'Disappointing' Decision From Norway's Supreme Court in Climate Lawsuit Challenging Arctic Offshore Oil Licenses
By Dana Drugmand
Norway's Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled not to overturn the Norwegian government's approval of new licenses for offshore oil drilling in the fragile Arctic region.
The ruling – a culmination of four years of high-profile litigation in a case challenging continued fossil fuel production on climate change grounds — came as a big disappointment, and even outrage, for environmental and climate activists in Norway and internationally.
"We are outraged with this judgment, which leaves youth and future generations without Constitutional protection. The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future," Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of a youth-led environmental organization called Young Friends of the Earth Norway, said in a press release.
"I am disappointed and outraged by the fact that the Norwegian constitution doesn't provide me and my peers with judicial protection from politicians stealing our future," Andreas Randøy, deputy head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. "I wasn't old enough to vote out the politicians who opened up for new oil drilling in the arctic, further north than ever before. Yet I am a part of the generation who has to deal with its consequences. I really thought the Supreme Court would value that to a greater extent."
Today we are disappointed and worried: The Supreme Court of Norway has chosen to back oil over our rights to a live… https://t.co/ZLWPL6Lvsu— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace)1608643674.0
Young Friends of the Earth Norway and Greenpeace Norway sued the Norwegian government in 2016 over the government's granting of new offshore oil licenses in the Barents Sea. The environmental organizations argued permitting new oil drilling is incompatible with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and constitutes a violation of section 112 of Norway's constitution that outlines a right to a healthy environment.
The lawsuit sought a court order to invalidate the oil licenses based on this constitutional provision, and considering that climate science dictates that the vast majority of fossil fuels be left in the ground to avoid the most catastrophic levels of warming. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd supported the lawsuit and warned that Norway's continued oil production during a time of climate emergency amounts to a violation of human rights
The Norwegian courts ultimately disagreed that rights had been violated. The Oslo District Court initially determined in January 2018 that there was no constitutional violation stemming from the government's grant of new oil licenses. On appeal, a Norwegian appeals court upheld this ruling in January this year, though the appeals court did decide that the Norwegian government should be responsible for the carbon emissions tied to its petroleum exports.
The Supreme Court of Norway took up the case this year on another appeal, with hearings held in November. The court issued its decision on December 22, ruling 11-4 in favor of the government and against the environmental organizations. The four dissenting judges found the government had made procedural errors in its oil licensing decision, according to Greenpeace Norway.
The leader of Greenpeace Norway, one of the organizational plaintiffs in this case, said the Supreme Court ruling is disappointing and that the plaintiffs are looking at other avenues to continue making their case.
"It is absurd that our right to a liveable environment cannot be used to stop Norway's most harmful activities for our climate and environment," said Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway. "We will now consider all possibilities to stop this harmful industry, including an application to the European Court of Human Rights."
'This Should Be a Warning to the Oil Industry'
Although the Norwegian Supreme Court declined to overturn the grant of oil licenses in this instance, the ruling did acknowledge that Norwegian authorities may have a duty to deny oil companies' permits to actually produce the oil given the constitutional right to a healthy environment.
In other words, as Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law explained to DeSmog, the court concluded there is a distinction between oil exploration and oil production.
"Here's the part that is the worst possible news for oil companies. The court actually emphasized that simply finding oil under authority of an exploration license doesn't give any company any guarantee that they'll be permitted to produce the oil," Muffett said.
"There's a real missed opportunity on the part of the court in moving the law of human rights and the rights of future generations forward in this decision," he added. "And at the same time when you look at the practical impacts of this decision, what the decision says for industry is you're welcome to go and invest massive amounts of money in exploring for new oil if you want, but the critical question government is going to have to ask is can you produce it if it is contributing to climate change?"
Norway's Sup Ct failed to invalidate licenses to explore for Arctic oil, but made clear that finding oil is no guar… https://t.co/9rtGn6SJS6— Carroll Muffett (@Carroll Muffett)1608647745.0
Muffett said the ruling will also increase pressure for Norway's political leadership to listen to their citizens and consider following Denmark's lead in halting new oil and gas exploration and production. A recent opinion poll in Norway found that a majority of Norwegian citizens agree that oil exploration in the Arctic should be stopped for climate and environmental reasons.
"The Court has let the government off the hook at this time, but leaves the door open for an assessment on climate impacts, including emissions after export, at the later production stage," said Greenpeace Norway's Frode Pleym. "This should be a warning to the oil industry. At this moment in history, no oil producing country holds a credible position on climate without ending exploration for new oil and setting a plan for retiring the industry."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
By Johnny Wood
What better place to build a Doomsday Vault than the remote, snow-covered islands of Norway's Arctic Svalbard? Sitting around 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole, the facility is buried in permafrost to protect the precious seed samples housed there. But a freak heatwave is causing the region's ice to melt.
Following several days of near record-breaking hot weather in July, Svalbard temperatures topped out at 21.7℃, the country's meteorological institute reported. This is the hottest ever recorded here, exceeding the previous record of 21.3℃ set over 40 years earlier and a stark contrast to the region's average of between 5-7℃ for this time of year.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault – also known as the Doomsday Vault – is a gigantic bunker, sitting deep inside a mountain surrounded by snowy wastelands. The facility stores close to 900,000 seed samples from around the world and acts as a sort of back-up plan for agriculture, should disaster render parts of the planet unlivable or the world suffer a catastrophe, such as nuclear war or extreme climate change.
It's been described as an "insurance policy for food security."
Inside the vault, temperatures are kept below minus 18℃, cold enough to keep the seed samples safe for at least 200 years, even without backup power. But climate change is causing problems for the vault.
In 2016, which was the warmest year on record according to NASA, soaring temperatures caused meltwater to breach the vault's entrance tunnel. While no seeds were damaged, the floodwater left an expensive repair bill and tarnished the vault's reputation as impregnable to natural or manmade disasters.
The Heat Is On
Warming in the islands has been underway for some time. Figures for 2017 show average temperatures are between 3-5℃ hotter than in 1971, according to the Climate in Svalbard 2100 report, with the largest increases affecting the inner fjords.
Between 2071 and 2100, average temperatures throughout the archipelago will increase by between 7-10℃, the report predicts, shortening the snow season and causing loss of near-surface permafrost.
What's happening in Svalbard is symptomatic of wider changes impacting the Arctic expanse, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Parts of the Canadian Arctic are thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks found, a sign that climate change could be happening faster than first thought.
As warmer-than-average summers destabilize permafrost, much of which has lain frozen for millennia, methane and other gases trapped in the ice could be released at scale, accelerating climate change. In turn, warmer temperatures would lead to further permafrost loss.
Melting ice, on land and at sea, destroys animal habitats for species like polar bears and Arctic foxes, which use their snowy white coats as camouflage either to hunt for food or avoid predators.
Climate scientist Dr Boris K Biskaborn of the Alfred Wegener Institute polar and marine research centre found Arctic continuous permafrost ground temperatures increased by 0.39℃ between 2008 and 2016. A similar trend was found in Antarctica, with increases of 0.29℃ over the same period.
Warming ground temperatures are an indication of the extent of climate change. Biskaborn predicts melting permafrost could lead to increased Arctic air temperatures of up to 0.27℃ by 2100.
Svalbard's seed bank exists to protect the world's most valuable natural resources from catastrophe. If we want to avoid making multiple withdrawals, tackling the underlying causes of climate change is a priority.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
When you want a seat on the UN Security Council, the last thing you need is a teenage activist, practiced at the art of shaming government officials, working against you. However, that's just what Norway and Canada have.
Canada, Norway and Ireland are vying for the two available seats on the UN Security Council. Enter Greta Thunberg, bearing some free and stern advice.
The 17-year-old Swedish climate activist is the headline signatory on a letter to UN ambassadors of small developing nations. The letter argues that Canada and Norway both say they are concerned about the climate crisis, but will not shed their ardent commitment to expand fossil fuel production, build pipelines through native land, and subsidize oil companies, as the CBC reported.
"For the young generation who will inherit the consequences of these decisions, it is critical that those who claim to be leading on climate action are held to account for decisions they are making back at home," the letter reads, according to the CBC.
The letter also featured the signature of three other youth activists and 22 climate scientists.
The writers argue that if Canada wants to honor its commitment to the Paris agreement, it should make permanent its temporary ban on extracting oil and gas in the Arctic, cancel both the Trans Mountain and Keystone XL pipeline projects, and end all subsidies to the oil and gas industry, according to Radio Canada International.
Canada, despite its pristine air and forests, is actually among the worst in the G20 in meeting its Paris agreement greenhouse gas emissions targets, according to data compiled in 2019 by Climate Transparency, as Radio Canada International reported.
The letter is addressed to the Small Island Developing States since there are 38 members of the UN and they, more than larger countries, recognize the imminent danger the climate crisis poses. There are also 20 non-UN members. While together they are not strong enough to wield power, they do make up 20 percent of the votes. That's a significant number since the countries running for a two-year term on the security council starting in 2021 must win the backing of two-thirds of member states, whether they are contested or not.
"The Small Island Developing States understand more than most the existential threat posed by climate change to our peace and security, even fundamental statehood, and as such have a strong interest in ensuring that climate commitments are a central consideration when deciding which candidates to support," the letter states.
"As the Ambassador of a country that understands the grave risk posed to our security and yours, we ask that you raise these issues in your conversations with representatives of the candidate countries, and demand that they unite behind the science.
"If Norway and Canada are serious about our climate security, they should commit to no new fossil fuel exploration or extraction, and begin phasing down their domestic production at a pace that is consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C," the authors wrote.
Canada is criticized in the letter for being the second biggest financer of fossil fuels in the G20. Norway is slammed, in the letter, for its unwavering support on Arctic drilling.
Gail Whiteman, founder of Arctic Basecamp and professor of sustainability at the University of Exeter, UK, explained why she added her signature to the campaign.
"Climate change is a hugely important security topic, it is a hugely important global risk that is coming fast down the pipeline," said Gail Whiteman, founder of Arctic Basecamp and professor of sustainability at the University of Exeter, UK, who added her name to the letter, as Climate Home News reported.
"On both the Canadian and the Norwegian side, they have some quite strong stated policies on climate change but when you look at the details, that is very problematic."
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Britain announced that it will ban sales of new diesel and gasoline powered cars in 15 years last week. That was five years earlier than expected, but necessary for the UK to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a statement from the prime minister's office, as CNN reported.
The UK's Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps, revised that number this week, when he told BBC Radio 5 Live it could happen by 2032, adding there would be consultation, as the BBC reported.
"Michael Gove announced the original 2040, the Prime Minister last week said actually we would like to do that by 2035 at the latest," Shapps said in the interview, as the Express reported. "We have said 2035 or even 2032. That's in consultation, we will say 2032-2035."
The 2032 target puts the UK in line with Scotland, which, three years ago, pledged to ban sales of new combustion engine cars by 2032. However, Scotland does not have the authority to ban new cars, so it plans to phase out the need for combustion engines, by reducing the number of gas stations and adding many more charging stations, as the BBC reported.
Glasgow, in Scotland, will host COP26 later this year, and the UK government is laying out its environmental proposals in the build-up the November UN conference, as the BBC reported.
The proposed ban also includes hybrid cars, so the only sales that will be allowed are fully electric or hydrogen cars and vans, according to the BBC.
Predictably, representatives from the automotive industry have balked against the timeline, raising concerns about whether the government would continue to subsidize sales of electric vehicles, a dearth of charging infrastructure, and potential job losses, as CNN reported.
"It's extremely concerning that government has seemingly moved the goalposts for consumers and industry on such a critical issue," Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said in a statement, as CNN reported. "With current demand for this still expensive technology still just a fraction of sales, it's clear that accelerating an already very challenging ambition will take more than industry investment."
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders's numbers show that while electric car sales rose 144 percent last year in the UK, they make up less than two percent of the total number of cars on the road, as the Express reported. In 2019, nearly 1.5 million new combustion engines cars were sold in Britain. Only 37,000 electric cars were sold.
Since charging infrastructure is not in place yet, many car buyers have anxiety about running out of a charge and being stuck. In his interview, Shapps sought to ease anxiety by assuring the public that additional infrastructure for electric cars was part of the government's budget.
"We have domestic car producers and we want to help them to transition so we are doing a lot of work," Shapps said in his interview, as the Express reported. "In fact tomorrow I'm meeting with the car manufacturers on this very subject. We are putting in about £1.5billion at the moment and there is more to come."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged that no driver will be more than 30 miles away from a charging station. Yet, a considerable investment is needed to make that claim a reality, according to the Express.
The commitment pairs the UK with several countries phasing out greenhouse gas emitting combustion engines, including Norway, which wants all new passenger cars and vans sold in the country to be zero-emission vehicles by 2025, and India, which has called for new cars sold there to be powered by electricity by 2030, as CNN reported.
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'This Is History in the Making': Cherokee Nation Is First U.S.-Based Tribe to Preserve Seeds in 'Doomsday Vault'
The Cherokee Nation will save seeds from the "three-sisters" crops in the Arctic "doomsday vault," making it the first Native American tribe to ensure culturally emblematic crops will be preserved for the future, as The Guardian reported.
Never before has a Native American tribe received an invitation to store heirloom seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which lies in the permafrost over 800 miles into the Arctic Circle.
The Cherokee nation has donated seeds for nine varieties of corn, squash and beans to the vault, which has nearly one million packs of seeds from almost every country in the world, according to its own statistics. The vault has the capacity to store about 4.5 million varieties of seeds.
Included in the nine crops that the Cherokee nation sent is "Cherokee White Eagle Corn, the tribe's most sacred corn, which is typically used during cultural activities, and three other varieties of corn grown for consumption in distinct locations to keep the strains pure. Other seeds sent to the seed bank include Cherokee Long Greasy Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, Cherokee Turkey Gizzard black and brown beans, and Cherokee Candy Roaster Squash," according to Anadisgoi, the official Cherokee Nation newsletter. The crops all predate European settlement of the Americas and are vital to the Cherokee cultural identity.
"This is history in the making, and none of it could have been possible without the hard work of our staff and the partnership with the team in Norway," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said to Anadisgoi. "It is such an honor to have a piece of our culture preserved forever. Generations from now, these seeds will still hold our history and there will always be a part of the Cherokee Nation in the world."
As The Guardian reported, the Cherokee are only the second native peoples to deposit seeds into the vault. Their deposit follows the banking of 750 potato seeds from an indigenous Andean community.
The invitation to bank seeds in the Arctic stemmed from the Cherokee Nation's own seed-saving program, which distributes packs of heirloom seeds to tribe members. Just last week, the Cherokee Nation Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site started its annual distribution of seeds to any Cherokee citizen who requested them. Last year, it sent out nearly 10,000 packs of seeds, according to Food and Wine. The program has been running since 2006 and growing steadily.
"It's important that we continue to distribute these seeds every year," Feather Smith, a cultural biologist for the Cherokee Nation, told the Cherokee Phoenix, as Food and Wine reported. "These plants represent centuries of Cherokee cultural and agricultural history. They provide an opportunity for Cherokees to continue the traditions of our ancestors and elders, as well as educate our youth in Cherokee culture."
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault inspired the Cherokee seed bank. It has become a means to both save heirloom seeds and to also preserve Cherokee culture, Pat Gwin, senior director of environmental resources for the Cherokee Nation, said to NPR.
The NPR story caught the attention of Luigi Guarino, director of science for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, who contacted Gwin about having the tribe's seeds in the Global Seed Vault, according to CNN.
"The Cherokee Nation Seed Bank has always hoped to be able to deposit our traditional food crops into Svalbard one day," Feather Smith, Cherokee Nation cultural biologist, said to Anadisgoi.
"This is a tremendous opportunity and honor for the tribe," Gwin said in a statement, as CNN reported. "Additionally, knowing the Cherokee Nation's seeds will be forever protected and available to us, and us only, is a quite valuable thing indeed."
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Greta Thunberg Declines $51K Environmental Prize, Says ‘Climate Movement Does Not Need any More Awards’
Greta Thunberg wants action, not prizes.
The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist was awarded the 2019 Nordic Council Environment Prize Tuesday, but refused to accept it, CNN reported.
"I want to thank the Nordic Council for this award. It is a huge honour," Thunberg wrote in an Instagram post from the U.S., where she is currently traveling. "But the climate movement does not need any more awards. What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science."
View this post on Instagram
I have received the Nordic Council’s environmental award 2019. I have decided to decline this prize. Here’s why: “I am currently traveling through California and therefore not able to be present with you today. I want to thank the Nordic Council for this award. It is a huge honour. But the climate movement does not need any more awards. What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science. The Nordic countries have a great reputation around the world when it comes to climate and environmental issues. There is no lack of bragging about this. There is no lack of beautiful words. But when it comes to our actual emissions and our ecological footprints per capita - if we include our consumption, our imports as well as aviation and shipping - then it’s a whole other story. In Sweden we live as if we had about 4 planets according to WWF and Global Footprint Network. And roughly the same goes for the entire Nordic region. In Norway for instance, the government recently gave a record number of permits to look for new oil and gas. The newly opened oil and natural gas-field, ”Johan Sverdrup” is expected to produce oil and natural gas for 50 years; oil and gas that would generate global CO2 emissions of 1,3 tonnes. The gap between what the science says is needed to limit the increase of global temperature rise to below 1,5 or even 2 degrees - and politics that run the Nordic countries is gigantic. And there are still no signs whatsoever of the changes required. The Paris Agreement, which all of the Nordic countries have signed, is based on the aspect of equity, which means that richer countries must lead the way. We belong to the countries that have the possibility to do the most. And yet our countries still basically do nothing. So until you start to act in accordance with what the science says is needed to limit the global temperature rise below 1,5 degrees or even 2 degrees celsius, I - and Fridays For Future in Sweden - choose not to accept the Nordic Councils environmental award nor the prize money of 500 000 Swedish kronor. Best wishes Greta Thunberg”
A post shared by Greta Thunberg (@gretathunberg) on
The Nordic Council is one of the "main forums for official Nordic cooperation," according to its website. It brings together Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland in order to "make the Nordic region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world."
But in her rejection post, Thunberg criticized the Nordic countries for the gap between their rhetoric and their action when it comes to the climate crisis.
"The Nordic countries have a great reputation around the world when it comes to climate and environmental issues. There is no lack of bragging about this. There is no lack of beautiful words," she wrote. "But when it comes to our actual emissions and our ecological footprints per capita—if we include our consumption, our imports as well as aviation and shipping—then it's a whole other story."
She pointed to data from WWF and Global Footprint Network showing that we would require around four planet earths to sustain us if everyone lived like the population of Sweden. She also called out Norway's newly-opened Johan Sverdrup oil field, which is expected to produce oil and natural gas for 50 years.
"So until you start to act in accordance with what the science says is needed to limit the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees or even 2 degrees celsius, I—and Fridays For Future in Sweden—choose not to accept the Nordic Councils environmental award nor the prize money of 500,000 Swedish kronor," ($51,000) she concluded.
The theme for the council's 2019 prize was "initiatives that promote sustainable consumption and production by doing more with less," according to its website.
Thunberg was nominated by Sweden and Norway, and selected by the jury for "breathing new life into the debate surrounding the environment and climate at a critical moment in world history."
In Thunberg's absence, the award was presented by Swedish environmental activist Noura Berrouba to Isabelle Axelsson and Sophia Axelsson of Fridays For Future, who declined it on Thunberg's behalf.
Greta Thunberg was awarded the Nordic Council Environment Prize, but has chosen not to accept it in protest at a lack of climate action. This was the message from Isabelle Axelsson and Sophia from #FridaysForFuture 🌍 during the award ceremony: https://t.co/vxnuakQuMH #ActNow— Nordic Co-operation (@nordenen) October 29, 2019
Fridays for Future was started by Thunberg in August 2018 when she launched a one-person school strike outside Swedish parliament that grew into a global youth movement.
"Like none before her, in a very short space of time Greta has succeeded in raising awareness of climate and environmental issues in the Nordic countries and the rest of the world. She has stubbornly and persuasively urged the world to listen to research and act on the basis of facts," the Nordic Council wrote.
Her refusal message is a case in point.
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Norway has urged its companies that actively do business in Brazil to make sure that they are not contributing to destruction of the Amazon rainforest, as Reuters reported.
Norway's Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen discussed the Amazon fires with representatives of the oil firm Equinor, fertilizer-producer Yara, and aluminum producer Norsk Hydro. The Norwegian state is the largest shareholder of all three firms, according to Reuters.
Norway's biggest asset investors demand action on Amazon fires https://t.co/omeEMKEcRT https://t.co/3Ml5PLvqza— Al Jazeera News (@Al Jazeera News)1566933906.0
"They must be conscious about their supply chains and ensure that they do not help contribute to deforestation," Elvestuen told reporters after the meeting.
The meeting was also attended by pension fund Kommunal Landspensjonskasse (KLP) and environmental non-governmental organizations to discuss ways to help save the rainforest from devastation.
KLP, Norway's largest pension fund, has taken an activist role in pressuring investors, banks and agribusinesses operating in Brazil to take action on the fires decimating the Amazon rainforest, as MarketWatch reported.
"We have engaged companies which undertake significant trade in agricultural products from Brazil because we want rapid dialogues and concrete actions given this extremely serious situation," said Jeanett Bergan, KLP's head of responsible investments, last week, according to MarketWatch.
KLP was joined by Storebrand ASA, another sizeable investor, to make sure companies are not contributing to the ongoing environmental catastrophe in Brazil, which controls 90 percent of the Amazon rainforest. With nearly $170 billion under management, the two investment giants started to contact large corporations that have agricultural business in Brazil. The firms also asked other institutional investors to support them in using financial leverage to reverse ecological devastation, as Al Jazeera reported.
"If there is evidence that we are invested in companies that contribute to develop new deforested land or deforest areas … we will withdraw from investments," said Bergan as the Guardian reported.
We need more of this: “If there is evidence that we are invested in companies that contribute to develop new defore… https://t.co/INDytU6D9Q— Greenwich Greens (@Greenwich Greens)1567235625.0
Bergan says KLP is seeking dialogue with companies that operate in Brazil, including transnational commodities trading giants Cargill, Bunge, and Archer Daniels Midland with the goal of ensuring they follow sustainable supply chain practices, according to Mongabay.
"It's always very hard," Bergan said. "Responsible corporate behavior, or responsible behavior from anybody, is always a challenge when there is a conflict between economic development and responsible business practice or ethics."
The wildfires in the rainforest are a bitter pill to swallow for Norway, which has worked closely with Brazil for over a decade to protect the Amazon rainforest, and has paid some $1.2 billion into the Amazon Fund, to which it is by far the biggest donor, as Reuters reported.
Oslo has stop contributing to the Amazon fund after the Brazilian government refused to divest aid to an organization earmarked to receive the funds.
The three companies involved in the meeting with Norway's Climate and Environment all issued statements reassuring their commitment to sustainable practices and their support for maintaining the rainforests.
Yara, which makes fertilizers in Brazil and supplies Brazilian farmers with products, said that it was "very important to safeguard the rainforest."
"This has high priority in Yara and we do our utmost to ensure compliance across the supply chain to prevent the illegal clearing of land," said a company spokeswoman, as Reuters reported.
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By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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By Eoin Higgins
Just over a decade after it first opened, the world's "doomsday vault" of seeds is imperiled by climate change as the polar region where it's located warms faster than any other area on the planet.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which opened in late February 2008, was built by the organization Crop Trust and the Norwegian government on the island of Svalbard next to the northernmost town in the world with more than 1,000 residents, Longyearbyen.
"Svalbard is the ultimate failsafe for biodiversity of crops," said Crop Trust executive director Marie Haga.
Northern temperatures and environment on the island were a major reason for the construction. According to in-depth reporting from CNN, the project planners hoped that the permafrost around the construction of the underground vault would, in time, refreeze. But the planet has other plans.
Longyearbyen and, by extension, the vault, is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet. That's because the polar regions of Earth—the coldest areas on the planet—are less able to reflect sunlight away from the polar seas due to disappearing ice and snow cover.
'Doomsday vault' town warming faster than any other on Earth: 3.7 degrees Centigrade warming already in this Arctic… https://t.co/OqcAiMkpDd— John Raymond Hanger (@John Raymond Hanger)1553685634.0
It's an ironic turn of events for the creators of the vault, who chose the location for the vault "because the area is not prone to volcanoes or earthquakes, while the Norwegian political system is also extremely stable,'" said CNN.
Because of the warming, the permafrost around the underground vault's tunnel entrance has not refrozen. That led to leaking water in the tunnel in October 2016, which then froze into ice.
In response, CNN reported, "Statsbygg [the Norwegian state agency in charge of real estate] undertook 100 million Norwegian krone ($11.7 million) of reconstruction work, more than double the original cost of the structure."
But the warming now may become unsustainable for the structure. It's already forcing changes to Longyearbyen's population of 2,144 as the people in the town find themselves scrambling to avoid avalanches and deal with a changing climate that's more often dumping rain rather than snow.
"We can't trust the permafrost anymore," said Statsbygg communications manager Hege Njaa Aschim.
British advocacy group Global Citizen was more to the point.
"Not good," the group tweeted.
Not good. https://t.co/8qSmzYGD1P— Global Citizen UK (@Global Citizen UK)1553699038.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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By Andy Rowell
The beginning of the end of the age of oil moved a step closer Friday, with Norway's government recommending that its $1 trillion wealth fund should divest from upstream oil and gas producers.
The news that the world's largest wealth fund, known as the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), which is highly influential just by its huge financial size, will divest from companies that explore and produce oil, "has sent shockwaves through the energy sector," according to the Financial Times.
Whilst the move is significant in driving the fossil fuel disinvestment momentum, the Financial Times notes there are caveats: "the world's largest sovereign wealth fund has given a reprieve to the global oil majors" such as Shell and BP and "the fund appears to be allowed to still invest in oil and gas companies if they have activities in renewable energy."
The move is primarily concerned about protecting the Norwegian economy from any future plunge in the oil price rather than climate concerns, although these are mentioned by the government.
In its report, published Friday, it stated that "Climate risk is an important financial risk factor for the GPFG, and may over time have an impact on several of the companies in which the Fund is invested, including those in the energy sector."
Norway's Finance Minister Siv Jensen said: "The objective is to reduce the vulnerability of our common wealth to a permanent oil price decline. Hence, it is more accurate to sell companies which explore and produce oil and gas, rather than selling a broadly diversified energy sector."
But the move will have an impact: The strategy will affect 1.2 percent of its holdings, worth about 66bn Norwegian krone or $7.5 billion and its investments in some 150 oil companies. Although the likes of BP and Shell won't be affected, some American fracking companies will be, such as Chesapeake Energy. The full list is here.
The reaction from some in the environmental community was positive. Bill McKibben from 350 tweeted:
Huge huge huge win--Norwegian govt (an oil state) is recommending that the world's largest sovereign wealth fund Fu… https://t.co/ljR5ff7V0z— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1552043162.0
Our own Alex Doukas, Stop Funding Fossils Program director at Oil Change International, remarked:
"This planned move by Norway's government is a clear signal of where the global financial community is headed: directly away from fossil fuels. The companies listed for exclusion are focused exclusively on drilling more oil and gas out of the ground when climate safety requires the exact opposite — a rapid and just managed decline of all fossil fuel production. Ultimately, all oil and gas companies continuing to expand production should be shunned by the global financial community as bad actors and risky investments."
"Today's decision by the oil fund is even more impactful than when they divested from coal in 2015," Mark Campanale, CEO of Carbon Tracker, told CNN "It shows that while the fund was initially built on revenue from oil and gas, the ministry of finance understands that the future belongs to those who transition away from fossil fuels."
Mark Gilbert from Bloomberg wrote in the Washington Post:
"Friday's government decision to partially back the divestment strategy marks a big victory in the battle against climate change ... The decision should resonate throughout the debate about the need to address climate change. Norway's move highlights the risk that energy producing countries will be left with so-called stranded assets — petrochemical reserves that the world no longer needs as countries embrace cleaner energy sources."
Others were slightly more cautious: Simon Evans from Carbon Brief tweeted:
Norway's $1tn wealth fund to divest from oil & gas firms… …but only *pure exploration and production*, not likes o… https://t.co/TgwAaVAdys— Simon Evans (@Simon Evans)1552046485.0
Charlie Kronick, from Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian: "This partial divestment from oil and gas is welcome, but not enough to mitigate Norway's exposure to both global oil and gas prices and the wider financial ramifications of climate change."
Kronick continued: "However, it does send a clear signal that companies betting on the expansion of their oil and gas businesses present an unacceptable risk, not only to the climate but also to investors."
"While BP and Shell are excluded from the current divestment proposal, they must now recognize that if they continue to spend billions chasing new fossil fuels, they are doomed," said Kronick.
The move also comes some 18 months after 220 organizations from 55 countries signed what is known as The Lofoten Declaration, which called for a managed decline of the fossil fuel sector in line with the Paris UN climate goals.
The declaration demanded leadership in this fossil fuel phase-out from the countries that can afford it first, such as Norway. The declaration was named after the Lofoten Islands of Norway, which remains a battleground over oil and gas exploration, despite Friday's announcement.
"We applaud the Norwegian government for this plan but also encourage them to truly go all-in on climate responsibility by divesting from all fossil fuel companies, including integrated major oil and gas companies. We need to stop funding the fossil fuels that are causing the climate crisis, and this move by the Norway Government Pension Fund Global is an important — if limited — step in that direction," said OCI's Doukas.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.
Environmentalists celebrated the move as a victory for rainforests, the climate and endangered species such as orangutans that have lost their habitats due to palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia. It also sets a major precedent for other nations.
"The Norwegian parliament's decision sets an important example to other countries and underlines the need for a serious reform of the world's palm oil industry," said Nils Hermann Ranum of the Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) in a press release emailed to EcoWatch.
A 2017 report commissioned by RFN found that palm oil-based biofuel is worse for the climate than fossil fuels. The report, authored by low carbon fuels policy expert Chris Malins, concludes: "There is a large body of evidence that because of indirect land use change, palm oil biodiesel is worse for the climate than the fossil fuel it replaces—perhaps several times worse."
Norway's consumption of palm oil-based fuels hit all-time high in 2017, according to RFN. The country consumed 317 million liters of palm-oil based biodiesel, representing 10 per cent of its overall diesel consumption, the group said.
As the #COP24 #climatechange summit opened, Norway made a bold move. #Biofuels based on high #deforestation risk fe… https://t.co/Dz1bJe7qom— Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) (@Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN))1544115906.0
Last year, a majority of the Norwegian parliament actually voted to stop the government from purchasing palm oil-based fuels.
However, the parliamentary decision was never fully implemented, as the government opted instead to rely on voluntary measures, The Independent noted.
The vote that passed Monday is thought to be stronger and was supported by the majority of the government, according to The Independent. The resolution calls on the government "to formulate a comprehensive proposal for policies and taxes in the biofuels policy in order to exclude biofuels with high deforestation risk."
Wow! #Norway pledges to become first country to ban #deforestation! https://t.co/puW9qIMebo via @EcoWatch https://t.co/tZ1mFu89r6— Rainforest Alliance (@Rainforest Alliance)1465614030.0
The Indonesian government as well the country's palm oil producers have already expressed concern about Norway's vote this week.
"Although the impact will not be significant (on our exports), that will become a bad example for other countries," Fadhil Hasan, the director for foreign affairs of the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association, told The Straits Times.
Oke Nurwan, director-general for foreign trade in Indonesia's Trade Ministry, worried that other countries may follow in Norway's footsteps.
"The policy will certainly amplify the negative impression about palm oil products," he told the publication.
Here is the full text of the resolution that passed in Oslo this week, according to RFN's translation:
"The majority [in Parliament] is concerned that indirect land use effects from palm oil production lead to deforestation. The majority therefore believes that the use of palm oil should be limited as much as possible. The majority points out that it is important to find solutions in order to limit and phase out palm oil, and the majority will follow developments closely. The majority therefore puts forward the following proposal:
"Stortinget [the Norwegian Parliament] requests that the Government formulate a comprehensive proposal for measures and taxes in the biofuels policy in order to exclude biofuels with high deforestation risk both within and outside the blending mandate. These framework conditions shall be put forward in conjunction with the national budget for 2020, and shall be introduced from 1 January 2020."
In response, Obama said there was "a lot of unfinished business" when he left office, but if he had more time, he would urge a higher global focus on preserving the environment and would build on some of the progress made during his presidency.
The "single highest priority that I see globally" are the issues of environmental sustainability and climate change, he said at the Oslo Business Forum on Wednesday.
Obama noted that the Paris climate agreement was an "important step in the right direction, but it was only a first step, and so much more work needs to be done."
"Unfortunately, we have currently a U.S. administration that feels differently around these issues," Obama said, drawing laughter from the audience of business leaders.
Although Obama did not name his successor directly, the comment was a clear ding at President Donald Trump, who rejects climate science and decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris deal last year. Trump and his administration have rolled back a slew of environmental and climate regulations in favor of fossil fuel interests and other polluting industries.
The Associated Press even called Obama's remark a "swipe at Trump's attitude on environment."
On the plus side, Obama said that existing technologies and technological advancements can help the world achieve sustainability goals.
However, as he pointed out, "that requires a level of political and social commitment on the part of all of us—businesses, the non-profit sector, each of us as individuals."