International Climate News: Week of Jan 17th

“An Iraqi man walks past a boat sitting on dry, cracked earth in Chibayish marshes near Nasiriyah, Iraq.” Getty Images, via Al-Monitor, 2015.

Monday 17th January, 2022:
Temperatures are rising, climate disasters have a debilitating impact on health, volcanoes aren’t as bad as we thought, and when it comes to oak trees – the younger, the better.

IRAQ: Temperatures in Iraq are rising twice as fast as the global average. Average rainfall is declining, making water too salty for humans, animals, and vegetation. Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes have reduced in size by 75%; more than half of surrounding households have lost cattle as a result.
Iraq is also a major oil producer, and the world’s second largest gas flaring offender (natural gas is burned in oil extraction, the flaring emits CO2 and methane). Unsurprisingly, Iraq featured heavily in COP26 discussions.

PUERTO RICO: The consequences of Hurricane Maria have exacerbated the strain upon already suffering health and community services. Acute climate disaster makes the historically vulnerable even more so; “communities of color already suffer from a disproportionate number of health problems because of historic trauma and chronic underinvestment.”
The hurricane and other climate crises have had a devastating impact upon the health of Puerto Ricans. In the storm’s aftermath, they have suffered higher rates of obesity, arthritis, blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, as documented in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN: The Cumbre Vieja eruption on the island of La Palma’s impact upon anthropogenic climate has been studied by volcanologists. Acid rain destroyed plantations, caused by the sulphur dioxide spewed from the volcano, and carbon dioxide concentrations increased significantly. However, this was localized and only for a short period of time – so what long-lasting effect has the eruption had on the climate?
Volcanologist Ana Pardo Cofrades concludes: “The volcanoes have been around for longer than we have been. And climate change didn’t start until the industrial revolution. So I don’t think we can blame the volcanoes about this climate change.”

FRANCE: A study of the evolution of oak trees in French forests has found that oak trees evolve rapidly, and are capable of adapting to climate change in just a few generations. These results will prove essential for successful forest management amidst an ever warming climate.
We should focus less upon “maintaining trees that are more than a hundred years old, adapted to a cold climate, [as this] can slow down the evolutionary process by fertilizing younger trees. Shortening generations would thus accelerate evolution and limit the effects of poor adaptation due to pollination by old stands.”

Additional pieces worth a read:
The Climate Conversation No One Wants – Foreign Policy
How the Refrigerator Became an Agent of Climate Catastrophe – The New Yorker

A plume of smoke rising from the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’api days before its eruption. Source: Reuters 2022

Tuesday 18th January, 2022
Refusing relief to prevent COVID-19 spread, seeking independency at the expense of climate goals, and taking steps to prevent another record breaking summer.

TONGA: After Tonga’s volcanic eruption and the ensuing tsunami, the islands are covered in ash, communication lines are damaged (including a lack of internet), and as of writing there have been three deaths. Foreign assistance has been offered – Australia and New Zealand in particular – but with the assistance could come another form of devastation: COVID-19.
Tonga has only had one COVID-19 case and zero deaths. Travelers must quarantine for 21 days and 60% of the population has received two doses of the vaccine. Australian and New Zealand officials have said they will be “extremely careful when they deliver water, food and construction supplies.” Tonga and relief providers will have to decide how to balance the needs of the people versus the potential for viral spread.

MEXICO: President López Obrador has approved the purchase of the majority stake of Deer Park Refinery in Houston, Texas by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) for $596 million. This would be Pemex’s only major operation outside of Mexico. President López Obrador said last month: “[t]he most important thing is that in 2023 we will be self-sufficient in gasoline and diesel and there will be no increase in fuel prices.”
This purchase is in direct contrast with his once expressed concern for an ever warming climate. The relationship between oil and politics within Mexico will be an incredibly difficult matter to separate – March 18th is a national holiday dedicated to the nationalization of oil, Pemex employs over 120,000 workers, and oil accounts for a third of the Mexican government’s revenues.
Former President Felipe Calderón pledged that Mexico would generate more than a third of its power from clean energy sources by 2024. Currently, only a quarter stems from clean energy. We shall see what López Obrador’s work will do to his predecessor’s ambitions.

WASHINGTON STATE: Governor Inslee (D) has proposed state spending of $626 million for climate protection following last year’s record breaking summer. Said funding would be allocated toward reducing carbon emissions from buildings, investing in clean energy and technology, and rebates for buyers of electric vehicles.
Republicans have expressed concern over Inslee’s expenditure, questioning where the money would come from and if it would dig in to potential COVID-19 funds. “I would caution money that isn’t earmarked for climate to be used for the things that it’s earmarked for and not just spend it in that way,” State Sen. Shelly Short, R-Colville, said.

Additional pieces worth a read:
Exxon Sets a 2050 Goal for Net Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions – The New York Times
Climate Change Hits Home for Latinos – Axios

Thousands of dead fish float in the Boca Ciega Bay located near the mouth of Madeira Beach on July 21, 2021 in Madeira Beach, Florida. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Wednesday 19th January, 2022:
Making climate change a budgetary priority, populist politics threatening Hungary’s climate longevity, and tackling Florida’s algae crisis.

MARYLAND: Montgomery County’s Executive Marc Elrich has proposed a $5.1 billion capital budget for 2023-2028, with racial equity and climate change being key priorities. This budget is an increase of 17.2% from the last approved budget in 2020.
Elrich said in an interview that the budget addresses climate issues “in a significant way.” It includes $408 million for bus rapid transit planning, $268 million for pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and $152 million to convert Ride On buses to a zero-emission fleet.

HUNGARY: Hungary’s next general election is on April 3rd – Dr. Bernadett Szél of the United Opposition in a joint press conference said voters must elect a new government to give the country a “fighting chance of countering climate change.” The Fidesz-led government – the right-wing populist party led by Viktor Orbán – has carried out over 3,000 investment projects which have ignored green considerations.
Erzsébet Schmuck, environmentalist and co-leader of the LMP (Hungary’s Green Party) – accused Fidesz of “gutting Hungary’s environmental protection authorities […] so they are free destroy the country’s green spaces.” She has said a new government would “insulate 150,000 flats a year and launch social, political, and professional debates on the use of nuclear energy.” Further, public transport passes would be provided, rail lines electrified, and cycling infrastructure improved.

FLORIDA: The state is experiencing an algal bloom crisis – a rapid increase in algae resulting in widespread wildlife mortality. Algal blooms can also cause respiratory and eye irritation in humans. These blooms are caused by “runoffs from stormwater, agricultural lands, and wastewater treatment plans,” and if they accumulate significantly can lead to a ‘red tide‘ phenomenon, in which red tide algae reproduce in dense concentrations and wash dead fish on to the Gulf beaches.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has appointed a task force to address this crisis. The task force’s report recommends more research in to the causes of red tides and continued work under the Clean Waterways Act of 2020. The impacts of climate change upon algal blooms – which may “be impossible to change” – include warmer water temperatures, changes in salinity, rainfall patterns, coastal upwelling, and sea level rise. Red tides occur almost every year in Florida in late summer or early fall.
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, had condemned the task force for ignoring the devastating impact climate change has upon red tides. “If the state regulators instead just stopped pollution at the source by holding polluters accountable, Florida would have a much better chance at turning the corner on its water quality crisis.”

Additional pieces worth a read:
Climate change made the past 7 years the warmest on record – New Scientist
Substituting food items rather than whole diets can still make a big difference – Medical News Today

Climate Crisis leads to discovery of new penguin colonies in Antarctic. Source: Getty, via The Independent 2022

Thursday 20th January, 2022:
Penguins migrating even further south for the winter, challenging Gov. Phil Murphy’s climate policies, and Greenland’s ice sheets needed change yesterday.

ANTARCTIC: As temperatures rise in the Antarctic, birds are moving further south. A new colony of gentoo penguins has been discovered at Andersson Island as well as the “first-ever recorded findings of the species in an unexplored archipelago at the northern tip.” Until recently, these areas were too icy for these temperate birds to raise chicks.
The continent set a new record high of 18.3C in February 2020 and is among the fastest warming regions on the planet. Penguin migration can provide warnings of climate health; another recent expedition found that chinstrap penguin colonies on Elephant Island have collapsed by as much as 77% in the last 50 years.

NEW JERSEY: NJ’s Governor Phil Murphy’s administration is being taken to court by an environmental coalition over their “lack of real advances to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite years of promise.” EmpowerNJ filed a petition with an appellate court requesting the Department of Environmental Protection to fulfill their promise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (from 2005 levels).
The environmentalist group has proposed that the DEP must “deny permits for any new fossil fuel projects that don’t meet certain benchmarks, which would include a gas-fired power plant proposal for Newark.” New Jersey’s sea level has risen by 1.5 feet since 1911 – more than double the global average. 2020 and 2021 were the state’s second and third warmest year’s on record.

GREENLAND: Even if warming stopped today, the vast Greenland ice sheet may continue melting for centuries. Greenland has a delayed response to the changes in the Earth’s climate; a study led by Hu Yang of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany used model simulations to predict thousands of years of climate change. They discovered during periods of natural cooling, the ice sheet began to grow – and this continued even after warming started again. However, the opposite was also found to be true.
This delay and incredible size of the Greenland ice sheet means that “once it starts losing ice at faster and faster speeds, it can take a long time to slow back down again.” Immediate climate action will not make an immediate difference, but the delay makes radical change even more of a pressing need.

Additional pieces worth a read:
Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight amid climate change, cybersecurity and pandemic – CBC
“ReTree Hawaii” plants 16-thousand trees to combat climate change and sea level rise – KITV

Enset fruit of Ethiopia (right) next to the common banana. Source: Royal Botanical Gardens, via BBC.

Friday 21st January, 2022:
A crop strong enough to grow in tough climates, Chile’s first Climate Change Observatory, and Madagascar’s famine may not be climate change induced.

ETHIOPIA: A banana like crop called the enset may be a “lifesaver in the face of climate change.” Research suggests it can be grown over a much larger range in Africa and has the potential to feed more than 100 million people in a warming world. Currently, it is only consumed in one part of Ethiopia. The fruit is inedible, but the stems and roots may be fermented to make porridge and bread.
Dr James Borrell of the Royal Botanical Gardens noted the crop’s unique and unusual traits – it can be planted at any time, harvested at any time, and is perennial (lives more than two years) which is why it is known as the tree against hunger. Enset good boost food security past Ethiopia in to other African countries including Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.

CHILE: Chile has launched its first Climate Change Observatory in Punta Arenas – it will collect the “most diverse and complete data in the world on global warming.” Chile’s vast ranges in climate across different latitudes make it ideal for climate change analysis. Although similar initiatives have been undertaken before, the Chilean observatory is the one with the largest latitudinal range in the world.
The Observatory will combine information from a variety of private and public databases located between the city of Arica, on the northern border with Peru, and Antarctica. The project will also install 21 multiparameter stations in Antarctica to measure the climate in real time.

MADAGASCAR: The island is facing a devastating famine. 30 million people have faced the worst drought in decades and crops are failing. The UN has warned for months that Madagascar is on the brink of the world’s first ‘climate-change-induced famine.’ However – a study by World Weather Attribution has cast doubt upon this.
WWA’s study states: “poverty, poor infrastructure and dependence on rain-fed agriculture, combined with natural climate variability, are the main factors behind the Madagascar food crisis, with climate change playing no more than a small part.” Madagascar is still very much at the forefront of the climate crisis and ill-equipped to face the challenges it poses, but most of the additional significant impacts will not be faced until 2C of warming. At present, the increase is 1.1C but COP26 warned us the world is on track for 2.4C of warming.

Additional pieces worth a read:
Interactive: How Much of your country’s electricity is renewable? – Al Jazeera
Climate change denial on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok is ‘as bad as ever’ – USA Today

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