Hello again and welcome. This is the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m Anthony Day. It's Friday, the 3rd of April.
To start with it's my pleasure to introduce my latest patron, Colin Clark from Australia. Welcome Colin, and thanks for your comments. Colin is particularly concerned about denial and he sent me a link to an edition of the Bolt Report, an Australian show, with two people complaining about the actions of extinction rebellion and the lack of balance in the media which was keeping climate deniers out. I’ve put the link on the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report and you’ll notice that the Bolt Report doesn’t have anyone putting the other side of the argument. OK - I have nobody putting the opposite view to the Sustainable Futures Report. Feel free to get in touch.
Last week I asked a question, is the Sustainable Futures Report relevant in the present circumstances? I've had responses online and by email and thank you for your support. The general consensus was that I should continue so I will, albeit in the context of this coronavirus emergency.
This week I’m going to talk about denial and whether climate change could lead to more pandemics in future. How will COVID19 affect developing nations and what are the implications of that for the rest of us? How is climate change affecting Africa and developing nations? And in other news, fantasies in Venice, cars in the sky, carbon reporting, fiddling investors, and why the British government thinks we should give up cars.
Relaxing the Rules
You’ll remember that Donald Trump’s appointment of Andrew Wheeler as US Environment Protection Agency administrator brought in a man with wide experience of climate change issues and environmental regulations. Much of this was gained in his former role as a lawyer acting on behalf of the coal industry. Wheeler is a critic of limits on greenhouse gas emissions and of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He was chief counsel to the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. senator James Inhofe. Inhofe himself has long been a climate sceptic and among many other things he’s the author of “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future”.
No surprise then that the EPS has announced the suspension of all environmental regulations during the coronavirus outbreak. This is a temporary suspension, although at present it is open-ended. I say ‘no surprise’ but it’s not altogether clear why the virus should justify such a moratorium, and Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, called it an abdication of the agency's duty. For example, not only will the oil industry not be sanctioned for leakages which contaminate water sources, but the obligation to record emissions and pollution events will be suspended. When all this is over there could be no record of the size or nature of events which may have occurred.
In the Toronto Sun correspondent Lorrie Goldstein claims that, “Rich hypocrites are the real climate deniers.” He cites a recent study by the University of Leeds in the U.K. which says that rich people are most to blame for human-induced climate change. The wealthiest 10% of people in the 86 countries surveyed consume 20 times more fossil fuel energy than the poorest 10%.
The largest disparity is in the transportation sector, where the top 10% consume 187 times more fossil fuel energy than the bottom 10%.
Goldstein says that minimum wage worker in Canada, who thinks human-induced climate change is a hoax, is doing far more to “save the planet” than all of the rich and relatively rich people who mock and denounce him, or her, as a “climate denier.” In his view poor people are the world’s greatest environmentalists because they consume less than rich people.
They live in small apartments, not mansions.
They take public transit, not cars.
They don’t go on exotic vacations.
They don’t fly.
They have few material possessions.
Since almost all goods and services consume fossil fuel energy, their carbon footprints are small because they consume less.
In response to the study, Prof. Kevin Anderson of the U.K.’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research said, “Anyone who tells others to consume less to save the planet is a hypocrite unless and until they’re willing to consume less themselves.”
I agree with that, but the crucial thing to remember is that while you can write off many people, including me, as a hypocrite, that does not change the truth of the climate change science.
Anderson goes on, “Nor can the rich claim to reduce their carbon footprints by buying carbon offsets, because the only credible way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is not to emit fossil fuel energy in the first place.
“Carbon offsets are the modern equivalent of papal indulgences — paying for sin, without giving up the sin, hardly anything new for the rich.”
I totally agree with that!
Climate Change and Pandemics
I spoke to patron Victoria Covington last week. She was wondering whether global heating and climate change would lead to more pandemics in the future, so I said I’d look into it.
The World Health Organisation reports that there is much evidence of associations between climatic conditions and infectious diseases. Malaria is of great public health concern, and seems likely to be the vector-borne disease most sensitive to long-term climate change. Malaria varies seasonally in highly endemic areas. Excessive monsoon rainfall and high humidity was identified early on as a major influence, enhancing mosquito breeding and survival. Recent analyses have shown that the malaria epidemic risk increases around five-fold in the year after an El Niño event.
They say, “Changes in infectious disease transmission patterns are a likely major consequence of climate change. We need to learn more about the underlying complex causal relationships.”
This seems to indicate that climate change will not generate new diseases, but it may produce conditions for diseases to arise in greater numbers and different locations than we would normally expect. The link is on the blog if you want to read the whole paper.
Writing on the Ethical Corporation site, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum, argues that companies must rapidly transition to a way of doing business that does not destroy biodiversity and natural capital or there will be more Covid-19s.
“Since the Covid-19 outbreak,” he says, “many researchers have highlighted how the destruction of our biodiversity and natural capital has in fact perpetuated many new pathogens. Deforestation and urbanisation, for example – coupled with a population explosion – has led to humans and animals coming into ever closer contact, resulting in the transmission of more diseases and viruses from wildlife to humans. Covid-19 is clearly a wake-up call that we must start living within our planetary boundaries. And I’m convinced we can do so, provided we equally value natural and human capital.”
He continues, “This is a crucial “decade of action” that requires business to step-up to help decarbonise the global economy and deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s also a “super year for nature”, in which we need to integrate stewardship of the Earth’s life support services – oceans, biodiversity and climate – with a new way of doing business. Valued at $125tn a year, our natural capital and biodiversity are vital components of the wealth of nations.”
Writing for the World Economic Forum Kate Whiting says, “Coronavirus isn't an outlier, it's part of our interconnected viral age. Coronavirus COVID-19 is part of a pattern of increasingly frequent epidemics that have coincided with globalisation, urbanisation and climate change. As society becomes more connected, collaboration and cooperation will be needed to reduce the impact of future epidemics.”
Or maybe once this is all over we will re-evaluate whether we need to become more connected, physically at least. Already companies - and the NHS - are beginning to wonder whether supply chains which stretch right across the world are worth the risk. And to the extent that we successfully implement the circular economy our raw materials will be the waste we create locally.
In January 2019 the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Harvard Global Health Institute, published a White Paper entitled: “Outbreak Readiness and Business Impact - Protecting Lives and Livelihoods across the Global Economy.”
Did anyone read it? You can, if you follow the link on the blog.
Chelsea Harvey, writing for Scientific American, says,
“As the Earth continues to warm, many scientists expect to see changes in the timing, geography and intensity of disease outbreaks around the world. And some experts believe climate change, along with other environmental disturbances, could help facilitate the rise of more brand-new diseases, like COVID-19.”
“There's a great deal of research about climate and vector-borne diseases — these are illnesses that are transmitted to humans by other animals, such as mosquitoes or ticks. But it's much harder to research climate impacts on human-to-human disease transmission.”
“We can put mosquitoes in a lab," said Rachel Baker, an expert on climate and infectious diseases at the Princeton Environmental Institute. "Put mosquitoes in labs, looking at everything from life length and egg-laying properties and all these different physiological life cycle characteristics and relating those back to climate drivers."
But with directly transmitted diseases, like influenza or COVID-19, it's much harder to run experiments. Some viruses — flu, for example — can be tested in animals like guinea pigs. But that's not true for every viral illness. And animals don't provide a perfect analogy for the way diseases spread in human societies.
The general conclusion seems to be that climate change will stimulate more disease. Whether these will be novel diseases is not clear, but diseases seem set to be an increasing and significant problem.
And although it’s not actually a disease, a plague of locusts can have serious consequences for human survival. Carbon Brief addresses the question: “Are the 2019-20 locust swarms linked to climate change?”
This outbreak was the largest seen in 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia – and in 70 years in Kenya. Although at least one swarm was calculated to be 60km long by 40km wide, overall the outbreak was smaller than many occurring in the 20th century.
The Arabian Peninsula – the land mass between East Africa and Asia comprising Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – is the principal breeding ground for locusts and was struck by several unusually severe cyclones between 2018 and 2019.
When the first storm – Cyclone Mekunu – hit the Arab peninsula in May 2018, it filled a vast desert near Yemen and Oman, known as the Empty Quarter, with freshwater lakes.
The moisture caused lush vegetation to grow in the usually barren environment, attracting desert locusts hunting for food into the area. “The first cyclone led to this emergence of optimal breeding grounds for the locusts.”
Then a second cyclone reinforced the damp, lush conditions which allowed the insects to continue to breed and increase their population some 8,000 times. They survived through a mild winter and in Summer 2019 they migrated into Africa. Here there were unusually wet and stormy conditions which allowed the numbers to grow still further, and unusually windy weather blew the insects into the interior.
So did climate change cause this plague of locusts? At the time, António Guterres, the UN’s secretary general, said,
“There is a link between climate change and the unprecedented locust crisis plaguing Ethiopia and East Africa. Warmer seas mean more cyclones generating the perfect breeding ground for locusts. This is getting worse by the day.”
Dr Wenju Cai, director of the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia said,
“It’s highly likely that the event that we’ve just seen has a very strong warming component in it – but attributing individual events to long-term climate change is not a simple issue.”
I think the message is that we shouldn’t meddle with things we don’t understand. Like the planet.
As we well know, COVID-19 is a global crisis. While there are arguments about testing, ventilators and personal protection equipment, the UK remains one of the nations best able to cope with the emergency. But this is a global crisis and affects every nation regardless of their ability to deal with it. The developing nations are particularly at risk.
Twenty experts, among them four Nobel prizewinners, including Joseph Stiglitz, Lord Nicholas Stern and seven chief economists of the World Bank and other development banks, have written to G20 leaders to warn of “unimaginable health and social impacts” as coronavirus rips through the developing world, taking overburdened healthcare systems beyond breaking point, and causing economic and social devastation.
At least $8bn (£6.5bn) in emergency funding has been requested by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, but this is just a start and tiny by comparison with the $2trn pledged by the US government and the £330bn pledged by the UK government to support their own countries.
“If efforts to control Covid-19 fail, “the virus could become endemic, producing new waves of destructive outbreaks around the world”, the letter warned, adding: “We have a rapidly closing window to ensure that we give these countries at least a fighting chance to manage the crisis and provide some light at the end of what could be a long tunnel.”
The letter concludes:
“We are now urging you, the leaders of the G20, to urgently provide the necessary resources to reduce the losses in human life and back up those most vulnerable. The required investment is minute compared to the social and economic costs of inaction. History will judge us harshly if we do not get this right.”
This is just another disaster heaped on to the developing nations. If I were cynical, I might suggest that chronic COVID19 in the developing nations would be such a permanent threat to the wealthy West that foreign aid to eradicate it would be forthcoming. We shall see.
Climate Change and Developing Nations
It’s frequently been suggested that climate change is likely to affect poorer nations sooner and harder than the rest of the world. Much of Africa is dependent on regular and predictable rainfall to support its farmers’ crops and livestock, but things are changing.
For example, for the decades following the 1960s and peaking in 1984, there was a downturn of rainfall of some 30% across the Sahel, which led to famine and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of many millions.
Drought is driving dust storms, and yet as we saw above, in 2019 the central eastern African states suffered a succession of cyclones and widespread floods. Crops and livestock washed away are just as dead as those killed by drought. Meanwhile as the land becomes uninhabitable refugees attempt to crowd into cities.
According to the UN, “No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa. Given its geographical position, the continent will be particularly vulnerable due to the considerably limited adaptive capacity, and exacerbated by widespread poverty. Climate change is a particular threat to continued economic growth and to livelihoods of vulnerable populations.”
“For sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced more frequent and more intense climate extremes over the past decades, the ramifications of the world’s warming by more than 1.5° C would be profound.
“Temperature increases in the region are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase; regions in Africa within 15 degrees of the equator are projected to experience an increase in hot nights as well as longer and more frequent heat waves.
“The odds are long but not impossible, says the IPCC. And the benefits of limiting climate change to 1.5° C are enormous, with the IPCC report detailing the difference in the consequences between a 1.5° C increase and a 2° C increase. Every bit of additional warming adds greater risks for Africa in the form of greater droughts, more heat waves and more potential crop failures.”
On the other hand, the Brookings Institution says that Africa can play a leading role in the fight against climate change. In its Foresight Africa 2020 report, author Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says that research from the New Climate Economy shows that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in global economic benefits between now and 2030. It could also generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs by 2030, a number equivalent to the combined workforces of the United Kingdom and Egypt today; avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution compared with business-as-usual; and generate an estimated $2.8 trillion in government revenues in 2030 through subsidy reform and carbon pricing alone.
“If fairness was the only goal, the impetus to act would lie solely with developed economies. Make no mistake, the big emitters absolutely must step up their domestic climate action, and quickly. But building the new climate economy is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every African nation should prioritise and claim a stake in.
“This opportunity is why, despite historically negligible carbon emissions, despite only accounting for 2 percent of world coal demand, and despite the lack of leadership from some developed countries, many African countries are now making serious efforts to transition towards low-carbon technologies, low-carbon and resilient infrastructure, and low-carbon tax systems.”
She goes on to explain how Morocco has built the world’s largest concentrated solar facility to help achieve the country’s goal of 52 percent renewable energy mix by 2030; how South Africa’s Carbon Tax Act, which places specific levies on greenhouse gases from fuel combustion and industrial processes and emissions, could reduce the country’s emissions by 33 percent relative to the baseline by 2035. Nigeria has set a renewable energy target of 30 percent by 2030, and international oil company Shell, has invested in SolarNow, which sells high-quality solar solutions in Uganda and Kenya. Since its inception in 2011, SolarNow has supplanted 210,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
“African leaders cannot do this alone. And nor should they,” she says. “Whether driven by opportunism or a sense of moral justice, the world’s developed and emerging economies must take action at home and help Africa deliver the investments that will bring the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach.”
Voice of Dissent
Meanwhile a headline in the Zimbabwe Independent warns: “We must not jeopardise Africa in the name of climate change.”
“I agree that climate change should be taken seriously, but we cannot accept knee-jerk responses,” says NJ Ayuk. “We must not rob our continent of the significant benefits it can realise from oil and gas operations, from the economic opportunities of monetised natural resources to critically important gas-to-power initiatives.”
“What about the desperation that the 600 000-plus Africans without power live with every day?”, he asks. “Is it reasonable to expect them to wait for green energy to evolve while domestic natural gas and crude oil reserves can be exploited to create electricity and heating fuel far more quickly?”
Clearly the debate goes on, all over the world.
And in other news…
You may have read about the swans and the dolphins which have returned to the canals of Venice now that the tourists have gone and the vaporetti are no longer cramming the waterways. Sadly, according to thehill.com that’s just an illusion. Apparently the swans never went away and National Geographic reports that the dolphins in a clip that went viral were filmed at a port in Sardinia, hundreds of miles away."
Turning to technology, Hyundai and Uber are working together to develop an air taxi. “Our vision of Urban Air Mobility will transform the concept of urban transportation,” said Jaiwon Shin, Executive Vice President and Head of Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Division. “We are confident that Uber Elevate is the right partner to make this innovative product readily available to as many customers as possible.”
Hyundai’s fully electric S-A1 model is designed to take off and land vertically, cruise at speeds of up to 180mph at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 feet, and have a range of up to 60 miles. The air taxi concept is powered by multiple rotors and propellers to increase safety and reduce noise, has been designed with four passenger seats, and although it is intended to be piloted at first, it will become autonomous over time.
Once this coronavirus crisis is over will we need autonomous air taxis? I’m not one to stand in the way of progress, but I must ask, as I’m sure many in the developed world would ask, “Progress for whom?”
Economics and Energy
“FTSE companies urgently need to raise their game on CO2 reporting,” warns the Ethical Corporation. Alexia Perversi and Andrew Jones of Mazars say a recent study by the auditing firm casts huge doubt on the credibility and utility of carbon disclosures in year-end reports.
“Current disclosure is not fit for purpose and in many cases appears to be a box-ticking exercise that is not integral to the way management teams run their business. Disclosures by the UK’s largest companies suggest huge levels of unexplained volatility in carbon emissions. What’s more, this volatility does not appear to be linked to operations, which casts huge doubt on its credibility and utility for analysing businesses’ performance over time in carbon efficiency.
“Listed companies have been required to report on carbon emissions for some time, but a new piece of legislation will require many non-listed companies to report, too, meaning thousands of new companies will be subject to reporting under a similar regime from next year.”
Let’s hope the government will get this under control. At present most of its attention is focussed, and rightly, on COVID19, but its many other responsibilities have not gone away and we cannot afford to neglect them. While there may be a fire in the engine room, it’s still important to steer the ship away from the rocks.
Fiddling While Forests Burn
Another headline from the Ethical Corporation reads: “Investors and companies are fiddling while forests burn”
Last September, as a response to the Amazon fires, 230 institutional investors representing $16.2tn in assets called on global companies to take urgent action. “As investors, who have a fiduciary duty to act in the best long-term interests of our beneficiaries, we recognise the crucial role that tropical forests play in tackling climate change, protecting biodiversity and ensuring ecosystem services … and see the reduction of deforestation as a key solution to managing these risks and contributing to efficient and sustainable financial markets in the longer term,” ran the statement.
Fine words but also words unmatched by similar fine deeds, according to a new report from Global Canopy.
The Forest 500 annual report seeks to hold to account 350 companies that produce, trade, use or sell the largest amounts of six key commodities – palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber, and pulp and paper – as well as the 150 biggest institutions that finance them.
In total, the report showed that 102 (68%) of the financial institutions that were assessed had no deforestation policies, among them four of the world’s five biggest asset managers, BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street and Fidelity Investments, with a combined $17.6tn of assets under management.
“In other words,” says the report’s author Sarah Rogerson, “most of the financial institutions that fund the Forest 500 companies don’t publicly recognise that their investments may drive deforestation and so contribute to climate change.”
And some people wonder why people like XR are angry.
In the foreword to a report entitled Decarbonising Transport, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”
This is Grant Shapps, a minister in a Conservative government. You know, the Conservative Party which supports the freedom of the individual, which frequently includes the right to drive as far as you like wherever you like. The Conservative Party whose Chancellor last month promised millions for road building and little or nothing for public transport.
It’s probably just an illusion. Was that a dolphin I saw flying past?
That’s it for this week.
We may be locked down and working from home but the flow of climate and sustainability news never stops and I don’t even manage to bring you the half of it. I’m certainly not lounging on the sofa and bingeing on box-sets.
Next week I intend to approach the Green New Deal and I do hope to interview one of its architects.
For the moment, that’s all for this edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. All I’ve got to do now is record and publish it. Oh I suppose I must have by now if you’re listening to it. Don’t forget the blog at www.sustainablefutures.report where you’ll find the full text and links to all my sources.
Thank you for listening. Thank you to everyone who’s got in touch to share ideas. Thanks for being a patron, if you are.
I’m Anthony Day.
Till next time!
Climate Change and Pandemics
Global Effect of COVID19
Child development in Africa
Dreams in Venice
The Flying Car
Economy & Energy
Other articles that may be of interest:
Shapps on cars - the i-newspaper 30th or 31st March.