People's Stories Environment

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide levels reach new world record
by NOAA, DW, Al Jazeera, Guardian News, agencies
5 June 2023
Carbon dioxide levels measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked at 424 parts per million (ppm) in May, continuing a steady climb further into territory not seen for millions of years, scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego announced today.
Measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) obtained by NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory averaged 424 parts per million in May, the month when CO2 peaks in the Northern Hemisphere. That represents an increase of 3.0 ppm over May 2022.
Scientists at Scripps Oceanography, which maintains an independent record, calculated a May monthly average of 423.78 ppm. That increase is also a jump of 3.0 ppm over the May 2022 average reported by the Scripps CO2 Program.
“Sadly we’re setting a new record,” said Scripps Oceanography geoscientist Ralph Keeling, who oversees the iconic Keeling Curve record established by his father 65 years ago. “What we’d like to see is the curve plateauing and even falling because carbon dioxide as high as 420 or 425 parts per million is not good. It shows as much as we’ve done to mitigate and reduce emissions, we still have a long way to go.”
CO2 levels are now more than 50% higher than they were before the onset of the industrial era.
“Every year we see carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere increase as a direct result of human activity,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “Every year, we see the impacts of climate change in the heat waves, droughts, flooding, wildfires and storms happening all around us. While we will have to adapt to the climate impacts we cannot avoid, we must expend every effort to slash carbon pollution and safeguard this planet and the life that calls it home.”
CO2 pollution is generated by burning fossil fuels for transportation and electrical generation, by cement manufacturing, deforestation, agriculture and many other practices. Like other greenhouse gases, CO2 traps heat radiating from the planet’s surface that would otherwise escape into space, amplifying extreme weather events, such as heat waves, drought and wildfires, as well as precipitation and flooding.
Rising CO2 levels also pose a threat to the world's ocean, which absorbs both CO2 gas and excess heat from the atmosphere. Impacts include increasing surface and subsurface ocean temperatures and the disruption of marine ecosystems, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, which changes the chemistry of seawater, leading to lower dissolved oxygen, and interferes with the growth of marine organisms.
June 2023
The world is at a “tipping point” in the climate crisis that requires all countries to put aside their national interests to fight for the common good, the UN’s top climate official has warned.
Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, pointed to recent findings from scientists that temperatures were likely to exceed the threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels within the next five years.
“Climate change is accelerating, and we are lagging behind in our actions to stem it,” he warned. “Remember the best available science, which doesn’t arbitrate on who needs to do what or who is responsible for what. The science tells us where we are and highlights the scale of response which is required.”
Stiell was addressing representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered in Bonn, the UN’s climate headquarters, to discuss how to forge a “course correction” that would put the world on track to meet the aspirations of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and limit global heating to 1.5C.
He urged countries to put aside their differences, after more than 30 years of negotiations since the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was signed in 1992.
The Bonn conference, a preparatory meeting intended to lay the technical groundwork for the much bigger Cop28 summit that starts in November, opened amid long-simmering contentions. The start of the conference was delayed by two hours as delegates wrangled over the agenda for the next nine days of talks, and the talks have had to start work with a draft agenda while arguments rumbled on.
The Guardian understands that the EU and many developing countries wanted an agenda item to discuss the “mitigation work programme”, which deals with countries’ commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while China fought for a mandate to discuss countries’ plans for adapting to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Other key sources of contention included a resolution to phase out fossil fuels, the role of renewable energy, the issue of loss and damage, which refers to funds to help rescue and rehabilitate poor countries struck by climate disaster, and the global stocktake, which is an assessment of how far off track governments are in meeting their Paris pledges.
Stiell did not name these issues directly, but urged governments to find common ground. “There is at times tension between national interest and the global common good. I urge delegates to be brave, to see that by prioritising the common good, you also serve your national interests – and act accordingly,” he said.
The world needs to phase out fossil fuels if it wants to curb devastating global warming, the United Nations climate chief said, but the idea might not even make it onto the agenda of “make-or-break” negotiations.
The phase-out of heat-trapping fossil fuels “is something that is at top of every discussion or most discussions that are taking place”, Simon Stiell said.
“It is an issue that has global attention. How that translates into a climate talks outcome – we will see.”
Stiell said he could not promise ending the use of coal, oil, and natural gas would get a spot on the agenda in climate talks, called COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, later this year.
That agenda decision is up to the president of the negotiations – Sultan Al Jaber, head of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company – Stiell said.
The decision by the host nation UAE to make Al Jaber the head of the climate conference has drawn fierce opposition from lawmakers in Europe and the United States, as well as environmental advocates.
Last year at climate talks, a proposal by India to phase out all fossil fuels, supported by the US and many European nations, never got on the agenda. What gets discussed is decided by the COP president, who last year was the foreign minister of Egypt, a natural gas exporting nation.
Stiell walked a fine line between talking about the importance of a fossil fuel phase-out and supporting the UN process that has put countries that export oil and natural gas in charge of negotiations about global warming for two consecutive years.
About 94 percent of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that human industrial activity put in the air last year was from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, according to the scientists who monitor emissions at Global Carbon Project.
The issue of a coal, oil and natural gas phase-out is central to the fight against climate change, but the real issue is getting something done, Stiell said.
In public appearances, Al Jaber has emphasised being “laser-focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions,” not necessarily the fuels themselves, by promoting carbon capture and removal of the pollutant from the air.
Stiell dismissed the idea that carbon removal can be a short-term solution.
“Right now, in this critical decade of action to achieve those deep reductions, the science tells us it can only be achieved through the reduced use, significantly reduced use, of all fossil fuels,” he said.
The United Arab Emirates’ approach to the Cop28 climate summit it will preside over in November is “very dangerous” and a “direct threat to the survival of vulnerable nations”, according to the UN’s former climate chief.
Christiana Figueres, who was pivotal to the delivery of the landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015, also said the country holding the presidency of the UN summit could not put forward its own position and had to be neutral.
The UAE is a big oil and gas producer, and the designated president of the Cop28 summit is Sultan Al Jaber, who is also the head of the UAE’s national oil and gas company, Adnoc.
Figueres was responding to a speech by Al Jaber in which he said: “We must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, while phasing up viable, affordable zero carbon alternatives.”
That was widely interpreted to mean using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to capture CO2 emissions, and not completely phasing out fossil fuels themselves. “The fact that ‘emissions’ is in that sentence is very worrisome,” said Figueres.
“So he is trying to dance on two dancefloors at the same time. He is trying to say: ‘Look, those of us who are producers of fossil fuels will be responsible for our emissions through enhanced carbon capture and storage. And we, or the Cop presidency, will also support the zero carbon alternatives.’”
“The fact that he thinks the [fossil fuel] energy used today will continue to be part of the global energy mix for the ‘foreseeable future’, I can see that from a UAE perspective,” Figueres said, adding that foreseeable is a “long time”.
“But from a Cop president perspective, it’s very dangerous. I just don’t see most countries, and certainly not the vulnerable countries, being willing to support the Cop president on this because it is a direct threat to their survival.”
“When you are the president of the Cop, you cannot put forward the position of the country that you’re coming from. You have to be able to be neutral.”
The world must slash CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 to have a chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C. Figueres said: “We do not have CCS commercially available and viable over the next five to seven years. It’s just not going to happen.”
Madeleine Diouf Sarr, the chair of the least developed countries grouping at the UN negotiations, urged all nations to act in the interests of the most vulnerable.
“The success of Cop28 hinges on progress achieved at this Bonn conference. We have to lay the foundations for a Cop28 decision that leads to the curbing of global emissions in line with the 1.5C target and increased funds provided to our countries so we can address the impacts of climate change,” she said.
In a bid to stop heat waves getting hotter and coastal floods stronger, world leaders promised in 2015 to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F) above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century. But their current policies are set to nearly double that temperature increase.
To meet their targets, scientists have said, world leaders must immediately burn less coal, oil and gas — and make deep and rapid cuts to emissions in all sectors.
* Why Carbon Capture is Not a Climate Solution - Center for International Environmental Law
The world is confronting a climate emergency. Avoiding climate catastrophe requires immediate and dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are possible only with a significant investment of resources in proven mitigation measures, beginning with eliminating fossil fuel use and halting deforestation.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) will not address these core drivers of the climate crisis or meaningfully reduce GHG emissions, and should not distract from real climate solutions. CCS and CCUS technologies are not only unnecessary for the rapid transformation required to keep warming under 1.5°C, they delay that transformation, providing the fossil fuel industry with a license to continue polluting.
The unproven scalability of CCS technologies and their prohibitive costs mean they cannot play any significant role in the rapid reduction of global emissions necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C. Despite the existence of the technology for decades and billions of dollars in government subsidies to date, deployment of CCS at scale still faces insurmountable challenges of feasibility, effectiveness, and expense.
In 2021, the 1,500 member-organizations of Climate Action Network (CAN) International adopted a shared position statement that the largest network of climate organizations worldwide “does not consider currently envisioned CCS applications as proven sustainable climate solutions.” The organizations warned that CCS “risks distracting from the need to take concerted action across multiple sectors in the near-term to dramatically reduce emissions.”
Accordingly, CAN urged that “all government subsidies, loans, grants, tax credit, incentives, and financial support for fossil fuels and technologies that use or otherwise support the continued use of fossil fuels, including CCS, should be phased out as soon as possible.”
* The Universal Rights Network notes with concern that Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies were cited in a section of the most recent IPCC report.
"The key section of the IPCC report, which ignited the controversy, was fiercely fought over by scientists and governments up until the last moments before the document was finalised. The handful of mentions of CDR in the final 36-page summary for policymakers – which distils the key messages and is compiled by scientists alongside government representatives from any UN member that wants to take part – were only inserted after hours of desperate wrangling.
Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries were most insistent that CDR and CCS should be included and emphasised. In the end, nine references to CDR were left in the summary, and several more to CCS. “Saudi Arabia.. tried to take out references to renewable energy and tried to insist that references to carbon capture should be in there instead of, or at least as well as, renewables.”
But many scientists, campaigners and green experts are unhappy with the references. They fear that giving the impression there are viable options for removing carbon dioxide might engender a false sense of security. Most CDR technologies are unproven, are likely to be limited in scope, take years to develop and will cost large amounts of money.
Lili Fuhr, the director of the climate and energy programme at the Center for International Environmental Law, said: “We need to challenge the idea that we have to do less now, because we can do more later, with technofixes. This is a dangerous idea.”


World Environment Day - A global movement against plastic pollution
by UNEP, OHCHR, Greenpeace, agencies
June 2023
More than 150 countries are expected to participate in this year’s World Environment Day on 5 June, while millions are likely to engage through in-person and online activities. This year’s theme focuses on solutions to plastic pollution.
The stakes could not be higher, as humanity produces over 430 million tonnes of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste. While the social and economic costs of plastic pollution range between $US300 to US$600 billion per year.
“We must refuse single-use plastic items,” says Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “We must use less plastic. We must reuse, recycle and diversify our systems. We must keep plastics out of our ecosystems. Everyone must play their part.”
Experts hope that the gathering momentum from communities around the world calling on governments, financial institutions and industries to take effective action to overcome and reverse the plastic pollution crisis will spur change.
World Environment Day: Beat Plastic Pollution Guide:
June 2025
UN experts warn of “toxic tidal wave” as plastic pollutes environment and threatens human rights. (OHCHR)
The world must beat the toxic tidal wave of plastic pollution that threatens human rights, UN experts* said today, urging States and other stakeholders to put rights at the centre of the international treaty on plastic pollution currently under negotiation. Ahead of World Environment Day, they issued the following joint statement:
“Plastic production has increased exponentially over recent decades and today the world is generating 400 million tonnes of plastic waste yearly.
All stages of the plastics cycle have adverse impacts on human rights. We are in the middle of an overwhelming toxic tidal wave as plastic pollutes our environment and negatively impacts human rights in a myriad of ways over its life cycle.
For example, plastic production releases hazardous substances and almost exclusively relies on fossil fuels, while plastic itself contains toxic chemicals, posing serious risks and harms to human health, human rights and the environment. At the end of its life as a consumer good, plastic waste pollutes our planet, with 85% of single use plastics sent to landfills or dumped in the environment. False and misleading solutions, such as incineration or recycling of toxics-laden plastics, aggravate the plastic threat.
Plastic, microplastic and the hazardous substances they contain can be found in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
While everyone is affected by the negative human rights impacts of plastic, the level of exposure to plastic-related pollution and waste affects marginalised communities the most. We are particularly concerned about groups suffering from environmental injustices due to heightened exposure to plastic pollution, many of them living in 'sacrifice zones'.
The contribution of plastic pollution to climate change is alarming, yet often overlooked. For instance, plastic particles found in oceans limit the ability of marine ecosystems to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
It is shocking to witness how the omnipresence of plastics impacts human rights in many different ways, including the rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food, water and an adequate standard of living.
States and businesses have specific human rights obligations which apply in the context of the fight against plastics pollution.
Over the last two years, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly adopted landmark resolutions recognising the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which includes non-toxic environments where people can live, work, study and play. This should prompt and guide initiatives addressing plastic pollution.
There is an urgent need to prioritise reduction in production and use of plastic, detoxification and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We note the discussions taking place by member States towards a comprehensive and internationally binding instrument on plastic pollution and urge its completion by the end of 2024. It is essential that States and other stakeholders employ a human rights-based approach to beat plastic pollution.”
*The experts: David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights.
Dec. 2022
Key human rights considerations for the negotiations to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. (OHCHR)
Our planet is polluted by plastics which contain chemicals that are seriously harmful to people and the environment. Plastics are accumulating in food chains, contaminating water, soil, and air, and releasing hazardous substances into the environment. Most plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave. Recent scientific studies have found microplastics in human blood, lungs, and placenta, as well as in livestock feed and milk and meat products.
Exposure to toxic chemicals often found in plastics can also affect future generations, impacting fertility, shortening gestation periods, and lowering birth weights.
Yet, there is still no globally binding agreement to comprehensively address plastic pollution. The plastics cycle has become a global threat to all human rights, including the rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food, water and sanitation, equality and non-discrimination, and housing.
The true cost of plastic production and use is foisted on everyone; however, the plastic crisis has disproportionate impacts on persons, groups and peoples in vulnerable situations such as children, women, Indigenous Peoples, coastal communities, people living in extreme poverty, surrounding communities affected by plastic production facilities, and workers at heightened risk of occupational exposure, including waste-pickers.
These same communities often lack the means for recourse to adequate access to health care, information, and opportunities to protect themselves from exposure to the impacts of the plastics cycle and access to remedy. Yet, the cost of production and use of plastics being imposed on us all has been largely unremarked.
On 2 March 2022, at the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), Resolution 5/14 titled “End plastic pollution: towards an international legally binding instrument” was adopted, calling for the development of a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, with the ambition to complete the negotiations by the end of 2024.
This is a unique opportunity for the international community to stop the contribution of plastics to the triple planetary crisis by establishing a binding framework to protect human rights, including the rights to health and a healthy environment, from plastic pollution.
June 2023
Greenpeace International, 174 civil society groups and independent scientists
Plastic pollution has flooded our planet, harming people’s health, accelerating social injustice, destroying biodiversity and fuelling the climate crisis. Indeed scientists at the Stockholm Institute recently alerted the public that plastic pollution had already ‘exceeded safe planetary boundaries,’ threatening the very stability of the earth’s system.
Despite this, the production of virgin plastics - 99% of which are made from oil and gas - is increasing year on year. And with giant fossil fuel and petrochemical companies investing heavily in building yet more production capacity and petrochemical facilities, this growth is set to continue. Indeed, according to industry estimates, plastic production could double within the next 10-15 years, and triple by 2050.
Scientists and civil society groups from around the world agree that it is essential that the UN Plastics Treaty agrees a roadmap for dramatically reducing plastic production, a view already supported by several governments.
It is clear that the fossil fuel lobby is actively working to prevent the Plastics Treaty from containing essential controls on plastic production. It is not just the signatories of this letter who hold this view. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently said “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the interests of the plastics industry and businesses deeply implicated throughout its supply chain and the human rights and policy interests of people affected by the plastics crisis. The plastic industry has disproportionate power and influence over policy relative to the general public.”
Given the industry's power and influence - both within the UN and over national and regional governments - there is a strong risk that, unless measures to inhibit their influence are put in place, it will be impossible to negotiate the Global Plastics Treaty that people and the planet need. To avoid their vested, private economic interests being placed before those of the planet and human health, the power of fossil fuel and petrochemical companies needs to be acknowledged and addressed.
The Global Plastics Treaty offers an historic opportunity to address plastic pollution for all. Its success depends on Member States being able to negotiate in good faith, prioritizing input from those most affected and based on the best available, independent science. To achieve these shared goals, UNEP must implement the measures to prevent the undue influence of the fossil fuel and petrochemical companies, which have a vested interest in perpetuating the plastic pollution crisis.
May 2021
Businesses and banks behind global plastic waste crisis. (Minderoo Foundation)
Analysis reveals the source and true scale of the global plastic waste crisis. It shows just 20 companies – supported by a small group of financial backers – are responsible for producing over 50 per cent of ‘throwaway’ single-use plastic that ends up as waste worldwide. Published by Minderoo Foundation, the ‘Plastic Waste Makers Index’ has been developed with partners including experts from the London School of Economics and Stockholm Environment Institute among others.
Made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, single-use plastics are the most commonly discarded type of plastic, too frequently becoming pollution. A small group of petrochemical companies who manufacture ‘polymers’ – the building block of plastics – is revealed as the source of the crisis:
Twenty companies are the source of half of all single-use plastic thrown away globally. ExxonMobil tops the list – contributing 5.9 million tonnes to global plastic waste – closely followed by US chemicals company Dow and China’s Sinopec. One hundred companies are behind 90 per cent of global single-use plastic production.
Close to 60 per cent of the commercial finance funding single-use production comes from just 20 global banks. A total of US$30 billion of loans from these institutions – including Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America among others – has gone to the sector since 2011.
Twenty asset managers – led by US companies Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group – hold over US$300 billion worth of shares in the parent companies of single-use plastic polymer producers.
“The plastification of our oceans and the warming of our planet are amongst the greatest threats humanity and nature have ever confronted,” explains Dr Andrew Forrest, businessman and co-founder of the Minderoo Foundation. “Global efforts will not be enough to reverse this crisis unless government, business and financial leaders act in our children’s and grandchildren’s interests.
“This means: stop making new plastic and start using recycled plastic waste, it means re-allocate capital from virgin producers to those using recycled materials, and importantly, it means redesigned plastic so it does no harm and is compostable, so like every other element, it returns to its original molecules, not nano-plastics. And we must act now. Because while we bicker, the oceans are getting trashed with plastic and the environment is getting destroyed by global warming,” Dr Forrest said.
“Tracing the root causes of the plastic waste crisis empowers us to help solve it,” adds Al Gore, former US Vice President. “The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined. As awareness of the toll of plastic pollution has grown, the petrochemical industry has told us it’s our own fault and has directed attention toward behavior change from end-users of these products, rather than addressing the problem at its source.”


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