‘Our War Against Nature Must Stop’: UN Secretary General Launches COP25 With Urgent Call for Climate Action
COP25, the UN Climate Change Conference, begins today in Madrid, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres wants everyone to know the stakes are high.
"[C]limate change is no longer a long-term problem. We are confronted now with a global climate crisis," Guterres said before the conference on Sunday. "The point of no-return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us."
The human species has been at war with the planet. Now the planet is fighting back. Climate change has escalated… https://t.co/Rn2W12utOO— António Guterres (@António Guterres)1575236339.0
The conference, which will run from Dec. 2 to 13, follows on the heels of two dire climate reports released last week. The World Meteorological Association announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2018 had reached their highest point in three to five million years. And a UN study found that countries must lower greenhouse gas emissions by 7.6 percent per year for the next decade in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Climate leaders hope that countries will up the ambitions of their Paris agreement pledges in Madrid, ahead of the 2020 deadline to do so, BBC News explained.
"Some 70 countries have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, this must be carried on at Madrid COP," Sonam Wangdi, the Chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group in UN climate change negotiations, told BBC News. "There must be an agreement among us all to do our fair share. If it doesn't happen in Madrid it could be too late for 2020 pledges."
When the Paris agreement was reached in 2015, the Associated Press explained, world leaders said they would limit warming to below two degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, with an ideal goal of limiting it to 1.5 degrees. But the emissions reductions pledges currently on the books would still lead to a temperature rise of more than three degrees Celsius, Guterres pointed out Sunday, and many countries are not even meeting these inadequate commitments.
"Our war against nature must stop," Guterres said.
Conference chair and Chilean environment minister Carolina Schmidt echoed Guterres' sense of urgency in her opening remarks Monday, calling on attendees to acknowledge the severity of the climate crisis.
"Those who don't want to see it will be on the wrong side of history," she said, as the Associated Press reported.
Newly elected President of the @UN #ClimateChange Conference #COP25 in Madrid, @CarolaSchmidtZ, says that people ne… https://t.co/UHBRNbebew— UN Climate Change (@UN Climate Change)1575272937.0
In addition to emissions reductions, there are two other major issues that need to be ironed out at the conference, BBC News explained.
The first is whether there will be a fund established to pay for climate-related losses and damages that cannot be prevented or mitigated, like a certain amount of sea level rise. Developing countries say they need help paying for a crisis they did little to solve, but wealthy countries are worried about being on the books for centuries of extreme weather and coastal flooding to come.
"The climate crisis has been causing death, despair and displacement in the global south," Harjeet Singh from Action Aid told BBC News. "This bullying of the countries hardest hit by climate change, by those that got rich from extracting and consuming fossil fuels, must end now."
The second issue is how to establish new rules for carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris agreement. The issue was supposed to be resolved at COP24 in Katowice, Poland last year, but parties could not come to an agreement.
"I don't even want to entertain the possibility that we do not agree on Article 6," Guterres said, according to Reuters. "We are here to approve guidelines to implement Article 6, not to find excuses not to do it."
Around 29,000 scientists, negotiators, activists and leaders, including around 50 heads of state, are expected to attend, according to the Associated Press.
Of the world's top emitters, only the EU is sending senior leadership. The U.S., China and India are all sending lower level officials or ministers.
President Donald Trump has begun the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a delegation to the talks.
"While it's great Speaker Pelosi is coming to Madrid in place of Trump, symbolic gestures are no substitute for bold action," Jean Su from the Center for Biological Diversity told BBC News. "America remains the number one historic contributor to the climate emergency, and even Democratic politicians have never committed to taking responsibility for our fair share."
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.