Sunday, June 23, 2024

DeBriefed 26 April 2024: Extremes grip Asia; Human rights inquiry; Using climate science in court

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

Asian extreme weather

SWELTERING: An intense heatwave is sweeping across south and eastern Asia. The Dhaka Tribune said temperatures in Bangladesh have surpassed 40C in many regions and the Daily Star reported that the country recorded at least 23 days “heatwave days” in April. Agence France-Presse reported that Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, reached 40.1C on Wednesday. The Bangkok Post added that temperatures could reach 43C in northern Thailand next week. (See Carbon Brief’s recent on-the-ground reporting on the impacts of climate change on human migration in Thailand.) Schools across the Philippines, Bangladesh and India have been forced to close due to the heat, according to BBC News. 

ELECTION HEAT: In India, the heatwave coincides with the country’s six-week general election, in which nearly one billion people are eligible to vote, the New York Times reported. India’s election authorities have set up a taskforce “to review the impact of heatwave[s]” on the election after a significant decrease in voter turnout, the Indian Express said. India’s Economic Times added that temperatures in the country will peak on 27-28 April. 

FLOODING: More than 110,000 people have been evacuated from China’s Guangdong province after record-breaking rainfall caused widespread flooding, state news agency Xinhua reported. China Daily said that southern China has experienced more than double the typical rainfall for April. The flooding has caused economic losses exceeding 140m yuan ($19.8m), according to the People’s Daily Online. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that the World Meteorological Organization has published a report warning that climate change “is causing major repercussions across Asia”.

Legal action

HISTORIC ENQUIRY: The Inter-American Court on Human Rights in Barbados is hearing the first part of a “historic” inquiry this week, the Guardian said. The New Humanitarian reported that Colombia and Chile are “asking the hearing to define states’ legal responsibility to combat climate change and prevent it from violating people’s human rights”. It added that the court will hear from Julian Medina, a Colombian fisherman, among others. 

HEALTH FAILURE: A group of South Koreans is suing their government for failing to protect 200 people, including young environmental activists and children, by not tackling climate change, Reuters reported. “The proceeding is Asia’s first such climate-related litigation,” the newswire added. Meanwhile, BBC News reported that an Iraqi man is taking legal action against BP, alleging that his late-son’s leukaemia was caused by the oil company’s flaring practices.

SUSPENDED: Meanwhile in the UK, Dr Sarah Benn, a retired GP in Birmingham, has had her medical licence suspended for five months following her involvement with Just Stop Oil protests and risks being stuck off permanently, the Guardian reported. According to the Times, the 57-year-old was previously jailed for 31 days after taking part in three climate protests at an oil terminal in Kingsbury in 2022. There has been backlash to the ruling, which the British Medical Association called “very concerning”, the paper added.

  • EARTH DAY: US president Joe Biden marked “Earth Day” on Monday by announcing $7bn of investment into solar energy projects, the New York Times reported.
  • CONTROVERSIAL TREATY: EU lawmakers have voted “overwhelmingly” for the bloc to leave the international energy charter treaty, according to the Financial Times. The paper called the ruling a “victory for climate advocates”, adding that many think the treaty protects fossil fuels.
  • UNHELPFUL SLOGAN: Chris Stark, the outgoing chief executive of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, told the Guardian that “net-zero” has become an “unhelpful” slogan, which is often “associated with the campaigns against it”.
  • MEXICAN DROUGHT: Nearly 80% of Mexico’s territory is now under drought conditions, Excélsior reported. EuroNews added that drought, combined with a surge in water demand to grow crops such as avocados, is causing rivers and lakes to dry up in the “once green and lush” state of Michoacan.
  • DEADLY FLOODS: Countries across east Africa have been “lashed by relentless downpours in recent weeks”, Al Jazeera reported. The outlet warned that “deadly floods” are sweeping through Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
  • CLIMATE RISK: The World Bank is advising South Africa’s national treasury on climate risk strategies, such as taking out climate insurance or setting up contingency funds, following floods which have caused billions of dollars of damage in recent years, reported Bloomberg. 

The number of workers globally expected to face “excessive heat conditions” at some point during their careers, according to an ​​International Labor Organization report covered in the Associated Press.

  • A study in Nature Climate Change found that meteorological definitions for extreme weather events do not fully capture the negative impacts experienced by women in informal settlements.
  • The area of land in east Africa affected by combined heatwaves and wildfires could increase by 940% by the end of the century, according to new research in Earth System Dynamics.
  • New analysis by the World Weather Attribution service found that the heavy rainfall that hit Oman and the United Arab Emirates recently was 10-40% heavier than it would have been in an El Niño year 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.)

The past 10 months have all set new all-time monthly global temperature records, with April 2024 on track to extend this streak to 11, wrote Dr Zeke Hausfather in his latest quarterly “state of the climate” report for Carbon Brief. The graph shows monthly temperatures over 1940-2024, plotted with respect to a 1850-1900 baseline. Based on the year so far and the current El Niño forecast, Carbon Brief estimates that global temperatures in 2024 are likely to average out at around 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Climate science in the courtroom

Prof Wim Thiery

Last week, a group of 2,000 Swiss women won a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights. The women, mostly in their 70s, said that their age and gender made them particularly vulnerable to heatwaves linked to climate change. The court ruled that Switzerland’s efforts to meet its emissions targets had been “woefully inadequate”.

At the annual European Geosciences Union (EGU) general assembly in Vienna, Carbon Brief interviews Prof Wim Thiery – a scientist who was involved in multiple conference sessions on climate change and litigation. This interview was edited for length.

Carbon Brief: What types of climate science are used in litigation?

Prof Wim Thiery: Just like how there’s a range of different subfields in climate science, we have a range of different climate cases. For example, there’s attribution science which supports reparation cases. We are seeing carbon budget research and fair-share emission pathways research supporting cases on climate policies. And we’re also seeing future climate impact projections supporting cases that are started by young people around the world.

CB: What science was used in the recent European case?

WT: Impact attribution research played a key role. Recent studies by [Oxford University researcher] Dr Rupert Stewart-Smith and [Swiss epidemiologist] Dr Anna Vicedo-Cabrera, for example, showed that all women in Switzerland are disproportionately at risk of heat-related mortality in Switzerland. So, these are recent scientific publications that were directly mentioned in court and that played an influence on the final court ruling.

CB: Do you think the methods used in attribution science are changing to better support litigation?

WT: We are seeing an evolution in attribution science, whereby we move from the traditional science of long-term trends in climate variables, to the operational ability to – in almost real time – establish the link of climate change with the occurrence of individual extreme events. And we’re seeing a new evolution whereby communities are increasingly looking at impact-relevant variables. Think about inundated areas, lake levels, heatwave mortalities. These are the new target variables of attribution science. This is a new frontier and we are seeing that those studies are directly usable in court cases.

CB: Do you ever worry about your research, or that of your colleagues, becoming ‘too political’?

WT: We are used to, in climate science, working with policymakers and with society. Our research is of direct societal relevance and this is just a new example. For me, this is just another example of working with stakeholders – lawyers are a new group of stakeholders for our community.

There is a very direct and tangible impact when you see that an attribution study or a particular scientific publication is used in a court case and has a direct effect on its evolution. It’s very tangible, the outcomes, and I think that’s something which motivates climate scientists in engaging in this community.

FAKE MEAT: Climate YouTuber Simon Clark has published a video asking: “How green is fake meat, really?” To answer the question, he compared the carbon and land footprints of  beef, chicken, pork and mutton with those of major meat substitutes.

GROWING GULLIES: A multimedia-rich BBC News article explained how soil erosion is causing vast gullies and chasms to open up around Latin America and Africa, destroying tens of thousands of homes.

GREENWASHING ADS: The Financial Times and Reuters have taken down “advertorials” paid for by oil giant Saudi Aramco, following allegations of greenwashing and disinformation, DeSmog reported. 

  • Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, head of Asia campaigns and advocacy | Salary: $60,000-80,000. Location: Fully remote (Asia)
  • UK Met Office, land observations manager | Salary: £41,725. Location: Exeter, Edinburgh or Watnall
  • International Institute for Environment and Development, urban climate resilience lead and principal researcher | Salary: £64,814-80,654. Location: Hybrid within or outside the UK, with occasional travel to the UK offices.
  • Climate Analytics, deputy head of climate policy and senior climate science data analyst | Salary: €54,348-84,495 and €64,348-70,944, respectively. Location: Berlin

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