managing water amid historic drought &

In some places, tribes and communities have already been moving in that direction, working together to find place-based solutions that use the resources and infrastructure at hand. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the city of Tucson, Arizona, have an intergovernmental agreement for Tucson to store and deliver potable water for the tribe, which doesn’t have the infrastructure to do so on its own. Such partnerships will only become more essential as drought and aridification continue to stress the region.

“If folks work together and partner together, the opportunity to solve the problem, I think, is enhanced,” said Robyn Interpreter, an attorney who represents the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Yavapai-Apache Nation in their water rights claims.

Grist / Amelia Bates / Jessie Blaeser / Joseph Lee / Anna Smith

The federal Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is building $123 million in infrastructure, is another promising example. The goal of the project is to construct water plants and a system of pipes and pumps that will deliver water to the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and the city of Gallup, New Mexico. Crystal Tulley-Cordova, a principal hydrologist for the water management branch of the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, said in an interview there is a new willingness to collaborate, owing to both the severity of the situation and non-tribal water users’ realization that they must work with tribes. “Now there’s a greater desire to be able to work together. So I’m encouraged by that,” she said.

Meanwhile, tribal nations are also making progress in securing their access to water. In May, the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act was finalized, granting the Navajo Nation 81,500 acre-feet of water in Utah and authorized $220 million in federal funds for water infrastructure projects. “Our families celebrate this moment in history after decades of fighting for the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement,” Navajo Nation Council Delegate Charlaine Tso said in a statement at the time. “It is clear drought conditions are affecting water levels across the country. Many of our elders haul drinking water from miles away while we work to get proper water infrastructure projects completed. This settlement allows us to begin connecting our water lines to the most rural areas.”

However, tribes still have no direct means of governance over the river, and, as seen in the Navajo water rights case headed to the Supreme Court, states continue to fight tribal communities seeking access to water.

Last fall, more than 20 tribes signed a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in which they pressed for direct, sustained involvement in re-negotiating the guidelines that manage the river, which are set to expire in 2026. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, last March, Haaland and Bureau of Reclamation leadership met with tribal leaders and “committed to transparency and inclusivity for the Tribes when work begins on the post-2026 operational rules,” according to a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior.

“It’s the job of political imagination to see what’s possible,” Andrew Curley (Diné), an assistant professor of geography at University of Arizona, said in an interview. “That’s something that we collectively, not just Native nations but led by Native nations, can start to articulate. What is a different vision of the river than what has been put into law and these congressional acts and Supreme Court decisions over the years?”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Tribes in the Colorado River Basin are fighting for their water. States wish they wouldn’t. on Nov 16, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

9 in 10 US counties have experienced a climate disaster in the last decade, report finds

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 03:30

Ninety percent of all counties in the United States have experienced a weather disaster over the past decade, and these climate-fueled events have caused more than $740 billion in damages, according to a new report from the climate adaptation group Rebuild by Design.

The “Atlas of Disaster,” a first-of-its-kind study published on Wednesday, analyzes a decade of federal disaster spending to reveal which parts of the country have been hit hardest by climate change, and which are most vulnerable to future catastrophes. The report finds that the federal disaster relief system is both underfunded and inefficient: The government lacks the authority and resources to help communities fully recover after disasters, and it also spends too much money on rebuilding in risky areas.

“It shows unequivocally that climate change is here and that all taxpayers are paying for it,” said Amy Chester, the managing director of Rebuild by Design. The organization began as a federal government initiative to help the Northeast recover from Hurricane Sandy, and is now housed at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge.

States like Florida and California often draw the most attention for enduring extreme climate disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, but the Rebuild by Design report reveals that almost every part of the U.S. has been touched by disaster: Nine out of 10 counties experienced a flood, fire, windstorm, or other disaster severe enough to merit federal assistance between 2011 and 2021. Only the temperate Upper Midwest and the dry inland reaches of the Great Basin largely avoided widespread damage.

Even that estimate is too low, since it excludes two major climate events: heat and drought. Because heat waves don’t cause property damage, they don’t trigger federal disaster declarations, and federal spending on drought primarily covers major impacts to crop production. 

The federal government is on the hook to help rebuild after these disasters, and the costs of recovery are enormous. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, have together spent almost $100 billion on disaster recovery over the past decade, and other agencies like the Department of Agriculture have spent billions more. The lion’s share of this money has flowed to coastal states like Louisiana, where the feds spent $1,736 per capita on disaster recovery between 2011 and 2021, according to the new report.

As a warming world creates more severe disasters and as more people move into vulnerable areas, these costs are only going to increase. The report suggests that flood damages alone could cost the U.S. another $72 billion over the next 10 years. That’s equivalent to the combined annual budgets of Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska.

Eye-popping as these numbers might seem, they only include a fraction of total disaster damages. FEMA funds for rebuilding go to homeowners to repair property damaged by disaster, but the agency can’t spend money to address long-term crises like pollution and sea-level rise. Renters are also left out of the vast majority of these payments, which hampers recovery in low-income areas where fewer people own property. HUD can provide supplemental aid for long-term recovery, but Congress must approve this funding on a case-by-case basis, which makes it subject to political whims.

In addition, says Chester, most disaster spending is inefficient, and serves to rebuild what existed before rather than make communities more resilient to disasters.

“How much is enough? No one has been able to answer that question,” said Chester. “But we know that throwing money [at] the last storm isn’t a good investment.” Chester says the solution is to channel more money toward strategies such as flood walls, forest thinning, and voluntary relocation out of flood zones, all of which can reduce the cost of future disasters. 

Even for a country as rich as the U.S., it will be far from easy to raise money for all that, especially given how much of the country faces imminent disaster risk. Part of the answer is for Congress to fund FEMA and HUD at higher levels, but Chester says states should also take steps to raise their own funds. 
The report suggests that states impose a two-percent surcharge on all property insurance policies to help fund resilient infrastructure. Florida already imposes such a surcharge, and the U.S. could raise $287 billion over 10 years if every other state followed suit. Voter-approved bond issuances like the $4 billion measure that just passed in New York could also help complement federal aid.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline 9 in 10 US counties have experienced a climate disaster in the last decade, report finds on Nov 16, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

These 15 meat and dairy companies emit almost as much methane as the EU

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 03:15

Fifteen of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies emit roughly the same amount of methane as the entire European Union, according to new research. 

The study, which concentrated on five meat companies and 10 dairy companies, was commissioned by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Changing Markets Foundation. It comes ahead of a planned update on the global methane pledge on Saturday at this year’s United Nations climate conference.

In the United States, Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest meat company, releases roughly the same amount of methane as all livestock in Russia, while the national milking industry organization, Dairy Farmers of America, releases the same amount of methane as all livestock in the United Kingdom, according to the new study. 

Shefali Sharma, European Director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and study co-author, said the combined emissions of all 15 companies equal more than half of all of the United State’s methane emissions. 

“That’s a staggering finding,” Sharma told Grist in an email. “If governments are serious about meeting their global methane pledge, then these companies should be number one on their list to regulate.”

Methane is a natural gas and also a greenhouse gas that is produced by a variety of human and animal activities, like waste production. Methane accounts for 20 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the study, methane remains in the atmosphere for a decade but has 80 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide and, under current policies, emissions are expected to rise by 30 percent between 2015 and 2050.

At last year’s climate conference in Glasgow, the U.S launched the Global Methane Pledge, now signed by over 100 countries, to cut methane emissions from all sources by 30 percent by 2030. This year, at COP27, President Joseph Biden announced tougher restrictions on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Forty countries are expected to unveil methane reduction plans at this year’s climate summit. 

The Biden administration has previously outlined plans to reduce agricultural methane production, with the majority of those plans focused on increased funding for waste digesters, which convert waste from large-scale dairy, poultry, hog, and other operations into methane. This technology, which is set to boom under the Inflation Reduction Act, is criticized by environmental and agriculture groups who see it as a way to continue propping up large, industrial agriculture that pollutes neighboring communities and emits tons of greenhouse gasses. 

Sharma said the best way to cut livestock methane emissions is to reduce the number of animals that are produced, processed, and shipped around the world. 

“This means incentivizing less and far better meat on well-maintained pasture, organically produced, farms that are good to their animals and treat them well,” she said. “In the U.S., this means supporting local, state and national policy that encourages this type of production, builds smaller and decentralized food supply chains that get to consumers.”

Study authors urged for increased government policy on methane regulation and tracking, including the monitoring of indirect emissions caused across the supply chain, known as scope 3 emissions. The newly released study found that none of the 15 companies investigated, from Nestlé to JBS Foods, the world’s largest producer of beef, chicken, and lamb, track methane emissions found across their supply chains.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline These 15 meat and dairy companies emit almost as much methane as the EU on Nov 16, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

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