Thursday, June 20, 2024

DeBriefed 19 April 2024: ‘Most extensive’ global coral bleaching; World Bank spring meetings; India’s election kicks off

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Welcome to Carbon Brief’s DeBriefed. 
An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.

Coral mass bleaching

FOURTH MASS BLEACHING: US government scientists confirmed that the world is facing its fourth mass coral bleaching event, which is on track to be the “most extensive on record”, the Guardian reported. Mass coral bleaching is a phenomenon of the climate change era, first occurring in 1998, the story said. It added that 54% of ocean waters with coral reefs have experienced heat stress high enough for bleaching. 

BARRIER BREACHED: The Great Barrier Reef – the world’s largest coral reef – has be​​en through its most acute and widespread heat stress event ever, Coral Reef Watch confirmed to the Guardian. Coral reef scientist Prof Terry Hughes told the New York Times that the “levels of heat stress measured in Florida, across the entire Caribbean, and now on the Great Barrier Reef are off the charts”. 

THE BIG DRY: Meanwhile, scientists in the Conversation explained the causes of a mass vegetation “die-off” in Western Australia’s forests and shrublands in February 2024, as the region “sweltered” through its hottest summer on record. “Just like a coral bleaching event, plants are responding to the cumulative stress of the unusually long, hot and dry summer,” the authors wrote.

World Bank spring meetings

BETTER HAVE BILLIONS: All eyes were on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) spring meetings in Washington DC this week. As civil society and economists said wealthy nations must pledge billions more in aid through the bank to tackle climate change, president Ajay Banga told journalists at the meeting “the climate crisis would be a priority” for the bank going forward, the Guardian reported. Experts quoted by the newspaper, however, questioned the bank’s willingness to reform “in a race against time”. 

DEBT TRAP: While the “long-simmering theme” of who should pay for climate damages raised its head again, debt was at front and centre at the meetings, the Financial Times reported. A report quoted in a Climate Home News comment by Asian debt activist Lidy Nacpil warned that 47 developing countries could go bankrupt from climate spending, but cancelling fossil fuel debts could free up the money needed.

LUXURY LOANS: Elsewhere, a Climate Home News investigation found that the World Bank counted support for five-star luxury hotels in Senegal as climate finance. Fishermen told the publication that the hotels had “exacerbated erosion” in their area.

Dubai floods

DUBAI FLOODS: The UAE was hit by an intense storm, with​​ almost a year and a half’s worth of rain pummeling the capital of Dubai on Tuesday, the Independent reported. The country experienced its heaviest rains in 75 years, said national meteorological authorities quoted in the Financial Times. The newspaper added that more than a dozen people were killed in neighbouring Oman. The rains were likely exacerbated by climate change, reported Reuters.

SEEDIN​​G DOUBT: While a Bloomberg article citing one person initially blamed “cloud-seeding” for the extreme rainfall, multiple meteorologists quoted in different outlets including the Guardian and the Associated Press debunked such claims. “You can’t create rain out of thin air per se and get six inches of water,” meteorologist Ryan Maue told AP.

DEJA VU DISASTER: Flash floods, lightning and heavy rain also claimed 63 lives in Pakistan, with the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recording the most fatalities, the Associated Press reported. In Baluchistan, authorities declared a state of emergency, with more rains expected amid rescue and relief operations.

  • INDIA VOTES: The first phase of voting in India’s general elections began today, as millions queued in scorching summer temperatures. Carbon Brief mapped where key national parties stood on climate change in their election manifestos.
  • DEFORESTATION DROPS: Deforestation on Indigenous lands across the Amazon has declined by 42% since last year and dropped to a six-year record low, according to a report by Brazilian research institute Imazon cited by O Globo.
  • ECUADOR ENERGY EMERGENCY: On Tuesday, Ecuadorian ​​president Daniel Noboa declared an “energy emergency”, after an El Niño-driven drought hit hydropower production and led to country-wide power cuts, Reuters reported.
  • MORE FOOTWORK, MORE ENERGY: Scientist and Mexico’s election frontrunner Claudia Sheinbaum unveiled a $13.6bn investment plan for solar, wind, hydro and gas projects, Reuters reported, calling it a “significant shift” from the current president’s oil-first priorities.
  • SCOTLAND SETBACK: The first country in the world to declare a “climate emergency” is “ditching” its ambitious target of reducing emissions by 75% by 2030, BBC News reported, after failing to meet eight of its 12 last annual targets.
  • SBTi CONTROVERSY: The Science Based Targets initiative, the leading arbiter of corporate climate targets, said there was “no change” to its standards, after an earlier suggestion that companies might be able to use carbon offsets to meet their goals led to a staff revolt, the Financial Times reported.

The annual cost of rising temperatures, heavier rainfall and more frequent and intense extreme weather by 2049, under a medium emissions scenario, according to a new study by Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

  • The Atlantic hurricane season could increase by well over a month (between 27 to 41 days) in the future because of the combined impact of climate change and natural climate variability, according to new research in Geophysical Research Letters. 
  • Marine animals seeking cooler temperatures as oceans warm could end up in areas where they will be exposed to deadly cold snaps, new research found. Carbon Brief had all the details. 
  • A new World Weather Attribution study found that El Niño was a “key driver” of a current severe drought in southern African countries, while climate change did not play as significant a role. A second WWA study found that an extreme heatwave striking the Sahel region between the end of March and the beginning of April  would have been impossible without climate change. 

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)

New documents obtained by Carbon Brief as part of a freedom-of-information (FOI) request revealed that the UK government reclassified nearly £500m in humanitarian aid meant for war-torn nations as climate finance, in a bid to help meet its pledges under the Paris Agreement. According to Carbon Brief analysis, the humanitarian projects in nations such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia being “double-counted” as climate finance have no explicit link to climate action. While the UK was previously viewed as setting higher standards than other countries on climate finance, experts told Carbon Brief that the government’s new approach of repackaging development and humanitarian aid instead of providing new money “risks breeding cynicism and mistrust”.

Elections in India’s coal and elephant country

On the eve of India’s general elections, Carbon Brief travels to the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh to speak to Indigenous communities protesting against coal mining in their sacred Hasdeo Arand forest. 

Ramlal Kariyam. DeBriefed.

On the winding hill road to the Hasdeo Arand forest, I was told by Indigenous activists to not get my hopes up for what I would – and would not – get to see. “Things are tense,” said an anxious Ramlal Kariyam on the phone to me. A thatched forest camp on the edge of the Parsa East Kete Basan (PEKB) coal mine was burned to the ground at 2am on 25 March, days before my visit. Police are still investigating the incident.

The camp was the epicentre of two-year-long relay protests to save one of India’s last contiguous tracts of dense sal forest from being clear-felled for coal. I had hoped to see the PEKB mine’s expansion and signs of rapid deforestation, but did not want to put villagers at risk. What I did not count on seeing through the sal trees on the side of the road was an elephant.

For years, India’s forest and state authorities ignored and concealed the presence of an elephant corridor in Hasdeo Arand, as they approved further fragmentation of what was once a “no-go” forest for coal mining. Even a spanner-like verdict in 2014 from India’s top environmental court acknowledging elephant presence and cancelling forest permits could not pause the excavators: its judgement remains stayed by India’s supreme court.

Mining in Hasdeo Arand began with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power at the state level and the Congress party at the centre. But it gained pace after Modi assumed power at the national level in 2014. In 2018, voters in these districts gave Congress its most comprehensive victory in Chhattisgarh, after giving assurances that it would put Indigenous rights first. Instead, Congress greenlit the clearing of even more tracts of forest for coal and was voted out last December.

“There’s no relief for us in coal areas…In 2014, we passed resolutions in all our villages saying that there is very dense forest here that should never be bartered for coal, but the government has continued auctioning our lands based on falsified consent,” alleged Umeshwar Singh Armo, the 43-year-old chief of the village of Paturia, speaking to Carbon Brief in the spartan mud office of the Save Hasdeo Movement (pictured above). “We’ve tried every democratic, peaceful means to talk to the government, but nothing has happened.”

While mining was slow to first begin, its reserves have been exhausted faster than expected. “Brother, how much coal do you want? They’re mining with such speed that they can finish a place’s wealth in five years,” said Ramlal. “When I’m sitting alone, I often think to myself: Will we be able to save this place? When we’re displaced, what will happen to all the other creatures here? The state is extinguishing so many lives and species for just one man.”

The only thing that has been able to significantly stop more coal blocks from going under the hammer? Elephants. 

In 2021, the state cabinet agreed to establish the stalled Lemru elephant reserve. In 2022, Chhattisgarh’s then-chief minister from the Congress party told the Modi government’s coal ministry that two coal blocks – including Gidhmuri-Paturia where Singh lives – should not be mined because they fall within the elephant reserve’s boundaries.

“Both [Congress and BJP] governments [state and national] work for the benefit of mining companies, but at least the Congress listens to democratic movements like ours that oppose mining,” said Singh. “The BJP, it doesn’t have that. If forests are finished, villages are finished, other species are finished, it makes no difference to them. The many laws that exist are all broken and made subservient to coal, they can magically turn dense forests into scrub forests when it suits them.”

As of last week, the movement has rebuilt its protest camp and is considering supporting  Indigenous-led parties. Singh is defiant. He concluded:
“For the longest time, it’s just these two parties that called the shots, and yet both parties lost when they failed to keep our movements in mind. If you want to take our forest land from us, the very least you can do is to talk to us about it.” ​​

SWISS PRECEDENT: A podcast by the Guardian spoke to 76-year-old Elisabeth Stern, part of a 2,400-strong group of senior Swiss women who won a landmark climate case last week in the European court for human rights.

LOST SHEIN: A new longread in n+1 reviewed the strange, online universe of fast fashion’s “worst offender” Shein and the material costs of throwaway textile retail.

EV MYTHS BUSTED: Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans busted electric vehicle myths on the Canadian podcast Buzzkill.

  • Nature Communications, associate or senior editor (physical oceanography and climate sciences) | Salary: $74,000 or $91,000. Location: Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, New York, Washington, Jersey City or Pune (hybrid)
  • Mongabay, staff writer – west and central Africa | Salary: Unknown. Location: Must be based in any part of west or central Africa
  • Loss and Damage Research Observatory, scholars for the Saleemul Huq Memorial Scholarship | Scholarship amount: $5,000, with an additional $1,000 towards travel and research expenses. Location: Hybrid, researchers and local organisations from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

DeBriefed is edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected].
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