13 Must-Read Climate Change Reports for 2020
By Michael Svoboda
If measured by the number of reports put out in just the first half of this year, the coronavirus has not slowed the work of the international, national, and non-governmental organizations keeping an eye on climate change.
And that's a good thing. Because although it has temporarily reduced the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, the coronavirus crisis has done nothing to slow the climatic effects of the carbon dioxide already there after decades of fossil fuel combustion. The planet is still warming, the oceans are still acidifying, and more and more humans are experiencing the consequences.
In this edition of our bookshelf feature, Yale Climate Connections highlights a baker's dozen of these reports, selected to reflect the broad range of concerns that intersect with climate change, including water, national security, media, health, food, finance, energy, and climate and environmental justice.
Readers can also find a link to a much longer list of reports, which provides a measure of depth rather than breadth. Food security, for example, is the subject of six separate reports released since the start of the year, but only one is included in this month's baker's dozen.
The descriptions of the 13 reports are adapted from copy provided by the organizations that published them. All of the reports, those profiled below and those included in the larger downloadable list, are available free, in pdf form online. In some cases, however, interested readers may need to register with the organizations that released them.
State of the Climate 2019: Special Supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, edited by J. Blunden and D.S. Arndt (BAMS 2020, 435 pages, free download available here; a 10-page executive summary is also available)
Compiled by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information and published as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, State of the Climate provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice, and in space. State of the Climate in 2019 is the 30th issuance of the annual assessment, which has been published by the Bulletin since 1996. The main function of each volume is to document the status and trajectory of many components of the climate system. As a series, however, the report also documents the status and trajectory of our capacity and commitment to observe the climate system.
The First National Flood Risk Assessment: Defining America's Growing Risk, by Flood Modelers (First Street Foundation 2020, 163 pages, free download available here)
The nonprofit research and technology group First Street Foundation has publicly released flood risk data for more than 142 million homes and properties across the country. The data assigns every property in the contiguous United States a "Flood Factor™" based on its cumulative risk of flooding over a thirty-year mortgage. When adjusting changing sea levels, warming sea surface and atmospheric temperatures, and changing precipitation patterns, the Foundation's model finds the number of properties with substantial risk grows to 16.2 million by the year 2050. "The First Annual National Flood Risk Assessment: Defining America's Growing risk" highlights these significant national, state, and city findings of the First Street Foundation Model.
World Water Development Report 2020: Water and Climate Change, by UN Water (UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization 2020, 235 pages, free download available here)
Climate change will affect the availability, quality and quantity of water for basic human needs, threatening the effective enjoyment of the human rights to water and sanitation for potentially billions of people. The alteration of the water cycle will also pose risks for energy production, food security, human health, economic development, and poverty reduction. The 2020 UN World Water Development Report focuses on the challenges that can be addressed through improving water management. Combining climate change adaptation and mitigation, through water, is a win-win proposal, improving the provision of water supply and sanitation services and combating both the causes and impacts of climate change, including disaster risk reduction.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020: Transforming Food Systems for Affordable Healthy Diets, by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO (United Nations 2020, 320 pages, free download available here)
This year, the UN's annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World includes a special focus on transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. It analyses the cost and affordability of healthy diets around the world, by region and in different development contexts. New analysis is presented on the "hidden" health and climate-change costs associated with our current food consumption patterns, as well as the cost savings if we shift towards healthy diets that include sustainability considerations. The report also offers policy recommendations to transform current food systems and make them able to deliver affordable healthy diets for all – crucial to all efforts to achieve Zero Hunger – Sustainable Development Goal No. 2.
WHO Global Strategy on Health, Environment, and Climate Change: The Transformation Need to Improve Lives and Wellbeing through Healthy Environments, by WHO (UN-WHO 2020, 36 pages, free download available here)
The burden of disease attributable to the environment is high and persistent (~ one quarter of all deaths), and further health concerns are posed by global climate change and rapid urbanization. To respond to this situation, a new global strategy on health, environment and climate change has been developed to transform the way we tackle environmental risks by accounting for health in all policies and scaling up disease prevention and health promotion. It needs to be supported by a strengthened health sector, adequate governance mechanisms, and enhanced communication, thereby creating a demand for healthy environments. The new strategy is timely – it responds to and is in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the GPW13.
Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report: Benefits of Cooling Efficiency and the Kigali Amendment, by UNEP-IEA (UNEP and IEA 2020, 50 pages, free download available here)
In a warming world, prosperity and civilization depend more and more on access to cooling. But the growing demand for cooling will contribute significantly to climate change, both through the leaking of HFCs and other refrigerants, and through emissions of CO2 and black carbon from the mostly fossil fuel-based energy powering air conditioners and other cooling equipment. By combining energy efficiency improvements with the transition away from super-polluting refrigerants, the world could avoid cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of up to 210-460 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) over the next four decades. This is roughly equal to 4-8 years of total annual global greenhouse gas emissions, based on 2018 levels.
The 2035 Report: Plummeting Solar, Wind, and Battery Costs Can Accelerate Our Clean Electricity Future, by Sonia Aggarwal and Mike O'Boyle (Goldman School of Public Policy 2020, 37 pages, free download available here)
Most studies aim for deep decarbonization of electric power systems by 2050, but this report shows, with the latest renewable energy and battery cost data, that we can get there in half that time. The U.S. can achieve 90% clean, carbon-free electricity nationwide by 2035, dependably, at no extra cost to consumers, and without new fossil fuel plants. On the path to 90% over the next 15 years, we can inject $1.7 trillion into the economy, support a net increase of more than 500K energy sector jobs each year, and reduce economy-wide emissions by 27%. This future also retires all existing coal plants by 2035, reduces natural gas generation by 70%, and prevents up to 85,000 premature deaths by 2050. But without robust policy reforms, this future will be lost.
Addressing Climate as a Systemic Risk: A Call to Action for U.S. Financial Regulators, by Veena Ramani (Ceres 2020, 68 pages, free download available here, registration required)
This Ceres report outlines how and why U.S. financial regulators, who are responsible for protecting the stability and competitiveness of the U.S. economy, need to recognize and act on climate change as a systemic risk. It provides more than 50 recommendations for key financial regulators to adopt, including the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC), state and federal insurance regulators, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC).
Gender, Climate & Security: Sustaining Inclusive Peace on the Frontlines of Climate Change, by UN Women (UN Environment & Development Programs 2020, 52 pages, free download available here)
Climate change is a defining threat to peace and security in the 21st century – its impacts felt by everyone, but not equally. Gender norms and power dynamics shape how women and men of different backgrounds experience or contribute to insecurity in a changing climate. Grounded in a series of case studies from research and programming experience, this report offers a comprehensive framework for understanding how gender, climate and security are inextricably linked. The report assesses entry points for action across existing global agendas and suggests concrete recommendations for how policymakers, development practitioners and donors can advance three inter-related goals: peace and security, climate action and gender equality.
Evicted by Climate Change: Confronting the Gendered Impacts of Climate-Induced Displacement, by Care International (Care International 2020, 33 pages, free download available here)
This report outlines the causes and consequences of climate-induced displacement, and how the triple injustice of climate change, poverty and gender inequality must be met by transformative action. In this report, CARE draws on key scientific findings as well as its own experience and, most importantly, the experiences of the people CARE seeks to support in managing compound risks: women and girls in vulnerable situations. To tackle climate-induced displacement in a gender-transformative and human-rights based way, CARE calls on all relevant actors to do their part to build a safer, more equitable, inclusive and resilient future that harnesses the power of women and girls within their communities.
Defending Tomorrow: The Climate Crisis and Threats Against Land and Environmental Defenders, by Global Witness (Global Witness 2020, 52 pages, free download available here)
For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defense against climate breakdown. Time after time, they have challenged those companies rampaging through forests, skies, wetlands, oceans and biodiversity hotspots. Yet the crucial role they play, businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard the vital and peaceful work of these defenders. The climate crisis is arguably the greatest global and existential threat we face. As it escalates, it will exacerbate many other problems. The question is whether we want to build a better, greener future for our planet and its people. The answer lies in following the leadership, the campaigns and solutions that land and environmental defenders have been honing for generations.
Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution, by Pew Charitable Trust and System IQ (Pew Charitable Trust 2020, 153 pages, free download available here)
Plastic has become ubiquitous. From wrapped food and disposable bottles to microbeads in body washes, it's used widely as packaging or in products because it's versatile, cheap, and convenient. But this convenience comes with a price. Plastic waste is entering the ocean at a rate of about 11 million metric tons a year. How did we get here? We have produced vast quantities of plastic products but have had few ways to regulate their use or properly manage their disposal. "Breaking the Plastic Wave" shows that we can cut annual flows of plastic into the ocean by about 80% in the next 20 years. But no single solution can achieve this goal; rather, we can break the plastic wave only by taking several immediate, ambitious, and concerted actions.
Adapting to a Change Climate: How Collaboration Addresses Unique Challenges in Climate-Change and Environmental Reporting, by Caroline Porter (Center for Cooperative Media 2020, 24 pages, free download available here)
As part of its collaborative journalism program, the Center for Cooperative Media (CCM) at Montclair State University tracks journalism collaborations. In early 2019 the number of climate change-related collaborations seemed to be ticking upward, spurred by the launch of Covering Climate Now, the biggest such collaboration on record. CCM decided to take a look at how journalists are working together to tackle the topic and all of its related issues. The result is the new report researched and written by Caroline Porter. Based on her assessments of 40 climate-related collaborations, she found that there are some climate change-specific reasons that journalism collaborations make sense, beyond the usual economic reasons for such efforts.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Early advertisement for barbed wire fencing, 1880-1889. The advent of barbed wire dramatically changed ranching and land use in the American West by ending the open range system. Kansas Historical Society / CC BY-ND
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