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Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now
by UN News, OHCHR, IPCC, CVF, agencies
8:28am 25th Oct, 2022
20 Nov 2022
World still ‘on brink of climate catastrophe’ after Cop27 deal. (Guardian News, agencies)
The world still stands “on the brink of climate catastrophe” after the deal reached at the Cop27 UN climate summit on Sunday, climate experts and campaigners have warned.
The agreement reached in Sharm el-Sheikh early on Sunday morning, was hailed for providing poor countries for the first time with financial assistance known as loss and damage. A fund will be set up by rich governments for the rescue and rebuilding of vulnerable areas stricken by climate disaster, a key demand of developing nations for the last 30 years of climate talks. However, there is no agreement yet on how much money should be paid in, by whom, and on what basis.
The outcome of Cop27 was widely judged a failure on efforts to cut carbon dioxide, after oil-producing countries and high emitters weakened and removed key commitments on greenhouse gases and phasing out fossil fuels.
Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders Group of former world leaders, ex-president of Ireland and twice a UN climate envoy, said: “The world remains on the brink of climate catastrophe. Progress made on cutting emissions has been too slow. We are on the cusp of a clean energy world, but only if G20 leaders live up to their responsibilities, keep their word and strengthen their will. The onus is on them.”
Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the UN, warned: “Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this Cop did not address. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.”
Oil-producing countries had thwarted attempts to strengthen the deal, said Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, now chief executive of the European Climate Foundation. “The influence of the fossil fuel industry was found across the board,” she said. “This Cop has weakened requirements around countries making new and more ambitious commitments on cutting emissions. The text of the deal makes no mention of phasing out fossil fuels, and scant reference to the 1.5C target.”
She blamed the host country, Egypt, for allowing its regional alliances to sway the final decision, a claim denied by the hosts. Next year’s conference of the parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (Cop) will take place in Dubai, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s biggest oil exporters.
Tubiana warned: “The Egyptian presidency produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petro-states and the fossil fuel industries. This trend cannot continue in the UAE next year.”
At the talks, nearly 200 countries agreed that a fund for loss and damage, which would pay out to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of vulnerable countries ravaged by extreme weather events, should be set up within the next year.
However, there is no agreement yet on how much money should be paid in, by whom, and on what basis. A key aim for the EU at the talks was to ensure that countries classed as developing in 1992 when the UNFCCC was signed – and thus given no obligations to act on emissions or provide funds to help others – are considered potential donors. These could include China, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and Russia. Under the final agreement, such countries can contribute on a voluntary basis.
China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, as well as the world’s second biggest economy, and comes second only to the US in cumulative historical emissions since the industrial revolution.
Several key climate commitments championed by the UK, which hosted last year’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, were dropped from the final deal, at the behest mainly of Saudi Arabia and other petro-states, though the Guardian understands that China, Russia and Brazil also played a role in weakening some aspects.
These included a target for global emissions to peak by 2025, in line with the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold of safety that was the focus of the Glasgow Climate Pact signed last year at Cop26.
Although the final text did include the commitment to limiting temperature rises to 1.5C, the language was regarded as weak and marking no progress on the outcome of Cop26 a year ago.
Alok Sharma, the UK’s Cop26 president was visibly angry at the close of the conference. “Those of us who came to Egypt to keep 1.5C alive, and to respect what every single one of us agreed to in Glasgow, have had to fight relentlessly to hold the line. We have had to battle to build on one of the key achievements of Glasgow, the call on parties to revisit and strengthen their national plans on emissions.”
In Glasgow, in the final moments a commitment to phase out coal was watered down by China and India to a phase down of coal. At Cop27, he joined with efforts to include a phase down of all fossil fuels in the text, but it was reduced in the final stages to a simple repetition of the Glasgow commitment to phase down coal.
Sharma listed commitments weakened or lost: “We joined with many parties to propose a number of measures that would have contributed to this. Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary. Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text. A commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energy text, weakened in the final minutes [to endorse “low-emissions energy”, which can be interpreted as a reference to gas].”
Meena Raman an adviser to developing countries, from the Third World Network said: “Since the EU and Alok Sharma are disappointed that fossil fuel phase-out is not in the text, we would like them to take leadership and revise their NDCs [nationally determined contributions] and put into plans their fossil fuel phase-out urgently and stop expansion of fossil fuels including oil and gas. If they really want to save the planet and not hide behind 2050 net zero targets, which will bust the remaining carbon budget for 1.5C.”
Small island nations facing a climate-driven rise welcomed the loss and damage deal but regretted the lack of ambition on curbing emissions. "I recognise the progress we made in COP27" in terms of establishing the fund, the Maldives climate minister, Aminath Shauna, said, but added "we have failed on mitigation ... We have to ensure that we increase ambition to peak emissions by 2025. We have to phase out fossil fuels."
The final COP27 statement maintains the commitment to limit global heating warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. But instead of calling for a phase out of all polluting fossil fuels, the deal only reiterates language from last year's pact in Glasgow calling for a "phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies."
Even if all the pledges made so far are delivered, th world is still on track for an average rise of at least 2.7C this century, a recent UN report states. It would cause widespread drought, water scarcity, hunger and widespread coastal flooding.
UN chief Antonio Guterres described the creation of a loss and damage fund for developing countries as an important step for climate justice.
“But let’s be clear. Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this COP did not address. A fund for loss and damage is essential – but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition. The red line we must not cross is the line that takes our planet over the 1.5C degree temperature limit”.
1 Nov. 2022
Countries’ climate promises still not enough to avoid catastrophic global warming: UN Reports. (UN News, agencies)
The current combined National Determined Contributions (NDCs)—meaning the countries’ national efforts to tackle emissions and mitigate climate change—are leading our planet to at least 2.5 degrees warming, a level deemed catastrophic by scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In 2019, the IPCC indicated that to curb global warming, CO2 emissions needed to be cut by 43 per cent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, but current climate plans show a 10.6 per cent increase instead.
Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change: “The science is clear and so are our climate goals under the Paris Agreement. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world”, said.
Mr. Stiell underscored that national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them.
Last year, during the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, all countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their climate plans, however, only 24 out of 193 nations submitted updated plans to the UN.
“It’s disappointing. Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we are facing, and the shortness of the time we have remaining to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change”, highlighted the UN Climate Change chief.
UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres has warned of the dangers of climate breakdown. “Present policies on the climate will be absolutely catastrophic,” he said. “For the simple reason that we are approaching tipping points, and tipping points will make climate breakdown irreversible,” he said.
“That damage would not allow us to recover, and to contain temperature rises. And as we are approaching those tipping points, we need to increase the urgency, we need to increase the ambition".
Tipping points are thresholds within the climate system that lead to cascading impacts when tripped. They include the melting of permafrost, which releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that fuels further heating, and the point at which the drying Amazon rainforest switches from being an absorber to being a source of carbon, which scientists fear is fast approaching.
“We are getting close to tipping points that will create irreversible impacts, some of them difficult even to imagine,” he warned.
At last year’s summit in Glasgow, countries agreed to focus on limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, but recent UN reports have shown that current policies would raise temperatures by a least 2.5C.
Mr. Guterres says there is only a slim chance of holding to the target. “We still have a chance but we are rapidly losing it,” he said. “I’d say the 1.5C is in intensive care. So either we act immediately and in a very strong way, or it’s lost and probably lost for ever.”
“The only true path to energy security, stable power prices, prosperity and a liveable planet lies in abandoning polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, and accelerating the renewables-based energy transition”, he said.
Let me be blunt: most national climate pledges are simply not good enough. This is not just my view. Science and public opinion are giving timid climate policies a giant fail mark.
“We are witnessing a historic and dangerous disconnect - science and citizens are demanding ambitious and transformative climate action. Meanwhile, many governments are dragging their feet.
He said grave consequences would be the result, with nearly half the world’s population already in the “danger zone”.
And, at a time when we should all come together in the fight for our lives, senseless wars are tearing us apart”, he added. “The energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine has seen a perilous doubling down on fossil fuels by the major economies. The war has reinforced an abject lesson: our energy mix is broken.”
The paradox, he said, is that cheaper, fairer and more reliable energy options should have been developed sooner, and faster, including wind and solar.
“Had we invested massively in renewable energy in the past, we would not be so dramatically at the mercy of the instability of fossil fuel markets.”
Solar energy and batteries have fallen in price by 85 per cent, over the past decade, while wind power has become 55 per cent cheaper.
“On the other hand, oil and gas have reached record price levels. And investment in renewables creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels”, the Secretary-General underlined.
The climate crisis has reached a “really bleak moment”, one of the world’s leading climate scientists says, after a series of reports laid bare how close the planet is to catastrophe. Prof. Johan Rockstrom said the world was coming “very, very close to irreversible changes … time is really running out very, very fast”.
Key UN agencies have produced damning reports in the last few days. The UN environment agency’s report found there was “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that “woefully inadequate” progress on cutting carbon emissions means the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”.
Current pledges for action by 2030, even if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of at least 2.5C, a level that would condemn the world to catastrophic climate breakdown, according to the UN’s climate agency. Only a handful of countries have ramped up their plans in the last year, despite having promised to do so at the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow last November.
The UN’s meteorological agency reported that all the main heating gases hit record highs in 2021.
Prof. Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “It’s a really bleak moment, not only because the reports showing that emissions are still rising, so we’re not delivering on either the Paris or Glasgow climate agreements, but we also have so much scientific evidence that we are very, very close to irreversible changes – we’re coming closer to tipping points.”
Research by Rockström and colleagues, found five dangerous climate tipping points may already have been passed due to the global heating caused by humanity to date, including the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, with another five possible with 1.5C of heating.
“Furthermore, the world is unfortunately in a geopolitically unstable state,” said Rockstrom. “So when we need collective action at the global level, probably more than ever since the second world war, to keep the planet stable, we have an all-time low in terms of our ability to collectively act together.”
“Time is really running out very, very fast,” he said. “I must say, in my professional life as a climate scientist, this is a low point. The window for 1.5C is shutting as I speak, so it’s really tough.”
UN secretary general, António Guterres, said on Wednesday that climate action was “falling pitifully short”. “We are headed for a global catastrophe and for economy-destroying levels of global heating.” He added: “Droughts, floods, storms and wildfires are devastating lives and livelihoods across the globe and getting worse by the day. We need climate action on all fronts and we need it now.”
Climate experts agree that every action that limits global heating reduces the suffering endured by people from climate impacts.
Rockstrom said: “Despite the fact that the situation is depressing and very challenging, I would strongly advise everyone to act in business or policy or society or science. The deeper we fall into the dark abyss of risk, the more we have to make efforts to climb out of that hole. It’s not as if we don’t know what to do – it’s rather that we’re not doing what is necessary.”
Mar. 2022 (IPCC News)
Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”
The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.
The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was approved on February 27 2022, by 195 member governments of the IPCC.
Urgent action required to deal with increasing risks
Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.
To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.
“This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”
Safeguarding and strengthening nature is key to securing a liveable future
There are options to adapt to a changing climate. This report provides new insights into nature’s potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.
“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Portner.
“By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”
Scientists point out that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development.
“Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts.
“In this way, different interests, values and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate resilient and sustainable development will result in a sub-optimal future for people and nature.”
Cities: Hotspots of impacts and risks, but also a crucial part of the solution
This report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities, where more than half the world’s population lives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transportation systems, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level rise.
“Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Debra Roberts said.
“But cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”
There is increasing evidence of adaptation that has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be avoided by involving everyone in planning, attention to equity and justice, and drawing on Indigenous and local knowledge.
A narrowing window for action
Climate change is a global challenge that requires local solutions and that’s why the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides extensive regional information to enable Climate Resilient Development.
The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C (2.7°F). In some regions it will be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C (3.6°F).
This key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice. Adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said Hans-Otto Portner.
Oct. 2022
Climate change the greatest threat the world has ever faced, UN expert warns. (OHCHR)
Human-induced climate change is the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and societies the world has ever experienced, and the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price, a UN expert said.
“Throughout the world, human rights are being negatively impacted and violated as a consequence of climate change. This includes the right to life, health, food, development, self-determination, water and sanitation, work, adequate housing and freedom from violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking and slavery,” said Ian Fry, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, in a report to the General Assembly.
“There is an enormous injustice being manifested by developed economies against the poorest and least able to cope. Inaction by developed economies and major corporations to take responsibility for drastically reducing their greenhouse gas emissions has led to demands for ‘climate reparations’ for losses incurred. The G20 members for instance, account for 78 per cent of emissions over the last decade.”
The Special Rapporteur’s report focuses on the topics of mitigation action, loss and damage, access and inclusion, and the protection of climate rights defenders.
“The overall effect of inadequate actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is creating a human rights catastrophe, and the costs of these climate change related disasters are enormous,” Fry said.
Those most affected and suffering the greatest losses are the least able to participate in current decision-making and more must be done to ensure they have a say in their future, including children and youth, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and minorities.
Fry also raised deep concern about climate rights defenders. “As groups and communities become increasingly frustrated with the lack of action on climate change, they have turned to protests and public interventions to bear witnesses to the climate emergency. Sadly, we are seeing many climate rights defenders persecuted by governments and security organisations. Some defenders have even been killed.”
The expert emphasised that indigenous peoples, in particular, have been the target of serious attacks and human rights abuses.
Fry presented several recommendations to the General Assembly, including a proposed High-Level Mitigation Commitment Forum to be held in 2023, the establishment of a consultative group of finance experts to define the modalities and rules for the operation of a Loss and Damage Finance Facility, and a climate change redress and grievance mechanism to allow vulnerable communities to seek recourse for damages incurred.
Oct. 2022
New Unicef report finds that in even best-case scenario 2 billion children will face four to five dangerous heat events annually by 2050.
The climate crisis is also a children’s rights crisis: one in four children globally are already affected by the climate emergency and by 2050 virtually every child in every region will face more frequent heatwaves, according to a new Unicef report.
For hundreds of millions of children, heatwaves will also last longer and be more extreme, increasing the threat of death, disease, hunger and forced migration.
The findings come less than a fortnight before the Cop27 UN climate talks get underway in Egypt, and after a catastrophic year of extreme weather events – heatwaves, storms, floods, fires and droughts – have demonstrated the speed and magnitude of the climate breakdown facing the planet.
According to Unicef, 559 million children currently endure at least four to five dangerous heatwaves annually, but the number will quadruple to 2 billion by 2050 – even if global heating is curtailed to 1.7 degrees, currently the best-case scenario on the table.
In the worst-case scenario – a 2.4-degree rise caused by burning too many fossil fuels for too long – an estimated 94% of children will be exposed to prolonged heatwaves lasting at least 4.7 days by 2050 compared with one in four children right now.
Children and infants are less able to regulate their body temperature, making them more vulnerable to the pervasive impacts of extreme and prolonged heat than adults. This includes a myriad of health problems such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and even death.
Additionally, as intense heat exacerbates drought, it can also reduce access to food and water, which can stunt development and increase exposure to violence and conflict if families are forced to migrate. Studies have also shown that extreme heat negatively affects children’s concentration and learning abilities.
“While the full force of the climate crisis will take some time to materialise, for heatwaves it is just around the corner and looking incredibly grim,” said Nicholas Rees, the Unicef environment and climate expert.
Unicef’s report, The Coldest Year of the Rest of Their Lives, is a call to action for political leaders who continue to dither and pander to big business interests, even though the past seven years have been the hottest on record.
From the polar regions to the tropics, dangerous heatwaves are increasing in frequency, duration and magnitude, and already kill almost half a million people each year.
This year alone, heatwaves in China dried up rivers and damaged crops, while temperatures hit 48C (118F) in Pakistan before unprecedented rains left a third of the country underwater. Record-breaking temperatures throughout Europe led to tens of thousands of preventable deaths and drastically reduced crop yields, while more than 100 million Americans were under heat advisories over the summer. In Africa drought and failed rains have dramatically impacted the lives of some 50 million people. The hotter the planet gets, the more catastrophic will be the consequences.
“The climate shocks of 2022 provide a strong wakeup call about the increasing danger hurtling towards us,” said Vanessa Nakate, climate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. “Heatwaves are a clear example. As hot as this year has been in almost every corner of the world, it will likely be the coldest year of the rest of our lives. The dial is being turned up on our planet and yet our world leaders haven’t begun to sweat. The only option is for us to continue to turn up the heat - on them - to correct the course we are on. World leaders must do this at COP27 for children everywhere, but especially the most vulnerable children in the most affected places. Unless they take action, and soon, this report makes it clear that heatwaves will become even harsher than they are already destined to be.”
Given that within three decades virtually every child will be exposed to extreme heat even under the best-case fossil fuel reduction pledges, Unicef is calling on governments to cut emissions faster and further, and help communities prepare for what is coming.
“We have to expand funding for adaptation as the impact depends on the coping capacities of families and communities … Having access to shelter, water and air conditioning will mean life or death,” Rees said.
“The mercury is rising and so are the impacts on children,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said. “Already, 1 in 3 children live in countries that face extreme high temperatures and almost 1 in 4 children are exposed to high heatwave frequency, and it is only going to get worse. More children will be impacted by longer, hotter and more frequent heatwaves over the next thirty years, threatening their health and wellbeing. How devastating these changes will be depends on the actions we take now. At a minimum, governments must urgently limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius and double adaptation funding by 2025. This is the only way to save children’s lives and futures – and the future of the planet.”
Heatwaves are especially damaging to children, as they are less able to regulate their body temperature compared to adults. The more heatwaves children are exposed to, the greater the chance of health problems including chronic respiratory conditions, asthma, and cardiovascular diseases. Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of heat-related mortality.
Heatwaves can also affect children’s environments, their safety, nutrition and access to water, and their education and future livelihood.
The report found high heatwave duration currently impacts 538 million, or 23 per cent of, children globally. This will rise to 1.6 billion children in 2050 at 1.7 degrees warming, and to at least 1.9 billion children at 2.4 degrees warming, emphasising the importance of urgent and dramatic emissions mitigation and adaptation measures to contain global heating and protect lives.
Millions more children will be exposed to high heatwave severity and extreme high temperatures depending on the degree of global heating reached. To avoid climate catastrophe we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep to 1.5 degrees Celsius warming pledge.
Yet alarmingly, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to rise by 14% this decade, putting us on a path to catastrophic global heating. All governments must revisit their national climate plans and policies to increase ambition and action. They must cut emissions by at least 45% by 2030 to keep heating to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Oct. 2022
Heatwaves account for some of the deadliest disasters and are intensifying, warn the IFRC and the UN humanitarian relief agency.
Record high temperatures this year—which are fueling catastrophes in Somalia, Pakistan and around the world—foreshadow a future with deadlier, more frequent and more intense heat-related humanitarian emergencies, a new report warns.
Released a month ahead of the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27), Extreme Heat: Preparing for the heatwaves of the future says that, with climate change making heatwaves ever more dangerous, aggressive steps must be taken now to avert potentially recurrent heat disasters.
“As the climate crisis goes unchecked, extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and floods, are hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest,” says Martin Griffiths, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. “Nowhere is the impact more brutally felt than in countries already reeling from hunger, conflict and poverty.”
The report—the first to be published jointly by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)—offers concrete steps that humanitarians and decision makers can take to mitigate extreme heat’s worst effects. 2022 has already seen communities across North Africa, Europe, South Asia and the Middle East suffocate under record-high temperatures. Most recently the Western United States and China have buckled under severe heat.
The report, notes that, in the coming decades, heatwaves are predicted to meet and exceed human physiological and social limits in regions such as the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and South and South-West Asia. Extreme heatwaves in these regions, where humanitarian needs are already high, would result in large-scale suffering and loss of life, population movements and further entrenched inequality, the report warns.
“The climate crisis is intensifying humanitarian emergencies all around the world. To avert its most devastating impacts, we must invest equally on adaptation and mitigation, particularly in the countries most at risk,” says Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the IFRC.
“At COP27, we will urge world leaders to ensure that this investment reaches local communities that are on the frontline of the climate crisis. If communities are prepared to anticipate climate risks and equipped to take action, we will prevent extreme weather events from becoming humanitarian disasters.”
Heatwaves prey on inequality, with the greatest impacts on isolated and marginalized people. The report stresses that the urgent priority must be large and sustained investments that mitigate climate change and support long-term adaptation for the most vulnerable people.
The report also finds that, although the impacts of extreme heat are global, some people are hit harder than others. Vulnerable communities, such as agricultural workers, are being pushed to the front lines while the elderly, children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women are at higher risk of illness and death.
The world’s lowest-income countries are already experiencing disproportionate increases in extreme heat. These countries are the least to blame for climate change, but they will see a significant increase in the number of at-risk people in the coming decades.
“Heatwaves account for some of the deadliest disasters on record,” Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.
“Devastating droughts like the one pushing Somalia to the brink of famine are made far deadlier when they combine with extreme heat. We can expect more of these in the future,” he added.
Scientists have repeatedly stressed the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), warning that crossing that threshold risks unleashing far more severe climate change effects on people, wildlife and ecosystems.
“Under 2°C of warming, an extreme-heat event is projected to be nearly 14 times as likely and to bring heat and humidity levels that are far more dangerous,” the report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Red Cross said.
“On current trajectories, heatwaves could meet and exceed these physiological and social limits in the coming decades, including in regions such as the Sahel, and South and South-West Asia,” it added.
The effects of recurrent heatwaves would include “large scale suffering and loss of life”, population movements and increased inequality, the report warned, adding that these trends were “already emerging”.
“It’s grossly unjust that fragile countries must bear deadly loss and damage from extreme heat when they are unambiguously and clearly and evidently the least responsible for climate change,” said Griffiths.
“Wealthier countries have the resources to help their people adapt and have made promises to do so. Poorer countries who are not responsible for these torturous heatwaves do not have those resources.”
The organisations’ report called on governments to urgently take “aggressive steps” to prevent a future of recurrent heat disasters.
“The single most important arena for action is in slowing and stopping climate change,” it said.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C could result in up to 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves and around 65 million fewer people being frequently exposed to ‘exceptional’ heatwaves.”
July 2022 (WMO)
Extreme heat in western Europe is causing devastating wildfires in France and Spain, unprecedented drought in Italy and Portugal, and the United Kingdom recorded its highest-ever temperature of just over 40 degrees Celsius during Tuesday, at London’s Heathrow airport.
With temperatures expected to remain above normal until the middle of next week, the World Metrological Organization (WMO) warned that heatwaves will occur more and more frequently, into the 2060s.
The pattern is linked to the observed warming of the planet that can be attributed to human activity, raising serious concerns for the planet’s future, the UN weather agency said.
Harvests at risk
“We are expecting to see major impacts on agriculture. During the previous heatwaves in Europe, we lost big parts of harvest. And under the current situation - we are already having the global food crisis because of the war in Ukraine - this heatwave is going to have a further negative impact on agricultural activities”, warned Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO at a press conference to launch the latest extreme weather findings, in Geneva.
In several countries, some economic sectors - including tourism that has only begun to fully recover in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic - are suffering as a result.
Further warming inevitable
“The negative trend in climate will continue at least until the 2060s, independent of our success in climate mitigation”, Mr. Taalas added. “We have already lost the game concerning the melting of glaciers. We expect that the melting of glaciers will continue for the coming hundreds of years or even coming thousands of years…Sea level rise will continue for the same period”.
Mr. Taalas reflected growing concerns over extreme weather patterns, in his sartorial selection on Tuesday, he told journalists, choosing to wear short sleeves and a red and blue tie, in recognition of the increasing number of red alerts flashing up across Europe.
The heatwave also acts as a kind of atmospheric lid, WHO explained, trapping pollutants, and degrading air quality, with adverse health consequences, particularly for vulnerable people such as the elderly. In the major 2003 heatwave in Europe, some 70,000 people died.
“Climate change is affecting our health in many ways, not only by heatwaves which are having direct consequences” but also other areas of essential healthcare, such as rising levels of disease, alerted Maria Neira, Director for public and environmental health at WHO.
She explained that reliable access to food and water is at stake, as with agricultural production levels at risk, “and there will be water scarcity for sure”.
She said that 99% of the global population is breathing air that does not meet the health standards set by WHO, hugely impacting chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
Ambition is key
“The best solution to this will be, again, being very ambitious on tackling the causes of this global warming. “We have been alerting for a long time that climate change is affecting very much human health”, she emphasized, which will also impact the struggle to reach net zero carbon emissions, and the crucial transition to clean, renewable sources of energy.
More deaths among the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are feared due to the ongoing heatwave in the weeks ahead, and subsequent challenges to health systems, to keep up with rising demand.
July 2022
Heat-related deaths on the rise worldwide. (Human Rights Watch)
As extreme heat warnings are being issued across Europe, over 1,100 people are thought to have died due to the ongoing heatwave in southern Europe. People with disabilities and older people are among those at particular risk of heat-related illness and death, a Human Rights Watch report about the impact of a heatwave in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) between June 25 and July 1 last year found. This heatwave killed hundreds of people. Many of the deaths would have been preventable.
In Australia, heatwaves have caused more deaths in the past 200 years than any other natural hazard. And as April temperatures hit nearly 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of northern India and Pakistan, at least 90 people died from heat-related causes. There is little doubt that climate change means heatwaves will increase in intensity and frequency.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published last April shows it is still possible to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as needed to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. However, it will require “rapid and deep” emissions cuts across all sectors, and government’s current track record is not promising.
Average annual greenhouse gas emissions from 2010-2019 were higher than in any previous decade, with fossil fuels and industry responsible for the largest growth in emissions. Meanwhile, government commitments to reduce emissions are not ambitious enough, implementation efforts are falling even further behind what is needed, and financing for fossil fuels is still greater than for climate adaptation and mitigation.
Given the foreseeable rise of extreme heatwaves, and the impact on at risk populations including older people, people with disabilities, pregnant people and people living in poverty, governments should have a clear plan to prevent future heat-related deaths and manage other severe health risks associated with heatwaves. Failing to take more ambitious climate action and a strengthening of rights-respecting climate policies will mean young people alive today are going to experience catastrophic warming this century and many more lives will be at risk.
July 2022
Lack of progress on loss and damage endangers international climate cooperation, CAN International, Christian Aid, agencies
It is a long way from Ighembe in northern Malawi to the Bonn negotiating rooms. The members of the local rice growers' cooperative have not heard of the UNFCCC. But they do know that the climate is changing around them, in ways that make it increasingly hard to sustain a living.
In January, Cyclone Ana hit three of the world's poorest nations: Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi. To date, it was the world's second deadliest weather event of 2022. Trees were toppled, roofs were ripped off buildings, and massive flash floods washed away roads and bridges. This is what the climate crisis looks like.
But there is a huge disconnect between pace at the global negotiations and the urgency of climate action needed now. Specifically, funding for efforts by communities on the frontline of the crisis to withstand climate shocks is lagging far behind the growing scale of need.
At the recent Bonn climate talks, the poorest countries made impassioned calls to put 'loss and damage' on the agenda, recognise the 'polluter pays' principle, and compensate climate-affected communities for the fallout from the crisis.
Yet efforts to establish a Finance Facility were swept aside, with no agreement on how to advance this agenda at the UN climate talks in November, at COP27.
Loss and damage – those irreversible and uninsurable climate impacts beyond what can be adapted to by communities and countries - is not a future threat.
Between 2010 and 2020 climate and weather-related disasters carried an average annual cost of $170 billion per year – roughly equivalent to global aid spending. Increasingly frequent and severe floods, storms, and droughts are destroying agricultural land, homes, schools, hospitals, and roads. Rising sea levels threaten the assets of millions of people.
Plenty of critics, in civil society and among governments in climate-vulnerable countries, believe that the big carbon-emitting countries are actively seeking to obstruct progress on loss and damage, for fear of signing an open cheque. Yet while governments haggle, those people who did the least to cause the climate crisis are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and debt.
The ultimate test of climate talks will be whether they protect current and future generations from the worst effects of the crisis and keep the world within the 1.5 degree limits agreed at Paris in 2015.
For that to happen, fairness has to be the guiding principle. In a new report Christian Aid, together with civil society partners, has set out what an equitable solution to loss and damage would entail, and its benefits.
Acting now on loss and damage will protect the global economy and preserve precious development gains. It will also be a lot less costly to rich countries than passing the buck and playing for time.
Conversely, failure to act will erode the poorest countries' trust in the Paris Climate agreement will be eroded – something that is already a scarce commodity.
If the official UN process is seen to be failing to deliver, climate legal action will increasingly take its place. Litigation has more than doubled since 2015, with Small Island States using the courts to hold historical polluters accountable.
By providing new and additional loss and damage funds at the necessary scale, developed countries can instead choose to reconcile different interests, and rebuild trust. New payment mechanisms must also be set up for the fossil fuel industry to pay its fair share of the loss and damage they have knowingly caused.
There are countless villages like Ighembe across the world, where the human suffering caused by the climate crisis is deepening and widening. The fact that this suffering is greatest among people who've done least to contribute to the problem is an injustice.
It is time that the richest countries, their wealth built on greenhouse gas emissions, recognise their role in tackling this injustice. Without it, the future of international cooperation on climate change is at risk.
* Author: Patrick Watt is chief executive at Christian Aid:
* Report: Loss and Damage Finance Facility – Why and How - prepared by the following cooperating organisations: CAN International, Christian Aid; Heinrich Boll Stiftung (Washington, DC); Practical Action & Stamp Out Poverty:

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