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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Biodiversity loss and climate change are similar to each other and should be talked together

Biodiversity loss has been eclipsed by climate change on the global agenda but the two issues are closely linked, have similar impacts on human welfare and need to be tackled urgently, together, scientists said on Thursday, Reuters informs.

The destruction of forests and other ecosystems undermines nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and protect against extreme weather impacts – accelerating climate change and increasing vulnerability to it, a report by the U.N. agencies on climate change and biodiversity said.

The rapid vanishing of carbon-trapping mangroves and seagrasses, for example, both prevents carbon storage and exposes coastlines to storm surges and erosion.

The report calls for governments to enact policies and nature-based solutions to address both issues.

“For far too long, policymakers tended to see climate change and biodiversity loss as separate issues, so policy responses have been siloed,” said report co-author Pamela McElwee, an ecologist at Rutgers University, told a virtual news conference.

“Climate has simply gotten more attention because people are increasingly feeling it in their own lives – whether it’s wildfires or hurricane risk. Our report points out that biodiversity loss has that similar effect on human wellbeing.”

The report marks the first collaboration of scientists from both the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Calling on countries to protect entire ecosystems rather than iconic locations or species, the report’s authors hope to influence policy discussions at both the U.N. conference on biodiversity in October in Kunming, China, and at the U.N. climate talks being held a month later in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The report will connect the two COPs (summits) in terms of thinking,” said Hans Poertner, IPCC co-chair.

Ahead of the Kunming conference, the U.N. has urged countries to commit to protecting 30% of their land and sea territories by 2030. Experts say at least 30% of the Earth, if not 50%, should be under conservation to maintain habitats under a changing climate.

So far more than 50 countries, including the United States, have made the 30% pledge.

“With this report, the two issues are married now, which is really powerful,” said James Hardcastle, a conservationist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “We can use the momentum to get more commitments from countries on conservation.”

Since 2010, countries have collectively managed to add almost 21 million square kilometers – an area the size of Russia – to the global network of protected lands, bringing the current total to nearly 17% of the Earth’s landmass, according to a report published last month by the IUCN.

Yet less than 8% of these lands are connected – something considered crucial for ecological processes and the safe movement of wildlife. Meanwhile, total marine conservation areas lag at 7%, below the 2020 target of 10%.

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Investors managing $41 trillion issued are calling world leaders to stop their climate game

A group of 79 company bosses and investors managing $41 trillion issued separate calls on Thursday for world leaders to accelerate action on climate change by enacting more ambitious policies in areas including carbon pricing, Reuters informs.

In an open letter to all governments as leaders of the G7 group of industrialised nations meet in Britain, and ahead of a global climate summit in November, the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders called for “bold action” now to meet future emissions targets.

To force corporate action, governments needed to change the rules of the game, they said, including by developing a market-based carbon pricing mechanism.

Countries should also force all businesses to establish “credible” decarbonisation targets, plus disclose emissions across all parts of their business, said the CEOs who include Swiss Re’s Christian Mumenthaler, Boston Consulting Group’s Rich Lesser and Royal DSM’s Feike Sijbesma.

The bosses also backed an elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, cuts on tariffs for climate-friendly goods, a boost in research and development funding for green technologies.

A separate statement backed by 457 investors warned governments that those countries to take the lead would become “increasingly attractive” investment destinations, while laggards would find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Key to that was for countries to commit to tougher emissions reduction cuts by 2030 and implement the domestic policies necessary to become net zero by 2050, added the investors, who include the likes of New York State, Fidelity International and Legal & General Investment Management.

“Strong policies, in line with limiting global warming to no more than 1.5-degrees Celsius, can accelerate and scale up private capital flows towards the net-zero transition,” said the 2021 Global Investor Statement to Governments on the Climate Crisis.

Founded in 2014 and hosted by the World Economic Forum, the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders aims to help drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Ahead of the COP26 climate summit on Glasgow, governments need to publish plans to halve emissions by 2030, commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and put in place “robust” policy roadmaps and interim targets, the CEOs said.

Developed countries also needed to exceed their $100 billion commitment to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, and ensure development finance bodies commit to science-based targets across their lending portfolios.

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Restoring ecological safety in Donbass: Strategic foundation of peaceful process and key demand for region reintegration

Ecological consequences of losing Donbass:

A near-critical flooding of a large quantity of interconnected mines, which lost it’s pre-war organised maintenance that provided regular extraction of mine waters. If the flooding continues, an irreversible fragmentation of the landscape (economically impossible to restore) will take place: a mix of healthy territories with stable surface and a plethora of flooded and swamped, mineralised, poisoned by mine waters territories.

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Coronavirus: Guidance for Better Mental Health

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a lot of information about the virus and its effects on mental health.

That’s because coronavirus and the social, financial and psychological implications it carries can seriously impact one’s mental wellbeing.

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Coronavirus shutdowns have unintended climate benefits: cleaner air, clearer water

In Venice, the often murky canals recently began to get clearer, with fish visible in the water below. Italy’s efforts to limit the coronavirus meant an absence of boat traffic on the city’s famous waterways. And the changes happened quickly.

Countries that have been under stringent lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus have experienced an unintended benefit. The outbreak has, at least in part, contributed to a noticeable drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in some countries.

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Grace gravity mission captures Greenland ice loss

Greenland shed an extraordinary 600 billion tonnes of ice by the end of summer last year.

This melt-driven loss would have raised global sea levels by 2.2mm, say scientists who’ve just published an analysis of satellite gravity measurements taken over the Arctic.

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Who benefits from coronavirus?

Hong Kong (CNN)Factories were shuttered and streets were cleared across China’s Hubei province as authorities ordered residents to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.It seems the lockdown had an unintended benefit — blue skies.The average number of “good quality air days” increased 21.5% in February, compared to the same period last year, according to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment.And Hubei wasn’t alone.Satellite images released by NASAand the European Space Agency show a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions — those released by vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities — in major Chinese cities between January and February. The visible cloud of toxic gas hanging over industrial powerhouses almost disappeared.”This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” says Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus.”

A similar pattern has emerged with carbon dioxide (CO2) — released by burning fossil fuels such as coal.From February 3 to March 1, CO2 emissions were down by at least 25% because of the measures to contain the coronavirus, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an air pollution research organization.As the world’s biggest polluter, China contributes 30% of the world’s CO2 emissions annually, so the impact of this kind of drop is huge, even over a short period. CREA estimates it is equivalent to 200 million tons of carbon dioxide– more than half the entire annual emissions output of the UK.”As a measure that took place effectively overnight, this is more dramatic than anything else that I’ve seen in terms of the impact on emissions,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA.But while lockdown measures designed to stem the spread of the virus have caused a momentary uptick in China’s pollution levels, experts warn that when the county starts to reboot its economy thetoxic chemicals couldup to higher levels than before the epidemic hit.

Coal consumption falls

A fall in oil and steel production, and a 70% reduction in domestic flights, contributed to the fall in emissions, according to the CREA. But the biggest driver was the sharp decline in China’s coal usage.China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal, using this resource for 59% of its energy in 2018. As well as running power plants and other heavy industries, coal is also the sole heat source for millions of homes in the vast rural areas of the country.The country’s major coal-fired power stations saw a 36% drop in consumption from February 3 to March 1 compared to the same period last year, according to CREA analysis of WIND data service statistics.”The largest consumers of coal — coal-fired power plants — have been affected a lot because electricity demand is down,” said Myllyvirta. “I think it’s clear that this effect will continue for the next weeks and months, because there has also been a major impact on the demand side of the economy.”In 2017, President Xi Jinping promised to make combating pollution one of China’s “three battles,” and the following year the Ministry of Ecology and Environment was created.The policies have resulted in a significant impact, with overall pollution levels 10% lower across Chinese cities between 2017 and 2018, according to a report released last year by Greenpeace and AirVisual.Climate activists say the crisis could provide a window to ramp up these promised reforms.”We would very much advocate for China to foster this opportunity to transform its economy, to break apart from the old,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia.

“Revenge pollution”

The concern, Li said, is that once the coronavirus threat has passed, China will be solely focused on restarting its economy, which was already hurting in the wake of the US-China trade war. That could come at the expense of the environment.”There might be a round of economic stimulus which would inject cheap credits to heavy industries in China, and as a result of that we might see increasing pollutants and also carbon emissions in the second half of this year,” Li added.This bounce-back effect — which can sometimes reverse any overall drop inemissions — is something Li calls “revenge pollution.” And in China it has precedent.In 2009, the Chinese government launched a giant $586 billion stimulus package in response to the global financial crisis — the majority of which went to large-scale infrastructure projects.But the resulting explosion in pollution in the following years — particularly in the “airpocalypse” winter of 2012-2013 — led to a public outcry which ushered in the Chinese government’s first national air pollution action plan in September 2013.President Xi has made clear that workers and factories need to ramp up activity as soon as possible if the country is to avoid a steeper economic downturn.Myllyvirta hopes China has learned lessons from the past.”It was really those previous episodes where it boiled over,” says Myllyvirta, who also warns of a public backlash if the skies turn gray again.”The reduction in air pollution has been very clear so if the pollution does come back, because of stimulus measures, because of heavy industry going into overdrive to make up for lost time, there could be a counter reaction.”

Hong Kong pollution falls

In neighboring Hong Kong, air quality has also improved since the city entered partial shutdown mode to combat the spread of the coronavirus.Key air pollutants dropped by nearly a third from January to February, according to data from Hong Kong University School of Public Health, which was analyzed by environmental organization Clean Air Network.Monitoring of stations in the busiest areas of Hong Kong, including Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok, revealed that the fine particle pollutant PM2.5 decreased by 32%, while the larger particle pollutant PM10 fell by up to 29%, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was reduced by up to 22%.Pollution in the city is mostly caused by motor vehicles, marine vessels, and power plants in Hong Kong and around the Pearl River Delta, the government says.The declines in harmful pollutants came in direct correlation with the Hong Kong government’s introduction of measures including working from home procedures, the closure of some public facilities, and a partial closure of the border with China. A drop in pollution in mainland China during this period also resulted in less regional smog from the industrial powerhouse cities in the southern province of Guangdong.”There are lots of people who work from home, and that has reduced the traffic and the traffic congestion,” said Patrick Fung, chairman of the Clean Air Network. Hong Kong’s measures were nowhere near as drastic as those in mainland China, but there was still a significant impact.Fung has been campaigning about the long-term health impact of the air pollution in Hong Kong, which he says causes on average 1,500 premature deaths per year in the city.”For the last decade, Hong Kong’s air pollution has been double the World Health Organization’s recommended safe level,” Fung says. “Especially at the roadside, where a lot of pedestrians and commuters are exposed to that kind of toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants.”Hong Kong’s government did introduce a raft of green policies in its recent budget, including a roadmap on cleaner public transport vehicles. Fung says the announcement was a good “first step,” but much more needs to be done.Now, Fung believes this brief period of cleaner air should send a message for people to push for longer-term changes. “If we want the children, the elderly, who could live healthily in Hong Kong, then we should think how to make business as usual change,” Fung says.

CNN’s Shanshan Wang contributed reporting from Beijing.

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