Eco News Q1 2020

The Sins of the Fathers:  Scientists maintain that Covid-19 may be just the beginning of a series of mass pandemics caused by habitat and biodiversity destruction.  Research indicates that new, deadly diseases are emerging from “hotspots” such as the virgin forests and bushmeat markets of Africa, Asia and the Amazon.

This places the conflict between Humanity’s wellbeing and environmental conservation in an unusual arena.  David Quammen, author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic”, puts it succinctly:  “We cut down the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets.  We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts.  When that happens, they need a new host.  Often, we are it.” 

It is now known that the destruction of the one and the consumption of the other can unleash pathogens capable of crossing from animals to humans, leading to diseases such as Zika, Ebola and HIV; and now Covid-19. 

© Cleveland Clinic

Yet bushmeat, and the menu includes various endangered species (pangolins and tiger cats), is consumed worldwide by hundreds of millions of people in rural communities.  It is in fact an essential source of protein of special importance in the nutrition of children if they are to avoid kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency condition that can lead to impaired physical and mental development.

This begs the question:  is the Covid-19 pandemic Nature’s pay back?  Is it a cruel wake up call to show Humanity that it must change course; that the Planet does strike back, and hard? 

Is it an opportunity for us to maintain what has produced blue skies in Beijing and dolphins in Venetian canals?  Can that change be done without lowering our standard of living?  Please, let us have your opinion.

Bushfire Purgatory:  Let us hope that this Australian inferno is not now so remote or overcast by Covid-19 as to have lost significance.  The Big Climate Fightback must go on while we are in lockdown! It is still very much there.  

You all know what this picture represents.  

©  WWF

Australia’s mean Annual Temperature – 1960 to 2019

Source: Bureau of Meteorology, Australia

If you would like to help Australian wildlife recover please go to the World Wildlife Fund’s https://support.wwf.org.uk/australia-bushfires?pc=DMF001014.

We Have Been Warned – Again!:  Our Met Office is a recognised world-leader for medium-term climate predictions.  Its 2019 global data confirms that the last decade is the warmest on record.

It highlights the fact that 2019, a year without a strong classical El Niño, was the second warmest year since annual global temperature records began in 1850.  Only 2016 was warmer, a year in which temperatures were boosted by “a significant El Niño”.

It forecasts average temperatures between 1.15 °C and 1.46 °C above pre-industrial levels for the next five-years; the result of continued high levels of GHGs.  

Global Average Temperature Difference – 1850 to 2019

Source: Met Office

Yet another stark reminder that we may soon surpass the IPCC’s objective of holding temperatures below 1.5º C, the point above which we have been warned there is a negative impact on “health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth”?

Did Davos Help?:  The theme was “Stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world”.  Well, the world’s elite (119 billionaires and 53 heads of state) certainly did descend on the luxury ski resort.  They did so in 309 private jets, and tripper Trump came in Airforce One!  

One journalist reported that their first meal was “pan-seared Indonesian soy cutlets cooked by a celebrity vegan chef”; a public gesture demonstrating that they had offset their transport emissions by eschewing filet mignon, or in the case of a special tripper, chateaubriand.

It was Prince Charles whose call for us to unite reinforced Greta’s call for action:  “We simply cannot waste any more time”, he said, and stressed, “The only limit is our willingness to act.”

Ursula von der Leyen, had acted.  She warned that the EU’s gains in emission reductions would not be circumvented by carbon rich imports.  Carbon border adjustment mechanisms would be set to hit imports from countries that do not respect international climate goals.  She ended with an offer:  “If this turns into a global trend, we will have a level playing field where no carbon border tax will be necessary.”  And … the Planet wins!

Are Governments Listening?:  Just weeks before Covid-19 hit the Planet the IEA declared “the world is not on course to achieve the outcomes of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals most closely related to energy:  to achieve universal access to energy; to reduce the severe health impacts of air pollution; and to tackle climate change.”  

The demand for energy had been forecast to grow by 70% over the next 25 years in line with expected economic development and population growth.  Plans were in the pipeline to produce more fossil fuels than was consistent with limiting global warming to 2°C; and the production equivalent of maintaining warming below COP-25’s 1.5°C target was to be exceeded by 120%!  That objective had been swept aside:  sights were set on limiting global warming to 2ºC by 2100! 

A fact plain to see in the chart below where fossil fuels still account for just under 50% of the world’s primary energy supply in 2050.

World Primary Energy Supply by Source

Source: DNV GL – Energy Transition Outlook

In brief, governments are not listening, or at best, not listening enough.  Some are attempting to do something but in what appears to be a half-hearted way. 

The Overseas Development Institute has concluded that despite their pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, the G7 alone provided an average “$100 billion per year in government support for the production and consumption of oil, gas and coal:  $81 billion in fiscal support through direct spending and tax breaks; and $20 billion in public finance”. 

The ODI has tracked progress towards meeting their phase-out pledge, and produced a scorecard which shows their performance across seven indicators, and underlines the serious risk of non-delivery on their commitment.

Scorecard:  G7 Progress to Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies by 2025

Source: Overseas Development Institute 2019

However, now that Covid-19 has turned everything on its head, the Planet has a golden opportunity to change course.  Fighting the virus has shown that the Planet is interconnected at all levels and that strict legislation has a greater chance of being effective than a laissez faire approach.

What is needed now is for governments to apply the same draconian lockdown regulations to Climate Change: that phenomenon is equally as insidious and dangerous as the virus.  The problem is that its symptoms do not translate into deaths as quickly as the virus.  The apocalyptic threats of Climate Change approach with greater stealth.

Governments should recognise that they have to be as aggressive as they have been with C-19, and legislate to make a quick transition to sustainable lifestyles.  The pandemic has shown them that it is important to control high risk before it is too late.

The Polluter-Pays Principle:  This is a concept that should be applied with vigour, backed by strict legislation.  If applied incrementally and over time, it will embed itself in the consciousness of all economic decision-makers and change cultures at both grass-roots and corporate levels. 

Exchequers will bask in new funds (the IMF believes as much as 6.4% of global GDP!) which should be ringfenced to develop and deploy low-carbon technologies.  The result could be exponential change and seismic reductions in carbon emissions.

This is a position QE has long advocated, based on a simple truth:  Everyman’s behaviour is shaped by the what is left in its pocket, or on its Balance Sheet.  The creeping challenges of Climate Change are too stealthy and insidious for Everyman to heed warnings that “catastrophic and irreversible consequences” will result from inaction. 

To hit the polluter’s pocket will soon wake it up!  More legislation please!

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