Sir David Attenborough: “Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate Change”

On Monday, World-famous environmentalist Sir David Attenborough addressed the UN Climate Change Summit in Poland, appealing to those present that “together we can make real change happen”.

Attenborough’s message “Leaders of the world, you must lead”, was given alongside a gathering of messages from all over the world, pat of the UN’s people’s seat initiative. These messages were presented to the delegates of almost 200 nations who are currently in Katowice, Poland, planning the actualisation of the Paris Climate Agreement agreed three years ago.

In the speech, Attenborough references the UN’s new ActNow Chatbot, a device created to help ordinary people change their lives through taking individual personal action against climate breakdown. The ChatBot, which is open to use through Facebook Messenger, is part of a social media campaign that encourages people to talk about climate breakdown, and gives them ideas and information about how they can alter their lives to make them more eco-friendly.

The past few years have seen the hottest yearly average temperatures recorded since 1850. Since 2000, we’ve had 17 of the hottest years, each increasing since the last. Studies show that an climate-warming El Nino event is likely to occur in 2019, with the possibility to further warm that year.

“Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later before it is too late,” said the UN Secretary General António Guterres. “For many, people, regions and even countries this is already a matter of life or death.” The secretary general also touched upon the move towards sustainable green economies, “Climate action offers a compelling path to transform our world for the better. Governments and investors need to bet on the green economy, not the grey.” This echoes the actions taken by the World Bank recently, who pledged $200bn to combat climate breakdown.

David Attenborough has recently been accused by writer and Guardian columnist George Monbiot of betraying ‘the living world he loves‘ though ‘downplaying our environmental crisis’.

“Knowingly creating a false impression of the world: this is a serious matter.” Writes Monbiot. “It is more serious still when the BBC does it, and yet worse when the presenter is “the most trusted man in Britain”. But, as his latest interview with the Observer reveals, David Attenborough sticks to his line that fully representing environmental issues is a “turn-off”.” Does this speech come as part-response to Monbiot’s comments? It is difficult to say exactly, but we view it as a welcome use of activism considering Attenborough’s large platform.

COP24 has also had it’s fair share of criticism. The summit itself is being sponsored by a Polish company. This act in itself “raises a middle finger to the climate” according to Friends of the Earth International. The Polish president Andrzej Duda, speaking at the opening of the summit, said the use of “efficient” coal processes and technology could be undertaken with no contradiction to taking climate action. While more energy efficient technology has been employed in the country, resulting in a cut of 30% to it’s carbon emissions since 1988, this type of talk is dangerous, although it does not represent the official stance of the Polish government as a whole.

“Safeguarding and creating sustainable employment and decent work are crucial to ensure public support for long-term emission reductions,” states the Silesia Declaration on Solidarity and Just Transition, which is a goal for the Polish government, who want to provide job security to workers in fossil fuel industries as the energy industry changes to more renewables.

We have transcribed Sir David Attenborough’s speech here:

“Right now, we’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate Change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations, and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The United Nations provides a unique platform that can unite the whole world, and as the Paris Agreement proved, together we can make real change happen.”

“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision makers, to act now. They’re behind you, along with civil society represented here today. Supporting you, in making tough decisions, but also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives. To help make change happen, the United Nations is launching the ActNow bot, helping people to discover simple everyday actions that they can make, because they recognise that they too must play their part. The people have spoken. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of our civilisations, and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands.”

80% chance of climate-warming El Niño event in 2019

According to the latest data from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, that there is a 75-80% chance of a weak, and yet, still climate-warming El Niño event by next year. “Oceanic conditions have been at weak El Niño levels since October 2018, but not yet coupled to the atmosphere as required for a typical EL Niño event.”

El Niño events occur naturally every few years. They are caused by fluctuations in ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, coupled with the overlying atmospheric circulation. This in turn has a direct and major influence on climate patterns all over the world.

The WMO’s model forecasts suggest that the chance of a full-fledged El Niño between December 2018 to February 2019 is estimated to be about 75-80%, with a 60% chance that it will continue from February through to April. Current predictions show the El Niño range as being from a warm-neutral condition through to moderate strength. This could mean that sea surface temperatures being at approximately 0.8C to 1.2C above the average. The chance for a strong El Niño is currently low.

Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch, said “The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016, which was linked with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world. Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures,”

The last El Niño event ended in 2016, which helped that year become the hottest year on record by exacerbating the effects of man-made global heating. 2017 was ranked an equal second, but was also named the hottest year on record with an El Niño event. It has not yet been quantified, but it is expected that 2018, which saw many climate-related disasters across the globe, to be the fourth hottest on record.

In most of Asia, Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, Africa, and the Indonesian archipelago, there has been an increase in the odds for abnormal surface-air temperature. There is also for the Caribbean, central America, parts of South America, some South Pacific Islands, portions of southwest Africa, eastern equatorial Africa, an increased probability of below-normal precipitation, which could possibly lead to drought in those areas.

El Niño events exacerbate and are exacerbated by the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions humanity releases every year, and as these emissions have recently hit record concentrations, we can assume that stronger El Niño events will be more likely in the future.

Between 2000 and 2017, Human-caused global warming has given us 17 of the 18 hottest years since 1850. This frequency cannot be a coincidence. Although, whether 2019 will be another record remains to be seen.

 

 

 

New agricultural methods increase bee populations and yields for farmers

A new strategy aimed at increasing bee populations, devised by the International Center For Agricultural Research In Dry Areas, has been put forward at the UN Biodiversity conference this week.

Global bee populations have been suffering greatly over the last few decades, such as in Germany where a 75% population decline has been seen over the last 25 years, and in Puerto Rico there has been an even sharper decline. Around 80% of food crops require pollination, but the population of insects that carry out this job, mainly bees, lessens every year.

The study recommends that a quarter of all cropland be dedicated to flowering economic crops such as oil seeds, spices, and medicinal plants. This would hopefully represent substantial gains in biodiversity. The report also mentions an increase in income across the board, but we must stress that we believe that the true measure of wealth is in natural biodiversity and the resilience of the living planet against human intrusion.

Pressure has already been put on agricultural industries by environmentalist groups for their farming procedures and intensive use of pesticides, and the responses from world governments have been increasingly varied. Just this year, Brazil’s pro-agribusiness congressmen voted for what has been dubbed as, the ‘poison package’, a lift of restrictions on an amount of pesticides that are currently banned in other countries for their detrimental impact on ecosystems.

Stefanie Christmann, who has headed up the research, has spent the last five years working on what she calls “farming with alternative pollinators”, with trials being carried in out Uzbekistan and Morocco.

“In 2013–2014, therefore, a 18-month-pilot project was set on a participatory basis in Uzbekistan, to test this farming with alternative pollinators approach on field and orchard crops. The practicability and the potential of the approach were tested in collaboration with seven smallholders, two commercial farmers, and two schools. “

“We analyzed the yield and insect diversity (pollinators, predators, and pests) of seven cucumber fields in the Parkent district and four orchards of sour cherry in the Boysun district in Uzbekistan. Here we show that the fields with enhanced habitats faced higher diversity of pollinators and predators, but less pests than control fields. Furthermore, the farming with alternative pollinators approach doubled the yield of sour cherry in 2014 and highly increased the income from cucumber in 2013. “

The technique that Christmann proposes represents an agricultural method closer to the formation of natural green areas such as forests, in constrast to intensive monoculture farming already in place. One in every four cultivation strips should be dedicated to the aforementioned flowering crops. Nesting support for bees and other insects should also be provided to encourage populations to thrive, support such as old wood and beaten soil that can be burrowed into.

“There is a very low barrier so anyone in even the poorest country can do this. There is no equipment, no technology and only a small investment in seeds. It is very easy. You can demonstrate how to do it with pictures sent on a cellphone.”

Ultimately, 94% of the farmers were willing to enhance pollinator habitats after being informed of these higher-yield figures.” During the test periods, the efficiency of crop pollination was increased, and the amount of pests was significantly lower.

The greatest gains in the four differing climatic regions that Christmann studied were found in semi-arid climates, where pumpkin yields rose 561%, aubergine 364%, broad bean 177% and melons 56%. In rainier areas, the harvests of tomatoes doubled in size, and aubergines harvests increased by 250%.

There are many environmental and economic benefits to increasing the amount of wild pollinators by encouraging the planting of more diverse crop rotations. This can also be applied to cities, where the planting of wildflowers, berry bushes, and flowering trees can aid in biodiversity.

“The entire environment would be richer, more beautiful and more resilient to climate change,” said Christmann “We would have many more insects, flowers and birds. And it would be far more self-sustaining. Even the poorest countries in the world could do this.”

It is hoped that there may be, in the near future, support for a multilateral environmental agreement on the wellbeing and promotion of natural pollinators, similar to the international convention on trade in endangered species.

But there will be resistance, Christmann admits “I think Monsanto won’t like this because they want to sell their pesticides and this approach reduces pests naturally,”.

Christmann’s research comes as part of a growing campaign to change the very nature of global food production. In the ‘Ecological Farming versus Industrial Agriculture’ section of Greenpeace’s ‘Plan Bee – Living Without Pesticides’ report, it is written:

“Agricultural intensification in Europe has typically led to more homogeneous landscapes, defined by large cereal fields and a loss of non-cultivated habitats on farms – such as hedgerows, ditches, woodland, and field margins. In addition, there has been widespread loss of semi-natural grasslands due to their conversion into arable fields and coniferous tree plantations (Meeus et al. 1990). Semi-natural habitat loss and degradation on farms and in surrounding areas, together with the increased use of agrochemicals such as synthetic pesticides, has been linked to a loss of wildlife species in agricultural landscapes (Belfrage 2005).”

Things are looking a little brighter, with a recent EU-wide ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids. “Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.” Said Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for Health and Food Safety, after he welcomed the vote.

On organic, pesticide-free farming, Giannis Melos, a farmer from Greece, had this to say: “In the past I have used plenty of chemicals as a conventional producer, but when I started farming organically only then I realised how many mistakes I had made in the past and that I had been trying to fight the symptom and not the cause. […] With the balance brought about by organic farming there are many benefits in your cultivation. You can see that the soil is more lively, you can see the organisms that form the surrounding environment being in a balance that is not disrupted. Of course there are benefits for the planet, because the residues from chemicals take many years to degrade.”

Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels at all time high, says UN

In a new report by the World Meteorological Organization, the UN’s meteorology experts, it states that the greenhouse gas emissions that are currently causing global climate breakdown are at an all time high.

The levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are far above their pre-industrial level counterparts, with seemingly no reversal of their upward trend. In 2017, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere rose to a global average of 405.5 parts per million, which is 2.5x higher than levels before the industrial revolution. Methane, a gas which has a heating capability 25x that of CO2 and is responsible for around 17% of global warming, now has levels that are 3.5x higher than before the industrial revolution. This rise has mostly been caused by agricultural practices such as large-scale industrial cattle farming.

“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5m years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now,” said the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas. “The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed.”

The internationally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement aims to curb the rise of global heating at 2C, yet the more hopeful number is 1.5C. It must however, be stated that this number is itself somewhat arbitrary. It is impossible to say what the actual damage will be at 1.5 or 2C. The recent IPCC Report on the effects of 1.5C of heating, stated that there would be incredibly severe consequences for human life at this level.

This report, with it’s 91 separate authors and review editors from 40 countries, explores “a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.”

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Every fraction of a degree of global warming matters, and so does every part per million of greenhouse gases,” said the WMO deputy secretary general, Elena Manaenkova. “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. There is currently no magic wand to remove all the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.”

To negate this rise in emission levels, collective action needs to be put in place, such as investing in low-carbon or carbon neutral technologies; wind and solar energy needs to become rapidly mainstream. Pressure needs to be put on multinationals, whose business practices are responsible for a large percentage of global emissions.

Fortunately, it is becoming an increasingly poignant issue for people, with environmental demonstrations and campaigns taking place all over the world.  On Wednesday the Yearbook of Global Climate Action 2018 was published, finding that 9,000 cities in 128 countries had committed to some sort of climate action. This is alongside 240 states and regions in 40 other countries, and more than 6,000 businesses.

“On one hand, greenhouse gas emissions have yet to peak and countries struggle to maintain the concentrated attention and effort needed for a successful response to climate change. On the other hand, climate action is occurring, it is increasing and there is a will to do more. I highlight this because falling into despair and hopelessness is a danger equal to complacency, none of which we can afford.”, said Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN framework convention on climate change.

Fossil fuel subsidies from G20 countries risk 3.2C of global heating

According to research on progress towards the goals and deadlines of the Paris Climate Agreement, the emissions of 15 G20 nations have increased since last year. The Brown to Green Report, published by Climate Transparency, is the world’s most comprehensive review of G20 climate action. It shows that climate action is deeply lacking in all but one of the world’s largest economies.

Within these 15 countries, energy produced by coal, oil, and gas, still makes up 82% of all energy consumed. These industries have relied heavily on subsidies within the last 10 years, in a last ditch effort to compete with the increasingly cheaper and cleaner renewable energy sources.

The Paris Climate Agreement stipulated that countries would agree to work towards the goals set, phasing out fossil fuels, and yet their net contributions in the form of subsidies to those industries spent £114bn on subsidies in 2016, with current trends showing that the global temperatures will rise by 3.2C, in contrast to the 1.5C lower threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

The 1.5C threshold represents that line by which coral reefs will be able to survive, a threshold that will limit the damage to Arctic ecosystems, and hopefully prevent the displacement of hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased drought, flooding, forest fires, or dangerous summer temperatures. While a 1.7C gap does not seem very big, this actually represents countless changes to the way our modern societies function.

The Brown To Green Report allows you to compare and contrast the goals, policies, and actions of different countries. India is the only country within the G20 to be on course with staying below the upper limit threshold of 2C set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Other countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are on track with taking the world well past 4C of warming.

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The first page of the report on the United Kingdom’s Paris Agreement progress. You can see that while the energy intensity of the UK is well below the G20 average, the UK government has also cancelled several emission-reducing policies.

Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina have promised to cut deforestation but the destruction rate of forests shows no sign of reversing.

The UK has made the fastest transition amongst G20 countries, seeing a 7.7% decline in fossil fuel use between 2012 and 2015, yet both looming Brexit uncertainties and the cutting of several energy efficiency and zero-carbon home policies makes it likely that this progress could stall in the coming years.

The world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China, reduced its dependency on coal, which stabilised its carbon emissions for a number of years, but this trend was broken as it increased its coal consumption during 2017. Deforestation has also been a key topic for some countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, as forests are a major instrument in the sequestration of carbon. These countries promised to cut deforestation, but rates show no signs of dropping, and in fact, in Brazil research shows a 52% increase in deforestation rates from 2012 to 2017.

Yet all the good work being done is coming up against a brick wall, the subsidies given to fossil fuel companies from G20 countries. One of the Brown To Green Report authors, Jan Burck, said “There is a huge fight by the fossil fuel industry against cheap renewables. The old economy is well organised and they have put huge lobbying pressure on governments to spend tax money to subsidise the old world,”.

To avoid more than 1.5C of global heating (The term George Monbiot prefers us to use), emissions from G20 need to begin declining in the next two years, and be halved by 2030. Not one country has set a target credibly enough to see this through, and with the leaders of the US and Brazil, Trump and Bolsonaro, are hostile towards tackling climate breakdown, there seems to be little hope. On the brighter side, what inaction we see at a federal level, we see much action happening at a public, community level, with groups such as Greenpeace, the WWF, and even smaller organisations such as Extinction Rebellion leading the way.

“Global emissions need to peak in 2020. The Brown-to-Green report provides us with an independent stock-take on where we stand now. This is valuable information for countries when they declare their contribution in 2020.” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Below are links to each specific country within the Brown To Green Report. Click through them to see your country’s data.

Argentina
Australia
Brazil
Canada
China 
The European Union
France
Germany
India
Indonesia
Italy
Japan
Mexico
Russia
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
South Korea
Turkey
United Kingdom
United States

 

 

Air pollution worsens as UK government’s policies labeled ‘shambolic’

ClientEarth, an organisation of lawyers using the law to take governments to court over climate breakdown, state that the UK government’s plan to reduce the levels of air pollution in affected cities has become a “shambolic and piecemeal mess”. It comes as the air quality in large cities continues to deteriorate, with two of the first five organisations tasked with reducing the amount of poisonous air in cities missed their targets.

In 2015, five authorities that represented areas with some of the worst pollution outside of London – Southampton, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, and Derby, were ordered to produce proposals on tackling air pollution by September 15th, air pollution which kills roughly 40,000 people prematurely every year.

It later became apparent that Derby and Nottingham would miss their targets, with Katie Neild, a ClientEarth lawyer, had this to say on Derby’s actions: “Their preferred option does not seem to be based on any kind of assessment of the possible impacts on air pollution in the city … from our point of view that is totally inadequate and seems to be creating more space for more cars and little else.”

As this is a national issue, it is imperative that the UK government occupied a stronger position in the enforcement of a more coordinated plan. If not, this crisis will continue. Previous attempts to cut air pollution were so poor as to be effectively illegal.

“What we are concerned about is a lack of government leadership on this. Things are coming out in a piecemeal fashion, different schemes being put forward by different authorities of different quality, with different charging levels with different exemptions. It is creating a very confusing picture and it is coming across as pretty shambolic.” said Neild.

It has been documented that not only does poor air quality produce respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchiectasis, it can also affect, if not directly cause developmental problems for the lungs of children, making them more vulnerable to the aforementioned conditions as they come into adulthood. Air pollution has also been linked to cancer, strokes, dementia, reduced cognitive ability, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Although other cities throughout the globe have been taking their air quality and environmental footprints more seriously, the UK government has been warned by the UN that, in effectively denying their right to clean air they are knowingly endangering people’s health.

Last month, David Boyd, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, said that the government had to take a lead in introducing new legislation on reducing air pollution and improving overall air quality, inferring that air pollution and climate breakdown were causally linked, and in tackling one, you had to tackle the other.

“The interesting thing about the UK is that the London smog of 1952 was the galvanising event that led to the world’s first Clean Air Act,” said Boyd. “I really feel like we have reached the point again where it is time for the UK to step up and show some leadership.”

 

 

EU members demand increased action on 2020 UN deforestation goal

An action plan on the alarming rates of global deforestation from the EU, which has previously been delayed, has been demanded to be brought forward “as soon as possible”, by the Amsterdam Declaration, a declaration proposed and sign by a number of EU countries, in a letter sent to the European commission.

The letter states that “despite progress in recent years, deforestation and forest degradation continue at alarming rates, in particular in tropical and subtropical regions, with as much as 80 % of global forest loss being driven by expansion of agricultural land, according to FAO estimates.”

The UN has a goal of halting deforestation by 2020, part of their Sustainable Development Goals, with goal 15 referencing the target of halting deforestation, and similarly goal 12, which works towards ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, notably of palm oil.

The Amsterdam Declaration group letter states that “as a major importer and consumer of many commodities which include embodied deforestation, the EU is both part of the problem and can be part of the solution by stepping up its efforts to address the impacts of the consumption and adopt a more coherent and comprehensive EU approach to the problem of deforestation.”

The Amsterdam Declaration itself aims at promoting “sustainable economic development” as it’s main tenet, but also focuses on an “inter-sectoral and holistic agenda” for poverty reduction, food security, gender equality, water and sanitation, sustainable consumption and production, climate action, and the halting of land degradation and biodiversity loss.

“The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) states: “total anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period (high confidence)”. In 2010, 24% (12 GtCO2eq) of total net emission was associated to Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses – AFOLU – (IPCC AR5). Moreover, according to the FAO (2014) AFOLU emissions may still increase by up to 30% if the status quo remains unchanged.” states the Declaration.

As stated above, agribusiness is responsible for 80% of the current amount of global forest loss. The forests that stretch around the planet are not only responsible for maintaining biodiversity, but for land reclamation and an incredible amount of carbon sequestration. Better forest management and natural climate solutions could possibly provide more than a third of climate breakdown mitigation needed by 2030 if acted upon, which makes this letter from the Amsterdam Declaration group all the more important.

This move comes as tensions and concerns continue to increase over the election of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro as President-elect of Brazil, whose campaign was funded in large by powerful agribusiness interests’ promising to construct a highway through the Amazon rainforest, an act with the potential to spread deforestation to an area of rainforest larger than Germany.

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Rainforest in Brazil.

Stronger regulations and laws within the EU could be put in place to lower the ecological footprint of our societies within all levels of the economy, from demand to production to consumption. According to Greenpeace, it is the production of soy, beef, and palm oil which drives deforestation in Brazil today.

Over the last decade, production of palm oil has doubled. This is expected to double again by 2050. Palm oil itself accounted for 65% of all vegetable oils traded internationally in 2006.

Recently an advert from Iceland and Greenpeace went viral, depicting a cartoon orangutan telling the story of the destruction of its home for the production of palm oil. While noble in it’s message, it misses out on the fact that it is not the issue with outright consumption, it is an issue of land management.

It has been claimed that to produce as much oil from a substitute in ‘palm oil free’ products, the amount of land needed increases to as much as 40x for coconut oil and 25x for soya. Soya production has been linked to massive deforestation in the South Americas, and yet is not covered in the mainstream media.

This could be attributed to the lack of coverage for environmental issues caused by the animal agriculture business, with around 90% of soybean production used for animal feed. It is similar in focus to the recent proposed ban on plastic straws across the UK, in an effort to reduce plastic waste in our oceans, when a large majority of plastic waste in our seas comes from discarded fishing gear, and yet the focus falls on plastic straws.

It is possible that for deforestation to become more manageable, it is not simply our consumption that needs to be reduced, but that actual way that we farm these products. These ‘Natural Climate Solutions’, can be read about here.

The full letter from the Amsterdam Declaration can be read here.

UN warns of extinction threat over biodiversity loss

Cristiana Pașca Palmer, the United Nation’s Biodiversity Chief, (or more accurately, the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity), has stated in the run up towards an important international conference that pressure needs to be put on governments for them to create new and ambitious universal targets by the year 2020, protecting the various levels of global biodiversity.

It has been warned that without new legislation the human race could be the first authors of their own extinction, if the destruction of biodiversity is not either slowed or stopped altogether.

Talking to The Guardian, Pașca Palmer stated that the loss of biodiversity is a ‘silent killer’. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”

Global biodiversity is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Varying degrees of biodiversity affects everything from clean water production, global food production, and the sequestration of carbon in the atmosphere.

This all comes with the results of the Living Planet Report, published by the WWF last week. The report, involving both the WWF and 59 scientists from around the globe, stated that humanity has eradicated 60% of animal populations between 1970 and 2014. “What is clear is that without a dramatic move beyond ‘business as usual’ the current severe decline of the natural systems that support modern societies will continue.” narrates the report in it’s preliminary pages.

Both our food services, health, and security all depend on biodiversity. It has been estimated that, globally, the natural world provides services worth around US$125 trillion a year, although we feel it pertinent to point out that this should not be the major factor in determining whether it is something of value.

The key driving threats to global biodiversity are over-exploitation and agricultural activity. For example, In 2016 the FAO published their biannual report about the state of fish population depletion, with monitored fish stocks being ‘52% are fully exploited, 17% are overexploited, 7% are depleted, 1% are recovering from depletion’. It is mostly with the increase in global demand for animal products such as red meat that we lose critical environments.

Land degradation, another key issue, has a detrimental impact on 75% of terrestrial ecosystems. This in turn reduces the welfare of more than 3 billion people globally.

In 2017, there was warning of an ‘ecological armageddon’, after research done in Germany stated that ‘More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas.

A meeting will take place in Sharm El Sheikh this month between the 196 member states of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to hopefully ignite conversations and ideas on new legislation for protecting the world’s crucial ecosystems. The next conference is set for 2020 in Beijing, where Pașca Palmer hopes a global deal can be implemented.

The state of biodiversity loss has been hailed as the ‘sixth mass extinction’, otherwise known as the ‘holocene extinction’, and unfortunately a lot of this loss goes undocumented, as the vast majority of species to exist and to go extinct are rumoured to be undiscovered.

This issue is unfortunately low on the global political agendas. It’s more popular, media-infamous cousin, climate breakdown, receives much more attention. Few heads of state attend conferences and talks about biodiversity. The US government, who have been systematic in their denial of climate breakdown and open about their wish to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, refused to ratify the Aichi Protocol of eight years ago, which saw nations promise to at least halve the loss of natural habitats. The Vatican chose not to send a participate.

As human populations grow and climate breakdown continues, rates of habitat destruction, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species will accelerate. It is estimated that by 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its mammals and birds. What is even more harrowing is the conclusion that the loss of land plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s overall ability to absorb and store carbon. This, along with the burning of fossil fuels will contribute to feedback mechanisms that could, if left unchecked, create an unstoppable cycle of global heating.

It is worth noting that the problems are biodiversity loss and climate breakdown are both very important issues that need solving. They are simultaneously separate issues and also are intrinsically linked to one another.

There is hope though. The UN’s top climate and biodiversity institutions held their first joint meeting, finding that solutions that were focused on nature and the living planet, solutions such as the protection of forests, planting trees, restoring land, and effective soil management, could provide up to one third of carbon absorption needed to keep global warming with the parameters set by the Paris Agreement. Some world leaders are opening their minds to the issue, such as French president, Emmanuel Macron, who recently agreed that the issue of climate breakdown cannot be solved as a single issue, and must be looked at in part with the mission to stem the loss of biodiversity.

In the Living Planet Report, the WWF states: “We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and our impact on it. We may be the last that can take action to reverse this trend. From now until 2020 will be a decisive moment in history.”