Thursday, December 05, 2019

"End the Pain, Heal the Planet"

As expected, the COP25 talks in Madrid have publicised dire reports from climate experts.
An annual assessment of the Earth's climate by the World Meteorological Organization paints a bleak picture of vanishing sea ice, devastating heatwaves and encroaching seas as it describes the past decade as almost certain to be the hottest on record. The report said the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere hit a record level of 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and continued to rise in 2019.
The worsening heatwaves are taking a heavier toll on rich as well as poor countries, according to an annual ranking that measures the damage done by extreme weather to human life and economies.

"Heatwaves and floods which used to be 'once-in-a-century' events are becoming more regular occurrences," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. "Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia," he said.
Among the report's findings:
* Average temperatures for the five-year (2015-2019) and 10-year (2010-2019) periods are almost certain to be the highest on record.
* 2019 is on course to be the second- or third-warmest year on record.
* Sea water is 26 percent more acidic than at the start of the industrial era, degrading marine ecosystems.
* Arctic sea-ice neared record lows in September and October, and Antarctica also saw record low ice several times this year.
* Climate change is a key driver of a recent rise in global hunger after a decade of steady declines, with more than 820 million people suffering from hunger in 2018.
* Weather disasters displaced millions of people this year and affected rainfall patterns from India to northern Russia and the central United States, and many other regions.
The report also noted that surges in sea temperatures known as "marine heatwaves" which devastate underwater life had become more common.
The number of people at risk of being forced from their homes by river flooding could surge to as many as 50 million a year by the end of the century if governments do not step up action to tackle climate change, researchers warned.
That would be five times the average of 10 million displaced a year from the mid-1970s to 2005, and would happen as populations grow and as rainfall intensifies and ice melts on a warmer planet, causing more frequent and severe floods, said study author Justin Ginnetti. About half the predicted increase would be caused by the effects of climate change and the rest by expanding populations, he noted.
The head of data and analysis for the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said the forecasts were only a partial picture but as flooding accounts for more than half of climate-related displacement, the outlook was "grim".
The numbers pushed out of their homes by river floods could be kept to 20 million a year if governments stepped up efforts to keep a rise in temperatures to a globally agreed lower limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, he added. But current plans put the world on track for warming of at least 3 degrees, scientists say.
"Climate displacement poses a huge global challenge," Ginnetti said in a statement. "We expect even more extreme weather in the future, so it's imperative that we understand the magnitude of future risk, what's driving it, and what we can do about it." Ginnetti said good practices to prevent people being displaced by floods include urban planning that does not allow homes to be built on river floodplains and more investment in setting up systems to evacuate people threatened by floods. However, construction on floodplains is still occurring in the United States and other rich countries, in some cases subsidised by government money.
"Those are investments that are just going to waste and are resulting in displacement. That's got to stop," Ginnetti said.
Idy Niang, who previously represented Senegal at the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) said when coastal villagers in his West African nation are forced to move inland by erosion and rising tides, they can no longer earn a living from fishing. Meanwhile, livestock herders from Mauritania and Mali are moving across Senegal's northern border to seek grazing as droughts bite, sparking tensions with Senegalese farmers and other residents, he added.
But many countries - and millions of people - have yet to be reached by the WIM's efforts to tackle climate pressures forcing them to move, said Harjeet Singh, an expert on loss and damage with charity ActionAid International.
"We are already in a war-like situation... we need to work on a war-footing," he said.
Oxfam said wilder weather and fiercer wildfires drove more than 20 million people a year from their homes in the last decade, and the problem would worsen unless leaders act swiftly to head off surging climate threats.
The Global Climate Risk Index, published on Wednesday by environmental think-tank Germanwatch, rated Japan as the most weather-affected country in 2018, hit by a triple whammy of extreme summer heat, torrential rainfall and the most powerful typhoon in a quarter-century.
Germany, another industrialised country, was in third position as its hottest-ever April-July period led to the deaths of more than 1,200 people and widespread drought in 2018.
India - in fifth position - suffered one of its longest-ever heatwaves that year, bringing water shortages, crop failures and riots, on top of monsoon floods and two strong cyclones, Germanwatch said.
"Recent science has confirmed the long-established link between climate change and the frequency and severity of extreme heat," it added in a statement.
In 2018, the severe summer heatwave in Japan killed 138 people and caused more than 70,000 people to be hospitalised with heat stroke and exhaustion.
Across Europe, scientists calculate extreme heat spells are now up to 100 times more likely than a century ago, it added. The impact of heatwaves on African nations may be under-represented due to a lack of data.
Powerful storms, meanwhile, left a trail of destruction in 2018, with the Philippines second in the climate risk index due to large losses inflicted by top-strength Typhoon Mangkhut. Madagascar was the fourth most weather-hit country as two cyclones killed about 70 people and forced 70,000 to seek refuge. In Kenya and Rwanda - seventh and eighth in the index - seasonal rains were much heavier than normal, causing floods that destroyed homes and livestock and fuelled diseases.
Laura Schaefer, with Germanwatch, told journalists that the index results showed that the "signs of climate crisis", on all continents, could no longer be ignored.
"But climate impacts most existentially hit developing countries and communities around the world - and create a real climate crisis for millions of people," she said, adding that the poor had the fewest resources to cope.
Germanwatch joined developing states and aid agencies in urging U.N. negotiators to regularly assess the needs of vulnerable countries struggling with "loss and damage" linked to climate change, and provide new funding to repair it. Wealthy nations have long resisted pressure to stump up such finance, beyond expanding insurance programmes. But as the cost of extreme weather increases globally and planet-heating emissions continue to rise, that pressure is growing.
Renato Redentor Constantino, head of the Philippines-based Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said it was "plainly unacceptable" that those suffering the most had done the least to cause the problem, given their historically low emissions. "The extreme weather events we have been facing are a result of emissions that the world failed to eliminate," he said.
Between 1999 and 2018, seven of the 10 places most affected by extreme weather were lower-income developing nations, with Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti at the top, Germanwatch said. In the past 20 years, nearly half a million deaths were directly linked to more than 12,000 extreme weather events worldwide.
U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa told journalists Latin American nations were vulnerable to weather disasters fuelled by climate change, highlighting the need for them to become more resilient.
Espinosa said her own country, Mexico, suffered every year from droughts, floods and wildfires. "It is not about whether this year it will be bad. No, it is about how bad and where?" she said. "This is the reality of almost all the countries in the region."
Human health is paying the price of the world's failure to curb global warming, the World Health Organization warned, urging governments at U.N. climate talks to cut climate-changing emissions faster and provide funds to address growing threats.
Those range from lung and heart problems caused by toxic air to deaths in storms and wildfires, and the expansion of dengue, malaria, cholera and other diseases spread by mosquitoes and contaminated water.
"The cost of not taking enough action at the climate summit... is paid by my lungs and your lungs," said Maria Neira, director of the department of environment, climate change and health at the World Health Organization (WHO), a U.N. agency.
The causes of climate change and air pollution overlap, she added, calling for societies to "decarbonise", including by ditching coal as a source of power and heat, and ending subsidies for the extraction and use of fossil fuels. According to the WHO, the burning of oil, gas and coal is responsible for two-thirds of the outdoor air pollution that causes about 4 million premature deaths each year. More intense and longer heatwaves are another growing health problem in many parts of the world.
study published by the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday found extreme heat in the United States from 1969-1988 caused an increase in deliveries of babies on the day it hit and the day after, with those births happening up to two weeks before they were due. Such early births can potentially harm children's later development, researchers said.
Activists and aid agencies cited a rise in hospital emissions linked to smoke from Australia's recent bushfires. In southern African countries hit by Cyclone Idai this year, they said, people are struggling to feed their families after fields and homes were destroyed. To deal with the rising human and financial health costs of climate change, health services and related institutions need a boost in funding - currently sorely lacking, the WHO said.
A report highlighting how countries are increasingly prioritising dealing with climate change threats to health. Half of about 100 nations surveyed said they had developed a national strategy or plan to tackle the risks. But only about 38% had finances in place to even partially implement their plans, and fewer than 10% had the money to put them fully into practice, the report showed.
Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO's coordinator for climate change and health, said all countries surveyed - from Europe to the Americas, Africa and Asia - are struggling to finance measures such as protecting hospitals from weather disasters and ramping up disease surveillance. In richer countries, the difficulty lies in securing allocations from national budgets due to competing priorities. Poorer nations, on the other hand, need international climate finance to help them cope, but are struggling to access it because of a lack of information, capacity and connections. As a result, less than half a percent of international climate finance has gone to projects to head off climate risks to health, Campbell-Lendrum said. "These countries are exposed, they are vulnerable and they are unsupported," he added. He noted that the mental health impacts of climate change had "shot up the agenda". The effects can range from the trauma of going through disasters to the shock of being made homeless, or young people feeling anxious and frustrated about climate change. Once a "hidden issue", it is "the one that we have heard the most about in the past four to five months", he told journalists.

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