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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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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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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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Four countries have already declared climate emergencies, still investing billions in fossil fuels

Canada, the UK, Ireland and France have already declared climate emergencies, alongside investing billions of dollars in fossil fuel industry at home and abroad.

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Denmark announces green policy as a high priority

Today the government of Denmark declared a “new political policy” based on an ambitious climate manifesto.

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‘Climate apartheid’: UN reports that human rights are likely to be undermined

The globe is close to “climate apartheid”, where rich people pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the climate crisis alongside the rest of the world suffers, according to the report by a UN human rights expert.

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G20 countries triple subsidies in coal power despite climate emergency

In recent years G20 countries have almost tripled the subsidies to coal-fired power plants, regardless the urgent necessity to cut the carbon emissions causing the climate crisis.

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Climate change activists protest in the centre of New York

On Saturday afternoon climate change activists organized by the Extinction Rebellion blocked Eighth Avenue in New York between the Port Authority transit hub and the home of the New York Times.

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