People's Stories Environment

Dramatic Arctic fires and sea ice melt, show need for urgent climate action
by World Meteorological Organization (WMO), agencies
24 July 2020 (UN News, agencies)
“Exceptional and prolonged” temperatures in Siberia, have left parts of the Arctic warmer than sub-tropical Florida, and fuelled “devastating” wildfires for a second consecutive year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday, while warning also of rapidly decreasing sea ice along the Russian polar coast.
According to the UN agency, temperatures in Siberia have been more than 5C above average from January to June, and in June up to 10C above average.
“Some parts of Siberia this week have again topped 30 degrees Celsius – so it’s been warmer in Siberia than…many parts of Florida”, said WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis at a press conference in Geneva.
“We’ve had exceptional and prolonged heat for months now and this has fuelled devastating Arctic fires; and at the same time we’re seeing rapidly decreasing sea coverage along the Arctic coast”, she continued, noting that their estimated total carbon emissions since January are the highest in 18 years, when the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service of wildfires began.
The development follows an astonishing reading of 38°C in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk on 20 June.
This has been confirmed by the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet).
The cause of the prolonged furnace-like conditions, is the “blocking” action of a vast weather front over the Arctic, along with a “persistent northward swing of the jet stream” which has been sending warm air into the region, journalists heard.
“The Arctic is heating more than twice as fast as the global average, impacting local populations and ecosystems and with global repercussions”, Ms. Nullis said, adding that such extreme heat would have been almost impossible without the influence of human-induced climate change.
Worrying footage of the forest fires close to the ocean have underscored the need for urgent climate action by nations and greater commitment to achieving the pledges made in the Paris Climate Agreement, the WMO spokesperson insisted, including efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Data from Wednesday showed 188 probable points of fire in Siberia, according to Roshydromet, with blazes particularly intense in Russia’s Sakha Republic and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, in the far northeast of Siberia.
Both areas have experienced much warmer conditions than usual in past months. Russian authorities have also declared that there is an extreme fire hazard throughout western Siberia, WMO reported.
Wildfire smoke contains pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds and solid aerosol particles, the UN agency said in a statement, which noted that Arctic wildfires emitted the equivalent of 56 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in June.
“We’re seeing, dramatic satellite images, which show the extent of the burns surface; the fire front of the northern-most currently active Arctic wildfire is less than eight kilometres from the Arctic ocean – this should not be happening,” Ms. Nullis said.
Accelerating ice retreat along the Arctic Russian coast in the spring, has accelerated since late June, leading to very low sea ice extent in the Laptev and Barents Seas, WMO also warned.
Changes to weather at the poles will likely affect other more distant and populated places too, Ms. Nullis cautioned, thanks to a phenomenon known as “teleconnections”.
These are observed in weather events including El Nino, where cold and dry air reaches places that are more used to seeing warmer, wetter conditions.
“In general, the Arctic is heating more than twice the global average”, Ms. Nullis said. “It’s having a big impact on local populations and ecosystems, but we always say that what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic, it does affect our weather in different parts of the world where hundreds of millions of people live.”


Conditions are rife for next pandemic unless urgent action is taken, WWF warns
by Marco Lambertini
Director General of WWF International, agencies
June 2020
In a new report ‘COVID 19: urgent call to protect people and nature’, WWF says that the environmental factors driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases are: the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, land-use change leading to deforestation and conversion, expansion of agriculture and unsustainable intensification and animal production.
While the world continues to grapple with the devastating consequences of COVID-19, WWF is calling for urgent global action to address the key drivers it has identified which will cause future zoonotic disease outbreaks.
In a new report ‘COVID 19: urgent call to protect people and nature’, WWF says that the environmental factors driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases are: the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, land-use change leading to deforestation and conversion, expansion of agriculture and unsustainable intensification and animal production.
Numerous warnings from scientists and thought leaders, such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), have been made about the risk of a global pandemic. WEF ranked pandemics and infectious diseases as one of the top global risks over a decade ago, posing ‘an acute threat to human life’.
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International said: “We must urgently recognize the links between the destruction of nature and human health, or we will soon see the next pandemic. We must curb the high risk trade and consumption of wildlife, halt deforestation and land conversion as well as manage food production sustainably. All these actions will help prevent the spillover of pathogens to humans, and also address other global risks to our society like biodiversity loss and climate change. There is no debate, and the science is clear; we must work with nature, not against it. Unsustainable exploitation of nature has become an enormous risk to us all.”
Questions remain about the exact origins of COVID-19, but all available evidence suggests that it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from wildlife to humans. The government of China announced a comprehensive ban on the consumption of wild animals on 24 February, which WWF supports and now, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is supporting the revision of the existing law on the protection of wildlife, which, if implemented in full, could position China’s Wildlife Protection Law as one of the world's most robust and stringent. Other governments must also follow suit and close their high-risk wildlife markets and end this trade once and for all.
However, addressing high-risk wildlife trade and consumption in isolation will not be enough to prevent the next pandemic - our unsustainable global food system is driving large-scale conversion of natural spaces for agriculture, fragmenting natural ecosystems and increasing interactions between wildlife, livestock and humans. Since 1990, 178 million hectares of forest have been cleared, which is equivalent to the size of Libya, the 18th largest country in the world, and around 10 million hectares of forest are still being lost each year through conversion to agriculture and other land uses.
A current tragedy is unfolding too in Brazil with a surge in deforestation accelerating due to cuts in enforcement by the federal government, and this was after a 64 per cent increase in deforestation had already been seen in April compared to last year.
The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that systemic changes must be made to address the environmental drivers of pandemics. WWF is advocating a ‘One Health’ approach linking the health of people, animals and our shared environment and wants this to be included in decision making on wildlife and land use change. This should also be incorporated within all business and financing decisions, particularly related to global health.
“In the midst of this tragedy there is an opportunity to heal our relationship with nature and mitigate risks of future pandemics but a better future starts with the decisions governments, companies and people around the world take today.” said Lambertini.
“World leaders must take urgent action to transform our relationship with the natural world. We need a New Deal for Nature and People that sets nature on the path to recovery by 2030 and safeguards human health and livelihoods in the long-term.”
WWF highlights the upcoming UN Biodiversity Summit, scheduled to take place in September 2020, as a key moment for world leaders to accelerate action on nature ahead of critical decisions on the environment, climate and development, now due to be taken in 2021. Together, these decisions represent an unmissable opportunity to transform our relationship with nature and secure a sustainable future for people and the planet.
July 2020 (UN Environment Programme: UNEP)
Peventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission identifies seven trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, including a growing demand for animal protein, unsustainable farming practices and the global climate crisis.
It also sets out 10 practical steps that nations can take right now, including expanded research into zoonotic diseases, improved monitoring and regulation of food systems, and incentivizing sustainable land management practices.
In particular, the report recommends that governments adopt a “One Health” approach that brings together public health, veterinary and environmental expertise to prevent and respond to zoonotic disease outbreaks.
Preventing the Next Pandemic is a joint effort by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
“The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
“Pandemics are devastating to our lives and our economies, and as we have seen over the past months, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who suffer the most,” she added. “To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment.”
COVID-19, latest in line
As the report explains, COVID-19 is only the latest in a growing number of disease, which – including Ebola, MERS and West Nile fever – whose spread from animal hosts into human populations has been intensified by anthropogenic pressures, or human impact on the environment.
Excluding the spiraling cost of the coronavirus pandemic that has so far claimed more than 500,000 lives – every year some two million individuals, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, die from neglected zoonotic diseases.
While zoonotic diseases are on the rise worldwide, Africa has the potential to leverage its experience to tackle future outbreaks through approaches that incorporate human, animal and environmental health, according to the report.
“The situation on the continent today is ripe for intensifying existing zoonotic diseases and facilitating the emergence and spread of new ones,” said ILRI Director-General Jimmy Smith. “But with their experiences with Ebola and other emerging diseases, African countries are demonstrating proactive ways to manage disease outbreaks”.
Welcoming the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a new ambitious framework to protect and sustainably use biodiversity to be adopted.
“To prevent future outbreaks, countries need to conserve wild habitats, promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen food safety standards, monitor and regulate food markets, invest in technology to identify risks, and curb the illegal trade in wildlife,” he said.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook