As the year draws to a close, we’re taking the opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months of the climate movement—the impacts, the activism and the action.
Looking back on 2013, we hope to better understand the complex landscape in which we are trying to build a safe and sustainable future, and where the climate movement stands as we move into a new year.
1. 400 ppm: World Crosses Sobering Climate Milestone
In May, scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii confirmed that concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) had passed the ominous milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm)—concentrations not seen for more than 3 million years. According to experts, the last time our planet was exposed to equivalent levels of greenhouse gases, global temperatures were 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter and sea levels were 5-40 meters higher than today.
“It is symbolic, a point to pause and think about where we have been and where we are going,” said Professor Ralph Keeling from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii on this historic milestone. "It’s like turning 50. It’s a wake up to what has been building up in front of us all along.”
2. A Year of Extreme Weather
2013 was the seventh warmest year on record. As of November it also had the second highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters around the globe since accurate records begun in 2000.
China, Russia, Europe, North America, Indonesia and India were plagued with floods while China, Portugal, Hungary, Finland and the UK all experienced heat waves. In the Uttarakhand state of India, flooding left 5,700 lives presumed lost and many more devastated. At the other extreme, California’s Death Valley saw temperatures hit 54 degrees Celsius—the hottest temperature ever record on Earth in June—while Australia got so hot, the country’s heat map needed a new color added.
The Pacific saw some of its worst storms on record this year. In October, Cyclone Phallin carved a path of damage across India’s Odisha region—with storm surges reaching as high as 3.5 meters (11 feet). In November, it was the turn of the Philippines, when Typhoon Haiyan brought winds of 315 km/hr and gusts up to 380 km/hr. It was recognized as the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in modern history, and the storm’s death toll currently stands at more than 6,000.
“To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of you armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian Ocean,” urged Filippino climate commissioner, Yeb Sano in the wake of the storm. “And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines.”
3. Increasing Human Costs of Climate Change
This year has seen storm surges engulfing large parts of the low lying Marshall Islands and who villages in Fiji already being forced to relocate because of rising seas. This year has also seen a court case in New Zealand where an immigrant from the Pacific Island of Kiribati fought—and failed—for climate refugee status, arguing that sea level rises made it too dangerous to return home.
In its Turn Down the Heat report back in June, the World Bank painted a stark picture of our warming world. They warned that millions would be left trapped in poverty as temperatures rise, with two degree Celsius and four degrees Celsius of warming expected to put serious strain on agricultural production, water resources and coastal communities.
Other warnings this year include the threat of persistent flooding impacting development in Pakistan and climate change’s impact food production around the world—including in the UK and Ghana—and the potential for increased numbers of climate refugees in the Sahel region of Africa.
4. Governments Backtrack on Climate Pledges
When Australia’s new government came to power in September, the first major act of the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was to scrap the Climate Commission—an independent climate research body. The government has also started to repeal the country’s carbon pricing laws, replacing it with a direct action plan, which experts say is uneconomical and could cause a rise in the country’s emissions.
Canada’s emissions continue to rise this year, as the country’s government blindly pursues the expansion of its tar sands industry, approving the construction of a highly controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to export tar sands and conducting fierce lobbying tours to sell the industry to the U.S. and Europe.
Japan has also joined this year’s climate villains list as days into November’s UN climate talks, the government announced a change in its climate commitment which will see the country’s emissions rise three percent on 1990 levels by 2020—a big jump from their promised 25 percent cut.
5. Climate Activists Increasingly at Risk
In a much publicized saga, the Arctic 30—28 of who were Greenpeace activists—faced 15 years in a Russian prison after being faced with piracy this year, for protesting at a Gazprom drilling rig. The activists spent two months in jail before being given amnesty by the Russian parliament this week.
U.S. activist Tim DeChristopher was released from jail after a twenty-one month prison term for disrupting a land auction which would have sold off leasing rights to oil and gas companies, while Australian activist Jonathan Moylan is facing jail time following a fake press release blamed for setbacks on the approval of the $776 million dollar Maules Creek coal mine.
And more and more activists are paying the ultimate price to give the world a better future, with reports showing the murder of environmentalists—particularly in the global south—is on the rise, and far too many deaths reported in 2013.
While this list offers a sobering reminder of how far we still have to go as a movement, 2013 has also been a year of great wins for the environmental movement and of positive shifts that show the issue is beginning to resonate with all sectors of society.
Do not despair yet, look for climate movement highlights of 2013 next.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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