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Mouse thought extinct for 150 years found living on island

(CNN) – A mouse thought to have become extinct more than 150 years ago has been found alive on an island off the coast of Western Australia, researchers have discovered.

Scientists compared DNA samples from eight extinct Australian rodents and 42 of their living relatives, and discovered that the extinct Gould’s mouse was “indistinguishable” from the Shark Bay mouse.

Researchers were studying the decline of the country’s native species since the arrival of Europeans in Australia in 1788. 

The mouse — which will still be known by the common name “djoongari,” or “Shark Bay mouse” — was once found across the country, from south-west Western Australia to New South Wales, but was last seen in 1857. The introduction of invasive species, agricultural land clearing and new diseases destroyed the native species, researchers said, adding that climate change and poor fire management also affected population sizes.

The remaining populations of the djoongari were located on a single 42 square-kilometer (16.2 square-mile) island in Shark Bay, Bernier Island. One small population is not enough for a species to survive, researchers said, so the mice have been taken to two other islands to establish new populations. 

“The resurrection of this species brings good news in the face of the disproportionally high rate of native rodent extinction, making up 41 per cent of Australian mammal extinction since European colonisation in 1788,” lead author Emily Roycroft, an evolutionary biologist from the Australian National University (ANU), said in a statement. 

“It is exciting that Gould’s mouse is still around, but its disappearance from the mainland highlights how quickly this species went from being distributed across most of Australia, to only surviving on offshore islands in Western Australia. It’s a huge population collapse,” she added.

The team also studied seven other extinct native species, which were found to have high genetic diversity immediately before extinction, showing that their populations were widespread before Europeans arrived.

“This shows genetic diversity does not provide guaranteed insurance against extinction,” Roycroft warned.

More than 80% of Australia’s mammals are endemic, as result of Australia’s long period of isolation from other continents. But the country has what researchers described in a 2015 paper as an “extraordinary rate of extinction.” Meanwhile, a study published in 2019 found that Australia was home to 6-10% of the world’s post-1500 recognized extinctions.

Roycroft said the extinction of the seven native species happened “very quickly.” 

Humans have already wiped out hundreds of species and pushed many more to the brink of extinction through wildlife trade, pollution, habitat loss and the use of toxic substances. The Earth’s sixth mass extinction is happening now, much faster than previously expected — and the rate at which species are dying out has accelerated in recent decades, scientists have warned.

The research will be published in the journal PNAS next month.

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Scientists has found a new human species – “Dragon Man”

(CNN) – A cranium hidden at the bottom of a well in northeastern China for more than 80 years may belong to a new species of early human that researchers have called “dragon man.”

The exciting discovery is the latest addition to a human family tree that is rapidly growing and shifting, thanks to new fossil finds and analysis of ancient DNA preserved in teeth, bones and cave dirt. 

The well-preserved skullcap,found in the Chinese city of Harbin, is between 138,000 and 309,000 years old, according to geochemical analysis, and it combines primitive features, such as a broad nose and low brow and braincase, with those that are more similar to Homo sapiens, including flat and delicate cheekbones.

The ancient hominin — which researchers said was “probably” a 50-year-old man — would have had an “extremely wide” face, deep eyes with large eye sockets, big teeth and a brain similar in size to modern humans.

Three papers detailing the find were published in the journal The Innovation on Friday. 

“The Harbin skull is the most important fossil I’ve seen in 50 years. It shows how important East Asia and China is in telling the human story,” said Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at The Natural History Museum in London and coauthor of the research. 

Researchers named the new hominin Homo longi, which is derived from Heilongjiang, or Black Dragon River, the province where the cranium was found.

The team plans to see if it’s possible to extract ancient proteins or DNA from the cranium, which included one tooth, and will begin a more detailed study of the skull’s interior, looking at sinusesand both ear and brain shape, using CT scans. 

Dragon man’s large size could be an adaptation to the harsh environment in which he likely lived, researchers said. 

We are family

It’s easy to think of Homo sapiens as unique, but there was a time when we weren’t the only humans on the block. 

In the millennia since Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa about 300,000 years ago, we have shared the planet with Neanderthals, the enigmatic Denisovans, the “hobbit” Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and Homo naledi, as well as several other ancient hominins. We had sex with some of them and produced babies. Some of these ancestors are well represented in the fossil record, but most of what we know about Denisovans comes from genetic information in our DNA.

The story of human evolution is changing all the time in what is a particularly exciting period for paleoanthropology, Stringer said.

The announcement of dragon man’s discovery comes a day after a different group researchers published a paper in the journal Science on fossils found in Israel, which they said also could represent another new type of early human. 

The jaw bone and skull fragment suggested a group of people lived in the Middle East 120,000 to 420,000 years ago with anatomical features more primitive than early modern humans and Neanderthals.

While the team of researchers stopped short of calling the group a new hominin species based on the fossil fragments they studied, they said the fossils resembled pre-Neanderthal human populations in Europe and challenged the view that Neanderthals originated there.

“This is a complicated story, but what we are learning is that the interactions between different human species in the past were much more convoluted than we had previously appreciated,” Rolf Quam, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton University and a coauthor of the study on the Israeli fossils, said in a news release.  

Stringer, who was not involved in the Science research, said the fossils were less complete than the Harbin skull, but it was definitely plausible that different types of humans co-existed in the Levant, which was a geographical crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe that today includes Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan and other countries in the Middle East. 

Two fossils found in Israel challenge the idea that Neanderthals originated in Europe. Two fossils found in Israel challenge the idea that Neanderthals originated in Europe.

Concealed treasure

The Harbin cranium was discovered in 1933 by an anonymous Chinese man when a bridge was built over the Songhua River in Harbin, according to one of the studies in The Innovation. At the time, that part of China was under Japanese occupation, and the man who found it took it home and stored it at the bottom of a well for safekeeping.

“Instead of passing the cranium to his Japanese boss, he buried it in an abandoned well, a traditional Chinese method of concealing treasures,” according to the study.

After the war, the man returned to farming during a tumultuous time in Chinese history and never re-excavated his treasure. The skull remained unknown to science for decades, surviving the Japanese invasion,civil war, the Cultural Revolution and, more recently, rampant commercial fossil trading in China, the researchers said.

The third generation of the man’s family only learned about his secret discovery before his death and recovered the fossil from the well in 2018. Qiang Ji, one of the authors of the research, heard about the skull and convinced the family to donate it to the Geoscience Museum of Hebei GEO University.

‘Sister lineage’

The so-called dragon man likely belonged to a lineage that may be our closest relatives, even more closely related to us than Neanderthals, the study found. His large size and where the fossil was found, in one of China’s coldest places, could mean the species had adapted to harsh environments. Dragon man had a large brain, deep set eyes, thick brow ridges, a wide mouth and oversize teeth.Dragon man had a large brain, deep set eyes, thick brow ridges, a wide mouth and oversize teeth.

“We are human beings. It is always a fascinating question about where we were from and how we evolved,” said coauthor Xijun Ni, a research professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the vice director of the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins. 

“We found our long-lost sister lineage.”

The study suggested that other puzzling Chinese fossils that paleoanthropologists have found hard to classify — such as those found in Dali in Yunnan in southwestern China and a jawbone from the Tibetan plateau, thought by some to be Denisovan — could belong to the Homo longi species.

Stringer said also it was definitely plausible that dragon man could be a representative of Denisovans, a little-known and enigmatic human population that hasn’t yet been officially classified as a hominin species according to taxonomic rules.

They are named after a Siberian cave where the only definitive Denisovan bone fragments have been found, but genetic evidence from modern human DNA suggests they once lived throughout Asia. 

Denisovans is a general name, Stringer said, and they haven’t officially been recognized as a new species — in part because the five Denisovan fossils that exist are so tiny they don’t fulfill the requirements for a “designated type specimen” that would make it a name-bearing representative.

Denisovans and Homo longi both had large, similar molars, the study noted, but, given the small number of fossils available for comparison, it was impossible to say for sure, said Ni, who hoped that DNA experiments might reveal whether they are the same species. 

“We’ve only just begun what will be years of studying this fascinating fossil,” Stringer said. 

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Brussel will ban diesel cars by 2030 and petrol until 2035

25 June 2021 – The government of the Brussels-Capital Region has today announced tightening its low emission zone after 2025. The proposal foresees phasing out diesel cars by 2030 while petrol and gas-powered cars will be banned as of 2035. No date was put forward for banning fossil fuel-powered coaches and heavy-duty vehicles. Fossil fuel-powered buses will be phased out as of 2036, the Clean Cities Campaign informs.

The regional government’s decision to set an end date for fossil fuel-burning vehicles in the city is a welcome improvement, according to the environmental NGOs. However, they call on the regional government to phase out all fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2030 at the latest, as is already the case in other European cities.

Eva Zemmour, Project Coordinator at Les chercheurs d’air said: “Setting an end date for fossil fuel-powered vehicles in Brussels is certainly good news. But we cannot wait another 10 or 15 years. The health, economic and climate impacts are far too pressing. Capitals like Paris and Amsterdam won’t have any of these vehicles on their roads by 2030. Why then should Brussels wait until 2035?”

According to a new study by Bruxelles Environnement, exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), originating mainly from road traffic, led to 950 premature deaths in Brussels in 2018. Currently, 100% of the Brussels population is exposed to levels of PM2.5 that are considered harmful to people’s health, according to the World Health Organization. The study shows that if all fossil fuel-powered vehicles, including heavy-duty vehicles, were banned by 2030, this figure would fall to 3-4%. Similarly, the number of premature deaths would decrease by 110 deaths per year.

ClientEarth’s director of nature and health Ugo Taddei said: “Every single citizen in Brussels is currently exposed to harmful levels of PM2.5 above the recommendations of the World Health Organization and their health is suffering day in and day out because of it. Phasing out fossil fuelled vehicles will have clear and significant benefits in reducing air pollution and protecting human health. So why wait so long? The Brussels government has a legal and moral duty to protect people and put in place the measures that will ensure healthy air as soon as possible.”

recent Yougov survey commissioned by the Clean Cities Campaign shows that six out of ten Brussels residents (61%) want to see a reduction in air pollution from traffic and ⅔ of them are asking for more action to be taken at local level to fight it.

Marie-Charlotte Debouche, coordinator of the Clean Cities Campaign in Belgium, said: “Citizens are aware of the impact polluting vehicles have on their health and are asking for more action against air pollution at local level. The Brussels government has certainly taken a historic step for Brussels today, but must now listen to its citizens and revise the current proposal to ban all fossil fuel-powered vehicles from the city by 2030 at the latest.”

Today’s proposal detailing the government’s plans for the Low Emission Zone after 2025 is part of a Royal Decree that will be reviewed by several governmental committees before the summer.

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Norwegian activists protest against the new oil exploration licences in the Arctic

A group of environmental activists chained themselves in front of the Norwegian oil and energy ministry on Thursday to protest against the awarding of new oil exploration licences in the Arctic, The globe and mail informs.

Carrying banners that said “No to new oil” and “Norwegian oil is boiling the planet” three campaigners sat in chains in front of the entry to the ministry from about 0600 GMT as ministry workers arrived for work.

Norway on Wednesday awarded four exploration licences to seven oil companies, including three for the Arctic Barents Sea, although fewer oil companies applied for the permits than in previous licensing rounds.

“We’re demonstrating here today because Norway is keeping on handing out new oil licences even though we’re in the midst of a climate crisis,” said demonstrator Halvard Raavand, 30, wearing an “oil free Arctic” black face mask.

Earlier, demonstrators glued images of individuals carrying slogans such as “keep the oil in the ground” on the windows of the ministry.

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French investors will be required to declare how green their assets are

France is striving to confirm its position as a global leader in corporate climate disclosures with a new set of binding targets that require investors to declare how green their assets are and set greenhouse emissions goals every five years.

In 2015, when it hosted U.N. climate talks that agreed a major deal to move the world away from fossil fuel, France took the lead in requiring financial institutions and asset managers to disclose their exposure to climate risks.

Since then the debate has moved further into the mainstream and countries and companies around the world are vying for position as environmental champions.

This month, Britain hosted G7 talks that backed mandatory climate disclosure and some policy-makers want a deal to establish global reporting requirements in time for November’s U.N. climate change talks in Glasgow.

France has sought to secure its lead with the world’s first regulations, published on June 2 and taking effect from the 2021 reporting period, to make it mandatory for investors to set greenhouse gas emission goals every five years to 2050 and for quantified targets to protect biodiversity.

The 230 portfolio management firms covered by the regulations will have to declare the percentage of their assets that is green and their exposure to fossil fuel companies.

France was keen to ensure European governments set the ground rules, rather than import U.S.-influenced voluntary recommendations. It says its 2015 rules served as a model for EU regulations on sustainable finance disclosure currently taking effect.

“We don’t want to depend on a framework that comes from the United States,” former state secretary for environmental transition Brune Poirson told Reuters.

BUILDING ON EXPERIENCE

In 2015, France was at the vanguard when it introduced a requirement that institutional investors and asset managers must explain how they factored in climate risks or to give a reason why they could not.

With several years of experience and disclosure regulation entering into force across the European Union, France is seeking to go further than its peers.

AXA Investment Managers, the French insurer’s asset management arm, said that the updated French rules were “more detailed than the European regulation” and should be used as a “user’s guide” to putting the new EU reguirements into practice.

This month’s update also made compulsory the recommendations from the industry-led Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which a growing number of companies internationally follow on a voluntary basis.

Paris has supported the principles behind the U.S.-influenced TCFD recommendations since they were issued in 2017, but had previously stopped short of bringing them into the French framework.

The shift places it just ahead of Britain, which has proposed UK companies should meet TCFD recommendations from next year.

Central bankers are among those who say mandatory rather than voluntary reporting is necessary to deal with the risk of assets that could prove to be of low value because of their climate exposure.

“Disclosure will help markets to appropriately price climate-related risks and ensure efficient allocation of capital,” Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau told an online central banking conference early this month.

“That is why disclosure should become mandatory, at least as a first step for financial institutions, as it is already in France, and for large corporates,” he said.

RULES VERSUS REALITY

While representatives of French asset managers supported France’s approach, they said that the disclosure rules for investors were ahead of those for companies making up their portfolios.

“The lack of data published by issuers is going to keep us from meeting the regulation’s demands in the short term,” Alix Faure, head of sustainable investing at the French asset managers’ association, said.

Independently of governments and regulators, many investors have been pressing for more climate transparency, which has to an extent eroded France’s first mover advantage.

Campaign group CDP, which tracks corporate disclosure, had 19 French companies on its transparency A-list last year, level with Germany but behind Britain which had 21 firms.

“Everyone is catching up, especially in Germany where big German companies have to be more transparent because investors demand it,” CDP capital markets director Laurent Babikian said.

Whereas once climate rules deterred investors that were seeking the highest returns, investing in sustainable and ethically governed companies is now widely seen as a way to reduce financial risk.

A study by France’s central bank in January found French investors have reduced their exposure to companies in the fossil-fuel sector by 39% since 2015, suggesting that 28 billion euros ($33.34 billion) have been channelled elsewhere.

Green pressure groups, however, question whether French leadership has had much impact so far.

“France has self-proclaimed itself as a leader of green finance since 2017, but four years later the government’s incapacity to spur a shift in financial flows exposes its failure on climate policy,” Friends of the Earth France campaigner Lorette Philippot said in a statement.

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The Great Barrier Reef is in danger. Climate crisis is the main reason

(CNN)The Great Barrier Reef has deteriorated to such an extent it should be listed as a world heritage site “in danger,” a United Nations committee said Tuesday – prompting immediate backlash from the Australian government.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee recommended the listing, recognizing the climate crisis as the driving factor behind the destruction of the world’s largest coral reef. It called for Australia to “urgently” address threats from climate change.

The inclusion will be voted on at the committee’s meeting in China next month.

Australian Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the government will “strongly oppose” the recommendation, arguing the government was investing $3 billion in reef protection. Ley said officials in Canberra were “stunned” by the move and accused UNESCO of backflipping on previous assurances the reef would not be declared endangered.

“The Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef in the world and this draft recommendation has been made without examining the reef first hand, and without the latest information,” Ley said in a statement. 

In a call with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, Ley said she “made it clear that we will contest this flawed approach, one that has been taken without adequate consultation.”Spanning nearly 133,000 square miles (345,000 square kilometers) and home to more than 1,500 species of fish and 411 species of hard corals, the Great Barrier Reef is a vital marine ecosystem. It also contributes $4.8 billion annually to Australia’s economy and supports 64,000 jobs, according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

But the reef’s long-term survival has come into question. It has suffered from three devastating mass bleaching events since 2015, caused by above-average ocean temperatures as the burning of fossil fuels heats up the planet. 

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system and a vital marine ecosystem.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and a vital marine ecosystem.

In October, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found the reef had lost 50% of its coral populations in the past three decades, with climate change a key driver of reef disturbance. 

In 2019, the Australian government’s Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report downgraded the reef’s condition from “poor” to “very poor.” 

The UNESCO committee said it was crucial Australia implemented the recommendations of that 2019 report, which called for “accelerated action to mitigate climate change and improve water quality.”

It said the government’s “progress has been insufficient” in meeting its key reef policy, called the Reef 2050 Plan, and it “requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular towards urgently countering the effects of climate change.”

Environment Minster Ley agreed climate change is the single biggest threat to the world’s reefs, but said “it is wrong, in our view, to single out the best managed reef in the world for an ‘in danger’ listing.”

Scientists said the UNESCO proposal was a wake-up call.

On its current course, global average temperatures will increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius, which scientists warn no coral reefs can survive, according go the Climate Council. It has recommended Australia cut its emissions by 75% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2035. 

Australia has made no commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, making it a global outlier. Australia’s current targets are to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030, which have been widely criticized as not ambitious enough.

“The Australian government has stewardship of one of the world’s most precious and iconic ecosystems, but its continued support for fossil fuels and its lack of effective climate policy means it’s utterly failing to live up to that responsibility,” said Climate Council spokesperson and climate scientist, Prof. Lesley Hughes, in a statement. “The situation is dire, and our response should match that.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter said the reef cannot be protected “without rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and gas.”

“Just a week after Prime Minister (Scott) Morrison faced the disapproval of the world’s leaders for his poor climate performance at the G7 conference, we are seeing the terrible consequences of Australia’s failure to reduce emissions — and the Reef is paying the price,” Ritter said in a statement. 

The report comes as Australia swore in a new deputy prime minister on Tuesday. Barnaby Joyce, a climate change skeptic, is leader of the Nationals — a party that represents rural Australia, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuel mining. Joyce’s position is expected to make it more difficult for the Morrison government to strengthen climate targets adopted by most other major nations. 

UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger has 53 entries, which include natural wonders and man-made sites. Jerusalem’s Old City was added in 1982, while Aleppo — the Syrian city bombarded by air strikes — made the list in 2013.

The inclusion is supposed to spur parties into action to save the endangered sites. According to UNESCO’s website, if an endangered site loses the characteristics that make it special, “the World Heritage Committee may decide to delete the property from both the List of World Heritage in Danger and the World Heritage List.”

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In the last 15 years the amount of heat in the atmosphere has doubled

(CNN) – The planet is trapping roughly double the amount of heat in the atmosphere than it did nearly 15 years ago, according to an alarming new analysis from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Researchers say it’s a “remarkable” amount of energy that is already having far-reaching consequences.

“It’s excess energy that’s being taken up by the planet,” said Norman Loeb, a NASA scientist and lead author of the study, “so it’s going to mean further increases in temperatures and more melting of snow and sea ice, which will cause sea level rise — all things that society really cares about.

“The study, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that what’s known as the Earth’s energy imbalance — the difference between how much of the sun’s energy the planet absorbs and how much energy is radiated back into space — approximately doubled from 2005 to 2019. The result was “striking,” the research team wrote.

Life on Earth couldn’t exist without the sun’s energy, but it matters how much of that energy is radiated back into space. It’s a delicate balance that determines the planet’s climate. 

In addition to higher global temperatures, the most obvious effect of a positive imbalance, Loeb told CNN “we’re going to be seeing shifts in atmospheric circulations including more extreme events like droughts.”

Using satellite data to measure the imbalance, scientists found that the Earth is gaining more energy than it should and causing the planet to heat up even more, also known as a positive energy imbalance. 

Approximately 90 percent of the excess energy from this imbalance ends up in the ocean. And warming ocean temperatures lead to acidification, impacting fish and other marine biodiversity. When researchers compared the satellite measurements with data from a global array of ocean sensors, the findings exhibited a similar trend. The remaining energy, meanwhile, stays in the atmosphere. 

The cause of this energy imbalance is certainly due in part to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers report. It’s also affected by some of the positive feedback loops caused by climate change: as global temperature increases, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere also rises, which further increases the temperature. Melting snowpack and sea ice — natural reflectors of solar energy — is decreasing due to global warming as well. 

Another contributing factor is how the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — often described as a longer term El Niño-like climate pattern in the Pacific — stayed in a severely warm phase from 2014 through 2020. Because of this sudden flip from a cool to an extended warm phase, cloud cover over the ocean dwindled, allowing the Pacific Ocean to absorb more solar radiation.

“It’s man-made change that’s shifting the composition of the atmosphere, as well as fluctuations in the climate systems,” Loeb said. “The observations are all kind of blended together.”

Against the backdrop of the West’s historic drought and extreme heat, the study warns that the amount of heat the Earth traps must decline, or climate change will continue to worsen.

Loeb described his team’s chosen time period, 2005 to 2019, as a mere snapshot of what’s to come in terms of climate impacts, adding that more studies and long-term observations need to be done in order to fully grasp the long-term trend. 

“My hope is the rate that we’re seeing this energy imbalance subsides in the coming decades,” said Loeb. “Otherwise, we’re going to see more alarming climate changes.”

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Drought is the next pandemic

Drought is a hidden global crisis that risks becoming “the next pandemic” if countries do not take urgent action on water and land management and tackling the climate emergency, the UN has said.

At least 1.5 billion people have been directly affected by drought this century, and the economic cost over roughly that time has been estimated at $124bn (£89bn). The true cost is likely to be many times higher because such estimates do not include much of the impact in developing countries, according to a report published on Thursday.

Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, said: “Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods. Drought is a major factor in land degradation and the decline of yields for major crops.”

She said many people had an image of drought as affecting desert regions in Africa, but that this was not the case. Drought is now widespread, and by the end of the century all but a handful of countries will experience it in some form, according to the report.

“People have been living with drought for 5,000 years, but what we are seeing now is very different,” Mizutori said. “Human activities are exacerbating drought and increasing the impact”, threatening to derail progress on lifting people from poverty.

Developed countries have not been immune. The US, Australia and southern Europe have experienced drought in recent years. Drought costs more than $6bn a year in direct impacts in the US, and about €9bn (£7.7bn) in the EU, but these are also likely to be severe underestimates.

Population growth is also exposing more people in many regions to the impacts of drought, the report says.

Drought also goes beyond agriculture,said Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a co-author of the report.

He pointed to the Danube in Europe, where recurring drought in recent years has affected transport, tourism, industry and energy generation. “We need to have a modernised view of drought,” he said. “We need to look at how to manage resources such as rivers and large watersheds.”

Changing rainfall patterns as a result of climate breakdown are a key driver of drought, but the report also identifies the inefficient use of water resources and the degradation of land under intensive agriculture and poor farming practices as playing a role. Deforestation, the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, overgrazing and over-extraction of water for farming are also major problems, it says.

Mizutori called for governments to take action to help prevent drought by reforming and regulating how water is extracted, stored and used, and how land is managed. She said early warning systems could do much to help people in danger, and that advanced weather forecasting techniques were now available.

She said working with local people was essential, because local and indigenous knowledge could help to inform where and how to store water and how to predict the impacts of dry periods.

The report, entitled Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Special Report on Drought 2021, was published on Thursday, and will feed into discussions at vital UN climate talksk known as Cop26, which are scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November.

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Reinsurers look at dumping coal from bulk-buy policies in green gambit

LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) – Major reinsurers have already pulled back from providing bespoke cover for coal projects as part of efforts to meet global climate change commitments, but now comes the hard part – finding ways to exclude coal from bulk-buy contracts, known as “treaty” reinsurance.

Reinsurance companies help to share the burden of insurance risks by underwriting frontline insurers. Any restrictions they impose will have a knock-on impact on insurance policies on offer to companies.

Most reinsurers have stepped back from offering insurers bespoke or direct cover for coal projects, but many still underwrite the industry through treaty reinsurance, where hundreds of insurers’ policies are bundled together.

The process of unbundling treaty reinsurance to search for coal exposure is tough, yet pressure is building on the industry from investors and regulators to do more to reflect the growing risks of climate change in how they underwrite. Swiss Re is already doing this.

If more reinsurers do cut back this cover, specialist commercial insurers such as those operating in the Lloyd’s of London market will feel the impact, as will suppliers to the coal industry or those businesses which derive even a small portion of their revenues from coal.

“The first consequence is insurance is harder to get, the second consequence is it’s expensive, the third consequence is there are all sorts of caveats on it and at the extreme you might not be offered it”, said Paul Merrey, insurance partner at KPMG.

A rail contractor to Adani Enterprises’ giant Australian coal project last month, for example, asked the Australian government for help to obtain insurance that it was not able to secure from the market.

Five of the world’s six largest reinsurers – Swiss Re, Munich Re, Hannover Re, SCOR and Lloyd’s of London – have already scaled back bespoke coverage for coal projects. But only Swiss Re, in a statement in March, has said it will go further and tighten its treaty reinsurance stance.

Munich Re and Hannover Re told Reuters they are working with their insurance clients to cut their own exposure further.

“We want to keep the dialogue and push for change together,” said Jean-Jacques Henchoz, chief executive of Hannover Re, though he added that: “It’s not happening in a couple of weeks, it’s taking a bit of time.”

Munich Re and Hannover Re said they were working out how to assess what was inside their treaty reinsurance books.ч

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Norwegian climate activists sue their country for drilling Arctic Oil

Norwegian climate activists have asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to rule against Norway’s plans for more oil drilling in the Arctic, the campaigners said on Tuesday, arguing the country’s exploration deprives young people of their future, Financial post informs.

The lawsuit, by six individuals aged between 20 and 27 as well as Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth, is part of an emerging branch of law worldwide where plaintiffs go to court to make the case for curbing emissions that cause climate change.

In the Netherlands, a court recently ordered Shell to cut its emissions in a lawsuit brought by citizens who argued that the Anglo-Dutch oil major violated their human rights.

“The environmentalists argue that, by allowing new oil drilling in the midst of a climate crisis, Norway is in breach of fundamental human rights,” the campaigners said in a statement announcing their appeal to the ECHR.

Three courts in Norway have previously ruled in favor of the government, however, including in a verdict by the supreme court last December, thus exhausting domestic legal options.

“We have to take action now to limit irreversible damage to our climate and ecosystems to ensure livelihoods for the coming generations,” said Ella Marie Haetta Isaksen, 23, one of the activists who asked the ECHR to take up the Norwegian case.

Lasse Eriksen Bjoern, 24, an activist from the indigenous Sami people of northern Norway, said climate change was already endangering a way of life.

“The Sami culture is closely related to the use of nature, and fisheries are essential … A threat to our oceans is a threat to our people,” he said.

The ECHR’s rules require applicants to be directly and personally affected by alleged violations, while its judgments are binding for the countries concerned.

The court must now decide whether the case, billed by the activists as “the People vs. Arctic Oil,” is admissible.

Norway, western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer with a daily output of around 4 million barrels of oil equivalent, said last week it planned to continue current petroleum policies. (Editing by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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