The 2019 UN Climate Change Conference began Dec. 2 in Madrid, with leaders looking for solutions to reduce global carbon levels. Leaders originally planned for the conference to be held in Chile, but due to political instability, the conference was moved to Madrid, where it will take place over the next two weeks. The conference started with statements from prominent leaders, notably António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General. Guterres urged leaders to select the "path of hope." He characterized this choice as:
The UN Environment Program (UNEP) has released its tenth annual report on "emissions gaps," finding that the current rate of global carbon emissions will lead to an average temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100. The report was completed by international scientists and specialists to assess where countries are in terms of their emissions levels versus where they need to be to avoid the worst damage from climate change. Inger Andersen, the executive director of the program, wrote in the foreword that "[o]ur collective failure to act strongly and early means that we must now implement deep and urgent cuts… This report gives us a stark choice: set in motion the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change."
A Special Report on Climate Change was released by the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Aug. 8, focusing on greenhouse gas emissions and its links to desertification, land degradation and food security. The report warns that the "rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil," risks "jeopardizing food security for the planet." According to the report, about a quarter of the Earth's ice-free land area is subject to human-induced degradation, such as soil erosion and desertification. The effects of global warming have led to "shifts of climate zones in many world regions," further exacerbating land degradation, and leading to extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts. The reports warns: "The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases."
The White House is accusing Peru of violating its commitment to protect the Amazon rainforest from deforestation, threatening to hold Lima in violation of the 2007 US-Peru Free Trade Agreement (formally the Peru Trade Promotion Agreement or PTPA). On Jan. 4, Robert Lighthizer, President Trump's top trade negotiator, announced that he is seeking formal consultations with Lima to address concerns about its recent move to curtail the authority of Peru's auditor for timber exports, the Organism for the Supervision of Forestry Resources (OSINFOR), which was established as a provision of the trade agreement. "By taking this unprecedented step, the Trump administration is making clear that it takes monitoring and enforcement of US trade agreements seriously, including obligations to strengthen forest sector governance," Lighthizer said in a statement.
On his first day in office Jan. 2, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (Medida Provisório 870) taking away responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, and handing it over to the Agriculture Ministry. In the same decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over regularization of quilombos (lands titled to runaway slave descendants) from the agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the Agriculture Ministry. The measure greatly weakens FUNAI, taking away its most important function. In practice, key areas of indigenous and quilombo policy will now be in the hands of agribusiness advocates—a long-time demand of the Bancada Ruralista (agribusiness bloc) in Congress.
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the protest movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France."
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."
Canada's Federal Court of Appeal on Aug. 30 overturned (PDF) the government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. A number of groups challenged the approval, including several First Nations and two municipalities, asserting that the First Nations were not adequately consulted on the project. The court found that Canada failed "to engage, dialogue meaningfully and grapple with the concerns expressed to it in good faith by the Indigenous applicants so as to explore possible accommodation of those concerns." The court also found that the National Energy Board's review process on the project failed to include the impacts of tanker traffic releated to the pipeloine expansion. The decision stated that the "unjustified exclusion of marine shipping from the scope of the Project led to successive, unacceptable deficiencies in the Board’s report and recommendations." The government's approval of the pipeline expansion was nullified, halting construction. (Jurist)