Climate change is a justice issue – these 6 charts show why

African countries have faced dangerous droughts, storms and heat waves while contributing little to climate change. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

by Sonja Klinsky, Arizona State University

Climate change has hit home around the world in 2021 with record heat waves, droughts, wildfires and extreme storms. Often, the people suffering most from the effects of climate change are those who have done the least to cause it.

To reduce climate change and protect those who are most vulnerable, it’s important to understand where emissions come from, who climate change is harming and how both of these patterns intersect with other forms of injustice.

I study the justice dilemmas presented by climate change and climate policies, and have been involved in international climate negotiations as an observer since 2009. Here are six charts that help explain the challenges.

Where emissions come from

One common way to think about a country’s responsibility for climate change is to look at its greenhouse gas emissions per capita, or per person.

For example, China is currently the single largest greenhouse gas emitter by country. However, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the U.S., Australia and Canada all have more than twice the per capita emissions of China. And they each have more than 100 times the per capita emissions of several countries in Africa.

These differences are very important from a justice perspective.

The majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels to power industries, stores, homes and schools and produce goods and services, including food, transportation and infrastructure, to name just a few.

As a country’s emissions get higher, they are less tied to essentials for human well-being. Measures of human well-being increase very rapidly with relatively small increases in emissions, but then level off. That means high-emitting countries could reduce their emissions significantly without reducing the well-being of their populations, while lower-income, lower-emitting countries cannot.

Low-income countries have been arguing for years that, in a context in which global emissions must be dramatically reduced in the next half-century, it would be unjust to require them to cut essential investments in areas that richer countries already have invested in, such as access to electricity, education and basic health care, while those in richer countries continue to enjoy lifestyles with high consumption of energy and consumer goods.

Responsibility for decades of emissions

Looking at current emissions alone misses another important aspect of climate injustice: Greenhouse gas emissions accumulate over time.

Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and this accumulation drives climate change. Carbon dioxide traps heat, warming the planet. Some countries and regions bear vastly more responsibility for cumulative emissions than others.

For instance, the United States has emitted over a quarter of all greenhouse gases since the 1750s, while the entire continent of Africa has emitted only about 3%.

People today continue to benefit from wealth and infrastructure that was generated with energy linked to these emissions decades ago.

Box chart showing which countries and continents had the most emissions over time
Cumulative emissions, 1751-2017, by country. Hannah Ritchie/Our World in Data, CC BY

Emissions differences within countries

The benefits of fossil fuels have been uneven within countries, as well.

From this perspective, thinking about climate justice requires attention to patterns of wealth. A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Oxfam found that 5% of the world’s population was responsible for 36% of the greenhouse gases from 1990-2015. The poorest half of the population was responsible for less than 6%.

Bar chart showing emissions by wealth rank, with the top 5% emitting significantly more than any other group.
Share of emissions growth by wealth rank. Stockholm Environment Institute and Oxfam, CC BY-ND

These patterns are directly connected to the lack of access to energy by the poorest half of the world’s population and the high consumption of the wealthiest through things like luxury air travel, second homes and personal transportation. They also show how actions by a few high emitters could reduce a region’s climate impact.

Similarly, over one-third of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels and cement over the past half-century can be directly traced to 20 companies, primarily producers of oil and gas. This draws attention to the need to develop policies capable of holding large corporations accountable for their role in climate change.

Who will be harmed by climate change?

Understanding where emissions come from is only part of the climate justice dilemma. Poor countries and regions often also face greater risks from climate change.

Some small island countries, such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, face threats to their very survival as sea levels rise. Parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Arctic and mountain regions face much more rapid climate change than other parts of the world. In parts of Africa, changes in temperature and precipitation are contributing to food security concerns.

Many of these countries and communities bear little responsibility for the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. At the same time, they have the fewest resources available to protect themselves.

Climate impacts – such as droughts, floods or storms – affect people differently depending on their wealth and access to resources and on their involvement in decision making. Processes that marginalize people, such as racial injustice and colonialism, mean that some people in a country or community are more likely than others to be able to protect themselves from climate harms.

Strategies for a just climate agreement

All of these justice issues are central to negotiations at the United Nations’ Glasgow climate conference and beyond.

Many discussions will focus on who should reduce emissions and how poor countries’ reductions should be supported. Investing in renewable energy, for example, can avoid future emissions, but low-income countries need financial help.

Wealthy countries have been slow to meet their commitment to provide US$100 billion a year to help developing countries adapt to the changing climate, and the costs of adaptation continue to rise.

Some leaders are also asking hard questions about what to do in the face of losses that cannot be undone. How should the global community support people losing their homelands and ways of life?

Some of the most important issues from a justice perspective must be dealt with locally and within countries. Systemic racism cannot be dealt with at the international level. Creating local and national plans for protecting the most vulnerable people, and laws and other tools to hold corporations accountable, will also need to happen within countries.

These discussions will continue long after the Glasgow conference ends.

COP26: the world’s biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage of COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.
Amid a rising tide of climate news and stories, The Conversation is here to clear the air and make sure you get information you can trust. Read more of our U.S. and global coverage.

Sonja Klinsky, Associate Professor and Senior Global Futures Scientist, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The view from inside the Glasgow climate summit – a focus on faster policy changes as talks intensify, amid grandstanding and anger outside

Countries facing existential risks from climate change, like the Maldives, are demanding faster action and financing to help them survive. UNFCCC

by Rachel Kyte, Tufts University

Young people poured into the streets of Glasgow on Nov. 5, 2021, angry and impatient as the first week of the U.N. climate summit ended. Their anger is matched by anxiety in the conference halls as the enormity of what has to be achieved in such a short period of time hovers over a complex process that can become sclerotic.

I’ve been involved in the climate negotiations for several years as a former senior U.N. official and I am in Glasgow now. At the start of the second week, here’s what I’m seeing and hearing, both inside the negotiations and outside.

A shift from 2050 to 2030 goals

To slow climate change, every part of our economies will transform, and that is reflected in the conference sessions running in parallel to the formal negotiations and in the constituencies that turned out in real strength the first week – executives from central banks, CEOs of global banks and institutional investors, young people, indigenous peoples leaders, faith communities, advocacy groups and the world’s media.

There has been a shift at this year’s summit, from making pledges to reach net zero emissions by 2050 to a focus on actions to cut emissions by 2030.

Research shows the world needs to cut global emissions 45% by 2030 to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) compared to pre-industrial times, an aim of the Paris climate agreement.

The Energy Transitions Commission, a coalition of businesses and nongovernmental organizations, calculated that if the commitments made at COP26 are delivered, it will cut the gap between today and the 1.5 C trajectory in half for carbon dioxide emissions and by almost 40% for methane. In total, the world would be about 9 gigatons closer to the 22 gigatons of emissions reductions needed.

That’s a start.

Big deals, big claims

The first week of COP26 was about building momentum – big deals and big claims outside the negotiations, with different coalitions of countries, companies and others, pushing action forward.

Some of those pledges will likely collapse like a souffle in the weeks and months that follow, when a company’s board balks at some of the details or when they re-run the numbers under greater scrutiny.

But there were notable coalitions announcing pledges on cutting methane, ending deforestation and diverting international public finance away from fossil fuels and into clean energy. The international financial community formed a broad alliance of firms committed to net zero, attracting accusations of greenwashing.

The U.N. secretary-general announced an expert group to propose clear standards for companies and others making net zero commitments.

The formal negotiations intensify

At this point in the negotiations, the U.K. – which holds the COP26 presidency – will drive efforts to wrap up some remaining parts of the rulebook for implementing the Paris climate agreement.

It will also be pushing for agreement on a “cover statement,” which will include a whole raft of issues. At this point, it is a long list of issues ranging from human rights, youth engagement and a just transition to more technical and procedural issues, such as how to recalibrate countries’ climate commitments and actions each year and how to ensure finance flows to adaptation, not just mitigation.

A “High Ambition Coalition” is emerging, led by the Climate Vulnerability Forum, a group of around 20 countries facing high risks and sometimes existential threats from climate change. They have called for a Climate Emergency Pact that would include: a plan to deliver finance to help them adapt to climate change over the next few years, an agreement to increase those funds beyond that period, progress on finance involving loss and damage from climate change, an agreement on carbon markets, and a process for raising countries’ commitments each year until the world is on track.

Now, in the second week, government ministers from the around the world are becoming personally involved in loosening log jams and taking over from their negotiators.

Joining the inside and outside

The gulf between what’s happening inside the negotiations, and what press releases from events outside the negotiating rooms are saying could widen.

Inside, negotiators cannot agree on billions of dollars in climate finance expected to flow from wealthy countries to help poorer countries. Yet on the outside, press releases discussing trillions of dollars in private investment committed to net-zero emissions imply the problem is fixed.

And on the outside, while some analysts tally commitments to see if each gets the world closer to a trajectory that keeps warming under 1.5 C, inside discussions on transparency and reporting on climate progress are stalled.

Greta Thunberg with other young protesters.
After the first week of COP26, young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunburg reflected the frustration outside, declaring at a rally: ‘It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure. It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.’ Peter Summers/Getty Images

But the atmosphere is not all bleak. There is optimism that agreement on carbon markets may be found after painfully elongated talks at the summits two years ago in Madrid and three years ago in Katowice.

Ultimately, the Glasgow conference can only be called a success when emissions start to slow and reverse and wealthy nations are able to put finance and real support behind poorer communities’ adaptation so they can become more resilient to the climate driven crises still to come.

Opportunity for talent

While all of this is resolved, think about this: In every meeting I have been in – with green banks in developing countries and their micro-entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley CEOs, finance chiefs, management consultancies and mayors – there is an additional concern that goes beyond the need for better policy, new regulation and a braver political class. Their concern is about the talent pipeline, or its absence. As every country, company, fund and bank shifts to a net-zero pathway, the world will need engineers, data analysts, policy experts and planners to plot the course and lead.

The transition is underway, Glasgow needs to deliver, and the world needs to train and prepare for the sprint to 2030 in a race to zero emissions.

COP26: the world’s biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage of COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.
Amid a rising tide of climate news and stories, The Conversation is here to clear the air and make sure you get information you can trust. Read more of our U.S. and global coverage.

Rachel Kyte, Dean of the Fletcher School, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Future extreme rainfall more extreme than first thought

Read the full story from the UK Met Office.

New analysis of the latest climate science shows that future extreme rainfall could be more extreme than previously thought.

Study reconstructs 232-year history of prairie fire in Midwestern US

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

Researchers combed through thousands of historical documents for first-person accounts of fires occurring between 1673 and 1905 in the Midwestern tallgrass prairie. Their study is the first systematic analysis of the timing, causes and consequences of prairie fires in this part of the world. They report their findings in Natural Areas Journal.

A forgotten mangrove forest around remote inland lagoons in Mexico’s Yucatan tells a story of rising seas

A stand of red mangroves in the calm, calcium-rich, fresh waters of the San Pedro Mártir River, Tabasco, Mexico. Ben Meissner, CC BY-ND

by Sula E Vanderplank, San Diego State University

The San Pedro River winds from rainforests in Guatemala through the Yucatan Peninsula in eastern Mexico. There, this peaceful river widens into a series of slow-flowing lakes. Along a remote 50-mile (80-kilometer) stretch, thousands of red mangroves – trees commonly found along tropical coastlines – line the river’s banks and gentle waterfalls.

Unlike mangroves elsewhere, these trees grow in freshwater. This means that many other species can grow with them: orchids, bromeliads and other air and land plants that cannot tolerate the saline conditions where red mangroves are normally found. It’s a magical garden, and also a scientific puzzle: How did these mangroves come to be growing some 125 miles (200 kilometers) inland, 85 to 120 feet (25 to 37 meters) above sea level, in an entirely freshwater ecosystem?

I am part of a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Mexico and the U.S. that sought to answer this question by comparing these trees to other mangroves across the broader Yucatan Peninsula region. We also analyzed sediment cores from the San Pedro River terraces, which showed strong indications that the sediments had been created in coastal areas.

We found that the mangroves of the river have been separated from coastal mangroves for around 120,000 years. This coincides with the Last Interglacial – a warm period between ice ages, about 125,000 years ago, when glaciers and polar ice caps melted almost entirely.

During that time, the Earth was even warmer than at present and sea levels were 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) higher. These mangroves’ ancestors were coastal trees that were left isolated as the planet cooled during the Wisconsin Glaciation – the last era when glaciers expanded across North America. As the glaciers spread, sea levels fell, exposing more land around them. Now, this unique forest, a footprint of the past, is at risk of deforestation and development that could prevent scientists from studying it for more insights into Earth’s climate history.

Fish swim among mangrove roots
Fish and other aquatic life in the San Pedro Martir River in Tabasco, Mexico, amid submerged red mangrove roots. Octavio Aburto, CC BY-ND

Mangroves and fresh water

The red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) is an iconic tree that is enormously important to commercial and artisanal fisheries around the world. Juvenile fish shelter among mangroves’ tangled roots, feeding and growing until they are large enough to avoid predators.

Our study focused on two inland lagoons created by giant cenotes – natural sinkholes in the Yucatan’s limestone bedrock – near the Caribbean coast. Red mangroves reproduce via seeds that germinate while they are still attached to mother plants, then drop onto a bank or into the water, where they float away and establish themselves on adjacent banks. This adaptation enables mangroves to spread along coastlines, even though saltwater is toxic to most seeds and makes germination very difficult.

We were fascinated to know how the San Pedro mangroves got there. Their seedlings couldn’t float upstream for so many miles, and the forest on the banks was large and well-established, which made it seem highly unlikely that an animal or human could have brought the seeds inland. To our knowledge, the San Pedro River mangroves are unique in existing so far from the coast.

Isolation and fragmentation

One way to determine where plants may have come from is to see whether they are genetically related to colonies of similar plants elsewhere in a region. So we conducted a genetic investigation that looked for single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or “snips” – differences in a single DNA building block between one plant and another.

We found that the closest relatives to the San Pedro River’s isolated mangroves were mangroves at the Terminos Lagoon on the Yucatan’s western coast, along the Gulf of Mexico. Mangroves from both river communities also were closely related to other coastal populations on the Gulf of Mexico. However, they were very distinct from other freshwater inland mangrove populations in cenotes on the Yucatan’s eastern coast along the Caribbean, and those populations are distinct in turn from other coastal mangroves.

We cored the largest mangrove trees at three sites, extracting pencil-shaped samples from their trunks that showed their growth rings, to get a sense of how long these trees lived – about 100 years – and how many generations of trees had lived there. Then we multiplied that figure by a mean genetic mutation rate to estimate how old the San Pedro mangroves were when they diverged genetically from other mangroves, and how long ago that divergence occurred.

We calculated that the San Pedro River and Terminos Lagoon mangrove populations separated genetically approximately 100,000 years ago. This supports our hypothesis that the San Pedro River mangroves are a relict from the last interglacial, some 120,000 years ago.

Our data also suggests that something drastically reduced the size of the isolated inland population of San Pedro River mangroves. This created what scientists call a genetic or population bottleneck, meaning that its gene pool became much smaller. As a result, the current population has a more unique genetic signature than mangroves elsewhere. Amazingly, this change was caused by just 30 feet (9 meters) of change in sea level.

Climate change is raising global sea levels in two ways: water expands as it warms, and ice sheets and glaciers on land are melting.

What else does this unique forest hold?

Our discovery raises an obvious question: Which other species have been isolated in this unique ecosystem for the past 125,000 years? Are there insects? Fungi? We hope scientists who study other types of organisms will explore this area and look for more relicts.

But this special place is at risk. The region was systematically deforested in the 1970s as part of a development plan, but the banks of the San Pedro River escaped the bulldozers because the terrain was challenging. New threats loom today, such as a proposed 950-mile (1,529 km) train route that would carry thousands of visitors to Mayan archaeological sites.

Mayan river systems contain a wealth of cultural and biological riches. Now, we also know that the story of extreme climate change and sea level rise during the Pleistocene is recorded in the DNA of these plants.

They show how dramatically climate change could alter coastal ecosystems along the Gulf of Mexico and many other shorelines if nations do not take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. My colleagues and I believe the San Pedro River deserves protection as a testament to both resilience and adaptation in a changing climate.

Sula E Vanderplank, Adjunct Professor, San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wildfires redraw the landscape for corporate tree planting

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Wildfire isn’t just sad for nature lovers, but it’s also a huge problem for the planet. Forests are some of our best carbon sequesters, and over the past five years hundreds of thousands of acres in the U.S. have literally gone up in smoke, pouring carbon back into the atmosphere. The only way to directly reverse the effects is to wait for new trees to take the place of the old ones. Given the greater number and intensity of wildfires that have become the norm due to climate change, coupled with insufficient forest management practices, the forests need help to regenerate.

So corporations are stepping up and expanding their tree-planting budgets to address the problem, but tree-planting after a forest fire is different from traditional reforestation projects. It takes a lot of management, care and infrastructure to plant trees. Without tree planting organizations and money, usually from corporate backers, once-forested areas would turn into blank landscapes dotted with shrubs that have out-competed the trees in the wake of fire.

Plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables to be banned in France

Read the full story at Packaging Europe.

The French Government has announced plans to ban fruit and vegetables from being sold in plastic packaging from January 1st, 2022, as part of its anti-waste law aimed at creating a circular economy with single-use plastic phased out by 2040.

Putting honeybee hives on solar parks could boost the value of UK agriculture

Read the full story from Lancaster University.

The value of UK agriculture could be boosted by millions of pounds a year if thousands of honeybee hives were deployed on solar parks across the country, a new study reveals. However, scientists caution that the benefits of managing solar parks for wild pollinators over honeybees should be prioritized where appropriate and should be assessed on a site by site basis.

How to collaborate successfully on food waste and surplus

Read the full story at Food Manufacture.

Peter Worsey, Sector Specialist in Food & Drink at WRAP, talks about the ways in which manufacturers and retailers can collaborate to improve their current performance and continue reducing food waste and surplus in the UK.

New book celebrates Illinois couple’s turning back time in their own backyard

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

Wildflowers peek their heads through the grass. An eastern tailed-blue butterfly flits among the tall, swaying blades as a red-winged blackbird flies overhead. When Fred Delcomyn looks outside, this is what he might see.

In 2001, when he and his wife, Nancy, moved to their home outside of Urbana, Illinois, it looked a lot different…

They’re also co-authors of the new book, “A Backyard Prairie. The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers.”