Climate change report draws UN call for action

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment David Boyd called Oct. 8 for accelerated action to combat climate change. The statement comes after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Boyd said that climate change is "one of the greatest threats to human rights" and will have devastating effects on the "rights to life, health, food, housing, and water, as well as the right to a healthy environment." In order to meet human rights obligations, Boyd called on counties to exceed their Paris Agreement obligations. If the temperature is allowed to increase 2.0°C, it would result in "human rights violations upon millions of people."

The IPCC report estimates that a temperature increase of 1.5°C will be reached between 2030 and 2052 if no changes are made. Global temperatures have already increased by nearly 1°C over pre-industrial levels. In order to limit the increase to 1.5°C, the models predict that a 45% decline in CO2 emissions is necessary from 2010 levels by 2030. In order to limit temperature rise to under 2°C, CO2 emissions need to be reduced by 20% by 2030, with net zero CO2 emissions being achieved by 2075.

In order to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C, by 2050, coal electricity generation would need to be reduced to 0-2% of global generation (down from the current 40%). Natural gas electricity generation, even with carbon dioxide capture and storage, would need to be reduced to 3-11 percent of total global generation (down from the current 20%).

From Jurist, Oct. 8. Used with permission.

Note: In a scenario of 1.°C rise over pre-industrial levels, the report foresees worsening food shortages and wildfires, inundating coastlines, and intensifying droughts and poverty by 2040. At a worst-case 2°C of warming, the report predicts a "disproportionately rapid evacuation" of people from the tropics. (NYT) The report comes as other countries around the world are threatening to follow the US withdrawal from the Paris climate pact. In Australia, a plan to reduce emmissions has been abandoned, and conservatves are calling for the country drop its Paris accord commitments altogether. In Brazil, right-wing presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro is openly calling for the country—which contains the Earth's largest expanse of rainforest—to drop out of the accord. (The Guardian, New Scientist)

The Paris Agreement, adopted at a December 2015 summit, permits a 2°C increase, but calls upon signatories to work towards a  1.°C increase.

EPA proposes changes to coal plant emissions limits

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Dec. 6 proposed changes to limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants. The proposed "Best System of Emission Reduction" would replace a 2015 rule that identified partial carbon capture and storage. The new proposal states partial carbon capture and storage is too costly, with limited geographic availability. (Jurist) The EPA is also expected to unveil its proposed rewrite of a major 2015 Obama rule that extended federal protections to thousands of waterways and wetlands. The moves come days after the Interior Department proposed easing rules on oil and gas drilling for millions of acres of range in the West. (AP)

Climate change poses threat to food nutrition

Studies have shown that crops as varied as wheat, maize, soybeans and field peas contain less protein, zinc, and iron when grown under levels of carbon dioxide expected by 2050. Many crops have already suffered losses in these nutrients; one study compared modern plants with historical herbarium specimens and found that levels of all minerals, including zinc, iron and calcium, closely tracked carbon dioxide levels through time.

The latest paper on the topic, published earlier this year in Science Advances, found that concentrations of essential nutrients decreased in 18 strains of rice after being exposed to increased carbon dioxide levels in an experiment. The study was the first to show that B vitamins like riboflavin, which helps your body break down food to make energy, and folate, which is important for fetal development, dropped by as much as 30 percent. (Scientific American)

Climate change is making you stupid

Rising carbon dioxide emissions could cause a decline in the brainpower of workers around the world, according to new research. A new study by academics at University College London (UCL) found that higher amounts of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere could affect our memory, concentration and decision-making abilities. Raised CO2 in workplaces lacking proper ventilation is known to make employees more sluggish and less able to successfully complete tasks. And climate change is likely to make intellectual impairment a far more widespread problem in the decades ahead, according to the researchers. The UCL team said evidence indicated that "human cognitive performance declines with increasing CO2 levels." (The Independent)

Global insect collapse portends planetary doom

The world's insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are "essential" for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

"Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades," they write. "The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least."

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors. (The Guardian, Feb. 10)