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When climate coverage ignores the global South, it’s bad for everyone
by Mark Hertsgaard and Saleemul Huq
Covering Climate Now, agencies
Climate change amounts to an undeclared, deeply unjust war against the global poor. Though they have emitted almost none of the heat-trapping gases that have raised global temperatures to their highest levels in civilization’s history, it is the poor—especially in low-income countries in Asia, Africa, and South America—who suffer first and worst from overheating the planet.
For more than a decade, perilous, climate-driven events in wealthier nations have been preceded by counterparts in the global South. The deadly heat that has brutalized the American West—and rightly attracted headline news coverage—these past few weeks? That kind of heat has been killing and immiserating people across the Sahel in Africa for many years—for example, in Burkina Faso, where, as one local journalist lamented with tears in his eyes, the suffering was especially heartbreaking among “the old, the old” people in his village.
The sea-level rise that is increasingly inundating Venice, despite the $6 billion spent on elaborate sea barriers meant to protect the city’s treasures? Rising seas have been slashing rice yields in Bangladesh for a decade, as salty ocean water intrudes farther and farther inland onto the soil of the tabletop-flat delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.
Recent scholarly studies and social media posts have suggested that this summer’s unprecedented heat and unfolding fire season might finally help more Americans acknowledge the realities of climate change. Perhaps now, the thinking goes, more of them will realize that climate change is not only real and dangerous—it’s happening, right now, to them or people just like them.
But those realities have been clear for some time: The global poor have been living, and dying, from such climate-driven disasters for years—and with much less attention from the world media.
A glaring example came last week, when virtually every news outlet in the global North ignored a landmark meeting where leaders of low-income countries articulated their positions prior to the make-or-break United Nations COP26 climate summit in November. This V20 meeting—so named for the 20 countries that founded the Climate Vulnerable Forum in 2009—was hosted by Bangladesh in its capital city, Dhaka, on July 8.
Heads of government or finance ministers from 48 countries that are exceptionally vulnerable to climate change and inhabited by a combined two billion people attended the Dhaka summit in person or online. So did John Kerry, US president Joe Biden’s international climate envoy; António Guterres, the UN Secretary General; David Malpass, the president of the World Bank Group; and the heads of development banks in Asia and Africa.
Much of the world media was nowhere to be seen. V20 organizers made it as convenient as possible for European and American news organizations to cover the Dhaka event. Online streaming provided real-time access to the proceedings, in a choice of languages: English, French, Spanish, or Arabic. Mindful of the time differences involved—Dhaka is five hours ahead of London, ten hours ahead of New York—organizers even scheduled the event for late night Bangladesh time: it was 10:30pm local time when the opening session began.
Nevertheless, it appears that the only coverage by a global North news outlet was a 750-word story by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the Thomson Reuters global news and information service. And apparently the only places that story was picked up were the websites of the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the Daily Mail newspaper in Britain.
It’s inconceivable that the world media would treat a G7 or G20 summit like this. When leaders of the world’s seven richest per-capita countries met in June, broadcast networks and newspapers across the global North provided daily coverage before, during, and after the summit. There was abundant coverage again last week when finance ministers of the world’s twenty richest countries announced a tax plan on multinational corporations.
The contrasting silence about the V20 summit reveals a double standard on the part of global North news organizations. The unmistakable, if unwitting, message is that some voices in the global climate discussion count much more than others.
Correcting this double standard is not merely a matter of fairness; it’s also about telling the climate story accurately and in full in the lead-up to the crucial COP26 summit.
Had newsrooms in the global North tuned in, they would have seen that the V20 summit in fact made plenty of news. V20 heads of government reminded rich countries of their pledge under the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to provide $100 billion a year in climate aid to poor countries.
UN Secretary General Guterres and the COP26 president, British MP Alok Sharma, reiterated the point. More surprising, given the US’s patchy history around these issues, Kerry also endorsed the idea, calling the $100 billion in annual aid “imperative.”
V20 finance ministers also announced that each of their countries is creating a National Climate Prosperity Plan to boost resilience to climate impacts and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, while also building economic prosperity.
But to achieve these goals, low-income countries need financial help—which rich countries have promised, but mostly failed to deliver, for years now.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development claims to have given $79 billion in 2018 (the last year with reliable data)—a claim that unfortunately was taken at face value in the Thomson Reuters Foundation article.
An analysis by Oxfam, the anti-poverty NGO,found that this figure is wildly inflated, based on dodgy definitions and accounting tricks; for example, 75 percent of the aid was given as loans, not grants. A more accurate figure, Oxfam concluded, is $20 billion a year.
This aid shortfall carries profound implications, not only for the global poor but for the rich’s own prospects of survival. One of every four people on earth live in the 48 countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum. If those countries lack the means to choose a green energy future over a brown one, there is zero hope of limiting temperature rise to 1.5° C.
In that event, the rich as well as the poor will suffer, as the current heat and fire in the American West—which are occurring after “only” 1.1° C of temperature rise—painfully demonstrate.
All this amounts to news that could hardly be more urgent for people to hear, wherever they happen to live on this planet. It’s past time the world media treated it that way.
http://coveringclimatenow.org/climate-beat-story/the-medias-climate-blindspot/ http://thecvf.org/ http://powershiftafrica.org/cop-26-a-five-point-plan-for-solidarity-prosperity-and-fairness/ http://climatenetwork.org/ http://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/07/15/developing-nations-put-numbers-table-next-climate-finance-goal/ http://coveringclimatenow.org/climate-beat/
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Extreme heat events are getting worse, precisely because of human-caused climate change
by IFRC, WMO, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, agencies
IFRC warns human-caused climate change made record-breaking heatwave 150 times more likely, putting lives at risk
Recent rocketing temperatures are having a severe impact on millions of people and putting lives at risk, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned.
Last week’s record-breaking heatwave in parts of the US and Canada, would have been virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change. This is according to a rapid attribution analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. The analysis found that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “Right now, we are witnessing heat records topple as temperatures rise, with terrifying consequences for millions of people around the world.
“We are responding on the ground, and thanks to our investment in anticipatory action, we are able to better prepare for these crises.”
From wildfires and drought to heat exhaustion and serious heat-related health risks, communities across the globe are struggling to cope with the increased temperatures and frequency of heatwaves.
“The Red Cross and Red Crescent network cannot combat the devastating impact of the climate crisis alone,” added Rocca. “There must be a concerted global effort to deal with the climate emergency, which represents the biggest threat to the future of the planet and its people.”
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working with those hit hardest by the current heatwaves and those who are most at risk from soaring temperatures – including older people, homeless people, people with COVID-19 and underlying health conditions, those living in isolated areas, and refugees and migrants.
The Head of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Maarten van Aalst, said: “Heatwaves topped the global charts of deadliest disasters in both 2019 and 2020. Here we have another terrible example – sadly no longer a surprise but part of a very worrying global trend. Many of these deaths can be prevented by adaptation to the hotter heatwaves that we are confronting in the Americas and around the world.”
In the US, American Red Cross teams are working in cooling centres and shelters to support people escaping the dangerous heatwaves, while the Canadian Red Cross is on hand to work with emergency services to respond to deadly wildfires.
In Europe, Red Cross volunteers are providing health and social care support to older and vulnerable people put in danger by the scorching temperatures.
In Pakistan this year, some of the hottest temperatures on record have scorched areas of Sindh province and Pakistan Red Crescent health teams have been helping people, including bike riders and others exposed to extreme heat as they are compelled to work outside earning daily wages.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan Red Crescent and the IFRC are working together to provide urgent cash and food assistance for more than 210,000 people, as one of the worst droughts in decades threatens the food and water supplies.
In the Middle East, Red Crescent Societies, including those in Iran, Iraq and Syria, have been responding to the drought affecting the lives of millions of people. In Saudi Arabia, the Red Crescent has organized a nationwide campaign on mitigating the health hazards caused by the temperatures climbing up to 50C.
As the number of climate-related emergencies increase globally each year, the IFRC and its National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are increasing their support to the most vulnerable communities around the world.
Dying from the heat, by Peter Gleick - a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and a hydroclimatologist writing for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
No one wants to be a statistic in a climate disaster—an anonymous entry in a dataset of extreme events. But sometimes things sneak up on you. A couple of weeks ago, during one of the extraordinary and severe heat events striking western North America, I almost suffered from heat stroke.
You’d think I would know better—I’m a climate scientist and hydrologist. I’ve been researching, writing about, and discussing climate and weather risks for nearly four decades.
I know that heat deaths are the most prevalent of all deaths from natural disasters, killing thousands or even tens of thousands of people every year. I know that extreme heat events are getting worse, precisely because of human-caused climate change.
And yet, there I was, trying to dig a simple hole in the ground for a wooden post in the dense, clay soils of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in 100-degree-plus heat.
Fifteen minutes was all it took for me to suddenly experience extreme dizziness and nausea. I came very close to passing out and was only saved by two nearby workers who brought me cold water and a cold compress to put on my head and neck and saw me safely back to an air-conditioned enclosure.
Climate change is already causing an increase in extreme events, including droughts and heat. The western United States is suffering from perhaps the most widespread and severe drought in recent history. As of early July, more than 98 percent of the American West was suffering from drought, with more than 80 percent in severe drought or worse.
Extreme heat has struck several times since June, breaking records throughout the region and putting more than 20 million people under heat warnings from Canada to Mexico. Portland, Oregon broke a new record high of 115 degrees Fahrenheit; Seattle set a new record high of 108.
Temperatures in the small town of Lytton, British Columbia, climbed to 121 degrees Fahrenheit (49.5 degrees Celsius), the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada, and then the town was destroyed by a fast-burning wildfire. Wildfires are now spreading rapidly throughout the region.
Water levels in the major Colorado River reservoirs are at record lows, and Arizona and Nevada will almost certainly see reductions in their allocations from the river next year.
We’re not prepared for climate change, even in one of the wealthiest countries of the world and even with decades of warnings from scientists, in part because of extensive efforts of climate denial, the waffling of politicians, and legacy infrastructure built for yesterday’s climate, not tomorrow’s.
In the Pacific Northwest, for example, struck by the recent extreme heat, very few people have air-conditioners, worsening the risk of heat illnesses among the most vulnerable populations.
In a severe heat wave in Europe in 2019, several thousand people died and power plants had to be shut down because water temperatures were too high to cool them. A worse European heat wave in 2003 killed an estimated 70,000 people.
This is just the beginning. The Earth has only warmed by around a degree or two so far and is on track for several more degrees of warming. And yet the severe imbalances we’re now experiencing in extreme weather are only going to get worse with each passing year if rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can’t be achieved.
The heat extremes we’re seeing now will become the baseline—regular events—punctuated by even more extreme high temperatures as the planet warms further and weather patterns are increasingly disrupted.
I think I know better now than to try to do physical labor during extreme heat. But many workers have little or no ability to avoid these risks: farmworkers, construction workers, laborers of all kinds who are exposed to increasingly severe conditions and are often not informed about the risks or offered protections from them.
More people are going to get sick; more are going to die from climate threats. Try not to be one of them, and do what you can to get politicians to acknowledge and work to reduce these risks.
World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, by Manipadma Jena. (Inter Press Service-Extract).
“Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Drought has directly affected 1.5 billion people so far this century and this number will grow dramatically unless the world gets better at managing this risk,” says Mami Mizutori, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
“Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods. Drought manifests over months, years, sometimes decades, and the results are felt just as long. Drought exhibits and exacerbates the social and economic inequalities that are deep-rooted within our systems and hits the most vulnerable the hardest."
Mizutori was speaking at the launch of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction’s (GAR) Special Report on Drought 2021, released this week.
Climate change, overuse and conversion for agriculture, cities and infrastructure, which also drive drought and desertification, have already degraded one fifth of the planet’s land area.
This damage harms the livelihoods of almost half the planet’s population. As of 2018, 170 countries were affected by desertification, land degradation and drought according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Desertification and Drought Day is celebrated every Jun. 17 by UN member nations. The 2021 theme calls for investing in activities that protect and restore natural ecosystems to boost the recovery from COVID-19 for communities, countries and economies worldwide.
The scale of the land degradation challenge
As of 2018, 70 countries are affected by drought regularly, costing lives, while 170 countries were affected by either desertification, land degradation or drought or both.
A report by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, released early June, draws a stark picture if current land-use policies are not changed. Between 2015 and 2050 without land restoration measures, and combined with farming intensification, soil productivity is projected to go down on 12 percent of the global land area.
To meet growing food demand, cropland expansion by about 20 percent or 300 million hectares of land would be cleared by 2050 at the expense of natural ecosystems. As a result, global biodiversity would decline six percent with 32 gigatons of carbon released to the atmosphere and marked decline in soil health and its ability to hold water would lead to increased drought and floods.
India’s drought deaths
In a country of 1.4 billion, 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, 8 out of 10 farmers are small and marginal and with 60 percent of cropland depending on monsoon for irrigation, drought can kill, quite literally.
Abinash Mohanty, researcher-author of a 2020 study mapping India’s extreme climate hotspots, told IPS that “more than 68 percent of the Indian districts are currently drought hotspots.”
The study, from Delhi-based research non-profit Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), finds the Indian subcontinent has witnessed more than 478 extreme events since 1970 whose frequency has accelerated after 2005. Post-2005 period, 79 districts in India witnessed extreme drought events year-on-year affecting over 140 million people.
With microclimatic zones shifting across various regions due to global warming, drought events are becoming more intense, some parts of India which were historically otherwise, are increasingly drought-prone, even flood-prone areas are becoming drought-prone, Mohanty’s study finds.
A summer of extreme heatwaves followed by a deficient monsoon is turning out deadly droughts as in 2018. As drought’s stranglehold creeps over more and more land in India, agricultural uncertainties are claiming rural livelihoods and lives.
Crops fail year after year and rural farmers make desperate bids to dig deeper borewells and take on untenable debts in hope that one good crop could salvage it all.
These skyrocketing farm costs and their inability to pay off debts have led to many farmers, share-croppers and daily-wage farm labourers in India to take their own life over this last decade. In 2019, many as 10,281 persons involved in the farming sector (5,957 farmers and 4,324 agricultural labourers) have committed suicide, accounting for 7.4 percent of total suicides according the government’s National Crime Records Bureau.
Activists say this is a huge under-estimation. A majority of the 32,559 daily wage earners’ suicides are none other than migrant rural farm workers driven out to urban centres. Stigma forces families to not reveal suicides, and on the other hand local governments declare suicides as deaths for health, spurious liquor or other reasons.
Solutions exist if there is the political will
More than five billion hectares of land around the world can be restored with a combination of restoration and protection — an improvement in land management.
“These are not utopian scenarios,” the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Ibrahim Thiaw says, “it is fully within our abilities to reach this ambitious scenario. But it takes determination among the world’s leaders to do so.”
“A land-centred approach to COVID-19 recovery can change the world,” says Ibrahim Thiaw. “So far, the world’s largest economies have already spent $ 16 trillion in post-COVID recovery efforts. Investing a fifth of that amount, collectively, per year, could shift the world’s economies to a sustainability trajectory.
Within a decade, the global economy could create close to 400 million new green jobs, generating over $10 trillion in annual business value,” he said.
UNDRR, Mizutori told journalists, “Science tells us the prevention cost for drought or any other disaster is much lower than reacting after. Putting that extra dollar in resilience by governments is not happening because politicians see their policies more in the short span of their election cycles.”
“And there is no glory in prevention. When successful in preventing a hazard becoming a disaster, you really can’t show it,” she said. “Which is why we (UNDRR) are now saying, for complex disaster like drought we need a comprehensive governance system, firm rules and regulations.”
“Droughts are among the most complex and severe climate-related hazards encountered, with wide-ranging and cascading impacts across societies, ecosystems and economies,” Mizutori said.
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