This week: city mayors join forces to rebuild better. Big Oil is at it again with the lobbying. Deforestation is accelerating. And MIT launches a new site: free climate knowledge for all! Read on for this week’s top environmental stories from around the world: pandemic edition.
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1. C40 mayors launch a Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force to rebuild our cities and economies.
Their goal? To rebuild “in a way that improves public health, reduces inequality and addresses the climate crisis.” In line with this ambition, they acknowledge that “our ambition should not be a return to ‘normal’“. Instead, as the principles read, they will listen to “public health and scientific expertise”, “address issues of equity”, and “improve the resilience of our cities and communities”. Additionally, the mayors recognise that climate action “can help accelerate economic recovery and enhance social equity”. If they truly adhere to this statement, the impact won’t be small. Collectively, the city leaders represent over 750 million people, from Los Angeles to Lisbon, São Paulo to Seoul, Melbourne to Mexico City. And with funds being channelled into transport and building improvements (both crucial to making cities more sustainable), it seems like these leaders are really listening to the researchers.
Mark Watts, the chief executive of C40, added: “There is now a hell of a lot of collaboration among very powerful politicians who do think a green economic recovery is absolutely essential.”
2. Funds reveal that Big Oil’s climate targets are not enough to meet Paris targets.
The Transition Pathway Initiative, a global programme that assesses climate risks and companies’ preparedness for a low-carbon economy, released a new report that shows the numbers don’t add up. Even though Big Oil has announced plans to cut their carbon emissions, they’re not sufficient. Shell, for example, committed to having a net-zero energy business by 2050. But TPI says that “the claim that they will be aligned with a 1.5°C climate scenario is not consistent with our analysis.” Stronger climate commitments need to be made, they added.
And it’s not just for Shell—the authors say that a serious net-zero strategy for the average European oil and gas company would require 100% emissions cuts between now and 2050.
3. Meanwhile, in the US, Big Oil is lobbying big-time for coronavirus aid.
The disaster capitalism continues, it seems, and the addiction to fossil fuels isn’t so easy to ditch. A new report from Friends of the Earth dug deeper into the extent of Big Oil’s lobbying. Reviewing over 130 filings from the first quarter of 2020, it found that “Big Oil is wasting no time exploiting the coronavirus for profit. Polluters fought hard for kickbacks in the first coronavirus stimulus package and they are undoubtedly up to it again.” Are they reaping rewards? It sure seems like it: Friends of the Earth reported that they’ve avoided paying $100 billion through tax cuts. These tax cuts are disproportionately benefiting the industry, especially companies like Halliburton that reported losses last year and companies like ExxonMobil beginning to report losses this year.
“These new giveaways,” it added, “are in addition to $16 billion in annual direct subsidies for oil and gas.”
4. Amid the pandemic, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is accelerating.
Speaking of disaster capitalism, according to preliminary satellite data from the Brazilian Space Agency’s deforestation monitoring system, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose more than 50% in the first three months of 2020. Which is already bad enough. On top of that, since the pandemic started, Brazil’s environmental agency scaled back enforcement measures. Consequently, indigenous tribes have been reporting deadly threats to their reserves. Why? Brazil’s indigenous reserves hold some of the most pristine sections of the rainforest in the world. So illegal logging and mining operations, looking to exploit these natural resources, are targeting those very reserves. (Apparently, they haven’t gotten the memo that environmental destruction is linked to pandemics…)
These invaders could also leave more than just environmental destruction in their wake. “We are desperate,” Andre Karipuna, a member of the tiny Karipuna tribe told the Environmental Justice Foundation. “The Karipuna are a small isolated community and just one infected person could rapidly pass the virus on to the whole tribe.”
5. Torrential rains, triggering floods and landslides, devastate East African countries.
The rains have caused hundreds of deaths across Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda and Ethiopia. And forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Unsurprisingly, the climate crisis is a root cause. Winds from the Indian Ocean (that’s been getting hotter in recent months) increase moisture in the region, leading to more intense rains. Worryingly, this compounds the ongoing hunger crisis because of swarms of locusts attacking their way through Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda. The locust plague has been happening since February and has also been linked to the same dramatic increase in the temperature of the Indian Ocean that’s causing the rains. (And yet, we’ve not seen robust coverage of this within the media…)
This once again highlights the injustice of the climate crisis and our inaction. Those who have done the least suffer the most.
BONUS SCOOPS: NOT-SO-GOOD NEWS
We just talked about the fashion industry failing its workers during the pandemic. But it appears companies are still risking it. Rent the Runway just came under fire for a compassionless mass layoff and forcing warehouse staff to work despite feeling unsafe. Even though Rent the Runway is supposed to be “a progressive champion of workers’ rights,” it seems “that reputation masks a relentless, profit-chasing work culture that has left them feeling used.”
BONUS SCOOPS: GOOD NEWS!
1. Climate knowledge for everyone! MIT just launched a new website providing “an interactive space in which the public can explore climate science, climate change, risks, and solutions.” Learn about the early discovery of anthropogenic climate change, and “the open questions that scientists are still working to answer.” The site boasts 11 short digital, easy-to-read chapters. And accompanying graphics, quizzes, narration, videos and additional resources!
2. The UK’s rapid decarbonisation of its electricity grid is working. The UK has gone an entire month without coal power for the first time in 138 years! (Since the UK first used coal—in January 1882.) And it looks like there’s more good news on the way. Within a few years, there’ll be no coal generation at all. Unfortunately, it won’t be entirely fossil-free, as they’ll be moving to gas. But, the National Grid is trying to accelerate the adoption of new tech and management systems. Which means eventually, they can sideline gas power plants when possible.
3. Chief executives and representatives from over 330 businesses want the US Congress to include climate in the COVID-19 recovery plan. Notably, the plan involves corporations like Microsoft, Visa, and Nike. And combined, these 330 businesses are worth $11.5 trillion. We’re talking over a dozen Fortune 500 firms, trade associations, medium and small business—from all 50 states, and all kinds of sectors. They’re calling on bipartisan federal lawmakers to build back better by infusing resilient climate solutions. The effort, named LEAD on Climate 2020, is “notable given the disruption most of the companies and investors are experiencing”.