Planet Watch

Indigenous voice won in UN climate process

Indigenous groups claimed a victory at the UN climate talks in Bonn on Nov. 15 as governments acknowledged for the first time that they can play a leadership role in protecting forests and keeping global temperatures within safe levels. Participating governments ("Parties") agreed to create a platform to promote the voices and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the UN climate process, formally known as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The "Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform" (PDF) states that "Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities," while "Emphasizing the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in achieving the targets and goals set in the Convention, the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizing their vulnerability to climate change."

San Francisco sues fossil fuel companies

San Francisco on Sept. 20 filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels." The suit claims the companies knew of the effects of fossil fuels on global warming since the late 1970s or early '80s, but nonetheless "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and public relations campaigns to promote pervasive fossil fuel usage." The suit seeks an order that the defendants fund an abatement program for the building of seawalls to protect San Francisco from rising sea levels.

Control of oil at issue in NAFTA re-negotiation

As "NAFTA 2.0" negotiations open, a provision that essentially locks in Canada's current levels of oil exports to the US is drawing opposition from unlikely allies across the Canadian political spectrum but winning staunch support in the "Oil Patch," as the country's petroleum industry is colloquially called.  The "proportionality clause" originally appeared in the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement of 1988 and became a major issue in that year's national election that returned Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to office. It was replicated six years later in the North American Free Trade Agreement—although Mexico won an exemption. The clause can be invoked if a government in Canada reduces US access to Canadian oil, natural gas, coal, electricity or refined petroleum products without a corresponding reduction in domestic access to those resources.

Victory for Inuit sea rights in Canadian high court

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously July 26 in favor of the Inuit community of Clyde River, Nunavut, which has for the past three years fought to stop seismic testing in their Arctic waters. The Court found that the Inuit were not properly consulted on the oil exploration project off Baffin Island. The decision nullified a five-year seismic testing permit issued by the National Energy Board (NEB) in 2014. The justices wrote that the NEB's consultation process with the community was "significantly flawed," paying little respect to the aboriginal rights of the Inuit and their reliance on local marine mammals for subsistence.

Antarctica: ...and still it melts

President Trump announced his decision June 1 to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on Climate, signed by 195 nations and formally joined by 147, including the US. The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations in the world not supporting the accord. Nicaragua, it should be noted, failed to join because the terms of the accord are not binding, and it was therefore considered too weak. Syria is consumed by internal war, and was iced from the negotiations by restrictions on its envoys traveling to the talks. The agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, came into force on Nov. 4, 2016, just days before Trump was elected. Each country sets its own commitments under the accord. The United States, second-largest emitter on the planet after China, had committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. It also commited up to $3 billion in aid for poorer countries to address climate change by 2020. (ENS, June 2; NYT, June 1; WP, May 31)

US signs Arctic climate declaration —with caveats

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.

Doomsday Clock: 2.5 minutes of midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 26 moved the minute hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock from three minutes to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. On this year that marks the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin notes (full text at PDF; links added by CountrerVortex): "The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO; both countries continued wide-ranging modernizations of their nuclear forces, and serious arms control negotiations were nowhere to be seen. North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests and gave every indication it would continue to develop nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control in Kashmir after militants attacked two Indian army bases."

Paris Agreement on climate change takes effect

For the first time in history, governments around the world have agreed to legally binding limits on global temperature rises as the Paris Agreement (PDF)  on climate change became effective on Nov. 4. All governments that have ratified the accord are now legally obligated to cap global warming levels at 2 C above pre-industrial levels—regarded as a limit of safety by scientists. But environmentalists and other groups have said the agreement may not be enough. According to Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth: "The Paris agreement is a major step in the right direction, but it falls a long way short of the giant leap needed to tackle climate change. Far tougher action is needed to rapidly slash emissions." Greenpeace also agreed that while the agreement is a major step forward, it needs stronger force. Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, further pointed out that governments w